What is "Casual Astronomy"?
Cool Astronomy Links
(Scroll down for future dates, farther down for past dates.)
Starry Night by StarDancer Sunday December 9, 2007
Mars Rises and Orion Jumps the Fence Followed by the Big Dog
The planet Mars (the Roman god of war) is the very bright orange point of light clearing the ENE horizon about 6 PM. Less than an hour later the constellation Orion (the Hunter) clears the E horizon. In the photo above Mars is shining through the upper branches of the tree at the left while Orion has just cleared the trees at the center.
"You know Orion always comes up sideways.
Throwing a leg up over our fence of mountains,"
are the opening lines of the poem "The Star Splitter" by Robert Frost.
Two hours after Mars the very bright blueish white star Sirius clears the ESE horizon. Sirius is the alpha star in Canis Major (the Big Dog). Sirius is also the brightest star in all of Earth's sky. Currently while Mars and Earth are near their closest approach Mars will temporarily appear even brighter than Sirius.
***** Past Dates *****
The planet Mars is the very bright orange light currently rising in the ENE. In Late November it rises by 8 PM. By early December it will be rising about 7 PM, mid December 6 PM, etc.
"Mars Rising" is also the title of a fascinating series currently airing on the Science Channel about the technological and human challenges of a Mars mission - Mars Rising :: The Science Channel.
Moon by Rusmwood Tuesday September 25, 2007
Full Moon (Exact at 9:30am EST)
"Historically the Native Americans who lived in the area that is now the northern and eastern United States kept track of the seasons by giving distinctive names to the recurring full Moons. Each full Moon name was applied to the entire month in which it occurred. These names, and some variations, were used by the Algonquin tribes from New England to Lake Superior."
Full Moon Names - The Old Farmer's Almanac
"Full Beaver Moon - November This was the time to set beaver traps before the swamps froze, to ensure a supply of warm winter furs. Another interpretation suggests that the name Full Beaver Moon comes from the fact that the beavers are now actively preparing for winter."
Farmers' Almanac - Full Moon Names and Their Meanings
Mars Passes the Moon
For America the Moon will rise just ahead of Mars this evening but Mars will pass the Moon as they cross the sky together tonight.
Photo credit: Vandenberg AFB
Delta 2 - COSMO-SkyMed 2
Launch at 6:31pm PST Vandenberg Air Force Base, CA.
Launch & mission status at
Spaceflight Now | Delta Launch Report | Mission Status Center.
Links to a live webcast and a wealth of information on this and other Delta II missions at
United Launch Alliance - Delta II Launch of COSMO SkyMed-2.
Photo credit: NASA/Troy Cryder
Shuttle Atlantis - STS-122
Launch at 4:31pm EST Kennedy Space Center, FL.
Landing at 12:29pm EST Kennedy Space Center, FL.
Launch at 4:09pm EST Kennedy Space Center, FL.
Launch at 3:43pm EST Kennedy Space Center, FL.
Launch at 3:21pm EST Kennedy Space Center, FL.
Landing at TBD Kennedy Space Center, FL.
Space shuttle Atlantis' STS-122 mission to the International Space Station is targeted to launch no earlier than Jan. 2 from NASA's Kennedy Space Center. The liftoff date depends on the resolution of a problem in a fuel sensor system.
NASA - Space Shuttle
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).
Info on the mission can also be found at
Spaceflight Now | STS-122 Shuttle Report.
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 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!
New Moon (Exact at 12:40pm EST)
to be followed by several evenings of crescent moon photo ops.
The extremely thin crescent moon of December 10 will difficult if not impossible to spot from much of world.
How to Read the Visibility Map
Photo credit: Patrick AFB
Atlas 5 - NROL-24
Launch at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL.
NROL-24 is scheduled for launch on 2007 Dec 10, between 21:15 and 23:15 UTC
Milcom Monitoring Post: NROL-24 Launch Today - Possible SDS Commsat
Liftoff from Launch Complex 41 is scheduled for Dec. 10 at 5:04 p.m. EST. If the flight slips the launch time will move 5 minutes for each day the flight is delayed
The mission may be visible to people along the U.S. East Coast as far north as New England. This is because the United Launch Alliance Atlas V will fly an unusual trajectory at dusk, closely paralleling the Eastern Seaboard
Atlas V Poised for NRO Secret Mission (Thanks to Rainman32 for this link!)
Image credit: NASA MSFC
Evening December 13 - Morning December 14 and/or
Evening December 14 - Morning December 15
The Geminid Meteor Shower
Maximum hourly rate in dark country skies 120 per hour.
Geminid meteor photos and reports at
Spaceweather.com: 2007 Geminid Meteor Shower photo gallery.
Geminid meteor observation data with graphs and maps at
Geminids 2007: visual data quicklook.
The Geminids will be most visible in the early morning hours of December 14 and/or 15. However north of 30°N (which includes almost all of the US) a few meteors will begin to show as soon as it is dark. Around 2 AM is the time of maximum visibility. By that time some meteors will even be visible in the Southern Hemisphere.
For a more thorough analysis of Geminid visibility, especially for Europe and Asia, see
SkyandTelescope.com - Observing Highlights - The Geminids Are Coming
Geminids 2007 | International Meteor Organization
AMS - Viewing the 2007 Geminid Meteor Shower
For Better Viewing
Find a Dark Location - A dark country location without "security" lights is best. If that's not convenient try to find a location where you can't see any lights or lighted surfaces. A nearby park or maybe even your backyard would qualify. On a beach facing the water could be a good alternative.
Where to Look - Meteors can appear in any part of the sky. To see the most meteors face the darkest part of your sky and look at least 45° above the horizon.
Be Comfortable - A reclining chair will keep you from getting a stiff neck and tired feet. A sleeping bag will keep you warm. (Even in the summertime you can get chilly at night if you are just lying still.) Insect repellent will keep you from being distracted by those little pests.
General Meteor Shower Information
An easy to read introduction to meteors with an interesting summary of annual showers is Astronomy - Meteors and meteor showers - Francis Reddy.
The primary sources of most of what you'll read about meteor showers are these two sites.
The American Meteor Society
The International Meteor Organinzation
Photo credit: Patrick AFB
Delta 2 - GPS 2R-18 (M5)
Launch at 2:59-3:13pm EST Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL.
Links to a live webcast and a wealth of information on GPS IIR-18 (M5) and other Delta II missions at
United Launch Alliance.
Solstice (Exact at 1:08am EST)
See comment #128 re. the stone tomb webcast.
Full Moon (Exact at 8:16pm EST) and
Mars Passes the Moon
Once again for America the Moon will rise just ahead of Mars but Mars will pass the Moon as they cross the sky together tonight.
In the past day people have visited from the places shown.
Create your own visitor map!
for the second day in a row the sky went from completely overcast to nearly totally clear just minutes before moon rise. full moon next to the bee tree in the cornfield. taken with a consumer grade 70-300mm lens @300mm.
The comet Holmes seen from southern Brazil, low in the sky due to its north declination.
The clear, cool desert skies are great for star gazing. This is a 30 second exposure with the ISO set at 1 Step Over 1600. 18mm lens, f=4 with noise reduction on.
A persied meteor streaks past a thunderstorm
Comet 17P/Holmes with a star cluster and a small galaxy (nogarohiro
We can see the comet 17p/Holmes and a star cluster, ngc1245 near the right bottom and a small galaxy, ngc 1169 near the tail. The picture was made of data acquired between 14:25 -15:32 December 9, 2007UTC in Yamanashi with FSQ-106ED, reducer QE 0.73x and EOS 5D-AP by IDAS at 3500K, ISO 1600, 17x4 minutes exposure, guided on Takahashi EM-200 temma2Jr and off-axis guider with TIS DMK21AF04 and PHD guiding, processed with IRIS and Photoshop CS2 with gradientXterminator.
An Algonquin myth tells of when Nanahbozho, creator of the Earth, had finished his task of the creation, he traveled to the north, where he remained. He built large fires, of which the northern lights are the reflections, to remind his people that he still thinks of them.
Orion tonight 2008.01.01
Takahashi Telescope, Iso 800,Exposure 674 sec.