Degrees of the Moon and Venus


Because I messed up on the shot I took tonight, enjoy this prior photo of the Moon I took.

January 31st, 2017, 6:10 p.m. local time

As I stepped off my evening train, I could see, despite clouds and the glare of a station parking lot, the Moon and Venus poking through the sky.  They are the only two objects that could penetrate this muck!  Better, tonight they were on the same horizontal plane in the Southwest sky.  The Moon is about five degrees off the Solar System’s elliptic path, and my guess was that these two residents of said Solar System were approximately that far apart, maybe a tad closer than this outer boundary.  But at least I now have a rough approximation of the Moon’s orbit relative to the plane the planets reside.

The Moon was to the East/left and a waxing thin crescent.  Venus was to the West/right of the Moon.

Update: This confirms what I saw tonight, as well as my approximations:

Morning Jupiter and Spica


Image from my archives.

January 30th, 2017, 6:20 a.m. local time

The morning’s predawn sky was shockingly clear, not a cloud in the sky.  Most stars were gone.  But high and bright in the Southwest was mighty Jupiter.  Very near, below and to the South, was Spica.  I have not seen Spica (or at least identified it) since the Autumn.

I went inside to grab my binoculars to view Jupiter.  After a focus adjustment, it came in large and bright.  And I was able to see one of its moons on my left/towards the East.  If I had more time I would have tried to spot the other moons.

Observation: the early morning sky is the least effected by light pollution.  This is because most of my neighbors’ lights are off by 2-3 a.m. each night.  The worst offenders are the unshielded street lights.  The more I think about it, the more I believe the main sources of stray photons are streetlights and commercials floodlights.  If only they were all off, what a difference it would make!

Winter Glimpses of Orion, the Pleiades, and More


When I rekindled my interest in astronomy nearly a year ago, I had the luxury of watching the sky’s theater as it past month by month.  Starting in the spring, there was obviously the Moon, but my first “a-ha” experience was in finding and viewing Jupiter.  I started to teach myself the constellations as well, noting that Gemini’s Castor and Pollux were visible in the West sky early evenings.  This was followed by staying up very late in the early summer months to catch glimpses of Mars and Saturn rising above the trees.  Later in the summer, I would stay outside past midnight to catch my first sites of the Andromeda Galaxy, only visible close to Zenith due again to neighboring trees.

I followed Pegasus, and had my telescope out at odd hours to find both Uranus and Neptune.  I would get up well before dawn to catch a meteor shower.  I even went on several fruitless attempts to spot Mercury.  All this continued through the months and into the autumn.

And it all happened under the backup of waiting for “the big one” – Orion.  By the time I remembered last year, it was already late spring and Orion was effectively gone from the early evening sky.  I missed Orion.  I remembered it from my childhood, at least the belt’s three stars, which were just about all I could see from the city.  But now that I am relatively far away from the city lights, I can see so much more of Orion, here in the middle of winter.  Betelgeuse and Rigel are colorfully brilliant.  I can nearly make out the hunter’s bow.

The Nebula of Orion is the most spectacular, now that I realize it is there!  Whether just by seeing with my eyes alone, with my binoculars, or through one of my telescopes, I only come to regret that the winter clouds have been so awful.  I barely have any days at all to see the sky in this weather.  It makes me want to spend my retirement in the desert.

I hope, over the rest of my life, to continue observing the Nebula.  It is true that you see a little more of deep sky objects every time you look at them, as your eye becomes better trained.

One unexpected treat has been the Pleiades.  These I could never see in the city, but they are very visible to me now with the eyes alone.  They are incredible through the telescope!  I love how the major stars shine bright blue.  And all the surrounding stars that I see in the telescope make me want to sketch that area of sky, for record.

Oh, and one more thing.  There happens to be a little object in the Southwest sky right now that you may be able to see.  She’s called Venus.  Last night I reassembled my rudimentary afocal astrophotography setup to capture Venus’s current phase:


That’s all for now.  In the coming month I’m looking forward to more views of Orion.  And on the horizon, so to speak, my old friend Jupiter is starting to rise earlier and earlier each late night.  Can’t wait until spring!


No, President Trump, the Skies of Detroit and Nebraska Are Not the Same


“And whether a child is born in the urban sprawl of Detroit or the windswept plains of Nebraska, they look up at the same night sky, they fill their heart with the same dreams and they are infused with the breath of life by the same Almighty Creator.”

– Donald Trump’s Inaugural Address, January 20th, 2017

If only this were true, Mr. President.

The night sky in the city of Detroit is far different from the night sky in the state of Nebraska.

The child of the plains will likely have a wonderful view of the universe on clear evenings.  He will wonder, and dream, and imagine.  He will think about his place in the cosmos.  He will ponder both philosophical and spiritual questions about the Almighty Creator.  His ability to see the night sky in its nearly-complete wondrous glory will provide him with opportunities to become a sound and thoughtful adult.

The child of urban sprawl will grow up seeing a far different sky.  Her childhood will be spent under a sickly, orange haze.  She will not look up and wonder, because there will be nothing in her night sky to dream about.  Chances are, the overbearing glare of her neighbor’s porch light or a simmering alley bulb will arrest her attention far more than anything up in the sky.  This is not a place to wonder, or dream, or ponder about life and God.  With the simple absence of a decent night sky comes lost opportunity and inspiration for this child trapped in an urban light prison.

Of course, the city and country skies will never be the same, but the tragedy of light pollution is that so much of it could be mitigated with cognizant planning and effort by all.  We are all victims of this least-understood form of pollution.  Contrary to photographs taken from orbit, it is aesthetically uninteresting.  While scientists are just beginning to document light pollution’s adverse effects, both we and all our living ecosystems depend on the quality of a proper night just as much as the radiance of the Sun at day.