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Galaxy Club

Tonight's Sky

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Click here for Dave's preview of sky events in 2017. 


For: October 23-29

Look in the southwest tonight for a crescent Moon, just right of the planet Saturn. Look again tomorrow night, using Saturn as your guide and you’ll notice that the Moon is moving in its orbit from west to east. All this month, Saturn’s rings are angled at 27 degrees to our line-of-sight, the maximum we’ll see. Use a small telescope and look soon after sunset. This weekend the planetarium brings in an AVI laser system for a couple of laser rock shows Friday and Saturday night. Tickets are $8 at the door or listen to win tickets on Classic Rock WKIO. With the first quarter Moon this weekend, the CU Astronomical Society will host another free pubic open house on Saturday night, weather permitting (cuas.org).

For: October 30 – November 5

Tuesday is Halloween, a “cross quarter day,” meaning a day halfway between the first day of autumn and the first day of winter. While you’re out trick-or-treating, be sure to notice the waxing gibbous Moon in the southeast. Join us at the planetarium for two “Fright Night” planetarium laser shows at 7:30 or 9pm. There are more laser shows this weekend, too – see our web site for a schedule. Hey, we’re even doing some country music! We’ll also host chemist and author Theo Gray for Friday’s “World of Science” talk on molecules and chemical reactions (7pm, $2 at the door). A brand new program on the mystery of “dark matter” called “Phantom of the Universe” opens Friday night at 8pm.

For: November 6-12

At this Thursday’s CU Astronomical Society meeting, Mike Lockwood will discuss using night a vision camera at the telescope. Saturday at the planetarium, we premier “Santa’s Secret Star” for the kids. Given the newspaper comes out in the morning, I’ll mention an event that occurs early Monday morning, the 13th. First a waning crescent Moon rises at about 2am, followed by the planet Mars just after 3:30. Then comes the star Spica about an hour later. But these are previews. The main show rises just after 5:30am when the next two brightest objects in the solar system after the Sun and Moon, Venus and Jupiter, appear 1/3 of a degree apart! Look low in the morning twilight a little south of due east.

For: November 13-19

This weekend brings the maximum of the Leonid Meteor Shower. The Leonids are a result of the Earth rushing through the trail of Comet Tempel-Tuttle. Think of comets as being like Hansel and Gretel leaving breadcrumbs in the forest, but the breadcrumbs are actually bits of dust. If the Earth runs into the dust, we have a meteor shower. The Leonids are especially active every 33 years where it is said that, if you blinked your eyes, you might miss a dozen meteors! Unfortunately, the last meteor storm was around 1999. Still, you might see 15-20 meteors an hour after midnight. Take a lawn chair out under a dark sky and count how many you see.

For: November 20-26

Tonight, look low in the southwest through the evening twilight for a thin crescent Moon just to the right of the planet Saturn. Below and right of Saturn is Mercury. This Friday, the two planets are only a half fist (five degrees) apart. Mercury has its last good view for the year this week as it sets an hour after the Sun. Watch Mercury change position through the end of the month. After a full day of shopping, join me Friday night as the planetarium opens our holiday program, “Season of Light.” You’ll learn that many of our current holiday traditions have their origin in the celebration of the winter solstice. Check it out!

For: November 27 – December 3

If you didn’t see Mercury and Saturn last week, this will be your last week to spy them. Start looking around 5pm in the southwest. After November 30, Mercury heads back towards the Sun. Turn your binoculars eastward to find the Pleiades star cluster about two fists high just after dark. Also called the “Seven Sisters” the sisters are the seven daughters of Atlas. These stars are roughly 400 light years distant. This Friday the planetarium is honored to welcome the return of astronomer Jim Kaler for our 7pm “World of Science” talk. Jim will examine how the atmosphere can bend and reflect light to create wonderful lighting effects, like rainbows, Sun pillars, lunar halos, and glories. Admission is $2 at the door.


See Dave Leake's "Prairie Skies" column in the Champaign-Urbana News-Gazette each Monday morning.