As some of you may know, my son is taking Astronomy this year. Since we homeschool, this means I’m taking Astronomy too. Not that I mind. Any chance to learn something interesting (odd, bizarre, different, unique…any of the above) works for me.
I’ve discovered a couple of awesome Astronomy resources that make the experience much more interesting. First, the Starry Night sky chart shows you an interactive map of your portion of the sky on any date and time (and from a variety of directional views). It’s great to know what to look for and what we’re looking at. Second, seasky.org’s Astronomy Calendar of Celestial Events helps us make sure we’re not missing anything interesting. (NASA also has a good space calendar. I’m sure you’re all surprised.)
Which leads us to today. Between the starry night program and the online calendars, I’ve figured out that three interesting celestial events are taking place tonight. Jupiter and Uranus are both at opposition (meaning they will appear bigger and brighter in the sky than at other times) and asteroid 1541 Estonia is making its closest approach to earth in its orbital cycle.
Our position outside Sacramento won’t enable us to see the asteroid (the Aussies win again on that one) but Jupiter should be putting on quite a show. It’s not only at opposition, but also very close to perihelion (at its closest point to the sun) which means Jupiter will look even larger and brighter during tonight’s opposition than at any point in the last 50 years. If you’re outside tonight, look for the large, bluish-white object that doesn’t twinkle.
Through our telescope, we can see bands of color on Jupiter’s surface as well as four of the planet’s moons. They string out like pearls, and they’re remarkably bright and distinct.
Look to the east shortly after sunset and you should see Jupiter rising. Head out and see!