To read an excerpt from the book, please click on the following link:

Friday, January 23, 2015

A Short Break, and the Night Sky: Orion, Lovejoy, Asteroid Flyby

I have had a short break from writing in this blog partially because I am stargazing at night--conditions in winter are usually wonderful, if the sky is not cloudy, of course.  It's even fairly good when the moon is bright.  After I observe, I make sketches in my stargazing journal

My little red house in Lompico is a primo place for stargazing, despite the surrounding trees. There is NO light at all at night and it was so dark the other night that I could see Orion as a huge, scintillating constellation--there was even starlight illuminating the woods around my house (it's at a pretty high elevation).  I saw the Orion Nebula (shining just below Orion's three stars that make up his belt) much more clearly than I have ever seen it before.  It is a nursery for new stars, and within the nebula are some cool things: the Horsehead Nebula, and the Flame Nebula, among other things.  If you want to observe it or learn more about the Orion Nebula, here is a link to its page on Sky and Telescope (with the caveat that, unless you have a very high-powered telescope, you will not be able to see the red colors in the nebula):

Please note also that most of the star charts on these links are located at the bottom of the webpage, or nearly so, so please scroll down if you go to the page.

Comet Lovejoy is still around; I observe it nearly every night.  It is definitely getting a wispy tail as it gradually approaches the sun, though the tail is easiest to see under excellent viewing conditions, as I had the other night.  Lovejoy is now in the constellation Aries, which I locate by finding the world's easiest constellation to spot, Triangulum; I locate Triangulum and then find Aries beneath it.  Lovejoy is to the left of Aries, just slightly.  Please remember that a) you MUST have binoculars or a telescope to see it (I usually locate the comet with binoculars and then find it in my telescope), and
b) the comet is not as close to Aries as it looks on the chart; space is quite vast, obviously, and the distances may be greater between stars and objects, so scanning around with binoculars is recommended:

The last exciting bit of news is that there will be a fly-by of a very large asteroid on Monday, January 26th (don't worry; it poses no threat to Earth).  It will be in the consellation Cancer.  You must have a telescope or good binoculars to see it. If you look on the chart in the link I have provided, you will see that the asteroid initially proceeds neart Altarf, the brightest star in the constellation.  The chart shows the asteroid's positions in the night sky, beginning at 6 pm. How to know you've spotted it?  It will be the "star" that's moving!  Please note that because nothing in nature acts perfectly and in accordance with our wishes, the asteroid might be a little off track, so scan around.

This article gives more information on the comet, including how to see it online if your skies are cloudy, etc: