Click here for Dave Leake's preview of sky events for 2015!
For: August 17-23
The Moon was “new” this past Friday meaning we’ll see a crescent in the western sky this week. On Wednesday evening, the Moon is just above the star Spica. Friday night, the Moon is to the right of Saturn, which reaches “quadrature” this week. That means the angle between the Sun, Earth, to Saturn is 90 degrees. If you own a telescope, look for the shadow of the planet on the ring system. If you don’t own a telescope, come to the CU Astronomical Society’s observatory open house this Saturday night (weather permitting) and check it out. Directions at cuas.org. Saturday morning, we’ll be at Market at the Square in Urbana looking at the Sun. Join us!
For: August 24-30
Tonight the Moon is in the south after sunset between two easily recognizable summer constellations. To the lower right of the Moon is the fishhook-shaped group we call Scorpius, the Scorpion. The heart of the scorpion is the bright star Antares, a red supergiant star over 500 light years away and the 15th brightest star in the sky. Follow the tail of the scorpion down to almost the horizon and it then curves upwards to the stinger stars, Shaula and Lesath. If you are checking them out with binoculars, look above and to the left of the pair for two beautiful star clusters known at M6 and M7. M6, the higher of the two, is also called the “Butterfly Cluster.”
For: August 31-September 8
Sometime this week, try to get away from the light pollution of the city to check out the Milky Way. It will appear like clouds in the sky and they are - star clouds! When you look at the Milky Way, you are looking into the thickest part of our galaxy, which is shaped like a dinner plate. We live roughly 2/3 of the way from the center to the edge. The Milky Way will stretch from south to north, through our summer triangle nearly overhead. If you can find this triangle, consisting of the stars Vega, Altair and Deneb, see how the Milky Way splits into two sections. This isn’t a true split, but dust in our galaxy obscures the starlight.
For: September 7-13
For those who rise before the Sun, look to the east Thursday morning to spy a very thin crescent Moon to the lower left of Venus. If you look carefully, Mars will be just to the left of the Moon. At Thursday night’s CU Astronomical Society meeting at the planetarium, astronomy graduate student Andrew Nadolski will discuss his instrumentation work. The public is invited to the 7pm meeting. Sunday brings us the New Moon, which means the skies will be dark all weekend. If it’s clear, it will be a great weekend to get out of town to check out the summer Milky Way, running overhead. Look for the Teapot of Sagittarius nearly due south and close to the horizon just after sunset.
For: September 14-20
All this week you can watch the Moon slowly move eastward in its orbit around the Earth. Friday night, notice the Moon just to the right of Saturn in the southwest. The next night the Moon makes a nice triangle with Saturn and the reddish star Antares. Also Friday, “Fall Prairie Skies” opens at the planetarium, plus we again welcome harpist Ann McLaughlin to the dome for a live concert 8:30pm Friday and a special matinee at 2pm Saturday. Saturday night brings another free open house at the CU Astro Society Observatory, weather permitting. The weather has been horrible this year so you figure we’re due to actually have one of these! See cuas.org for details.
For: September 21-27
There is a lot going on this week! We’ll have telescopes at Meadowbrook Park (weather permitting) Tuesday from 7-9pm for “Take a Child Outside” Week. Wednesday is a special public matinee (10am) at the planetarium for the kids. Wednesday is also the Autumnal Equinox. The big event is Sunday evening’s total lunar eclipse. And it’s prime time, running roughly 8-11pm. You can watch the eclipse from your backyard, but if you want to look through a telescope, come to the planetarium! Park in the M-1 lot and walk over to our circle drive. More information on this Harvest Moon (and supermoon) eclipse appears at www.parkland.edu/planetarium. If the Moon turns reddish it is from sunlight refracting through the Earth’s atmosphere.
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.
See Dave Leake's "Prairie Skies" column in the Champaign-Urbana News-Gazette each Monday morning.