The month of May is over, and so is observing deep-sky objects such as nebulas and galaxies.
The only stellar objects in the sky that are of interest to amateur astronomers are the moon, sun, Jupiter, Saturn and a handful of stars and clusters.
Saturn is moving quickly toward the horizon and will soon disappear behind the sun. During the month of May, Saturn was resting high in the southern evening sky. In June, Saturn will be resting low in the western evening sky and will set in the early morning hours around 1 a.m.
This promises to be a most-challenging target for amateur astronomers as you will have two issues to deal with. First, Saturn will be close to the horizon, making it a more difficult object to see with the added atmosphere making the view tricky, at best. The second issue to deal with is the encroaching daylight.
The job of hunting this elusive ringed planet will fall to small, high-quality refractors and large binoculars. These particular instruments present excellent low-power views of objects close to the horizon by showing only a minimum of atmospheric distortion in the eyepiece.
With larger telescopes, you are looking at more atmosphere and, therefore, you get a more distorted view: the image only ripples and swims, revealing no detail.
Speaking of large binoculars, I recently came into possession of a pair of 20 x 80 Celestron Skymasters. As you know, I am a huge fan of binoculars and have owned several pairs – both large and small.
From the inexpensive to the expensive, when it comes to best bang for the buck, these binoculars are in a class of their own.
About $350 is a relatively inexpensive price for something that will show you planets, nebulas, galaxies and star clusters galore. Add an extra $100 for a tripod, and you are good to go.
Cruising lunar vistas is a truly amazing sight in large binoculars as you get to view the whole disc of the moon while observing mountains, craters and lunar seas.
Drop on a set of solar filters and you can go exploring the nearest star, our Sun. Chasing sunspots can provide plenty of entertainment with a pair of large binoculars. In the daytime or early evening, these binoculars deliver razor-sharp images great for birding or checking out a nearby mountain range.
The added bonus with large binoculars is that there is a minimum of set-up. You can usually be set up and ready to go in a few minutes. Take-down, for the evening, is the same.
There are certainly better and more-expensive binoculars on the consumer market but, dollar for dollar, these lightweight, waterproof binoculars represent surprisingly good value.
Jupiter will be the only other planet visible in the summer sky, rising off from the southeastern horizon around 2 a.m. at the beginning of June and around midnight by the month’s end.
Again, the refractor and large binoculars are the right instruments to seek out Jupiter in our ever-brightening night skies. Even in smaller binoculars, two to four Jovian moons should be visible.
By August, our night skies return, and with them come some of the finest deep-sky observing to be had. Warm weather and open skies offer up the best in nebulas, star clusters and rich star fields. Binoculars and telescopes of all sizes can be used with excellent results.
Also happening in August is one of the most exciting things to happen in a long time in astronomy. NASA is launching the Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite (LCROSS) mission.
They are going to drive the rocket stage and then a two-ton spacecraft into the floor of a shaded crater at a speed of 2.5 kilometres per second, creating an explosion the equivalent of one ton of TNT.
As debris is expelled from the crater floor, a special satellite will record the event, with sensors, and relay data back to Earth.
NASA is expecting a dust cloud six miles wide and three miles high to be created from the explosion.
“Will we be able to see this lunar explosion?” you ask.
If everything goes as planned, we should be able to view this explosive event. You will need to use a 10- to 12-inch telescope. And do not expect to see the initial impacts as they will take place inside the crater’s rim.
This event will take place in the evening with the first quarter moon already in the evening sky.
I have seen many fine sights on the moon, but never a dust cloud … and a man-made one at that. Exact dates for this spectacular lunar event depend on a host of things including the actual launch date of the space shuttle.
A website has been set up to assist amateur astronomers who wish to observe this most-amazing lunar event at www.lcross.arc.nasa.gov/observation.htm.
What an absolutely fabulous way to greet the return of the Yukon Night Skies in August.
On July 18, between noon and 5 p.m., I will be down at the S.S. Klondike with some solar-viewing gear set up to help celebrate Parks Day and the International Year of Astronomy.
This will be a chance to get a look at what solar viewing is all about, and a chance to talk to other amateur astronomers about protecting those precious Yukon Night Skies. This is a free event and everyone is welcome to come and take a look.
As this will be my last article until mid-August, or so, I will take this time to say thank you to all my readers for your support and to Jo-Anne and Darrell, at What’s Up Yukon, for putting up with me.
If you get a chance, send an e-mail to [email protected], and then you will be informed of our next outing and any other interesting cosmic happenings … like satellites crashing into the moon.
Clear skies, from James “Deep Sky” Cackette.