The south-east Feb sky where the 7 sisters are running to get away from Orion.

In the south-east sky is a whole Greek romantic drama playing out this February. The legend that goes; Orion has taken a lustful interest in the Seven Sisters and has Chosen to pursue them. However, the Seven Sisters have no interest in Orion so they pleaded to Zeus (or sometimes it's Jupiter, Jupiter is the Roman equivalent of the Greek god Zeus) to protect them. Zeus/Jupiter placed Taurus the bull (which can be made out by it’s bright red eye Aldebaran) between Orion and the Seven Sisters. As the night goes on you can watch the Seven Sisters run away west followed by their protector Taurus, and pursued by Orion. In turn Orion is backed up by his trusty dogs Canis Major of which the bright star Sirius is the dog tag and Canis Minor of which the (a little less bright) bright star Procyon is the dog tag.



High in the south-east sky you should be seeing the iconic constellation of Orion. Orion and the Big Dipper I would say are the most iconic constellations of the northern sky. Orion I would say is even more iconic globally as you can see it in the southern hemisphere too. Actually when I worked in Australia they thought the big dipper was Orion (there is few places you can rarely see the actual Big Dipper in Australia) Australians sometimes call Orion the "saucepan" or the "shopping trolley" and you can imagine how if you looked at Orion upside down (as they do in Australia) you can make a dipper shape where the belt is the base of the saucepan and the sword is the handle.



Orion upsidedown with the "saucepan" highlighted in purple.


The actual Big Dipper is low in our north-east sky currently but since I went into detail about the Big Dipper recently (#7 and #8 here) let's focus in on Orion.



location of the Orion Nebula

Just within the sword of Orion (the 3 stars hanging at a diagonal from Orion's belt) is Orion’s nebula this can easily be seen in decent binoculars as a cloudiness around the star and in a good telescope you will be able to see some of the structure of the nebula. Pictured below is a hubble image of the Orion Nebula which shows more detail and color than possible to see with the human eye. They make these vivid color pictures of nebulae by taking pictures in the ultra violet (more purple than the human eye can see) and infer red (more red than the eye can see and painting them in as reds and purples as if you could see them. It's called a "false color" image when they do this and sounds like cheating but it is still representative of scientific data even if the color isn't really real. This nebula is a star forming region, or stellar nursery where you will see baby stars which were just formed littered across the nebula.



"false color" image of Orion's Nebula taken by hubble


Just below Orion is the constellation Canis Major (or "the big dog"). Canis Major is most known for, and recognized most by the brightest star in our night sky, Sirius. Rising low in the south-east you will see this bright star and possibly mistake it for an airplane or something else bright at first. I say brightest in our “night” sky because of course the sun is a star and by a large margin the brightest one in our sky. So, I like to give the sun credit, life really wouldn't be the same without it.



The South/East sky in February (also notice Mars just beyond the 7 sisters)


The name Sirius comes from Greek meaning scorching as it has been the brightest star in the night sky for all of written history. On occasion you might hear hot days referred to as “dog days” this actually comes from Sirius the “dog” star and dates back to ancient Egypt. When Sirius was seen rising in the morning with the sun it was the hottest days and coincided with the flooding of the Nile. because of this Egyptians would watch for it in the mornings to know to prepare for the coming floods. It was thought that the sun and Sirius shining together is what made the heat and because Sirius was in the big dog in the sky it was natural to call it a “dog day”. you can still use this as a seasonal indicator as here we are still in winter and you can see that Sirius is currently on almost the opposite side of the sky from the Sun.





Just above Orion (up and to the west from Orion) is the Seven Sisters. The Seven Sisters look like a little smattering of stars (sometimes confused with the little dipper, as they kind of have a dipper shape too) almost directly over head. If you are able to see all seven you have exceptional vision; most people can only see six with the naked eye. However in binoculars (or a telescope) you will actually be able to see hundreds. This is called an “open cluster” and is the next step after the infant stars in the Orion nebula. These are teenage stars leaving their nursery and going their own way in the galaxy.



Subaru means "unity" in japan so when 6 Japanese companies unified it made since as a name. I like to joke that this is the one constelation you can see all day everyday on the streets of Boulder as we love our Subarus here!


We are starting to get back to our normal tours book one today to see all these things in my large telescopes! It's the perfect date idea for a Covid safe valentines date. And if you're feeling unlucky in love like Orion we have a Match.com event March 5th for you to find love under the stars!


Also Happy New Year! I have made two 2021 calendars! One with star charts and info so you can keep stargazing all year long no mater where you are and learn the night sky for 2021 buy it here. One with phenomenal space pictures each month buy it here. Both can be shipped anywhere and make great gifts! Learn more about both calendars here.



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  • Luke

Updated: Dec 11, 2020

sooooo many reasons to enjoy the night sky this December! Solar eclipse, aurora borealis, meteor showers, Jupiter and Saturn.... just to name the headlines!


Aurora


First most time sensitive is the northern lights! A solar storm is causing increased aurora activity meaning it's highly likely that we will see the northern lights as far south as south Dakota and even possible (but unlikely) they can even be seen in Colorado. https://www.spaceweatherlive.com/ is where I go for aurora predictions and it's currently predicting a "kp" value of between 3 to 7 tonight(12/10/20) and 3 to 6 Friday(12/11/20) night. the kp value is used to tell where aurora can be seen using the map below. These predictions are giving a wide range and unfortunately it will be hard to know for sure till within ~3hrs of the aurora event.



kp index correlation to location of visible aurora with predicted values of up to 7 the next few days might be worth getting in the car and heading north a little

Something else to keep in mind is cloud cover is predicted to be thick https://graphical.weather.gov/sectors/conus.php?element=Sky you can use this map from the national weather service to see if there's a clear northern area near you. personally I'm watching the forecast in Hot Springs SD (~4hr drive from Denver) and if I see a break in the cloud I might just go for it. Otherwise I'll be searching youtube live streams to see if any observatories are live streaming the aurora.

Solar eclipse


it's a tad ominous that 2020 will be ending with a total solar eclipse that is partially visible in significant superstitious sites such as Easter Island. The 2020 solar eclipse will occur mid day December 14th and only visible in the southern hemisphere. I tried and tried to get down there to see it this year, the two obvious choices are Chile or Argentina both are very difficult to travel to during the COVID lock downs. So.... I'll again be searching youtube live streams to see if any observatories are live streaming the eclipse.



total eclipse visible on the purple/blue line, partial eclipse visible within the area outlined in green


Meteor Shower


Finally something you can easily see with your own eyes in your own backyard! The Geminid meteor shower can be seen all week long reaching its peak on the 13th and 14th of December (just in time to hopefully be seen with the eclipse).


My biggest tip for seeing shooting stars is to lay on the ground looking up so that you can see the maximum amount of the sky in your field of view. The Geminids will likely be coming more from the eastern sky but you really never know where they will show up so laying and looking straight up will let you see the most sky and likely the most meteors. I have an old rug I take camping and laying on that under the stars I never fail to see a few shooting stars. The peak of this shower is predicted to have around 150 meteors per hour. However, using this trick all week and even into when there are no showers you are bound to see a shooting star or two.



Shooting star as seen on April of my 2021 calendar. https://www.astrotours.org/post/2021-calendars


Falling stars/shooting stars are more correctly called meteors. what you are seeing are little bits of debris (usually leftover from a comet) that is hitting the earth's upper atmosphere and burring up.


Jupiter and Saturn


Saturn and Jupiter!will be closer to each other than ever this December. They will both be in the south-western sky just after sundown. Jupiter is the brightest and is almost visible even during early twilight. Saturn is a bit fainter and currently just barely up and to the left of Jupiter.


If you have a pair of binoculars you might be able to see them both at the same time in the same field of view! with a good set of binoculars or a decent telescope you will be able to make out the rings of Saturn and the moons of Jupiter. Personally because they are so low on the horizon I'm choosing to view this somewhere in the mountains where I will hopefully be able to see Saturn, Jupiter, and a foreground mountain/tree in the same telescope.


Jupiter and Saturn will be at their closest on December 21st. They will actually still be more than 400 million miles away from each other. What we are actually seeing is Jupiter passing Saturn on the inside lane. Jupiter takes ~12 years to go around the sun where Saturn takes ~30 years so Jupiter catches up and laps Saturn passing Saturn on the inside lane once every ~20 years. Because the Earth is in the perfect place we see this as them going by right next to each other in our night sky.



Jupiter and Saturn actual size compared (with Uranus and Neptune) Jupiter will appear even bigger than saturn because it is closer to Earth

Stargaze with your family

I have a list of even more things you can see over the December holidays with your family even if you are doing a FaceTime celebration here: https://www.astrotours.org/post/no-matter-where-you-are-now-where-you-call-home-is-under-the-same-set-of-stars

Hope you enjoyed stargazing!


If you want to stargaze in person with giant telescopes I have a few tours coming up, be sure to book here. I also have made two 2021 calendars! One with star charts and info so you can keep stargazing all year long no mater where you are and learn the night sky for 2021 buy it here. One with phenomenal space pictures each month buy it here. Both can be shipped anywhere and make great gifts! Learn more about both calendars here.

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Updated from a previous post; this guide centers around x-mas day but can be used throughout December for Hanukkah, New Years, or whenever you might want to stargaze remotely this December.


No matter where you social distance over the holidays we are all under the same stars. I have been feeling down about not being able to see my family for the holidays but, I had the thought, that we could look out at the stars and see the same things together. Knowing that although we aren't under the same roof these holidays, we are under the same sky.


This guide is for you and your family so we can share this cosmic perspective this holiday season. If you are sharing Christmas dinner over a video chat, you can still feel closer by sharing the sky with each other. Though we are not close in terrestrial terms, we are right next to each other in cosmic terms.


I've made a list of 10 things to check out with your remote family ordered from easiest to hardest. Just send this list to your relatives, start with number one and keep going until it's too difficult/not fun.




1) Compare the weather. It’s amazing how much weather can change even just across town, especially in Colorado. It’s been raining and windy in Boulder but calm and clear in Aurora (only 20 miles away!) where my mom lives.


2) Compare time zones. Just ask what time it is and see how different the sky might look. For example: California (PST) is one hour behind Colorado (MST). Meaning my family in California will be seeing the sky how it looked to me (in Colorado) one hour ago and my family in Arkansas (CST) will be seeing the sky I will be seeing in one hour. So if it’s just after sunset (5:30p MST) in Colorado I can stargaze with my family in Arkansas where it’s well after sunset (6:30p CST) but I can’t stargaze with my family in California where the sun will still be out (4:30p PST)



US time zones


3) Compare light pollution. If one household is rural when the other is in an urban setting you can still stargaze as most of the things we will be looking at are very bright, however it is interesting to see if you can notice the difference. Honestly the moon will be big and bright just after sunset on Christmas day so no matter where you are you will have to deal with the natural light pollution of the moon.



country vs. city, light pollution



4) The Moon! Just after sunset on Chrismas day (~5:30p Dec 25th 2020) the Moon will be over the eastern horizon and fairly full. This will be the easiest thing that you can all look out at! Have everyone show or tell how high the moon is above the eastern horizon. This will give you a good idea of how offset everyone’s time zones are. If everyone is in generally the same area you won’t notice much difference however, if you are on opposite sides of the country you will notice a huge difference. Observing at the same moment someone in New York City will be seeing the moon just rising above the horizon at 3:30(EST) (the moon will be bright enough to see even with the sun still out) where Denver CO will see it about halfway up the eastern horizon at 5:30(MST) and someone in Seattle WA will see it nearly over head at 6:30(PST)


Map of Moon Landings

5) Mars! Just above the moon will be a bright red dot. This is the planet Mars. Now is the best time to see Mars for the next three years so if you can get a pair of binoculars it will be a rare sight.


6) Saturn and Jupiter! In the south west sky just after sunset will be one bright dot (Jupiter) and one dimmer yet still fairly bright dot (Saturn) this might be tricky to see together as they are low on the horizon and will be setting at around 7:30 so if someone in California (PST) they will be missing it at 7:30(PST) where someone in the central US (CST) will be in the best time in the evening to see them at 5:30(CST). Saturn and Jupiter will be right on top of each other for the whole month of December, close enough you can challenge yourself by trying to fit them both in the same view in a binocular.





Pro tip: if you are having difficulty finding your directions remember that the moon should be in the more or less eastern sky so facing the moon to your right will be south to your left will be north and behind you is west.


7) The Big Dipper. This will show you how far north/south you are from each other. If you are in the north half of the US (in or more north than Denver CO/Salt Lake City UT/Springfield IL/Philadelphia PA/further north, aka more than 40 degrees north) you will see the Big Dipper very easily low on your northern horizon however if you are in the south SoCal/Texas/Florida/Etc. You will probably not be able to see the big dipper at all, and anyone in Alaska/Canada will see it very easily high in their northern sky





8) The North Star. This will be difficult for most people to find so have patience with your relatives. The North Star is fairly easy to locate using the Big Dipper with the two stars at the end of the vessel of the dipper pointing right at it (see picture below). Of course this only works in the northern US/Canada where the Big Dipper is visible. In the South you can use the “M” of Cassiopeia which is high in north sky and the middle bump of the “M” points downward towards the North Star (see pic below). However you might just have more luck using a star map app on your smartphone “star tracker lite” (simple) or “sky safari” (little less simple) are my faves currently but download whatever the top few free ones are currently and see what you like best.





If you are able to find the North star, hold your hand out at a full arms length and see how many fingers you can fit between the north star and the horizon. This is a rough measurement of latitude and will be very different depending how far north/south you are. Someone in New Orleans LA will see the North Star just 30 degrees above their northern horizon (about three fists length’s stacked on top of each other), in Denver CO it’s 40 degrees above the horizon (4 fists stacked on top of each other) and in Seattle WA it’s about 50 degrees (5 fists)





9) Using this 'handy' measurement system of hand symbols take a measurement of how high the moon is where you are vs your relatives (you can also simply use your shadow if it’s dark enough that the only thing casting your shadow is the moon). Once you are done with dinner check again where the moon is. If you first looked at 5:30 (MST)/4:30(PST) after dinner at 6:30(MST)/7:30(PST) the people in the west coast (PST) should have the same measurement for the height of the moon as someone in Colorado(MST) did prior to dinner.


10) Orion watch Orion rise over the eastern sky in the same way. Orion is one of the most iconic constellations so see who will be the first to pick it out. Orion will be rising in the east all night long starting low on the horizon in the early evening and getting high in the sky late in to the night. look for his dog Sirius rising late in the night, Sirius is the brightest star in the sky and will be twinkling like crazy low on the horizon around 8pm.



Orion constellation rising and where to find the Orion nebula in the sheathe below the belt


Bonus) the Seven Sisters. If you have very dark skis you can see the seven sisters on the eastern horizon next to the Moon on x-mas night. you can see who has the best night sky by who can see them best, you probably won’t see them much at all x-mas day even in rural farm land they will be so close to the Moon. However if you're doing this during Hanukkah they will pop right out in dark areas just over the eastern horizon.




Hope you enjoyed stargazing! if you want to stargaze in person with giant telescopes I have a few tours coming up, be sure to book here. I also have made two 2021 calendars! One with star charts and info so you can keep stargazing all year long no mater where you are and learn the night sky for 2021 buy it here. One with phenomenal space pictures each month buy it here. Both can be shipped anywhere and make great gifts! Learn more about both calendars here.


This is an updated post from my one back in November. this one was updated to show the x-mas skies better and removes references to thanksgiving,



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