Pisces

The 14th biggest constellation in the night sky, Pisces the Fishes is visible in the night sky between latitude 90 to -65 degrees.

The constellation of Pisces actually consists of two fish, one working its way north, the other west. You’ll find Alpha (α) Piscium located at the southern tip of the constellation, at the point where the two segments are joined. That strange name, Alrescha, is derived from the Arabian name, Al Risha, meaning “cord,” which refers to the point at which the two piscatorial cousins are bound together in a knotted cord. Note that the locations shown for Jupiter and Uranus on this chart are current as of the first half of November, 2011. (Stellarium image with labels added, click for a larger view).
The constellation of Pisces actually consists of two fish, one working its way north, the other west. You’ll find Alpha (α) Piscium located at the southern tip of the constellation, at the point where the two segments are joined. That strange name, Alrescha, is derived from the Arabian name, Al Risha, meaning “cord,” which refers to the point at which the two piscatorial cousins are bound together with a knotted cord. Note that the locations are shown for Jupiter and Uranus on this chart as of the first half of November 2011. (Stellarium image with labels added, click for a larger view).

Space & astronomy wiki – the constellations in the sky –

Northeast of Aquarius the Water Bearer and Northwest of Cetus the Sea-monster, observers in Canada best look in early Autumn to view this faint, but huge V-shaped constellation occupying 889 square degrees of the 1st quadrant of the Northern Hemisphere.

The best time to see Pisces is around 9 p.m. (10 p.m. local standard time) between November 6-9. This changes to around 8 p.m. during the early days of December.

Look for the celestial signpost most observers use to find Pisces the Fishes, the Great Square of Pegasus as shown in the image below. Look for the Circlet of Pisces – often called the head of the Western Fish – to the south of the Square of Pegasus. Once you locate the Circlet of Pisces, head east of the Square of Pegasus to the Eastern Fish.

One of the first constellations in the night sky to be identified by ancient astronomers, Pisces the Fishes is believed to be based originally on the Syrian goddess of love and fertility Atagartis. Half-fish and half-woman some archaeologists believe Atagartis is the inspiration Babylonian astronomers used to originate both Greek and Roman goddesses of love and beauty Aphrodite and Venus.

For more information on Pisces, the Fishes go here.

Learn more about how stars seed the universe with the building blocks of the cosmos.

Read about Einstein’s spacetime.

Read about NASA’s Spitzer Telescopes view of the chaotic heart of supernova M82.

Convergence of Venus and Jupiter

June 30 Venus and Jupiter will appear as one big double star in the western sky once the Sun goes down

On June 30 Venus and Jupiter will appear as one big double star in the night sky.
On June 30 Venus and Jupiter will appear as one big double star in the night sky.

Space news (June 26, 2015) –

Amateur and professional astronomers are watching as Venus and Jupiter draw steadily closer and will appear to converge on June 30. The two brightest planets in the night sky, Venus and Jupiter have been moving toward convergence since the beginning of the month, which is the closest they’ll appear until August 2016.

Jupiter and Venus having been steadily moving toward convergence since the beginning of the month.
Jupiter and Venus having been steadily moving toward convergence since the beginning of the month.

Wind the clock back a few thousand years, there would probably be a festival or human sacrifice, in some cultures, about to occur in a few days time. Looking up at Venus and Jupiter as they move closer each night would have been an awe-inspiring and frightening sight, and certainly one an ancient culture would have noticed and worshiped in some way.

Venus and Jupiter are in fact over 800 million miles apart, they only appear closer in the night sky, because of their current positions in their orbits. Venus is currently overtaking or lapping Jupiter as it orbits the Sun, and on June 30 across North America, they’ll appear as one big double star in the night sky.

Viewers can view the convergence with the naked eye although binoculars or a small telescope certainly enhances the show. The best part is the show is viewable anywhere on the planet, check with local astronomers for the best time to view the convergence. 

Just look to the West a few hours after sunset on June 30. People in Australia and the East wait until August 1 to see Venus and Jupiter converge, but this won’t diminish the show.

Your eyes will need a few minutes to adapt to light levels, but once the lights go down, you’ll be amazed by the brightness of the event. A stunning 0.33 of a degree apart at convergence, around 30 times closer than at the beginning of the month, Venus and Jupiter can be hidden behind your finger.

There’s nothing to be afraid of, these events don’t significantly increase gravitational forces, and aren’t harbingers of doom.

No need for the human sacrifice!

For more information on the convergence of Venus and Jupiter on June 30 check here

Learn how the stars seed the universe with the building blocks of the cosmos.

Learn more about red dwarf stars.

Learn how planetary space scientists map water vapor and temperature on hot Jupiter-class exoplanets.

Venus

Space & astronomy wiki (June 23, 2015)

Venus and Earth are similar in size, composition, and mass. They differ in that Venus does not have oceans or human life, and its temperature during the day reaches 484 degrees Celsius. The daytime temperature is so hot it could melt lead. The dense atmosphere is composed of carbon dioxide and sulfuric acid which acts as a greenhouse and traps the heat. Venus revolves around the Sun in a circular orbit once every 225 Earth days. Venus rotates slowly on its axis in a clockwise direction, which is referred to as a
Venus and Earth are similar in size, composition, and mass. They differ in that Venus does not have oceans or human life, and its temperature during the day reaches 484 degrees Celsius. The daytime temperature is so hot it could melt lead. The dense atmosphere is composed of carbon dioxide and sulfuric acid which acts as a greenhouse and traps the heat. Venus revolves around the Sun in a circular orbit once every 225 Earth days. Venus rotates slowly on its axis in a clockwise direction, which is referred to as a “retrograde” rotation because it is the opposite of the seven other planets. A rotation takes 243 Earth days, so a Venusian day is longer than a Venusian year. As with the other inner planets, the surface of Venus has been shaped by impact craters, tectonic activity, and volcanoes which scientists believe to be ongoing. The volcanic activity is believed to be the source of the sulfur found in the atmosphere. Venus does not have any naturally occurring satellites.

Space & Astronomy Wiki – the planets in the solar system –

At an average distance of 0.72 AU from Sol, Venus is the second planet from the Sun, closest sister planet to Earth in size and mass, and the third densest planet in the solar system at an average density of 5.24 g/cm3.

The second-brightest object in the night sky, with the Moon being the brightest, at between magnitude -3.8 and -4.6, Venus was first recorded by Babylonian astronomers in the 17th century BC and is named after the Roman Goddess of Love and Beauty.  

Called both the Evening Star and Morningstar, Venus is the second largest terrestrial planet in the solar system and the hottest planet with an average surface temperature of 462 degrees Celsius.

Composed of a crust, molten mantle, and core, the surface of Venus is totally obscured by dense clouds of carbon dioxide that trap heat very effectively, producing a runaway greenhouse effect.   

Rotating very slowly on its axis, Venus rotates in the opposite direction to the other planets in the solar system, creating extremely long days and nights, and a west to east movement of the Sun across the sky.

Looking at the surface of Venus you see mountains, valleys, craters, and even evidence of previous volcanic activity. This is deceiving, though, because the geology of the surface of this planet is very different than that of Earth. 

We’ll talk more about the surface geology, atmosphere and life history of Venus in future articles.

You can learn more about Venus here.

 

Learn about the NExSS Coalition’s Search for Habitable Planets and Life Beyond Earth.

Learn how stars seed the cosmos with the elements, the building blocks of the universe.

Learn about the Cassini spacecraft viewing icy geysers on the surface of Saturn’s moon Enceladus.

Did Life Evolve in the Early Universe?

Were there even suitable planets upon which life could survive? 

Space news (February 03, 2015) 117 light-years away in the constellation Lyra –

Astronomers have often wondered if life could have evolved in the early universe? Space scientists using data provided by NASA’s Kepler mission recently discovered a planetary system containing as many as five earth-sized planetthat formed when the universe was two billion years old.

The tightly packed system, named Kepler-444, is home to five small planets in very compact orbits. The planets were detected from the dimming that occurs when they transit the disc of their parent star, as shown in this artist's conception. Image Credit: Tiago Campante/Peter Devine
The tightly packed system, named Kepler-444, is home to five small planets in very compact orbits. The planets were detected from the dimming that occurs when they transit the disc of their parent star, as shown in this artist’s conception.
Image Credit: Tiago Campante/Peter Devine

  

The five earth-sized planets discovered orbit close to their home star in the star system called Kepler-444, range in size between Mercury and Venus. They also take less than ten days to complete each orbit, which means the weather on these planets is hotter and more extreme than any planet in our solar system.

Earth-based life would never survive on these planets unless of course, these planets were once further from their home star. If these planets were once located within the habitable zone of their home planet? It’s possible life once evolved and flourished on one or more of these early planets.

“While this star formed a long time ago, in fact before most of the stars in the Milky Way, we have no indication that any of these planets have now or ever had life on them,” said Steve Howell, Kepler/K2 project scientist at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California. “At their current orbital distances, life as we know it could not exist on these ancient worlds.”

Space scientists studying the age of planets within a star system measure small changes in the brightness of the parent sun produced by pressure waves within the star. These pressure waves result in small variations in star temperature and luminosity leading to very small changes in brightness. Asteroseismologists – asteroseismology is the study of the interior of suns – use these measurements to determine the diameter, mass, and age of the parent sun. The age of the planets within a star system is the same as the parent sun since they formed at about the same time. 

The existence of earth-sized planets in the early universe indicates life could have evolved and survived. This news doesn’t tell us how common solar systems with planets of this size were, but it does mean the possibility existed. 

What’s next?

Space scientists will now begin looking further back in time and at more early star systems to see if they can find more earth-sized planets life could have evolved on. Any intelligent life evolving in these planets would have long ago moved to another planet. Is it possible we could be descendants of life that evolved in the early universe? If any civilization had the time to develop the technology required to travel the universe and seed planets it would be one that developed on one of these early earth-sized planets.

For more information on NASA’s Kepler space mission go here.

Read about methane clouds moving over the northern seas of Saturn’s moon Titan

Read about the first earth-sized planet discovered orbiting within its home star’s habitable zone

Read about the search for extraterrestrial life taking a turn at Jupiter

Cassini Spacecraft Shows Us Views of the Solar System in Natural Color

Cassini Spacecraft blasts off on its mission to Saturn
Cassini Orbiter blasts off on its mission to Saturn

NASA spacecraft shows us the solar system as it would be seen by human eyes

A breakdown of the onboard instrumentation of the Cassini Orbiter
A breakdown of the onboard instrumentation of the Cassini Orbiter

Astronomy news (2013/12/19) – NASA revealed to the world an image of stunning Saturn taken by the Cassini spacecraft at the Newseum in Washington on Tuesday showing the giant planet as our eyes would view it.

The spectacular image, seen below, is a panoramic composed of 141 wide-angle images, showing us a view 404,880 miles (651,591 kilometers) across of Earth, Venus, Mars, and Saturn and its moons and inner ring system. The image includes all of Saturn’s rings, including the E ring, which is the second ring from the outer edge of the planet’s rings (the distance between the Earth and the Moon would easily fit within the width of the E ring). “In this one magnificent view, Cassini has delivered to us a universe of marvels,” said Carolyn Porco, Cassini’s imaging team lead at the Space Science Institute in Boulder, Colo. “And it did so on a day people all over the world, in unison, smiled in celebration at the sheer joy of being alive on a pale blue dot.”

A real color image taken of Saturn, with Earth, Mars, Venus and a few moons visible
A real color image of Saturn, with Earth, Mars, Venus and a few moons visible

Join the Wave at Saturn Campaign

This spectacular image of Saturn and its moons and rings is part of NASA’s “Wave at Saturn” campaign, which invited people around the United States and the world to take part in a celebration and party on July 19. NASA asked people to take the time to find Saturn in the sky in their part of the world. To say hello to Cassini and the ringed planet by waving across the solar system and loading any pictures they take onto the Internet to be shared with the world. A fun and social way to join the human journey to the beginning of space and time.

The image above shows Earth as the bright blue dot located to the lower right of Saturn. Venus isn’t easily seen in this image and is the bright dot located to the upper left of the giant planet, while Mars is the faint red dot to the left and above Venus. Viewers with good eyes should be able to view seven of Saturn’s moons in the image, including amazing Enceladus just to the left. Take a closer look and you should see icy plumes flying out from Enceladus’s south pole region, which provides the fine, grain-sized icy dust that makes up the E ring.

Saturn’s E-Ring is Visible

Saturn’s E ring appears like a halo surrounding the planet and its inner rings, and the best view of this area is provided by light shining from behind the planet. Astronomers studying Saturn and its rings used enhanced computer programs to improve the contrast and color balance of the pictures. This allowed them to pick out detailed data and evidence which made it possible to trace out the full orbits of smaller moons like Anthe and Methone, for the first time in the history of the human journey to the beginning of space and time. “This mosaic provides a remarkable amount of high-quality data on Saturn’s diffuse rings, revealing all sorts of intriguing structures we are currently trying to understand,” said Matt Hedman, a Cassini participating scientist at the University of Idaho in Moscow. “The E ring shows patterns that likely reflect disturbances from such diverse sources as sunlight and Enceladus’ gravity.”

The astronomers in charge of Cassini usually don’t try to use the instrument to image Earth very often because an unobstructed view of the sun will damage sensitive equipment on the spacecraft. Astronomers had to wait until the sun was hidden behind Saturn, in relation to Cassini, which occurred on July 19, before taking images of Earth and its moon, and the backlit panoramic picture above. “With a long, intricate dance around the Saturn system, Cassini aims to study the Saturn system from as many angles as possible,” said Linda Spilker, Cassini project scientist based at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. “Beyond showing us the beauty of the Ringed Planet, data like these also improve our understanding of the history of the faint rings around Saturn and the way disks around planets form — clues to how our own solar system formed around the sun.”

Cassini has been exploring Saturn and its local region for nine years to date, and NASA has indicated the spacecraft will continue its mission until at least 2017. We will bring you more images of Saturn and data concerning the planet as long as the human journey to Saturn continues.

To view the image, visit: http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/spaceimages/details.php?id=PIA17172.

A new version of the collage of photos shared by the public, with the Saturn system as the backdrop, is available at http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/spaceimages/details.php?id=PIA17679.

More information about Cassini is available at http://www.nasa.gov/cassini and http://saturn.jpl.nasa.gov.

Watch this YouTube video on Cassini and mission results here. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X5zcrEze8L4.

Watch this YouTube video on the picture Cassini took of the Earth and Moon https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d-PlmiKs6Mk.

Read about NASA’s Messenger spacecraft and its mission to Mercury

Have you heard about the recent meteorite that exploded near the Ural Mountains

Read about the supernova astronomers are studying looking for a black hole they think was created during the explosion

2014: The Journey Ahead

Find a good viewing spot on the night of April 14/15 and watch as the Full Moon falls far into the Earth’s shadow
Find a good viewing spot on the night of April 14/15 and watch as the Full Moon falls far into the Earth’s shadow

 

Looking ahead to next year

Astronomy questions and answers – 2014 is expected to be a banner year for the human journey to the beginning of space and time. This year we are treated to a total eclipse of the Moon for the first time since December 2011. Find a good viewing spot on the night of April 14/15 and watch as the Full Moon falls far into the Earth’s shadow. Skywatchers and astronomers across North America can watch the entire show from the comfort of their favorite dark sky viewing spot. The partial phases of the eclipse will get started around 1:58 a.m. eastern standard time. Watch during the next hour, or so, as the Moon darkens as totality nears. Totality lasts from about 3:06 to 4:25 and the Moon should look orange-red during this period as sunlight filters through the Earth’s atmosphere. The show should finish around 5:33 a.m, with a wrap up of the partial phases.

The Moon once again falls into the Earth’s shadow on the morning of October 8, 2014. The partial phases of this celestial event get started around 5:14 a.m. eastern standard time, with totality occurring at 6:24 a.m. The Moon will spend about an hour immersed in the shadow of Earth, before reappearing like a phantom at 7:24 a.m. Skywatchers and astronomers located in western North America will have the best seat for the show while people on the East Coast will get a partial show.

No total eclipse of the sun in 2014

October 23 skywatchers and astronomers across North America will be treated to a partial eclipse of the closest star to Earth
October 23 skywatchers and astronomers across North America will be treated to a partial eclipse of the closest star to Earth

There will be no total eclipse of the sun during 2014, but on the afternoon of October 23 skywatchers and astronomers across North America will be treated to a partial eclipse of the closest star to Earth. Viewers in the majority of the United States of America should see the Moon block over 40 percent of the Sun’s disk from view while people in the northern states and lower Canada should see the Moon cover over 60 percent. The best view of this partial solar eclipse will be in the far northern regions of Canada, with about 81 percent coverage of the Sun’s disk.

Planet hunters should enjoy the show during 2014

Mighty Jupiter reigns supreme in the sky during the month of January 2014
Mighty Jupiter reigns supreme in the sky during the month of January 2014

Planet hunters can book a seat for the dramatic appearance of Mars in the sky during spring of 2014. The Red Planet reaches opposition April 8, and will shine at magnitude -1.3 and appear big (15”) and bright when viewed through a telescope. Mighty Jupiter reigns supreme in the sky during the month of January 2014 and will peak early during this month. Saturn will also be spectacular to view both a few months before and after opposition on May 10, 2014, while beautiful and serene Venus will dazzle skywatchers before dawn during late winter and spring.

Meteorite hunters look forward to potentially great 2014

People watching the Quadrantids during January won’t have to deal with much light from the Moon
Viewers planning to look at the Perseids during August will have to deal with the light from the Moon

Meteorite hunters can also look forward to a potentially great year of viewing one their favorite celestial bodies. Viewers planning to look at the Perseids during August will have to deal with the light from a Moon which will be almost full, but people watching the Quadrantids during January won’t have to deal with much light from this source. The other expected meteorite showers during 2014 should all be free from interfering light from the moon. All-in-all 2014 should be a memorable year for astronomers and backyard skywatchers taking part in the human journey to the beginning of space and time.

Watch this YouTube video on the expected lunar eclipse in 2014 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9P5sQ0iSc0w.

Watch this YouTube video on the expected partial solar eclipse on October 23 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dnolE2bcGUg.

Watch this YouTube video on the 2014 Quadrantids meteorite shower https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wViXDdbRC7Y.

Read about NASA’s Messenger spacecraft and its mission to Mercury

Have you heard about the recent meteorite that exploded near the Ural Mountains

Read about the supernova astronomers are studying looking for a black hole they think was created during the explosion

Something Unusual, Something New

Some of the biggest explosions in the universe

Astronomy News – Supernovas are some of the most powerful and visually striking events observed during the human “Journey to the Beginning of Space and Time. Releasing more energy in a single moment than Sol will over its entire lifetime, a supernova is luminous enough to shine brighter in the night sky than entire galaxies during one moment in space and time, before slowly fading from view over several weeks or months. The force of a supernova expels a large percentage of a star’s mass into the darkness of space and time at about 10 percent of the speed of light and creates a shock wave that sweeps up the expanding shell of gas and dust released during the explosion referred to by astronomers as a supernova remnant. 

 Astronomers search for new supernovae

Astronomers using NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope to search the night sky for active galactic nuclei (AGN), super-massive black holes at the center of galaxies, recently reported the discovery of a supernova smothered in the remnants of its own star-dust during their search. This has astronomers scratching their heads in amazement at something they have never viewed during the human “Journey to the Beginning of Space and Time. Scientists think supernovas like this one probably occurred during the early universe, more than they do during present time, and this discovery has astronomers looking for answers to questions they never thought they would be asking.
 

Astronomers realised something was different

The recorded temperature of the object they were viewing was about 1,000 Kelvin (about 700 degrees Celsius), which is slightly hotter than the surface of Venus. This means something was dissipating the light energy of the supernova as heat? Astronomers wondered if the dust from the supernova could be choking off the light from the supernova and creating the heat they were viewing? Taking data from studies of NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope astronomers worked backward in space and time to see if they could figure out what kind of star could have theoretically created this supernova and if they could recreate a scenario where the dust from a supernova obscures the universe from the light released during the supernova. They calculated that the star in this supernova would have to be a giant star at least 50 times as massive as Sol. Astronomers have viewed these types of stars releasing huge clouds of dust as they near the end of their lives, but they calculated this particular star probably released clouds of stardust several times during this same period of time. The last cloud of stardust expelled would, therefore, be closer to this massive star, than earlier released clouds of stardust, they reasoned. If the earlier dust cloud was also opaque, it would absorb the light energy released during later energy releases, and this could certainly account for the hot dust cloud they observed through NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope.
 
This dust cloud obscures the dust from its parent star

Check out my latest astronomy website at http://astronomytonight.yolasite.com/.

Read about NASA’s Messenger spacecraft and its mission to Mercury

Have you heard about the recent meteorite that exploded near the Ural Mountains

Read about the supernova astronomers are studying looking for a black hole they think was created during the explosion