Tag Archives: Venus

Seattle Astronomy calendar, week of June 22

Is it live, or is it Memorex? Two of the top local astronomy events of the week are on tape with real-time discussion, while we can look up in the sky any night and watch the two brightest planets draw ever closer to each other.

Science on Screen

Hillary Stephens

Hillary Stephens of the Pierce College Science Dome.

Though we had not heard of this series before, Science on Screen returns to the Grand Cinema in Tacoma at 6:45 this evening, June 22. The evening will include a viewing of the 2011 science fiction film Another Earth, in which a duplicate of our planet is discovered within the solar system, and a discussion titled, “Is Anyone Out There?” The discussion leader will be Hillary Stephens, director of the Pierce College Science Dome planetarium.

The concept of Science on Screen was started by the Coolidge Corner Theater in Boston. The program creatively pairs films with lively introduction lessons by scientists. It returns to Tacoma and Pierce County for a second year thanks to a grant from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation and the Coolidge Corner Theatre Foundation.

Astronomy on Tap

cosmosontapAstronomy on Tap Seattle returns to Bad Jimmy’s Brewing Company in Ballard at 7 p.m. Wednesday, June 24. This time the topic will be Cosmos on tap, as attendees will view episode number one of the original Cosmos series featuring Carl Sagan. Graduate students in astronomy at the University of Washington are the presenters of Astronomy on Tap. This will be their fourth event since launching this spring, and it’s always fun and informative.

A guest speaker will be on hand Wednesday to introduce the show, lead a Q&A, and discuss what has changed since Sagan created this groundbreaking series. Also promised: Cosmos trivia, Cosmos bingo, prizes, and fun. Astronomy and beer; you can’t beat it! It’s free, but please RSVP so they know how many to expect.

Venus and Jupiter draw closer

The two beacons of the twilight sky, Jupiter and Venus, continue to draw closer and closer together in the west each day as dusk settles in. The Moon joined the dance the last several nights, but now it’s just the two brightest planets doing their little dance. They’ll appear barely over two degrees apart by Friday, and they’ll be at their closest next Tuesday, June 30, when they’ll be just a third of a degree apart and will easily fit into the low-power field of view of a telescope.

Check Sky & Telescope‘s “This Week’s Sky” feature for more observing highlights, and bookmark the Seattle Astronomy calendar to keep up on local astro events.

Amateur astronomers ID mysterious bright object in COS skies

“When in doubt, call an amateur.”

This may not be good advice for neurosurgery or airline piloting, but it was just the ticket for identifying a mysterious, bright object in the early evening skies over Colorado Springs. While visiting family in Springs they shared with me an article in Saturday’s Colorado Springs Gazette, prompted by an email from a reader who had spotted said object for several days running and urged the paper to investigate, insisting adamantly that “it is not the planet Venus.”

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Reporter Tom Roeder consulted local Navy and Air Force experts on flying things as well as an astronomer from the University of Colorado. Two of the three figured it was Venus, but demurred from making definitive statements to that effect because identifying strange, bright objects isn’t necessarily squarely within their bailiwicks.

As people who know them recognize, amateur astronomers have no such reservations. Roeder called Alan Gorski of the Colorado Springs Astronomical Society, who, after a little double checking, confirmed that the bright light is Venus, despite the assessment by the Gazette reader.

When my mother-in-law mentioned the article I, too, immediately concluded it is Venus. Readers occasionally write Seattle Astronomy with what-is-it questions, and it’s almost always either Venus or Jupiter. The King of Planets is also up in the evening these days, rising in the eastern sky a bit before 8:30 p.m. It was a nice sight shining in mostly clear skies last night.

Colorado Springs has some good potential for stargazing, as it is at just over 6,000 feet in elevation and has some pretty clear horizons, especially to the east. But alas, with a population of more than 430,000 the light pollution in the city, while not quite so bad as our home base in West Seattle, is pretty robust. The Colorado Springs Astronomical Society owns a dark-sky observing site near the town of Gardner, Colorado, a little over 100 miles south of The Springs and closest to the city of Walsenberg. The site is home to the annual Rocky Mountain Star Stare.

Enjoying Jupiter through new eyes

After a couple of weeks of wild weather, including snow, ice storms, high wind, and heavy rain, the greater Seattle area is enjoying something most unusual: a clear, calm winter night.


Jupiter doesn't look quite like this through my backyard telescope, but a Tele Vue Radian eyepiece is giving better views than I've ever had before. Cassini snapped this one on its way to Saturn in 2000. Photo: NASA.

The timing is both right on and a bit off for astronomy buffs in the area. At nightfall the Moon was pleasantly centered between Venus and Jupiter, making for a picture postcard view. However several area astronomy clubs have their monthly public star parties scheduled for Saturday evening, and the forecast is for the clouds to move back in after our brief respite from precipitation.

I took advantage of the clear night to haul my telescope out of the basement and take a look. I had a peek at the gibbous Venus, and looked at the crescent Moon for a bit. But I have been watching Jupiter for most of the evening. I find the clockwork of old Jove’s moons endlessly fascinating. Io was in transit across the giant planet’s disk between about 7 p.m. and 9:15. Io’s shadow is following about an hour and 15 minutes behind, and will complete its transit of Jupiter at around 10:30.

I’ve got to throw in a plug for a relatively new eyepiece in my case. Last year right after Christmas I used some gift cash (thanks, Mom!) to buy a 10mm Tele Vue Radian. Using it to look at Jupiter this evening made me feel as though the scales had fallen from my eyes and I was seeing the planet for the first time!

TeleVue Delos

I have an 8-inch “Intelliscope” from Orion, and it’s pretty much as it came out of the box (though my aching neck convinced me to replace the straight-through finderscope with a right-angle model, and I added a Telrad finder, which is pretty useless from my West Seattle backyard observing location, given the few bright objects that can be seen through the thing.) My high-power eyepiece had always been the 10mm Sirius Plossl that came with the scope. It’s OK, but has minimal eye relief. I typically found that I got much better views from a 17mm Plossl and a 2x Barlow.

Then I sprung for the Radian. Wow. I got some eye-popping views of Saturn through it earlier this year, but looking at Jupiter with its detailed bands, zones, and clouds, the difference a top-quality eyepiece can make is readily apparent. Even in transit, Io was easy to spot. The Red Spot stood out clearly, and though seeing has not been all that transparent this evening, in moments of clarity I’ve seen detail on Jupiter tonight that I’ve never seen under the best of conditions before. The Radian set me back about $235.

By the way, Tele Vue has discontinued the 10mm Radian and some are speculating they’ll drop the line entirely in favor of the new Delos line that came out in the middle of last year. They have the same eye relief but a wider field of view. I’m really impressed with the Radian. I have one other Tele Vue eyepiece, a 24mm Panoptic, and it, too, is marvelous, offering tremendous, wide-field views. They’re on the pricey side, but well worth it for the quality views they deliver.

What are your favorite eyepieces?

Alas, as I’m wrapping up this post at about 11 p.m. Friday the clouds have indeed rolled in. I had planned to get back out there. I’m working on the Astronomical League Urban Observing program, and one of the last items I need to spot is NGC 3242—The Ghost of Jupiter. It’s a planetary nebula that’s only visible around here from about now until early spring. We don’t get enough clear nights this, or any, time of year. NGC 3242 transits a little after 2 a.m. Saturday. It looks like it will do so behind the clouds and the quest will have to wait for yet another night.

Let’s hope for some clearing for a peek at the Ghost of Jupiter, and for all of those clubs planning star parties for Saturday evening. Check the Seattle Astronomy calendar for details about one near you.