Venus, Jupiter, and the Moon Feb 22-26

Here’s a look at the local evening sky over the next few days, as the waxing crescent moon emerges from the sunset glow and passes Venus and then Jupiter. At just about 24 hours “old” tonight, the moon will be the thinnest of crescents less than 10 degrees above the horizon. Good conditions are a must for seeing the moon this soon after new. The crescent will grow and become easy to see over the next few days as the moon orbits the earth and proceeds through its usual phase cycle. It will be near Venus on the 25th and near Jupiter on the 26th. The moon’s track is shown in the images below (moon size exaggerated for clarity). The images were created with Stellarium and combined with the GIMP.

Venus and Jupiter themselves will be only three degrees apart in early March. Hear more about that at our Sky this Month Show for March, 3/1 at 4:00 PM and 3/2 at 12 Noon.

Feb 22-24, 6:00 PM.
Feb 24-26, 7:00 PM.

Sky this Month Shows Coming Up

Our February “This Sky this Month” show will be offered this Sunday, Feb. 12, at 4:00 PM and Monday, Feb. 13 at 12:00 Noon. Topics will include the stars and constellations of late winter, the approach of Jupiter and Venus in the evening sky, as well as current astronomy news. Shows are free and open to the public as always. Directions, etc., are available on the web site.

Spring Schedule Posted

The spring schedule is up on the website, or it can be accessed directly as a Google calendar here

A couple notes about the schedule. Classes at the College did not start until Jan 23, so we will be doing the new year show the last Sunday and Monday of January. That works out well with our February sky show, which will be a week later than usual to avoid the superbowl. Other than that, it’s first Sunday at 4 PM and first Monday at noon until May.

If you are interested in a private show for a school or community group,  please contact us soon since our spring calendar tends to fill up and we typically do not schedule private shows after April due to the student workers’ busy academic schedules.

Waxing crescent moon

Here are some photos of the young (about 59 hours) waxing crescent moon I took outside the Gettysburg College Observatory 9/29/11 between 7:00 and 7:30 PM EDT, while waiting for students to arrive for an Astro 101 lab.

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Sky this Month Shows Resume

Gettysburg College Observatory image

Our monthly skyshow series returns for the 2011-12 academic year this Sunday, Sept. 11, at 4 PM and Monday at noon. Full calendar is available on the planetarium web site. Topics will be the September skies as well as astronomy news, including the unusual supernova pictured here.

Moon Meets Planet

At left is a photo I took of the waning crescent moon and Venus at 6:16 AM on March 1. Upcoming moon-planet meetings include one with Jupiter tonight, visible if the clouds clear in time. In that case, it would be a waxing crescent moon in the west after sunset. Another moon-Venus morning conjunction will occur on March 31, a little lower in the east than the one pictured here.

Hear about these events and more at the Sky this Month shows today at 4:00 and tomorrow at noon.

A Note on the Schedule for Feburary Sky-shows

Our goal is to do the “Sky this Month” shows on the first Sunday and Monday of the month, except where outside factors interfere. Since its move to February, we have learned not to fight the NFL Superbowl. That’s why there will be no show this Sunday, Feb. 6. Instead, the February sky-shows are Monday Feb. 7 at 12 noon and Sunday, February 13 at 4:00 PM. These shows, and the rest of the Spring 2011 schedule, can be found on the planetarium web site.

Looks Like I’ll be Saying Ophiuchus Sunday

Here’s a Google Trends graph showing searches for “Ophiuchus” over the last 30 days. The spike comes after a Minnesota astronomy instructor, Parke Kunkle, mentioned in an interview that the sun glides through the constellations of the zodiac on a different schedule than it did a few thousand years ago, and therefore the dates for the zodiacal signs used in astrology no longer match up with the sun’s position. To add to the fun, he mentioned that, in addition to the famous twelve, the sun also passes through Ophiuchus, the serpent bearer. Chaos ensued.

As Kunkle knew, the shift he spoke of has been known for over 2,000 years. It is due to the Precession of the Equinoxes, the same wobble that means Polaris has not always been and will not always be our North Star. Precession is covered in most Astronomy 101 courses, including ours. Why this old news went viral would be an interesting question to explore some time.

Astrologers were quick to point out that they use a “Tropical Zodiac” anyway. In it the signs are merely seasonal markers, now independent of the constellations from which they originally drew their names. Not that I endorse the practice of astrology, but fair enough. As someone interested in sundials, I have seen the zodiacal signs used as seasonal markers in just this way.

Case closed? Hardly! It’s a great excuse to demonstrate the Precession of the Equinoxes and point out Ophiuchus at the 2011 New Year show this Sunday and Monday. (See the calendar on the planetarium site for more info.)