By Dave Fuller on 8/26/2014 7:49 PM
People are surprised that they can see stars during the day that are not the Sun. “What? Really? How is that possible?” It is possible because bright stars are... well, bright! The trick is that you need to know the exact spot to look, because you won't have the crutch of a dark sky to make the star's contrast with the sky as obvious.

So how to find a star in the sky this week? Use the Moon as your guide. On Friday August 29th, the Moon will be a waxing crescent. Now, some people are still surprised that the Moon can be seen during the day, but that's another matter. Even crescent like this shines at magnitude negative nine, more than sufficient to be seen in a clear blue sky.

Moon and Sun in sky Aug 28 2014

The first step is to find the Moon in the sky, and you have a window of a couple hours for the easiest spotting of the star. For the first opportunity, look slightly before 3:00 pm EDT/12:00 pm PDT....
By Dave Fuller on 8/26/2014 5:52 PM

Again, NO.

Mars will not EVER appear as large as the full Moon, not until humans are within ~475,000 miles of it. And Mars will never be that close to Earth short of some catastrophic solar system event which everyone would certainly know about.

So just stop with the "Mars is as big as the Moon" stuff already.

There's a lot more here on Eyes on the Sky. For example, every week on the homepage there is a new astronomy video about observing objects in the night sky. They're only 5 minutes long - why not check out the latest one right now? For those new to astronomy, don't miss Eyes on the Sky's Ultimate Beginner's Guide!

By Dave Fuller on 8/25/2014 2:18 PM
Unlike the previous double star, HD 213067, our next double star is a bit harder to locate, but it's worth seeking out. For one, it's not just a double star at the eyepiece, it's a triple star. HD 215812 / HIP 112559 is a 7.2 magnitude star located northeast of Sigma Aquarii. But it may be easier to find by locating Lambda Aquarii, a star that can be found pretty easily by extending the "Nashira -> Deneb Algiedi" line in Capricornus out ~20 degrees (learn how to measure distance in the sky here).

Find double star STF 2944

At Lambda, an average finderscope of 6x26 or larger can show where to go, because at 3.7 magnitude, Lamdba is easily seen now. Moving northward in the direction of Zeta Pegasi, a 7 degrees field of...
By Dave Fuller on 8/25/2014 9:35 AM
When looking at planetarium software for objects I discuss in weekly Eyes on the Sky videos, I often see interesting objects I wouldn't necessarily find if I were looking for them in the night sky. That is because I am usually looking at the software with a wider field of view than I can usually see through an eyepiece. In addition, this summer has been absolutely terrible for observing where I am located; some forest fires up in Canada coupled with weather systems that keep a near constant cirrus-to-full-stratus-cloud cover has made it hard to get much good observing accomplished.

So while looking for the appropriate star hop waypoints to find Neptune in the sky, I noticed there were some interesting sights nearby to the last landmark - ummm... skymark? - to reach Neptune, Sigma Aquarii. Now that star itself has a bit of an interesting look to it, what with a triangle...
By Dave Fuller on 8/24/2014 3:49 PM
Neptune is just slightly below the dimmest naked eye objects from a dark sky site. Most humans can see down to about magnitude 6.5; at the moment, Neptune glows at magnitude 7.6. That puts it easily within the visibility of most any 7x35, 8x40, 7x50 or 10x50 binoculars from just about anywhere. The key simply knowing where to look. 

Five steps might make this star hope sound more difficult than it really is, but because I'd like everyone to be able to see the furthest planet, I am showing this one small step at a time, so no one misses where to go. The first thing to do is get oriented in the sky. The ecliptic - the imaginary line in the sky that the Sun passes through as Earth revolves around it - is close the area where all the planets appear in the sky. And Neptune is currently visible within the boundaries of the constellation Aquarius. To get an idea of where to look in the sky, check out the Aug 25 thru Aug 31 Eyes on the Sky weekly video:

Later in summer and through fall, Aquarius may appear more towards the south or even southeast, but for now, it's towards the southwest. A bit of geometry will help you locate the proper position in the sky. While 6.5 magnitude stars are the dimmest seen from dark sky locations, most of us aren't likely to see much below magnitude 4.5 or so. I've made an animated gif that shows stars to only about magnitude 3.8. That means almost everyone should be able to find these stars, and then locate the geometric location of Neptune near Sigma Aquarii. Neptune locater animated gif

By Dave Fuller on 8/22/2014 7:23 PM

Have you ever driven down the road at night, and had an oncoming driver be completely oblivious to the fact that they have their high bean headlights turned on? You flash at them, they ignore you... and so you squint, perhaps slow down, and look to the side of the road away from the lights, hoping you don't hit the approaching vehicle. 

And yet, in communities across the United States (and many across the world), we routinely put up with similar lighting situations. Lamp posts with lights that go every-which-way, porch lights that blast light everywhere including out into the street, and perhaps worst of all, floodlights that are mis-aimed and can actually blind drivers who are subjected to them.

90 watt unshielded floodlights

By Dave Fuller on 8/19/2014 12:59 PM
There aren't a whole lot of comets that are terribly bright right now, but one is making a rather rapid beeline up the northern sky. And a couple of days this month, it will be very close to some rather well-known and easy to find stars. That should make locating the comet quite a bit easier. 

Here's an animated GIF detailing where this comet will be from now through the end of August.

Comet Jacques animated GIF for August 2014

A caveat: This comet is NOT all that bright. It peaked last month in July at around magnitude 5.7, which is fairly bright for many comets that are visible on any given night. But it starts this series of images on August 19 at magnitude 8.3 or so, and will likely drop at least a half to a full magnidue by August 30 that ends this animgated gif. 

By Dave Fuller on 8/18/2014 4:05 PM
On August 2, 2014, members of the Kankakee Area Stargazers, the Kankakee Valley Theater Association, other members of the community, artist-in-residence for Kankakee Brandi Burgess and I put together a show for about 55 audience members at the Willowhaven Interpretive Center east of the Kankakee / Bradley / Bourbonnais area. See this previous blog post for information about the event; see pictures below for some fun scenes from that night.  

The program ran 45 minutes, and amateur astronomers plus about half the crowd stayed for another hour and fifteen minutes to look at Saturn, Mars, the Moon and some other objects through a couple of telescopes that were brought by a couple members of the Kankakee Area Stargazers. Below are few photos from this theater-astronomy-mythology-outreach event. 

Brandi Burgess and David Fuller welcome the audience to Star Stories

By Dave Fuller on 8/18/2014 2:40 PM
Theta Serpentis is somewhat off the beaten path; over 7 degrees from 3.4 magnitude Delta Aquilae and more than 15 degrees from Altair and Cebalrai, it isn't exactly in a well-traveled area of the Milky Way.  But it does reside along the plane of our galaxy from our perspective, and that makes both the journey to it - plus some other objects nearby - a worthwhile one to make.

Start at Altair, dropping south to Detla Aquilae, and look for Cebalrai in Ophiuchus, a star that has it's own interesting deep sky objects nearby. From there, it's more than a full binoculars or finderscope field of view to reach the star, so using some other stars close by to get our bearings is helpful.

Delta Aquilae to Theta Serpentis star hop graphic

By Dave Fuller on 8/18/2014 7:26 AM
IC 4756: A huge, star-rich object

It's always interesting researching objects that are not Messiers or well-known NGC objects. Particularly with IC objects, the data available is, sadly, even harder to come by. But we need not know the nitty gritty details (IC 4756 has 6 blue stragglers!) to find and appreciate these clusters. No, what we need most often is simply knowing they exist, that they are easily seen, and worth finding/observing.

Star hop to IC4756 in OphiuchusI often find NGC objects that appear "bright" on Stellarium or on other lists that indicate a bright overall combined magnitude, but then when I see the size of the object, I have to roll my eyes sometimes. "A cluster just 10 arc seconds across? That's like looking at MARS!" (which, if you don't already know, looks incredibly tiny at the eyepiece). So when I saw an object that lists an angular diameter of 52 arc minutes (almost twice is large as the Moon) AND an integrated magnitude of 5.00, I knew I had to investigate further. 


The Nightlight

This blog includes what to see in the night and daytime skies, thoughts on telescopes, binoculars, and other astronomy observing accessories and equipment, plus my own occasional notes on objects I've seen and observed. Oh, and the random theater or other "my take on life" post. In other words, there is always something interesting. Check it out.