Enjoy the decent weather while it lasts! It’s been feeling like spring here the last few days but don’t be fooled, we’re far from done with winter. But the nicer weather has me excited about the upcoming summer so I thought I’d share with you what I’m looking forward most to this spring/summer!





Let me preface this by saying; I think this often gets distorted in coverage of astronomy. Focusing too heavily on rare events skews perception that an excuse is needed to go stargazing. One of the most asked questions I get while stargazing is “Is there anything *special* going on tonight?”, which I never know how to answer. I feel like the idea of the question is that no one would go stargazing unless it’s ‘a once in an X number of years event‘ but I find everything special. The entire universe is going to pass overhead tonight and focusing on one bit of it as special feels like discrediting the rest.



You have seen more of the surface of the Moon with your own eyes than you have of Earth.

Just go outside tonight and look up! Even if you just see a few stars, you’re seeing sooo much more of our universe in that moment than you did all day on earth (unless it’s cloudy). “The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena.” - Carl Sagan


That being said… let me go on to point out all the *special* things I’m excited about!



First flight of NASA's Mars helicopter could be as soon as March 19th (but most likely later).


Currently I've been enthralled with the Mars rover that just landed a few days ago and I'm excited to see it deploy the helicopter which was planned for sometime around ~March 19th? (likely being delayed.) I’ve been checking https://mars.nasa.gov/technology/helicopter/ frequently to get the latest updates to when it will be deployed.


Spring Equinox is on March 20th (starting spring). This is when we will finally transition to having more daylight hours than night.


April 21st is the peak of the Lyrids meteor shower ~10-20 per hr (Don't focus on the exact date as you'll see plenty of shooting stars the days before and after the "peak").


There's a planned crewed SpaceX launch April 22nd. This will be the second manned launch SpaceX has done.


The Eta Aquarids meteor shower ~20-60 per hr which peak May 5th (Again, don't focus on the exact date as you'll see plenty of shooting stars the days before and after the "peak").


Mercury will be best viewed just after sunset on May 17th. Mercury will be fairly low on the western horizon at sunset so this is best seen when you have a clear view of the western horizon, which can be difficult from the front range with the mountains directly west of us.



A Lunar Eclipse can be seen before sunrise on May 26th.


There's a Lunar Eclipse that will be seen in most of the Americas just before sunrise on May 26th.


Another lunar eclipse will occur on June 10th, but this can only really be seen in Canada.


June has the summer solstice! Summer officially starts on June 21st (astronomical summer).


July of course has the anniversary of the 1st Apollo moon landing (1969) on July 20th.


The Perseids meteor shower usually peaks early August. I actually have them down as peaking on the 12th of Aug but any day from Aug 7th to the 12th should be really good to view them. A new moon on the 8th means the moon won't subtract with it's natural light pollution as much and you'll be able to see more fainter shooting stars than during the “peak” on the 12th. The Perseids is actually a really big shower so you might even start to see some in late July (Again, don't focus on the exact date as you'll see plenty of shooting stars the days before and after the "peak).



Saturn and Jupiter will be returning in August.


Saturn will be at 'opposition' (closest it'll be to earth) on Aug 2nd (I also wouldn't stress the exact date so much as we'll have good late night views of Saturn starting around ~June to ~Aug then good early night views of Saturn for a few months after August)


Jupiter will be reaching opposition Aug 19th I'd say as with Saturn, Jupiter will be visible a few months before for late night viewing, and a few months after for early night viewing.


Katherine G. Johnson's (the real life main character of the film Hidden Figures) birthday is Aug 26th.


Best time to see both Neptune and Mercury will be September 14th. I don’t get too excited about Neptune; even with the best conditions possible and a really good telescope it's not much to look at. Like last time, Mercury will be fairly low on the western horizon at sunset. This is best seen when you have a clear view of the western horizon which can be difficult from the front range with the mountains directly west of us.


And finally the Autumn Equinox is Sep 22nd which brings the end to astronomical summer.



Join a tour this summer for an up close look at these events.


If you want an up close view of any of these events or just want to take in the wonders of the sky any old night please join me on one of my astronomy programs. For the night of the peak of meteor showers I book up quickly (especially this year with COVID restrictions limiting us to 10 people per tour). However, I add tours to meet demand so if it books up I'll add more tours on the days before and after or even late night tours after the first group which should be just as good. As I’ve said over and over again, any date is fine for astronomy. Don’t get too hung up on any one date.



And finally keep up with these dates and more in my 2021 calendars. I have bottomed out the price on both of them now that we are 3 months into 2021 so get them now while they are as cheap as they will ever be and you can still get most of the year's use out of them.


Happy Stargazing!

Cheers,


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Updated: Mar 12


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: Mar 12

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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