As 2016 comes to a close corks will be popping and fireworks firing to be sure. But make sure in all the excitement you don’t miss the celestial fireworks!
There will be the opportunity for you to see periodic Comet 45P/Honda-Mrkos-Pajdusakova in the constellation Capricornus. This comet has an orbital period of just 5.25 years that takes out to Jupiter’s orbit before plunging back toward the Sun.
The best time to view will be just after sunset on new years eve, December 31, 2016. The south-western sky will be filled with other great objects for you to observe besides the comet including the Moon, Venus, Mars and Neptune.
The sky chart above shows Comet 45P at about 21 degrees above the horizon and roughly 5 degrees away from the Moon. This will make for great viewing with binoculars or a telescope.
In early February this comet will pass within 0.1 AU of the earth. It is predicted to reach maximum brightness of magnitude ~7 in early January.
Below is a broader view of the same area of sky on 12-31-2016 showing the other planets, Venus, Mars and Neptune which will also be visible.
Mars and Neptune will be mere 0.2 degrees a part and visible in the same field of view of a telescope. Use high power eyepieces on Neptune to see it’s small blueish disk. Mars’ red color will be easily discernible.
Shining brightly at -4.4, Venus will be the show stopper. Known as the morning or evening star, as it never wanders far from the Sun from our vantage point, seen through a telescope Venus will appear as a gibbous disc that is about 60% sunlit.
So while the party is going on slip out into the cool or cold night air and view the big show of planets and comets. And take note, these celestial orbs will be setting about the time to red orb drops in NYC.
It’s been a decade since the planet Mercury passed in front of the Sun as seen from Earth. These transits happen about 13 times a century and November 8, 2006 was the last time it happened. I took the image below with a 90 mm Meade ETX telescope. Mercury is the small dot. The larger dot to the right is a giant sunspot. You can see more of my transit images on my website.
This year on May 9, 2016 Mercury will once again slowly glide across the face of the Sun and it’ll make for a great observing opportunity for those in the U.S.A. The transit will have already begun (6:12 a.m. CDT) for those in western parts of North America. So when the Sun rises on May 9, 2016 at 6:34 a.m. CDT Mercury will already be working its way across the Sun. The greatest transit time for the DFW area will come around 9:58 a.m. CDT. Greatest transit is the instant when Mercury passes closest to the Sun’s center. Mercury should begin to move off the face of the Sun at about 1:38 p.m. CDT. Continue reading Mercury Transit 2016→
Jupiter’s four large moons (Io, Europa, Ganymede, and Callisto) are hard to miss, and a favorite telescopic target of backyard observers. They are commonly referred to as the Galilean Moon’s due to the fact that they were discovered by Galileo Galilei over 400 years ago.
It just so happens that on the night of January 23-24th (Friday night into Saturday morning) these four large moons will be putting on a must see show. A triple shadow transit!
The video above from NASA outlines that transits and events as they unfold on the night of January 23rd. I have listed them below giving the Central Standard times.
This month Mars is at opposition (opposite the sun in the sky as seen from Earth). This means our planet is closer to Mars and thus Mars is brighter (-1.5 mag) in our sky, well placed for telescopic observation and generally a lot more interesting to view. Here are some keys dates. On April 8, 2014 Mars will be at opposition (distance to earth: 0.621 AU, brightness: -1.5 mag, diameter: 15.08″). On April 14, 2014 Mars makes its closest approach to Earth (distance to earth: 0.618 AU, brightness: -1.4 mag, diameter: 15.16″). This will be a great time to get out and observe the red planet through a telescope, it’s polar ice caps and light and dark regions, and also how the planet changes over time. It’s not uncommon for dust storms to occur and totally change how we see the planet.
Looking West at sunset you can find brilliant Venus and the ringed planet Saturn. Venus is often mistaken for an airplane or weather balloon it’s so bright. Venus also goes through phases as seen from our vantage point and this is easily decernable when viewed through a telescope.
Saturn’s rings are aways a treat to view and often the favorite of those new to observing through a telescope. It’s quickly dipping down sunward so look while you can.
Look low in the west after sunset in late May to catch Venus, Jupiter, and Mercury dancing closely in the sky. The best time to see them should be 40 minutes after local sunset. See the video prepared by Sky & Telescope for the planets positions relative to each other over several weeks into June. From Friday, May 24th through Wednesday, May 29th Venus, Jupiter, and Mercury will all be within 5 degrees of each other providing a great opportunity to check them out in binoculars. You should be able to see all three planets in the field of view in your binoculars. Brilliant Venus will be the brightest followed by Jupiter and Mercury. This celestial sky show will take place on the western skyline about 10 degrees (the height of your clinched fist held at arm’s length) above the horizon. Jupiter falls from view beginning on June 6th while the Moon begins to make it’s presence known very low on the horizon on June 9th.
Saturn is nicely placed and easily found in the evening sky. Look around 10 pm in the SE. You’ll find the ringed planet below the bright star Spica in Virgo. A small telescope is needed to reveal the magnificent rings.