Skies Over West Seattle: Mid-May 2013 edition

May 17, 2013 at 7:41 pm | In Skies Over West Seattle, West Seattle news | 4 Comments

EDITOR’S NOTE: Ever wish for advance alert of an upcoming meteor shower/eclipse/etc. – and/or wonder “What’s that bright ‘star’ up there?” Here you go! Fourth edition of our monthly feature by West Seattle’s own Solar System Ambassador Alice Enevoldsen, famous for her solstice/equinox sunset watches among other things.

(April crescent moon, photographed by Trileigh Tucker)

By Alice Enevoldsen
Special to West Seattle Blog

We’re coming into some reliably clear skies as summer approaches, and better than that, it’ll be warm enough some nights to go stargazing without layering jackets, hats, and long underwear.

Unfortunately, with this warmer weather comes more unstable air, so the seeing isn’t as good as it was in winter. Seeing is all about how easy it is to see the objects in the night sky: how much twinkle is in the stars, or how much the atmosphere blurs what you can see.

Hey! What’s That?

There are fewer bright objects in the sky than the last few months, but what you noticed most recently was probably one of these three: the stars Capella, Arcturus, or the planet Saturn.

If you saw it in the Northwest: it was Capella.

If you saw it in the Southeast: it was either Arcturus or Saturn. Arcturus is higher in the sky, Saturn is nearer the horizon.

Keeping the Sky Dark

As we move into summer, more of us will be looking to enjoy the night sky, especially on lazy nights from right here in the city. If you’d like to help out your West Seattle neighbors, remember to turn off your outdoor lights when you’re not using them.

You can also consider installing dark-sky-preserving light fixtures for your outdoor lighting. Dark-sky lighting also increases safety by directing light to where you want and need it and reducing glare. (You know how if you stand under a bright streetlight and look across to the dark alley, you can’t actually see what’s there? That’s due to glare and your eyes dark adapting. The opposite is also true: if you stand in the dark alley you can clearly see everyone that’s standing “safely” under the brightly lit streetlight).

I’ll admit to you this though: my International Dark Sky Association light fixture for my garage is still in its box, so I completely agree that we can just take baby steps on this. Okay, I’m done with the editorializing, back to what’s up in the sky!

Planets (and the rest of the Solar System)

We still have a little bit of Jupiter after sunset, in fact it may even be “the first star you see tonight,” but it will set in the West before it gets dark enough for great observing.

Comet PANSTARRS is still visible: with a great telescope and a camera. You can see it in these pictures from Jason, and notice how the tails have changed since we saw it in March.

(Comet photos by Jason Ayres Gift Enevoldsen)
Now the tails are about 120° apart.

Events

Take advantage of the clear, warm nights as they come up, and step out into your yard and look up. I’m not planning any star parties this month, but there is one almost-local event in the first week of June.

Saturday, June 8 – Puget Sound Star Party. I’ll be down at Southcenter with some telescopes. (Oh, excuse me I think it is now called Westfield Southcenter Mall, but because I’ve been here since the ’80s, I’ll probably always just call it “Southcenter.”) I’ll bring some indoor activities in case of clouds.

So, not exactly West Seattle, but it isn’t that far away either.

The Moon

May 17, First Quarter: The first quarter moon is ideal for late afternoon and early evening observation.

May 24, Full Moon: The full moon rises at sunset, and sets at sunrise.

May 31, Last Quarter: The week around the last quarter moon, it is visible in the early morning sky.

June 8, New Moon: the day of the new moon you won’t see the Moon at all, but in a few days before or after you might see a tiny sliver of a crescent Moon in the mid-day sky

Resources:

Stellarium: free planetarium software for your home computer. Bring up the sky for anywhere in the world, any time and date in history or the future.

Clear Sky Chart: the astronomer’s forecast for the next couple days. Cloudcover, darkness, and “seeing” which is how nice it is to view the stars, all on one handy chart.

USNO: dates and times of astronomical happenings.

International Dark Sky Association

Who is Alice?

Alice is many things and works and volunteers for a few different notable organizations, but the suggestions and opinions put forth in this article are her own and no-one else’s. You can find more about astronomy at alicesastroinfo.com.

Image was created from a stack of five 120-second exposures at ISO 400, on 2013-05-06.

4 Comments

  1. Happy stargazing!

    Comment by Alice — 8:52 pm May 17, 2013 #

  2. “LIKE!” We were lucky enough to be camping out at Grayland that hot, clear weekend. The stargazing was wonderful out there! Nice to leave the city and have the velvety black night sky, especially with the special appearance by Jupiter just then.

    Comment by MMB — 8:43 am May 18, 2013 #

  3. LOVE this new feature! I was surprised though that there was no mention of the coming planet dance: Sky and Telescope
    .
    Granted it will be low in the sky at sunset, but worth looking for! That link (to the Sky and Telescope magazine site) has a nice animation of how the planets will appear in the coming weeks.

    Comment by John — 12:54 pm May 18, 2013 #

  4. John,
    Good point. I’m focusing more on easy to see stuff right now that you don’t have to go anywhere to notice. Depending on comments (like yours) I may up the ante and begin adding a few more difficult targets. I figure those of you with experience are probably already reading S&T or Astronomy for the really intense stargazing advice, and I’m not sure mine would ever differ from theirs on that front.
    .
    I classify this “planet dance” as a little more difficult because it is so close to sunset. You’ll notice Jupiter & Venus without help, but Mercury is almost impossible without extended concentration, or well-pointed binoculars.
    .
    Keep on adding things I miss, and thanks for the link. :)
    .
    -Alice

    Comment by Alice — 2:17 pm May 22, 2013 #

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