Arizona Skies With Dr.Sky-
The traces of Spring are in the air!
This is the start of the observing season for a good portion of the
northern hemisphere, as temperatures are starting the bring us
outdoors once again.
We continue to have an open mind about the strange and unusual objects that we see in the night sky, I am once again please to be
your guide, to some of the more interesting and amazing sights that
you will come across in the sky.
This column, will shed some additional light on these topics.
Get set, as April opens up, for some exciting views of the planet
Saturn, as it reaches its opposition for the year, on April 3rd.
Rising at sunset, look to the SE sky, just after dark, as Saturn will
be easy to see with the naked eye and remain a good telescopic sight.
Saturn will ride among the stars of the constellation of Virgo and
remain the brightest object in that part of the sky.
Observers with telescopes are in for a most memorable treat, as this mighty planet will reveal a ring system that is tipped 9 degrees to our line of sight.
That is some 3 times more than the past opposition of 2010.
By the end of 2011, the Saturnian ring system, will open up to
some 15 degrees.
By all means, if you have a small telescope, let as many people as you know, share this wonderful view of a planet with a ring system; it is simply that amazing!
Saturn looks like a 3D flying saucer in the field of view and is
one of my favorite planets.
Serious observers of Saturn, will notice that there is a “small”
star like object, just a few ring diameters from the planet. This is
one of the largest satellites in the solar system and one that has a
very advanced atmosphere of its own.
The object, is the satellite Titan!
This is one of the strangest satellites in the solar system and one that may have liquid oceans that could be teeming with some type
of life forms.
The recent Cassini spacecraft probe; Huygens, imaged the surface
of Titan and reported that this alien world is rich in large mountains and a few large oceans.
The oceans may be made up of octane laded liquids. Wow, in these
times of high gas prices, it would be a real thrill to be able to hook
up and fill up your car, from the strange world of Titan!
Best of luck with you viewing Saturn, it will leave you with a series of great memories, for a long time to come.
Looking into the night sky, one can only wonder about the possibility of life in the universe!
As we move into the Spring skies of 2011, many have asked me,
what is the most distant object that the naked eye can see, under
prime viewing conditions?
I even go so far as to provide an answer, based on a dark viewing
location, away from city lights and a moon free night, with obvious
For the longest time, many in the business have given the M31 galaxy, known as Andromeda, as the answer to this rather simple
The Andromeda galaxy is a massive collection of well over 200
billion stars, some 2.5 million light years from your eye and visible
during the fall and winter seasons.
This galaxy was first seen and recorded back around the year 965AD, by the Persian astronomer al-Sufi, who recorded the galaxy, as a “little cloud”.
The Andromeda galaxy shines brighter than the faintest stars that
the naked eye can see, but to my surprise and the surprise of many
others, it is NOT the most distant object that the naked eye can see!
That honor goes to another galaxy.
Enter M81 a massive galaxy that lies in the constellation of Ursa Major, or the Big Dipper.
M81 is a galaxy that was discovered by the astronomer, Johann Elert Bode on the night of December 31st 1774.
The M in the object is a series of some 110 objects first observed by the French comet observer, Charles Messier in 1771. He observed some 103 objects, but modern science added a few more.
M81 is a very faint object, but under ideal conditions, this +7.9
magnitude object, has been seen with the naked eye. What is even
more amazing, is the fact that the M81 galaxy is some 12 million
light years from your eye!
The general rule of thumb is that the average eye under ideal conditions, can view an object at +6 magnitude. The higher the +
number, the fainter the object is.
Just imagine, as you look at the night sky and see these amazing objects, how can it be that we are alone in the universe?
Keeping an open mind is the best way, in my opinion, to digest the
beauty of the night sky.
Closer to home, many observers of the night sky, will see occasional bright “flashes” of light that may be mistaken for a UFO.
These are not the common meteors in the sky, but some of the earth satellites that we call “Iridium Flares”.
Readers of this column are encouraged to visit my website, at www.drsky.com and click on the link, we list on the front page; under the INFO CENTER, for Satellite Locator. This is a site that will help you find the times of passage of many man made objects, from the large ISS, to the smallest of satellites. The flares that I am referring to are glints of sunlight that appear from time to time, off the main mission antennas on the many Iridium communications satellites that were placed into orbit in the 1990’s.
These glints can even be seen from time to time in full sunlight!
Imagine looking into the sky in the middle of the day and seeing
a bright point of light, literally appear out of nowhere?
The Iridium program, placed some 66 satellites in orbit, with a
few spares, in the event that there was a failure of one of the on line units.
There have been a few changes, since the program began, with the
replacement of Iridium 28 with spare satellite Iridium 95, back in
July 2008. Finally, Iridium 33 collided with a Russian satellite, Kosmos 2251, back in February of 2009. It was replaced with a
spare in March, 2009.
Iridium flares can be a most interesting sight to see; you just have
to know when and where to look.
Amaze your friends with these modern “flares” in the inky black
of the night sky, or in broad daylight. This helps us to learn more
about the origins of many objects that might be reported as UFO’s,
but have an earth based answer to them.
Finally, for those of you that have a deep interest in the last launches of the US Space Shuttle, here is a brief listing on the last few missions and the shuttles that will be launched:
|133||February 24||2011||STS-133||Discovery||6||~11d||ISS assembly flight ULF5, PMM, Leonardo, (to be left permanently attached), ELC 3. Final planned flight of Discovery.|
|134||April 19||2011||STS-134||Endeavour||6||~14d||ISS assembly flight ULF6, ELC 4, ROEU, Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer. Final planned flight of Endeavour.|
|135||June 28||2011||STS-135||Atlantis||4||~11d||Payload Multi-Purpose Logistics Module (MPLM) Raffaello. Final planned flight of Atlantis, and the final flight of Space Shuttle program, if funded.|
“Always Remember To Keep Your Eyes To The Skies”
Check out The Dr.Sky Show heard weekly on KTAR, News Talk Radio 92.3FM, every Saturday morning at 3AM.