Category Archives: Observing

Sentinel-3 and the Aurora

This video got me wondering if there were going to be any visible passes we might see and the answer is no, at least not at the moment.

There are a number of other satellites we CAN see including the International Space Station and the Hubble Space Telescope among others. Nothing too special is required other than where and when to look.

I had started a photo collection of Iridium flares once upon a time.  I have since moved of course, it might be a good project.  The flares are easy to see (usually) and occur conveniently around the hours of sunrise and sunset.  One or two flares a can typically be seen on any given day depending on location.  The flares are sometimes visible during the day at various hours although I must confess having not seen one – due to lack of trying mostly.  I should start again at this new location.

Below are a few sites I use for satellite tracking/spotting. There are other good sites out there too, you might check out a few to find the one you like.

Heaven’s Above (I like for Iridium flares)

Aurora From Space


This was the NASA Image of the Day. The aurora as seen from the ISS over the Pacific Northwest. I was outside about the right time and saw no sign of an aurora, but I DID see the planetary line-up and it was excellent, will be looking this morning too.

NASA’s image caption:

NASA astronaut Scott Kelly and ESA astronaut Tim Peake shared a series of aurora photographs taken from the International Space Station on Jan. 20, 2016. Kelly (@StationCDRKelly) wrote, “#goodmorning #aurora and the Pacific Northwest! #YearInSpace” and Peake (@astro_timpeake) followed up with, “Getting a photo masterclass from @StationCDRKelly – magical #aurora”

The dancing lights of the aurora provide spectacular views on the ground, but also capture the imagination of scientists who study incoming energy and particles from the sun. Aurora are one effect of such energetic particles, which can speed out from the sun both in a steady stream called the solar wind and due to giant eruptions known as coronal mass ejections or CMEs.

Image Credit: ESA/NASA

All Lined Up


Try to get outside before sunrise and have a look at a fabulous planetary line-up!  The line-up will last for a number of days so hopefully you will get a chance.

About an hour before your local sunrise you will be able to see the following planets all lined up: Venus, Saturn, Mars, Spica (dwarf planet), and Jupiter.

The image above will show which planets are which to make it easier for you.  Click the image for a large version.  Ignore the time stamp on the image that is for my time zone, just look before daylight.  You might even get to see a few satellites, the ISS and the HST if you are lucky.


Earth at Perihelion!


Yes today is Earth’s perihelion.  That means we are as close to the Sun in our orbit as we are going to get this year.

How far is that?  Glad you asked: 147,100,176 km / 91,403,812 miles.

Perihelion occurs (or occurred) at 22:49 UTC / 17:49 EST.


Happy Solstice!


Happy Solstice!  This of course the December solstice.  The Sun’s rays are directly over the Tropic of Capricorn.  As the Earth continues on its journey around the direct rays of the  Sun will move north  until the June solstice.

Watch where the Sun sets once a week for a while and and  you will see the point move.  You can do this at sunrise too.  After the June solstice you will see the sunset point start moving in the opposite direction.

Time of the December Solstice: 04:49 UTC on 22 December 2015

Get Sun and Moon data for your location.



Tomorrow, 17 November, the Leonids meteor shower peaks.   You will see probably 20 meteors an hour from this storm.  Not huge numbers but good to see just the same.

I will add that I am biased a little.  Many years ago, on 16 November my dog got wrapped around something outside.  It was cold and naturally I had to go get her.  I saw the most amazing fireball I have ever seen and the reason I can remember the details.  I got to see it come in from the east and break apart — it was spectacular!

For quite a while I was calling it a Leonid fireball, because it happened after all at the Leonid peak.  I have since decided it was more likely a Taurid.  Firstly because the Taurids are known for fireballs and they are still around, and secondly, the Leonids have the constellation Leo as a radiant.  Leo does’t rise that early, closer to midnight in fact.  The best viewing time is between midnight and sunrise, nice dark skies and the moon won’t be much of an issue this year.

If you look towards morning you will be treated to a beautiful line up of Venus, Mars, and Jupiter. They will point the way to the Leonids radiant just follow the line up.

The image above (made with Stellarium) shows the location the planets and the Leonid radiant at around  04:50 your local time on 17 November, but I’m also going out right now.

Taurid Meteor Shower

Don’t forget to look for the Taurids meteor shower if you can. You could catch a few, it’s been cloudy since they started last week, actually before. November is the cloudiest month of the year around these parts.

Finding the radiant, the point where the meteors seem to come from is pretty easy. See this finders chart, a few hours after the sun goes down Taurus is in the eastern sky, it is always followed by the constellation Orion. If you can see Orion look a bit in front of and above him.

If you don’t happen to see any meteors, you can look for the star Aldebaran, in the finders chart it looks like any other star, but it isn’t. Aldebaran is a very bright orange colored star having used up hydrogen and is now burning helium (in reality there is some hydrogen fusion occurring in a shell around the helium core). It has a radius 44 times larger than our sun and is only 20 parsecs away (65 light years).

Very nice meteor catch on the Video!