The Sky Tonight Update: Jan. 19, Mercury at Greatest Western Elongation

Mercury elongation

This January 19th, the planet Mercury reaches its greatest western elongation of 24.1 degrees from the Sun. This is the best time to view Mercury since it will be at its highest point above the horizon in the morning sky. Look for the planet low in the eastern sky just before sunrise.

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The Sky Tonight Update – Jan. 12, Venus at Greatest Eastern Elongation

Venus at Greatest Eastern Elongation

This January 12th, Tthe planet Venus reaches its greatest eastern elongation of 47.1 degrees from the Sun. This is the best time to view Venus since it will be at its highest point above the horizon in the evening sky.

Look for the bright planet in the western sky after sunset.

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Quadrantids Meteor Shower – January 3, 4

 The Quadrantids

The Quadrantids is an above average meteor shower averaging about 40 meteors per hour at its peak. It is thought to be produced by dust grains and particles left behind by an extinct comet known as 2003 EH1, first discovered in 2003.

The shower runs annually from January 1st through the 5th but it peaks this year on the night of the 3rd and morning of the 4th. Once the first quarter moon sets just after midnight it will leave the skies dark enough for a nice show. The best time and place to view this shower will be from a dark location after midnight. Meteors will radiate from the constellation Bootes, but can appear anywhere in the sky.

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The Sky Tonight Update: Supermoon #3, Dec. 14

December 14th will bring the third and last of what is known as the “supermoon.”  The Moon will be located on the opposite side of the Earth as the Sun and its face will be will be fully illuminated.  This full moon was known by early Native American tribes as the Full Cold Moon because this is the time of year when the cold winter air settles in and the nights become long and dark.

The third supermoon has also been known as the Full Long Nights Moon and the Moon Before Yule. This Moon will be at its closest approach to the Earth and may look slightly larger and brighter than usual.

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The Sky Tonight Update: Geminids Meteor Shower, Dec. 13-14 peak

The Geminids is the king of the meteor showers. It is considered by many to be the best shower in the heavens, producing up to 120 multicolored meteors per hour at its peak. It is produced by debris left behind by an asteroid known as 3200 Phaethon, which was discovered in 1982. The shower runs annually from December 7-17.

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The Great Red Spot is Changing Shape

great red spot

Jupiter’s Great Red Spot is a swirling anticyclonic storm that was previously large enough to fit three Earths inside.  However, observations taken by the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope has revealed that this is changing, both in shape and size.

So why is Jupiter’s trademark feature beginning to downsize?

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Ninth Planet May Exist

 

21PLANET-master1050-v2

An artist’s impression of a possible ninth planet. It would be quite large — at least as big as Earth — with a thick atmosphere around a rocky core. CreditCalifornia Institute of Techonology

 

 Caltech scientists Konstantin Batygin and Mike Brown make the case for Planet Nine, a giant planet tracing a bizarre, highly elongated orbit in the outer solar system.

SPLAT………. New Crater on Mars

pia17932_rayedcrater_esp_034285_1835

Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona

A dramatic, fresh impact crater dominates this image taken by the High
Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera on NASA’s Mars
Reconnaissance Orbiter on Nov. 19, 2013.  Researchers used HiRISE to examine
this site because the orbiter’s Context Camera had revealed a change in
appearance here between observations in July 2010 and May 2012, bracketing the
formation of the crater between those observations.(NASA)

 

 Observation Toolbox

Acquisition date: 19 November 2013 Local Mars time: 2:57 PM
Latitude (centered): 3.677° Longitude (East): 53.428°
Range to target site: 266.5 km (166.5 miles) Original image scale range: 26.7 cm/pixel (with 1 x 1 binning) so objects ~80 cm across are resolved
Map projected scale: 25 cm/pixel and North is up Map projection: Equirectangular
Emission angle: 0.5° Phase angle: 45.7°
Solar incidence angle: 46°, with the Sun about 44° above the horizon Solar longitude: 51.4°, Northern Spring
For non-map projected products:
North azimuth: 97° Sub-solar azimuth: 29.3°
For map-projected products
North azimuth: 270° Sub solar azimuth: 203.5°

 

                                                        NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona

 

MAVEN: Countdown Has Begun

MAVENlaunch

  MAVEN is scheduled to launch in approximately 1 hour.  If you are in Florida or South Georgia  today you may be able to catch a glimpse of the liftoff. There are some thick clouds over Cape      Canaveral Air Force base but the forecast is 60% favorable for launch during a two hour window.                                                                                                .

MAVEN, NASA’s Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution spacecraft, will study the upper Martian atmosphere to find out how the air on the red planet has changed over time. This discovery may help us understand when and how long Mars might have had an environment that could have supported microbial life in its ancient past.