Jupiter’s light will illuminate Neptune in the conjunction!

Normally to find Neptune you would need to have access to a very dark, clear sky and very carefully examine a sky chart or star atlas; an attempt to locate Neptune can then be made using a small telescope or good binoculars.

But this week, using good binoculars or a small telescope, you’ll have a great opportunity to easily locate Neptune using another planet: brilliant Jupiter, which will engage Neptune in the first three close conjunctions, an unusual “triple conjunction” between these two gas giants.

Jupiter can be found glaring low above east-southeast horizon at around 2 a.m. local daylight time, the brightest “star,” in the sky at that hour; a nighttime object that certainly attracts attention even from within brightly-lit cities and invites inspection the moment you set up a telescope.

Better to wait, however, until a couple hours later for it to gain some altitude above the horizon haze.

Jupiter has the largest apparent disk of any bright object in the sky after the Moon and the sun.  Its dark belts and bright zones with their subtle markings resolves into a series of red, yellow, tan and brown shadings in most telescopes and of course its four large and bright moons can be followed for hours, even in steadily held binoculars.  Through a telescope you can watch as they speed in front of Jupiter, throwing their shadows on the planet, or vanish behind its disk or suddenly becoming eclipsed by its shadow.

In contrast to Jupiter, trying to resolve Neptune into a disk will be much more difficult. You’re going to need at least a four-inch telescope with a magnification of no less than 200-power, just to turn Neptune into a tiny blue dot of light.

How exciting!  Hopefully the clouds here at my house will lift by then.

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By |2009-05-27T19:43:22-04:00May 27th, 2009|Astronomy|Comments Off on Jupiter’s light will illuminate Neptune in the conjunction!

NASA and Mercury Retrograde

NASA seems to really like Mercury retrograde.  NASA first launched the Discovery space shuttle on August 30, 1984 when Mercury was retrograde.  The Discovery launched the Hubble telescope on April 24 1990 when Mercury was retrograde.

After the initial launch of the Hubble scientists discovered that the optical mirror was flawed.  Because the Hubble was supposed to be shooting photographs of deep space, this was a real problem.

Often Mercury Retrograde periods can be used to repair problems from previous Mercury Retrograde events.  For example, in July of 2006 problems during Mercury Rx kept the Discovery from a successful launch, and the December launch, also during Mercury Rx was successful.

Yesterday, with Mercury Retrograde,  the Atlantis space shuttle was launched with a crew to repair the Hubble telescope.  Immediately after its launch scientists discovered some damage to the exterior of the shuttle but it was termed “minor.”

This is a good illustration that Mercury Retrograde periods do not necessarily need to be feared.  Yes, problems occur but they are rarely fatal.

Joseph Mina adds in the comments:

NASA was created by an act of Congress on July 29, 1958. At that time, Mercury at 2 Virgo conjuncted Pluto at 1 Virgo, both sextile Neptune at 2 Scorpio. Just prior, on July 20th, Mercury entered its retrograde shadow at 24 Leo with the retrograde station occurring on August 9 at 7 Virgo. So Mercury Retrograde would be a natural rhythm for NASA. Add the Scorpion juice of the Pluto conjunction to the mix and you have some high octane rocket propellant. One other interesting astrological point – Chiron in the July 29 chart is 21 Aquarius. As transiting Chiron is now moving back and forth over that degree with Jupiter, a renewed energy is building to take NASA in a different direction. Very happy the Hubble […]

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By |2009-05-13T08:02:06-04:00May 13th, 2009|Astronomy|Comments Off on NASA and Mercury Retrograde

A new sunspot cycle?

The current Solar Minimum cycle has had 619 days of a spot-free Sun (as compared with the typical solar minimum of 485 days).  But Spaceweather reports today that a new active region on the Sun produced a Coronal Mass Ejection and a burst of radio emissions on the far side of the Sun that probably points to a new sunspot.

Increased solar activity affects satellite transmissions on Earth, and it seems to me that it likely affects the human electrical fields as well.  The next sunspot cycle is expected to peak in 2012, leading some scientists to issue dire warnings about the collapse of the electrical grid.

suggests that the CME will be visible from earth over the next couple of days and more information will be available then.

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By |2009-05-06T07:37:49-04:00May 6th, 2009|Astronomy|Comments Off on A new sunspot cycle?

Moon, Mercury and the Pleiades

Spaceweather offers this beautiful photo by Richard Fleet of yesterday’s conjunction of the Moon and Mercury with the Seven Sisters of the Pleaides:


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By |2009-04-27T07:34:10-04:00April 27th, 2009|Astronomy|Comments Off on Moon, Mercury and the Pleiades

We are in Deep Solar Minimum

Thanks to for this link to a  on the Solar Minimum, the expected period of low sunspot activity.  The Solar Minimum came right on schedule back in 2006, as I reported in this earlier article.  But this Solar Minimum is setting all kinds of records.

In 2008 the Sun was completely blank of sunspots 73% of the time, the lowest activity since 1913.  As of March 31, according to the NASA article, the Sun has been free of sunspots 87% of the time in 2009.  This is a particularly deep solar minimum that follows a 50-year period of heightened sunspot activity.

The Solar Minimum could create cooler than usual weather conditions, just as the Maunder Minimum did between 1645-1715, coinciding what was called the “Little Ice Age.”  There is also a speculated connection between the Solar Minimum periods and increased earthquake activity.  USGS statistics that indicate that earthquake activity seems to have peaked in 2003-2006, so there appears to be some correlation since the Solar Minimum appears to have begun in 2004.

Spaceweather has a new calculator for the Solar Minimum and reports that while the typical Solar Minimum lasts 485 days, we have had 592 days of a blank Sun with no sunspots.

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By |2018-07-15T10:12:35-04:00April 6th, 2009|Astronomy|Comments Off on We are in Deep Solar Minimum