Astronomy with a minimum of terminology and technology.
By: LowerCal, 4:00 PM GMT on May 30, 2007
What is "Casual Astronomy"?
Cool Astronomy Links
The Full Moon
Tomorrow the Moon completes the first half of its illumination cycle -- from completely dark New Moon to completely illuminated Full Moon and back to New Moon again. A full Moon will rise near sunset, appear at it's highest near midnight and set near sunrise. Since the gravitational pull of the Sun and Moon are closely aligned around the time of the full Moon it is also the time of the greatest tidal range: lower lows, higher highs and faster flows - Tidal range variation: springs and neaps.
Luna by Monarch
About seven times each 19 years, we have two full Moons in a month and it's happening again now. Not so long ago, nobody would've called the second of these Moons "blue."
Buzz About the Blue Moon
Tonight's full Moon (exact at 9:05pm EDT) in the Americas is the second full Moon of May. From the eastern Atlantic (the Azores and Cape Verde) east
to the dateline almost to the international dateline this full Moon occurs on June 1 and that area will have another full Moon on June 30. New Zealand will have to wait until July for two full Moons.
Tonight's full Moon sits just below Antares, the red heart of Scorpius the Scorpion. To the left of the Moon sits brilliant Jupiter, the largest planet, named for the Roman ruler of the gods.
Antares is the brightest star in the constellation Scorpius. (Scorpio is the astrology word for the sign associated with the constellation.) The name Antares is derived from "rival of Mars". Mars is the Roman god of war called Aries by the Greeks. Antares lies in the "pathway of the planets" and so is periodically passed by Mars and "rivals" its color and brightness. Early in the evening only the forward part of the Scorpion is currently visible above the horizon. You will have to wait until much later in the evening or late July/early August to see the Scorpion at its highest in the south.
Mythology of Scorpius
Blue Moon by cookiethief Thursday May 31, 2007
June 1 (and dates afterward)
Pathway of the Planets
Evening Sky of New Orleans, LA (To change the location allow popups for skychart.skytonight.com)
Venus will spend the next few evenings as a triplet of the Gemini twins Pollux and Castor. About an hour after sundown brilliant Venus appears in the west. To Venus' right are the stars Pollux and Castor in that order. You will be able to just cover the three of them with an outstreched fist. The stars Pollux and Castor represent the heads of the twins in the constellation Gemini. The twins are standing above the WNW horizon.
To the lower right of Venus is the planet Mercury only about a fist above the horizon. Mercury is a bright copper colored point of light. To the left of Mercury are the fainter stars that represent the feet of Gemini. Binoculars will help with spotting Mercury and those stars.
The planet Saturn is to the upper left of Venus, the opposite direction of Mercury but about the same distance away. Slightly further along that line is the star Regulus not quite as bright as Saturn. Extend the line farther and high in the south is the bright bluish star Spica. Continue the line toward the SE horizon and there is the bright reddish star Antares and farther on the Moon just rising. The planet Jupiter sits above the Moon and to the left of Antares. Jupiter is very bright but not quite as brilliant as Venus.
You can continue watching these objects on succeeding evenings. The Moon changes position the fastest and will rise about 50 minutes later each evening. The fastest planet is Mercury and it will change position noticeably each evening relative to the stars. Mercury will soon be finishing its rise above the horizon in its rapid orbit closest to the Sun. Venus is the second fastest and second closest planet to the Sun and will also noticeably change position relative to the stars each evening but not as much as Mercury. Jupiter is much slower and its motion relative to the stars is noticeable over a week or so. Saturn is slowest with its motion against the stars noticeable over an interval of a month or so.
Then there are the stars. Their motion relative to each other is not noticeable in a human lifetime. However they do move through the sky at night rotating around the North Star once every 24 hours. The stars rising in the east after dusk will travel across the sky during the night and be ready to set in the west before dawn. You can also notice the stars shift westward over a week or so. Those that rise and set will do so almost 4 minutes earlier each night. Over the course of 365 days they will they will be rising 24 hours earlier ... they will appear at the same place in the sky at the same time each year.
Venus and Mercury by weatheractuary
Chances to See Mercury
Mercury is growing dimmer and sinking lower into a brighter part of the evening twilight each evening. During Mercury's next appearance in the evening sky in late September and early October Mercury will not rise very far above horizon. The "Pathway of the Planets" will be very low across the southern sky for the Northern Hemisphere then. (It will be one of Mercury's better appearances for the Southern Hemisphere though.)
Look for Mercury low in the WNW a little more than a fist above the horizon beginning about half an hour after sunset. Binoculars may help you spot it and will certainly better show its color (the color of a new penny).
Mercury is the closest planet to the Sun and orbits the fastest. Whenever it appears in Earth's sky it never appears far from the Sun, always in twilight, alternating between evening and morning about two months apart.
* Of all the planets in our solar system, the one that moves most quickly against the background of the stars was naturally named after the swift-footed Hermes and the Romans identified their own god of commerce, Mercury, with Hermes, and so we know the planet as Mercury.
* It was given two names by the Greeks: Apollo for its apparition as a morning star and Hermes as an evening star; however, Greek astronomers knew that the two names referred to the same body.
* Hermes is usually pictured with wings on his sandals and on his cap and he was also the god of commerce, cunning, and invention.
* In ancient times, messages from one ruler to another or between armies were carried by “heralds” who had to be treated with respect and were not to be harmed.
* These heralds carried a special staff as the sign of their position and this was called a “caduceus” and Hermes carried such a staff.
* Supposedly because Hermes moved so quickly, the staff, as well as his cap and sandals, had wings.
* Hermes, or Mercury, was the patron of travellers, merchants (deity of commerce), rogues, and thieves; as well as being the Roman wind deity.
* His festival was celebrated on May 15, at which time merchants sprinkled themselves and their wares with holy water to insure large profits.
* Mercury is the source of words such as market, merchandise, merchant, and merciful.
Source: Mercury, planet and messenger of the gods.
Two days before the Last (or Third) Quarter Moon.
Sunrise Moon by KVAWARRE2P Wednesday June 6, 2007
The Last (or Third) Quarter Moon
Tomorrow the Moon completes three quarters of it's illumination cycle -- from completely dark New Moon to completely illuminated Full Moon and back to New Moon again. The last quarter Moon is half illuminated and the illuminated half is toward Earth's eastern horizon. The last quarter Moon rises near midnight, appears at it's highest near sunrise and sets near noon. Since the gravitational pull of the Sun and Moon cross each other at the Earth at the time of the first and last quarter Moons it is also the time of the smallest tide range: highs not as high, lows not as low, and slower flows - Tidal range variation: springs and neaps.
***** June 8 Afternoon Update *****
You can watch the shuttle launch on NASA TV and also follow the progress of Space Shuttle missions online. Click the "WATCH NASA TV NOW, + Launch Video Player" link on the NASA - Space Shuttle page.
You can see when the International Space Station or the Space Shuttle is predicted to pass through your sky during the next 10 days if you enter your location at heavens-above.com and then next to "Satellites, 10 day predictions for:" click "ISS" or "STS-117". You should check the predictions each day though. The shuttle has to change its orbit to dock and depart the station and it may "boost" the station's orbit while it is docked - ISS Height Profile. If the time of your visible pass(es) is near docking or departure you can see both objects following the same orbit, one after the other!
Chances to See Venus
Brilliant Venus is appearing near its highest in the west this evening. Like Mercury it will be sinking lower into a brighter part of the evening twilight on subsequent evenings. As the second closest planet to the Sun Venus is the second fastest planet and will not sink nearly as fast as Mercury. Venus also remains brilliant enough to spot even in bright twilight close to the horizon. Venus will remain easily visible in the evening into July. In August Venus will be very difficult if not impossible to spot. In September Venus will begin rising in the dawn sky for its appearance as the "Morning Star".
Venus orbits farther from the Sun than Mercury so Venus unlike Mercury is sometimes visible after dusk or before dawn. However Venus' orbit is closer to the Sun than the Earth's orbit so Venus will never be visible in the middle of the night and Venus will never appear to cross the sky during the night.
* Venus is the one goddess whose name was given to an important planet.
* Venus (Greek: Aphrodite; Babylonian: Ishtar) is the goddess of love and beauty.
* The planet is so named probably because it is the brightest of the planets known to the ancients.
* This is the planet commonly called the “evening star” or the “morning star” (depending on which side of the sun it happens to be).
* It is considered the brightest and most beautiful object in the heavens next to the sun and moon, and is far brighter than any star.
* Originally the Greeks thought they were two different planets.
* The morning star was called phosphorus (light-bringer in Greek) because once it appeared in the eastern skies, the light of dawn would soon come.
* The evening star was called Hesperus (west in Greek) because it always shined in the western sky after sunset.
* Once the Greeks learned that Phosporus and Hesperus were really the same planet, they named it Aphrodite as befitted its beauty; and then the Romans changedwill be the name to Venus which we now use.
* Her symbol is said to represent a hand mirror.
Source: Venus, goddess of love and beauty.
Once the sky is fully dark (about an hour and a half after sunset) use binoculars to look a little to the upper left of Venus. If you are fortunate enough to be under dark country skies you might even see a faint "smudge" of light there before you use the binoculars.
Two Trees by Westerberg Friday June 8, 2007
Looking west after sunset brilliant planet Venus is in the center, bright planet Saturn towards the upper left, bright star Regulus farther upper left near the top edge. Toward the lower right is the bright star Pollux, its twin, the bright star Castor is to Pollux's right but hidden behind the Joshua tree.
Over the next month the planet Venus will be changing its position along this diagonal (Pathway of the Planets). Venus will pass very close to Saturn on June 30 and July 1 and postition herself close to Regulus July 11 and 12. (Yes, I did write previously that Venus will be sinking evening after evening. :^) It will, it's just that the other objects will be sinking faster.)
A crescent Moon will travel this section of the pathway from Pollux to Regulus June 16 through 19 - image.
Venus and the Beehive
Very close to the upper left of Venus in Two Trees by Westerberg you will see a small, oblong, nearly horizontal fuzzy area. That is the Beehive star cluster. No single star in this cluster is visible to the naked eye of the casual astronomer. Many of the stars are almost visible though and the group will appear as a faint smudge of light under dark country skies. However with binoculars even city dwellers will be able to see many of the "bees".
The Beehive Cluster
On June 12 Venus will pass very close to the right of the Beehive. The Beehive should remain in the same binocular field for about another week as Venus moves to the upper left of the Beehive.
The New Moon
This evening at exactly at 11:13pm EDT the Moon completes one illumination cycle, from completely dark New Moon to completely illuminated Full Moon and back to New Moon again. It is ready to begin a new illumination cycle. The New Moon is not illuminated but it is almost directly aligned with the Sun and so is impossible to see anyway. The New Moon rises and sets with the Sun and is at its highest near noon. Since the gravitational pull of the Sun and Moon are aligned at the time of the New Moon it is also the time of the widest tide range: higher highs, lower lows and faster flows - Tidal range variation: springs and neaps.
High Tides by SunsetSailor Thursday June 14, 2007
***** June 14 Afternoon Update *****
New Moon Superstitions
New Moon superstition is a part of American culture:
He said he druther see the new moon over his left shoulder as much as a thousand times than take up a snake-skin in his hand. Well, I was getting to feel that way myself, though I've always reckoned that looking at the new moon over your left shoulder is one of the carelessest and foolishest things a body can do.
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain, Chapter 10
Among the more commonly known new Moon superstitions:
Bad Luck: Looking at the new moon over your left shoulder
Bad Luck: To see the new moon for the first time through glass. [Good Luck:] Upon seeing the new moon you should turn whatever silver you have in your pockets or handbag, and thus ensure prosperity for a month.
OldSuperstitions.com - Bad Luck
The New Moon is actually not visible (see June 14) so the superstitions actually refer to the very thin crescent Moon which follows right after (see June 15). If you are really serious about changing your luck this New Moon ;^) you can find many lesser known superstitions like:
When you see a new moon, hold up a coin and wish for money for the coming month. As the moon increases, so will your money.
Wishing Dictionary - Crescent Moon.
Here's a funny one (to me) from the Wishing Dictionary:
On the evening of your birthday, look at the moon and make a wish. A crescent that has tips pointing up means the moon may withhold your wish. Tips pointing down mean the moon is spilling open to send you your wish.
Erm ... the only time the tips will point down is when the Sun is above the horizon. I don't think that qualifies as evening. :^/
Very Few People Have Ever Seen a Crescent Moon So Thin
This evening shortly after sundown a super thin crescent Moon will appear just above the WNW horizon for those in the Caribbean, Central America and the 48 States. Spotting this crescent will be the most challenging in the Windward Islands and New England. For the entire area the moon will be less than 25 hours old. Few people have ever seen a Moon this soon past new. Use binoculars to help you spot it or simply to admire it. Visibility map - Moonsighting Committee Worldwide.
The crescent Moon will appear just below Pollux forming a triangle with the Gemini twins, Castor and Pollux - image.
The crescent Moon will appear to the lower right of brilliant Venus - image.
This evening in North America the crescent Moon will appear between Saturn and Venus - image. Earlier in the day the Moon will cover Venus for a time, most spectacularly in twilight in the Middle East - SkyandTelescope.com - Observing - Venus's Daytime Vanishing Act on Monday.
Tonight the crescent Moon will appear very close to Regulus - image. As a matter of fact for some areas the Moon will actually hide Regulus for a time. This will happen in twilight for parts of the SE US and the NW Bahamas and Caribbean. In brighter twilight you'll need binoculars to see Regulus. This event will happen in darkness for the rest of the Bahamas and Caribbean. Most spectacular will be along a line from near Charleston, SC to near Louisville, KY. Along that line Regulus will graze the edge of the Moon, appearing and disappearing among the valleys and mountains at the edge of the Moon.
A couple of helpful links -
SkyandTelescope.com - Observing - Crescent Moon to Occult Regulus Tuesday and
UNIVERSAL TIME OF DISAPPEARANCE & REAPPEARANCE for many cities.
Chances to See Saturn
Saturn is the bright object not very far to the upper left of Venus. Saturn is descending toward a close meeting with Venus at the end of June. It will sink below the horizon alongside Venus in August. Saturn is the farthest planet from the Sun that is easily visible to the naked eye. As the farthest planet it is the slowest and takes nearly 30 years to return to the same place against the stars. In ancient times you would be lucky to see Saturn complete more than one of his journeys. It's easy to understand why Saturn was named the god of time.
* He was believed to be the deity who had introduced agriculture and with it civilization and government.
* He carried a sickle as his symbol.
* Saturn was worshiped in a winter festival called the Saturnalia and his name was/is used for the day of the week, Saturday.
* The Saturnalia started about December 17 and lasted for seven days. [bracketing the winter solstice]
* It is said to have merged into the Christmas festival.
Source: Saturn, Roman god of the harvest or time of reaping.
All-Couples Day (Summer Solstice)
Ancient Germanic, Slav and Celtic tribes in Europe: Ancient Pagans celebrated Midsummer with bonfires. "It was the night of fire festivals and of love magic, of love oracles and divination. It had to do with lovers and predictions, when pairs of lovers would jump through the luck-bringing flames..." It was believed that the crops would grow as high as the couples were able to jump. Through the fire's power, "...maidens would find out about their future husband, and spirits and demons were banished." Another function of bonfires was to generate sympathetic magic: giving a boost to the sun's energy so that it would remain potent throughout the rest of the growing season and guarantee a plentiful harvest.
Summer solstice celebrations of Christianity, Judaism, Neopaganism, etc
From Earth the Sun appears at it's farthest north in the sky. In the Northern Hemisphere this is the longest day of the year.
June 23 & 24
Moon near Spica
The Moon will appear close to the bluish star Spica. June 23 the Moon will be just to the right of Spica and June 24 just to the left of Spica.
Chances to See Jupiter & Its Moons
Jupiter is the very bright object in the SE these evenings. It will follow reddish Antares, the brightest star in the constellation Scorpius, across the southern skies and sink below the SW horizon by December. Jupiter is not as distant as Saturn and completes its journey against the stars in about 12 years.
Jupiter has four large moons that range from just under 25% to just over 40% of the diameter of Earth. If not for the glare of Jupiter these four moons would be visible as faint stars in dark country skies. However with binoculars even city dwellers can see these moons. Most times you can see all four of these moons but sometimes you will only see three or less.
* He was the ancient Italian Father or Lord of Heaven and provider of fertilizing rains giving him another name: Jupiter Pluvius.
* He gave day and night to mankind, sent the snow and the rain, and caused the winds to blow and the dark storm clouds to gather.
* The lightning with the crash of thunder that followed was but an expression of his anger.
* He was the supreme god of the Romans who gradually became identified with the Greek god Zeus.
* Jupiter was thought to be the lord of life, light, and aerial phenomena.
Source: Jupiter, King of the Roman gods.
June 27 & 28
Moon near Jupiter & Antares
On June 27 the Moon will appear to the right of Jupiter and just to the upper right of the reddish star Antares. On June 28 the Moon will appear below Jupiter with Antares to the upper right.
For info on seeing the moons of Jupiter see June 25.
June 30 & July 01
Saturn Meets Venus
After their slow approach over many months Saturn and Venus will be at their closest in the western sky less than a fingerwidth apart. Such meetings seemed tremendously significant for ancient people who knew nothing of stars and planets. They could only see bright wanderers among fixed patterns of lesser lights in the heavens and hope for or fear the effect they might have on Earth below.
In the past day people have visited from the places shown.
Create your own visitor map!
Updated: 12:18 AM GMT on July 06, 2007
By: LowerCal, 1:58 AM GMT on May 04, 2007
(Scroll down for the current date.)
What is "Casual Astronomy"?
Cool Astronomy Links
When finding things in the night sky its helpful to have some "landmarks" in the sky - skymarks.
Sometime while you're outdoors some evening in the next week or so look to the north. Your sky will look similar to the sky NNE of Dallas, TX at 9pm, and you can spot one of most easily easily recognized skymarks in the Northern Hemisphere. I'm sure almost everyone can name it. Over the next week or so I'll write about some less well known things about it including how this skymark can be used to find other skymarks.
Face NNE and look halfway up the sky (higher in the northern US) and you will see the Big Dipper. Your sky will look similar to the sky NNE of Dallas, TX at 9pm. The bowl of the dipper is perfectly upside down around 9pm in early May. Four stars form the bowl and three stars form a bent handle extending to the lower right. All the stars are moderately bright except the one where the handle joins the bowl.
The Big Dipper is an not an official constellation. It is an asterism, a pattern of stars that is part of one or more constellations. The Big Dipper is part of the constellation Ursa Major (the Big Bear).
The first thing you can locate using the Big Dipper is the constellation Ursa Major! If you look at Ursa Major in the sky at 9pm you'll see he is upside down also. He's also kind of an odd looking bear with long legs and a long tail. The longer you stand away from bright lights the more you'll be able to see of the faint stars that form the legs and head of the Big Bear.
Why is the tail of the Big Bear so long? The ruler of the Roman gods Jupiter used the bear's tail to throw it into the sky. Ouch! The full story is under "The Roman Myth" at AAVSO: The Myths of Ursa Major.
You already know something about Ursa Minor (the Little Bear) if you read "The Roman Myth" at AAVSO: The Myths of Ursa Major. According to the Roman myth the Little Bear has a long tail for the same reason. The stars of the Little Bear form a pattern called the Little Dipper that is similar to but smaller than the Big Dipper.
The Big Dipper skymark can be used to find the Little Dipper. Your sky at 9pm will look similar to the sky NNE of Dallas, TX at 9pm. Find the two stars on the side of the bowl at the end of the Big Dipper. Use those two stars to start an imaginary line downward for 5 times the distance between them. There you will find a star about the some brightness as the stars of the Big Dipper. The star is Polaris and is the end of the handle of the Little Dipper.
In bright city skies the only other stars you may see with your naked eye are the two stars on the side of the bowl at the end of the Little Dipper. Binoculars will always show you the fainter stars of the Little Dipper and the Big Bear.
NOTE: Your hand at arms length will be a little bit larger than the Big Dipper.
Polaris is also known as the North Star or the Pole Star. This is because it is almost directly above the North Pole. As the Earth turns all the other stars in the sky will appear to rotate counterclockwise around it - Polaris by Westerberg. (The other stars will move as slowly as the Sun so compare positions about an hour apart.)
At the North Pole (90°N latitude) the North Star will be directly overhead (90° above the horizon) and no stars will pass below the horizon. As you move south to lower latitudes Polaris is lower in the sky and more and more stars will pass below the horizon meaning they will rise from the eastern half of the horizon and set into the western half of the horizon.
Besides using Polaris to find north you can also use it to find your latitude. The North Star's elevation above the horizon is equal to you latitude. For example at 30°N latitude Polaris will sit 30° above the horizon.
Here is an actual photo of the Big and Little Dippers. The "Pointer Stars" of the Big Dipper are at the upper left pointing to Polaris at the lower left.
Credit: NASA, ESA, N. Evans (Harvard-Smithsonian CfA), and H. Bond (STScI)
Compare the photo to the Sky&Telescope Sky Chart view of the sky NNE of New Orleans, LA at 9pm.
The stars of the other side of the bowl of the Big Dipper point the other direction to a bright star in another constellation. Take a look at the sky WNW of New Orleans, LA at 11pm.
Start with the star where the handle joins the bowl of the Big Dipper and draw a line to the bottom of that side of the bowl. Continue along that line for 45° across the sky where you will encounter the bright star Regulus. Don't confuse it with the even brighter planet Saturn which is nearby. The star Regulus is the heart of the lion in the constellation Leo (the Lion). Regulus is the "dot" in a pattern of stars that looks like a backward question mark. The pattern is called the Sickle of Leo and outlines the lion's mane and chest.
At 11pm the lion's head is about halfway up the western sky with the lion's hindquarters above it. Earlier in the evening the lion is higher in the sky with it's hindquarters nearly overhead.
In Roman mythology, Leo is identified with the Nemean lion that Hercules was required to kill, a huge lion whose pelt was impervious to stone or metal. Having wrestled it with his bare hands and choked it to death, he used the beast's own claws to skin it. He then took the pelt as a cloak of invulnerable armor and donned the lion's head as a helmet.
Leo is also said to be the lion in the tragic tale of the lovers Pyramus and Thisbe. In his Metamorphoses, Ovid tells how their parents forbade them to marry. The two talked secretly through a chink in the wall between their houses and one day made a plan to meet outside the city beside a certain mulberry tree with white berries. When Thisbe came to the meeting place, Pyramus was not there, but she was startled by a lion, bloody from a kill. As she ran away, her veil slipped and fluttered past the lion which snatched it with it's paw. When Pyramus arrived he saw Thisbe's torn veil, bloody from the Lion and assumed that his love had been killed. In anguish, he killed himself with his sword but at that moment, Thisbe ran back and flung herself on her dead lover's body before taking the sword and thrusting it into her own flesh. Their blood coloured the white mulberries red and they have remained this way ever since.
Hmm, some of that second story sounds familiar. ;^)
Leo the Lion - Mythology
Thin Crescent Moons
I'm going to take a short break from using the Big Dipper to find other things in the sky (but you don't have to). A beautiful crescent Moon will be in the west shortly after sundown May 17-19. Here is an image and the accompanying article. You can customize a view for your location and time using the Sky&Telescope Interactive Sky Chart. (If you have a popup blocker be sure to allow popups for skychart.skytonight.com)
A very thin crescent Moon will appear very close to the WNW horizon soon after sunset. You may see a bright point of light the color of a new penny very nearby which will be Mercury. (Binoculars will help you spot them both.) Mercury will be gaining altitude and becoming easier to spot for the next couple of weeks.
The crescent Moon will appear to the lower right of Venus in the west after sunset. The Moon will be a little less than halfway from Venus to Mercury with Mercury very near the horizon. Saturn will appear to the upper left about three times the distance from the Moon and Venus.
Spectacular close pass of Venus and the crescent Moon!
You may even be able to cover them both with your thumb. Venus and the Moon will appear in the the constellation Gemini (the Twins) as the Twins stand together above the western horizon.
This evening the Moon will appear to the upper left of Venus almost halfway toward Saturn. Mercury will be far to the lower left of Venus. Saturn and Mercury become just visible to the naked eye about 20 minutes after sundown. It will be easier to spot them first in binoculars.
BTW the Moon is also a temporary triplet this evening. The two bright stars equally spaced to the right of the Moon are the Gemini twins, Pollux and then Castor.
The bright light closest to the Moon is Saturn, about half a fist to the upper left. Brilliant Venus is to the lower right of the Moon and much farther away.
This evening the Moon will appear between the planet Saturn and the star Regulus. Saturn just to the lower right of the Moon is brighter than Regulus just to the upper left.
On other evenings you can locate Regulus in Leo the Lion by the method described on May 14. Try using that method this evening too.
The bright star close to the lower right of the Moon is Regulus. A little farther away in the same direction and brighter is the planet Saturn.
Today (at exactly 5:03pm EDT) the Moon completes the first quarter of it's illumination cycle -- from completely dark New Moon to completely illuminated Full Moon and back to New Moon again. This means that today at 5:03 EDT the First Quarter Moon will be exactly half illuminated -- lighted half toward the west and dark half toward the east. A First Quarter Moon will rise near noon, appear at it's highest near sunset and set near midnight.
*****May 23 Evening Update
There is a chance of auroral activity for the mid and high latitudes tonight and tomorrow night. The north central US and southern Canada should be alert to the possibility of auroral activity. Links for monitoring auroral activity for everyone are near the top of the Cool Astronomy Links blog entry.
About half an hour after sundown the Moon leads a parade of planets trailing to its lower right: bright cream colored Saturn, brilliant white Venus and bright copper colored Mercury. All four objects are nearly equally spaced and lie in a nearly straight line.
Coincidence? Not the nearly straight line. All the major planets and the Moon orbit the Sun in nearly the same plane as the Earth.
*****May 24 Afternoon Update
There is a 40% chance of auroral activity for the mid and high latitudes tonight and tomorrow night (source SpaceWeather.com). The north central US and southern Canada should be alert to the possibility of auroral activity. Links for monitoring auroral activity for everyone are near the top of the Cool Astronomy Links blog entry.
The curved handle of the Big Dipper can be used to find two more bright named stars and the constellations that contain them. Follow the arc of the handle away from the bowl to, "Arc to Arcturus and Speed on to Spica!" The sky ENE of New Orleans, LA at 8:30pm. Notice the color contrast between the two stars.
*****May 25 Afternoon Update
There is a 40% chance of auroral activity for the mid and high latitudes tonight and 30% tomorrow night (source SpaceWeather.com). The north central US and southern Canada should be alert to the possibility of auroral activity. Links for monitoring auroral activity for everyone are near the top of the Cool Astronomy Links blog entry.
Arcturus is the brightest star in the constellation Boötes. The brightest stars in Boötes form a pattern that looks like an ice cream cone with an extra large scoop leaning to one side. See the sky ENE of New Orleans, LA at 9pm.
The mythology concerning Boötes is quite varied.
*****May 26 Afternoon Update
The chances of auroral activity are 40% for the high latitudes and 30% for the mid latitudes tonight (source SpaceWeather.com). The north central US and southern Canada should be alert to the possibility of auroral activity. Links for monitoring auroral activity for everyone are near the top of the Cool Astronomy Links blog entry.
The Moon is next to Spica, the bright star that represents the spike of wheat held by Virgo the Virgin. See the sky SSE of New Orleans, LA at 9pm. From suburban skies only the brighter stars representing the arms and waist of Virgo may be visible.
Virgo has been associated with nearly every prominent goddess, including Ishtar, Isis, Cybele, Mary, Mother of Jesus, and Athena.
About seven times each 19 years, we have two full Moons in a month — and it's happening again now. Not so long ago, nobody would've called the second of these Moons "blue."
Buzz About the Blue Moon
For the Americas a blue moon will occur on May 31 elsewhere (Europe, Asia, etc.) it will occur on June 30.
In the past day people have visited from the places shown.
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Updated: 4:28 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
The views of the author are his/her own and do not necessarily represent the position of The Weather Company or its parent, IBM.
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Updated: 12:05 PM PST on February 19, 2017