I’ve seen a few pretty sights in this universe but few compare to the tub of tomatoes I took out of my garden yesterday afternoon. Man, look at those shiny beauties, each an edible red dwarf of the first magnitude.
Now that a second impact has been seen on Jupiter within a span of less than three months, amateur and professional astronomers are considering ways to keep the planet under 24/7 surveillance to find out how common these events really are. To do it, you’d have to coordinate efforts among astronomers spread across the globe. Since amateurs are passionate about such things and have more time than professionals to devote to a project like this, the time is right.
You’d need a moderate-sized telescope and video camera dedicated to taping the planet when it’s well-placed in the sky from your location. If several amateurs spaced every 4 time zones or so across the planet were involved, Jupiter could be watched 24 hours a day. Assuming three observers per region – in case of clouds at one location or another – the job could be handled by a couple dozen very dedicated people. Remember, even though a telescope can track a planet automatically through the night, someone still has to look through the data. We’re talking a lot of work. Perhaps a computer whiz could write software to ferret out only those images containing point-like flashes.
Whether that happens or not, small asteroids and comets are smacking the planet more often than anyone ever thought. Being the largest planet in the solar system with the greatest surface area and strongest gravitational pull, we shouldn’t be surprised at its dust-buster prowess. As far as my own observing is concerned, I’ll be training my eye and keeping watch in anticipation of seeing one of these fireballs for myself one evening.
Last night I was out at 10 and immediately noticed that Arcturus, the 4th brightest star in the sky, was due west and twinkling in a frenzy. At the same time, the sky’s 5th brightest star, Vega, was due south near the top of the sky. Because of its greater altitude, Vega’s light was less troubled by the more turbulent, denser air at lower elevations and so twinkled less. Take a look for yourself and compare. Arcturus stood 40 degrees or “four fists” above the horizon. The lower we direct our gaze, the more our line of sight passes through the lower or denser part of the atmosphere where additional air layers and winds shove a star’s light about. The lower atmosphere also contains more water vapor and particulates which combine to dim a star’s light as it approaches the horizon.
Tonight the moon will be nearly as full as tomorrow night, the calendar date of full moon. That’s because the moment of full moon is 12:05 p.m. Central time Tuesday. Look at the moon tonight at 10 and you’re seeing it 14 hours before full; tomorrow night at 10, you’re seeing it 10 hours after full. Before full moon, there’s a slight bit of shading along the moon’s eastern (left) edge. After full, the eastern side is fully illuminated by sunlight but now the western (right) edge starts to show a five o’clock shadow. The difference in shading is very apparent in a telescope, but can you see this subtlety in your binoculars? Give a look and let us know.
The shadow will expand over the coming nights to consume the moon by degrees until nothing’s left but a crescent at dawn. The moon is ever on the move as it orbits the Earth, changing its angle between us and the sun and waxing and waning in phase over the course of a month.