Astronomy with a minimum of terminology and technology.
By: LowerCal, 2:55 AM GMT on January 08, 2008
What is "Casual Astronomy"?
Cool Astronomy Links
(Scroll down for future dates, farther down for past dates.)
Photo credit: NASA/Troy Cryder
Shuttle Atlantis - STS-122
Launch at 2:47pm EST Kennedy Space Center, FL.
Launch at 2:45pm EST Kennedy Space Center, FL.
Landing at 10:45am EST Kennedy Space Center, FL.
Landing at 9:57am EST Kennedy Space Center, FL.
Landing at 10:14am EST Kennedy Space Center, FL.
Landing at 9:06am EST Kennedy Space Center, FL.
Launch & mission status info at
Spaceflight Now | STS-122 Shuttle Report | Mission Status Center.
You can follow the progress of the Space Shuttle mission online at
NASA - Space Shuttle.
There are links in the "WATCH NASA TV NOW" section of that page where you can watch video (sometimes live).
Update - January 11
To allow the new February 7 launch target a hardware replacement should be in place (to eliminate the cause of the previous delays) and a Russian mission to the International Space Station has been moved up two days.
Spaceflight Now | STS-122 Shuttle Report.
As for the hardware replacement, we "will not know whether it will work for certain until launch day when the external tank is again pumped full of super-cold liquid hydrogen."
NASA - Connector Repairs Stretch Boundaries
Update - January 31 in comment #38.
Update - February 12 in comment #86.
See the ISS and Shuttle Pass Over You!
Shuttle & ISS #1 by Westerberg Sunday August 19, 2007
You can find out exactly when and where the International Space Station or the Space Shuttle is predicted to pass through your sky during the next 10 days. First enter your location from a list or enter your location from a map at heavens-above.com (if you register you can save your location and don't have to reenter it every time). Then next to "Satellites, 10 day predictions for:" click "ISS" or "STS-120". You should check the predictions each day though. The shuttle has to change its orbit to approach and depart the station and it may "boost" the station's orbit while it is docked (see ISS Height Profile). If the time of your visible pass(es) is near docking or departure you can see both objects following almost the same orbit, one after/beside the other!
Lunar Eclipse 2 by Jaffa Saturday March 3, 2007
Night of February 20/21
Full Moon (exact at 10:30pm EST)
Total Lunar Eclipse (Maximum at 10:34pm EST)
The full moon will be rising in the east very close to the time of sunset. At that time the Moon will seem huge and unusually colored. It could be yellowish to orange; however, part or all of the Moon's disk may even be dark red, brown or gray if the deepest phase of the total lunar eclipse is in progress!
As the eclipse begins the bright star Regulus will be the Moon's close companion. The Moon will slowly fall behind as they journey across the sky. As the eclipse is ending the Moon will be closer to the bright planet Saturn. Astronomy.com Chart
This will be an early morning event for central and eastern Asia, Europe and Africa. It will be a middle of the night event for South America. Across North America it will be an evening event. For Oceania and parts of eastern Asia this will be a nonevent with no phase of the eclipse visible.
This will be the last total lunar eclipse until December 21, 2010.
Quick reference -
NASA - Map of Eclipse Times and Areas of Visibility
Comprehensive page including schedules and diagrams for specific time zones -
NASA - Total Lunar Eclipse: February 20, 2008
Astronomy.com - Lunar eclipse visible for North America and
SkyandTelescope.com - Homepage Observing - February 20th's Eclipse of the Moon.
Since this is the other of the two times (new and full moon) during the month when the Sun, Earth and Moon are nearly aligned tidal behavior will be strongest -- higher highs, lower lows and faster flows. The fact that the Moon will actually pass through the Earth's shadow during this full moon indicates the alignment is even closer than usual.
Photo credit: Vandenberg AFB
Atlas 5 - NROL-28
Launch at Vandenberg Air Force Base, CA.
Morning February 27
Mercury Meets Venus
As the planet Mercury continues to climb higher in morning skies it passes closest to the planet Venus on this date. Mercury will not climb much higher and will remain in close proximity to brilliant Venus for another month.
Upcoming (and Downcoming)
Men and Manmade Objects
Going up -
Spaceflight Now | Tracking Station | Worldwide launch schedule
Coming back down -
Outline of Sky Events for the New Year
SkyandTelescope.com - Observing Highlights - Sky Highlights of 2008
SkyandTelescope.com - Observing Highlights - Eclipses in 2008
SkyandTelescope.com - Meteors - Meteor Showers in 2008
The question, "How could I make a valuable contribution to the science of astronomy as a simple naked eye observer?" is answered in
SkyandTelescope.com - Stargazing - The Scientific Value of Visual Observing
which may lead you to the following, in order:
SkyandTelescope.com - Meteors - Meteors: A Primer,
SkyandTelescope.com - Meteors - Basics of Meteor Observing and
SkyandTelescope.com - Meteors - Advanced Meteor Observing.
***** Past Dates *****
A New Solar Cycle Begins
First Sunspot of the New Solar Cycle
Solar Cycle Progression and Prediction
(More discussion in comment #6.)
Last Week of January
Jupiter Rising for Venus in the Morning Sky
The planet Jupiter is rising from the SE horizon to meet the planet Venus (the Morning Star). Venus is brilliant white and Jupiter is a very bright off-white. They will pass closest to each other on the morning of February 1. Jupiter will continue to rise past Venus and the two planets will form a triangle with a thin crescent moon on the morning of February 4, a major photo op!
Mercury Appearing in the Evening Sky
The planet Mercury is appearing low in the western sky shortly after sunset. It may be visible as soon as 20 minutes after the sun drops below the horizon. It appears as a bright starlike point all by itself in the WSW. Mercury will appear closer and closer to the horizon every evening until it disappears on its way to the morning sky.
Update: February 28
Mercury is not as bright as it was a week ago. It was 36 minutes after sunset before I could glimpse it with my naked eye. I'd already spotted it with binoculars so I knew exactly where to look. If you plan on spotting Mercury with your naked eyes alone start searching a little later (45+ minutes after sunset) and have a very clear horizon to the WSW.
ISS (and Spy Satellite) Passes Over SoCal (and elsewhere)
The International Space Station (ISS) will be making some bright, high evening passes over Southern California and other areas. For exact times and directions for you from Heavens-Above Select location from map. You can register at New user registration so you don't have to enter your location the next time.
A link to sighting times and directions plus additional info on the failing spy satellite can be found at Heavens-Above also.
Morning February 1
Jupiter + Venus in the Morning Sky
The very bright planet Jupiter is appearing progressively higher in the dawn sky. This morning it passes closest to the brilliant planet Venus.
Moon wink by Shutterbug32 Tuesday December 11, 2007
New Moon (exact at 10:44pm EST)
The new moon will be preceded by progressively thinner morning crescents and followed by progressively fatter evening crescents (photo ops).
The following evening you could be one of the first people on Earth to spot the thin new cresent with some help from Moonsighting.com. While you're at that site whatever you do don't click the "Do NOT Click" link. ;^)
Since this is one of the two times during the month (new and full moon) when the Sun, Earth and Moon are nearly aligned tidal behavior will be strongest -- higher highs, lower lows and faster flows.
Mars Passes the Moon
The planet Mars is the bright orangeish point of light very close to the Moon tonight. Mars will be nearly overhead and slightly east of the Moon as the evening begins. Mars passes the Moon in their journey across the sky tonight. Mars will set in the west in the early morning slightly before the Moon does.
Morning February 14
Mercury Climbing Toward Venus and Jupiter
The planet Mercury has been climbing above the ESE horizon toward the planets Venus and Jupiter. On this date the three planets will be nearly equally spaced along a descending line from the SE to the ESE. Very bright Jupiter stands above the SE horizon. Slightly lower to Jupiter's left is brilliant Venus. The same distance to the lower left of Venus is Mercury close to the ESE horizon.
Update - February 16
Mercury has cut it's apparent distance from Venus by almost half.
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Updated: 4:19 PM GMT on February 20, 2008