Seeing Stars with James Wooten: July 2013

Venus remains in the west at dusk. It outshines everything but the Sun and Moon, so you can begin observing it during deep twilight.

Saturn is now shining in the south/southwest at dusk. Although not as bright as Venus, it does outshine the stars around it, so you can’t miss it.

Mars and Jupiter emerge into the morning sky this month. Look for them low in the east/northeast at dawn, with Jupiter much brighter. Mars passes less than one degree from Jupiter on the morning of July 22.

Sky Map July 2013

The Big Dipper is above the North Star and to its left, 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, sets in the west at dusk.

Antares, brightest star of Scorpius, the Scorpion, is in the south, with the ‘teapot’ of Sagittarius to its left. The Summer Triangle is high in the east. The stars of summer are here.

Moon Phases in July 2013:

New                               July 8, 2:15 a.m.
First Quarter                 July 15, 10:19 p.m.
Full                                July 22, 1:15 p.m.
Last Quarter                 July 29, 12:44 p.m.

At about 10 a.m. on Friday, July 5, the Earth is as far from the Sun as it will get this year — a position known as aphelion. It may seem counterintuitive to be farthest from the Sun now and closest to the Sun just after the New Year, however, the Earth’s orbit is almost a circle; the difference between perihelion and aphelion is too small to affect our seasons.

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 May nights.

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

Seeing Stars with James Wooten: April 2013

Jupiter is now lower in the west at dusk. Face west 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.

Saturn shifts from morning to evening sky this month. It rises at about 9:45 p.m. on April 1 and is in the south-southwest by dawn. On April 28, Earth passes between the Sun and Saturn, causing Saturn to rise at dusk and set at dawn. In this alignment, called opposition, Saturn is up literally all night long.

Sky Map April 2013

Venus and Mars are still out of sight on the far side of the Sun this month.  Mars is behind the Sun (in conjunction with the Sun) on April 17.

Brilliant winter stars shift toward the west during April. Dazzling Orion is in the southwest at dusk. His three-starred belt is halfway between reddish Betelgeuse and bluish Rigel.  Orion’s belt points northward to Aldebaran in Taurus the Bull. This winter and spring the Bull also contains Jupiter. To Orion’s upper 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 south.  To Orion’s left, forming a triangle with Sirius and Betelgeuse, is Procyon, the Little Dog Star.

Meanwhile, the stars of spring are high in the east and overhead. Look for Leo, the Lion, high in the east at dusk.  Also, extend the Big Dipper’s handle to ‘Arc to Arcturus’ and then ‘speed on to Spica’ — these stars are in the east.

Moon Phases in April 2013:

Last Quarter                  April 2, 11:38 pm
New                               April 10, 4:38 am
1st Quarter                    April 18, 7:31 am
Full                                April 25, 2:59 pm

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.

Saturday, April 13, is a special “Observe the Planets” night at the George. Come join us in observing Jupiter and Saturn!

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

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: May 2012

May 2012 features three visible planets, visible at convenient evening hours!

Venus appears high in the sky each evening for now, outshining everything but the Sun and the Moon.  Look for it in the west at dusk. However, in May 2012 it appears a little closer to the horizon each night — especially after mid-month. That’s because Venus has come around to our side of the Sun and is about to ‘lap’ Earth on its faster orbit.  On June 5, Venus will align so well with Earth and Sun as to appear in silhouette against the Sun’s disk — a phenomenon known as a transit of Venus.  Thus, Venus becomes harder and harder to see as we approach June 5.

May Star Map

Mars remains an evening object.  Face south at dusk and look for a reddish star to the left of Regulus in Leo.  Although not as bright as Venus, Mars still rivals the brighter 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 has fully shifted into the evening sky.  Look in the south/southeast at dusk this month.  Saturn is near the star Spica.

Jupiter is lost in the Sun’s glare and out of sight this month.

A swath of brilliant winter stars sets in the west at dusk.  Orion, the Hunter, is still visible in the west as May begins.  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.  The Big Dipper is above the North Star, with its handle pointing to the right.  From that handle, you can ‘arc to Arcturus’ and then ‘speed on to Spica’; those stars are in the east and southeast at dusk.  Leo, the Lion, passes almost overhead in late evening.

As Orion and Taurus set, look for Antares, brightest star of Scorpius, the Scorpion, to rise in the southeast.  At the same time, Vega, brightest star of the Summer Triangle, appears low in the northeast.  These stars remind us that summer is on the way.

Moon Phases in May 2012:
Full                                  May 5, 10:35 pm
Last Quarter                  May 12, 4:47 pm
New                                 May 20, 6:47 pm
1st Quarter                     May 28, 3:15 pm

The New Moon of Sunday, May 20, passes in front of the Sun, causing a solar eclipse. However, the Moon is at maximum distance from the Earth (apogee) the day before. Therefore, the Moon is slightly too small in our sky to cover the Sun completely.

The result is an annular eclipse visible from southern China across the Pacific to Midland/Odessa, Texas. In Houston, however, the Sun and Moon set before the annular phase can begin. Thus, Houstonians see a partial eclipse beginning at about 7:35 pm and still in progress at sundown.

Note that you need a west/northwest horizon clear of trees and buildings to see the eclipse, since the Sun will be only six degrees above the horizon when it starts.  If you’ll be traveling to points west of Houston, a chart of the annular eclipse path is here. (Scroll to Sunday, May 20, 2012 under annular eclipses).

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.