Read Dave Leake's sky events for 2014
For: October 20-26
If weather permits, we’ll experience a partial solar eclipse Thursday afternoon. This isn’t a total eclipse with about 40% of the Sun being blocked by the Moon. The event begins just after 4:30 p.m. with maximum eclipse occurring an hour later. Solar eclipses can be very dangerous! Never, never look directly at the Sun! Sunglasses provide no protection nor to solar filters that thread into telescope eyepieces!! The CU Astronomical Society has been given permission to set-up telescopes in Sunset Park (north of Bradley, bordering Staley Road) beginning at 4 p.m. They will employ safe methods to watch the eclipse and are happy to share views with you! The park provides a low western horizon. The sun will set before the eclipse concludes.
For: October 27-November 2
Tonight, look for a waxing crescent Moon in the southwest just to the right of the planet Mars. Mars has left our celestial scorpion as it heads eastward, heading for the teapot-shaped constellation of Sagittarius. Mars sets three hours after the Sun. Is it time for Halloween already? That means we are roughly halfway from the autumn equinox to the winter solstice. It also means “Santa’s Secret Star” opens at the planetarium this Saturday (7 p.m.). Saturday evening brings another free open house at the CUAS Observatory, southwest of town. If clouds leave us alone, we hope to be able to check out the fall sky from our rural dark site (cuas.org). Join us!
For: November 3-9
Thursday’s full Moon is the “Frosty Moon” or the “Beaver Moon.” It’s time to set any beaver traps you might be putting out before the swamps freeze! Speaking of freezing, remember how cold it was last winter? I try not to think about! Extension climatologist Molly Woloszyn takes a look back (and a look forward) in the planetarium’s Friday night science lecture (7 p.m.) Admission is a buck at the door. For the early-risers, look for elusive planet Mercury this week low in the east-southeast. Don’t confuse it for the star Spica, which is to Mercury’s upper right. In less than a couple of weeks, Mercury will be too close to the Sun to see.
For: November 10-16
If you wake up Friday morning just as the skies are brightening, look high in the east for Jupiter. You’ll know it’s Jupiter as a third quarter Moon will be to the planet’s lower right and the star Regulus will be to Jupiter’s lower left. If you own binoculars, prop your elbows up on a car hood or fence post and see if you can spy Jupiter’s four Galilean moons. While you’re out this weekend, keep your eyes peeled for “shooting stars!” The Leonid meteor shower starts early Monday morning. The Leonids are potent every 33 years and this isn’t our year, but you should still see a few. The Leonids result from the dusty remains of Comet Tempel-Tuttle.
For: November 17-23
High in the south-southeast around 7 p.m. you’ll find the Great Square of Pegasus. Instead of looking for an upside-down flying horse (with no rear end) up there, look for the diamond-shaped figure. If you can trace diagonally across the square from the lower right star to the upper left, and then continue that line outward, you’ll come close to the Andromeda Galaxy. Andromeda is the closest big galaxy to us, boasting over a trillion stars over two million light years away. Want to impress a date? Show them the Andromeda Galaxy in binoculars! Or you can watch meteors as the Leonid meteor shower continues this week during the hours before dawn.
For: November 24-30
The star Fomalhaut twinkles by itself nearly due south this week at 6:30 p.m. Fomalhaut has an orbiting planet that was the first to be imaged by the Hubble Telescope. Look for a crescent Moon in the southwest tonight. Tomorrow night, the Moon will be to the right of the planet Mars. If you exhaust yourself shopping this Friday, relax in a comfortable chair beneath the stars at the planetarium. We traditionally open our holiday special, “Season of Light” at 8pm both Friday and Saturday night. A description appears on our web site. Saturday is also the last open house of the year at the CU Astronomical Society Observatory (cuas.org). Lets hope for clear weather!
For: December 1-7
Community icon Dr. Jim Kaler returns to the planetarium Friday (7pm) for his annual contribution to our “World of Science” lecture series. His topic will be nature’s leftovers – the asteroids. Patrons attending the talk will be treated to a special surprise as we will unveil a historical piece of memorabilia from the Jim Kaler family in our lobby after the talk. If you’re out skywatching just after sunset, keep your eyes glued to the west-southwestern horizon. Venus passed behind the Sun last month and now creeps into our evening sky. When will we first see this brilliant planet in our sky? You tell me! Venus will rise higher each evening until it meets Mars next February.
See Dave Leake's "Prairie Skies" column in the Champaign-Urbana News-Gazette each Monday morning.