Mars Down the Road


Here’s Mars, now at its closest and brightest in two years. Look for it due east in the early evening, as a rising reddish star in Leo.

On March 7, the Full Moon sits next to Mars, making for a fine sight as the pair rise together at sunset.

I took this shot March 4, with the Moon just off the frame at the top. Here, the eastbound county road seems to head off across the Prairies to Mars. It’s got a long way to go. Even at its closest right now, Mars is still 100 million kilometres away.

— Alan, March 6, 2012 / © 2012 Alan Dyer

Planet Trio in the West


Look west this week (the first week of March) and you’ll see three planets in a line across the evening sky.

Mercury is lowest in the sky, visible here just above the clouds on the western horizon. It’s bright but easy to miss. To find it, draw a line between Venus and Jupiter and extend the line down and to the right. This week Mercury is putting on its best evening appearance for the year for northern latitudes. You won’t see it higher or brighter than this in 2012.

Farther up the sky is Venus and Jupiter. They are standout objects. As they approach each other over the next week more and more people will suddenly pay attention to them and wonder what they are.

This was the view Sunday night, March 4. The next night a change in the weather brought heavy snow and a blizzard across the Prairies. But clear skies have returned, so enjoy the planets!

— Alan, March 6, 2012 / © 2012 Alan Dyer

A Panorama of Planets


This was a beautiful night, with the array of five worlds stretched across the sky, a parade of planets and the Moon.

Mercury is now at its greatest angle away from the Sun and easiest to see in the evening sky this week for the year, at least from Canadian latitudes. Even so, it is low in the western twilight.

You can’t miss Venus and Jupiter higher in the west. Watch them close up and trade places in mid-March.

Mars is now at opposition, closest to Earth, and rising at sunset. It shines brightly as a red star in the east, 180° away from Mercury. It will be in our sky for several more months.

Orion shines due south amid the clouds. The arc of clouds rather nicely defines the arc of the ecliptic path across the sky, the path along which we always find the planets.

I took the shots for this panorama on Sunday, March 4. I took five segments, each 13 second exposures with a 16-35mm lens, then combined them in Photoshop CS5 with its Photomerge command.

— Alan, March 4, 2012 / © 2012 Alan Dyer

Mercury Rising Over Calgary


Mercury is elusive but here it is, showing up as a speck over the skyline of Calgary, as it begins its best evening appearance of the year, rising a little higher into the twilight sky each night for the next few evenings.

To find it, follow the line down from the Moon and then bright Jupiter and Venus at upper left and continue that line to the lower right. Just to the right of the tallest building (the new Bow tower) and just above the rooftops there’s a tiny dot of light. That’s the inner planet Mercury. It’ll get higher in the first week of March but not by much. Mercury is bright. It’s just not very high and is easy to miss.

But with Mercury coming into view, and with Venus and Jupiter so prominent now in the evening, and Mars now bright in the east after sunset – look for a red star – we have a nice array of 4 naked eye planets across the sky at once. Saturn comes up later after midnight now. So you can see 5 naked eye planets in one night.

It’s a great evening sky show now in early March.

– Alan, March 1, 2012 / © 2012 Alan Dyer

The Great Sky Show of 2012 Begins


The show has been underway for a while but this past weekend anyone with clear skies couldn’t help but notice some beautiful sights in the evening sky. They herald the start of a wonderful late winter and spring of evening celestial scenes.

Tonight, after a snowy weekend that brought winter back to Alberta, skies cleared enough to reveal the waxing crescent Moon next to Jupiter, with both above brilliant Venus. Over the next two weeks watch as Venus and Jupiter converge for a mutual conjunction March 12 to 13. Then on March 25 we’ll see the Moon next to Jupiter and the near Venus the following night, just a month from now.

For the next two weeks we also have Mercury at its best low in the western evening sky and Mars rising in the east at sunset as it reaches its closest point to Earth in two years. It’s a great planetary spring.

Keep looking up!

— Alan, February 26, 2012 / © 2012 Alan Dyer

 

Dawn Sky Serenity


Some sky scenes are worth getting up early for. This was the dawn sky this morning, July 25, at about 4:20 a.m., looking east to the rising crescent Moon, which this morning appeared near the Pleiades star cluster. You can see it just above the overexposed Moon.

The waning Moon also sits between two planets now in the pre-dawn sky: Jupiter, the bright object at upper right, and Mars, about the same distance away from the Moon but to the lower left. Mars, the Moon and Jupiter form a diagonal line across the dawn sky that defines the dawn ecliptic. Also in the scene is the V-shaped Hyades star cluster, and the bright star Aldebaran, just below the Moon.

This was a 5-second exposure with the Canon 24mm lens at f/3.5 and Canon 5D MkII camera at ISO 800.

— Alan, July 25, 2011 / Image © 2011 Alan Dyer

 

Saturn Sidles Up to a Star


If you look up this week, to the southwest, you’ll see a bright star in the evening twilight that, upon close inspection, is really a tight double star. The fainter companion becomes obvious as it gets dark. The bright member of the pair is actually Saturn, and its fainter companion is the star Porrima, a.k.a. Gamma Virginis. And they are unusually close!

This week Saturn (at bottom here) sidles up to Porrima (at top), getting so close both are contained in a high-power telescope field, which is what this shot depicts. I took it Saturday night, June 4, when Saturn was about 1/4° (16 arc minutes) from Porrima. But by June 10 their separation will be a tad less, at 15 arc minutes apart. This week Saturn stops its annual retrograde motion just shy of Porrima.

The pairing made a wonderful sight in the telescope tonight, especially because of the “good seeing” — so Saturn looked very sharp. And Porrima, itself a very tight double star, was easy to split at 200x, appearing like a pair of headlights at high power. (The photo doesn’t split Porrima.)

But the nicest view is just naked eye — Saturn and Porrima are forming a rare and temporary double star easy to split with no optical aid but looking much more striking than any other naked eye double. The pairing won’t last long — Saturn turns around near Porrima this week, then begins to head east again away from its stellar partner.

The shot also picks up four of Saturn’s moons: Dione very close to Saturn, then Tethys, and Rhea in a row from left to right, and bright Titan below the trio.

This a stack of five 5-second exposures at ISO 1600 with a Canon 7D attached to my 130mm Astro-Physics refractor with a 2x Barlow, giving an effective focal length of about 1600mm and f/12. I took this in twilight to add the blue sky.

— Alan, June 5, 2011 / Image © 2011 Alan Dyer