Weekend Sky Report / NASA InSight Lander
November 23, 2018
Let’s celebrate what we hope will be another successful landing... on the Red Planet.
It’s hard to believe it’s been six years since Curiosity successfully landed on Mars. Since then we’ve learned a lot from the rover… including the incredible discovery of complex organic molecules… hints that perhaps life once existed there… or maybe it still does. Curiosity is still operational and still gathering important data. But Mars is about to get another earthly companion.
On Monday, if all goes well, NASA’s InSight lander will touch down near the Martian equator and begin its two year mission to gather geological data. Unlike Curiosity, Sojourner, or Opportunity, this lander won’t have wheels. It’ll stay put… and for the first time ever, geologists will be able to record earthquakes… or rather… MARSquakes and send back the data to give scientists a sense of what the interior of the planet is like. We’re already pretty sure that, unlike on Earth, plate tectonics isn’t responsible for the geological activity… something else is at work. But we do know that it has volcanoes. In fact, it has the largest volcano in the solar system… Olympus Mons at 14 miles high. Compare that to Mount Everest at a paltry 5 and-a-half.
To celebrate the upcoming InSight landing, have a look at Mars this weekend. After all, it’s about the only thing we can see in the night sky, thanks to the nearly full moon that washes out everything else. Under clear skies, you should easily be able to see Mars in the southern sky. The later it is, the lower and further west it will be. It sets just after midnight. Mars looks like a bright orange star that doesn’t twinkle.
I’m Matt Pelsor. Happy Skywatching.
Jan 17, 2020
The Orion Nebula is just over 1300 light years from our solar system, and it's believed to be an enormous 24 light years across. Because it's so big, and... relatively close, it's easily visible with binoculars or a telescope, even under fairly bright, suburban skies.
Jan 10, 2020
looking at a full moon through a telescope, you notice a lot. The craters, the so-called "seas," the "Ocean of Storms-" that's the big sea... So just what are all those geographic features?
Jan 03, 2020
Around 9pm, look low to the southeast to find the brightest star in the night sky. Bright white, twinkling Sirius. Above it, you'll see that iconic winter constellation Orion the Hunter. The orange star at his shoulder is the red supergiant Betelgeuse. Draw a line between Sirius and Betelgeuse, then look to the left, or east to find Procyon (PRO-see-on), another bright white star, and there you have it. A large, nearly perfect equilateral triangle of bright evening stars.
Dec 27, 2019
Betelgeuse is one of the largest stars we've ever discovered. If you were to replace the sun with Betelgeuse, it would engulf all four inner planets from Mercury to Mars, and, by some estimates, even Jupiter.
Dec 20, 2019
At 2300 light years away, the cluster resembles an upside-down Christmas tree with the brightest star representing the base of the tree. The other stars form a loose cone shape that makes it look like Christmas tree lights.
Dec 13, 2019
Auriga is home to three Messier objects, named after 18th century French astronomer Charles Messier, famous for his catalog of deep-sky objects. The three objects are all open clusters, which can be seen through most backyard telescopes.
Dec 09, 2019
The three stars that make up Orion's belt is the giveaway. But there's a lot more to appreciate.
Nov 29, 2019
A globular cluster is a densely-packed group of stars bound by their own collective gravity. The globular we're looking for tonight is Messier 15 -- also known as the Globular Cluster in Pegasus.
Nov 22, 2019
Lots of people can see just those three stars of Orion's belt and know what they're looking at. But look a little closer at the belt with a telescope, or even a good pair of binoculars, and you'll see many more stars.
Nov 15, 2019
There was a full moon this past Tuesday, which means this weekend the moon is in the waning gibbous phase. Waning moons are out in the morning, and this week's mostly clear skies have given us a good view--particularly those of us who drive west into work. If we get clear skies this weekend, take a moment to look west at the gibbous moon.
Nov 08, 2019
The Pleiades is a collection of B-type stars, which are bright, hot, and blue in color. And the stars of the Pleiades are close too-around 450 light years away, which contributes to its brightness. And while you don't need a telescope or even binoculars to appreciate the Pleiades, it certainly helps.
Nov 01, 2019
Cassiopeia is popular with amateur astronomers because it's large, bright, and the main reference point for several deep-sky objects.
Oct 25, 2019
This weekend (Sat, Oct 26, 2019), you can find Uranus in the Eastern sky between the constellations Aries and Pisces with Aries to the left, and Pisces to the right.
Oct 18, 2019
The Great Globular Cluster in Hercules, or M13 was discovered by astronomer Edmund Halley in 1714, and found its way into Charles Messier's catalog of comet-like objects fifty years later.
Oct 11, 2019
It's a full moon this weekend...so what are we seeing when we look at the moon?
Oct 04, 2019
International Observe the Moon Night was started in 2010 by NASA. Specifically, the group responsible for its Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter. Launched in the summer of 2009, it continues to deliver important data today, as well as photos and video of the lunar surface--including the landing sites of all six successful crewed lunar surface missions.
Sep 27, 2019
The aptly named Double Cluster is a favorite among budding amateur astronomers. Not only because its brightness makes it easy to find, but also because its beauty keeps observers coming back.
Sep 20, 2019
The brightest star in the constellation Perseus is Mirfak, and it's where you need to look to find this weekend's target.