Two Planets, One Kylie

Tonight I had an incredible opportunity to show Kylie not one but two planets in the sky at the same time! While this month is a great time to see all five visible planets, due to the hours and positions of their viewing relative to our location I was only able to show her Venus (on the right) and Jupiter (on the left), and she was amazed by them. After seeing these we then had an hour long conversation (some of which she was in the shower) about the planets, gravity and orbits. She was so excited about them that we read two of her planet books before going to bed, one each about Uranus and Neptune. It was an awesome hour! The only way this could have been better is if I had the time and space to have set up our telescope and looked at them through it, perhaps next time. Click the picture to view it in the gallery.

Seeing planets

Well I was not able to make it out early enough from work on any of these three past days to try and catch a glimpse of Uranus, as I had spoke of, however I was able to see Venus each morning rather clearly. Though I have seen Venus many times before, it is still amazing to be able to see a planet with the naked eye. One day I hope to view it and many other celestial bodies through a telescope. it would be nice to possibly share in this endeavor with my daughter as well. Hopefully she will be interested in these things like I am.

Planet Venus meet Planet George

Ancient people were the first to look up at a then very clear night sky and observe the stars and the five naked eye viewable planets; Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn. Considering back then they did not have TV or any other sort of entertainment, a great deal of time was spent studying the night sky. So with all that studying how did they manage to miss the sixth planet visible with the naked eye, George?

English astronomer William Herschel discovered the planet in 1781 during a telescopic survey of the zodiac. He promptly named it the Georgium Sidus (the Georgian Planet) in honor of his patron, King George III.

Uranus had been seen many times before but mistaken for a star. The earliest recorded sighting was in 1690 when astronomer John Flamsteed cataloged it as 34 Tauri, the 34th star of Taurus the Bull. We can understand the error. Uranus is so far from the sun it looks like a star to the unaided eye. And it moves so slowly; you have to watch for decades to realize that it is a wanderer—or, in ancient Greek, a planētēs.

In modern times, Uranus has become all but impossible to see. The planet is naturally faint, and urban lights wipe it out completely. No one notices when Uranus soars overhead.

This month however, you may have the opportunity to see George, err…Uranus, as it has a close encounter in the pre-dawn sky with Venus.

On April 17th, 18th and 19th, Venus and Uranus are going to have a close encounter in the dawn sky. Simply look east before sunrise. As a guidepost, Venus can’t be beat. It is so bright, people often think it’s a landing airplane. Simply scan Venus with a pair of binoculars (or a small telescope) and you’ll see Uranus right beside it. If the sky is very dark, you may be able to lift your eyes from the optics and see Uranus directly.

On April 17th the pair will be separated by about one degree, the width of your pinky finger held at arm’s length. On the 18th they’ll be even closer together, 0.3 degrees. On the 19th the distance increases again to one degree.

Perhaps I will get to see it early one of those mornings as I am leaving work. That would be nice; I have always enjoyed looking up at the stars and the night sky.

National Optical Astronomy Observatory

The National Optical Astronomy Observatory has a very nice image gallery where you can view some very nice pictures of celestial objects ranging from individual stars to galaxies. They even have some beautiful pictures of nebulae, including the so called “Eye of God”, which is actually The Helix Nebula, NGC7293.

Hubble Images

Over the years since it has been placed into orbit, the Hubble Space telescope has captured some breath taking images. The Hubble Heritage Image Gallery, over at the Hubble Heritage Project is a good place to look at a few of them. One of my favorites is the one to the left, the Cat’s Eye Nebula, also known as NGC 6543.

Cat's Eye