Five… er.. Six Things for the Weekend!

Hey, Sky Fans!

Happy Friday! I hope you’ve had a great week and have something fun coming up this weekend.

If you want to take some time to look up, here are five things… no, it’s the first full week of the year… you know what… let’s make it six! Here are six… six things to look for in the skies this weekend! Ah-ah-ah! (What’d you think of my Count von Count impression?)

  1. Venus! The second rock from the Sun is that really bright thing in the west’s sky just after dusk. It’s been so bright lately that it looks like it’s something…. from spaaaaaaaace!!!! Now’s a great time to have a look, while it’s still in the oranges and pinks of a deepening sunset. Keep an eye on it off into spring as it moves father and father from the Sun from our point of view.
  2. The Moon! Our nearest neighbor is full tonight, but by the time it rises over the Americas, just around sunset, it’ll technically be a waning gibbous; just past the midpoint of its orbit. It’ll look full for the next couple of nights as it heads into the overnight shift. This weekend, watch its phase change and the shadows start to creep and stretch across the mountains and valleys as lunar night falls. The Moon will rise later each night, but through the weekend it’ll still be up early enough to see it before you turn in. And don’t forget about the setting almost-full Moon Saturday and Sunday mornings!
  3. Aldebaran! The red eye of Taurus the bull is a giant star around 65 light years away. This time of year, it’s up all night after dark, ready for prime-time viewing. To find it, look for the constellation Orion. Above and to its right, you’ll find a V-shaped group of stars. Aldebaran is the red one at the tip of of the V’s forks. That groups of stars is…
  4. The Hyades! Aldebaran isn’t actually part of the The Hyades. It’s in front of it from our point of view, between us and it. The Hyades is the nearest star cluster to us, and is about 150 light years away. It’s a great sight without, but if you have a pair of binoculars, it’s beautiful. While we’re on the subject of star clusters, let’s talk about…
  5. The Pleiades! If you look just to western the side of the Hyades, you’ll see a tiny, dipper-shaped group of stars. That’s not the little dipper, which is in a different part of the sky. It’s the Pleiades, a cluster of very hot, young stars, surrounded by glowing dust. It’s about 450 light years away and is my single favorite thing to look for in the entire night sky. It’s perfect for binoculars, absolutely stunning with them, but still gorgeous without.
  6. Betelgeuse! There’s been a lot of talk about the red star at Orion’s shoulder lately. It’s been dimming quite a bit, and there’s been talk that it’s about to explode as a supernova. It’ll be… um… out of this world when it does, but that might not be for a very, very long time, so don’t hold your breath. What you can do, though, is look for it tonight and keep an eye on it. Compare it to other stars around it. Is it dimmer than Aldebaran? How about Rigel, the bright, icy blue-white one at Orion’s foot? Check in on it again tomorrow, and again, and again. Does it look different than the night before? I can’t wait to see what happens. It’s slow, but the drama’s exciting. Betelgeuse is about 600 light years away, so everything you see tonight actually happened about 600 years ago. Its light is just getting to us now.
The Moon and nearby stars, January 10-12, 2020
The Moon and nearby stars, January 10-12, 2020

While you’re look at these, you can play near, far, very far! Start with the Moon, which is only about 1.3 light seconds away. Imagine your line of sight going from it, through the solar system to Venus, which is about 10 light minutes away. Then, deeper and deeper into space Imagine flying past Aldebaran, 65 light years, through the Hyades (120 light years), and then to the Pleiades (450 light years!). From there, it’s off into the farthest corners of galaxy. It’s something, and a great way to spend some time this weekend.

Thanks for stopping by, and clear skies, everyone!

Ah-ah-ah!

7 Comments

  1. If you haven’t already seen it, there is a perfectly SFW video of The Count counting and singing. Although, on the other hand, it’s insanely NSFW because it’s beeped. Unnecessarily. And hilariously. A search on Youtube for “Sesame Street Count beep” will bring it up. And a bunch of others in this same vein. (I hesitate to link to it because this is a family-friendly site.)

    Getting back to astronomy, the best view I’ve ever had of The Pleiades was not through binoculars, but through my sweet little Orion ST-80, an 80mm f/5 achromat. With any old humble 32mm Plossl, it gives you an astonishing FOUR-DEGREE field of view (almost) at 12.5x. More impotantly, that view is absolutely rock steady. The Pleiades are glorious.

    The ST-80 is also sold by Meade as the Meade Adventure Scope 80, for $100-120 or so. If you decide to buy one, throw away the tripod, throw away the eyepieces, they’re utter junk. Just enjoy the scope with your own camera tripod and your own eyepieces. I think it’s just about the best scope out there for widefield astronomy.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hey, Jon! Hahha… that Count video was great. Thanks for the tip.

      I’ve been looking for a small scope, just something small and quick for planets and easy clusters and things. Think that one would do the trick? I’ve also been looking at the Astronomers Without Borders OneSky. For a hundred bucks the ST-80 might be the way to go.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Ah ah ah, I’m glad I could share that Count video with someone who appreciates it.

    The ST-80/Meade Adventure Scope 80 is a terrific little scope for clusters and such – the Pleiades look absolutely gorgeous. And if you wanna just take a scope and pan and scan along the Milky Way and see incredible clusters of stars, this one with 4 degrees can’t be beat.

    But for the moon and planets, it’s hard to get the ST-80 up to high magnifications due to its very short 400mm focal length. You’re definitely gonna need a good Barlow and a short focal length eyepiece for that. I have a 4mm Plossl that I’ve used on it to get 100x, and that was tough to use because of the tight eye relief on short Plossls. Kinda forcing the scope do something (high magnification) which it’s not exactly designed to do.

    The AWB would be better for lunar/planetary because of the increased focal length (650mm) that’ll result in increased magnification. You’d still need a Barlow, but you could get to about 150x much easier. But the AWB would ONLY work for you if you have a nice sturdy tabletop to put it on; otherwise, you’re literally laying on the ground to use it. Not a camp table, not a little table for drinks next to a chair, but something like a picnic table or one of those heavy glass and iron patio tables that Costco always sells. Make sure that all four legs are on the ground and it’s not wobbling, too – stick a matchbook or two under the short leg to steady it.

    If you’ve got a sturdy table like that, I’d say to go for the AWB instead – increased aperture is always nice, and that big field of view of about 2 1/2 degrees it gives is still pretty, ahem, stellar. The 130mm AWB is also available from Meade (Lightbridge 130) and Skywatcher (Heritage 130P) for about the same price if you can’t get your hands on the AWB, because the AWB is usually sold out for months in advance.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. An excellent list! A few people were excited to tell me that they’d seen Venus this weekend. It’s been super cloudy where I live, so I was a little confused at first, but apparently she’s been peeking through the clouds from time to time.

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.