Welcome to SkyTours with Derrick! If you've ever found yourself under the night sky wondering what that thing is, well, you've come to the right place to find out. I'll provide regular postings of just what's available for you to see at this time of this year, including planets, stars, constellations and my favorite - satellites! I'll also welcome your suggestions for what to add to the blog for your information and answer your questions.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

What's Up For Planet Viewing This Weekend (Labor Day Weekend!) Sept. 3-6, 2010

Sunset now comes around 7:30 p.m. Eek! I don't know about you, but I can really feel how those long late summer evenings have slipped away....Anyway, during evening twilight (that time between sunset and dark), our neighbor planet Venus becomes easily visible, gleaming brightly as the sky darkens. Our other neighbor planet Mars is off to the right of Venus and slightly above but it isn't very bright. All that talk late last month about Mars being at its closest approach to earth for the next 60,000 years was a whole lot of hokum. You'll need binocs or a small telescope to get a decent view of Mars right now since it's last close approach to earth was last January. Right now it's...well.....let's just say, not as exciting to view as say, Jupiter or Saturn or Venus or...You get the picture.....

On the other hand, Venus looks rather large and, as a surprise to many first-time telescopic viewers, Venus shows phases much like the moon does. This was THE observation made by Galileo 400 years ago this fall that proved to him that Copernicus was correct when he proposed that ours is a sun-centered planetary system and not an earth-centered system. Venus will appear in the same region of sky for the rest of September but it is slowly sinking into the glare of sunset, so it will become more difficult to see week by week. See it now so you can learn to easily identify it.

Saturn, visible throughout the late spring and summer in the west with Venus and Mars has preceded Venus and Mars into the sunset.

The other gas giant of our solar system, Jupiter, climbs up from the eastern horizon by 9 p.m. Give it an hour or so to get up high enough to be easily seen and you'll be able to recognize it as the brightest object over there. It's considerable size and creamy color combine with its stable appearance to surprise first-time viewers. A view of Jupiter through a small telescope reveals four of its 60+ moons, thereby confirming its identity as a planet and not a star or airplane or UFO!  But - it's not alone.....just above and to the right of Jupiter is our seventh planet, Uranus. Now, while I'd imagine there are plenty astro blogs that reveal the wonders of the deep universe, let's face it - a lot of people live where the dim stuff just isn't visible. Living under or near city lights actually makes the night sky much easier to navigate. I'd like to shape this blog so that it works mainly for viewers who view under or near city lights and for those who are just after a quick guide to what that thing was in the sky last night.

So for viewing Uranus? Fugettaboutit. Too dim to be seen without a telescope. Just wanted you to know about it so you can impress someone else! The same holds true for two other planets right there, not far from Jupiter - Neptune and dwarf-planet Pluto. They are 30 degrees and 60 degrees away to the west respectively but like uranus, small, dim, and almost indistinguishable from the surrounding starfield.

So get yourself outside on one of these remaining summer evenings and pick these jewels from the heavens. Better yet, take someone out with you and let them pick too. What a great way to enjoy the universe by sharing it with someone else!