Star Gazer Lives On

Hi Folks,

Through a very interesting article in the latest edition of Astronomy Beat, produced by my colleagues at the Astronomical Society of the Pacific (ASP), I was re-introduced to a wonderful little PBS-produced television show called “Star Gazers”.  These 5-ish minute episodes describing celestial events viewable by backyard astronomers were hosted by a guy named Jack Horkheimer from 1976 through 2010.  Jack obtained a kind of cult following for these Star Gazer (actually, it was originally titled “Star Hustler”) episodes by his lovably eccentric yet comfortable style of describing the astronomy happening over our heads.  Jack’s episodes are posted to YouTube (like most everything else), so you can get a sample of those classic shows.

The modern version of Star Gazers (note the subtle change in the title from its predecessor, as there are now three hosts for this show) is fantastic!  I highly recommend it for those interested in finding out what astronomical events are taking place each week.  You don’t need to be a degree-carrying scientist to understand the information presented in these episodes either.  It is definitely a good use of five minutes each week!

Jeff Mangum

 

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Size and Location of the Ecliptic in 600 BC

Question:  Dear Jeff,
I am researching a point about the Ecliptic.
a) if you could ‘draw’ the actual ecliptic on the earth’s surface, what would be its maximum width ?
b)In 600BC at what place approx. on the North coast of Brazil would the ecliptic enter, and where would it exit, South America ?
Thank you very much.  – William

Answer:  Since the Ecliptic is defined as the plane representing the apparent path of the Sun in the sky, it really does not have a “width”.  As for the place where the ecliptic would enter and exit at a location on the north coast of Brazil in 600 BC, what you are really asking is where the Sun will rise and set as viewed from the north coast of Brazil in 600 BC.  Choosing Fortaleza, Brazil, which has a latitude and longitude of (3.7737° S, 38.5748° W), on January 1, 600 BC the Sun would rise and set at azimuth 114 and 246 degrees.  Remember that azimuth is measured positive east from the north, so the rise azimuth is to the south-east (between azimuth 90 and 180) and the set azimuth is to the south-west (between azimuth 180 and 270).

Jeff Mangum

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Faint Dark Bands in the Evening Sky

Question:  Tonight I noticed in the bright evening sky (9pm) over Aberdeenshire a number of faint black bands running across the sky and converging towards the horizon, in a due south direction. They show up very clearly on the photos I have taken and I wonder what is causing them. Many thanks.  – Sarah

Answer:  Since you were looking toward the south around the time when the Milky Way was rising, I wonder if you were seeing the dust bands projected against the higher density of stars in the direction of the disk of our Milky Way Galaxy?  If you want to see what the Milky Way looks like from quite a variety of perspectives, check out the Space.com gallery of Milky Way photos.

Jeff Mangum

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Strange Glow in the Daytime Sky

Question: Today, while I was walking down my street, I noticed a strange thing in the sky. One part of the sky was illuminated in a good shade of Blue. Unlike the blue sky, it was more radiating and glowing. Like that caused by ions. I was wondering what could be the reason for this phenomena? I stood there observing for a while and saw clouds passing through that patch. That patch changed shapes too, not very apparent but with time one could notice it wasn’t the same as before. I also tried to capture it using a very poor quality phone camera, as I didn’t have a good one then. I can send the pictures across to you. Hope you can help. I’m just very curious. Is there a possibility it could be due to the solar storm that occurred two days ago? Please help. – Aarthi

Answer:  It is always difficult to identify various atmospheric phenomena as there is quite a variety.  Your description might match that of a “sun dog”.  The Wikipedia page on sun dogs has a nice description.  Their scientific name is “parhelion”, as they are bright patches which can appear 22 degrees distant on either side of the Sun.  These patches of light are caused by refraction off of ice crystals in the Earth’s atmosphere.  I think that this is probably the best explanation for what you saw in the sky.

Jeff Mangum

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Unidentified Lights in the Sky

Question: What am I seeing in the sky? (I have been fascinated by astronomy ever since I was a kid.  Recently, I have been “starring off” into the night sky for long periods of time.  I have done this out in a desert in Nevada, a beach in Newport, Rhode Island and in Boston Massachusetts.  In all these locations I have seen the exact same thing.  With the naked eye I have spotted a light move across the sky, very distant almost non-visible, as far as some of the most distant stars.  It’s hard to describe and a video camera could not record what I am seeing, but this light is not bright and big but far and faded like a distant star.  It moves fast across the sky like a plane or a satellite but it is entirely impossible to be either of the sort.  Unless, there are satellites as far as the most distant stars and “ARE” still visible to the naked eye.  They do not follow a distinct orbit, they seem to have their own direction. I cannot remember the distinct pattern and I do not want to give false information until I see this phenomena again, but usually I can follow the light in the sky for a few minutes (5-7 at the most) until it is so faded it is impossible to find in the sky again (that’s how far away it is!) I am really intrigued by this and I am desperate for an answer.  Please help me figure out what it is, thank you!  – Krysta

Answer: Satellites orbiting the Earth very often look like points of light which are moving relative to the background stars.  Earth orbiting satellites shine by reflected light from the Sun, but they are small so that reflected light looks a lot like a star.  What you describe sounds very much like a satellite, except that they are not normally visible for more than 30 seconds or so.

Jeff Mangum

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Unexplained Objects Around the Sun

Question:  I have pictures of the sun that shows objects around the sun that move from day to day or sometimes hour to hour. They seem to move more than planets would. If you can take a look i will send you pictures.  – Roger

Answer:  I believe that this is the same optical reflection effect noted in the post Bright Object Near the Sun.  Those objects are produced by reflections in the optics of your camera.

Jeff Mangum

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Unusual Events Involving Arcturus or Polaris?

Question: Has anyone noticed any unusual “observations” from either the star Arcturus and/or the star Polaris.Thank You.  – Michael

Answer: No, not to my knowledge.  If you have noted anything unusual in the direction of these two stars then I would be happy to try to explain your observations.  I should note, though, that it is often best to apply the principle of “Occam’s Razor” to unusual observations that one might make of the night sky.  Start with the simplest explanation, then if those fail proceed to add complexity to your analysis.

Jeff Mangum

 

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Some Celestial Events for 2013

Question:  Regardless of Time and Time Zones, what location (coordinates) on Earth will be first in January 2013 to experience the following:

  1. In the evening the Sun sets in the west before the “visibly” Full Moon rises in the east–Might be Jan. 27th, 2013 Waning Gibbous 99%
  2. The next morning the Sun rises in the east before the Moon sets in the West.–Might be Jan. 28th, 2013 Waning Gibbous 97%

What locale will be first in February?

Is there a computation, algorithm or software that could help predict where and when this would occur every month?

Is there a way to timestamp localities on earth without using time zones–a way of keeping local time using celestial signs in a way that one could compare differences from one local to another?  – David

Answer: For your Sun and Moon position questions, let me refer you to a listing of such astronomical events.  This list contains Moon phase, Sun location, and other astronomical events for 2013.  As for your question asking for what “locale” will be first in February, I am not sure what you are referring to.  There are algorithm’s that can be used to predict the astronomical events described in the link I provided.  See the information at the end of that link for details.  Finally, yes there is a way to timestamp a given location, without using time zones, by measuring the relative positions of stars at those two locations.  This is called “sidereal time”.  I hope that this answers your questions.

Jeff Mangum

 

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Bright Object Near the Sun

Question: I took pictures of the Sun for two days consecutively (Oct 29, 2012- Oct 30, 2012) and saw something next to it. I took pictures from different angles and it was still in the same place. (I even used a different camera to make sure it had nothing to do with the camera and it was visible in the same place). I did the same thing during the second day and the thing moved a considerable distance in just 24 hours. Could you please tell me what is it?

Here are the pictures I took:

http://tinypic.com/view.php?pic=2q068eo&s=6 From: Oct 29, 2012

http://tinypic.com/r/240ylhc/6 From: Oct 30, 2012

Thank you!

Background:
I have a Master in Biology and now I’m studying medicine. One of my leisure activities is read on the internet a lot of science & metaphysics related articles. I studied physics with a bright professor that knows a lot on astronomy, but unfortunately, I can’t find him since I’m abroad to complete my studies.

Answer: Hard to say what the bright objects near the Sun might be in your photographs.  The photo from October 30 is the clearest case for a bright object near the Sun.  The location of this object might be consistent with the location of the planet Venus, which is about 34 degrees from the Sun at the moment and pretty bright (magnitude -4).  The bright object in your photo, though, appears to be too bright to be a planet.  Also, the fact that it moved so far in just one day suggests that it is “local”.  So, I would say that the object in your photograph is not astronomical.  Reflections from weather balloons, aircraft, etc. are likely suspects.

Jeff Mangum

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Atmospheric Effects and Camera Aberrations Can Yield Strange Pictures of Celestial Objects

Question:  I have recently made 2 videos on youtube.  One being about meteors, 2 suns and a possible UFO and the other about Jupiter and its moons.  Can you explain what is happening on both of them because they are pretty strange.  The last picture i took of Jupiter has a large reddish planet revolving around it and im very interested as to what it is.  – Sam

Answer:  The unusual images of the Sun and Jupiter you have posted on youtube have some likely explanations.  For the Sun video, which shows a bright spot located at the same height but off to the side of the Sun, is likely caused by an atmospheric effect called a “sun dog”.  The wikipedia page on this subject is pretty informative if you want to check it out.  As for your video of Jupiter, apparently taken with a camera in a smart phone, it appears that the quality of the video is limited by the quality of the camera.  Cameras in phones are not high quality, so can produce aberrations in images such as the video you posted.  Also, the Jupiter video in particular does not appear to be well focused, which can produce all sorts of unusual optical phenomena.

Jeff Mangum

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