This version of my amateur astronomy weblog is now using WordPress to manage the content. The older version, which was a static html page, is left as an archive.

April 23, 2009

Venus and the Crescent Moon

Filed under: Naked eye observing,Observing — nick @ 2:13 am

22 April 2009: Moon and Venus Conjunction

An occultation of Venus by the waning crescent moon early in the morning was visible in much of the western part of North America this morning. I didn’t get up early enough to see it; in fact, it was so cloudy last night that I didn’t even try to find out if and when it might visible from my location.

However, when I went outside this morning about 6:30 am, I did see a beautiful pairing of Venus and the crescent moon in the dawn twilight (click on the smaller image to see a larger version):

A little later, I thought I would try to use the moon as a guide to see Venus in the daytime. About 7:25 am (about 25 minutes after sunrise) I scanned the sky for the area where I thought the pair should be. The moon was thin enough that even it was hard to in in the bright morning sky, but after a few minutes, I was able to focus on it and with the aid of the moon as a guide, could now easily see Venus clearly in sky during the day, as I had done previously.

December 31, 2008

New Years Eve Conjunction

Filed under: Naked eye observing,Observing — nick @ 3:28 am

31 December 2008: Double Conjunction

Tonight just after sunset a double conjunction was visible: the crescent moon with Venus nearby, and, close to the horizon, Jupiter and Mercury. Around 6:00  pm I could all four objects from my backyard in the twilight of the setting sun. Venus and the Moon were shining bright in the southwest, and Jupiter, with nearby Mercury barely visible in the residual sunlight just over the roof of neighbor’s house. I called the family for a look, which they took, with varying levels of enthusiasm.

I got a more unobstructed look from across the street in front of the house as the sky darkened. I also knocked on the door of a neighbor whom I thought would  be interested in this sort of thing, and indeed, they were appreciative.

I also took a quick photo using a older Canon Digital Elph camera, and surprisingly, it turned out to be not too bad (see the thumbnails above, which link to larger images).

February 21, 2008

Lunar Eclipse 2008

Filed under: Naked eye observing,Observing — nick @ 4:53 am

20 February 2008: Lunar Eclipse

A total lunar eclipse was forecast for tonight. Earlier this day, I had poor hopes for good visibility; it was snowing when I woke up (the kids; school district called for a two hour delay, which just messes up everyone’s schedule) and the sky was completely overcast all morning.

Around 9:00 pm I had just finished a soccer game (I play on a “40 [years old] and over” indoor soccer league—yes, we won, thanks for asking) and as I exited the building the moon clearly visible with a noticeable “bite” out of it. By the time I got home I could see the sky was clear and the moon was in Leo, nestled between Regulus and Saturn. The air was crisp but cold—around 15°F (about -10°C), so I put on some extra layers of clothing.

The eclipse was approaching totality, so I asked the girls if they wanted to come out for a look, and they did. We decided it was too cold to get out a telescope but we did grab a pair of binoculars. We watched the bright limb disappear from one side of the moon and looked at the copper-shadowed moon with the binoculars for awhile. It’s funny how dark the eclipsed portion appears when part is still sunlit, but when totality occurs it seems brighter.

Since it was cold, the girls went in shortly after 10:00 (it was past their bedtime, anyway) and I went inside as well, popping out every ten minutes or so to take a look until the sunlit portion began to emerge from the Earth’s shadow.

Eclipse trivia: Aristotle used the roundness of the Earth’s shadow on the moon during a lunar eclipse as an argument in favor of a spherical Earth.

November 30, 2007

Venus in the daytime

Filed under: Naked eye observing,Observing — nick @ 10:05 pm

30 November 2007: Early morning naked-eye observations

Around 6:30 am I was outside to let the dog out. The sky was still dark, and it was crisp and clear. I looked around and saw the moon (about half-full), Mars, Saturn, and Venus (shining like a bright jewel in the eastern sky) strung out in a line, demarcating the plane of ecliptic. Orion was also astride the sky in the southwest with another dog or two nearby to keep him company, and to the north the great bear was upside-down.

Around 8:00, after the kids were off to school, I took my dog for a walk before going to work. It was bright and clear, so I decided to see if I could do a naked-eye sighting of Venus after sunrise. I had spotted Venus in the daytime a couple of times in the past, but only with a visual cue such as nearby moon to help out. I scanned the sky in the area I thought Venus should be. I had an early success! A point of light flitted into view for a brief few seconds before I lost sight of it.

Maddeningly, I then spent a few minutes trying to repeat the observation. Fortunately my dog was very patient because she found some kind interesting smell to keep her occupied. It can be very frustrating experience attempting to find a rather small point of light at infinite focus without nearby visual cues to help. Other thing interfered as well; I became acutely aware at the number of floaters and other junk that had accumulated within my eye over the last 47 years. Also, I began to experience the blue field entoptic phenomenon. This is when you can actually see the movement of blood within the capillaries of your retina; it appears as tiny points of light that follow defined tracks within your field of view.

Well, fascinating as this was from a physiological point of view, it was no help at all in finding Venus. At last, however, I caught site of the elusive planet and held it in my gaze for about half a minute. I checked the time on my cell phone: it was 8:14 am (EST), fully half hour after the local time of sunrise, according to the paper. This was the deepest into daytime that I had seen Venus with my naked eye, and also the only time observing it in the daytime without a visual guide such as the moon nearby or the with aid of binoculars to use as a finder.

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