Tag Archives: astronomy

Comet Pan-STARRS Makes Bright Appearances in Night Sky

Grab your camera and a snack, the night sky will put on a spectacular show throughout March.

The comet, Pan-STARRS is visible without a telescope and will make regular appearances in the Northern Hemisphere throughout the month. It was named after the Hawaiian telescope (Panoramic Survey Telescope and Rapid Response System) where it was discovered in 2011.

It is believed that it will take more than 100 million years to make a single orbit around the sun.

Graphic courtesy NASA

Officially known as C/2011 L4, Pan-STARRS has brightened as the sun’s hot wind melts it, forming a long tail. On March 5th, it traveled its closest to Earth, getting about as close to our planet as the distance between us and the sun.

Pan-STARRS made its first appearance in the Northern Hemisphere on March 7th, but has been difficult to spot due to its low position in the sky. As of March 12th, the comet’s position is higher and the thin, dark crescent moon will help.

It will be visible in the night sky into April.

How to See the Comet

Pan-STARRS will be visible to the naked eye but a good pair of binoculars or amateur telescope will help. On a cloudless night, look to the western sky about an half hour after sunset. The sky will still be light.

Find the moon. This sounds easy, but it may be more difficult than you think. The crescent moon will only be about 1% illuminated with its sliver looking like a thin smile.

The comet will be visible about 5 degrees to the left of the moon or half a fist if you hold your clenched hand out in front of you horizontally.  As the month goes on, the comet will begin to move to the right of the moon.

Your search may need to start with binoculars. Once you know what you are looking for, you can locate it with your naked eye.

Pan-STARRS will look like a bright star with a stubby tail extending upwards and to the left.

The moon and comet will only be visible for about a half an hour before they disappear into the horizon.

Pan-STARRS is not the only comet making a visit to our night sky. Comet Lemmon is currently visible to skywatchers in the Southern Hemisphere.

Comet ISON was discovered in 2012 and will be visible in the Northern Hemisphere in November. It will pass within 800,000 miles (1.2 million km) from the sun and could be spectacular to view. But NASA astronomers warn it may also be a dud.


Credits: Wired Science, Space.com, NASA.gov

Annular Solar Eclipse This Weekend – Share Your Photos With Us

By Blog Editor, Susan Wells

Don’t fear the werewolves and vampires this weekend. An annular eclipse will make it’s way across the western United States.

This Sunday, May 20th in the late afternoon, an annular eclipse of the sun will be visible to the United States and a narrow path across the northern Hemisphere. A partial eclipse will be visible in East Asia, the North Pacific, North America and Greenland.

Solar eclipses happen all over the globe all the time, but this will be the first in the continental U.S. in more than 18 years.

An annular eclipse is a “ring of fire” solar eclipse. A total eclipse is when the moon’s shadow completely covers the sun and makes it dark during the day. This eclipse will cover about 85% of the sun leaving a visible ring.

If you want to see it, set a reminder, because it won’t last long. The eclipse will be visible first along Oregon and northern California at 1:23 p.m. local time. It will last 4 1/2 minutes as it tracks across the U.S. to Redding, CA, to Central Nevada, southern Utah and northern Arizona to Texas. People in the eastern U.S. will see the sun as a thin sliver in the afternoon hours but will end by the time it reaches the East Coast.

National Parks in the west have scheduled eclipse viewing events. This will allow for some spectacular photo opportunities.

I have always been fascinated with eclipses. The last solar eclipse I remember, I was in elementary school and we went out on the playground with our makeshift paper viewers. One of my favorite books as a child was “Who is Eating the Sun?” I have read that book to my children, and for the first time, they will be able to experience what we have learned about only in books.

How do you view the eclipse without burning your eyeballs?

Regular sunglasses won’t give the protection needed. Without special glasses, don’t look at the eclipse for more than a fraction of time. You won’t burn your eyes from dangerous solar radiation only visible during eclipses. The damage comes from staring at a solar event like this for a long period of time. To protect your eyes, many astronomy shops and National Park gift shops will have cardboard glasses that offer protection from the UV and visible light. Or go geek and use the highest grade of welding goggles. They will also protect your eyes.

Don’t look at the eclipse through your camera. You may want to use a solar filter to protect both your eyes and your lens.

You can make your own pinhole camera by poking a hole into an index card or other stiff paper. Focus the sun’s image onto another card through the pinhole. You can watch the eclipse progression without damaging your eyes. I’ve never had much luck at this technique. You can also check out the Exploratorium in San Francisco to learn how to make a pinhole camera with a Pringles can.

If you aren’t located in the right spot, or there are clouds in your area, like they are forecasted in Denver, you can also watch the eclipse online or from the space station. Space.com will host a live stream of the solar event.

The next total solar eclipse will happen on August, 21, 2017.

We’d love to see your photos, taken with caution and no eyeball burning. Leave us a photo on our Facebook page, Tweet us @SpanglerScience or mention us on Pinterest. We’ll feature some of the best next week on our blog.



Astronomers Set to Study Huge Asteroid as it Passes Close to the Earth

This radar image of asteroid 2005 YU55 was generated from data taken in April of 2010 by the Arecibo Radar Telescope in Puerto Rico. REUTERS/NASA/Cornell/Arecibo/Handout

We aren’t on the verge of Armageddon and no we won’t need Bruce Willis’ services, but brace yourselves, a large asteroid is on its way to Earth and will come within 201,000 miles of our planet.

The large asteroid, appropriately named 2005 YU55, is on its way to pass by the earth at 6:28 p.m. EST, Tuesday, November 8th. It will be visible in the northern hemisphere and won’t be seen by the naked eye. It will also be too fast for the Hubble Space Telescope to spot it.

Thousands of professional and amateur astronomers are poised and ready to watch the asteroid as it passes by. It will give scientists an opportunity to study the asteroid without having to launch a probe.

These celestial events where objects pass closely to the earth are only expected to occur a few times a century.

It’s the first time since 1976 that an object this large has come this close to Earth. During that time, no one was aware of the potential armageddon, not even astronomers. That asteroid wasn’t discovered until 2010. And only then, using Newton’s law’s of gravity was the path calculated.

YU55 is about 1,312 feet in diameter. For a good visual on what this really means in a scaled down model, read Science 2.0’s Seeing Armageddon in a Grain of Sand article. In it, they compare the earth to a blue house and the asteroid to a grain of sand passing within 1,100 feet. Not so scary when you look at it in those terms.

Astronomers have projected YU55’s orbit around the sun for the next 100 years. There is no chance that it will collide with the earth or the moon during this time.

The asteroid is believed to be made of carbon-based materials and some silicate rock. It is blacker than charcoal. Scientists plan to study its composition and structure using radar images and chemical studies.

According to Science 2.0, it won’t be until 2028 that another large asteroid, 2001 WN5, will get close to earth. This asteroid is larger than YU55 and will get even closer. You may be able to see it with a good pair of binoculars.

In 2029, asteroid 99942 Apophis will come extremely close to the earth. It is approximately the size of YU55 and using their blue house scale, it will come within 110 feet. We may need to put Mr. Willis on standby for that one.


Alex… Astronomy and Music For $200

Planets and musicSomeday you might be invited to compete on Jepoardy and you’ll thank our trust blog contributors for this nerdy information. Did you know that a musician named Gustav Holst was so fascinated by astronomy that he wrote several pieces of classical music about planets? In fact, he wrote music for all of the planets except Earth and Pluto. Why was Pluto excluded? Holst wrote The Planets in 1918, before Pluto was discovered!

Remember, the planets were all named for ancient gods and goddesses, so when it was time for Holst to title his music about the planets, he chose titles that reminded people of the god or goddess for whom the planet was named.

Mars, the Bringer of War; Venus, the Bringer of Peace; Mercury, the Winged Messenger; Jupiter, the Bringer of Jollity; Saturn, the Bringer of Old Age; Uranus, the Magician; and Neptune, the Mystic.

Want a little preview? Here’s Holst’s Mars: Bringer of War, by Gustav Holst