Week of September 16, 2013

This is the Saint Louis Science Center’s NIGHT SKY UPDATE for the week of Monday, September 16.  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 4, 2013 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 6:44 a.m. on Monday, September 16 and sunset is at 7:07 p.m. providing us with less than 13 hours of daylight.  Even after sunset, the light from the Sun will still illuminate our sky for about one hour and 30 minutes.  This period of time is called twilight, which ends around 8:37 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 16 is at 5:15 p.m. and moonset is at 4:41 a.m. on the following day.  The Moon will be exhibiting a waxing gibbous phase with roughly 90% of the lunar disk illuminated.  Full moon occurs on September 19.  September’s full moon is called the Full Corn or Full Harvest Moon.      

International Space Station (ISS) Observing

The next visible passes of ISS over St. Louis are all morning passes.  The two best are the passes on September 17 and 19.  See the table below for information regarding these passes

Catch ISS flying over St. Louis in the morning hours starting Monday, September 16. 

Date

Mag

Starts

Max. altitude

Ends

Time

Alt.

Az.

Time

Alt.

Az.

Time

Alt.

Az.

16 Sep

-1.1

04:28:52

26

E

04:28:52

26

E

04:30:38

10

ENE

16 Sep

-1.8

06:01:46

11

W

06:04:18

24

NNW

06:07:07

10

NNE

17 Sep

-2.5

05:15:13

37

NW

05:15:29

37

NNW

05:18:37

10

NE

18 Sep

-0.9

04:28:32

23

NE

04:28:32

23

NE

04:29:58

10

NE

18 Sep

-0.9

06:02:01

10

NW

06:03:53

14

NNW

06:05:46

10

NNE

19 Sep

-1.3

05:14:38

19

NNW

05:14:49

19

NNW

05:17:16

10

NNE

20 Sep

-0.5

04:27:44

16

NNE

04:27:44

16

NNE

04:28:38

10

NNE

21 Sep

-0.7

05:13:38

12

NNW

05:14:06

12

NNW

05:15:24

10

N

22 Sep

-0.1

04:26:35

11

NNE

04:26:35

11

NNE

04:26:49

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

Venus

The brightest planet in the sky is well into another evening apparition becoming visible about 30 minutes after sunset.  Venus will be low to the horizon and any trees or buildings west of you may obscure it from view.  Venus is currently seen in the constellation Virgo and will set by 8:43 p.m. 

Mars

Mars is finally out of the Sun’s glare rising at 3:17 a.m.  For those awake around 4:00 a.m. look to the east and you will see a reddish-orange object just above the horizon.  Mars will be seen earlier each week as it as we start to catch up with it in our orbit.  Mars will be close to us again in 2014 reaching opposition on April 8, 2014.  Fans of Mars rejoice it is back and on its way to another close approach.

Jupiter

The largest planet in our solar system has returned to our skies.  This week it will rise around 1:13 a.m. becoming visible roughly 30 minutes later.  It is currently paired with Mars in the morning skies. 

Saturn

Look for the ringed planet shortly after sunset in the southwest.  Currently Saturn is found in the constellation Libra just to the west of the bright star Zubenelgenubi.  Saturn will set by 9:03 p.m.  During this week you can watch Saturn and Venus slide closer to one another in the sky coming within four degrees of each other.  This nice pairing is bitter sweet though as it shows us just how little time we have left before we lose Saturn to the glare of the Sun.

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 for September will be Cassiopeia the Queen.  As September marks the transition from summer to fall, we will start the season off with the constellation that many use as their guide for the fall skies.  In Greek mythology Cassiopeia was part of the founding myth of Perseus.  She was a queen that boasted about her beauty and this vanity angered the gods.  As a punishment she was forced to sacrifice her daughter Andromeda to appease the titan Cetus who was unleashed by Poseidon.  Cassiopeia’s role in the myth of Perseus is minor but it is an important part of this founding myth and its potential historical significance.  For fans of Greek myth the story of Perseus and those involved with him helped shape what would become the pantheon of the 12 Olympian Gods.

Finding Cassiopeia is easy as she appears as a bright W-shape of stars.  The W-shape will be seen high in the northeast skies after 9 p.m.  Finding Cassiopeia is a great way to begin our exploration of the fall skies.  Most of the constellations in the fall sky can be found by star hopping from the bright stars of Cassiopeia.     

The first object we will explore in Cassiopeia is M52.  This is an open star cluster that lies at an approximate distance of 5,000 light years.  Compared to many of the other open clusters we have talked about M52 is very young at an age of approximately 35 million years.  Shining at a magnitude of 7.3, M52 can be seen through a good pair of binoculars as a faint nebulous patch of light.  4-inch or larger telescopes will start to reveal it as a collection of stars that has a bit of a V-shape to it. 

To find M52 locate the stars Alpha and Beta Cassiopeiae.  From these stars draw a line extending roughly 6.5 degrees northwest of Beta Cassiopeiae and you will find M52.

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

http://messier.seds.org/m/m052.html

The object for the Week of September 9 is the open star cluster M103.  Unlike last week’s open cluster M103 is a much more loosely bound grouping of stars with a Trumpler Class of III 2 P.  This is group of stars lies roughly 8,500 light years away from us making it one of the most distant open clusters observable.  Modern observations have identified 172 member stars one of which has already evolved into a red giant star.  Also notable will be a binary star called Struve 131.  This star is not a member of M103 but will be prominent in the northwest corner of the cluster when observed.  Shining at a magnitude of 7.4, M103 can be seen in binoculars as a nebulous patch of light and small telescopes will be able to resolve the brightest individual stars in the cluster.  To locate M103 find the star Delta Cassiopeiae which is the star that marks the eastern low point of Cassiopeia’s W- shape.  From this star look 1/2 a degree north and 1 degree east and you will find M103.  This open cluster is easy to find but is often overlooked as it is a detached cluster with a low concentration of stars.  Those with telescopes should observe this cluster in low powers as higher powers will make it easy to miss.  

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

http://messier.seds.org/m/m103.html

The object for the week of September 16 is the open star cluster Stock-2.  In past months the deep sky objects we have covered are usually objects listed on the Messier catalog or the New General Catalog (NGC).  One catalog of star clusters we have never explored is the Stock catalog (St).  The Stock catalog originates from German astronomy Jürgen Stock who was studying red stars in open star clusters.  Stock 2 is a relatively bright grouping of about 50 stars with the brightest shining around 7th and 8th magnitude.  In dark skies Stock 2 can be seen with the unaided eye as a diffuse nebulous patch but in city skies at least 7x50 binoculars will be needed.  In small telescopes with low magnification, Stock 2 will be seen as a large rich expanse of stars taking on an X-shape that some describe as a stick figure of a person.  Higher magnification will make this cluster more difficult to find as it is large and you start to lose the tell-tale X-shape.

The easiest way to find Stock 2 will be to locate the double cluster in Perseus.  Maps of the night sky will label the double cluster as NGC 869 and 884.  To find these beautiful clusters follow a line extending between Gamma to Delta Cassiopeiae and keep going about 6 degrees.  With binoculars you will notice two very distinct clusters of stars right next to one another in the sky.  Once you have found Perseus’s famed double cluster look for a distinct curve of 7th magnitude star extending to the north.  If you follow this curve of stars it will bring you the X-shape of Stock 2.  Once you have found the X-shape of Stock 2 look at it for a few minutes and the expansive cloud of stars will begin to stand out to you.

A backyard observer’s best friend is a good star chart.  Just like when you leave on a road trip you would not leave behind your road atlas.  Same goes for the night sky.  A good map is a must when looking for these more obscure objects.  Other than the free maps available online, if you plan to purchase a more advanced star chart look for one that has a stellar limiting magnitude of 7th or 8th magnitude.  Included below will be maps for both Cassiopeia and Perseus in addition to an article from Cloudy Nights astronomy forum giving a more detailed map regarding Stock 2.  With these resources those observing from light polluted locations should have no problem finding Stock 2 with just a pair of binoculars.  I will also include a link to a NOAO article discussing the late Jürgen Stock who played a critical role in establishing the Cerra Tololo Inter-American Observatory amongst other things.

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

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

http://www.cloudynights.com/item.php?item_id=2062

http://www.ctio.noao.edu/noao/sites/default/files/Conferences/ctio50/kvivas_ctio50_history.pdf

Nova star Del 2013

On August 14th Koichi Itagaki discovered the nova star Del 2013 shining at a magnitude of 6.8.  Nova stars are a type of variable star that typically involve a binary system with the primary star being a white dwarf and the secondary being a cooler low mass star.  As they orbit each other the white dwarf star accretes or steals material from its companion.  This material builds up and when the temperature and pressure is high enough a thermo-nuclear event occurs.  This explosion causes the star to flare in brightness by about 10 magnitudes.   Over the next few days astronomers around the world followed Del 2013 as it continued to brighten to about 4.5 magnitude.  It was last reported at 4.8 magnitude and will likely remain here for the next few days.  Many novae will only be seen once in a human lifetime so try and see it while the seeing is still good.  Novae typically flare dramatically in brightness and then slowly fade back out of view.  You should have at least a week to see Del 2013 through just a pair of binoculars.  For those interested in observing this rare sight use the second map linked below.

Update 8/26/2013: Del 2013 is now shining at roughly magnitude 6.  This will make it difficult in city skies to spot it in a pair of binoculars.  Small telescopes will still get the job done and with moonlight no longer a major issue it should still be visible through most telescopes. - See more at: http://www.slsc.org/week-of-august-26-2013#sthash.uqtrOhTr.dpuf 

Update 9/3/2013: Del 2013 is now shining at 7.2 magnitude.  It is still visible in a pair of 10x50 binoculars but as it continues to fade a telescope will needed to find it.  Reference the link below of the most up to date information regarding nova star Del 2013. 

http://www.skyandtelescope.com/observing/highlights/Bright-Nova-in-Delphinus-219631281.html

Update 9/9/2013: Del 2013 is hanging on at a little past 7th magnitude.  Since last week it has faded to 7.3.  On a clear night it can still be spotted through a decent pair of astronomical binoculars.  Follow the link for update information regarding the nova star Del 2013.

http://www.skyandtelescope.com/observing/highlights/Bright-Nova-in-Delphinus-219631281.html

Update 9/16/2013: Del 2013 is hanging on at 7.4 magnitude but unfortunately the bright Moon will be a problem for the next few weeks.  It will still worth trying to catch a glimpse of the fading star but you may have to wait until the end of September when the Moon will no longer be a problem. 

NASA Mission of the Month

Each month we will be celebrating a NASA mission of the month.  This month’s mission is the historic and current Voyager missions.  Voyager 2 was launched on August 20, 1977 and Voyager 1 was launched on September 5, 1977.  The original voyager mission was designed to send spacecraft on a grand tour of the outer planets in our solar system.  Voyager 1 would fly by Jupiter and Saturn while Voyager 2 would fly by Uranus and Neptune.  This leg of the mission was completed in 1989 with Voyager 2’s flew by Neptune.  Included on both spacecraft was a golden record that contained information relative to our location in the galaxy, various other scientific data, greetings in numerous different languages and pictures of the Earth and its life forms.  This record was included in case the spacecraft were ever found by intelligent life forms.  With this in mind both spacecraft were sent on trajectories that will carry them close to some our neighboring stars in the galaxy. 

Twelve years after launch the Voyager mission received an extension.  The new mission objective is called the Voyager Interstellar Mission which is designed to extend NASA’s exploration of the solar system beyond the outer planets and to explore the outer limits of the Sun’s sphere of influence.  Voyager 1 has nearly reached the extent of the Sun’s influence and will likely be in interstellar space in the next few years.  This will make it the first human made spacecraft to ever leave the solar system.  To learn more follow the links below.

http://voyager.jpl.nasa.gov/mission/interstellar.html

Voyager 1 Update: It was announced last week that the Voyager 1 space craft, at a distance of roughly 13 billion miles away, has left the solar system.  Voyager 1 will now be exploring the realm of interstellar space.  It has enough fuel to continue to operate until 2020.  This marks a new stage in human exploration of space.  To learn more about this monumental accomplishment visit http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/news/news.php?release=2013-278

50th Anniversary of the James S. McDonnell Planetarium

2013 marks the 50th anniversary of the James S. McDonnell Planetarium.  There are a number of events planned for the year that will celebrate the 50th anniversary.  For more information about the planetarium and the 50th anniversary, visit www.slsc.org

Our next Star Party will be held on Friday, October 4, 2013, 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 4, join us indoors in our planetarium theater for “The Sky Tonight”.  Showtime is at 7 p.m.  As there is a 7 p.m. star show there will be only one Laserium show on all First Fridays.  This show begins at 8:30 p.m.  Information for laser shows can be found at http://www.slsc.org/laserium

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

http://www.slsc.org/laserium

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