Seeing Stars with James Wooten: Mars and Jupiter Shine Bright

This star map shows the Houston sky at 10 pm CDT on July 1, 9 pm CDT on July 15, and dusk on July 31.  To use the map, put the direction you are facing at the bottom. The Summer Triangle is high in the east.  This consists of the brightest stars in Cygnus, Lyra, and Aquila.  Scorpius, the Scorpion, is in the south, with the ‘teapot’ of Sagittarius to his left.  Leo, the Lion, sets in the west with Jupiter.  From the Big Dipper’s handle, ‘arc to Arcturus’ and ‘speed on to Spica’ in the southwest.  Mars and Saturn remain in the south at dusk.

This star map shows the Houston sky at 10 pm CDT on July 1, 9 pm CDT on July 15, and dusk on July 31. To use the map, put the direction you are facing at the bottom.
The Summer Triangle is high in the east. This consists of the brightest stars in Cygnus, Lyra, and Aquila. Scorpius, the Scorpion, is in the south, with the ‘teapot’ of Sagittarius to his left. Leo, the Lion, sets in the west with Jupiter. From the Big Dipper’s handle, ‘arc to Arcturus’ and ‘speed on to Spica’ in the southwest. Mars and Saturn remain in the south at dusk.

Jupiter is now in the west at dusk. It outshines all stars we ever see at night, so you can’t miss it.

Mars and Saturn are now in the south at dusk. As you watch them, Mars is to the right and is much brighter.

Although Mars continues to fade each night as Earth leaves it farther and farther behind, this month Mars still outshines all of the stars and even rivals Jupiter in brightness! By the end of the month, Mars begins to approach Saturn.

Venus is lost in the Sun’s glare and out of sight all month.

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 west at dusk. Leo, the Lion, is also in the west at dusk.

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

Moon Phases
Moon Phases in July 2016:

New July 4, 6:01 a.m.

1st Quarter July 11, 7:52 p.m.

Full July 19, 5:57 p.m.

Last Quarter July 26, 6:00 p.m.

At 11:00 am on Monday, July 4, Earth is at aphelion. This means that on this date Earth is as far from the Sun as it will get this year. But all of us can feel how hot and sticky it is outside now, compared to January, when Earth was at its closest. This is because the Earth’s orbit is almost a circle; the difference between closest and farthest distance from the Sun is small. Indeed, Earth is only 1.6% farther than average from the Sun on July 4. The effect of Earth’s 23.5 degree tilt easily dominates the tiny effect of Earth’s varying distance from the Sun.

Also on July 4, the Juno spacecraft enters Jupiter orbit. For just over a year and a half, Juno will execute 37 orbits of Jupiter before a controlled orbit into Jupiter in February 2018. The spacecraft is designed to explore the inner composition of Jupiter, giving more information about what’s far beneath the cloud layers we see.

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. As of now, however, George is closed while Brazos Bend State park dries out from yet another round of floods on the Brazos River. The park could reopen as early as July 12.

Clear Skies!

James G. Wooten
Planetarium Astronomer
Houston Museum of Natural Science

A Wedding Under The Planetarium Stars

Written by Ashley Zalta, HMNS Special Events Manager

The Burke Baker Planetarium at The Houston Museum of Natural Science has been recently renovated, and is now the premiere planetarium in the galaxy. It’s the first and only True8K™ planetarium, offering an unprecedented 50,000,000 pixels of beautiful brightness, resolution and brilliance. We wanted to show off its versatility as one of the perfect backdrops as you say your vows. Recently, we hosted a contest to be the first to get married in our updated planetarium, and below is our winner Katie’s story.

 

HMNS: Congratulations on winning the contest. We are very excited to share your special day with you. How did you hear about the wedding contest?
Katie: I receive emails from HMNS and follow the HMNS Facebook page. The first time I heard about the contest was through email, but I saw it again on the HMNS Facebook page a few days later.

HMNS: Do you remember your first time to the museum and/or planetarium?
Katie: It would have been as a child, actually attending a meeting of the spelunker’s society that my father was a member of rather than visiting the museum. The meetings were held in the basement of HMNS on weekday evenings, and I had full access to that floor during the time. While the meetings were being conducted, I would visit the basement exhibits to entertain myself. It was far different from what you see today. I remember there was a stuffed bear in one part, some kind of machine (perhaps a cotton gin?) in the center of the basement, and an exhibit on the periodic table of elements. The periodic table was my favorite part.

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HMNS: What is your favorite part/exhibit in the museum?
Katie: Aside from the Planetarium, my favorite things are the Cockrell Butterfly Center, the Cullen Hall of Gems and Minerals, and, of course, the gift shop!

HMNS: Have you seen a planetarium show since it reopened this March after renovations to become 8K?
Katie: I haven’t but I can’t wait to visit! The email about this contest was the first I’d heard about the upgrades.

HMNS: What is your favorite planetarium show?
Katie: I’ve seen several over the years, but my favorites explore the Big Bang Theory and the expansion of the universe. I tell people that I think my mind is too feeble to ever be able to fully grasp how the universe is continuing to expand, but I keep trying to understand it. As a teenager, I enjoyed the laser light shows set to Pink Floyd music.

HMNS: Have you ever been to an event at the museum?
Katie: I have been to a couple of weddings at the museum and some HMNS Mixers & Elixers events. Also, both of my children attended summer camp at HMNS in their younger years.

HMNS: Getting back to your special day, where will your reception be?
Katie: We will be serving a build-your-own street taco bar at El Big Bad downtown while a DJ plays 80’s dance tunes. We have put instructions on the reception card about how to get downtown via light rail from HMNS.

HMNS: How did you tell your fiancé you won?
Katie: I had been up since 6 am checking emails on June 1. I remembered from the rules that I only had 24 hours to respond and confirm acceptance of the prize if I won, and I didn’t want to miss it if I did. So when I got the email, I took a screenshot of it and texted it to him immediately. He responded with, “Was there any doubt?” Both he and my friends could not imagine that there would be anybody else out there more desirous of a Planetarium wedding than I was.

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HMNS: How does your fiancé feel about getting married at the museum?
Katie: He’s excited about it because it makes me happy. He hasn’t seen the potential visuals yet, though. I think it’s going to be beyond anything he could have possibly imagined.

HMNS: What types of things will you be showing in the planetarium for your ceremony?
Katie: This is a difficult question because there are so many possibilities! I am currently working with the museum to stage the show, but it will definitely include imagery from both outer space and places on Earth that are special to us. There might even be a bit of time travel involved, incorporating the slingshot around the sun that we all know from Star Trek IV.

HMNS: What do your children think about your getting married at the museum of natural science?
Katie: My 11-year-old son thinks it is super cool that I won the contest, and has been texting the video to people. My 18-year-old daughter responded with, “I thought you said that if you ever got married again, you would just go to a Justice of the Peace.” I told her that was before I knew that the Planetarium was an option!

HMNS: We hear you are wearing a blue dress for your wedding, how did you come to choose a blue dress?
Katie: I chose a blue dress before I knew I would be getting married at the Planetarium partially because I wanted something other than white for a second wedding, and partially because this particular color spoke to me as the most beautiful color I could find for my wedding. The fact that it is celestial blue makes it perfect not just for me, but for the wedding itself now.

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HMNS: Will you have any flowers or other décor?
Katie: The only flowers will be bouquets and boutonnieres. My décor will be the Planetarium visuals. I don’t think anything else is necessary.

HMNS: If someone asked you for your best advice on planning a wedding or event what would it be?
Katie:
A successful event requires good memories. These are achieved through fun times and visuals that remain in people’s minds long after the event has ended. In talking to people involved in weddings and events, I have been told to always focus on the ceremony itself and the surroundings for both the ceremony and reception to achieve this visual memory, rather than spending money on small details that are quickly forgotten or possibly never noticed. I couldn’t be luckier to have won a ceremony venue that achieves this so easily!

If you would like to host at The Houston Museum of Natural Science please contact one of our event specialist at specialevents@hmns.org, or you can find more information at www.rentthemuseum.com.

Seeing Stars with James Wooten: Last Chance for Winter Constellations in April

Starmap April

Jupiter is now high in the east-southeast at dusk. It outshines all stars we ever see at night, so you can’t miss it. 

Mercury is visible just after sunset this month. Face west at twilight, and look low in the sky over the point where the sun sets. Mercury isn’t as brilliant as Venus or Jupiter, but it easily outshines the stars near it in the sky, so it’s not too hard to find. 

Mars is in the south-southwest at dawn. Noticeably reddish in tint, Mars continues to brighten each day until its opposition in May. It has now surpassed nearby Saturn in brightness.

Saturn is in the south-southwest at dawn, above the distinctive pattern of Scorpius, the scorpion. Mars remains close to Saturn this month.

Venus is becoming lost in the sun’s glare. Already, it doesn’t rise until deep into morning twilight, and Venus continues to approach the sun all month.

April is the last month to see the set of brilliant winter stars which now fill the western evening sky. Dazzling Orion is in the southwest at dusk. His three-starred belt is halfway between reddish Betelgeuse and bluish Rigel. Orion’s belt points rightward to Aldebaran in Taurus the Bull. 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 left. Forming a triangle with Sirius and Betelgeuse is Procyon, the Little Dog Star. 

Joining the winter stars are stars of spring rising in the east. Look for Leo, the Lion at dusk. Ursa Major, the Great Bear, which includes the Big Dipper, is high above the North Star on spring evenings. Extend the Big Dipper’s handle to ‘Arc to Arcturus’ and then ‘speed on to Spica’. There are fewer bright stars in this direction because of where the plane of our galaxy is in the sky. The area of sky between Gemini and Taurus and over Orion’s head is the galactic anticenter, which means that we face directly away from the galactic center when we look in this direction. Those bright winter stars setting in the west are the stars in our galactic arm, right behind the sun. On the other hand, if you look at the sky between Ursa Major, Leo, Virgo, and Bootes, you’re looking straight up out of the galactic plane, towards the galactic pole. There are fewer stars in this direction.

Moon Phases

Moon Phases in April 2016:

New: April 7, 6:24 a.m.

First Quarter: April 13, 10:59 p.m.

Full: April 22, 12:24 a.m.

Last Quarter: April 29 10:29 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!

Now Open: The Burke Baker Planetarium, Best in the World

It only takes a few seconds of a stellar light show in this newly-renovated facility to recognize why the Houston Museum of Natural Science is calling the Burke Baker Planetarium “the best and brightest in the world.” The clarity, the detail, the movement, the science, the imagery, all come together to create one of the most spectacular visions of the night sky you’ve ever seen, inside or outside the city. Part teaching tool, part adventure, a show at the planetarium is nothing short of magic.

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A seat in the Burke Baker Planetarium is like a seat on the edge of space.

The power of the visual feast is due to the combined renovations of the theater and the projection system. With the specialized dome in place, the Digistar 5 laser projection system now has a surface on which to display its full potential. Ten Sony projectors that shoot across the dome at different angles combine to create one giant 360-degree image with more than 50 million unique pixels, or twice the size of the largest movie theaters. Laser projection means bright, vibrant color, and a frame rate of 60 frames per second means this system displays close to what the eye sees in reality looking up at the night sky. The only thing is that this picture is clearer.

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This projection might as well be a photograph of deep space from the Hubble Telescope!

Take a look at some of the shots of the theater we took during today’s grand opening demonstration for a sneak peek, but don’t hesitate to come out and see for yourself. It’s the closest you can come to flying in space without actually suiting up!

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That’s not hyperspace; that’s the dome theater!

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See the constellations like the Greeks imagined them!

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NASA Astronaut Mario Runco introduced the Burke Baker Planetarium during our grand opening event Friday. Runco did physics research on the International Space Station using toys in space. Only the Burke Baker Planetarium has views of space like Runco has seen.

Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither was the renovated Friedkin Theater. Take a look at this time-lapse video that shows how much work we put into installing the dome!