Sky Events for February 2017


This star map shows the Houston sky at 9 pm CST on January 1, 8 pm CST on January 15, and dusk on January 31. To use the map, put the direction you are facing at the bottom.

 

 

The Sky This Month

The Great Square of Pegasus sets in the western sky. Taurus, the Bull, is almost overhead. Dazzling Orion, the Hunter is high in the southeast, with his two dogs behind him. Sirius, the Big Dog Star, is the brightest star we ever see at night. Leo, the Lion, rises in the east. In the north, the Big Dipper gradually re-enters the evening sky.

Venus is a little higher in the evening sky this month.    Greatest elongation (greatest separation between the Sun and Venus) is on January 12.  Look in the southwest in evening twilight.  Venus noticeably approaches Mars more than in previous months; they are only 5.5 degrees apart by the 31st.   

 

Mars is now in the southwest at dusk.  Mars continues to fade each night as Earth leaves it farther and farther behind.

 

Jupiter is much higher in the morning sky this month.  Look in the south at dawn now, and more towards south-southwest by month’s end.  

 

Saturn  reappears low in the southeast at dawn this month.

 

Watch for the Great Square of Pegasus in the west at dusk.  Taurus, the Bull is high in the south.  Look for the Pleiades star cluster above reddish Aldebaran.  Dazzling Orion, the Hunter takes center stage on winter evenings.  Surrounding Orion are the brilliant stars of winter.  Orion’s belt points down to Sirius, the Dog Star, which outshines all other stars we ever see at night.  The Little Dog Star, Procyon, rises with Sirius and is level with Orion’s shoulder as they swing towards the south.  To the upper left of Orion’s shoulder is Gemini, the Twins.

 

 

 

Moon Phases in January 2017:

 

1st Quarter                    Jan. 5, 1:47 p.m.       Full                               Jan. 12, 5:34 a.m.

Last Quarter                  Jan. 19, 4:13 p.m.     New                              Jan. 27, 6:31 p.m.

 

 

 

Solar Events

 

At 8:17 am on Wednesday, January 4, the Earth is as close to the Sun as it will get this year.  Thus, Earth is at perihelion.  Aphelion (greatest distance from the Sun) will occur in July.  However, the difference between Earth’s perihelion and aphelion distances is small—0.9833 AU now vs. 1.167 AU in July (1 astronomical unit is the average Earth-Sun distance).  That’s too small a difference to affect our seasons.  The effect of Earth’s tilt on its axis easily predominates, so we have our cooler weather now rather than in July.

 

The latest sunrise of the year (7:18 am) occurs on January 10.  That’s due to the same effect I mentioned last month; Earth’s slight acceleration near perihelion makes sunrise, noon, and sunset all occur a little later each day.  Although the midday Sun is a little higher in the sky now than on the solstice, the difference is still small.  After mid-month, when the Sun starts taking a much more noticeably higher, longer path across the sky each day, we’ll start seeing earlier sunrises and later sunsets as days lengthen. 

 

 

Come see us Saturday nights at the George Observatory!  On most clear Saturday nights at the George Observatory, you can hear me do live star tours on the observation deck with a green laser pointer. 

Seeing Stars with James Wooten: Southern sky brings beasts and gods of water in November

November Sky

Saturn sets in twilight for the first week of November and is lost in the sun’s glare the rest of the month. 

Venus, Mars and Jupiter are still close together in the morning sky this month. Right now, Venus is close to Mars, with Jupiter above them. Venus and Mars are 0.68 degrees apart the morning of Nov. 3. Venus is brighter than Jupiter, and both outshine all stars we ever see at night, so they’re easy to find even in twilight. Mars is much, much dimmer than those two. The moon is near Jupiter on Nov. 6 and near Venus on Nov. 7. During this month, watch as Venus pulls away from Mars and both pull away from Jupiter. 

Autumn represents a sort of ‘intermission’ in the sky, with bright summer stars setting at dusk, while bright winter patterns such as Orion won’t rise until later (Orion is up by about 10 p.m. now and about 9 p.m. mid-month). The Summer Triangle is in the west.   Meanwhile, the Great Square of Pegasus is almost overhead. The stars in the southern sky are much dimmer than those overhead and in the west because when you face south at dusk in November, you face out of the Milky Way plane. The plane of our Galaxy follows a path from the Summer Triangle in the west through Cassiopeia in the north and over to the northeastern horizon.  

Constellations in the November southern sky represent beasts and gods related to water, indicating that they are part of the ‘Celestial Sea.’  Examples are Aquarius, the Water Bearer and Pisces, the Fish.  Even Capricornus, the Goat, has a fish tail because he’s originally Ea, Babylonian god of the waters. Below Aquarius is Fomalhaut, marking the mouth of the Southern Fish. Ancient Mesopotamians imagined that the Persian Gulf extended upwards into the sky, joining this ‘sea’ of dim stars.

Moon Phases

Moon Phases in November 2015:

Last Quarter: Nov. 3, 6:24 a.m.

New: Nov. 11, 11:47 a.m.

First Quarter: Nov. 19, 12:27 a.m.

Full: Nov. 25, 4:44 p.m.

On most clear Saturday nights at the George Observatory, you can hear me do live star tours on the observation deck with a green laser pointer. If you’re there, listen for my announcement.

Clear Skies!

 

Seeing Stars with James Wooten: Saturn and Perseid meteors bright in August

Star map Aug

Saturn is now in the south-southwestern sky at dusk. It outshines the stars around it, so it’s also easy to see.

Mars emerges into the morning sky this month. Look for it low in the east at dawn.  Mars remains dimmer then average, though, and won’t rival the brighter stars until next spring.

Venus and Jupiter are in line with the Sun and out of sight this month. Venus emerges into the morning sky fairly quickly, though; try looking for it low in the east at dawn the last week of August.

The Big Dipper is left of the North Star, with its handle pointing up. From that handle, you can ‘arc to Arcturus’ and then ‘speed on to Spica’; those stars are in the southwest at dusk.

Antares, brightest star of Scorpius, the Scorpion, is in the south, with the ‘teapot’ of Sagittarius to its left. Saturn is to the right of the scorpion’s head. The Summer Triangle is almost overhead. The Great Square of Pegasus now rises soon after dusk, indicating that despite this 100 degree heat, autumn is on the way.

 

Phases10-9x-3w

Moon Phases in August 2015:

Last Quarter: Aug. 6, 9:03 pm

New: Aug. 14, 9:53 am

First Quarter: Aug. 22, 2:31 pm

Full: Aug. 29, 1:35 pm;

The annual Perseid Meteor Shower peaks every year in mid-August—this year on Aug. 13. Remember that this is a shower, not a storm; you can expect a meteor per minute on average. Also, Earth is actually running into the meteor stream, rather than the meteors running into us. This means that the shower gets better as you get closer to dawn. Our George Observatory will be open late Wednesday night, Aug. 12, until 2 a.m. and Thursday, Aug. 13, for viewing the Perseids. 

For the Planetarium schedule, see www.hmns.org

On most clear Saturday nights at the George Observatory, you can hear me do live star tours on the observation deck with a green laser pointer.  If you’re there, listen for my announcement. I generally do one such tour on short August evenings.

Clear Skies!

 

Seeing Stars with James Wooten: October 2012

Mars remains an evening object. It is low in the southwest at dusk.

Jupiter is high in the morning sky this month. Look high in the south/southwest at dawn for the object, which outshines all stars in that direction. Jupiter is also becoming a late evening object; it rises by 10:40 p.m. on October 1st and by 8:40 p.m. on the 31st.

Seeing Stars with James WootenVenus remains high in the east at dawn, continuing a spectacular morning apparition.

Saturn drops into the glare of the setting Sun this month, and is thus out of sight.  On October 25, Saturn is in line with the Sun, or at conjunction.

Antares, brightest star of Scorpius, the Scorpion, sets in the southwest during twilight, with the ‘teapot’ of Sagittarius to its upper left. Meanwhile, the Summer Triangle is virtually overhead. As the stars of summer shift to the west, those of autumn fill the eastern sky.   Watch the Great Square of Pegasus rise in the east. Note that we look towards the center of our galaxy when we face between Scorpius and Sagittarius. When facing the Great Square, or especially south and east of that, we face out of the plane of our galaxy, a direction where there are fewer bright stars. That’s why the large expanse of sky rising under Pegasus seems devoid of bright stars.

For this reason, ancient Babylonians designated this broad area of sky as the ‘Celestial Sea’, and filled it with watery constellations. The only bright star in this whole expanse of our sky is Fomalhaut in the southeast, which marks the mouth of the Southern Fish.  Between the ‘teapot’ of Sagittarius and Jupiter (in Taurus, the Bull), are dim zodiacal constellations including Capricornus, the Sea Goat; Aquarius, the Water Carrier; and Pisces, the Fish. The giant sea monster Cetus rises under Pisces.

Moon Phases in October 2012:

Last Quarter                  October 8, 2:33 am
New                               October 15, 7:02 am
1st Quarter                    October 21, 10:33 pm
Full                                 October 29, 2:49 pm

Saturday, October 20, is our annual Astronomy Day at George Observatory, which lasts from 3 to 10 p.m. at our observatory in Brazos Bend State Park. Click here for a full list of activities.

On most clear Saturday nights at the George Observatory, you can hear me do live star tours on the observation deck with a green laser pointer. If you’re there, listen for my announcement.

To enjoy the stars in any weather from the comfort of the HMNS Planetarium, click here for a full schedule.

Would you like email updates on current events in the sky, at the planetarium, and at the George Observatory?  If so, send an email to astroinfo@hmns.org.