The Heavens Above

Summer is not nearly as star-studded up there in the skies as it is in the winter months. Nonetheless there are a few interesting objects out that make for easy viewing.

Mars is roughly opposite the sun, which means it rises around sunset and sets around sunrise, being well placed for observation clear into the winter. It's somewhat bright and has a red cast to it. You'll see it almost directly overhead around midnight, or high up in the south eastern sky around 10 pm. Mars is the next planet out of our solar system, just past Earth.

Venus is the brightest star-like object you'll see in the morning about an hour and a half before sunrise in the east (pictured at left --Issues Photo). It is now approaching greatest brilliancy. The only other "night sky" object brighter than the planet Venus is the Moon. Venus is either seen in the eastern morning sky before sunrise or the western evening sky before sunset and never gets higher than 45 degrees (half way between the horizon and straight up - straight up, by the way, is called the "zenith"). This is because Venus is located between the Earth and the Sun -- an "inner" planet. Its brightness comes from its close distance to the sun.

Right now these are the only two planets we can see with our eyes. As the fall approaches, however, Jupiter and Saturn will start to become visible in the east, eventually moving close to Venus in the sky (called a "conjunction" - when several objects in the sky move a close distance to other objects). While they may look only a few fingers away from each other, in reality they are millions of miles away from each other, Jupiter being the next planet out from Mars and Saturn out even further. These two planets are much larger in size than the Earth, Mars and Venus combined, so they shine brightly because their size and cloud cover reflects the sunlight back to us here on Earth.


--Photo by John Slivoski

In the evening sky, down low in the south west you will still see the primary winter stars of Orion the hunter (with its belt made up of three bright stars, seen in the center of this image with a sword shaped from the four stars moving down at an angle and towards the left -- pictured above).

Early in the morning, up near the zenith (straight up in the sky) is a large, easy to see open star cluster called the Pleiades (pictured below). They look very pronounced in a pair of binoculars. Orion will vanish into the glare of the sun later in June and the Pleiades will eventually be in the evening sky all summer.



--Photo by John Slivoski

A total eclipse of the Sun will occur on June 21st, but it will only be visible in the central to lower part of Africa. Parts of Argentina and most of Africa will see a partial eclipse. There are ship cruises planned in the southern Atlantic Ocean, along with several expeditions to Africa specifically for chartered viewing of the total eclipse. For more information go to:

http://sunearth.gsfc.nasa.gov/eclipse/TSE2001/TSE2001link.html

Total solar eclipses are rare, but awesome events that occur when the Moon moves between the Earth and the Sun, casting a shadow along a path of land. Since this path is quite narrow few people ever see a "total" eclipse of the sun unless they travel to a specific location to see the event!

A partial solar eclipse will be largely visible in the Americas (best seen near the Panama Canal zone) in December of this year.

There is also a partial lunar eclipse (these occur when the Moon moves into the shadow cast into space by the Earth as it passes between the moon and the sun) in early July, but it is only visible in Africa, Asia, parts of Russia and only a tad on the west coast of the U.S.



For more information on viewing constellations in the night sky visit:

http://www.slivoski.com/astronomy


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