Click here for Dave Leake's preview of sky events for 2015!
For: September 28-October 4
All this week, you can find several planets in our morning sky. Venus and Mars are joined by Jupiter, which has now passed behind the Sun from our point of view. Venus rises first due east around 3:30am, following by the star Regulus, then Mars thirty minutes later, then Jupiter forty-five minutes after that. For evening skywatchers, look for the familiar Big Dipper low in the northwest. Follow the curve of the dipper’s handle to the orange star Arcturus, situated about two fists high nearly due west. Friday brings the first of six “World of Science” talks at the planetarium (7pm). Julie Pryde from CU Public Health will discuss pandemics and pathogens. Admission is only $1 at the door.
For: October 5-11
At Thursday night’s CU Astronomical Society meeting, Bill Kemp, librarian with the McLean County Museum, will talk about the historic Leonid meteor shower. Join us for this 7pm gathering at the planetarium. The talk is timely as Thursday night is the maximum of the Draconid meteor shower. The Draconids normally go unnoticed but in 1933 and 1946 meteors rained down from the sky. Could it happen again this year? These meteors are notorious for being slow moving. Friday morning, the moon is between Venus and Jupiter and to the right of Mars. Saturday night CUAS telescopes invade Homer Lake, weather permitting. The public is invited to a program at the Interpretive Center (7pm) and then observing to follow.
For: October 12-18
Tuesday’s new Moon means a dark sky for stargazing. Near straight up around 7pm you’ll find the bright star Vega, the fifth brightest star in the sky. The Moon won’t appear in the sky until late in the week when, Friday night, it will be above and left of Saturn in the southwest. Set an alarm Saturday morning to check out Mars and Jupiter only a half degree apart! Look due east at about 5am. Saturday night is another open house at the CUAS Observatory. I’m doing a 5-week-long workshop on backyard astronomy starting October 20. The registration deadline is tomorrow but there’s still time to get on the list. See www.parkland.edu/planetarium for the details.
For: October 19-25
If you are free Friday night, stop by the University of Illinois Observatory, just east of the Foellinger Auditorium, as the UI Astronomical Society hosts a homecoming open house. If skies are clear, they will be using the historic 12-inch refracting telescope. Photometry, or measuring starlight electronically, was pioneered at Illinois and they’re proud of that tradition. This weekend, in the morning sky, Venus and Jupiter (the second and third brightest objects in the sky) will be a degree apart. Look a little south of east around 4:30am. Back in the evening sky, Saturn will pass above the star Beta Scorpii, a beautiful telescopic double star. Look low in the southwest.
For: October 26- November 1
Halloween is this weekend! Do you have your scary costume picked out yet? The date of Halloween is not arbitrary. It is a “cross quarter day” or the day roughly halfway between the autumn equinox and the winter solstice. There are other cross quarter days you may have heard of. Halfway between the winter solstice and the vernal equinox is “Candlemas,” which we transformed to Groundhog Day! Halfway between spring and summer solstice is May Day. Between summer and the autumn equinox (August 1) is “Lammas,” a late summer festival celebrated in Europe where bread is made from the first grains of the harvest. This one never quite caught on in the West.
For: November 2-8
Tomorrow morning, why not get up early to see Mars only 0.7 degrees above and left of brilliant Venus. That’s close! Look east at around 4am. Of course, Mars is much further away than Venus so there is no chance of collision! If you have been reading these columns each week, you may have noticed that Jupiter, Mars and Venus have been playing tag in the morning sky. Now the three will separate with Jupiter and Mars getting higher in the sky. This Friday the planetarium welcomes state climatologist Jim Angel to talk about the strange weather we have had this year. Join us at 7pm! Tickets are a buck at the door.
See Dave Leake's "Prairie Skies" column in the Champaign-Urbana News-Gazette each Monday morning.