Saturn and Mars tip The Scales



Tonight, Saturn (above) and Mars (below) made beautiful naked-eye targets in the southern sky as they meander through the constellation of Libra (The Scales).   This week is a great time to view both planets in the evening sky.

Venus/Jupiter conjunction 8-18-2014


You had to get up well before sunrise to see the beautiful Venus/Jupiter conjunction this morning, but it was worth it. The planets were separated by less than the diameter of the Moon and blazed like a pair of binary stars in the pre-dawn sky.  This picture, taken with a standard tripod-mounted digital camera, shows approximately how it looked to the naked eye.  Telescopically, it was even more impressive, as I was able to see both planets and the Galilean moons in a single field of view at 50x!

Longest day of the year is Saturday!

Sun at southernmost point

“The sun reaches its northernmost point in the sky on Saturday, June 21, at 6:51 a.m. EDT. This is called the summer solstice in the Northern Hemisphere, and the winter solstice in the Southern Hemisphere. “


“The sun will reach its northernmost point in the sky — known as the summer solstice — Saturday. Earth’s closest star will seem to pause briefly before beginning its move southward again. In the Northern Hemisphere, this marks the longest day of the year.

Because of Earth’s tilt of 23.4 degrees to its orbit, the noon sun will appear to rise and fall in the sky over the course of the year. The two extremes of this apparent movement are called the solstices, derived from the Latin words for “sun stationary.”

For more information, see’s free Moon ebook

Astronomy magazine is offering a free short ebook about observing the Moon in various phases, with descriptions of the best features during the various phases.  The photo maps list the large features visible to the naked eye, binoculars, and small telescopes.

Free ebook

Free ebook “Your Guide to the Moon”

Download Free Black Holes eBook

Sky and Telescope is offering a free black holes eBook:

This free eBook from Sky & Telescope magazine includes four articles from the experts, who explain various aspects of black holes.

  • “A Quasar in Every Galaxy?” by Robert Irion summarizes observations and theories about the supermassive black holes that lurk in the core of almost every major galaxy.
  • “How Black Holes Helped Build the Universe” by Christopher Wanjek shows how, without black holes, we wouldn’t recognize the universe around us, and we might not even exist.
  • “Spinning Hearts of Darkness” by Laura Brenneman suggests that measuring black holes’ spin can tell us how they form.
  • “Einstein’s Shadow” by Camille Carlisle introduces a planet-wide telescope that has set its sights on imaging a black hole directly.
black hole

Black hole

See more at:


Observing summary June 2014 has a very nice summary of June’s astronomical events:

  • June 3, 2:08–3:44 p.m. EDT Triple shadow transit on Jupiter
  • June 10, dusk. The Moon will pass just south of the planet Saturn.
  • June 21, 6:51 a.m. EDT Solstice
  • June 24, dawn, The slender crescent moon will pass just below the planet Venus.
  • Jun 27, New Moon
Moon and Saturn

June 10, the Moon will pass just south of Saturn.

Planet notes:

  • Mercury visible near the setting Sun for the first two weeks of the month.
  • Venus is the dawn star, rising just before the Sun.
  • Mars is now dimming rapidly as it moves towards conjunction with the Sun.
  • Jupiter is low in the western sky at sunset, visible until late in the month.
  • Saturn is high in the southern sky for most of the night.
  • Uranus rises just before the sun.
  • Neptune rises after midnight.

July 27 Star Party at Muleshoe

A fun afternoon and night out at the refuge with friends at a public star party and photo expedition. The clouds didn’t cooperate, but we stayed late and had a blast anyway

I arrived in late afternoon and caught this shot of windmills dotting the plains:

We had a nice group of people go on a nature walk with Tishia, a Texas Master Naturalist:

The lakes were full, providing gorgeous views and lots of birds to watch:

Despite the weather reports, clouds moved in giving us a pretty sunset, but poor observing:

For the first few hours, we chased sucker holes to view bright objects or waited for another hole to open.  Some packed up as the sky became overcast, but others waited for moonrise to do some night landscapes.  Its first appearance through the clouds was spooky:

A little later, the Moon lit up the landscape and clouds while reflecting off the lake:

A number of us then went on a night walk along the road seeking critters and found a black widow spider and several other interesting insects

And we found a walking stick in the parking lot:

As we walked down the road, I took some night landscapes over the prairie dog town.  The first caught a pretty corona (a colorful ring around a bright object caused by ice in the upper atmosphere) around the Moon:

This shot looks over prairie dog town and shows the extent of the  cloud cover:

Another shot of the moonlit landscape with a small bush:

Late in the night, we wrapped up as we watched a distant thunderstorm light up the clouds:

Magnetic waves may heat the corona

Growing evidence suggests that magnetic waves are the reason our star’s corona is so hot. 

Coronal hole

A close-up, false-color look at the Sun shows the large, dark polar coronal hole astronomers studied in order to determine what heats our star’s corona. White lines show the position of the Hinode spacecraft’s spectrometer slits, used to observe gas motions in the corona.
Courtesy Michael Hahn

Last week, while many of us were suffering from sweltering temperatures, solar physicists meeting in Bozeman, Montana, were discussing their own heat problem: the enduring mystery of why the Sun’s corona is roughly 100 times hotter than the layers below it.

A new analysis by Michael Hahn and Daniel Savin (Columbia University) suggests that astronomers might have the culprit in hand. This culprit, the so-called Alfvénic waves, has been a suspect for more than seven decades. The oscillations move along solar magnetic field lines like the vibrations in a plucked guitar string, and it’s thought that somehow they transfer their energy to the Sun’s hot, ionized gas. In 2011 the waves were detected permeating the upper solar atmosphere.

The Weakest Solar Cycle in 100 Years

Scientists are struggling to explain the Sun’s bizarre recent behavior. Is it a fluke, or a sign of a deeper trend?

Sunspot cycle

The Sun is currently at the peak of Cycle 24, the weakest cycle in 100 years.
D. Hathaway / NASA / MSFC

The Sun is acting weird. It typically puts on a pageant of magnetic activity every 11 years for aurora watchers and sungazers alike, but this time it overslept. When it finally woke up (a year late), it gave the weakest performance in 100 years.

What’s even weirder is that scientists, who aren’t usually shy about tossing hypotheses about, are at a loss for a good explanation. Three scientists, David Hathaway (NASA / Marshall Space Flight Center), Giuliana de Toma (High Altitude Observatory), and Matthew Penn (National Solar Observatory) presented possible explanations at this month’s meeting of the American Astronomical Society’s Solar Physics Division, but their results sparked a lively debate rather than a scientific consensus.

New Supernova in M74

Supernova Erupts in M74

An exploding star in the spiral galaxy Messier 74 in Pisces, discovered last Thursday, had brightened to about magnitude 12.6 as of Tuesday morning. And it may not have reached its peak yet.Chalk up another one for the astronomers of the Lick Observatory Supernova Search. Using a robotic telescope atop Mount Hamilton in California, the LOSS team announced that the system spotted a new 13.5-magnitude star about 2.7 arcminutes from the galaxy’s core on the morning of July 25th.

Supernova 2013ej in M74

Supernova 2013ej is marked in this red-light image taken on July 28.7 using a robotic 20-inch telescope in Australia. It’s a stack of three 120-second-long exposures. The field is 12 arcminutes wide, with north up and east to the left.
Ernesto Guido & Nick Howes

Since its initial detection, the eruption (now designated Supernova 2013ej) has brightened to roughly magnitude 12.6 as of July 30th. Here’s an up-to-date light curve from the American Association of Variable Star Observers (AAVSO).

For more info, see