Once in a blue moon: Kick off your Labor Day with the last blue moon ’til 2015

Know what makes this Friday special? It’s not that it’s the start to a glorious three-day weekend (although that certainly helps). Rather, Friday marks the last blue moon you can expect to see until 2015.

Once in a blue moonNow, we don’t want to mislead you. “Blue moons” aren’t so-named because the moon turns azure or gives off a blue-y radiant hue. Instead, the term “blue moon” refers to the fourth full moon in a season or the second full moon in a month. We had a full moon Aug. 1, making tonight’s mooning a blue one.

The last blue moon was on New Year’s Eve on Dec. 31, 2009, and the next one isn’t projected to happen until July 31, 2015. So if you buy into all that Mayan apocalypse stuff, this may well be your last chance.

Blue moons occur because our calendar months don’t sync exactly with the orbit of the moon (it takes the moon 29.5 days to move from full to new to full again, and calendar months are usually longer than that because they are based on the solar cycle), although many astronomers contend that the modern definition came about due to an old error in the Maine Farmer’s Almanac. Lucky for us, the error made the blue moon a far more frequent thing to behold.

So whether you’re more interested in a neon moon or the actual moon, we hope you take some time to duck outside tonight and appreciate this astronomical rarity. The moon will be at its fullest at 8:58 p.m. Central Standard Time.

Where do we recommend viewing the moon? From the George Observatory, of course!

Go Stargazing! August Edition

Saturn is the only planet visible to the naked eye at night this August.  Face southwest at dusk and you’ll see Saturn near a star of similar brightness—Spica in Virgo.  Saturn is a bit to the right of Spica as you face southwest.   The ringed planet remains well placed for evening viewing and remains in the night sky until late September 2011.

Hubble Images Suggest Rogue Asteroid Smacked Jupiter
Creative Commons License photo credit: NASA Goddard Photo and Video

Mars and Jupiter are in the pre-dawn sky.  Jupiter, set against a background of very dim stars, dominates the southeastern pre-dawn sky and is due south at dawn by the end of the month.  Mars is dimmer and much lower in the east northeast.  It has fully emerged from the sun’s glare and will brighten slightly each morning. Venus is now out of sight.  Superior conjunction (alignment on the far side of the sun) is on August 16.

The Big Dipper is to the 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 west and southwest at dusk.  Antares, brightest star of Scorpius, the Scorpion, is in the south, with the ‘teapot’ of Sagittarius to its left.  Meanwhile, the Summer Triangle is approaching the zenith.  The stars of summer now dominate the evening sky.  In late evening, you can watch the Great Square of Pegasus rise in the east.

Moon Phases in August 2011:

1st Quarter                     August 6, 6:08 a.m.

Full Moon                       August 13, 1:57 p.m.

Last Quarter                  August 21, 4:56 a.m.

New Moon                      August 28, 10:03 p.m.

The annual Perseid Meteor Shower peaks this year on Saturday morning, August 13.  Unfortunately, the moon (full on the 13th) hides all but the very brightest meteors and thus spoils the show.  If you want to see just how many Perseids can outshine the moonlight, the best hours are from roughly 2 a.m. to dawn.

Go Stargazing! June Edition

Saturn
Creative Commons License photo credit: Elsie esq.

Saturn is the only planet visable to us at night this June.  Face south at dusk, and you’ll see Saturn near a star of similar brightness — Spica in Virgo.  Saturn is significantly higher in the sky than Spica and a bit to its right as you face south.   The ringed planet is now well placed for evening viewing, and remains in the evening sky until late September 2011.

Mars and Jupiter are now higher in the pre-dawn sky.  Jupiter, set against a background of very dim stars, dominates the eastern sky at dawn.  Mars is dimmer and much lower in the east northeast.  It has fully emerged from the sun’s glare, however, and will brighten slightly each morning.  Venus does not rise until morning twilight.  Look for it very low in the east northeast as day breaks.

The Big Dipper is above 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 south at dusk.  Leo the Lion, is high in the west at dusk.

Antares, brightest star of Scorpius, the Scorpion, is in the southeast, with the ‘teapot’ of Sagittarius rising behind it.  The Summer Triangle has fully risen in the northeast.  The stars of summer are here. 

Moon Phases in June 2011:

New Moon                    June 1, 4:02 p.m.

1st Quarter                  June 8, 9:09 p.m. 

Full Moon                     June 15, 3:12 p.m.

Last Quarter               June 23, 6:48 a.m.

Red Light...
Sunset
Creative Commons License photo credit: Kıvanç Niş

The full moon of June 15 passes through the Earth’s shadow, causing a total eclipse of the Moon. Unfortunately, we miss out on that one, too, as the eclipse occurs during our daylight hours.  Anyone in the Eastern Hemisphere, though, can observe a central (and therefore especially long) total eclipse of the moon. 

At 12:17 p.m. on Tuesday, June 21, the sun is directly overhead at the Tropic of Cancer, the farthest point north where this is possible.  This makes the midday sun as high in our sky as possible and gives us more daylight than on any other day of the year.  This moment is, therefore, the summer solstice.  However, the earliest sunrise for us is the morning of June 11 and the latest sunset is on June 30.  Those of us who sleep through sunrise and witness sunset may get the impression that the days are lengthening all the way to the end of the month.

By popular demand, our George Observatory will open to the public not only on Saturdays, but also all Friday nights in June and July (except July 8).  The Discovery Dome, our traveling planetarium, will be set up each of these Fridays to show films throughout the evening.

Special Summer Openings – George Observatory

Due to popular request, the George Observatory is going to be open to the public on Friday nights in addition to regular Saturday hours.  Come out to see the summer skies!

The museum’s Discovery Dome will be set up to show features throughout the evening.

Time:  7 p.m. to 11 p.m.
Cost:  $5 per person  (tickets available in Gift Shop at Observatory)

June 3
Come See the summer Milky Way during the New Moon

June 10
Saturn – worth the whole drive out!

June 17
View the summer Strawberry Full Moon

June 24
What is the Summer Triangle?

July 1
See Galaxies on a New Moon night

July 15
View the Full Buck Moon  (deer are shedding their antlers)

July 22
See a Scorpion and a Teapot in the night sky!

July 29
New Moon Wonders

Dates:  (*Note:  July 8th not available)

Join us at the George this summer!