2014 Celestial Events
Jupiter continues to dominate as the brightest object, shining high in the southern sky throughout the month. On March 9, the planet appears above the day old quarter waxing moon. Later this month look for the bright red planet Mars rising in the east shortly after twilight. This celestial delight can be readily observed from the Beaver Marsh boardwalk.
On the early morning of April 15 there will be a very special event; a total eclipse of the moon. This eclipse occurs during the full moon phase when the earth's shadow is cast on the moon. During totality the moon will appear reddish, resulting from all the earth's sunrises and sunsets being cast on the moon. So, if skies are clear, set your alarm, and then head out to your favorite location in CVNP with a warm coat and pair of binoculars.
April 15 total lunar eclipse phases and projected times:
Partial Phase Begins - 1:58 a.m.
Totality Begins - 3:07 a.m.
Maximum Eclipse - 3:46 a.m.
Totality Ends - 4:23 a.m.
Partial Phase Ends - 5:32 a.m.
On May 15, Mercury and Jupiter dazzle the evening sky appearing bright and a distant side by side on the western horizon approximately 30 minutes after sunset. Jupiter, the brightest object to the left and Mercury, the brightest object to right, provide us a quick view before setting into the night sky. Watch Mercury for a couple of nights during mid-May and you will be rewarded with seeing how quickly it advances towards Jupiter with each passing day.
Early dawn rewards us waking up to the brilliant "morning star" planet Venus. Venture out to the Kendall Hills approximately 40 minutes before sunrise for a splendid view.
Throughout the month, approximately two hours after sunset, look high in the east to see the three brightest stars of Vega, Deneb, and Altair that make up the summer triangle. On exceptionally clear dark nights it may be possible to see the summer triangle against the awe inspiring background of our Milky Way Galaxy.
The very bright star Deneb marks the head of the "Northern Cross" in Cygnus, the swan. At the foot of the cross is Albireo, one of the most magnificent double stars in all the heavens when viewed with high powered binoculars or a small telescope. This double star reveals a bright deep blue and gold star right next to each other.
The brilliance of Vega draws our attention to the constellation Lyra the harp. Within Lyra is the "Ring Nebula" (M57), a very faint ninth magnitude planetary nebula that becomes an inspiring sight when viewed with a small telescope under exceptionally dark skies.
Saturn and Mars offer an inspiring sight as they shine bright on the southwestern horizon and exchange positions from August 23-26. On August 24, Mars appears directly under Saturn. The eastern banks of Horseshoe Pond will be a fine place to observe both planets over the western sky.
Throughout the month starting at 8 p.m., look to the east for stars outlining the huge "Great Square" in Pegasus the horse. Attached to the horse is Andromeda, a constellation that contains the brightest neighboring galaxy, the Andromeda Galaxy (M31). This whirlpool spiral galaxy is like our own containing more than 100 billion stars that shine a bright glow when viewed with a pair of binoculars. Looking at the Andromeda Galaxy we see an image that occurred two million years ago from a distance of two million light years away.
Early dawn on October 8 rewards us with the second opportunity of the year to observe the totality phases of a lunar eclipse. The moon will set shortly after totality in a partial eclipse phase at approximately 7:36 a.m., so a great view of the western horizon is essential. Both the Beaver Marsh and Horseshoe Pond are excellent places to view the eclipse.
October 8 total lunar eclipse phases and projected times:
Partial Phase Begins - 5:16 a.m.
Totality Begins - 6:25 a.m.
Maximum Eclipse - 6:54 a.m.
Totality Ends - 7:24 a.m.
Moon sets in Partial Phase - 7:36 a.m.
Early morning on October 21 will be the prime time to observe the Orionid meteor shower under very dark skies. Although this is one of the lesser showers in numbers of meteors observed, the few that are seen are typically very spectacular and among the very brightest. Look to the constellation Orion for meteors stemming near the bright red star of Betelgeuse.
Any time after 8 p.m. is a fine time to observe the constellation Taurus, the bull in the eastern sky. There are two features that are especially striking: the famous Pleiades open star cluster and the very bright orange star Aldebaran. The Pleiades, sometimes called the seven sisters, appear to the naked eye as a tiny dipper but when observed through a pair of binoculars reveals an incredible array of countless stars, making this among the most magnificent of all the open clusters. The bright star Aldebaran, in the eye of Taurus, is a red giant that shines nearly 425 times brighter than our sun and for size comparison would represent a giant beach ball to our ping pong size sun.
Throughout the month, approximately three hours after sunset, Orion, the hunter appears in the eastern sky. Orion lets us know that winter is well on its way by being the dominant constellation for the entire season. Near the brightest star in the sword is the Orion Nebula (M42), an impressive sight that is easy to see with binoculars.
The very dark skies on the evening of December 13 will make for great viewing of the Geminid meteor shower. This is among the most prolific of meteor showers at times producing more than 50 meteors per/hr, and is well noted for having slow and graceful meteors with long streaming tails. Look for the meteors coming from the constellation Gemini, the twins in the eastern sky any time after 9 p.m.