Category Archives: Observing

The Morning Sky

If you get a chance to look at the sky before daylight you will be treated to (R to L): the Moon, Jupiter, Saturn, and Mars all lined up across the sky. Provided the moonlight does not over whelm Saturn and Mars they all will be visible at the same time.

Jupiter in particular will be very bright so so worries there. You should also be able to see a few of the giant planet’s moons.

The above graphic is from Stellarium showing the line-up before sun rise (click to see a larger version).

Hopefully you won’t be clouded in, I think I am going to be.

Also apparently there is some ridiculous claims this line up is going to cause an increase in volcanism and earthquakes. In a word: NO. That’s just plain crazy.

What’s Up for April

Ahhh, April the temperatures are moderating and it is becoming more comfortable to be outside. Usually a lot of moisture in the air but still good viewing.

I can’t even get into the N2YO site at times – busy. Tiangong is very close to coming in, predictions are 01 April (tomorrow) at 16:45, I will update this later as the estimates become more clear.

Oh and the internet problems are still going on; although there is a work order in, I don’t expect resolution until Monday. I did have an epiphany of sorts and am connecting through my phone and it seems to be working.

Tiangong-1 Coming Down

The Chinese space station Tiangong-1 is losing altitude at an ever increasing rate as the station and the Earth feel that mutual attraction. Of course Earth is going to win.

Right now the station is at about 221 km and losing about 0.20 km per orbit.  Yesterday that loss per orbit was about 0.13 km.

Currently the estimate is 03 April plus or minus a week.  Looking at ESA’s estimate above  the orbit is going to continue the increase in downward motion until  Tiangong-1 feels the increasing density of our atmosphere and begins to slow down appreciably.  When that happens we reach a tipping point of sorts and the spacecraft or what is left of it (yes there will be pieces) will pitch steeply and eventually hit the Earth.

Where will that tipping point be?  That’s the big question.   We are about to find out the answer.

You can follow orbital decay on  I think we are just days away.


It’s the Messier Marathon

Ever just gone outside with a telescope and took a look at all the different Messier objects viewable? Give it a try, even a decent pair of binoculars can be used in some cases. Pretty fun.

I might get to go out later tonight being I should have clear skies for a change. The weather has not be very co-operative in that regard lately.

NASA – In mid-March, skywatchers in the northern hemisphere can try to observe all 110 objects from the Messier catalog in one night. To celebrate the Messier Marathon, NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope is releasing 12 new images to add to its extensive collection of Messier objects observed by Hubble.

View Hubble’s full Messier catalog (excellent!).

View the original Messier catalog at SEDS (I love SEDS!)

See Mercury and Venus

You might be able to catch a look at Mercury and Venus together just after sunset tonight.

Mercury and Venus will only be about a degree and a half apart when they appear together this evening. The image shows about where to look, basically note where the sun sets and let that be your guide and be sure the sun HAS SET if you plan on using binoculars (like I will) for the observation, you can severely damage your eyes if you accidentally look at the sun!

Now all I need is clear skies!

The image is not my backyard sadly, it is the standard background for Stellarium.

The Diamond Ring

ESA brings us this wonderful image of a solar diamond ring for Valentine’s Day. This one is from the Solar Eclipse of 21 August 2017 photographed by during an eclipse expedition to the USA as part of ESA’s CESAR (Cooperation through Education in Science and Astronomy Research) educational initiative. CESAR engages students in the wonders of science and technology – astronomy in particular.

As it happens there will be a solar eclipse tomorrow. This eclipse will be visible to most of Antarctica and southern regions of Chile and Argentina, I know we have readers from the very south of Argentina so here is a map showing when and approximately what you will see.

The map and more information from Wikipedia here.


The launch of the Russian cargo mission to the International Space Station has been scrubbed for today.

The launch was scheduled for 08:58 UTC / 03:58 EST or 14:58 local time at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan has been scrubbed.

The cause for the delay is not readily available and an alternate launch date/time is “under review”. I don’t imagine it will be very long.

If you are following the SpaceX Tesla Roadster and Starman you might be interested to know that Stellarium can follow them too.

To make sure it is added, open the Stellarium, Open the configuration options (F2), select the Plug-in’s tab, choose Satellites (on the left) and then click the configure button on the bottom.

Then go to the Satellite tab and on the left side you will see a button that says “all” and under that is a box you can type in (you will see a list below the box) type TESLA ROADSTER and you will see it pop up on the list and you should be good to go.

It might seem complicated to do, but it’s really pretty easy. I want to capture the orbital diagram from above, I just need to remember how to do it. Maybe I cannot, I’ll keep trying.

February Skies

The thumbnail reminded me Valentines Day is coming up. If you are inclined to participate in the spirit of the day and have not made plans, you’d better hurry otherwise you will be in the same boat as I am.

Nearing Solar Minimum

I’ve been watching the Sun for the past few days and was not seeing any spots. We are nearing solar minimum so a spotless sun is not unusual every now and then plus I was only using binoculars and sometimes miss spots near the limbs. I looked three days running and saw nothing; I was not able to look yesterday as I was in the midst of a 25 cm snowstorm.

This morning I saw on NASA the Sun was spotless for nearly two weeks and now finally there are a couple of groups coming into view. Does this mean we’ve reached bottom in the solar cycle and we’re starting to climb? No, notice how the sunspots are near the equator of the Sun, typically we would want to see high-latitude formation as a new cycle indicator and there just isn’t anything going on in those locations.

We can also look at a plot of the solar cycle progression over a few cycles. If we do that over the long-term we find the average cycle lasts about 11 years.  So, between solar cycle peaks (or valleys) there is an average of 11 years and the time from the top of a cycle and the bottom of a cycle is about 5.5 years and looking at the chart below from the US Space Weather Prediction Service we see it has been about four-years since the peak.  Remember that 11 years  is an average and the actual can vary.  It’s a good time to keep watching every now and then we could be on a short cycle.  Watching where the sunspots form will tell the story.