October 23 Partial Solar Eclipse

On Thursday, October 23 the Moon will pass between the Earth and Sun causing a partial solar eclipse.  Partial solar eclipses happen when the Moon comes between the Sun and Earth, but the three celestial bodies don't perfectly align (and the Moon only partially covers the Sun). 

The partial solar eclipse on October 23 begins at 4:41pm in St. Louis with the maximum partial covering occurring around 5:47pm. As the Moon begins to pass in front of the Sun, it will slowly obscure a portion of the Sun.  In St. Louis, 36% of the Sun will be eclipsed by the Moon. In our area, the Sun will be very close to the horizon, so the partial solar eclipse will not be very visible. However, you can watch the eclipse live online at http://live.slooh.com/. Due to the limited view of our horizon, the Science Center does not have any special programming or viewings planned for this partial eclipse event.

The Astronomical Society of Eastern Missouri will be facilitating a viewing of the partial solar eclipse at Broemmelsiek Park in Wentzville, MO. The St Charles County Parks will be providing up to 500 pairs of eclipse glasses, and members of the Astronomical Society of Eastern Missouri will provide filtered views thru telescopes.  First contact should be around 4:40pm, and sundown will end the partial eclipse at the park around 6:10pm.

An important reminder: NEVER LOOK DIRECTLY AT THE SUN WITH YOUR EYES OR AN UNFILTERED DEVICE SUCH AS A TELESCOPE, BINOCULAR OR CAMERA.  Doing so will cause severe eye damage that can lead to loss of vision.  To SAFELY see this solar eclipse, you can use a pinhole projector as described here.

--Written by James S. McDonnell Planetarium Staff

Week of Monday, October 20

This is the Saint Louis Science Center’s NIGHT SKY UPDATE for the week of Monday, October 20.  All times are given as local St. Louis time (Central Daylight Time).  For definitions of terminology used in the night sky update, click the highlighted text.

Information updated weekly or as needed.

Join us for our next star party, Friday, November 7, 2014 held in association with the St. Louis Astronomical Society. For details, see the information at the bottom of this page.

The Sun and the Moon

Sunrise is at 7:15 a.m. on Monday, October 20 and sunset is at 6:16 p.m. providing us with 11 hours of daylight.  Even after sunset, the light from the Sun will still dimly illuminate our sky for about 1.5 hours.  This period of time is called twilight, which ends around 7:44 p.m. this week.  For those with a sun dial, solar transit or local noon occurs around 12:46 p.m. this week.  Below you will find sunrise and sunset times for the rest of the week.

Day

Sunrise

Sunset

20 Oct

7:15 a.m.

6:16 p.m.

21 Oct

7:16 a.m.

6:14 p.m.

22 Oct

7:17 a.m.

6:13 p.m.

23 Oct

7:18 a.m.

6:12 p.m.

24 Oct

7:19 a.m.

6:11 p.m.

25 Oct

7:20 a.m.

6:09 p.m.

26 Oct

7:21 a.m.

6:08 p.m.

 

On October 23 the Moon will pass between the Earth and Sun.  This happens once a month during new moon but when they are aligned just right we see the Moon pass in front of the Sun or what is called a solar eclipse.  The October 23 solar eclipse will only be a partial eclipse but it will still be interesting to see.  The eclipse starts for us in St. Louis around 4:41 p.m.  As the Moon gradually moves in front of the Sun you will see a dark disk obscure it.  By 5:47 p.m. which is the greatest extent of the eclipse you will only see about 36% of the Sun covered by the Moon.  If you have a safe means to observe the eclipse you just need to find a high point nearby with a clear view of the west.  If you do not have a safe way to observe the Sun you can tune in to live.slooh.com where they will broadcast the eclipse live.  The eclipse will still be in progress as the sun sets on St. Louis. 

***************************************************************************************************************

Unfortunately solar eclipse can only be safely observed if you have safe solar filters or some kind of projection device.  You should NEVER look directly at the Sun through an unfiltered telescope, binocular, camera or without solar filter glasses. 

Below you will find links that have information about the October 23 partial eclipse, how you can safely observe solar eclipse and why looking at the Sun will cause serious eye damage that could lead to loss of vision.  I would highly recommend reading the eye damage link. 

http://eclipse.gsfc.nasa.gov/OH/OHfigures/OH2014-Fig04.pdf

http://www.mreclipse.com/Totality2/TotalityCh11.html#Pinhole

http://www.mreclipse.com/Special/filters.html       

Moonrise for Monday, October 20 occurs at 4:05 a.m. and moonset will occur at 4:36 p.m.  On Monday, October 20 the Moon will be exhibiting a waning crescent phase with about 10% of the lunar disk illuminated.  New moon occurs on October 23 at 4:57 p.m.

International Space Station (ISS) Observing

Visible passes of ISS from St. Louis this week occur during the evening hours.  The best of these is on the evenings of October 25 and 26. 

Catch ISS flying over St. Louis in the evening hours starting Monday, October 20. 

Date

Mag

Starts

Max. altitude

Ends

Time

Alt.

Az.

Time

Alt.

Az.

Time

Alt.

Az.

20 Oct

-0.6

20:18:14

10

NNW

20:19:00

14

NNW

20:19:00

14

NNW

21 Oct

-1.3

19:29:30

10

NNW

19:31:48

17

NNE

19:31:59

17

NNE

22 Oct

-1.0

18:40:49

10

NNW

18:42:30

13

NNE

18:44:11

10

NE

22 Oct

-1.0

20:16:32

10

NW

20:17:53

22

NW

20:17:53

22

NW

23 Oct

-2.4

19:27:36

10

NW

19:30:39

32

NNE

19:30:58

31

NE

24 Oct

-1.7

18:38:42

10

NNW

18:41:23

22

NNE

18:44:03

10

E

24 Oct

-1.4

20:15:00

10

WNW

20:17:02

31

W

20:17:02

31

W

25 Oct

-3.4

19:25:47

10

NW

19:29:08

85

NE

19:30:20

37

SE

26 Oct

-2.9

18:36:40

10

NW

18:39:55

46

NE

18:43:08

10

ESE

26 Oct

-0.7

20:14:05

10

W

20:16:20

17

SW

20:16:43

17

SW

27 Oct

-1.5

19:24:16

10

WNW

19:27:15

31

SW

19:30:13

10

SSE

 

Magnitude (Mag): The Measure of brightness for a celestial object.  The lower the value is, the brighter the object will be.

Altitude (Alt):  The angle of a celestial object measured upwards from the observer’s horizon.

Azimuth (Az):  The direction of a celestial object, measured clockwise from an observer’s location with north being 0°, east being 90°, south being 180° and west being 270°. 

For information about ISS flyovers and other visible satellites, visit www.heavens-above.com

Detailed information regarding all unmanned exploration of our universe, missions past, present, and planned, can be found at Jet Propulsion Laboratories:

http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/

The Planets Visible Without A Telescope

Mars

Mars is now in the constellation Ophiuchus and rises before the Sun sets.  Mars will be seen in the southwestern skies about 20 minutes after sunset.  Mars will set by 9:18 p.m. 

Jupiter

The largest planet in the solar system is visible once again in the morning skies.  Jupiter can be found rising by 1:39 a.m. and will be easily visible by 2:10  a.m.        

Uranus and Neptune Opposition 2014

The two most distant planets in our solar system will be at their best for the next couple of months.  Neptune has already reached opposition and Uranus will reach opposition on October 7, 2014.  The opposition of a planet is when it is in opposition with the Sun.  What that means is a planet or other body such as an asteroid is seen on the opposite side of the Earth than the Sun is.  From our perspective this is when an object is at its brightest and also coincides with the object’s closest approach to the Earth.  Only objects further from the Sun than we are can be in opposition. 

Of the two planets Uranus will be the brightest.  Uranus is already appearing as a 5.8 magnitude object and will continue to brighten until October 7.  Uranus is normally a planet that requires binoculars to be seen but when the planet is nearing opposition dark sky observers can see it with the unaided eye.  Through telescopes observers will resolve Uranus into a small disk shaped object that may display a slight greenish blue color.  Large telescopes using high magnifications up to 300x might be able to discern dark and light patches called albedo features.  These features require large aperture telescopes and better than average viewing conditions to be seen. 

Uranus is currently in the constellation Pisces.  Pisces is very difficult to see in light polluted skies so it is better to start with the Great Square of Autumn.  This asterism connects the constellations Andromeda and Pegasus all of which will be seen high in the eastern sky by 10:00 p.m.  As the Great Square sits high in the east if you follow a line connecting the stars Scheat (Beta Peg) through Algenib (Gamma Peg) about the same distance that lays between the two stars you will find three stars the stand next to one another in a straight line.  The brightest of these stars is Delta Piscium.  Uranus is about four degrees south of these stars.  You will need either a desktop planetarium program or detailed star chart to help you pinpoint which star like object is Uranus. 

http://www.iau.org/static/public/constellations/gif/PSC.gif

http://www.iau.org/static/public/constellations/gif/PEG.gif

http://www.skyandtelescope.com/astronomy-news/observing-news/uranus-and-neptune-in-2014/

Neptune reached opposition on August 29, 2014.  It is now at its peak brightness of 7.8 magnitude.  This means that you will need at least binoculars to see this distant planet even when it is at its brightest.  Through binoculars Neptune will appear as a dim star like object in the constellation Aquarius.  To find Neptune first locate the bright star Fomalhaut.  About 6 to 10 degrees north of Fomalhaut you will find six bright stars that are shaped like a hyperboloid.  Scanning the sky further north you will find the star Sigma Aquarii.  Neptune will be just east of this star.      

Using a telescope most will see a star like object that when magnified enough will reveal a greyish blue disk.  Using a large telescope and high magnification up to 300x it may be possible to detect albedo features and Neptune largest moon Triton.  Triton will appear as a dim star right next to Neptune.

Like Uranus Neptune will require some kind of astronomy software of a detailed map to find.  As we pass by these planets in our orbit see if you can detect there shift amongst the background stars.  Below are a few links that will be helpful in locating Neptune and the stars mentioned above.

http://www.iau.org/static/public/constellations/gif/AQR.gif

http://www.skyandtelescope.com/astronomy-news/observing-news/uranus-and-neptune-in-2014/

Constellation of the Month

Each month we will highlight one constellation and some of the objects that can be found within the boundaries of that constellation.  At the start of the month we will list only a few of these objects and each week we will add another to the list.  Some objects will be visible to the unaided eye and some may require a telescope.  Many of the objects listed will require a map of the sky to find or may require repeat observations to notice various properties.  Links to star charts and other information that will be useful in identifying the objects listed will be given at the end of each week’s section. 

This month we will once again forego a single constellation and discuss a number of different patterns.  This month we will work on finding some of the informal groupings of stars called asterisms.  These informal patterns can be large groups that contain multiple constellations or they can be small dim groupings that require a telescope to see. Many of them serve as useful markers in the sky that help you find dimmer and more difficult objects.  

The first asterism we will cover in October is the Summer Triangle.  This is one we have mentioned and used numerous times in the night sky update.  Last week in fact we used it in reference to finding Cygnus the Swan.  Other constellations that comprise this asterism are Lyra the Harp and Aquila the Eagle.  Inside the Summer Triangle we find the constellations Vulpecula the Fox, Sagitta the Arrow and just outside the eastern edge is Delphinus the Dolphin.  Scattered throughout these constellations are many gems for double star observers, numerous open star clusters and a number of nebulas.  The first step in finding all of these is taken by first locating the Summer Triangle.

Also of interest regarding the Summer Triangle is a Mission called Kepler.  This is a space telescope that steadily observed the patch of sky between Cygnus and Lyra.  What Kepler was looking for was the subtle changes in a star’s light due to the effects of a planet orbiting around it.  Thanks to the Kepler mission and other research programs scientists currently have 5,022 candidate exoplanets (planets orbiting other stars) of which 1,746 have been confirmed.  With these numbers scientists have estimated that there are likely as many planets as there are stars in the Milky Way galaxy if not more.  If you would like to learn more about Kepler and the hunt for exoplanets visit http://planetquest.jpl.nasa.gov/   

With a name like the Summer Triangle you would think that we would start losing this asterism soon as we approach winter.  Due to the longer nights we will continue to see the Summer Triangle for the rest of the year.  Tonight go outside and simply look straight up and you should see the three bright stars Deneb, Vega and Altair that define the triangle shape.  Once you can find this asterism grab some binocular and a reclined chair and just start scanning this part of the sky.  Dense star fields and numerous stars clusters will keep you busy for some time. 

The asterism we will cover for the week of October 6 is the Great Square of Autumn.  This is another asterism that can serve as a reference point or guide post in the sky.  Much like the Summer Triangle, the Great Square of Autumn can be used to find a number of constellations and other objects of interest.  The Great Square primarily consists of two constellations; Andromeda and Pegasus.  As most of the square is in Pegasus it is also called the Square of Pegasus.  The Great Square of Autumn can also help you find the constellations Piscis, Cetus, Aquarius, Lacerta and Equuleus. 

One of the more challenging objects the Great Square can help you find is the bright variable star Mira.  Mira is a long period variable that every 333 days or so will brighten from 10th magnitude up to about 3rd magnitude.  This change does not occur in one day but over the entire 333 day cycle.  The brightening of the Mira takes about 100 days and will take twice as long to fade back to minima.  Mira was one of the first variable stars other than bright supernovas or novae to be discovered and it certainly is one of the brightest.  Unfortunately Mira has already peaked in brightness and is already well into its slow downward fade for 2014. 

Mira is an M-class red giant star that is approximately 6 billion years old.  The variable nature of Mira is due to an internal pulsation which is a result of the unstable nature of the star.  The Sun will likely come to a similar state as it evolves into a red giant star in another 5 billion years.  Mira is one of the brightest stars in the constellation Cetus.  Depending on the map you use to find Mira you may find it labeled Omicron Ceti.  

http://www.iau.org/static/public/constellations/gif/CET.gif

Finding the Great Square of Autumn is simple but it does depend on what time you look for it.  After sunset the square will be seen low in the east looking more like a diamond.  At midnight it will be nearly overhead and before sunrise it will be found low in the west. 

For the rest of the month we will cover asterisms that are still helpful guides in the sky but they will be found in individual constellations and will require an optical device such as binoculars to see.

The asterism for the week of October 13 is the star cluster known as the ET cluster.  This group of roughly 100-150 stars is frequently called the ET Cluster but officially it is named NGC 457.  The name ET Cluster is comes from the idea that the stars of NGC 457 look a bit like the famous alien character from the movie E.T.  The human brain is well suited to finding familiar patterns in a seemingly random grouping of objects.  Much like people do with clouds or blots of paint people see all kinds of patterns in the stars which of course is the theme of this month’s night sky update.  Other names given to NGC 457 are Caldwell 13 (catalog number), the Owl Cluster and the Number 5 is Alive Cluster.

The ET Cluster is located in the constellation Cassiopeia near the bright star Delta Cassiopeiae.  This 21 million year old cluster of stars is situated about 10 thousand light years away in the Perseus Arm of the Milky Way Galaxy.  When you look at it through binoculars you will see a dim patch of light with about 20 or 30 stars visible.  With telescopes you can see around 100 stars that at even such a great distance will seem detached from the background stars.  Once you are looking at the ET Cluster you will notice two bright stars called Psi-1 and Psi-2 Cassiopeiae.  These two stars represent the eyes of ET which may not be in the cluster itself.  Below the eyes there is a long chain of stars that represents ET’s arms and below that is the main body of the cluster which is seen as ET’s body. 

To find the ET cluster first find the W-shape of the constellation Cassiopeia.  The bright “W” asterism of Cassiopeia will be visible high in the northeast after sunset.  As the night progresses the “W” will pass overhead in the north and will be seen in the northwest before sunrise.  Once you can identify Cassiopeia locate the two western most stars of the W-shape called Epsilon and Delta Cassiopeiae.  Then follow a line from Epsilon to Delta and continue for another 2.5 degrees below Delta and you will find the ET Cluster.   

http://www.iau.org/static/public/constellations/gif/CAS.gif

Any you look at the ET cluster it stands out as one of the best in Cassiopeia and it sits in a crowed part of the sky in regards to other open star clusters.  If you can find the ET Cluster there are a number of open clusters within a 5 degree distance to the north.  A few of them are M103, NGC 663, NGC 654, NGC 659, NGC 436 and NGC 381.  From a dark location most of these are excellent binocular targets.        

The asterism for the week of October 20 is Kemble’s Cascade.  This is currently my favorite asterism and is one that we covered in April when talking about the constellation Camelopardalis.  I choose to return to this object for a few reasons.  First it is beautiful, second it is one of those objects that favor binoculars over telescopes and third the part of the sky it is in is loaded with lots of great objects in other constellations.  It is because of this last reason that part of the fun in observing Kemble’s cascade is in the search for it. 

This grouping of stars was discovered by an amateur astronomer named Lucian Kemble.  He was scanning Camelopardalis and noticed a string of stars that spanned about 2.5 degrees of sky.  It was later named in his honor and remains a popular target in the sparse constellation of Camelopardalis.

Kemble’s Cascade is a string of 20 stars, mostly 7th to 10th magnitude, which spans about 2.5 degrees.  The center of the string is accented with a 5th magnitude star.  The stars that make up Kemble’s Cascade are not related to each so what we see is just a chance alignment.  Following this cascade of stars to the southwest will bring us to an open star cluster called NGC 1502.  This cluster contains about 45 stars that will appear as a faint glow at the end of Kemble’s Cascade. 

One way to find Kemble’s Cascade is by first locating Beta and Alpha Cam using binoculars.  This can be done by first following the steps to find last week’s ET cluster.  The two bright stars in Cassiopeia, Delta and Epsilon Cassiopeiae will also help you find Kemble’s cascade. 

http://iau.org/static/public/constellations/gif/CAS.gif

Scan from Delta to Epsilon Cassiopeiae about 10 degrees to the northwest.  This will bring you to Gamma Cam.  Below Gamma Cam you will find Alpha and Beta Cam

http://iau.org/static/public/constellations/gif/CAM.gif

From Alpha Cam scan about 5 degrees to the east and you will find Kemble’s Cascade.

My favorite way to find Kemble’s Cascade is to first find the constellation Perseus south of the western half of the constellation Cassiopeia.

http://iau.org/static/public/constellations/gif/CAS.gif

http://iau.org/static/public/constellations/gif/PER.gif

With binoculars locate the bright star Mirfak at the center of Perseus.  This bright star is in the middle of the Alpha Persei Moving group of stars.  It is a nearby broad open star cluster that is beautiful in low power binoculars.  From here move north the helmet of Perseus to find NGC 869/884 also known as the Perseus Double Cluster.  Two degrees to the north you can find Stock 2 also known as the muscle man cluster.  A bit north and west from Stock 2 is the Heart and Soul nebulas and a scattering of dimmer open star clusters.  The Heart and Souls Nebulas are two beautiful emission nebulae that will require dark skies to be seen.  And finally another five degrees to the west you will find Kemble’s Cascade.  Now I admit that this method of finding Kemble’s Cascade seems a bit complicated and will require a more advanced map to identify all the objects just named, but it is not often you can star hop using deep sky objects instead stars.     

If you are up for a challenge and have dark skies there are even a few dim galaxies you can try to find that are north and west of Kemble’s Cascade called IC 342 and IC 356.  Unfortunately for these you will need large binoculars or a telescope to seem them. 

Our next Star Party will be held on Friday, November 7, 2014, from dusk until 10 p.m.

Weather permitting, the St. Louis Astronomical Society and the Science Center will set up a number of telescopes outdoors and be on-hand to answer your questions.  Telescope viewing begins at 8:00 p.m.  Regardless of the weather on November 7, join us indoors in our planetarium theater for “The Sky Tonight”.  Showtime is at 7 p.m.
This free, indoor star program will introduce you to the current night sky, the planets, and the seasonal constellations. Doors open 15 minutes before show time. Shows begins at 7 p.m. Sorry, no late admissions due to safety issues in the darkened theater.

The St. Louis Astronomical Society hosts the monthly Star Parties at the Science Center which are held on the first Friday of each month. Our Monthly Star Parties are open to the public and free of charge.  For more information about the St. Louis Astronomical Society visit their website at www.slasonline.org

Week of Monday, October 13

This is the Saint Louis Science Center’s NIGHT SKY UPDATE for the week of Monday, October 13.  All times are given as local St. Louis time (Central Daylight Time).  For definitions of terminology used in the night sky update, click the highlighted text.

Information updated weekly or as needed.

Join us for our next star party, Friday, November 7, 2014 held in association with the St. Louis Astronomical Society. For details, see the information at the bottom of this page.

The Sun and the Moon

Sunrise is at 7:08 a.m. on Monday, October 13 and sunset is at 6:26 p.m. providing us with about 11.5 hours of daylight.  Even after sunset, the light from the Sun will still dimly illuminate our sky for about 1.5 hours.  This period of time is called twilight, which ends around 7:54 p.m. this week.  For those with a sun dial, solar transit or local noon occurs around 12:47 p.m. this week.

On October 23 the Moon will pass between the Earth and Sun.  This happens once a month during new moon but when they are aligned just right we see the Moon pass in front of the Sun or what is called a solar eclipse.  The October 23 solar eclipse will only be a partial eclipse but it will still be interesting to see.  The eclipse starts for us in St. Louis around 4:41 p.m.  As the Moon gradually moves in front of the Sun you will see a dark disk obscure it.  By 5:47 p.m. which is the greatest extent of the eclipse you will only see about 36% of the Sun covered by the Moon.  If you have a safe means to observe the eclipse you just need to find a high point nearby with a clear view of the west.  If you do not have a safe way to observe the Sun you can tune in to live.slooh.com where they will broadcast the eclipse live.  The eclipse will still be in progress as the sun sets on St. Louis. 

***************************************************************************************************************

Unfortunately solar eclipse can only be safely observed if you have safe solar filters or some kind of projection device.  You should NEVER look directly at the Sun through an unfiltered telescope, binocular, camera or without solar filter glasses. 

Below you will find links that have information about the October 23 partial eclipse, how you can safely observe solar eclipse and why looking at the Sun will cause serious eye damage that could lead to loss of vision.  I would highly recommend reading the eye damage link. 

http://eclipse.gsfc.nasa.gov/OH/OHfigures/OH2014-Fig04.pdf

http://www.mreclipse.com/Totality2/TotalityCh11.html#Pinhole

http://www.mreclipse.com/Special/filters.html       

Moonrise for Monday, October 13 occurs at 10:39 p.m. and moonset will occur at 1:08 p.m. on the following day.  On Monday, October 13 the Moon will be exhibiting a waning gibbous phase with about 70% of the lunar disk illuminated.  Last quarter moon occurs on October 15 at 2:31 p.m.

International Space Station (ISS) Observing

Visible passes of ISS from St. Louis this week occur during the evening hours.  The best of these is on the evening of October 20.  Next week will be better for ISS passes as the few passes this week do not achieve and altitude above 15 degrees. 

Catch ISS flying over St. Louis in the evening hours starting Monday, October 13. 

Date

Mag

Starts

Max. altitude

Ends

Time

Alt.

Az.

Time

Alt.

Az.

Time

Alt.

Az.

13 Oct

-0.6

19:32:20

10

NW

19:33:56

13

NNW

19:35:32

10

NNE

18 Oct

-0.3

20:20:00

10

NNW

20:20:10

11

NNW

20:20:10

11

NNW

19 Oct

-0.8

19:31:32

10

N

19:32:37

11

NNE

19:33:08

11

NNE

20 Oct

-0.6

20:18:14

10

NNW

20:18:59

14

NNW

20:18:59

14

NNW

Magnitude (Mag): The Measure of brightness for a celestial object.  The lower the value is, the brighter the object will be.

Altitude (Alt):  The angle of a celestial object measured upwards from the observer’s horizon.

Azimuth (Az):  The direction of a celestial object, measured clockwise from an observer’s location with north being 0°, east being 90°, south being 180° and west being 270°.

For information about ISS flyovers and other visible satellites, visit www.heavens-above.com

Detailed information regarding all unmanned exploration of our universe, missions past, present, and planned, can be found at Jet Propulsion Laboratories:

http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/

The Planets Visible Without A Telescope

Mars

Mars is now in the constellation Ophiuchus and rises before the Sun sets.  Mars can be seen with Saturn in the southwestern skies about 20 minutes after sunset.  Mars will set by 9:25 p.m. 

Jupiter

The largest planet in the solar system is visible once again in the morning skies.  Jupiter can be found rising by 2:05 a.m. and will be easily visible by 2:40 a.m.    

Saturn

Saturn will be visible about 20 minutes after sunset.  Saturn will remain with us until 7:59 p.m.  Saturn can be found near the bright double star Zubenelgenubi.  Take a look at Saturn soon as we will lose the planet to glare of the Sun in another week or so.       

Uranus and Neptune Opposition 2014

The two most distant planets in our solar system will be at their best for the next couple of months.  Neptune has already reached opposition and Uranus will reach opposition on October 7, 2014.  The opposition of a planet is when it is in opposition with the Sun.  What that means is a planet or other body such as an asteroid is seen on the opposite side of the Earth than the Sun is.  From our perspective this is when an object is at its brightest and also coincides with the object’s closest approach to the Earth.  Only objects further from the Sun than we are can be in opposition. 

Of the two planets Uranus will be the brightest.  Uranus is already appearing as a 5.8 magnitude object and will continue to brighten until October 7.  Uranus is normally a planet that requires binoculars to be seen but when the planet is nearing opposition dark sky observers can see it with the unaided eye.  Through telescopes observers will resolve Uranus into a small disk shaped object that may display a slight greenish blue color.  Large telescopes using high magnifications up to 300x might be able to discern dark and light patches called albedo features.  These features require large aperture telescopes and better than average viewing conditions to be seen. 

Uranus is currently in the constellation Pisces.  Pisces is very difficult to see in light polluted skies so it is better to start with the Great Square of Autumn.  This asterism connects the constellations Andromeda and Pegasus all of which will be seen high in the eastern sky by 10:00 p.m.  As the Great Square sits high in the east if you follow a line connecting the stars Scheat (Beta Peg) through Algenib (Gamma Peg) about the same distance that lays between the two stars you will find three stars the stand next to one another in a straight line.  The brightest of these stars is Delta Piscium.  Uranus is about four degrees south of these stars.  You will need either a desktop planetarium program or detailed star chart to help you pinpoint which star like object is Uranus. 

http://www.iau.org/static/public/constellations/gif/PSC.gif

http://www.iau.org/static/public/constellations/gif/PEG.gif

http://www.skyandtelescope.com/astronomy-news/observing-news/uranus-and-neptune-in-2014/

Neptune reached opposition on August 29, 2014.  It is now at its peak brightness of 7.8 magnitude.  This means that you will need at least binoculars to see this distant planet even when it is at its brightest.  Through binoculars Neptune will appear as a dim star like object in the constellation Aquarius.  To find Neptune first locate the bright star Fomalhaut.  About 6 to 10 degrees north of Fomalhaut you will find six bright stars that are shaped like a hyperboloid.  Scanning the sky further north you will find the star Sigma Aquarii.  Neptune will be just east of this star.      

Using a telescope most will see a star like object that when magnified enough will reveal a greyish blue disk.  Using a large telescope and high magnification up to 300x it may be possible to detect albedo features and Neptune largest moon Triton.  Triton will appear as a dim star right next to Neptune.

Like Uranus Neptune will require some kind of astronomy software of a detailed map to find.  As we pass by these planets in our orbit see if you can detect there shift amongst the background stars.  Below are a few links that will be helpful in locating Neptune and the stars mentioned above.

http://www.iau.org/static/public/constellations/gif/AQR.gif

http://www.skyandtelescope.com/astronomy-news/observing-news/uranus-and-neptune-in-2014/

Constellation of the Month

Each month we will highlight one constellation and some of the objects that can be found within the boundaries of that constellation.  At the start of the month we will list only a few of these objects and each week we will add another to the list.  Some objects will be visible to the unaided eye and some may require a telescope.  Many of the objects listed will require a map of the sky to find or may require repeat observations to notice various properties.  Links to star charts and other information that will be useful in identifying the objects listed will be given at the end of each week’s section. 

This month we will once again forego a single constellation and discuss a number of different patterns.  This month we will work on finding some of the informal groupings of stars called asterisms.  These informal patterns can be large groups that contain multiple constellations or they can be small dim groupings that require a telescope to see. Many of them serve as useful markers in the sky that help you find dimmer and more difficult objects.  

The first asterism we will cover in October is the Summer Triangle.  This is one we have mentioned and used numerous times in the night sky update.  Last week in fact we used it in reference to finding Cygnus the Swan.  Other constellations that comprise this asterism are Lyra the Harp and Aquila the Eagle.  Inside the Summer Triangle we find the constellations Vulpecula the Fox, Sagitta the Arrow and just outside the eastern edge is Delphinus the Dolphin.  Scattered throughout these constellations are many gems for double star observers, numerous open star clusters and a number of nebulas.  The first step in finding all of these is taken by first locating the Summer Triangle.

Also of interest regarding the Summer Triangle is a Mission called Kepler.  This is a space telescope that steadily observed the patch of sky between Cygnus and Lyra.  What Kepler was looking for was the subtle changes in a star’s light due to the effects of a planet orbiting around it.  Thanks to the Kepler mission and other research programs scientists currently have 5,022 candidate exoplanets (planets orbiting other stars) of which 1,746 have been confirmed.  With these numbers scientists have estimated that there are likely as many planets as there are stars in the Milky Way galaxy if not more.  If you would like to learn more about Kepler and the hunt for exoplanets visit http://planetquest.jpl.nasa.gov/ 

With a name like the Summer Triangle you would think that we would start losing this asterism soon as we approach winter.  Due to the longer nights we will continue to see the Summer Triangle for the rest of the year.  Tonight go outside and simply look straight up and you should see the three bright stars Deneb, Vega and Altair that define the triangle shape.  Once you can find this asterism grab some binocular and a reclined chair and just start scanning this part of the sky.  Dense star fields and numerous stars clusters will keep you busy for some time. 

The asterism we will cover for the week of October 6 is the Great Square of Autumn.  This is another asterism that can serve as a reference point or guide post in the sky.  Much like the Summer Triangle, the Great Square of Autumn can be used to find a number of constellations and other objects of interest.  The Great Square primarily consists of two constellations; Andromeda and Pegasus.  As most of the square is in Pegasus it is also called the Square of Pegasus.  The Great Square of Autumn can also help you find the constellations Piscis, Cetus, Aquarius, Lacerta and Equuleus. 

One of the more challenging objects the Great Square can help you find is the bright variable star Mira.  Mira is a long period variable that every 333 days or so will brighten from 10th magnitude up to about 3rd magnitude.  This change does not occur in one day but over the entire 333 day cycle.  The brightening of the Mira takes about 100 days and will take twice as long to fade back to minima.  Mira was one of the first variable stars other than bright supernovas or novae to be discovered and it certainly is one of the brightest.  Unfortunately Mira has already peaked in brightness and is already well into its slow downward fade for 2014. 

Mira is an M-class red giant star that is approximately 6 billion years old.  The variable nature of Mira is due to an internal pulsation which is a result of the unstable nature of the star.  The Sun will likely come to a similar state as it evolves into a red giant star in another 5 billion years.  Mira is one of the brightest stars in the constellation Cetus.  Depending on the map you use to find Mira you may find it labeled Omicron Ceti.  

http://www.iau.org/static/public/constellations/gif/CET.gif

Finding the Great Square of Autumn is simple but it does depend on what time you look for it.  After sunset the square will be seen low in the east looking more like a diamond.  At midnight it will be nearly overhead and before sunrise it will be found low in the west. 

For the rest of the month we will cover asterisms that are still helpful guides in the sky but they will be found in individual constellations and will require an optical device such as binoculars to see.

The asterism for the week of October 13 is the star cluster known as the ET cluster.  This group of roughly 100-150 stars is frequently called the ET Cluster but officially it is named NGC 457.  The name ET Cluster is comes from the idea that the stars of NGC 457 look a bit like the famous alien character from the movie E.T.  The human brain is well suited to finding familiar patterns in a seemingly random grouping of objects.  Much like people do with clouds or blots of paint people see all kinds of patterns in the stars which of course is the theme of this month’s night sky update.  Other names given to NGC 457 are Caldwell 13 (catalog number), the Owl Cluster and the Number 5 is Alive Cluster.

The ET Cluster is located in the constellation Cassiopeia near the bright star Delta Cassiopeiae.  This 21 million year old cluster of stars is situated about 10 thousand light years away in the Perseus Arm of the Milky Way Galaxy.  When you look at it through binoculars you will see a dim patch of light with about 20 or 30 stars visible.  With telescopes you can see around 100 stars that at even such a great distance will seem detached from the background stars.  Once you are looking at the ET Cluster you will notice two bright stars called Psi-1 and Psi-2 Cassiopeiae.  These two stars represent the eyes of ET which may not be in the cluster itself.  Below the eyes there is a long chain of stars that represents ET’s arms and below that is the main body of the cluster which is seen as ET’s body. 

To find the ET cluster first find the W-shape of the constellation Cassiopeia.  The bright “W” asterism of Cassiopeia will be visible high in the northeast after sunset.  As the night progresses the “W” will pass overhead in the north and will be seen in the northwest before sunrise.  Once you can identify Cassiopeia locate the two western most stars of the W-shape called Epsilon and Delta Cassiopeiae.  Then follow a line from Epsilon to Delta and continue for another 2.5 degrees below Delta and you will find the ET Cluster.   

http://www.iau.org/static/public/constellations/gif/CAS.gif

Any you look at the ET cluster it stands out as one of the best in Cassiopeia and it sits in a crowed part of the sky in regards to other open star clusters.  If you can find the ET Cluster there are a number of open clusters within a 5 degree distance to the north.  A few of them are M103, NGC 663, NGC 654, NGC 659, NGC 436 and NGC 381.  From a dark location most of these are excellent binocular targets.   

Our next Star Party will be held on Friday, November 7, 2014, from dusk until 10 p.m.

Weather permitting, the St. Louis Astronomical Society and the Science Center will set up a number of telescopes outdoors and be on-hand to answer your questions.  Telescope viewing begins at 8:00 p.m.  Regardless of the weather on November 7, join us indoors in our planetarium theater for “The Sky Tonight”.  Showtime is at 7 p.m.
This free, indoor star program will introduce you to the current night sky, the planets, and the seasonal constellations. Doors open 15 minutes before show time. Shows begins at 7 p.m. Sorry, no late admissions due to safety issues in the darkened theater.

The St. Louis Astronomical Society hosts the monthly Star Parties at the Science Center which are held on the first Friday of each month. Our Monthly Star Parties are open to the public and free of charge.  For more information about the St. Louis Astronomical Society visit their website at www.slasonline.org

Week of Monday, October 6

This is the Saint Louis Science Center’s NIGHT SKY UPDATE for the week of Monday, October 6.  All times are given as local St. Louis time (Central Daylight Time).  For definitions of terminology used in the night sky update, click the highlighted text.

Information updated weekly or as needed.

Join us for our next star party, Friday, November 7, 2014 held in association with the St. Louis Astronomical Society. For details, see the information at the bottom of this page.

The Sun and the Moon

Sunrise is at 7:02 a.m. on Monday, October 6 and sunset is at 6:36 p.m. providing us with about 11.5 hours of daylight.  Even after sunset, the light from the Sun will still dimly illuminate our sky for about 1.5 hours.  This period of time is called twilight, which ends around 8:04 p.m. this week.  For those with a sun dial, solar transit or local noon occurs around 12:49 p.m. this week.

On October 23 the Moon will pass between the Earth and Sun.  This happens once a month during new moon but when they are aligned just right we see the Moon pass in front of the Sun or what is called a solar eclipse.  The October 23 solar eclipse will only be a partial eclipse but it will still be interesting to see.  The eclipse starts for us in St. Louis around 4:41 p.m.  As the Moon gradually moves in front of the Sun you will see a dark disk obscure it.  By 5:47 p.m. which is the greatest extent of the eclipse you will only see about 36% of the Sun covered by the Moon.  If you have a safe means to observe the eclipse you just need to find a high point nearby with a clear view of the west.  If you do not have a safe way to observe the Sun you can tune in to live.slooh.com where they will broadcast the eclipse live.  The eclipse will still be in progress as the sun sets on St. Louis. 

***************************************************************************************************************

Unfortunately solar eclipse can only be safely observed if you have safe solar filters or some kind of projection device.  You should NEVER look directly at the Sun through an unfiltered telescope, binocular, camera or without solar filter glasses. 

Below you will find links that have information about the October 23 partial eclipse, how you can safely observe solar eclipse and why looking at the Sun will cause serious eye damage that could lead to loss of vision.  I would highly recommend reading the eye damage link. 

http://eclipse.gsfc.nasa.gov/OH/OHfigures/OH2014-Fig04.pdf

http://www.mreclipse.com/Totality2/TotalityCh11.html#Pinhole

http://www.mreclipse.com/Special/filters.html     

Moonrise for Monday, October 6 occurs at 5:32 p.m. and moonset will occur at 6:01 a.m. on the following day.  On Monday, October 6 the Moon will be exhibiting a waxing gibbous phase with about 96% of the lunar disk illuminated.  Full moon occurs on October 8 at 5:51 p.m.

On Wednesday, October 8 the Moon will pass through the Earth’s shadow treating us to the second total lunar eclipse of 2014.  A lunar eclipse occurs when the Moon passes through the Earth’s shadow.  On October 8 the Moon will begin its slow trek through our shadow at 3:15 a.m.  At 4:14 a.m. it will begin to enter the darkest part of the Earth’s shadow and finally totality will start at 5:25 a.m. and end at 6:24 a.m.

Leading up to totality the Moon will gradually become darker until it is completely within the umbral portion of our shadow.  When this occurs the Moon will usually exhibit a reddish color.  The reason for the color change is that in the umbral portion of Earth’s shadow there is a little light that passes through our atmosphere.  Our atmosphere scatters shorter wavelengths of light but allows for the longer red wavelengths to filter through.  This dim red light is what illuminates the Moon during a total lunar eclipse.  Red is the typical color but coppery shades of yellow can also occur.  The color we see is dependent on how polluted the stratosphere is.  The typical pollutants that affect the Moon’s color are aerosols lofted high into the stratosphere by volcanic eruptions and forest fires. 

You will have to get up early to catch this eclipse but as no two are exactly alike it will be worth losing a few Z’s to catch one of nature’s most beautiful shows.  The same aerosols that affect the Moon’s color during an eclipse can also affect the colors we see during sunrise.  If any ash clouds are over your viewing location sunsets and sunrises can display very vivid purple, pink and orange colors giving the horizon a fiery appearance.  So perhaps while enjoying October’s total lunar eclipse we may also enjoy a beautiful volcanic sunrise.  Below you will find maps and additional information regarding this total lunar eclipse.

http://eclipse.gsfc.nasa.gov/OH/OHfigures/OH2014-Fig03.pdf

http://www.skyandtelescope.com/astronomy-news/observing-news/total-lunar-eclipse-09262014/

International Space Station (ISS) Observing

Visible passes of ISS from St. Louis this week occur during the evening hours.  The best of these are on the evenings of October 7 and 9.  To learn more about these passes and others follow the links below.

Catch ISS flying over St. Louis in the evening hours starting Monday, October 6. 

Date

Mag

Starts

Max. altitude

Ends

Time

Alt.

Az.

Time

Alt.

Az.

Time

Alt.

Az.

06 Oct

-2.8

20:21:35

10

WSW

20:24:27

59

W

20:24:27

59

W

07 Oct

-3.3

19:32:21

10

SW

19:35:37

61

SE

19:37:40

21

ENE

08 Oct

-1.6

20:20:08

10

W

20:23:04

28

NNW

20:23:35

27

NNW

09 Oct

-2.3

19:30:25

10

WSW

19:33:37

46

NW

19:36:29

12

NE

10 Oct

-0.8

20:19:12

10

WNW

20:21:19

16

NNW

20:22:05

15

N

11 Oct

-1.1

19:26:03

10

W

19:31:42

21

NNW

19:34:21

10

NNE

12 Oct

-0.4

20:18:48

10

NNW

20:19:36

11

NNW

20:20:06

10

N

13 Oct

-0.6

19:28:11

10

NW

19:29:50

13

NNW

19:31:30

10

NNE

Magnitude (Mag): The Measure of brightness for a celestial object.  The lower the value is, the brighter the object will be.

Altitude (Alt):  The angle of a celestial object measured upwards from the observer’s horizon.

Azimuth (Az):  The direction of a celestial object, measured clockwise from an observer’s location with north being 0°, east being 90°, south being 180° and west being 270°.

For information about ISS flyovers and other visible satellites, visit www.heavens-above.com

Detailed information regarding all unmanned exploration of our universe, missions past, present, and planned, can be found at Jet Propulsion Laboratories:

http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/

The Planets Visible Without A Telescope

Mars

Mars is now in the constellation Ophiuchus and rises before the Sun sets.  Mars can be seen with Saturn in the southwestern skies about 30 minutes after sunset.  Mars will set by 21:32 p.m. 

Jupiter

The largest planet in the solar system is visible once again in the morning skies.  Jupiter can be found rising by 2:24 a.m. and will be easily visible by 3:10 a.m.    

Saturn

Saturn will be visible about 20 minutes after sunset.  Saturn will remain with us until 20:21 p.m.  Saturn can be found near the bright double star Zubenelgenubi.   

Uranus and Neptune Opposition 2014

The two most distant planets in our solar system will be at their best for the next couple of months.  Neptune has already reached opposition and Uranus will reach opposition on October 7, 2014.  The opposition of a planet is when it is in opposition with the Sun.  What that means is a planet or other body such as an asteroid is seen on the opposite side of the Earth than the Sun is.  From our perspective this is when an object is at its brightest and also coincides with the object’s closest approach to the Earth.  Only objects further from the Sun than we are can be in opposition.

Of the two planets Uranus will be the brightest.  Uranus is already appearing as a 5.8 magnitude object and will continue to brighten until October 7.  Uranus is normally a planet that requires binoculars to be seen but when the planet is nearing opposition dark sky observers can see it with the unaided eye.  Through telescopes observers will resolve Uranus into a small disk shaped object that may display a slight greenish blue color.  Large telescopes using high magnifications up to 300x might be able to discern dark and light patches called albedo features.  These features require large aperture telescopes and better than average viewing conditions to be seen. 

Uranus is currently in the constellation Pisces.  Pisces is very difficult to see in light polluted skies so it is better to start with the Great Square of Autumn.  This asterism connects the constellations Andromeda and Pegasus all of which will be seen high in the eastern sky by 10:00 p.m.  As the Great Square sits high in the east if you follow a line connecting the stars Scheat (Beta Peg) through Algenib (Gamma Peg) about the same distance that lays between the two stars you will find three stars the stand next to one another in a straight line.  The brightest of these stars is Delta Piscium.  Uranus is about four degrees south of these stars.  You will need either a desktop planetarium program or detailed star chart to help you pinpoint which star like object is Uranus. 

http://www.iau.org/static/public/constellations/gif/PSC.gif

http://www.iau.org/static/public/constellations/gif/PEG.gif

http://www.skyandtelescope.com/astronomy-news/observing-news/uranus-and-neptune-in-2014/

Neptune reached opposition on August 29, 2014.  It is now at its peak brightness of 7.8 magnitude.  This means that you will need at least binoculars to see this distant planet even when it is at its brightest.  Through binoculars Neptune will appear as a dim star like object in the constellation Aquarius.  To find Neptune first locate the bright star Fomalhaut.  About 6 to 10 degrees north of Fomalhaut you will find six bright stars that are shaped like a hyperboloid.  Scanning the sky further north you will find the star Sigma Aquarii.  Neptune will be just east of this star.       

Using a telescope most will see a star like object that when magnified enough will reveal a greyish blue disk.  Using a large telescope and high magnification up to 300x it may be possible to detect albedo features and Neptune largest moon Triton.  Triton will appear as a dim star right next to Neptune.

Like Uranus Neptune will require some kind of astronomy software of a detailed map to find.  As we pass by these planets in our orbit see if you can detect there shift amongst the background stars.  Below are a few links that will be helpful in locating Neptune and the stars mentioned above.

http://www.iau.org/static/public/constellations/gif/AQR.gif

http://www.skyandtelescope.com/astronomy-news/observing-news/uranus-and-neptune-in-2014/

Constellation of the Month

Each month we will highlight one constellation and some of the objects that can be found within the boundaries of that constellation.  At the start of the month we will list only a few of these objects and each week we will add another to the list.  Some objects will be visible to the unaided eye and some may require a telescope.  Many of the objects listed will require a map of the sky to find or may require repeat observations to notice various properties.  Links to star charts and other information that will be useful in identifying the objects listed will be given at the end of each week’s section. 

This month we will once again forego a single constellation and discuss a number of different patterns.  This month we will work on finding some of the informal groupings of stars called asterisms.  These informal patterns can be large groups that contain multiple constellations or they can be small dim groupings that require a telescope to see. Many of them serve as useful markers in the sky that help you find dimmer and more difficult objects.  

The first asterism we will cover in October is the Summer Triangle.  This is one we have mentioned and used numerous times in the night sky update.  Last week in fact we used it in reference to finding Cygnus the Swan.  Other constellations that comprise this asterism are Lyra the Harp and Aquila the Eagle.  Inside the Summer Triangle we find the constellations Vulpecula the Fox, Sagitta the Arrow and just outside the eastern edge is Delphinus the Dolphin.  Scattered throughout these constellations are many gems for double star observers, numerous open star clusters and a number of nebulas.  The first step in finding all of these is taken by first locating the Summer Triangle.

Also of interest regarding the Summer Triangle is a Mission called Kepler.  This is a space telescope that steadily observed the patch of sky between Cygnus and Lyra.  What Kepler was looking for was the subtle changes in a star’s light due to the effects of a planet orbiting around it.  Thanks to the Kepler mission and other research programs scientists currently have 5,022 candidate exoplanets (planets orbiting other stars) of which 1,746 have been confirmed.  With these numbers scientists have estimated that there are likely as many planets as there are stars in the Milky Way galaxy if not more.  If you would like to learn more about Kepler and the hunt for exoplanets visit http://planetquest.jpl.nasa.gov/  

With a name like the Summer Triangle you would think that we would start losing this asterism soon as we approach winter.  Due to the longer nights we will continue to see the Summer Triangle for the rest of the year.  Tonight go outside and simply look straight up and you should see the three bright stars Deneb, Vega and Altair that define the triangle shape.  Once you can find this asterism grab some binocular and a reclined chair and just start scanning this part of the sky.  Dense star fields and numerous stars clusters will keep you busy for some time. 

The asterism we will cover for the week of October 6 is the Great Square of Autumn.  This is another asterism that can serve as a reference point or guide post in the sky.  Much like the Summer Triangle, the Great Square of Autumn can be used to find a number of constellations and other objects of interest.  The Great Square primarily consists of two constellations; Andromeda and Pegasus.  As most of the square is in Pegasus it is also called the Square of Pegasus.  The Great Square of Autumn can also help you find the constellations Piscis, Cetus, Aquarius, Lacerta and Equuleus. 

One of the more challenging objects the Great Square can help you find is the bright variable star Mira.  Mira is a long period variable that every 333 days or so will brighten from 10th magnitude up to about 3rd magnitude.  This change does not occur in one day but over the entire 333 day cycle.  The brightening of the Mira takes about 100 days and will take twice as long to fade back to minima.  Mira was one of the first variable stars other than bright supernovas or novae to be discovered and it certainly is one of the brightest.  Unfortunately Mira has already peaked in brightness and is already well into its slow downward fade for 2014. 

Mira is an M-class red giant star that is approximately 6 billion years old.  The variable nature of Mira is due to an internal pulsation which is a result of the unstable nature of the star.  The Sun will likely come to a similar state as it evolves into a red giant star in another 5 billion years.  Mira is one of the brightest stars in the constellation Cetus.  Depending on the map you use to find Mira you may find it labeled Omicron Ceti.  

http://www.iau.org/static/public/constellations/gif/CET.gif

Finding the Great Square of Autumn is simple but it does depend on what time you look for it.  After sunset the square will be seen low in the east looking more like a diamond.  At midnight it will be nearly overhead and before sunrise it will be found low in the west. 

For the rest of the month we will cover asterisms that are still helpful guides in the sky but they will be found in individual constellations and will require an optical device such as binoculars to see. 

Our next Star Party will be held on Friday, November 7, 2014, from dusk until 10 p.m.

Weather permitting, the St. Louis Astronomical Society and the Science Center will set up a number of telescopes outdoors and be on-hand to answer your questions.  Telescope viewing begins at 8:00 p.m.  Regardless of the weather on November 7, join us indoors in our planetarium theater for “The Sky Tonight”.  Showtime is at 7 p.m.
This free, indoor star program will introduce you to the current night sky, the planets, and the seasonal constellations. Doors open 15 minutes before show time. Shows begins at 7 p.m. Sorry, no late admissions due to safety issues in the darkened theater.

The St. Louis Astronomical Society hosts the monthly Star Parties at the Science Center which are held on the first Friday of each month. Our Monthly Star Parties are open to the public and free of charge.  For more information about the St. Louis Astronomical Society visit their website at www.slasonline.org

Case of the Missing Tickets

Are your detective hats ready? The Case of the Missing Tickets has begun!

Four tickets to The International Exhibit of Sherlock Holmes have gone missing, and it is up to you to solve the mystery!

Throughout the next week, clues will be released on the Science Center's Twitter page, and it will be up to you to decipher the clues and figure out where these tickets can be located. From October 1 to October 7th, clues will be released regularly to point you in the right direction. Once the final clue is released on October 7, you will be able to find and claim the prize. However, you must be quick! Only the first detective to decipher the clues and get to the mystery location will be able to collect the prize after noon on the 7th. The prize? A package of four free general admission tickets to the museum, four free passes to The International Exhibition of Sherlock Holmes, a family membership to the museum and valuable mystery gifts.

The prize will not be available until all 7 clues have been released, so remember to check @SLSC on Twitter so that you can out sleuth the competition. Also, be sure to contribute any theories you may have throughout the week. The Game is afoot!

 

 

Week of Monday, September 29

This is the Saint Louis Science Center’s NIGHT SKY UPDATE for the week of Monday, September 29.  All times are given as local St. Louis time (Central Daylight Time).  For definitions of terminology used in the night sky update, click the highlighted text.

Information updated weekly or as needed.

Join us for our next star party, Friday, October 3, 2014 held in association with the St. Louis Astronomical Society. For details, see the information at the bottom of this page.

The Sun and the Moon

Sunrise is at 6:55 a.m. on Monday, September 29 and sunset is at 6:47 p.m. providing us with about 12 hours of daylight.  Even after sunset, the light from the Sun will still dimly illuminate our sky for about 1.5 hours.  This period of time is called twilight, which ends around 8:15 p.m. this week.  For those with a sun dial, solar transit or local noon occurs around 12:51 p.m. this week.

On October 23 the Moon will pass between the Earth and Sun.  This happens once a month during new moon but when they are aligned just right we see the Moon pass in front of the Sun or what is called a solar eclipse.  The October 23 solar eclipse will only be a partial eclipse but it will still be interesting to see.  The eclipse starts for us in St. Louis around 4:41 p.m.  As the Moon gradually moves in front of the Sun you will see a dark disk obscure it.  By 5:47 p.m. which is the greatest extent of the eclipse you will only see about 36% of the Sun covered by the Moon.  If you have a safe means to observe the eclipse you just need to find a high point nearby with a clear view of the west.  If you do not have a safe way to observe the Sun you can tune in to live.slooh.com where they will broadcast the eclipse live.  The eclipse will still be in progress as the sun sets on St. Louis. 

***************************************************************************************************************

Unfortunately solar eclipse can only be safely observed if you have safe solar filters or some kind of projection device.  You should NEVER look directly at the Sun through an unfiltered telescope, binocular, camera or without solar filter glasses. 

Below you will find links that have information about the October 23 partial eclipse, how you can safely observe solar eclipse and why looking at the Sun will cause serious eye damage that could lead to loss of vision.  I would highly recommend reading the eye damage link. 

http://eclipse.gsfc.nasa.gov/OH/OHfigures/OH2014-Fig04.pdf

http://www.mreclipse.com/Totality2/TotalityCh11.html#Pinhole

http://www.mreclipse.com/Special/filters.html       

Moonrise for Monday, September 29 occurs at 12:04 p.m. and moonset will occur at 10:24 p.m.  On Monday, September 29 the Moon will be exhibiting a waxing crescent phase with about 28% of the lunar disk illuminated.  First quarter moon occurs on October 1 at 2:33 p.m.

On Wednesday, October 8 the Moon will pass through the Earth’s shadow treating us to the second total lunar eclipse of 2014.  A lunar eclipse occurs when the Moon passes through the Earth’s shadow.  On October 8 the Moon will begin its slow trek through our shadow at 3:15 a.m.  At 4:14 a.m. it will begin to enter the darkest part of the Earth’s shadow and finally totality will start at 5:25 a.m. and end at 6:24 a.m.

Leading up to totality the Moon will gradually become darker until it is completely within the umbral portion of our shadow.  When this occurs the Moon will usually exhibit a reddish color.  The reason for the color change is that in the umbral portion of Earth’s shadow there is a little light that passes through our atmosphere.  Our atmosphere scatters shorter wavelengths of light but allows for the longer red wavelengths to filter through.  This dim red light is what illuminates the Moon during a total lunar eclipse.  Red is the typical color but coppery shades of yellow can also occur.  The color we see is dependent on how polluted the stratosphere is.  The typical pollutants that affect the Moon’s color are aerosols lofted high into the stratosphere by volcanic eruptions and forest fires. 

You will have to get up early to catch this eclipse but as no two are exactly alike it will be worth losing a few Z’s to catch one of nature’s most beautiful shows.  The same aerosols that affect the Moon’s color during an eclipse can also affect the colors we see during sunrise.  If any ash clouds are over your viewing location sunsets and sunrises can display very vivid purple, pink and orange colors giving the horizon a fiery appearance.  So perhaps while enjoying October’s total lunar eclipse we may also enjoy a beautiful volcanic sunrise.  Below you will find maps and additional information regarding this total lunar eclipse.

http://eclipse.gsfc.nasa.gov/OH/OHfigures/OH2014-Fig03.pdf

http://www.skyandtelescope.com/astronomy-news/observing-news/total-lunar-eclipse-09262014/

International Space Station (ISS) Observing

Visible passes of ISS from St. Louis this week occur during the morning and evening hours.  The best of these are on the mornings of September 30, October 2 and on the evening of October 6.  To learn more about these passes and others follow the links below.

Catch ISS flying over St. Louis in the morning and evening hours starting Monday, September 29. 

Date

Mag

Starts

Max. altitude

Ends

Time

Alt.

Az.

Time

Alt.

Az.

Time

Alt.

Az.

30 Sep

-3.0

05:24:40

37

NNW

05:25:46

64

NE

05:29:04

10

ESE

01 Oct

-0.7

04:38:22

21

E

04:38:22

21

E

04:39:44

10

ESE

01 Oct

-1.9

06:11:17

14

W

06:13:10

22

SW

06:15:48

10

S

02 Oct

-2.2

05:25:08

32

S

05:25:08

32

S

05:27:19

10

SSE

04 Oct

-0.9

20:23:48

10

SSW

20:24:35

16

SSW

20:24:35

16

SSW

05 Oct

-1.8

19:35:19

10

S

19:37:51

20

SE

19:38:16

20

ESE

06 Oct

-2.8

20:21:47

10

WSW

20:24:38

59

W

20:24:38

59

W

Magnitude (Mag): The Measure of brightness for a celestial object.  The lower the value is, the brighter the object will be.

Altitude (Alt):  The angle of a celestial object measured upwards from the observer’s horizon.

Azimuth (Az):  The direction of a celestial object, measured clockwise from an observer’s location with north being 0°, east being 90°, south being 180° and west being 270°.

For information about ISS flyovers and other visible satellites, visit www.heavens-above.com

Detailed information regarding all unmanned exploration of our universe, missions past, present, and planned, can be found at Jet Propulsion Laboratories:

http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/

The Planets Visible Without A Telescope

Mars

Mars is now in the constellation Libra and rises before the Sun sets.  Mars can be seen with Saturn in the southwestern skies about 20 minutes after sunset.  Mars will continue to pull away from Saturn as it heads into the constellation Scorpius.  Mars will set by 21:40 p.m. 

Jupiter

The largest planet in the solar system is visible once again in the morning skies.  Jupiter can be found rising by 2:45 a.m. and will be easily visible by 3:30 a.m.    

Saturn

Saturn will be visible about 20 minutes after sunset.  Look for it in the south next to Mars which will be visible around the same time.  Saturn will remain with us until 20:47 p.m.  Saturn can be found near the bright double star Zubenelgenubi.     

Uranus and Neptune Opposition 2014

The two most distant planets in our solar system will be at their best for the next couple of months.  Neptune has already reached opposition and Uranus will reach opposition on October 7, 2014.  The opposition of a planet is when it is in opposition with the Sun.  What that means is a planet or other body such as an asteroid is seen on the opposite side of the Earth than the Sun is.  From our perspective this is when an object is at its brightest and also coincides with the object’s closest approach to the Earth.  Only objects further from the Sun than we are can be in opposition. 

Of the two planets Uranus will be the brightest.  Uranus is already appearing as a 5.8 magnitude object and will continue to brighten until October 7.  Uranus is normally a planet that requires binoculars to be seen but when the planet is nearing opposition dark sky observers can see it with the unaided eye.  Through telescopes observers will resolve Uranus into a small disk shaped object that may display a slight greenish blue color.  Large telescopes using high magnifications up to 300x might be able to discern dark and light patches called albedo features.  These features require large aperture telescopes and better than average viewing conditions to be seen. 

Uranus is currently in the constellation Pisces.  Pisces is very difficult to see in light polluted skies so it is better to start with the Great Square of Autumn.  This asterism connects the constellations Andromeda and Pegasus all of which will be seen high in the eastern sky by 10:00 p.m.  As the Great Square sits high in the east if you follow a line connecting the stars Scheat (Beta Peg) through Algenib (Gamma Peg) about the same distance that lays between the two stars you will find three stars the stand next to one another in a straight line.  The brightest of these stars is Delta Piscium.  Uranus is about four degrees south of these stars.  You will need either a desktop planetarium program or detailed star chart to help you pinpoint which star like object is Uranus. 

http://www.iau.org/static/public/constellations/gif/PSC.gif

http://www.iau.org/static/public/constellations/gif/PEG.gif

http://www.skyandtelescope.com/astronomy-news/observing-news/uranus-and-neptune-in-2014/

Neptune reached opposition on August 29, 2014.  It is now at its peak brightness of 7.8 magnitude.  This means that you will need at least binoculars to see this distant planet even when it is at its brightest.  Through binoculars Neptune will appear as a dim star like object in the constellation Aquarius.  To find Neptune first locate the bright star Fomalhaut.  About 6 to 10 degrees north of Fomalhaut you will find six bright stars that are shaped like a hyperboloid.  Scanning the sky further north you will find the star Sigma Aquarii.  Neptune will be just east of this star.      

Using a telescope most will see a star like object that when magnified enough will reveal a greyish blue disk.  Using a large telescope and high magnification up to 300x it may be possible to detect albedo features and Neptune largest moon Triton.  Triton will appear as a dim star right next to Neptune.

Like Uranus Neptune will require some kind of astronomy software of a detailed map to find.  As we pass by these planets in our orbit see if you can detect there shift amongst the background stars.  Below are a few links that will be helpful in locating Neptune and the stars mentioned above.

http://www.iau.org/static/public/constellations/gif/AQR.gif

http://www.skyandtelescope.com/astronomy-news/observing-news/uranus-and-neptune-in-2014/

Constellation of the Month

Each month we will highlight one constellation and some of the objects that can be found within the boundaries of that constellation.  At the start of the month we will list only a few of these objects and each week we will add another to the list.  Some objects will be visible to the unaided eye and some may require a telescope.  Many of the objects listed will require a map of the sky to find or may require repeat observations to notice various properties.  Links to star charts and other information that will be useful in identifying the objects listed will be given at the end of each week’s section. 

This month we will once again forego a single constellation and discuss a number of different patterns.  This month we will work on finding some of the informal groupings of stars called asterisms.  These informal patterns can be large groups that contain multiple constellations or they can be small dim groupings that require a telescope to see. Many of them serve as useful markers in the sky that help you find dimmer and more difficult objects.  

The first asterism we will cover in October is the Summer Triangle.  This is one we have mentioned and used numerous times in the night sky update.  Last week in fact we used it in reference to finding Cygnus the Swan.  Other constellations that comprise this asterism are Lyra the Harp and Aquila the Eagle.  Inside the Summer Triangle we find the constellations Vulpecula the Fox, Sagitta the Arrow and just outside the eastern edge is Delphinus the Dolphin.  Scattered throughout these constellations are many gems for double star observers, numerous open star clusters and a number of nebulas.  The first step in finding all of these is taken by first locating the Summer Triangle

Also of interest regarding the Summer Triangle is a Mission called Kepler.  This is a space telescope that steadily observed the patch of sky between Cygnus and Lyra.  What Kepler was looking for was the subtle changes in a star’s light due to the effects of a planet orbiting around it.  Thanks to the Kepler mission and other research programs scientists currently have 5,022 candidate exoplanets (planets orbiting other stars) of which 1,746 have been confirmed.  With these numbers scientists have estimated that there are likely as many planets as there are stars in the Milky Way galaxy if not more.  If you would like to learn more about Kepler and the hunt for exoplanets visit http://planetquest.jpl.nasa.gov/  

With a name like the Summer Triangle you would think that we would start losing this asterism soon as we approach winter.  Due to the longer nights we will continue to see the Summer Triangle for the rest of the year.  Tonight go outside and simply look straight up and you should see the three bright stars Deneb, Vega and Altair that define the triangle shape.  Once you can find this asterism grab some binocular and a reclined chair and just start scanning this part of the sky.  Dense star fields and numerous stars clusters will keep you busy for some time. 

Our next Star Party will be held on Friday, October 3, 2014, from dusk until 10 p.m.

Weather permitting, the St. Louis Astronomical Society and the Science Center will set up a number of telescopes outdoors and be on-hand to answer your questions.  Telescope viewing begins at 8:00 p.m.  Regardless of the weather on October 3, join us indoors in our planetarium theater for “The Sky Tonight”.  Showtime is at 7 p.m.
This free, indoor star program will introduce you to the current night sky, the planets, and the seasonal constellations. Doors open 15 minutes before show time. Shows begins at 7 p.m. Sorry, no late admissions due to safety issues in the darkened theater.

The St. Louis Astronomical Society hosts the monthly Star Parties at the Science Center which are held on the first Friday of each month. Our Monthly Star Parties are open to the public and free of charge.  For more information about the St. Louis Astronomical Society visit their website at www.slasonline.org

Week of Monday, September 22

This is the Saint Louis Science Center’s NIGHT SKY UPDATE for the week of Monday, September 22.  All times are given as local St. Louis time (Central Daylight Time).  For definitions of terminology used in the night sky update, click the highlighted text.

Information updated weekly or as needed.

Join us for our next star party, Friday, October 3, 2014 held in association with the St. Louis Astronomical Society. For details, see the information at the bottom of this page.

The Sun and the Moon

Sunrise is at 6:49 a.m. on Monday, September 22 and sunset is at 7:58 p.m. providing us with about 12 hours of daylight.  Even after sunset, the light from the Sun will still dimly illuminate our sky for about 1.5 hours.  This period of time is called twilight, which ends around 8:27 p.m. this week.  For those with a sun dial, solar transit or local noon occurs around 12:54 p.m. this week.

September 22 marks the first day of fall.  This day is called the fall or autumnal equinox and on this day the Sun will set roughly due west as the northern hemisphere begins to tilt away from the Sun.  We will see the Sun set further and further south until the first day of winter which is called the winter solstice.  The seasons of Earth are not caused by proximity to the Sun but rather how the Earth’s axes are inclined with respect to the Sun.  To learn more about the Earth’s seasons visit http://aa.usno.navy.mil/faq/docs/seasons_orbit.php    

Moonrise for Monday, September 22 occurs at 5:18 a.m. and moonset will occur at 6:05 p.m.  On Monday, September 22 the Moon will be exhibiting a waning crescent phase with about 2% of the lunar disk illuminated.  New Moon occurs on September 24.

International Space Station (ISS) Observing

Visible passes of ISS this week occur during the morning hours.  The best of these are on the mornings of September 27 and 29.  To learn more about these passes and others follow the links below.

Catch ISS flying over St. Louis in the morning hours starting Monday, September 22. 

Date

Mag

Starts

Max. altitude

Ends

Time

Alt.

Az.

Time

Alt.

Az.

Time

Alt.

Az.

23 Sep

-0.5

06:16:24

10

N

06:17:53

12

NNE

06:19:22

10

NE

25 Sep

-0.9

06:14:27

10

NNW

06:17:00

20

NNE

06:19:33

10

ENE

26 Sep

-0.5

05:25:47

10

NNW

05:27:47

15

NNE

05:29:47

10

ENE

27 Sep

-2.1

06:12:40

10

NW

06:15:51

41

NNE

06:19:01

10

ESE

28 Sep

-1.3

05:24:25

14

NNW

05:26:37

26

NNE

05:29:29

10

E

29 Sep

-0.6

04:37:43

18

NE

04:37:43

18

NE

04:39:44

10

ENE

29 Sep

-3.3

06:10:58

10

NW

06:14:17

69

SW

06:17:34

10

SE

30 Sep

-2.9

05:24:02

38

NNW

05:25:06

63

NE

05:28:24

10

ESE

Magnitude (Mag): The Measure of brightness for a celestial object.  The lower the value is, the brighter the object will be.

Altitude (Alt):  The angle of a celestial object measured upwards from the observer’s horizon.

Azimuth (Az):  The direction of a celestial object, measured clockwise from an observer’s location with north being 0°, east being 90°, south being 180° and west being 270°. 

For information about ISS flyovers and other visible satellites, visit www.heavens-above.com

Detailed information regarding all unmanned exploration of our universe, missions past, present, and planned, can be found at Jet Propulsion Laboratories:

http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/

The Planets Visible Without A Telescope

Mars

Mars is now in the constellation Libra and rises before the Sun sets.  Mars can be seen with Saturn in the southwestern skies about 20 minutes after sunset.  Mars will continue to pull away from Saturn as it heads into the constellation Scorpius.  Mars will set by 21:50 p.m. 

Jupiter

The largest planet in the solar system is visible once again in the morning skies.  Jupiter can be found rising by 3:07 a.m. and will be easily visible by 3:45 a.m.    

Saturn

Saturn will be visible about 20 minutes after sunset.  Look for it in the south next to Mars which will be visible around the same time.  Saturn will remain with us until 21:12 p.m.  Saturn can be found near the bright double star Zubenelgenubi.      

Uranus and Neptune Opposition 2014

The two most distant planets in our solar system will be at their best for the next couple of months.  Neptune has already reached opposition and Uranus will reach opposition on October 7, 2014.  The opposition of a planet is when it is in opposition with the Sun.  What that means is a planet or other body such as an asteroid is seen on the opposite side of the Earth than the Sun is.  From our perspective this is when an object is at its brightest and also coincides with the object’s closest approach to the Earth.  Only objects further from the Sun than we are can be in opposition. 

Of the two planets Uranus will be the brightest.  Uranus is already appearing as a 5.8 magnitude object and will continue to brighten until October 7.  Uranus is normally a planet that requires binoculars to be seen but when the planet is nearing opposition dark sky observers can see it with the unaided eye.  Through telescopes observers will resolve Uranus into a small disk shaped object that may display a slight greenish blue color.  Large telescopes using high magnifications up to 300x might be able to discern dark and light patches called albedo features.  These features require large aperture telescopes and better than average viewing conditions to be seen. 

Uranus is currently in the constellation Pisces.  Pisces is very difficult to see in light polluted skies so it is better to start with the Great Square of Autumn.  This asterism connects the constellations Andromeda and Pegasus all of which will be seen high in the eastern sky by 10:00 p.m.  As the Great Square sits high in the east if you follow a line connecting the stars Scheat (Beta Peg) through Algenib (Gamma Peg) about the same distance that lays between the two stars you will find three stars the stand next to one another in a straight line.  The brightest of these stars is Delta Piscium.  Uranus is about four degrees south of these stars.  You will need either a desktop planetarium program or detailed star chart to help you pinpoint which star like object is Uranus. 

http://www.iau.org/static/public/constellations/gif/PSC.gif

http://www.iau.org/static/public/constellations/gif/PEG.gif

http://www.skyandtelescope.com/astronomy-news/observing-news/uranus-and-neptune-in-2014/

Neptune reached opposition on August 29, 2014.  It is now at its peak brightness of 7.8 magnitude.  This means that you will need at least binoculars to see this distant planet even when it is at its brightest.  Through binoculars Neptune will appear as a dim star like object in the constellation Aquarius.  To find Neptune first locate the bright star Fomalhaut.  About 6 to 10 degrees north of Fomalhaut you will find six bright stars that are shaped like a hyperboloid.  Scanning the sky further north you will find the star Sigma Aquarii.  Neptune will be just east of this star.      

Using a telescope most will see a star like object that when magnified enough will reveal a greyish blue disk.  Using a large telescope and high magnification up to 300x it may be possible to detect albedo features and Neptune largest moon Triton.  Triton will appear as a dim star right next to Neptune.

Like Uranus Neptune will require some kind of astronomy software of a detailed map to find.  As we pass by these planets in our orbit see if you can detect there shift amongst the background stars.  Below are a few links that will be helpful in locating Neptune and the stars mentioned above.

http://www.iau.org/static/public/constellations/gif/AQR.gif

http://www.skyandtelescope.com/astronomy-news/observing-news/uranus-and-neptune-in-2014/

Constellation of the Month

Each month we will highlight one constellation and some of the objects that can be found within the boundaries of that constellation.  At the start of the month we will list only a few of these objects and each week we will add another to the list.  Some objects will be visible to the unaided eye and some may require a telescope.  Many of the objects listed will require a map of the sky to find or may require repeat observations to notice various properties.  Links to star charts and other information that will be useful in identifying the objects listed will be given at the end of each week’s section. 

The constellation of the month for September is Cygnus the Swan.  Cygnus is one of the prominent constellations of the Summer Triangle.  It is easily found by locating the bright star Deneb which represents that tail of the Swan.  The head of the swan is the star Albireo and the wings contain the bright stars Epsilon and Zeta Cygni on the east, Gamma Cygni in the middle and Delta and Theta Cygni on the west.

There are a number of stories associated with the constellation Cygnus.  One of the most prominent involves Zeus disguised himself as a swan to seduced the Spartan queen Leda.  From this encounter Leda produced an egg from which the twins of Gemini emerged.  One was Castor the mortal son of King Tyndareus and the other was Pollux the immortal son of Zeus. 

The first object we will cover in Cygnus is the double star Albireo.  This is the fifth brightest star in Cygnus even though it was given the Bayer designation of Beta Cygni.  This star is about 430 light years away and to the unaided eye looks to be just one star.  The singular appearance changes once you point binoculars at Albireo.  Through lower power binoculars you can just see that Albireo separates into two different stars.  Albireo A is the brighter of the two appearing yellow in color.  It is a K-class giant star that is fusing helium at its core.  It is a star that is 950 times brighter, 50 times larger and 5 times more massive than the Sun.  Its companion Albireo B is a hot B-class or blue dwarf star that is 190 times brighter and about 3.3 times more massive than the Sun.  Alberio B is also a star that rotates very rapidly causing it to spin off some of its own material into a disk of gas that surrounds the star.  Periodically this gas is ionized by Alberio B causing its light to change it spectral qualities for a brief time. 

The two stars are separated by about 34 arc minutes making them an easy split in small telescopes and binoculars.  If they are a true binary system the two stars would take about 100,000 years to orbit one another. 

To find Albireo simply follow the bright stars from the tail star Denib down to the head of the swan.  Albireo marks the head of the swan.  Below you find a map that will help you identify Cygnus and its bright stars.     

http://www.iau.org/static/public/constellations/gif/CYG.gif

The object for the week of September 8 is the variable star SS Cygni.  This star is a cataclysmic variable star that suddenly brightens from about 12th magnitude to roughly 8th magnitude every 4 to 10 weeks.  This type of variable star is called a dwarf nova of which the prototype star for the class is U Geminorum.  These are stars that have a long period of quiescence and then abruptly over a few hours will brighten by 2 to 5 magnitudes.  There is some thought that perhaps SS Cygni deserves its own category as it gets much brighter than U Geminorum and could be a different class of variable.  Either way this is a spectacular variable star to watch as it is has a quick and dynamic rise to maxima which it will then hold for about a week or two until it quickly fades back down to minima.  SS Cygni is currently exhibiting an outburst and should stay at maxima for the next week or two.   

What causes the variance in SS Cygni is that it’s not one but two stars.  One is a K5-class dwarf star that has about 0.60 solar masses and the other is an evolved white dwarf star that has about 0.40 solar masses.  The two stars orbit one another at a close distance of about 100,000 miles taking only 6.5 hours to complete one orbit.  Mass from the companion star begins to transfer onto an accretion disk surrounding the white dwarf star.  When enough material collects onto this disk it becomes unstable and collapses onto the white dwarf.  As this occurs the matter in the accretion disk releases its gravitational potential energy which is the release that causes the nova. 

To find SS Cygni you will have to do a fair bit of star hoping.  Ultimately to find SS Cygni you need to locate the red giant star 75 Cyg.  There are various ways to find this star but all of them will test your skills of star hoping and your ability to recognize dim star fields.  What I do is I locate a few different bright stars using any binocular.  I tend to use the stars Deneb, 56 Cyg, 58 Cyg, Sigma Cyg, 74 Cyg, 76 Cyg and 77 Cyg.  These stars form a large 10 degree arc that extends below Deneb to the west about 10 degrees.  The last two are in a close group of three stars that make a nice reference point when looking for 75 Cyg.  Once you can find 75 Cyg, SS Cygni will be a little more than one degree to the north and west of 75 Cyg.  SS Cygni sits on the edge of a small triangle of stars that is made of 8th to 10th magnitude stars.  When SS Cygni has an outburst there will be a fourth star on one of the triangle’s edge. 

With the moon phase being gibbous for the rest of the week it will restrict views of SS Cygni to large binoculars or a telescope.  It is possible that as the Moon continues to wane smaller binoculars could pick up SS Cygni but anything under 50mm will be a stretch.  Below you will find links to a basic star map and other helpful information regarding this variable star.  On the IAU star map included look for Rho Cygni and the next bright star to the west is 75 Cyg.  From here using some kind of planetarium software should get you to SS Cygni.  I would recommend stellarium for this purpose. 

http://www.iau.org/static/public/constellations/gif/CYG.gif

http://www.aavso.org/tmp3/d6422.png

http://www.aavso.org/types-variables

The object for the week of September 15 is the open star cluster M29.  This little open cluster contains approximately 50 stars which lie at a distance of about 4,000 light years.  The stars in this cluster are around10 million years old and are part of the Cygnus OB1 association.  OB Stellar associations are groupings of 10 to a few hundred massive hot O and B class stars.  The stars in these associations tend to have the same or similar ages and are representative of periods of star formation.  Frequently these massive hot stars will excite the molecular clouds that are near them creating beautiful emission nebulae.  Great examples of these are the North American Nebula (NGC 7000), the Lagoon Nebula (M8) and the Great Orion Nebula (M42).  The Cygnus OB1 association which M29 is a part of contributes to the excitation of a large molecular complex called the Cygnus X region.  This is a bright radio source in Cygnus that has been found to be one of the largest star forming regions in the Milky Way.  

Observing M29 with binoculars will reveal a small fuzzy patch of light.  Small telescopes will reveal about 6 bright stars.  These are all blue supergiant stars that individually are around 160,000 times brighter than the Sun.  The six bright stars visible in a small telescope appear to be in the shape of a hyperboloid and are thus frequently called the Cooling Tower cluster. 

To find M29 first locate the constellation Cygnus as describe above.  Then find the bright star Gamma Cygni.  From here scan about 1.5 degrees to the southeast and you will find M29.  Again through binoculars it appears as a small fuzzy patch of light and through telescopes individual stars will be resolved.  Follow the links below for more information about M29 and those objects associated with it. 

http://www.iau.org/static/public/constellations/gif/CYG.gif

http://messier.seds.org/m/m029.html

http://apod.nasa.gov/apod/ap120118.html

The object for the week of September 22 is the object called Cygnus X-1.  Last month we spent a little time in Cygnus when we talked about the Cygnus Star Cloud.  One of the individual objects listed as part of the star cloud was Cygnus X-1.  Since we discussed this interesting object I thought we would revisit it and describe how to find Cygnus X-1. 

For those that are not familiar with Cygnus X-1 it was the first bright x-ray object that was believed to be a black hole.  It was first detected by a sounding rocket that was launched in 1964.  X-rays are blocked by our atmosphere so astronomical x-ray sources went unnoticed until we could send x-ray detectors high enough into the atmosphere.  Since its discovery Cygnus X-1 has been studied extensively and was eventually found to be the first candidate for a stellar class black hole.

A key component to confirming Cygnus X-1 as a black hole was the discovery that Cygnus X-1 was part of a binary system that contains a blue supergiant star called HDE 226868.  The two objects orbit each other 18.6 million miles apart taking only 5.6 days to complete one orbit.  That is about 20% of the distance between the Earth and Sun.  In addition to seeing the bright x-ray object in the stars vicinity they also noted that when observing the spectrum of HDE 226868 that is spectral signature would change.  HDE 226868 is a star that is between 20 to 40 solar masses.  Like most stars of this mass the outer atmosphere of HDE 226868 is extremely turbulent and is likely a progenitor of a Wolf Rayet star.  The mass that HDE 226868 sheds falls onto an accretion disk surrounding Cygnus X-1.  As this material accelerates and heats up it releases the x-rays that are detected from this object.  Additionally the in falling material is accelerated to relativistic speeds allowing it to release some of its gravitational potential energy.  This energy released generates outflowing jets of particles that have relativistic speeds and are perpendicular to the accretion disk.  The presence of these jets is another confirmation that Cygnus X-1 is a black hole.

The binary system is often reference as V1357 Cyg.  This indicates it is a variable system that changes its brightness.  Finding V1357 is pretty simple but it will require large binoculars or a small telescope to see.  The first step in finding V1357 Cyg is to locate Cygnus the Swan.  Once you have done this you then need to locate the star Eta Cygni.  This is a 4th magnitude star that should be visible to the unaided eye unless you live in the heart of a light polluted city.  Once you have found Eta Cygni look about 0.5 degrees to the north and you will find V1357 Cyg. 

The tricky part will be pinpointing which of the dim stars seen here is V1357 Cyg.  I use planetarium software called Stellarium that that allows me to zoom in enough to see 10th to 11th magnitude stars.  At this scale there are two distinct patterns of stars that emerge.  One is a small rhombus shape of stars.  Just below this you will see an upside down U-shape.  V1357 is in the middle of the U-shape of stars next to another star that is a bit brighter than it. 

We won’t actually see the black hole but we can see its companion star.  An interesting experiment would be to image this star with a spectrometer to see if there is a noticeable red and blue shift present in the stars visible spectrum.  As the black hole orbits the blue star it would tug on it potential causing a Doppler effect in the stars spectrum.  It would be interesting to see if the low res spectrometers some amateur astronomers have could pick up this Doppler shift in HDE 226868’s light. 

This week’s and last week’s objects have provided challenging targets that push our ability to star hop.  Many objects that seem out of reach are often quite easy to see once you take your time and learn the dimmer star fields.  I highly recommend that if either of the last two objects has inspired you to go out and try your luck at finding them that you consider joining a local astronomy club.  A benefit of joining many astronomy clubs is that you gain membership to the Astronomical League.  The Astronomical League has a number of observing programs that will keep you busy for many years to come.  Many of these programs are designed to help you push your own abilities and understanding of astronomy.  Below you will find links to maps, Stellarium software and the local St. Louis astronomy clubs.  If you do not live near St. Louis chances are there is something in your area as well.

http://www.iau.org/static/public/constellations/gif/CYG.gif

http://www.aavso.org/tmp3/d7061.png

http://slasonline.org/

http://www.asemonline.org/

http://nightsky.jpl.nasa.gov/clubs-and-events.cfm

http://www.astroleague.org/observing.html

http://stellarium.org/

Our next Star Party will be held on Friday, October 3, 2014, from dusk until 10 p.m.

Weather permitting, the St. Louis Astronomical Society and the Science Center will set up a number of telescopes outdoors and be on-hand to answer your questions.  Telescope viewing begins at 8:00 p.m.  Regardless of the weather on October 3, join us indoors in our planetarium theater for “The Sky Tonight”.  Showtime is at 7 p.m.
This free, indoor star program will introduce you to the current night sky, the planets, and the seasonal constellations. Doors open 15 minutes before show time. Shows begins at 7 p.m. Sorry, no late admissions due to safety issues in the darkened theater.

The St. Louis Astronomical Society hosts the monthly Star Parties at the Science Center which are held on the first Friday of each month. Our Monthly Star Parties are open to the public and free of charge.  For more information about the St. Louis Astronomical Society visit their website at www.slasonline.org

Week of Monday, September 15

This is the Saint Louis Science Center’s NIGHT SKY UPDATE for the week of Monday, September 15.  All times are given as local St. Louis time (Central Daylight Time).  For definitions of terminology used in the night sky update, click the highlighted text.

Information updated weekly or as needed.

Join us for our next star party, Friday, October 3, 2014 held in association with the St. Louis Astronomical Society. For details, see the information at the bottom of this page.

The Sun and the Moon

Sunrise is at 6:43 a.m. on Monday, September 15 and sunset is at 7:09 p.m. providing us with about 12.5 hours of daylight.  Even after sunset, the light from the Sun will still dimly illuminate our sky for about 1.5 hours.  This period of time is called twilight, which ends around 8:39 p.m. this week.  For those with a sun dial, solar transit or local noon occurs around 12:56 p.m. this week.       

Moonrise for Monday, September 15 occurs at 11:56 p.m. and moonset will occur at 2:28 p.m. on the following day.  On Monday, September 15 the Moon will be exhibiting a last quarter phase with about 50% of the lunar disk illuminated.

International Space Station (ISS) Observing

Visible passes of ISS this week occur during the morning hours.  The best of these are on the mornings of September 16 and 17.  To learn more about these passes and others follow the links below.

Catch ISS flying over St. Louis in the morning hours starting Monday, September 15. 

Date

Mag

Starts

Max. altitude

Ends

Time

Alt.

Az.

Time

Alt.

Az.

Time

Alt.

Az.

15 Sep

-2.2

04:43:04

46

ENE

04:43:04

46

ENE

04:45:32

10

NE

15 Sep

-1.3

06:16:54

10

WNW

06:19:15

18

NNW

06:21:37

10

NNE

16 Sep

-1.8

05:29:22

21

WNW

05:30:21

25

NNW

05:33:10

10

NNE

17 Sep

-1.5

04:42:37

27

NNE

04:42:37

27

NNE

04:44:34

10

NE

17 Sep

-0.7

06:17:43

10

NW

06:18:53

11

NNW

06:20:03

10

N

18 Sep

-1.0

05:28:38

13

NW

05:29:42

14

NNW

05:31:36

10

NNE

19 Sep

-0.7

04:41:39

16

N

04:41:39

16

N

04:42:58

10

NNE

21 Sep

-0.3

04:40:17

11

N

04:40:17

11

N

04:40:47

10

N

 

Magnitude (Mag): The Measure of brightness for a celestial object.  The lower the value is, the brighter the object will be.

Altitude (Alt):  The angle of a celestial object measured upwards from the observer’s horizon.

Azimuth (Az):  The direction of a celestial object, measured clockwise from an observer’s location with north being 0°, east being 90°, south being 180° and west being 270°. 

For information about ISS flyovers and other visible satellites, visit www.heavens-above.com

Detailed information regarding all unmanned exploration of our universe, missions past, present, and planned, can be found at Jet Propulsion Laboratories:

http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/

The Planets Visible Without A Telescope

Mars

Mars is now in the constellation Libra and rises before the Sun sets.  Mars can be seen with Saturn in the southwestern skies about 20 minutes after sunset.  Mars will continue to pull away from Saturn as it heads into the constellation Scorpius.  Mars will set by 22:12 p.m. 

Jupiter

The largest planet in the solar system is visible once again in the morning skies.  Jupiter can be found rising by 3:45 a.m. and will be easily visible by 4:15 a.m.    

Saturn

Saturn will be visible about 20 minutes after sunset.  Look for it in the south next to Mars which will be visible around the same time.  Saturn will remain with us until 22: p.m.  Saturn can be found near the bright double star Zubenelgenubi.       

Uranus and Neptune Opposition 2014

The two most distant planets in our solar system will be at their best for the next couple of months.  Neptune has already reached opposition and Uranus will reach opposition on October 7, 2014.  The opposition of a planet is when it is in opposition with the Sun.  What that means is a planet or other body such as an asteroid is seen on the opposite side of the Earth than the Sun is.  From our perspective this is when an object is at its brightest and also coincides with the object’s closest approach to the Earth.  Only objects further from the Sun than we are can be in opposition. 

Of the two planets Uranus will be the brightest.  Uranus is already appearing as a 5.8 magnitude object and will continue to brighten until October 7.  Uranus is normally a planet that requires binoculars to be seen but when the planet is nearing opposition dark sky observers can see it with the unaided eye.  Through telescopes observers will resolve Uranus into a small disk shaped object that may display a slight greenish blue color.  Large telescopes using high magnifications up to 300x might be able to discern dark and light patches called albedo features.  These features require large aperture telescopes and better than average viewing conditions to be seen. 

Uranus is currently in the constellation Pisces.  Pisces is very difficult to see in light polluted skies so it is better to start with the Great Square of Autumn.  This asterism connects the constellations Andromeda and Pegasus all of which will be seen high in the eastern sky by 10:00 p.m.  As the Great Square sits high in the east if you follow a line connecting the stars Scheat (Beta Peg) through Algenib (Gamma Peg) about the same distance that lays between the two stars you will find three stars the stand next to one another in a straight line.  The brightest of these stars is Delta Piscium.  Uranus is about four degrees south of these stars.  You will need either a desktop planetarium program or detailed star chart to help you pinpoint which star like object is Uranus. 

http://www.iau.org/static/public/constellations/gif/PSC.gif

http://www.iau.org/static/public/constellations/gif/PEG.gif

http://www.skyandtelescope.com/astronomy-news/observing-news/uranus-and-neptune-in-2014/

Neptune reached opposition on August 29, 2014.  It is now at its peak brightness of 7.8 magnitude.  This means that you will need at least binoculars to see this distant planet even when it is at its brightest.  Through binoculars Neptune will appear as a dim star like object in the constellation Aquarius.  To find Neptune first locate the bright star Fomalhaut.  About 6 to 10 degrees north of Fomalhaut you will find six bright stars that are shaped like a hyperboloid.  Scanning the sky further north you will find the star Sigma Aquarii.  Neptune will be just east of this star.      

Using a telescope most will see a star like object that when magnified enough will reveal a greyish blue disk.  Using a large telescope and high magnification up to 300x it may be possible to detect albedo features and Neptune largest moon Triton.  Triton will appear as a dim star right next to Neptune.

Like Uranus Neptune will require some kind of astronomy software of a detailed map to find.  As we pass by these planets in our orbit see if you can detect there shift amongst the background stars.  Below are a few links that will be helpful in locating Neptune and the stars mentioned above.

http://www.iau.org/static/public/constellations/gif/AQR.gif

http://www.skyandtelescope.com/astronomy-news/observing-news/uranus-and-neptune-in-2014/

Constellation of the Month

Each month we will highlight one constellation and some of the objects that can be found within the boundaries of that constellation.  At the start of the month we will list only a few of these objects and each week we will add another to the list.  Some objects will be visible to the unaided eye and some may require a telescope.  Many of the objects listed will require a map of the sky to find or may require repeat observations to notice various properties.  Links to star charts and other information that will be useful in identifying the objects listed will be given at the end of each week’s section. 

The constellation of the month for September is Cygnus the Swan.  Cygnus is one of the prominent constellations of the Summer Triangle.  It is easily found by locating the bright star Deneb which represents that tail of the Swan.  The head of the swan is the star Albireo and the wings contain the bright stars Epsilon and Zeta Cygni on the east, Gamma Cygni in the middle and Delta and Theta Cygni on the west.

There are a number of stories associated with the constellation Cygnus.  One of the most prominent involves Zeus disguised himself as a swan to seduced the Spartan queen Leda.  From this encounter Leda produced an egg from which the twins of Gemini emerged.  One was Castor the mortal son of King Tyndareus and the other was Pollux the immortal son of Zeus. 

The first object we will cover in Cygnus is the double star Albireo.  This is the fifth brightest star in Cygnus even though it was given the Bayer designation of Beta Cygni.  This star is about 430 light years away and to the unaided eye looks to be just one star.  The singular appearance changes once you point binoculars at Albireo.  Through lower power binoculars you can just see that Albireo separates into two different stars.  Albireo A is the brighter of the two appearing yellow in color.  It is a K-class giant star that is fusing helium at its core.  It is a star that is 950 times brighter, 50 times larger and 5 times more massive than the Sun.  Its companion Albireo B is a hot B-class or blue dwarf star that is 190 times brighter and about 3.3 times more massive than the Sun.  Alberio B is also a star that rotates very rapidly causing it to spin off some of its own material into a disk of gas that surrounds the star.  Periodically this gas is ionized by Alberio B causing its light to change it spectral qualities for a brief time. 

The two stars are separated by about 34 arc minutes making them an easy split in small telescopes and binoculars.  If they are a true binary system the two stars would take about 100,000 years to orbit one another. 

To find Albireo simply follow the bright stars from the tail star Denib down to the head of the swan.  Albireo marks the head of the swan.  Below you find a map that will help you identify Cygnus and its bright stars.       

http://www.iau.org/static/public/constellations/gif/CYG.gif

The object for the week of September 8 is the variable star SS Cygni.  This star is a cataclysmic variable star that suddenly brightens from about 12th magnitude to roughly 8th magnitude every 4 to 10 weeks.  This type of variable star is called a dwarf nova of which the prototype star for the class is U Geminorum.  These are stars that have a long period of quiescence and then abruptly over a few hours will brighten by 2 to 5 magnitudes.  There is some thought that perhaps SS Cygni deserves its own category as it gets much brighter than U Geminorum and could be a different class of variable.  Either way this is a spectacular variable star to watch as it is has a quick and dynamic rise to maxima which it will then hold for about a week or two until it quickly fades back down to minima.  SS Cygni is currently exhibiting an outburst and should stay at maxima for the next week or two.   

What causes the variance in SS Cygni is that it’s not one but two stars.  One is a K5-class dwarf star that has about 0.60 solar masses and the other is an evolved white dwarf star that has about 0.40 solar masses.  The two stars orbit one another at a close distance of about 100,000 miles taking only 6.5 hours to complete one orbit.  Mass from the companion star begins to transfer onto an accretion disk surrounding the white dwarf star.  When enough material collects onto this disk it becomes unstable and collapses onto the white dwarf.  As this occurs the matter in the accretion disk releases its gravitational potential energy which is the release that causes the nova. 

To find SS Cygni you will have to do a fair bit of star hoping.  Ultimately to find SS Cygni you need to locate the red giant star 75 Cyg.  There are various ways to find this star but all of them will test your skills of star hoping and your ability to recognize dim star fields.  What I do is I locate a few different bright stars using any binocular.  I tend to use the stars Deneb, 56 Cyg, 58 Cyg, Sigma Cyg, 74 Cyg, 76 Cyg and 77 Cyg.  These stars form a large 10 degree arc that extends below Deneb to the west about 10 degrees.  The last two are in a close group of three stars that make a nice reference point when looking for 75 Cyg.  Once you can find 75 Cyg, SS Cygni will be a little more than one degree to the north and west of 75 Cyg.  SS Cygni sits on the edge of a small triangle of stars that is made of 8th to 10th magnitude stars.  When SS Cygni has an outburst there will be a fourth star on one of the triangle’s edge. 

With the moon phase being gibbous for the rest of the week it will restrict views of SS Cygni to large binoculars or a telescope.  It is possible that as the Moon continues to wane smaller binoculars could pick up SS Cygni but anything under 50mm will be a stretch.  Below you will find links to a basic star map and other helpful information regarding this variable star.  On the IAU star map included look for Rho Cygni and the next bright star to the west is 75 Cyg.  From here using some kind of planetarium software should get you to SS Cygni.  I would recommend stellarium for this purpose. 

http://www.iau.org/static/public/constellations/gif/CYG.gif

http://www.aavso.org/tmp3/d6422.png

http://www.aavso.org/types-variables

The object for the week of September 15 is the open star cluster M29.  This little open cluster contains approximately 50 stars which lie at a distance of about 4,000 light years.  The stars in this cluster are around10 million years old and are part of the Cygnus OB1 association.  OB Stellar associations are groupings of 10 to a few hundred massive hot O and B class stars.  The stars in these associations tend to have the same or similar ages and are representative of periods of star formation.  Frequently these massive hot stars will excite the molecular clouds that are near them creating beautiful emission nebulae.  Great examples of these are the North American Nebula (NGC 7000), the Lagoon Nebula (M8) and the Great Orion Nebula (M42).  The Cygnus OB1 association which M29 is a part of contributes to the excitation of a large molecular complex called the Cygnus X region.  This is a bright radio source in Cygnus that has been found to be one of the largest star forming regions in the Milky Way.  

Observing M29 with binoculars will reveal a small fuzzy patch of light.  Small telescopes will reveal about 6 bright stars.  These are all blue supergiant stars that individually are around 160,000 times brighter than the Sun.  The six bright stars visible in a small telescope appear to be in the shape of a hyperboloid and are thus frequently called the Cooling Tower cluster. 

To find M29 first locate the constellation Cygnus as describe above.  Then find the bright star Gamma Cygni.  From here scan about 1.5 degrees to the southeast and you will find M29.  Again through binoculars it appears as a small fuzzy patch of light and through telescopes individual stars will be resolved.  Follow the links below for more information about M29 and those objects associated with it. 

http://www.iau.org/static/public/constellations/gif/CYG.gif

http://messier.seds.org/m/m029.html

http://apod.nasa.gov/apod/ap120118.html                                     

Our next Star Party will be held on Friday, October 3, 2014, from dusk until 10 p.m.

Weather permitting, the St. Louis Astronomical Society and the Science Center will set up a number of telescopes outdoors and be on-hand to answer your questions.  Telescope viewing begins at 8:00 p.m.  Regardless of the weather on October 3, join us indoors in our planetarium theater for “The Sky Tonight”.  Showtime is at 7 p.m.
This free, indoor star program will introduce you to the current night sky, the planets, and the seasonal constellations. Doors open 15 minutes before show time. Shows begins at 7 p.m. Sorry, no late admissions due to safety issues in the darkened theater.

The St. Louis Astronomical Society hosts the monthly Star Parties at the Science Center which are held on the first Friday of each month. Our Monthly Star Parties are open to the public and free of charge.  For more information about the St. Louis Astronomical Society visit their website at www.slasonline.org

Week of Monday, September 8

This is the Saint Louis Science Center’s NIGHT SKY UPDATE for the week of Monday, September 8.  All times are given as local St. Louis time (Central Daylight Time).  For definitions of terminology used in the night sky update, click the highlighted text.

Information updated weekly or as needed.

Join us for our next star party, Friday, October 3, 2014 held in association with the St. Louis Astronomical Society. For details, see the information at the bottom of this page.

The Sun and the Moon

Sunrise is at 6:36 a.m. on Monday, September 8 and sunset is at 7:20 p.m. providing us with less than 13 hours of daylight.  Even after sunset, the light from the Sun will still dimly illuminate our sky for about 1.5 hours.  This period of time is called twilight, which ends around 8:51 p.m. this week.  For those with a sun dial, solar transit or local noon occurs around 12:59 p.m. this week.      

Moonrise for Monday, September 8 occurs at 7:01 p.m. and moonset will occur at 7:15 a.m. on the following day.  On Monday, September 8 the Moon will be full.  September’s full moon is known as the Full Harvest Moon.

September’s full moon is also a perigee syzygy moon.  This means that full moon coincides with when the moon is at its closest to the Earth in its orbit or what is called perigee.  The term syzygy is used when three celestial bodies are in a line with one another which occurs every full moon (Moon-Earth-Sun).  Put the two together and you have a perigee syzygy moon or what some have called a supermoon.  During these events the Moon appears a bit brighter and a bit larger but other than that nothing out of the ordinary occurs.  Keep in mind that the three bodies don’t have to be in a straight line just fall along the same line of sight.  If the Moon, Earth and Sun are in a straight line this is when you see either a solar or lunar eclipse.  In October we will enjoy both a total lunar eclipse (October 8) and a partial solar eclipse (October 23).  We will talk more about these as we get into October.   

International Space Station (ISS) Observing

Visible passes of ISS this week occur during the morning hours.  The best of these are on the mornings of September 12, 14 and 15.  To learn more about these passes and others follow the links below.

Catch ISS flying over St. Louis in the morning hours starting Monday, September 8. 

Date

Mag

Starts

Max. altitude

Ends

Time

Alt.

Az.

Time

Alt.

Az.

Time

Alt.

Az.

10 Sep

-0.5

05:31:02

10

SSE

05:33:01

15

SE

05:35:01

10

E

12 Sep

-2.4

05:29:43

17

SSW

05:31:57

45

SE

05:35:09

10

ENE

13 Sep

-1.4

04:43:18

24

SE

04:43:18

24

SE

04:46:02

10

ENE

14 Sep

-3.1

05:29:40

31

WSW

05:31:00

58

NW

05:34:17

10

NE

15 Sep

-2.2

04:43:02

45

ENE

04:43:02

45

ENE

04:45:29

10

NE

15 Sep

-1.3

06:16:51

10

WNW

06:19:12

18

NNW

06:21:33

10

NNE

 

Magnitude (Mag): The Measure of brightness for a celestial object.  The lower the value is, the brighter the object will be.

Altitude (Alt):  The angle of a celestial object measured upwards from the observer’s horizon.

Azimuth (Az):  The direction of a celestial object, measured clockwise from an observer’s location with north being 0°, east being 90°, south being 180° and west being 270°.

For information about ISS flyovers and other visible satellites, visit www.heavens-above.com

Detailed information regarding all unmanned exploration of our universe, missions past, present, and planned, can be found at Jet Propulsion Laboratories:

http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/

The Planets Visible Without A Telescope

Mars

Mars is now in the constellation Libra and rises before the Sun sets.  Mars can be seen with Saturn in the southwestern skies about 20 minutes after sunset.  Mars will continue to pull away from Saturn as it heads into the constellation Scorpius.  Mars will set by 22:14 p.m. 

Jupiter

The largest planet in the solar system is visible once again in the morning skies.  Jupiter can be found rising by 3:48 a.m. and will be easily visible by 4:20 a.m.    

Saturn

Saturn will be visible about 20 minutes after sunset.  Look for it in the south next to Mars which will be visible around the same time.  Saturn will remain with us until 22:30 p.m.  Saturn can be found near the bright double star Zubenelgenubi.   

Those with a telescope and maybe even those with binoculars will have a chance to watch one of Saturn’s moons Rhea occult a bright 7.6 magnitude star called SAO 159034.  An occultation is a celestial event that occurs when one body is hidden from view by another body that passes in front of the occulted body.  These are typically caused by the Moon, asteroids and planets. 

On September 12 around 8:38 p.m. CDT you can watch as the bright star SAO 159034 will significantly dim for about 30 seconds as Saturn’s moon Rhea (10.2 mag) passes in front of the star.  Events like this can often provide insight to the shape, size and behavior of the occulting body or can provide information about a star such as if it is a multiple star system. 

Much like eclipses, an occultation is only visible to a small part of the Earth.  This is one of the best occultations visible from North America this year.  The challenge will be in find a viewing location that provides you with a clear view of the southwestern horizon.  Below you will find a link to a Sky and Telescope article that gives further information regarding this celestial event.

http://www.skyandtelescope.com/astronomy-news/observing-news/see-saturns-moon-rhea-hide-star-09032014/ 

Uranus and Neptune Opposition 2014

The two most distant planets in our solar system will be at their best for the next couple of months.  Neptune has already reached opposition and Uranus will reach opposition on October 7, 2014.  The opposition of a planet is when it is in opposition with the Sun.  What that means is a planet or other body such as an asteroid is seen on the opposite side of the Earth than the Sun is.  From our perspective this is when an object is at its brightest and also coincides with the object’s closest approach to the Earth.  Only objects further from the Sun than we are can be in opposition. 

Of the two planets Uranus will be the brightest.  Uranus is already appearing as a 5.8 magnitude object and will continue to brighten until October 7.  Uranus is normally a planet that requires binoculars to be seen but when the planet is nearing opposition dark sky observers can see it with the unaided eye.  Through telescopes observers will resolve Uranus into a small disk shaped object that may display a slight greenish blue color.  Large telescopes using high magnifications up to 300x might be able to discern dark and light patches called albedo features.  These features require large aperture telescopes and better than average viewing conditions to be seen. 

Uranus is currently in the constellation Pisces.  Pisces is very difficult to see in light polluted skies so it is better to start with the Great Square of Autumn.  This asterism connects the constellations Andromeda and Pegasus all of which will be seen high in the eastern sky by 10:00 p.m.  As the Great Square sits high in the east if you follow a line connecting the stars Scheat (Beta Peg) through Algenib (Gamma Peg) about the same distance that lays between the two stars you will find three stars the stand next to one another in a straight line.  The brightest of these stars is Delta Piscium.  Uranus is about four degrees south of these stars.  You will need either a desktop planetarium program or detailed star chart to help you pinpoint which star like object is Uranus. 

http://www.iau.org/static/public/constellations/gif/PSC.gif

http://www.iau.org/static/public/constellations/gif/PEG.gif

http://www.skyandtelescope.com/astronomy-news/observing-news/uranus-and-neptune-in-2014/

Neptune reached opposition on August 29, 2014.  It is now at its peak brightness of 7.8 magnitude.  This means that you will need at least binoculars to see this distant planet even when it is at its brightest.  Through binoculars Neptune will appear as a dim star like object in the constellation Aquarius.  To find Neptune first locate the bright star Fomalhaut.  About 6 to 10 degrees north of Fomalhaut you will find six bright stars that are shaped like a hyperboloid.  Scanning the sky further north you will find the star Sigma Aquarii.  Neptune will be just east of this star.      

Using a telescope most will see a star like object that when magnified enough will reveal a greyish blue disk.  Using a large telescope and high magnification up to 300x it may be possible to detect albedo features and Neptune largest moon Triton.  Triton will appear as a dim star right next to Neptune.

Like Uranus Neptune will require some kind of astronomy software of a detailed map to find.  As we pass by these planets in our orbit see if you can detect there shift amongst the background stars.  Below are a few links that will be helpful in locating Neptune and the stars mentioned above.

http://www.iau.org/static/public/constellations/gif/AQR.gif

http://www.skyandtelescope.com/astronomy-news/observing-news/uranus-and-neptune-in-2014/

Comet Jacques (C/2014 E2)

There is another binocular comet that has been cruising through the early morning skies for most of the summer.  It is now in the constellation Cygnus making it visible all night long.  Comet Jacques (C/2014 E2) was discovered earlier this year in March by the SONEAR observatory team.  It is a long period comet that is estimated to take roughly 22,000 years to orbit the Sun.  It is now on its way back out of the inner solar system and will continue to fade as it gets further from the Sun. 

Currently the bright moonlight is making it difficult to see Comet Jacques (C/2014 E2).  It is expected that the comet will begin to make significant drops in magnitude over this month.  The moonlight will continue to be a problem over the next week so observations of this comet will be difficult.  For those with a telescope or those that want to continue trying to find Comet Jacques (C/2014 E2) with binoculars, it will continue to move down the body of Cygnus for the rest of the week.  My last observations of the comet had it around 7.5 magnitude and it required 15x70 binoculars to be seen.

Below are a number of links to maps and other information that will be helpful.  If you have any questions regarding this comet feel free to send an email to spacequestions@slsc.org.

http://www.skyandtelescope.com/astronomy-news/observing-news/happy-times-comet-watchers-08202014/

http://www.aerith.net/comet/weekly/current.html

http://heavens-above.com/comet.aspx?cid=C%2F2014%20E2&lat=38.627&lng=-90.1994&loc=St.+Louis&alt=141&tz=CST

http://www.iau.org/static/public/constellations/gif/CYG.gif

Constellation of the Month

Each month we will highlight one constellation and some of the objects that can be found within the boundaries of that constellation.  At the start of the month we will list only a few of these objects and each week we will add another to the list.  Some objects will be visible to the unaided eye and some may require a telescope.  Many of the objects listed will require a map of the sky to find or may require repeat observations to notice various properties.  Links to star charts and other information that will be useful in identifying the objects listed will be given at the end of each week’s section. 

The constellation of the month for September is Cygnus the Swan.  Cygnus is one of the prominent constellations of the Summer Triangle.  It is easily found by locating the bright star Deneb which represents that tail of the Swan.  The head of the swan is the star Albireo and the wings contain the bright stars Epsilon and Zeta Cygni on the east, Gamma Cygni in the middle and Delta and Theta Cygni on the west.

There are a number of stories associated with the constellation Cygnus.  One of the most prominent involves Zeus disguised himself as a swan to seduced the Spartan queen Leda.  From this encounter Leda produced an egg from which the twins of Gemini emerged.  One was Castor the mortal son of King Tyndareus and the other was Pollux the immortal son of Zeus. 

The first object we will cover in Cygnus is the double star Albireo.  This is the fifth brightest star in Cygnus even though it was given the Bayer designation of Beta Cygni.  This star is about 430 light years away and to the unaided eye looks to be just one star.  The singular appearance changes once you point binoculars at Albireo.  Through lower power binoculars you can just see that Albireo separates into two different stars.  Albireo A is the brighter of the two appearing yellow in color.  It is a K-class giant star that is fusing helium at its core.  It is a star that is 950 times brighter, 50 times larger and 5 times more massive than the Sun.  Its companion Albireo B is a hot B-class or blue dwarf star that is 190 times brighter and about 3.3 times more massive than the Sun.  Alberio B is also a star that rotates very rapidly causing it to spin off some of its own material into a disk of gas that surrounds the star.  Periodically this gas is ionized by Alberio B causing its light to change it spectral qualities for a brief time. 

The two stars are separated by about 34 arc minutes making them an easy split in small telescopes and binoculars.  If they are a true binary system the two stars would take about 100,000 years to orbit one another. 

To find Albireo simply follow the bright stars from the tail star Denib down to the head of the swan.  Albireo marks the head of the swan.  Below you find a map that will help you identify Cygnus and its bright stars.       

http://www.iau.org/static/public/constellations/gif/CYG.gif

The object for the week of September 8 is the variable star SS Cygni.  This star is a cataclysmic variable star that suddenly brightens from about 12th magnitude to roughly 8th magnitude every 4 to 10 weeks.  This type of variable star is called a dwarf nova of which the prototype star for the class is U Geminorum.  These are stars that have a long period of quiescence and then abruptly over a few hours will brighten by 2 to 5 magnitudes.  There is some thought that perhaps SS Cygni deserves its own category as it gets much brighter than U Geminorum and could be a different class of variable.  Either way this is a spectacular variable star to watch as it is has a quick and dynamic rise to maxima which it will then hold for about a week or two until it quickly fades back down to minima.  SS Cygni is currently exhibiting an outburst and should stay at maxima for the next week or two.    

What causes the variance in SS Cygni is that it’s not one but two stars.  One is a K5-class dwarf star that has about 0.60 solar masses and the other is an evolved white dwarf star that has about 0.40 solar masses.  The two stars orbit one another at a close distance of about 100,000 miles taking only 6.5 hours to complete one orbit.  Mass from the companion star begins to transfer onto an accretion disk surrounding the white dwarf star.  When enough material collects onto this disk it becomes unstable and collapses onto the white dwarf.  As this occurs the matter in the accretion disk releases its gravitational potential energy which is the release that causes the nova. 

To find SS Cygni you will have to do a fair bit of star hoping.  Ultimately to find SS Cygni you need to locate the red giant star 75 Cyg.  There are various ways to find this star but all of them will test your skills of star hoping and your ability to recognize dim star fields.  What I do is I locate a few different bright stars using any binocular.  I tend to use the stars Deneb, 56 Cyg, 58 Cyg, Sigma Cyg, 74 Cyg, 76 Cyg and 77 Cyg.  These stars form a large 10 degree arc that extends below Deneb to the west about 10 degrees.  The last two are in a close group of three stars that make a nice reference point when looking for 75 Cyg.  Once you can find 75 Cyg, SS Cygni will be a little more than one degree to the north and west of 75 Cyg.  SS Cygni sits on the edge of a small triangle of stars that is made of 8th to 10th magnitude stars.  When SS Cygni has an outburst there will be a fourth star on one of the triangle’s edge. 

With the moon phase being gibbous for the rest of the week it will restrict views of SS Cygni to large binoculars or a telescope.  It is possible that as the Moon continues to wane smaller binoculars could pick up SS Cygni but anything under 50mm will be a stretch.  Below you will find links to a basic star map and other helpful information regarding this variable star.  On the IAU star map included look for Rho Cygni and the next bright star to the west is 75 Cyg.  From here using some kind of planetarium software should get you to SS Cygni.  I would recommend stellarium for this purpose. 

http://www.iau.org/static/public/constellations/gif/CYG.gif

http://www.aavso.org/tmp3/d6422.png

http://www.aavso.org/types-variables                                    

Our next Star Party will be held on Friday, October 3, 2014, from dusk until 10 p.m.

Weather permitting, the St. Louis Astronomical Society and the Science Center will set up a number of telescopes outdoors and be on-hand to answer your questions.  Telescope viewing begins at 8:00 p.m.  Regardless of the weather on October 3, join us indoors in our planetarium theater for “The Sky Tonight”.  Showtime is at 7 p.m.
This free, indoor star program will introduce you to the current night sky, the planets, and the seasonal constellations. Doors open 15 minutes before show time. Shows begins at 7 p.m. Sorry, no late admissions due to safety issues in the darkened theater.

The St. Louis Astronomical Society hosts the monthly Star Parties at the Science Center which are held on the first Friday of each month. Our Monthly Star Parties are open to the public and free of charge.  For more information about the St. Louis Astronomical Society visit their website at www.slasonline.org