One obvious galaxy that surely everyone has seen (especially in the summer and fall months when its big billowy star-clouds pass overhead) is the one we live in—the magnificent Milky Way! But there’s another equally famous one that is perfectly placed for viewing on November evenings and which can be seen even without optical aid on a dark moonless night. It’s the great Spiral Galaxy of Andromeda.
Wow! What a month for celestial spectaculars—a total eclipse of the Moon (for those who were clouded out at the one in April) and a partial eclipse of the Sun just two weeks later! Both will be readily visible to the unaided eye and thrilling sights in binoculars and small telescopes (given proper safety precautions in the case of the Sun).
We’re all aware of the negative impact human activity is having on our planet’s land masses, oceans and atmosphere. But it goes beyond far that to the very night sky above us. And sadly, only sky-watchers seem aware of this increasing menace which is destroying the beauty of a star-filled sky for those living in or anywhere near large metropolitan areas.
Sky-watchers will have a unique opportunity to see two conjunctions of bright planets this month—one in the evening sky after sunset and the other in the morning sky before dawn. Both are showstoppers, but the one before sunrise will be quite spectacular and definitely worth the effort to rise early that day.
Have you ever heard of a star named after one of the planets? Well there actually is one! And it, along with its namesake, is currently visible in the evening sky after sunset. Both objects are unmistakably bright and will jump out at you facing south as the twilight fades.
Skywatchers this month have an ideal opportunity to see the two brightest of all the stars of the northern heavens at the same time. Not only are they brilliant and unmistakable—but they also display a truly striking color contrast between them sure to surprise anyone who thinks that stars are all just plain white!
Ask someone to name the best-known planets and invariably Mars, Jupiter and Saturn will be the response. Indeed, the last two are the biggest such bodies in our solar system, while Mars—despite its diminutive size—is perhaps the most famous of all such worlds due to its long association with life elsewhere in the public mind. May evenings offer an opportunity to see all three at once. Continue reading
Mark your calendar for April 15th and set your alarm clock to get you up just before 2:00 a.m. that morning. A spectacular lunar eclipse will occur beginning then and be widely visible from all of North America. (It’s actually the first of two such events this year, the second one happening in October, so you’ll have another chance to experience an eclipse should this one happen to be clouded out!)
A spectacular and rare celestial occultation is scheduled to happen on the late night of March 20th for selected readers of this column. It’s nothing less than the brief disappearance of the well-known first-magnitude star Regulus in Leo, the Lion—and with it, disruption of its well-known “sickle” asterism marking the head of the Lion!
Due to its great brilliancy and richness, the great French astronomy popularizer Camille Flammarion was fond of calling the winter constellation Orion the "California of the Sky." Aside from the Big Dipper itself, perhaps no other star grouping in the entire heavens is as well known. And it’s at its glorious best on February evenings.
As the brightest of the 88 constellations in the sky, Orion is unmistakable. Simply going outside on a clear winter’s night and looking up, your gaze is immediately riveted on its display of colorful bright stars. The first thing you’ll notice are its two brightest luminaries, Betelgeuse and Rigel. If you think stars don’t have color, think again! The former is a red giant super sun and glows a distinct deep orange in hue. The latter is a blue giant and sparkles like a brilliant celestial diamond.