Category Archives: Observing

See the Blue Moon


Today at 21:14 UTC / 17:14 ET the moon will be full and that will make it  a blue moon.

No this isn’t the second full moon in a calendar month, but it will be third full moon in an astronomical season with four full moons.

Yes that is the “other” definition of a blue moon, so be sure to have a look.  You won’t see another until 2019.

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.”



Mark Your Calendars

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:


The Cassini Division


The Cassini site has a labeled picture here you might find helpful.


Keep an eye out for local Yuri’s Night Celebrations, you probably have one near you (no matter where you are and it’s a good bet a scope will be on Jupiter and/or Saturn.  Both are so worth the look if you’ve never seen them for yourself, especially Saturn – it is dazzling!

From the Cassini site:

It’s difficult to get a sense of scale when viewing Saturn’s rings, but the Cassini Division (seen here between the bright B ring and dimmer A ring) is almost as wide as the planet Mercury. (See PIA11142 for a labeled panorama of features in the rings.)

The 2,980-mile-wide (4,800-kilometer-wide) division in Saturn’s rings is thought to be caused by the moon Mimas. Particles within the division orbit Saturn almost exactly twice for every time that Mimas orbits, leading to a build-up of gravitational nudges from the moon. These repeated gravitational interactions sculpt the outer edge of the B ring and keep its particles from drifting into the Cassini Division.

This view looks toward the sunlit side of the rings from about 4 degrees above the ring plane. The image was taken in visible light with the Cassini spacecraft narrow-angle camera on Jan. 28, 2016.

The view was acquired at a distance of approximately 740,000 miles (1.2 million kilometers) from Saturn and at a Sun-Saturn-spacecraft, or phase, angle of 76 degrees. Image scale is 4 miles (7 kilometers) per pixel.

April Skies

The month as opened with very nice skies, a bit cold in the mornings at -15 C. Despite the cold start April will feature at least a few (much) warmer conditions. I’m going to order a couple new of those reclining lawn chairs, and will enjoy the spring skies at a new location.


Penumbral Lunar Eclipse


There is a Penumbral Lunar Eclipse tomorrow (23 March 2016).  Will you be able to see it?  Check out map.  Europe and Africa are pretty much out of luck for this one.

Most of North America can see this at moon set (look west) and Asia look at moon rise.

This is not a total eclipse but you should see some nice color to the moon.

Here is more from NASA.

The UK Fireball

Fireballs are spectacular and this is a good time of year to see them. This particular fireball was reported to the American Meteor Society 45 times mostly from the UK with reports from France and the Netherlands as well.

The AMS website is a great place to look around and if you see a fireball you can leave a report.


Hubble Sets a New Distance Record

Distant Galaxy GN-z11 in GOODS North Survey

Hubble sets a new distance record in finding GN-z11, this galaxy has a redshift of 11.1, that’s amazing!

From Hubblesite:
ough space, astronomers actually look back through time. Now, by pushing Hubble to its limits, an international team of astronomers has shattered the cosmic distance record by viewing the farthest galaxy ever seen. Named GN-z11, this surprisingly bright, infant galaxy is seen as it was 13.4 billion years in the past. The astronomers saw it as it existed just 400 million years after the big bang, when the universe was only three percent of its current age. At a spectroscopically confirmed redshift of 11.1, the galaxy is even farther away than originally thought. It existed only 200 million to 300 million years after the time when scientists believe the very first stars started to form. At a billion solar masses, it is producing stars surprisingly quickly for such an early time. This new record will most likely stand until the launch of Hubble’s successor, the James Webb Space Telescope, which will look even deeper into the universe for early galaxies.

Check out the more detailed version at Hubblesite.

Here’s a video version:

Looking at that area of the sky, it would appear that not much is there, but look at it through even a small telescope reveal a completely different picture.

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