Clear Skies and Night Visions in Western Montana
The skies are clearing this week and during this Stay At Home time, you might want to check the night sky. We do that often and have a few simple tips. The sky changes every night, as the Earth moves through its orbit around the Sun. Right now, the bright object in the sky after sunset is not a star - it's Venus. It's not up for very long during the night and soon will become the Morning Star, visible before dawn. Right now, the morning "stars" are three planets in our solar system. Mars, Jupiter and Saturn are close together in the southeastern sky in the wee hours before dawn. Jupiter is the brightest of the three.
Constellations? A couple that are easy to see before midnight this week - Orion in the Southwest along the horizon. Orion has the distinctive three-star belt in a row. To the West low in the sky is the constellation Taurus and up toward north is the "W" constellation - Cassiopeia. Above Cassiopeia, high in the northern night sky, are the Big Dipper and the Little Dipper - Ursa Major and Ursa Minor, visible all night long. They are home to the North Star. If you have trouble spotting these things, check the Web for a star map. There are a bunch to choose from and one of those maps might be the friendly guide you need. The Moon, which was full recently, can only be seen in the early morning - 3 a.m. is a good time to look. This is a great opportunity to zoom in on the moon with binoculars or a telescope because part of the moon is in shadow. (see Mike Daniel's photo above). Where that shadow begins is called the terminator. Along that line you can see the moon's mountains and craters in shadowed relief. And, of course, while you're looking up, you'll see quite a few satellites crossing the sky every hour. Dress warm and let your eyes adjust to the darkness.