Star Calendar – September 2016

Star Calendar

September 2016

Star Calendar Planets:

Moon is New fairly near the Sun’s passing through the middle of eclipse season (near a moon node) but is also near apogee so that it is too distant for its shadow tip to reach earth, making an annular eclipse. Full Moon occurs as the Sun is leaving the realm of the node – making a penumbral lunar eclipse then. Neither event is visible in Spring Valley or our hemisphere. A second New Moon occurs as September closes – but the Sun is then well out of the realm of eclipse-making geometry. The Harvest Moon is a period when the skies never really get dark – making outdoor work possible into the night and/or early morning. This year the Full Moon rises in Civil Twilight and does not set until 2 hours after the following sunrise. The effect is stronger when the Moon is well north of the ecliptic – which it isn’t this year.

Mercury scoots back into the morning sky for a more favorable appearance in the second half of this month. Even though the excursion from the Sun makes a much smaller angle than the last one, the steepness of the ecliptic in morning skies at this time make an overwhelming advantage for us. A crescent Moon aids on the 28th and 29th.

Venus sidles up to Spica during the first half of this month, and overwhelms in the second half. Spica is the signature star of Virgo and may be found by following the curve begun by the handle of the Dipper – through yellow-green Arcturus and about that distance again to whitish Spica. Venus is approaching us, getting larger in angular size, and waning gibbous in phase.

Sun crosses the celestial equator, then rises and sets south of east and west until spring. The alternation of presence in the sky for longer and shorter portions of the day is imitated, in different periods by all of the planets – see Jupiter.

Mars starts making tracks away from the Scorpion and toward the Teapot/Archer this month. When he begins to move out he also fades in brilliance. Remember how bright he was compared to Antares in August? He will diminish to equal brightness by January.

Jupiter crosses the celestial equator near his conjunction with the Sun this month. Jupiter will also fall south of the celestial equator, but, unlike the Sun, will remain there for 5 ½ years. One could call this period an autumn and winter for Jupiter. He will next cross the summer colure in June of 2025.

Saturn begins the month above Antares and begins direct motion into Ophiucus in earnest. The Moon stands above the pair on the 6th.

Star Calendar Days:

  1      Sunrise/sunset in Spring Valley at 6:23/19:28 (13h5m daylight)

          New Moon at 5AM, annular solar eclipse S.Africa, Madagascar, Antarctic

  2      Very young Moon grazes Jupiter low in west, setting around 8:PM

  3      Young Moon above Venus, evening in west

  8      Moon above Saturn, SW at 9:PM

  9      Moon above Mars, SW at 10:PM

13      Mercury crosses near-side of Sun

16      Full Harvest Moon at 15:05, penumbral lunar eclipse for Indian Ocean hemisphere

17-18 Venus passes to above and left of Spica, low-western evening sky

21      Mercury is stationary to stars, visible in low east at 6:AM

          Jupiter crosses to south of celestial equator – remains there until May 26, 2022!

22      Center of Sun crosses celestial equator, autumnal equinox, at 10:21 EDT

          Sunrise/sunset at 6:44/18:53 (12h9m daylight)

25      Sun’s upper limb just tangent to southern edge of celestial equator –

          Sunrise/sunset at 6:47/18:47 (12h0m daylight) equal day and night

26      Jupiter crosses far-side of Sun (conjunct)

28      Mercury at greatest angle from Sun, 18 degrees, for this appearance

          Mercury below waning Moon, low East around 6:AM

29      Mercury just below/right of old Moon, low East around 6:AM

30      Another New Moon for this month, 8:PM

Star Calendar – August 2016

Star Calendar

August 2016

Star Calendar Planets:

Moon passes just out of reach of Earth’s sizable shadow on the 18th as it sets at dawn. It is very close to being, or not being, a technical penumbral encounter – but nothing observable will occur. Some eclipse tables will list this event, others will not. Both are correct! An annular solar eclipse will cross Africa and Madagascar on September 1st when the Moon’s shadow doesn’t quite reach the Earth.

Mercury makes its widest excursion from the Sun this month but does so doubly disadvantaged from our point of view. Firstly the ecliptic is dropping dramatically to the left of the Sun (aka the coming decent into fall) and secondly Mercury is passing rather south of the ecliptic line. At greatest elongation on the 27th, Jupiter and Venus have a lesser elongation but stand higher than Mercury in the evening – as they are north of the ecliptic just now.

Venus sets at 9:PM on the 1st and then about one minute earlier each day thereafter – but the Sun sets even earlier, gaining about a minute and 21 seconds each day – so Venus is a little higher each evening twilight relative to sunset but is lower each evening relative to the clock. During this month she will pass Regulus, Jupiter and Mercury.

Sun stands in the middle of Cancer as the month begins, crosses into astronomical Leo on the 9th and reaches Regulus on the 21st. If you recall where Jupiter stood (beneath the belly of Leo) at the extremity of his last loop (stationary on May 9), the Sun will reach that spot on September 5th.

Mars will make a striking equilateral triangle with Saturn and Antares, in the south on the 11th, but the Moon standing directly above him will make a distracting lozenge – or possibly blot out Antares. So perhaps on any other day it is a good time to contrast Mars with Antares as they approach one another. They are conjunct on the 23rd/24th.

Jupiter is in direct motion, meaning that he appears further leftwards each day against the stars. The Sun and Moon epitomize this motion and the planets execute variations and contrasts to this theme. Venus is moving more quickly than the Sun, Jupiter more slowly – and Venus will catch up on the 27th for a very close and very bright conjunction. That would be a night to find a 10 to 30 power telescope with either not too large an aperture or fitted with some filters, for Venus will be so close that she’ll mingle amongst the Moons of Jupiter. The pair will be low and due West at 8:15 PM at the very beginning of Nautical Twilight conditions. Find a good spot ahead of time.

Saturn is within the meridia of Scorpius, (though astronomically in Ophiucus) and stands above (north of) Antares. Mars will cut between the two on the 23rd/24th.

Perseid meteors statistically peak mid-month, but the gibbous Moon presents a liability then. There have been known to be earlier outbursts however, so gazing Perseus/Cassiopeia-wards earlier in the month may reward. The Aurigids peak in better conditions at the end of the month – but are above the horizon in the pre-dawn hours – raying from above Orion’s shoulder.

Star Calendar Days:

  1      Sunrise/sunset in Spring Valley at 5:52/20:12 (14h20m daylight)

  2      New Moon

  4      Mercury to right of young Moon, 8:45PM in West

          Also, lower to right, Venus

  5      Venus and Regulus conjunct in evening, latter probably washed out by sunset

  6      Moon just beneath Jupiter, setting by 9:30 PM in West

11      Moon, Mars, Antares, Saturn make a lozenge in SSW at 9:PM

12      Perseids peak – by statistics of the past

13      Saturn stationary to direct motion

16      Mercury at largest (but very low) angle from Sun for this appearance, 27 degrees

18      Full Red Moon (5:27 AM) sets in slight penumbral eclipse in early morning

23-25 Mars passes between Saturn and Antares, SSW in evening

27      Venus and Jupiter pass very close in West as Sun sets – should be quite bright

30      Mercury stationary to retrograde

31      Sunrise/sunset in Spring Valley at 6:22/19:30 (13h8m daylight)

Star Calendar – July 2016

Star Calendar

July 2016

Star Calendar Planets:

Moon will show only 1/7 of her fullness on the 7th of the 7th month. 7/7 is the date of the oriental star festival called Tanabata – when two lovers (stars Vega and Altair), separated by a river (the Milky Way), may be allowed to meet if the river vanishes. But that is unlikely this year since the Moon is too small (dim) to vanquish the river. However, terrestrial lights may very well do the job instead; Orihime and Hikoboshi are probably big fans of Light Pollution.

Mercury crosses behind the Sun on the 6th-7th and might just be seen at the end of the month in the evening. On the 30th, with a good view to the west, Venus should shine out by around 8:30 PM. Following her descent, Mercury should appear to her left, and Regulus might just be made out very close beneath Mercury – try binoculars. That will be the nearest planet-to-bright-star conjunction for the year.

Venus should be visible (west) in bright evening twilight after mid-month or so, but she sets by around 9:PM. Mercury will pass close by on the 16th, but the sky will likely be too bright to see him. Again, one might try binoculars.

Sun is at its highest on the 4th – in the sense of distance-from-the-ground or Aphelion. Might the Earth be deemed most independent then? Proximity of the Sun slightly exaggerates the Winter/Summer of the southern hemisphere – but tempers those seasons in the north. Ocean is preponderate in the south – and it tends to subdue the seasons by great thermal mass and circulation – while land masses respond more quickly to the solar input. At present the apsides rather subdue climate change – with a residual net warming; the last ice age is still finishing up – but as the apsides shift (over centuries), a net cooling will again glaciate the north. The effect of apsides is smallish on the earth – but is large on eccentric Mars.

Mars, still brighter than any star, now culminates (is highest, in the south) as dark falls. He shone like a flying cinder during our St. John’s bonfire.

Jupiter is brighter than Mars – but is lower and further west each day when he appears. He entertains the Moon on the 8th and 9th.

Saturn makes a huge triangle with equal-brilliance stars Arcturus and Vega (the latter is slightly brighter). Saturn will gradually be higher and more southerly at first appearance each evening as the month progresses. In August he will appear in a fashion similar (in position) to that of Mars this month.

Star Calendar Days:

  1      Sunrise/sunset in Spring Valley at 5:28/20:32 (15h4m daylight)

  4      Aphelion at noon – Sun is 3% farther than in January

          Sun, Moon, Venus and Mercury between the knees of Gemini

          Equinox on Mars, autumnal for northern part

  7      Mercury at superior conjunction – crosses behind Sun

          Moon beneath Regulus after sundown

          Tanabata – oriental star festival of Orihime (Vega) and Hikoboshi (Altair)

8-9     Moon near Jupiter in West at dusk

11      Moon between Mars and Jupiter, and beside Spica, SW in evening

14      Moon, Mars, Antares and Saturn make an oblong in South at 10:PM

16      Moon, Saturn and Mars make a line over Antares at 10:PM

19      Full Thunder or Hay Moon at 6:57PM

30      Perhaps find Mercury near dimmer Regulus as Venus sets, W around 9:PM

31      Sunrise/sunset in Spring Valley at 5:51/20:13 (14h22m daylight)

Star Calendar – June 2016

Star Calendar

June 2016

Star Calendar Planets:

Moon crosses the seasonal colures (meridians of solstices and equinoxes) every month. This month Sun and Moon cross opposite colures on the same day. Just as the length of daylight changes with the seasons – so does the time of Moon-Up change rapidly through the month. For this month, Moon crosses the colures of Summer, Fall, Winter and Spring respectively on the: 4th at 23:32, 12th at 20:00, 20th at 08:26 and 27th at 00:25. The duration of Moon-Up on those days is: 14h35m, 12h29m, 10h4m and 12h26m. The extreme are somewhat subdued because the inclination of the Moon’s path with respect to the celestial equator is currently less than the Sun’s inclination; in a few years’ time the lunar seasons will be more exaggerated than the Sun’s.

Mercury may come into view mid-month – low in the ENE at around 4:30AM. I was not able to do an elaborate setup to view last month’s transit – but twice thought I might have seen it through welder’s glass. A lot of folks took nice photos though.

Venus crosses the backside of the Sun on the 6th. We may expect to see her next in mid-July.

Sun now occupies the sky for a pretty steady 15 hours a day. Note below the subtle differences between earliest/longest/latest dates and times. This year the solstice occurs on the same day as Full Moon – which means that the Sun is making a long summer crossing while the Moon takes a short wintery walk – rising very south-of-east and culminating very low in the sky.

Mars continues to be in our face this month but his rise-time advances more slowly as he approaches the end of his loop on the 30th. He is receding, first slowly, then rapidly, and will be fading noticeably as July approaches. On the 1st of this month he shines at magnitude -2.1 (brighter than Jupiter) and by July at -1.4 (rather like a red Sirius).

Jupiter still dominates the SW as darkness falls – but Mars holds sway in the SE.

Saturn varies less in brightness and follows Mars across the sky – trailing him by about an hour. Saturn is as bright now as the brightest summer star (Vega), but, appearing much lower, tends to draw less notice perhaps.

Star Calendar Days:

1      Sunrise/sunset in Spring Valley at 5:26/20:23 (14h57m daylight)

3      Saturn in opposition (exactly opposite the Sun in our sky)

4      Jupiter is at eastern quadrature (exactly ¼ of the sky from the Sun)

Moon occults Aldebaran during the day (again in October at night)

5      Mercury at largest angle from Sun in morning sky

6      Venus at superior conjunction (crosses behind Sun)

8      Moon to left of Castor and Pollux (Gemini) at 9:30PM

10      Moon between Regulus and Jupiter tonight

13      Sun, Mars, and Saturn fall on a line in space; Martian opposition of Saturn

14      Sunrise earliest in Spring Valley, at 5:23AM

14-15 Moon above Spica and between Mars and Jupiter

17      Moon, Mars, Antares and Saturn make a lozenge, culminating as darkness falls

20      Sunrise/sunset in Spring Valley at 5:24/20:32 (15h8m daylight)

Full Strawberry Moon 7:02AM

Solstice at 6:34PM EDT

23-24 St. John’s Eve/Day, traditional mid-summer

27      Sunset latest in Spring Valley, at 8:33PM

30      Sunrise/sunset in Spring Valley at 5:27/20:33 (15h6m daylight)

Mars stationary to stars, end of retrograde loop, begins normal motion

Star Calendar – March 2016

Star Calendar

March 2016

Star Calendar Planets:

Moon makes a less dramatic swing from standing to lying crescent either side of New Moon this year. Firstly the tilt of the lunar path from the ecliptic is currently one that subtracts its obliquity from the equator, secondly, this month’s syzygies fall near the nodes – there are two eclipses this month (neither visible from the U.S.). Still it is worth noting the more upright old Moon before dawn on the 6th/7th and the contrasting higher, reclining, earthshine-glowing young evening Moon on the 9th/10th. The tilt-drama is increasing from a minimum last year, next peaking in 2025.

Mercury is getting brighter but nearer the Sun – so we must imagine him receding and crossing behind the Sun this month. Next month will afford a better evening showing than this has bee, even though his excursion is of a smaller angle.

Venus is now pretty low just before dawn – but bright enough to see yet; beside the Moon on the 7th especially.

Sun is in the sky about 2 ¾ minutes longer each day this month and is high enough at noon to be beneficial on the skin.

Mars and Saturn are night-long beacons as they approach their oppositions. Saturn is nearly as bright (to the left) but watch Mars increase to equal Jupiter’s brilliance by late May. The increase is due to the dramatic approach he makes. As March opens he is farther away than is the Sun, by the 2nd week, equal distant as the Sun, by month’s end, ¾ the Sun’s distance, and at opposition, only half as distant as the Sun.

Jupiter nearest and brightest now, but varies much less than does Mars! He is King of the Night for this month anyway, up from dusk ‘til dawn, and shining far brighter than any other star or planet.

Saturn, Antares, Mars and Moon make a quartet before dawn on the 1st. Saturn is also increasing in brilliance, but, characteristically, very slowly, hardly discernible to the eye during March anyway.

Equinox is an astronomical event that occurs at the moment the center of Sun’s disk crosses the celestial equator. That instant is on the 20th in all of Asia, Europe and Africa, but would be on the 19th in all of the U.S. were NOT the clocks fiddled with for so-called Daylight Savings (sic). So the equinox is on the 20th for Day-lighters in the Eastern time zone, but on the 19th for Central Time and points West.

Star Calendar Dates:

1      Moon between Mars and Saturn, and above Antares; high in S at 6:AM

          Sunrise/sunset in Spring Valley at 6:30/17:48 EST (11h18m daylight)

2      Moon near Saturn in the AM hours

7      Moon near Venus, ESE around 6:AM

8      Jupiter in opposition, nearest and brightest for year, and mid-loop

9-10   Hilal before Easter, (how œcumenical!) Young Grail Moon, West after sunset

10      Perigee one day after syzygy, large-ish spring tide

13      Much of U.S. pushes clocks forward an hour; also Palm Sunday

14      Since Pi=3.14159…, 3/14/16 is a better approxi-Pi-date than last year’s

15      2059 years since Caesar was rendered unto… the Ides

16      Sunrise/sunset in Spring Valley at 7:05/19:05 EDT (12h daylight, = night)

19      Daylight lengthens most rapidly, nearly 3 minutes/day

20      Equinox at 00:30PM, Sun crosses celestial equator

21-22 Moon with Jupiter all night

23      Full Sugaring Moon at 8:01, sets just before entering penumbra of Earth’s shadow

          Mercury passes the backside of the Sun, superior conjunction

25      Saturn turns retrograde, approaches, begins loop for a June opposition

27      Summer Time begins in Europe

          Easter for Western churches, Eastern falls on May 1 (=April 18 Julian)

28      Moon over Mars midnight to dawn

29      Moon over Saturn midnight to dawn

31      Sunrise/sunset in Spring Valley at 6:40/19:21 (12h41m daylight)

Star Calendar – February 2016

Star Calendar

February 2016

Star calendar Planets:

Moon appears on the 1st at Last Quarter and makes a little line segment with Mars and Zubenelgenubi of Libra (for binoculars) for early risers. After a similar highlight of Saturn/Antares on the 3rd will be a fetching scene on the 6th, between about 6:15 and 6:30 in the SE with a thin crescent Moon beside Venus, and a possibly visible Mercury below.

Mercury shines at zero magnitude (as bright as the brightest star of summer, Vega) but is fairly low throughout this excursion into the light of dawn. Greatest elongation coincides with a proximate Moon as mentioned above.

Venus spends February making a graceful, slow departure from her late prominence in the morning scene. By March 1st she will barely peak over the horizon when civil twilight is well underway. We may then wait until some evening in late July for her next showing.

Sun makes a circuit through the stars in about (!) 365.24219 days. The Julian leap-day-every-four-years scheme still leaves a sizable error of 3days 3hours per century. The Gregorian refinement, omitting leap-days on the centuries excepting those divisible by 400, leaves an error of 44minutes 38seconds per century – which falls much nearer the noise floor of the long-term variability of the length of day.

Mars is highlighted by the Moon at both the beginning and end of this month and is positioned for optimal viewing, high in the South, before dawn. He now moves steadily away from Zubenelgenubi and toward his namesake (anti-nym?) Antares. Although “Antares” means “the equal of Mars”, in reference to their similar color, actual encounters of Mars and Antares vary widely in their relative brightness. This time Mars will become markedly the brighter as they draw nearer. We can look forward to an April 25th clustering of Moon, Mars, Saturn and Antares.

Jupiter is now an all-night feature, noticeably retrograde, and approaches the point in the sky opposite the Sun – which is currently near Regulus and moving toward Jupiter one degree per day. When they are closest we call the planet in opposition; it is then nearest Earth, brightest, and at the mid-point of its backward motion.

Saturn lies bright between the stars Sabik, of Ophiuchus, and Antares of Scorpio. Saturn burns at a steady .5 magnitude this month while Mars brightens from .8 (dimmer) to .4 (brighter) during this month – so the pair trade places in planetary dominance during this month. Remember that in the magnitude scale less-is-more.

Caveat Lector! Sorry about the 10-minute-too-late error for the occultation in January, I don’t know how that happened. As always, “Reader Beware!”

Star Calendar Days:

1      Moon, Mars, Zubenelgenubi in a tight little line; S 5:-6:AM

          Sunrise/sunset in Spring Valley at 7:07/17:12 (10h5m daylight)

2      Traditional mid-winter day, Candlemas/Groundhog Day

3      Moon above Saturn, Antares; SSE 5:-6:AM

6      Moon, Venus, Mercury in a small triangle; low SE at 6:AM

          Mercury at greatest angle from Sun, 26 degrees, and as bright as Vega

7      Mars is 90 degrees from Sun (quadrature), analogous to Last Quarter Moon

11      Mean-time clocks furthest ahead of Sun for the year, ET= -14 ¼ minutes

13      Venus and Mercury most proximate for this appearance; low ESE 6:AM

15      Moon occults the nose of the Bull after sunset (not readily observable)

22      Moon sets as near to Earth’s shadow as is Aldebaran; W at 5:30 AM

          Full Snow Moon at 13:20 (1:20PM EST) passing just beneath Earth’s shadow

23      Moon rises beside Jupiter; E 7:PM

29      Moon above Mars; S at 5:30AM

          Sunrise/sunset in Spring Valley at 6:31/17:47 (11h16m daylight)

Star Calendar – January 2016

Star Calendar

January 2016

Star Calendar Planets:

Moon rises on the autumnal equinox point and beneath Jupiter as the New Year opens. On the 7th it accompanies Venus and Saturn in morning twilight in the ESE and then begins another week or so of moonless dark nights. On the evening of the 19th watch the Moon, high in the south, approach and then blot out Aldebaran – that expected to occur at 9:43PM.

Mercury stands (against the stars) on both sides of the Sun this month. He is stationary on the 5th, on the evening side of the Sun, in Capricorn; crosses the nearside of the Sun on the 14th, and stands again on the morning side of the Sun on the 25th. This appearance is rather poor – but the dates give a sense of how quickly Mercury can change position.

Venus continues to be the dominant “star of the east”. On Three King’s Day morning will occur a lovely morning group of crescent Moon, Venus and approaching Saturn; and the subsequent days too – until on the 10th she sinks below Saturn and begins in earnest to fall into to the morning glow.

Sun is nearest us for the year at this time. The relationship of the timing of the proximity cycle of the Sun (apsides) to the seasons is a strong component of the cycle of glaciation; is one that changes very slowly too. All of modern humanity’s historical records fall within the current warm cycle. Apsides proceed to the same conditions in about 111,000 years while the seasons are retrograde in 25,770 years. Other long cycles also abound.

Mars is culminating (south and highest) between 6 and 6:30 AM these days. He abandons the virgin on the 17th and recovers his balance in the scales. Mars is at 1st magnitude, slightly brighter than Spica to his right. He approaches 3rd magnitude (much dimmer) Zuben Elgenubi this month and will arrive, escorted by the Moon, on Feb. 1st.

Jupiter begins his loop this month, wandering back under the belly of Leo for an opposition in early March.

Saturn is now a definite morning presence, shining as brightly as Arcturus in the morning sky. As the year opens Saturn will be only half as high as Venus at 6:30 AM, but will ascend each morning as Venus slowly falls. The pair swap ascendency on the 9th and by the 31st Saturn will be prominent in the SSE between Antares and Sabik – though one might have to look a little earlier due to earlier sunrise!

Quadrantids are from the upper part of Bootes and their radiant is circumpolar. They may peak early this year so spending the night of 3rd-4th on a cot with feet facing north may reward.

Star Calendar Days:

1      Sunrise/sunset in Spring Valley at 7:21/16:38 (9h17m daylight)

2      Sun is nearest for the year (perihelion), at .9833 of average distance

3      Martian solstice, summer for northern hemisphere

          Moon above Mars and Spica, SSE at 6-6:30AM

4      Quadrantid meteors early AM, from high East –

          – while looking, find Comet Catalina above Arcturus (with binoculars?)

5      Latest sunrise for the year, at 7:22 in Spring Valley

          Mercury stationary to retrograde

6      Moon above Venus and Saturn in morning twilight

7      Moon below Venus and Saturn, (red Antares to the right)

          Julian December 25, Orthodox Christmas

8      Jupiter is stationary, begins retrograde loop

9      Venus and Saturn very near, morning twilight in east

14      Julian/Roman New Year, begins 2769 AUC

          Mercury at inferior conjunction, crosses nearside of Sun

19      Moon occults Aldebaran, SSW at about 9:43PM

23      Full Wolf Moon at 8:46PM

25      Mercury stationary to direct (normal) motion

          Moon rises beside Regulus, east at 8:PM

28      Moon rises below Jupiter, east at 10:PM

30      Moon above Spica, SSW at 6:AM

31      Sunrise/sunset in Spring Valley at 7:08/17:12 (10h4m daylight)