Seeing Stars with James Wooten: Come out to the George for Astronomy Day November 8!

This star map shows the Houston sky at 8 pm CDT on November 1, 7 pm CST on November 15, and dusk on November 30.  To use the map, put the direction you are facing at the bottom. The Summer Triangle is high in the west.  This consists of the brightest stars in Cygnus, Lyra, and Aquila.  The ‘teapot’ of Sagittarius sets in the southwest, with Mars to its left.   Pegasus, the Flying Horse, is high in the east.  To the south and east, we see a vast dim area of stars known as the ‘Celestial Sea’, where only Fomalhaut stands out.

This star map shows the Houston sky at 8 pm CDT on November 1, 7 pm CST on November 15, and dusk on November 30. To use the map, put the direction you are facing at the bottom.
The Summer Triangle is high in the west. This consists of the brightest stars in Cygnus, Lyra, and Aquila. The ‘teapot’ of Sagittarius sets in the southwest, with Mars to its left. Pegasus, the Flying Horse, is high in the east. To the south and east, we see a vast dim area of stars known as the ‘Celestial Sea’, where only Fomalhaut stands out.

This month, Mars remains in the southwest at dusk this month as it pulls away from the teapot of Sagittarius. Mars continues to fade a little each night as Earth continues to leave it farther behind

Jupiter is now higher in the east at dawn; it is the brightest thing there. 

Venus is passing behind the Sun and thus out of sight this month. Superior conjunction (Venus in line with the Sun, on the far side of the Sun) was on October 25.

Saturn is also out of sight behind the Sun this month. Conjunction with the Sun is on November 18.

The Summer Triangle now shifts towards the west as the Great Square of Pegasus appears higher, approaching the zenith. As the autumn ‘intermission’ in between the bright stars of summer and winter continues, Houstonians with a clear southern horizon can try to find a star that few Americans get to see. Due south and very low to the horizon at about 10:00 pm in mid-November is Achernar, 9th brightest star in the sky. It marks the end of the river Eridanus, one of the dim watery patterns that fill the southern autumn sky. If you can find it, Achernar will seem of average brightness because it is shining through so much air. Still, it is a good way to remind yourself that the stars we see depend on our latitude, and that the sky on the Gulf Coast is similar to, but not the same as, what most Americans see. 

Moon Phases in November 2014:
Full: November 6, 4:22 pm
Last Quarter: November 14, 9:17 am
New: November 22, 6:31 am
1st Quarter: November 29, 4:06 am

Our annual Astronomy Day at the George Observatory is this Saturday, November 8!  On Astronomy Day we have activities from 3-10 pm, and all of the telescopes, even the ones that normally cost $5 to look through, are free.  What’s more, the weather looks just great so far!  Surf to www.astronomyday.net for more information.

Click here for the Burke Baker Planetarium Schedule.

On 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. 

Educator How-To: Identifying moon phases

The moon’s appearance in the sky follows a 29.5-day cycle. During the cycle, it first appears as a crescent. The lighted portion that you can in the night sky see becomes larger as days pass, growing until you see a full moon. As more days pass, the lighted portion gets smaller again, until no moon is seen. The cycle then repeats. This 29.5-day cycle corresponds to the time during which the moon makes one complete orbit around Earth.

When you see a full moon, Earth is between the moon and the sun, and all of the lighted half of the moon faces Earth. When there is a “New Moon.” the moon is between Earth and the sun, and all of the lighted half of the moon faces away from Earth. When there is a New Moon, you can’t see any of the moon at all.

Materials:
Paper plates
Copies of moon phases (downloadable here!)
Scissors
Glue
Stapler
Jumbo craft sticks

Educator How-To:

Procedure:
Fold a paper plate in half and carefully cut out the middle of the plate with scissors.
Neatly cut out the moon phases and glue them to the rim of the plate starting with #1 in the 12 o’clock spot and working clockwise.
Staple a jumbo craft stick to the bottom of the plate.
Staple or glue the moon phase key to the handle of the plate.
At night, locate the moon. Holding the moon viewer with the stick pointing toward the ground, frame the moon within the center of the plate.  Observe.  Which picture does the moon most closely resemble? Find that number on the moon phase key and you will know the name for the phase of the Moon you are viewing!

Educator How-To:

Seeing Stars with James Wooten: February 2013

Mercury briefly enters the evening sky this month. Greatest elongation (the greatest apparent distance from Sun) is February 16, so that’s when you’ll see it the longest.  However, you can begin looking in a few days. Because Mercury sets soon after the Sun, you’ll need a perfectly clear horizon right over the point of sunset at dusk.  On February 8, Mercury passes less than one degree from Mars, which is on its way out of the evening sky.

Jupiter was up all night long last month and is now almost overhead at dusk. Opposition, when Earth passed directly between Jupiter and the Sun, was January 3. Face high in the south at dusk and look for the brightest thing there (unless the Moon is also there), as Jupiter outshines all stars we ever see at night.

Sky Map: February 2013

Venus now rises while dawn brightens the sky; its morning apparition is ending. Soon Venus willl pass around the far side of the Sun from our perspective, and then reappear in the evening by summer.

Saturn remains in the morning sky this month. Look for it in the south-southwest at dawn.

Brilliant winter stars dominate the southern skies of February. Dazzling Orion is almost due south at dusk. His three-starred belt is halfway between reddish Betelgeuse and bluish Rigel. Orion’s belt points up to Aldebaran in Taurus the Bull. This winter the Bull also contains Jupiter.

Rising with Orion, and far to his left, are the twin stars Castor and Pollux, marking the heads of Gemini, the Twins. You can find Sirius, the brightest star we ever see at night, by drawing a line from Orion’s belt towards the horizon. To Orion’s left, about level with Betelgeuse, is Procyon, the Little Dog Star.

From Sirius, look a little bit to the right and then straight down to the horizon.  If your southern horizon is clear of clouds and tall earthly obstacles, you’ll see Canopus, the second-brightest star ever visible at night. This star is so far south that most Americans never see it, and many star maps made in the USA omit it. (You must be south of 37 degrees north—the latitude of the USA’s Four Corners—for Canopus to rise).

As you view Canopus, keep in mind that the sky we see depends on our latitude as well as on time of year and time of night.

Moon Phases in February 2013:
Last Quarter                  February 3, 7:57 am
New                               February 10, 1:22 am
1st Quarter                    February 17, 2:30 pm
Full                                February 25, 2:28 pm

The New Moon of February 10 is the second New Moon after the winter solstice.  Accordingly, it marks Chinese New Year. On this date the Year of the Dragon ends and the Year of the Snake begins.

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.

Educator How-To: Making the Moon out of Cheese (and Crackers!)

Teach your students about the phases of the moon with this awesome Solar System snacking activity.

I created this lesson plan as an alternative to the Oreo™ phases of the moon activity that we think is so clever. This science snack is a healthier alternative and will satisfy hungry students without the sugar rush.

Educator How-To: Making the Moon out of Cheese (and Crackers!)

Moon worksheet

Materials:

  • Ritz™ Crackers
  • American cheese slices
  • 1.5 inch round “cookie” cutter
  • Phases of the moon chart
  • Phases of the Moon worksheet
  • Markers
  • Waxed paper
  • Plastic knives

Educator How-To: Making the Moon out of Cheese (and Crackers!)

Moon phases

Procedure:

  1. Give each child a copy of the phases of the moon chart.  Go over the different phases, and consider using our Educator How-To: We’ll See You on the Dark (and Light and Far) Side of the Moon to demonstrate the phases in an active, hands-on fashion.
    2.    Distribute one slice of American cheese to each student.
    3.    Instruct students to carefully use the circular cutter to cut four circles from the cheese. With careful placement, one slice of cheese will be sufficient.
    4.    Using a plastic knife, students will then cut one circle of cheese in half.
    5.    The second circle will be cut using the circular “cookie” cutter.  Place the cutter carefully on the circle of cheese so that a crescent-shaped piece of cheese is cut from one side.
    6.    The same procedure should be used to cut an additional crescent-shaped piece from the third circle of cheese.
    7.    The fourth circle will remain whole.
    8.    Now you are ready to go! Distribute the Phases of the Moon worksheets and have students place a Ritz™ cracker on each “moon”.
    9.    Students will now arrange the cheese on the crackers to reflect each phase of the moon.
    10.    When finished, students may eat the tasty moon snack!