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.

Seeing Stars with James Wooten: September 2012

Mars remains an evening object. It is low in the southwest at dusk. Saturn is now in the west-southwest at dusk for one more month. By month’s end, it sets just after twilight ends.

Jupiter emerges higher into the morning sky this month. Look for it high in the south at dawn; it outshines all stars in that direction. Venus remains high in the east at dawn, continuing a spectacular morning apparition.

The Big Dipper is to the lower left of the North Star at dusk, with its handle pointing up and to the left. From that handle, you can ‘arc to Arcturus’, which is in the west at dusk.

Sky Events | September 2012This star map shows the Houston sky at 10 p.m. CDT on Sept. 1, 9 p.m. CDT on Sept. 15, and at dusk on Sept. 30. To use the map, put the direction you’re facing at the bottom.

Antares, the brightest star of Scorpius the Scorpion, is in the southwest, with the ‘teapot’ of Sagittarius behind it. The Summer Triangle approaches the zenith (overhead point).   Pegasus, with its distinctive Great Square, has risen in the east.

Moon Phases in September 2012:
Last Quarter                  September 8, 8:15 am
New                               September 15, 9:09 pm
1st Quarter                    September 22, 2:41 pm
Full                                 September 29, 10:17 pm

At 9:47 a.m. on Saturday, September 22, the Sun is directly overhead at the equator, shifting towards the south. This, then, marks the autumnal (fall) equinox. On this date, everyone on Earth has the same amount of daytime and nighttime. Ever since the spring equinox in March, daytime has been longer than night for us in the Northern Hemisphere, while the reverse has been true in the Southern Hemisphere. After September 22, night is longer than day for us and the day is longer than the night below the equator.

The Full Moon of Saturday, September 29 is the Full Moon closest to the autumnal (fall) equinox. This, therefore, is the Harvest Moon. The angle between the ecliptic — the plane on which the Sun, Moon, and all planets appear — and the horizon is always shallowest near the fall equinox. As a result, moons near full phase at this time of year rise at almost the same time each night for a few days in a row. Farmers used this light to keep working their fields long into the night at harvest time.

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.

Seeing Stars with James Wooten: April 2012

April 2012 features four visible planets, visible at convenient evening hours!

Venus continues to appear high in the sky each night, outshining everything but the Sun and the Moon. Look for it in the west at dusk.

seeing stars april

This is the last month to see Jupiter in evening hours for some time. On the first few nights of April, Jupiter is low in the west — far below Venus. However, Jupiter appears slightly lower in the sky each night until it is lost in the Sun’s glare by month’s end. It outshines all stars we ever see at night, however, so it’s still not hard to find.

Mars has joined Jupiter and Venus as an evening object. Face east at dusk and look for the brightest point of light in that direction. Although not as bright as Venus or Jupiter, Mars still rivals the brightest stars in the night sky. However, Mars fades a little bit each night as Earth pulls away from it (on March 3, Earth passed between Mars and the Sun).

Saturn becomes an evening object this month. On April 15, Earth aligns with the Sun and Saturn, placing Saturn at opposition — just as Mars was last month.

Brilliant winter stars continue to dominate the western sky at dusk.  Orion, the Hunter, is almost due south. His two dogs, represented by Sirius and Procyon, are to his left.  To Orion’s right is Taurus, the Bull, with Aldebaran as its eye. Gemini, the Twins, are above Orion. Leo, the Lion, is approaching the zenith. In the east, you can use the Big Dipper’s handle to find two bright stars of spring. From the Big Dipper’s handle, arc to Arcturus and speed on to Spica.

Moon Phases in April 2012:

Full                            April 6, 2:19 p.m.

Last Quarter       April 13, 5:50 a.m.

New                           April 21, 2:19 a.m.

1st Quarter           April 29, 4:57 a.m.

Sunday, April 8 is the first Sunday after the first full moon following the first day of spring. Therefore, it’s Easter Sunday.

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.

Labor Day! Fun For The Long Weekend At HMNS

Monday is Labor Day – and you know what that means, right?

LONG WEEKEND.

In case you’re wondering how to fill the long hours between Friday afternoon and Tuesday morning, here’s a list of the top ten weekend experiences you can have with the family at HMNS all weekend long.

That’s right – we’re open MONDAY! Because we’re here for you. 

10. Come And Take It!

A look at the stunning variety of fascinating artifacts from Texas’ rich history, that is.

Come And Take It
The Come And Take It Cannon!
See a full set of photos from the exhibit on Flickr

Texas! The Exhibition closes at 5 pm on Monday, Sept 5 – so don’t miss your last chance to see Santa Anna’s spurs, Davy Crockett’s violin, the Davis Guards Medal and many other objects from a huge swath of Texas history – from prehistoric cultures to the Spindletop oil gusher.

Preview the exhibit with our blog series on Texas History! (And see how you can win free tickets to see the exhibit closing weekend!)

9. Ramble through Borneo with Orangutans

And while you’re at it, explore Tsavo with young elephants.

Born To Be Wild
The cuteness! See it this weekend in Born To Be Wild 3D at HMNS!

Born To Be Wild 3D is a fascinating, entertaining and heart-warming film chronicling the efforts of two pioneering women to save orphaned animals.

Time Out New York says “The kids will squeal with delight.” We think you probably will, too.

8. Discover The True Meaning of Mayan Prophecies 

2012: Mayan Prophecies
2012: Mayan Prophecies in the HMNS Planetarium

Worried about 2012? Explore the Mayan culture in this new planetarium film. Learn why Dec. 21, 2012 will be just another day, but the Mayan culture’s true contributions to civilization are unique and fascinating.

7. Solve A Crime!

If watching CSI makes you think you think “I could do that!” – this exhibit is for you! Study fingerprints, chromatographs, DNA, insect lifecycles, tire marks, hair analysis, thread comparison, and handwriting analysis to catch the culprit!

Crime Lab Detective opens at the Houston Museum of Natural Science at Sugar Land on Saturday, Sept. 3!

6. Watch A Butterfly Enter The World!

Cockrell Butterfly Center

Our butterflies flit through a three-story, glass enclosed rain forest habitat – and it’s a showstopper of the large-scale variety. But you shouldn’t miss the Hall of Entomology on the upper level – where you can watch butterflies emerge from their chrysalides daily. It’s a quiet moment of tranformation, rebirth and wonder that everyone should experience.

5. Discover a Modern-Day Dragon

Think all dragons breathe fire? Some just flash it – including The Dragon, one of the world’s most famous mineral specimens.

The Dragon | HMNS Mineral Hall

It just so happens to be part of our collection – on permanent display in the Hall of Gems and Minerals, along with literally hundreds of the world’s finest gems and minerals. Hundreds. 

4. Develop An Intense Desire To Wear This.

Ancient Ukraine Exhibit at HMNS
Preview the entire exhibition in this set of photos on Flickr.

If you’ve followed our advice on #4, you’ve likely whetted your appetite for gold. And our Ancient Ukraine exhibition (closing Sept. 5!) could be called: Gold! Oh, And Some More Gold. (Except that it also features fascinating artifacts made from many other materials, from the entire 6,000 year history of Ukraine.)

Get an idea of what you’re in for in our curator’s blog series on Ancient Ukraine.

3. Spend Saturday With The Stars!

George Observatory

Long weekends are the perfect time to make the long drive out to our George Observatory. It’s an hour outside Houston, but that means light pollution is at a minimum – and stars are at a maximum.

If you’ve never been, you will marvel  at the number of stars you can see with the naked eye – and the astronomical detail you can view through our Gueymard telescope, one of the largest in the country that’s available for public viewing.

The Observatory is open every Saturday night from 3 – 10 pm. Get Directions and information on Admission.

2. Explore Two Continents

Hall of the Americas

Our Hall of the Americas features cultures from the Inuit in Alaska to the Inca of Peru – go on an expedition through hundred of years of American history and over 2 continents this weekend!

1. Take The Science Fun Home!

The HMNS Museum Store has a metric ton of science ideas and activities to take home – and your purchases always support our science educational programs! Grab the Pocket Starfinder for your Big Bend camping excursion, take the Encyclopedia of Texas Shells on a seashore expedition, or identify what’s fluttering around your own backyard with the Butterflies of Houston and Southeast Texas Guide.

From a Galileo Thermometer to track the summer heat to a Dinosaur Hunter Field Canteen, we’ve got everything you need to close out the summer right!

Here’s to a great long weekend – hope to see you here at HMNS!