This edition of What’s Up for October 2016 from JPL shows a little of what we can see in the night skies of October – when the sky is clear this month gives great viewing crisp and clear viewing conditions around these parts.
Today Mercury is at its greatest WESTERN elongation. Put in simple terms it is the point where Mercury appears to be at its furtherest point in it’s orbit as seen from Earth. The planet In western elongation appears to the West of the Sun and will be at its highest in the sky as seen by us, so that means we can see Mercury in the mornings just before sunrise, leading the Sun. If the planet is in EASTERN elongation it will be in its highest point in the evening sky just after sunset.
The same can be said for Venus and the other planets, however for the Superior planets, i.e.: not Mercury or Venus things are a little different. Wikipedia has a pretty good explanation.
Mercury is one planet we don’t get to see often or as often as the other planets so I always try to have a look. Mercury this time around is 18 degrees above the horizon today and will start receding rather quickly day by day. I cannot see that low to my east, so the other day I took a little ride where I could.
If you try and see Mercury and I do encourage it, be careful. The Sun is not far off and you don’t want to look at the Sun especially with binoculars or a telescope, you can seriously damage your sight.
I wanted to make sure I posted a reminder about the Perseid meteor shower set to peak on the night of 11 to 12 August. The could be a great shower! Well yes, the Perseids are always good, I’m talking GREAT in terms of meteor rate which could approach 200 per hour! Once seen, a shower like this will not be soon forgotten and it would be super to get the kids out. It would make a great project for an organized outing, like for example a Boy Scout or Science Club camp out – brought up because organizing such an event is on my bucket list of things to do. Anyway –
In 2009 there was a similar display and it was nothing short of spectacular. A good portion of my viewing that night was spent in the back seat of a hatchback car riding home from a class. It was an amazing show and I created two other avid meteor shower observers just by telling to “look up”. The image shown here was from that very 2009 shower (Credits: NASA/JPL)
This year the moon could put a damper on things at least a little bit. While the moon will be something like 62 percent illuminated it will be towards the south and on the way to setting by the time it is dark enough.
EARLY morning Friday is my plan. Showers radiating from a very favorable direction (about north) and the moon setting or set, I will be in my new patio recliner (dragged to the back lawn). ERT or Expected Recliner Time should be about 03:30 local – sorry I couldn’t resist I am really pretty excited to try the new observing set up out. I’d like to think I might get a nice image like the one above and the potential is there, I’m not sure. The good thing is with “most things astronomy” the fun is in the trying.
Here are a few viewing tips from the NASA Meteoriod Environmental Office’s Rhiannon Blaauw:
A great month of sky watching! I will save you the trouble of running to your calendar, 12 August is on a Friday. I plan on taking the day off work to allow for a nap so I can get up extra early for the showers. I will be trying out a new reclining chair I am getting for the occasion. If I can find a screen filter for my phone or tablet so I don’t ruin my night vision I might see who is doing the same on Twitter. Rain of course will change everything.
The video mentions the Perseid Double Cluster; it is one of the most beautiful sights in the sky especially with binoculars or a small telescope.
If you’ve noticed Mars getting brighter and possibly larger, that’s because Mars is only 47 million miles away. Tonight is the closest we will get, but no worries if your sky is cloudy it will remain pretty bright for a while.
The finders chart is at 23:50 (your local time) and is based on the northern hemisphere.
No the moon won’t actually be a blue color, in fact if you are in eastern Canada or portions of the US the moon might look red (it did this morning) thanks to the terrible wildfires in eastern Alberta Canada. Terrible for the people of Fort McMurray.
If the moon isn’t really blue then why the name? Good question. The Online Etymology Dictionary has it from 1821 as a specific term in the sense “very rarely” and perhaps as far back to 1528: “Yf they say the mone is blewe, We must beleve that it is true.”
On 09 May 2016 there will be a transit of Mercury. Will you be able to see it? Check here. If it happens you are not able to view it, don’t worry there will be plenty of on-line sources, some of which I will post before hand.
Even if you do live in an area where the the transit is visible DO NOT LOOK AT THE SUN DIRECTLY WITHOUT THE AID OF A SAFE SOLAR FILTER.
Science@NASA put up a nice video with all the details: