Tonight is 8/2/7/2011. Time is 11:20pm. Big Momma is browsing the night
skies for me.
Tonight is a first in planetary observations for me. I have witnessed four planets in the same night before, on a vacation trip to the Grand Canyon. That night included two
inner planets — Mercury and Venus and two outer planets — Saturn and Jupiter.
This night is all about the outer planets. Viewing from my normal backyard
telescope location and looking from east to southwest, Big Momma is tracking
Jupiter just rising above the eastern horizon, just above the houses across the
Jupiter is displaying 5 moons instead of the usual four bright ones we usually see. Jupiter’s moons look like they are standing in line arising above the houses on an upward southeast path toward Jupiter. The two bands around the planet are clearly visible.
The moon is not be a factor tonight and the Milky Way is clearly visible overhead and to the South where Sagittarius and Scorpius sit tonight.
Using the scope’s Go_To function, Big Momma moves a little more southwest and the scope stops on the planet Uranus. There are not a lot of bright stars in the Pisces, so this bluish planet is pretty easy to find.
And a little more southwest in Aquarius and the scope stops on Neptune. Neptune is also bluish in color and smaller in the telescope eyepiece than Uranus. Neptune is now called the last planet in our system of planets.
Any finally resting above Sagittarius sits the planet that Mike Brown killed, “Pluto”. Pluto is now classified as a dwarf planet. Pluto is known to has three moons.
In 2015, Pluto will become the star of the astronomy circle when the spacecraft called New Horizons reaches Pluto in 2015 for observations.
Finally, I finish up my tour with a quick look at Andromeda (M31). On nights like tonight with no Moon light, I can also see M31 with binoculars sitting just east of Cassiopeia. This is amazing since the Andromeda galaxy, a spiral galaxy, is more than 2 million light years away.
For you non math majors, the distance that light travels in a
vacuum in one year, approximately 9.46 trillion (9.46 × 1012) kilometers or 5.88
trillion (5.88 × 1012) miles.
I took a peek at M32 which is much smaller than M31. M32 was
larger in size at one time, but Andromeda has been stealing stars over the
course of time.
Since gravity is drawing Andromeda and the Milky Way (our
galaxy) on a dancing path, the results of that dance will be interesting in 5
million years from now.
Closing with the Ring Nebula (M57), which is overhead in the
Summer Triangle, but closer to the star called Vegas.
Vegas will probably be important to future night skies viewers in 5,000 years. Due to the Earth’s wobble, Vegas could replace Polaris as the North Star.
The Ring Nebula looks like it is a ring with the colors of a
rainbow. The Ring Nebula is only 2,300 light years away.
Put Big Momma in “park mode” which aligns the telescope back toward Polaris and shut off the juice.
Placed Big Momma back on her hand cart and rolled her off to bed
in the garage.
In closing, when you look at an object in the night sky that are thousands or millions of light years away, just remember the light you see left that object a long time ago. Those objects probably do not look like the light you see at this time.
Astronomy test: The light you see from the Sun at any given time
left the Sun about:
8 seconds, 8 minutes or 8 hours ago?
You are right, a little more than 8 minutes