9 July 2012

Space viewing highlights for the next week

| Gungahlin Al
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Weather permitting, there are some good space viewing opportunities for Canberra people over the next week or so. Planets, stars, the International Space Station, and even a manned Soyuz launch to hunt out.

First, the beautiful morning conjunctions with Jupiter and the very bright Venus continue and even get better. For two weeks now these two planets have been joined by:

  • the Pleiades – the Seven Sisters an open star cluster (Messier Catalogue Object 45) to the left of them, but some 391 light years away
  • the Hyades open star cluster (Caldwell Catalogue Object 41) 153 light years away
  • red giant star Aldebaran (the brightest star in the Zodiac constellation Taurus – being the bull’s eye, at a quite close 75 light years) to the right.

On 9 July, Aldebaran will be right next to Venus, and you may need a telescope to pick them apart due to the brightness of Venus.

By the way, Venus – despite being the brightest thing in our night skies other than the Moon – is currently in a crescent phase just like a new moon, and with just 8% of the Earth-facing side lit by sunlight. A crescent you ask? Yes – remember it was recently right between the Sun and us for the Transit, and completely blacked out. On my blog I have a small screen grab from a video of Venus I took this week – no processing as yet so very rough – as well as some layout guides and other links to details on these features.

On 15 and 16 July, our morning planetary duo will be joined by a New Moon – a little like the conjunction in June but much closer this time.

Most of these sights are easily seen even as late as 6:30am, but a little earlier will let you appreciate the star clusters too – even better with simple binoculars.

Not into the mornings? That’s fine, because Mars and Saturn will put on an evening conjunction show too. They’ve been up there all winter, with some crisp clear Canberra nights giving beautiful viewing. But now due to quirk of orbital differences, Mars and Saturn are growing closer. A couple of days either side of 24 July will see them closest, and with the new Moon joining in. The bright star Spica will be to the top.

But they are setting earlier too, so they won’t be in our skies much longer. If you haven’t nailed a view of Saturn through a telescope then sing out, because you really are missing a beautiful sight that never fails to leave people amazed.

What about space ships? You’re in luck. Over this week,the International Space Station will make a number of early evening transits of our skies. I’ve culled out anything under two minutes or lower than 30 degrees maximum elevation:

Date Brightness Start Highest point End
(mag) Time Alt. Az. Time Alt. Az. Time Alt. Az.
11-Jul -1.9 19:03:39 10° NW 19:05:42 36° NW 19:05:42 36° NW
12-Jul -2.7 18:09:54 10° NNW 18:12:57 39° NE 18:14:17 26° E
13-Jul -2.1 18:52:11 10° WNW 18:55:00 34° SW 18:55:20 35° SSW
14-Jul -3.2 17:57:52 10° NW 18:01:07 76° SW 18:03:44 15° SE
16-Jul -1.9 17:46:23 10° W 17:49:21 32° SW 17:52:21 10° SSE

And a special challenge comes in the form of a manned spaceflight launch of a Russian Soyuz craft, which will then cross our skies during the chase-down of the ISS:

Sun Jul 15/05:52 PM 3 48 34 above W 13 above SE
Mon Jul 16/06:08 PM 3 18 14 above WSW 11 above SSE
Tue Jul 17/06:31 PM 2 11 10 above SW 10 above S

I can’t find projections of the brightness of the Soyuz, but it will be a lot dimmer than the ISS. The passes low in the sky will be quiet hard to pick up, especially for anyone in North Canberra as we have the compounding problem of the Canberra light pollution to the south.

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Gungahlin Al6:54 pm 11 Jul 12

This only appeals to the space nerds. Do space nerds vote Green?

Well that took a curious turn. Don’t know LC. I’ve been posting science and space stuff here long before I had anything to do with the Greens. You perhaps think I should put all other interests on hold while I’m a candidate perhaps? Nah… If you’re not interested, just mosey on to another thread.

Cheers Breda – I took our scope down to Harrison School for the transit of Venus and that also was hugely popular – a never-ending queue of kids and teachers for two hours. Great time.
But I don’t agree at all about our sky being low on light pollution. The street lights up our way are overdesigned to a ridiculous extent.

DTC: Mars is currently about as far away from Earth as it could get, so yes it isn’t much to look at. But that will improve in time.

SO: that’s a really interesting question, one that many people have pondered, but I can’t recall it ever coming up at a Greens thing! I’d say the “bible” on the issue – or how it could play out – is Kim Stanley Robinson’s Red Mars trilogy.
I have written about my thoughts on how we should protect the near side of the Moon though – http://alankerlin.blogspot.com.au/2012/01/whole-earth-side-of-moon-should-be.html

Switch: that iphone app is probably Star Walk (my favourite) with other similar apps being Pocket Universe, Distant Suns, SkyORB, StarMap 3D.
Also check out Moon Globe, Mars Globe, Planet Finder and Satellites for spotting/identifying things.
Other good space-related apps include NASA TV, Mission Clock, 3D Sun, ISS Spotter, and APOD.

Enjoy the rest of the week’s viewing folks.

breda said :

to educate students and get them interested in the world beyond the electronic screen?

My son has this really cute app that allows him to put his iphone above his head and it shows what stars he should be seeing…

“Do space nerds vote Green?”

No, they don’t! I’m a space nerd, and regard the Greens as not only a threat to civilised society, but a serious threat to the surivial of the Human Race!

You are right.

Pointing out that the current course of things is simply unsustainable and will very likely lead to a collapse of the global economy without serious change is anti-human.

We have a world with finite resources and at the current rate of resource consumption are heading towards a very steep cliff.

breda said :

Do any schools in the region take advantage of our clear and relatively un-light-polluted skies to educate students and get them interested in the world beyond the electronic screen?

Quite a few do, actually, dont assume education nowdays isnt ‘as good’ as it was in the olden times!

The transit of venus was very popular. One of the ACT skywatcher societies (sorry, I forget which one) is very generous and willing to turn up to primary schools with their big telescopes and let the kids have a look see and a bit of a chat.

That said, seeing Mars through a telescope doesnt compare with the pics on the NASA website. Or the sights of super mario galaxy

Thanks Al!

Another example of how the blogosphere is beating the MSM hollow. With pages and pages of print and online space devoted to wardrobe malfunctions and celebrity love affairs, they can’t find room for a few paragraphs on what is going on in the sky, despite the fact that there is a lot of interest in the community. Also, with telescopes being very cheap these days, millions are spent on ipads etc for students but how many schools have a telescope?

When I was at school, in prehistoric times, one of the teachers was a skywatcher, and he brought his ‘scope in and interested students came in early in the morning or in the early evening for a look. It started my long-standing interest in the heavens. Do any schools in the region take advantage of our clear and relatively un-light-polluted skies to educate students and get them interested in the world beyond the electronic screen?

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