NASA Night Sky Notes July 2022

NASA Night Sky Notes July 2022

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Find Hercules and His Mighty Globular Clusters

David Prosper

Hercules is one of the standout heroes of Greek mythology, but his namesake constellation can be surprisingly hard to find – despite being one of the largest star patterns in our night skies! Once you find the stars of Hercules, look deeper; barely hidden in the space around his massive limbs and “Keystone” asterism are two beautiful globular star clusters: M13 and M92!

Since the constellation itself is relatively dim but bordered by brighter constellations, you can find the stars of Hercules by looking between the bright stars Vega and Arcturus. They are fairly easy to identify, and we have tips on how to do so in previous articles. Vega is the brightest star in the constellation Lyra and one of the three stars that make up the Summer Triangle (June 2020: Summer Triangle Corner: Vega). Arcturus is the brightest star in the constellation Boötes, and can be found by “arcing to Arcturus” from the handle of the Big Dipper (May 2021: Virgo’s Galactic Harvest).  You may be able to Hercules’s “Keystone” asterism first; this distinct pattern of four stars is traditionally shown as the torso of the great hero, though some illustrators prefer marking the Keystone as the head of Hercules. What pattern do you see in the stars of Hercules?

Globular star clusters appear “fluffy,” round, and dense with stars, similar to a dandelion gone to seed, in contrast to the more scattered and decentralized patterns of open clusters. Open clusters are generally made up of young stars that are gradually spreading apart and found inside our Milky Way galaxy, while globular clusters are ancient clusters of stars that are compact, billions of years old, bound to each other and orbit around our galaxy. Due to their considerable distance, globular clusters are usually only visible in telescopes, but one notable exception is M13, also known as the Great Cluster or Hercules Cluster. During very clear dark nights, skilled observers may be able to spot M13 without optical aid along the border of the Keystone, in between the stars Zeta and Eta Herculis – and a bit closer to Eta. Readily visible as a fuzzy “star” in binoculars, in telescopes M13 explodes with stars and can fill up an eyepiece view with its sparkling stars, measuring a little over half the diameter of a full Moon in appearance!  When viewed through small telescopes, globular clusters can appear orblike and without discernable member stars, similar in appearance to the fuzzy comae of distant comets. That’s why comet hunters Edmund Halley and Charles Messier discovered and then catalogued M13, in 1714 and 1764 respectively, marking this faint fuzzy as a “not-comet” so as to avoid future confusion.

While enjoying your view of M13, don’t forget to also look for M92! This is another bright and bold globular cluster, and if M13 wasn’t so spectacular, M92 would be known as the top celestial sight in Hercules. M92 also lies on the edge of naked-eye visibility, but again, binoculars and especially a telescope are needed to really make it “pop.” Even though M92 and M13 appear fairly close together in the sky, in actuality they are rather far apart: M13’s distance is estimated at about 25,000 light years from Earth, and M92’s at approximately 27,000 light years distant. Since M13 and M92 appear so close together in our skies and relatively easy to spot, switching between these two clusters in your scope makes for excellent star-hopping practice. Can you observe any differences between these two ancient clusters of stars?

Globular clusters are closely studied by astronomers for hints about the formation of stars and galaxies. The clusters of Hercules have even been studied by NASA’s space telescopes to reveal the secrets of their dense cores of hundreds of thousands of stars. Find their latest observations of globular clusters – and the universe – at nasa.gov.

Composite image of the dense starry core of M92 imaged in multiple wavelengths. While your own views of these globular clusters won’t be nearly as crisp and detailed, you might be able to count some of its member stars. How far into their dense cores can you count individual stars?  Credits: ESA/Hubble & NASA; Acknowledgment: Gilles Chapdelaine. Source: https://www.nasa.gov/feature/goddard/2017/messier-92

Look up after sunset during summer months to find Hercules!  Scan between Vega and Arcturus, near the distinct pattern of Corona Borealis. Once you find its stars, use binoculars or a telescope to hunt down the globular clusters M13 and M92. If you enjoy your views of these globular clusters, you’re in luck – look for another great globular, M3, in the nearby constellation of Boötes. Image created with assistance from Stellarium: stellarium.org

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NASA Night Sky Notes June 2022

NASA Night Sky Notes June 2022

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Solstice Shadows

David Prosper

Solstices mark the changing of seasons, occur twice a year, and feature the year’s shortest and longest daylight hours – depending on your hemisphere. These extremes in the length of day and night make solstice days more noticeable to many observers than the subtle equality of day and night experienced during equinoxes. Solstices were some of our earliest astronomical observations, celebrated throughout history via many summer and winter celebrations.

Solstices occur twice yearly, and in 2022 they arrive on June 21 at 5:13 am EDT (9:13 UTC), and December 21 at 4:48pm EST (21:48 UTC). The June solstice marks the moment when the Sun is at its northernmost position in relation to Earth’s equator, and the December solstice marks its southernmost position. The summer solstice occurs on the day when the Sun reaches its highest point at solar noon for regions outside of the tropics, and those observers experience the longest amount of daylight for the year. Conversely, during the winter solstice, the Sun is at its lowest point at solar noon for the year and observers outside of the tropics experience the least amount of daylight- and the longest night – of the year. The June solstice marks the beginning of summer for folks in the Northern Hemisphere and winter for Southern Hemisphere folks, and in December the opposite is true, as a result of the tilt of Earth’s axis of rotation. For example, this means that the Northern Hemisphere receives more direct light from the Sun than the Southern Hemisphere during the June solstice. Earth’s tilt is enough that northern polar regions experience 24-hour sunlight during the June solstice, while southern polar regions experience 24-hour night, deep in Earth’s shadow. That same tilt means that the Earth’s polar regions also experience a reversal of light and shadow half a year later in December, with 24 hours of night in the north and 24 hours of daylight in the south. Depending on how close you are to the poles, these extreme lighting conditions can last for many months, their duration deepening the closer you are to the poles.

While solstice days are very noticeable to observers in mid to high latitudes, that’s not the case for observers in the tropics – areas of Earth found between the Tropic of Cancer and the Tropic of Capricorn. Instead, individuals experience two “zero shadow” days per year. On these days, with the sun directly overhead at solar noon, objects cast a minimal shadow compared to the rest of the year. If you want to see your own shadow at that moment, you have to jump! The exact date for zero shadow days depends on latitude; observers on the Tropic of Cancer (23.5° north of the equator) experience a zero shadow day on the June solstice, and observers on the Tropic of Capricorn (23.5° south of the equator) get their zero shadow day on December’s solstice. Observers on the equator experience two zero shadow days, being exactly in between these two lines of latitude; equatorial zero shadow days fall on the March and September equinoxes.

There is some serious science that can be done by carefully observing solstice shadows. In approximately 200 BC, Eratosthenes is said to have observed sunlight shining straight down the shaft of a well during high noon on the solstice, near the modern-day Egyptian city of Aswan. Inspired, he compared measurements of solstice shadows between that location and measurements taken north, in the city of Alexandria. By calculating the difference in the lengths of these shadows, along with the distance between the two cities, Eratosthenes calculated a rough early estimate for the circumference of Earth – and also provided further evidence that the Earth is a sphere!

Are you having difficulty visualizing solstice lighting and geometry? You can build a “Suntrack” model that helps demonstrate the path the Sun takes through the sky during the seasons; find instructions at stanford.io/3FY4mBm. You can find more fun activities and resources like this model on NASA Wavelength: science.nasa.gov/learners/wavelength. And of course, discover the latest NASA science at nasa.gov.

These images from NASA’s DSCOVR mission shows the Sun-facing side of Earth during the December 2018 solstice (left) and June 2019 solstice (right). Notice how much of each hemisphere is visible in each photo; December’s solstice heavily favors the Southern Hemisphere and shows all of South America and much of Antarctica and the South Pole, but only some of North America. June’s solstice, in contrast, heavily favors the Northern Hemisphere and shows the North Pole and the entirety of North America, but only some of South America.

Credit: NASA/DSCOVR EPIC   Source: https://www.nasa.gov/image-feature/goddard/2021/summer-solstice-in-the-northern-hemisphere

A presenter from the San Antonio Astronomy Club in Puerto Rico demonstrating some Earth-Sun geometry to a group during a “Zero Shadow Day” event.  As Puerto Rico lies a few degrees south of the Tropic of Cancer, their two zero shadow days arrive just a few weeks before and after the June solstice. Globes are a handy and practical way to help visualize solstices and equinoxes for large outdoor groups, especially outdoors during sunny days!

Credit & Source: Juan Velázquez / San Antonio Astronomy Club

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NASA Night Sky Notes May 2022

NASA Night Sky Notes May 2022

This article is distributed by NASA Night Sky Network

The Night Sky Network program supports astronomy clubs across the USA dedicated to astronomy outreach. Visit nightsky.jpl.nasa.gov to find local clubs, events, and more!

Night Lights: Aurora, Noctilucent Clouds, and the Zodiacal Light

David Prosper

Have you spotted any “night lights”? These phenomena brighten dark skies with celestial light ranging from mild to dazzling: the subtle light pyramid of the zodiacal light, the eerie twilight glow of noctilucent clouds, and most famous of all, the wildly unpredictable and mesmerizing aurora.

Aurora, often referred to as the northern lights (aurora borealis) or southern lights (aurora australis), can indeed be a wonderful sight, but the beautiful photos and videos shared online are often misleading. For most observers not near polar latitudes, auroral displays are relatively rare and faint, and without much structure, more gray than colorful, and show up much better in photos. However, geomagnetic storms can create auroras that dance and shift rapidly across the skies with several distinct colors and appear to observers much further away from the poles – on very rare occasions even down to the mid-latitudes of North America! Geomagnetic storms are caused when a magnetic storm on our Sun creates a massive explosion that flings a mass of particles away from its surface, known as a Coronal Mass Ejection (CME). If Earth is in the path of this CME, its particles interact with our planet’s magnetic field and result in auroral displays high up in our ionosphere. As we enter our Sun’s active period of its 11-year solar cycle, CMEs become more common and increase the chance for dazzling displays! If you have seen any aurora, you can report your sighting to the Aurorasaurus citizen science program at aurorasaurus.org

Have you ever seen wispy clouds glowing an eclectic blue after sunset, possibly towards your west or northwest? That wasn’t your imagination; those luminescent clouds are noctilucent clouds (also called Polar Mesospheric Clouds (PMC)). They are thought to form when water vapor condenses around ‘seeds’ of dust from vaporized meteorites – along with other sources that include rocket launches and volcanic eruptions – around 50 miles high in the mesosphere. Their glow is caused by the Sun, whose light still shines at that altitude after sunset from the perspective of ground-based observers. Noctilucent clouds are increasing both in frequency and in how far south they are observed, a development that may be related to climate change. Keeping in mind that observers closer in latitude to the poles have a better chance of spotting them, your best opportunity to spot noctilucent clouds occurs from about half an hour to two hours after sunset during the summer months. NASA’s AIM mission studies these clouds from its orbit high above the North Pole: go.nasa.gov/3uV3Yj1

You may have seen the zodiacal light without even realizing it; there is a reason it’s nicknamed the “false dawn”! Viewers under dark skies have their best chance of spotting this pyramid of ghostly light a couple of hours after sunset around the spring equinox, or a couple of hours before dawn around the autumnal equinox. Unlike our previous two examples of night lights, observers closer to the equator are best positioned to view the zodiacal light! Long known to be reflected sunlight from interplanetary dust orbiting in the plane of our solar system, these fine particles were thought to originate from comets and asteroids. However, scientists from NASA’s Juno mission recently published a fascinating study indicating a possible alternative origin: dust from Mars! Read more about their serendipitous discovery at: go.nasa.gov/3Onf3kN

Curious about the latest research into these night lights? Find news of NASA’s latest discoveries at nasa.gov

Comet NEOWISE flies high above a batch of noctilucent clouds in this photo from Wikimedia contributor Brwynog.

License and source CC BY-SA 4.0 https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Comet_Neowise_and_noctilucent_clouds.jpg

 The zodiacal light extends into the Pleiades, as seen in the evening of March 1, 2021 above Skull Valley. Utah. The Pleiades star cluster (M45) is visible near the top. Credit and source:: NASA/Bill Dunford .https://www.flickr.com/photos/gsfc/51030289967

 

A sampling of some of the various patterns created by aurora, as seen from Iceland in 2014. The top row photos were barely visible to the unaided eye and were exposed for 20-30 seconds; in contrast, the bottom row photos were exposed for just 4 seconds- and were clearly visible to the photographer, Wikimedia contributor Shnuffel2022.

License and source: CC BY-SA 4.0 https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Aurora_shapes.jpg

 

 

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NASA Night Sky Notes April 2022

NASA Night Sky Notes April 2022

This article is distributed by NASA Night Sky Network

The Night Sky Network program supports astronomy clubs across the USA dedicated to astronomy outreach. Visit nightsky.jpl.nasa.gov to find local clubs, events, and more!

Springtime Catspotting: Lynx and Leo Minor

David Prosper

 

Many constellations are bright, big, and fairly easy to spot. Others can be surprisingly small and faint, but with practice even these challenging star patterns become easier to discern. A couple of fun fainter constellations can be found in between the brighter stars of Ursa Major, Leo, and Gemini: Lynx and Leo Minor, two wild cats hunting among the menagerie of animal-themed northern star patterns!

Lynx, named for the species of wild cat, is seen as a faint zigzag pattern found between Ursa Major, Gemini, and Auriga. Grab a telescope and try to spot the remote starry orb of globular cluster NGC 2419. As it is so distant compared to other globular clusters – 300,000 light years from both our solar system and the center of the Milky Way – it was thought that this cluster may be the remnants of a dwarf galaxy consumed by our own. Additional studies have muddied the waters concerning its possible origins, revealing two distinct populations of stars residing in NGC 2419, which is unusual for normally-homogenous globular clusters and marks it as a fascinating object for further research.

Leo Minor is a faint and diminutive set of stars. Its “triangle” is most noticeable, tucked in between Leo and Ursa Major. Leo Minor is the cub of Leo the Lion, similar to Ursa Minor being the cub to the Great Bear of Ursa Major. While home to some interesting galaxies that can be observed from large amateur scopes under dark skies, perhaps the most intriguing object found within Leo Minor’s borders is Hanny’s Voorwerp. This unusual deep-space object is thought to be a possible “light echo” of a quasar in neighboring galaxy IC 2497 that has recently “switched off.” It was found by Hanny van Arkel, a Dutch schoolteacher, via her participation in the Galaxy Zoo citizen science project. Since then a few more intriguing objects similar to Hanny’s discovery have been found, called “Voorwerpjes.”

Lynx and Leo Minor are relatively “new” constellations, as they were both created by the legendarily sharp-eyed European astronomer Johannes Hevelius in the late 1600s. A few other constellations originated by Hevelius are still in official use: Canes Venatici, Lacerta, Scutum, Sextans, and Vulpecula. What if your eyes aren’t quite as sharp as Johannes Hevelius – or if your weather and light pollution make searching for fainter stars more difficult than enjoyable? See if you can spot the next Voorwerp by participating in one of the many citizen science programs offered by NASA at science.nasa.gov/citizenscience! And of course, you can find the latest updates and observations of even more dim and distant objects at nasa.gov.

Map of the sky around Lynx and Leo Minor. Notice the prevalence of animal-themed constellations in this area, making it a sort of celestial menagerie. If you are having difficulty locating the fainter stars of Leo Minor and Lynx, don’t fret; they are indeed a challenge. Hevelius even named the constellation as reference to the quality of eyesight one needs in order to discern these faint stars, since supposedly one would need eyes as sharp as a Lynx to see it! Darker skies will indeed make your search easier; light pollution, even a relatively bright Moon, will overwhelm the faint stars for both of these celestial wildcats. While you will be able to see NGC 2419 with a backyard telescope, Hanny’s Voorwerp is far too faint, but its location is still marked. A few fainter constellation labels and diagrams in this region have been omitted for clarity.

Image created with assistance from Stellarium

Hanny’s Voorwerp and the neighboring galaxy IC 2497, as imaged by Hubble. Credits: NASA, ESA, W. Keel (University of Alabama), and the Galaxy Zoo Team   Source: hubblesite.org/contents/news-releases/2011/news-2011-01.html

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NASA Night Sky Notes March 2022

NASA Night Sky Notes March 2022

This article is distributed by NASA Night Sky Network

The Night Sky Network program supports astronomy clubs across the USA dedicated to astronomy outreach. Visit nightsky.jpl.nasa.gov to find local clubs, events, and more!

Embracing the Equinox

David Prosper

Depending on your locale, equinoxes can be seen as harbingers of longer nights and gloomy weather, or promising beacons of nicer temperatures and more sunlight. Observing and predicting equinoxes is one of the earliest skills in humanity’s astronomical toolkit. Many ancient observatories around the world observed equinoxes along with the more pronounced solstices. These days, you don’t need your own observatory to know when an equinox occurs, since you’ll see it marked on your calendar twice a year! The word “equinox” originates from Latin, and translates to equal (equi-) night (-nox). But what exactly is an equinox?

An equinox occurs twice every year, in March and September. In 2022, the equinoxes will occur on March 20, at exactly 15:33 UTC (or 11:33 am EDT), and again on September 23, at 01:04 UTC (or September 22 at  9:04 pm EDT). The equinox marks the exact moment when the center of the Sun crosses the plane of our planet’s equator. The day of an equinox, observers at the equator will see the Sun directly overhead at noon. After the March equinox, observers anywhere on Earth will see the Sun’s path in the sky continue its movement further north every day until the June solstice, after which it begins traveling south. The Sun crosses the equatorial plane again during the September equinox, and continues traveling south until the December solstice, when it heads back north once again. This movement is why some refer to the March equinox as the northward equinox, and the September equinox as the southward equinox.

Our Sun shines equally on both the Northern and Southern Hemispheres during equinoxes, which is why they are the only times of the year when the Earth’s North and South Poles are simultaneously lit by sunlight. Notably, the length of day and night on the equinox aren’t precisely equal; the date for that split depends on your latitude, and may occur a few days earlier or later than the equinox itself. The complicating factors? Our Sun and atmosphere! The Sun itself is a sphere and not a point light source, so its edge is refracted by our atmosphere as it rises and sets, which adds several minutes of light to every day. The Sun doesn’t neatly wink on and off at sunrise and sunset like a light bulb, and so there isn’t a perfect split of day and night on the equinox – but it’s very close.

Equinoxes are associated with the changing seasons. In March, Northern Hemisphere observers welcome the longer, warmer days heralded by their vernal, or spring, equinox, but Southern Hemisphere observers note the shorter days – and longer, cooler nights – signaled by their autumnal, or fall, equinox. Come September, the reverse is true. Discover the reasons for the seasons, and much more, with NASA at nasa.gov

This (not to scale) image shows how our planet receives equal amounts of sunlight during equinoxes.

Credit: NASA/GSFC/Genna Duberstein

Scenes of Earth from orbit from season to season, as viewed by EUMETSAT. Notice how the terminator – the line between day and night – touches both the North and South Poles in the equinox images. See how the shadow is lopsided for each solstice, too: sunlight pours over the Northern Hemisphere for the June solstice, while the sunlight dramatically favors the Southern Hemisphere for the December solstice.

Source: bit.ly/earthequinox  Images: NASA/Robert Simmon

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NASA Night Sky Notes January 2022

NASA Night Sky Notes January 2022

This article is distributed by NASA Night Sky Network

The Night Sky Network program supports astronomy clubs across the USA dedicated to astronomy outreach. Visit nightsky.jpl.nasa.gov to find local clubs, events, and more!

Hunting the Hunter: Observing Orion

David Prosper

 

If you are outside on a clear January night, it’s hard not to notice one distinctive star pattern above all: Orion!  While we’ve covered Orion in earlier articles, we’ve never discussed observing the constellation as a whole. Perhaps you’ve received a new telescope, camera, or binoculars, and are eager to test it out. Orion, being large, prominent, and full of interesting, bright objects, is a perfect constellation to test out your new equipment and practice your observing skills – for beginners and seasoned stargazers alike.

In Greek mythology, Orion is a strong hunter, with numerous legends about his adventures. Being such a striking group of stars, cultures from all around the world have many myths about this star pattern. There are so many that we can’t list them all here, but you can find a wonderful interactive chart detailing many cultures’ legends on the Figures in the Sky website at figuresinthesky.visualcinnamon.com .

What sights can you see in Orion? Look above the variable orange-red supergiant ”shoulder star” Betelgeuse to find the stars making up Orion’s “club,” then move across from Betelgeuse towards the bright star Bellatrix (Orion’s other “shoulder”) and the stars of his bow and arrow – both essential tools for the Hunter. Many interesting sights lie near Orion’s “belt” and “sword.” Orion’s belt is made up of three bright giant stars forming an evenly spaced line: Alnitak, Alnilam, and Mintaka. Move from the belt stars towards the stars Rigel and Saiph (Orion’s “feet” or “knees”) to arrive at Orion’s distinctive Sword, parts of which may appear fuzzy to your unaided eyes. Binoculars reveal that fuzz to be the famed Orion Nebula (M42), perched right next to the star Hatysa! Diving in deeper with a telescope will show star clusters and more cloud detail around the Nebula, and additional magnification brings out further detail inside the nebula itself, including the “baby stars” of the Trapezium and the next-door neighbor nebula M43. Want to dive deeper? Dark skies and a telescope will help to bring out the reflection nebula M78, the Flame Nebula (NGC 2024), along with many star clusters and traces of dark nebula throughout the constellation. Very careful observers under dark clear skies may be able to spot the dark nebula known as the Horsehead, tracing an equine outline below both the Belt and the Flame Nebula. Warning: the Horsehead can be a difficult challenge for many stargazers, but very rewarding.

This is just a taste of the riches found within Orion’s star fields and dust clouds; you can study Orion for a lifetime and never feel done with your observations. To be fair, that applies for the sky as a whole, but Orion has a special place for many. New telescopes often focus on one of Orion’s treasures for their first test images. You can discover more of NASA’s research into Orion’s stars – as well as the rest of the cosmos – online at nasa.gov.

 

Northern Hemisphere observers can find Orion during January evenings in the east/southeast skies. Can you spot the Orion nebula with your naked eye, in Orion’s sword? How does it look via binoculars or a telescope? What other details can you discern?  Please note that some deep sky objects aren’t listed here for clarity’s sake. For example, M43, a nebula located directly above M42 and separated by a dark dust lane, is not shown. Orion’s Belt and Sword are crowded, since they star-forming regions! You can read more in our November 2019 article  Orion: Window Into a Stellar Nursery, at bit.ly/orionlight .

Image created with assistance from Stellarium.

The inset image is the “first light” photo from the Zwicky Transient Facility, a large survey telescope designed to detect changes in the entire night sky by detecting “transient objects” like comets, supernovae, gamma ray bursts, and asteroids. For many astronomers, amateur and pro alike, Orion is often the “first light” constellation of choice for new equipment!

Image Credit: Caltech Optical Observatories

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NASA Night Sky Notes December 2021

NASA Night Sky Notes December 2021

This article is distributed by NASA Night Sky Network

The Night Sky Network program supports astronomy clubs across the USA dedicated to astronomy outreach. Visit nightsky.jpl.nasa.gov to find local clubs, events, and more!

The James Webb Space Telescope: Ready for Launch!

David Prosper

 

NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope is ready for lift-off! As of this writing (November 15), the much-anticipated next-generation space telescope is being carefully prepared for launch on December 18, 2021, and will begin its mission to investigate some of the deepest mysteries of our universe.

 

The development of the Webb began earlier than you might expect – the concept that would develop into Webb was proposed even before the launch of the Hubble in the late 1980s! Since then, its design underwent many refinements, and the telescope experienced a series of delays during construction and testing. While frustrating, the team needs to ensure that this extremely complex and advanced scientific instrument is successfully launched and deployed.  The Webb team can’t take any chances; unlike the Hubble, orbiting at an astronaut-serviceable 340 miles (347 km) above Earth, the Webb will orbit about one million miles away (or 1.6 million km), at Lagrange Point 2. Lagrange Points are special positions where the gravitational influence between two different bodies, like the Sun and Earth, “balance out,” allowing objects like space telescopes to be placed into stable long-term orbits, requiring only minor adjustments – saving Webb a good deal of fuel.

 

Since this position is also several times further than the Moon, Webb’s sunshield will safely cover the Moon, Earth, and Sun and block any potential interference from their own infrared radiation. Even the seemingly small amount of heat from the surfaces of the Earth and Moon would interfere with Webb’s extraordinarily sensitive infrared observations of our universe if left unblocked. More detailed information about Webb’s orbit can be found at bit.ly/webborbitinfo, and a video showing its movement at bit.ly/webborbitvideo.

 

Once in its final position, its sunshield and mirror fully deployed and instruments checked out, Webb will begin observing!  Webb’s 21-foot segmented mirror will be trained on targets as fine and varied as planets, moons, and distant objects in our outer Solar System, active centers of galaxies, and some of the most distant stars and galaxies in our universe: objects that may be some of the first luminous objects formed after the Big Bang! Webb will join with other observatories to study black holes – including the one lurking in the center of our galaxy, and will study solar systems around other stars, including planetary atmospheres, to investigate their potential for hosting life.

Wondering how Webb’s infrared observations can reveal what visible light cannot? The “Universe in a Different Light” Night Sky Network activity can help – find it at bit.ly/different-light-nsn. Find the latest news from NASA and Webb team as it begins its mission by following #UnfoldTheUniverse on social media, and on the web at nasa.gov/webb.

Webb will observe a wide band of the infrared spectrum, including parts observed by the Hubble – which also observes in a bit of ultraviolet light as well as visible – and the recently retired Spitzer Space Telescope. Webb will even observe parts of the infrared spectrum not seen by either of these missions! Credits: NASA and J. Olmstead (STScI)

 

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November 19, 2021 — Partial Lunar Eclipse — Sioux Falls

There will be a Partial Lunar Eclipse visible from the entire United States on Friday November 19th, 2021,  starts early in the morning Friday at 1:18am and reaches maximum at 3:02am.  The Lunar Eclipse will end at 6:03am.

To see what the Lunar Eclipse looks like from your area please visit Time and date.com or click on the link below and change your location.

Timeanddate.com

Below is a screen shot from Time and Date.com showing the Partial Lunar Eclipse times for Upper Midwest.

 

Image Courtesy Timeanddate.com

 

 

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NASA Night Sky Notes November 2021

NASA Night Sky Notes November 2021

This article is distributed by NASA Night Sky Network

The Night Sky Network program supports astronomy clubs across the USA dedicated to astronomy outreach. Visit nightsky.jpl.nasa.gov to find local clubs, events, and more!

 

Measure the Night Sky

David Prosper

 

Fall and winter months bring longer nights, and with these earlier evenings, even the youngest astronomers can get stargazing. One of the handiest things you can teach a new astronomer is how to measure the sky – and if you haven’t yet learned yourself, it’s easier than you think!

Astronomers measure the sky using degrees, minutes, and seconds as units. These may sound more like terms for measuring time – and that’s a good catch! – but today we are focused on measuring angular distance. Degrees are largest, and are each made up of 60 minutes, and each minute is made up of 60 seconds. To start, go outside and imagine yourself in the center of a massive sphere, with yourself at the center, extending out to the stars: appropriately enough, this is called the celestial sphere. A circle contains 360 degrees, so if you have a good view of the horizon all around you, you can slowly spin around exactly once to see what 360 degrees looks like, since you are in effect drawing a circle from inside out, with yourself at the center! Now break up that circle into quarters, starting from due North; each quarter measures 90 degrees, equal to the distance between each cardinal direction! It measures 90 degrees between due North and due East, and a full 180 degrees along the horizon between due North and due South. Now, switch from a horizontal circle to a vertical one, extending above and below your head. Look straight above your head: this point is called the zenith, the highest point in the sky. Now look down toward the horizon; it measures 90 degrees from the zenith to the horizon. You now have some basic measurements for your sky.

Use a combination of your fingers held at arm’s length, along with notable objects in the night sky, to make smaller measurements. A full Moon measures about half a degree in width – or 1/2 of your pinky finger, since each pinky measures 1 degree. The three stars of Orion’s Belt create a line about 3 degrees long. The famed “Dig Dipper” asterism is a great reference for Northern Hemisphere observers, since it’s circumpolar and visible all night for many. The Dipper’s “Pointer Stars,” Dubhe and Merak, have 5.5 degrees between them – roughly three middle fingers wide. The entire asterism stretches 25 degrees from Dubhe to Alkaid – roughly the space between your outstretched thumb and pinky. On the other end of the scale, can you split Mizar and Alcor? They are separated by 12 arc minutes – about 1/5 the width of your pinky.

Keep practicing to build advanced star-hopping skills. How far away is Polaris from the pointer stars of the Big Dipper? Between Spica and Arcturus? Missions like Gaia and Hipparcos measure tiny differences in the angular distance between stars, at an extremely fine level. Precise measurement of the heavens is known as astrometry. Discover more about how we measure the universe, and the missions that do so, at nasa.gov.

Image created with assistance from Stellarium

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November 19, 2021 — Partial Lunar Eclipse

Friday   November 19, 2021 — Partial Lunar Eclipse

Information by time and date.com

Sioux Falls on November 19, 2021, we will witness a partial lunar eclipse, click the link above “time and date.com” for start and end times.

The partial lunar eclipse will start at midnight and end at 600am on Friday November 19,2021

date and time.com lunar eclipse information

Graphic above from timeandate.com showing times for Sioux Falls, SD.

 

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