Casual Astronomy, Spaceflight News and Lower California Weather

Maybe 1% of all people ...

By: LowerCal, 4:18 AM GMT on January 29, 2007

***** February 5 Evening Update

Maybe 1% of all people have seen the planet Mercury with their naked eye and knew what they were looking at.

One reason Mercury is seldom noticed is because it's appearances are so brief. While the planet Venus' current appearance as the evening star lasts over half a year Mercury's current evening appearance will only last another week. You can spot it 40 minutes to an hour after sunset above the WSW horizon to the lower right of Venus. (See the February 2 Evening Update below for more details).


Venus & Mercury by BurlingtonRoute


Venus and Mercury at dusk by dabobman

More information:
Sky & Telescope - Observe Mysterious Mercury


***** February 5 Late Evening Alert

Anyone still awake in the central northern US or in Canada should check their sky for possible aurora activity now ... unless it's just too cold. ;^)


***** February 2 Evening Update

Venus and Mercury are very easy to spot at 6:00pm with a clear sky and a clear horizon to the WSW. I spotted them wearing my computer glasses (not my distance glasses) -- brilliant and white Venus about a fist and a half above the horizon, less bright and golden Mercury half as high and to the lower right. All you need to know is precisely which direction WSW is from your viewing location.


***** February 1 Afternoon Update

Solar conditions are no longer as favorable for auroral displays; however there are still worthwhile things to see in the evening sky.

The Moon


full moon 2 by MargieKieper

One is the moon which will be full tonight and nearly so for the next couple of days.

Venus and Mercury

The other is the close approach of Venus and Mercury at dusk for about the next week. 40 minutes to an hour after sunset Mercury can be seen less than a fist width (at arm's length) to the lower right of Venus in the WSW.

Although Mercury will be higher (in a darker area of the sky) later in the week it will be getting dimmer too. It's hard to predict when its visibility will be best. If you're photographing try throughout the week if possible.


Blogging Hint: Don't use "xxx" as a temporary placeholder for links. 8^[ (Either that or check all your links in "Preview This Entry", lol.)


***** January 31 Early Morning Update

Current solar conditions still make significant auroral activity possible this evening and the rest of the week.

During day and evening in the US you can look for the real time (minute by minute) display of the aurora on the color All Sky Cam in Kiruna, Sweden from noon through midnight EST, 9:00am through 9:00pm PST. The bright round object in the sky during that time is not the Sun, it's the nearly full Moon.

You can see where it's currently nighttime and daytime in the world with The Night Sky Live. (Thanks to sp34n119w for the link.)


***** January 29 Afternoon Update

Current solar conditions make significant auroral activity possible this evening and the rest of the week.

Earlier today the auroral activity level was high enough to make some activity visible as far south as St. Louis -- if it had been nighttime there. Auroral activity can fluctuate quite rapidly so it's best to monitor the yellow and orange auroral oval link (the link automatically updates). When the yellow edge of the auroral oval is near your location that's the time to check the sky.

For those of us too far south we can watch the actual aurora minute by minute on the color All Sky Cam in Kiruna, Sweden.


***** Original Entry

Aurora activity is possible in the central northern US tonight.

Northern Auroral Activity Monitor
(NOTE: This view does not automatically update.)

(When the yellow part of the oval gets close to your location it's time to check the sky.)

The enlarged view will automatically update. The smaller view above doesn't.



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Updated: 9:39 PM GMT on February 13, 2007

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Casual Astronomy

By: LowerCal, 7:22 AM GMT on January 20, 2007

***** May 23 Update

Primarily "Casual Astronomy" will cover a rectangle that has a diagonal from Vancouver, Canada to Trinidad. When practical "Casual Astronomy" will cover other areas of the Northern Hemisphere or the entire globe.


***** January 21 Evening Update

I added a few WU photos at the bottom of this entry. In an effort to keep the blog dialup friendly I'll only be posting a few images on each entry. Here's a link to see all the WU astronomy pictures.


***** Original entry

The purpose of "Casual Astronomy" is to provide a "heads up" and useful guide to impressive yet easy to view sky events like meteor showers, auroras, and naked eye and binocular comets.

It's not for astronomy geeks like me. ;^) There are plenty of websites for us. Those websites strive to be precise and sometimes are too technical and unclear to the casual astronomer. On the other hand stories on astronomical events in the popular media are often simplified to the point of inaccuracy. As a result the casual astronomer is puzzled and disappointed, for example, by looking for meteors before any can actually be seen.

Here are the resources I will use the most:

SpaceWeather.com
has the most late breaking news.

SkyTonight.com
has accurate descriptions of what can be expected in the days (and nights) ahead.

NOAA's Space Environment Center monitors auroral activity in real time. When the yellow edge of the oval gets close to your location it's time to check the sky.

(NOTE: This small view does not update.
The enlarged view automatically updates.)
Northern Auroral Activity Oval - click for the enlarged view


You can use these resources yourself. I'd be happy to answer any questions in comments or by WU mail. Any suggestions to improve the blog are welcome.


To start things off here is a tip for the many excellent WU photographers (and others). Venus and a slender Luna will have a rendevous in the western sky on Saturday evening. 8^o




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Updated: 5:35 PM GMT on May 23, 2007

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Comet McNaught and Aurora Possibility

By: LowerCal, 2:01 AM GMT on January 09, 2007

***** January 18 Evening Update

(January 19 Morning Update in bold)

Two even better images of Comet McNaught from the Southern Hemisphere.
image1
image2

... and ...

Minor Aurora activity was noted in northwestern Wisconsin last night. Those of you in the north central US may want to frequently check this link.
(Doh! :[ I should have included this explanation with the original posting.)
When the yellow edge of the orange ring gets near your area that's the time to start checking the sky. When the Activity # reaches 8 that yellow edge should be near the northern border of the US.



credit Space Environment Center (SEC) of NOAA

***** January 18 Morning Update

Great image of Comet McNaught from the Southern Hemisphere.

***** January 15 Noon Update

It may be possible to get one last glimpse of Comet McNaught from northern latitudes close to the equator today. After today Comet McNaught will belong exclusively to the Southern Hemisphere.

***** January 14 Noon Update

Daylight Sighting Confirmed!

I SAW IT WITH MY OWN EYES!!! I stood in the shadows of the east side of a building and picked it up with my 8x42 binoculars. It was easy to see the head, the tail, and the varying brightness of different areas of the tail. Once I had it spotted in binoculars and I knew where it was relative to the roof edge I was able to spot it with my naked eyes about 3 fingers (at arm's length) to the left of the sun. It was just a smudge, like a tiny fingernail clipping. I doubt I would have seen it if I hadn't spotted it in the binoculars first.

BE VERY CAREFUL WHEN USING BINOCULARS OR VIEWFINDERS NEAR THE SUN. It should show up even better later in the day when the sky is darkening somewhat unless your air is very hazy. The comet will appear more to the upper left (same distance) of the sun as the your afternoon progresses.

Another WUer may be posting a photo soon.

***** January 14 Early Morning Update

Comet McNaught is now as bright or brighter than Venus. It can be seen in broad daylight according to SpaceWeather.com!

Their article directs you to stand in the shade on the east side of a building just after noon. However, earlier in the day you could use anything that will fully block the sun and the sky above it, and awning for instance. By scanning the area just below the blocked sun the comet should eventually pop into view.

I'll try using a large book tomorrow once the sun rises above the haze on the horizon. I'll report back then but maybe some of you Easterners will report first!

Later in the day an obstruction on your horizon will now work to your advantage! As soon as the sun drops behind the obstruction scan the sky just above it.

I tried the "big book" approach at 9 am with no success. I'll try the "big building approach at noon.

***** January 13 Evening Update

I added more photos by WU comet hunters. Scroll down more. ;)

***** January 11 Evening Update

I added some photos by WU comet hunters. Just scroll down a little.

***** January 9 Late Evening Update

Areas farther north should still have good viewing for the next couple of evenings. The farther north the better the view and the longer the window of naked eye visibility.

The comet is currently very close to the horizon at sunset. It currently becomes visible to the naked eye approximately 1/2 an hour after sunset. For latitudes south of New Orleans the comet will be below the horizon by then. At it's current brightness those areas will only be able to view it with binoculars or telescope.

***** January 9 Afternoon Update

The comet will be much more impressive in binoculars. Depending on how bright or faint the comet is this evening it might require binoculars to find it.

To find it with binoculars start AFTER the sun disappears below the horizon. Imagine a rectangle with the upper left corner at Venus (the bright "evening star" low in the WSW) and the lower right corner on the horizon directly west. Slowly "sweep" this box with your binoculars just as if you were sweeping a patch of floor. It will take several left to right sweeps, each one lower but overlapping the one before, to cover the entire box. If you sweep the entire box without finding the comet try again. If you don't "sweep up" the comet on the second try wait a few minutes and try sweeping again.

"Sweeping" with binoculars may not be necessary to find the comet but binoculars will show you more detail once you have found it. It's not likely but it is possible that the comet may have become as bright as Venus!

Clear skies and good hunting! 8^)

***** Original Entry

Comet McNaught has brightened unexpectedly and is now being observed with the naked eye or binoculars. You can begin looking immediately after sundown in the W-WSW to the lower right of Venus (the bright evening "star"). It will be low in the sky so you will need a low unobstructed horizon in that direction. Be sure you DO NOT POINT BINOCULARS AT THE SUN - NOT EVEN FOR AN INSTANT.

More details in this article.

Before it unexpectedly brightened it was more difficult to spot this comet and the bright twilight of the western horizon washed out the tail. (In other words it only looked like a bright star.)

Updated: 9:47 PM GMT on February 13, 2007

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