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Southern Skies

Lunar Totality in Marco

Looking Southeast 11:00 PM on September 27. 
Usually you don’t need a finder chart for the Moon, but you might this night! SUBMITTED PHOTO

SOUTHERN SKIES By Mike P. Usher usher34105@earthlink.net Usually you don’t need a finder chart to locate the Moon, but the evening of September 27th may be an exception. The last lunar eclipse for several years occurs between the hours of 7:47 PM and 1:22 AM, with mid eclipse at 10:48 PM. At 7:47 PM the Moon begins to pass into the shadow cast by the Earth. Don’t interrupt your dinner – it is only a partial shadow (called penumbral), and the dimming of the Moon is scarcely perceptible. More than an hour later at 9:07 PM the Moon touches the ... Read More »

Junkyard of the Solar System

Looking Southwest 11:00PM September 18th, Take a good look  at the summer Milky Way before it sets in the fall. SUBMITTED PHOTO

SOUTHERN SKIES By Mike P. Usher usher34105@earthlink.net Asteroids, until recently, were the Rodney Dangerfields of our Solar System – “they just get no respect!” In the last couple of decades though, both scientists and business tycoons have been taking notice of these oversized rocks, and it looks like asteroids are important after all. Most asteroids, and there are millions of them, inhabit the aptly named Asteroid Belt lying between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter. Even though asteroids are so numerous if you happened to be actually standing on one it would be rare for you to see another one ... Read More »

It’s About Time

Looking South, 9:00 PM September 4, but it’s possible to  use the chart all year around! SUBMITTED PHOTO

SOUTHERN SKIES By Mike P. Usher usher34105@earthlink.net We covered the subject of this article several years ago, but it is an important one so it bears repeating. As there is nothing spectacular going on tonight (and it’s probably cloudy anyway considering it is rainy season) we will dive right in. You are undoubtedly aware the movement of the sky is a very regular affair. Until the mid-twentieth century the sky was the ultimate standard to which earthly timepieces were set. But it is also very easy to understand and make allowances for. Did you know that you can keep tonight’s ... Read More »

Goats and Water Bearers

Looking south-southeast August 21, 11:00PM. SUBMITTED PHOTO

SOUTHERN SKIES By Mike P. Usher usher34105@earthlink.net Tonight Capricornus, the goat, rides fairly high in the southeastern sky. It is usually visualized as a hybrid half goat – half fish creature; it’s also extremely old – it has endured essentially unchanged for over 3,000 years. Likely this is because of its great importance (to an agricultural society) as being the site of the winter solstice in the early bronze age. Nowadays the winter solstice occurs in nearby Sagittarius. Capricornus is supposed to be the second dimmest of the zodiacal constellations after Cancer, but I don’t find it difficult to pick ... Read More »

The Summer Milky Way

Facing North, looking almost straight up, August 7 at 11:00PM. SUBMITTED PHOTO

SOUTHERN SKIES By Mike P. Usher usher34105@earthlink.net Tonight the Summer Triangle is near the zenith. The bright trio of Altair, Deneb and Vega lies embedded in the summer Milky Way. Except for the previously mentioned three, there are few bright stars in this region, but there are literally millions of dimmer ones. Scan with your binoculars from Deneb leftwards towards Sagittarius – innumerable stars will be revealed. On the chart you will see a number of tiny circles; each one marks the location of a star cluster visible in your binoculars. The brighter objects have names or catalog numbers listed ... Read More »

Keep an Eye on the Moon

Photo taken through a ten inch f/5 telescope at 96x  on June 26th when it was just past 1st Quarter. SUBMITTED PHOTO

SOUTHERN SKIES By Mike P. Usher usher34105@earthlink.net We usually ignore the Moon in this column, but in many ways it is the most interesting object in the sky. It is the only celestial object whose surface can be examined in detail from your back yard for example. Although the Moon appears blindingly bright to dark adapted eyes, in reality it reflects hardly more light than old asphalt does. Intuitively one would think the Full Moon would be the best time to observe surface features, but this is quite wrong. Compared to Earth the Moon is a relatively colorless world; its ... Read More »

Name the Exoplanet

Looking South about halfway to the zenith, 11:00PM July 10th. Don’t forget to look at Saturn if you have a small telescope. SUBMITTED PHOTO

SOUTHERN SKIES By Mike P. Usher usher34105@earthlink.net Tonight the Summer Milky Way is rising, almost looking like the beginning of dawn; just above it is the large, but fairly faint constellation of Ophiuchus. It is usually drawn as a man grasping a snake, and as one might expect the name in ancient Greek means “serpent-bearer.” Recently it has become famous (again) as the 13th zodiacal constellation for, as you can clearly see from the chart, the ecliptic runs through it. Every few decades the media treats it as a major discovery, but it’s been that way for all of human ... Read More »

The Teapot and the Scorpion

Looking South, June 26 at 11:00 PM. Also be sure to check out  the conjunction of Venus and Jupiter if the clouds clear out early! SUBMITTED PHOTOS

SOUTHERN SKIES By Mike P. Usher usher34105@earthlink.net Tonight the two brightest, or at least the easiest to find, constellations of the zodiac are riding high in the sky; Sagittarius the Archer or Centaur (actually it’s both) and Scorpius the Scorpion are easy to locate. Sagittarius has the famous teapot asterism that really jumps out of the jumble of stars that fill this region of the sky; and Scorpius is one of the very few constellations that actually look like the thing they are supposed to represent. The teapot asterism consists of eight stars, all roughly equally bright. This time of ... Read More »

The Glorious Stars of Summer Rise

Looking east, 11:00 PM, June 12, sweeping this area with  binoculars is a rewarding experience. SUBMITTED PHOTO

SOUTHERN SKIES By Mike P. Usher usher34105@earthlink.net Look eastwards about 11:00 PM and locate the three stars of the Summer Triangle – Vega, Altair and Deneb. These are quite bright stars, and if you can see any stars at all in the sky tonight, you will see these. The Summer Triangle is not a traditional asterism, but was popularized by Sir Patrick Moore a few decades ago. Vega and Altair are fairly close neighbors of the Sun, which is the primary reason they are so bright, being only 25 and 16 light years away, respectively. Deneb, on the other hand, ... Read More »

Astronomy for Amateurs

Looking Southeast, 11:00PM May 29. Saturn is well up in the sky while 
the glorious summer Milky Way is beginning to rise. SUBMITTED PHOTO

SOUTHERN SKIES By Mike P. Usher usher34105@earthlink.net I was lent a small book by a good friend recently; this book was written to introduce a novice to Astronomy. What makes this particular book worthy of note is that it was published in 1903. Its original title is Astronomy for Women by Camille Flammarion written in French; the edition I have is an English translation, re-titled Astronomy for Amateurs. It reads very much as a modern introductory book with a couple of notable exceptions; first, the language is more ornate and “flowery” than is typical today and gives the book a ... Read More »

The Southern Cross


By Mike P. Usher usher34105@earthlink.net We are going to change our viewing time from our usual 9PM to 11PM until October. There are two reasons for this: 1) The longer days of summer mean it is not fully dark at 9PM, and 2) the rapidly approaching rainy season means early evening clouds blot out the stars. By 11PM there is at least a chance of clearing, although it’s not usually totally clear until after midnight. Did you think you would have to travel to Argentina to see the Southern Cross? Not so! Theoretically, you can see the whole cross (official ... Read More »

Catch Mercury if You Can!


By Mike P. Usher usher34105@earthlink.net As the too bright Moon in the east is nearly full, we might as well look westward to a slightly darker sky. Venus is unmistakable as it floats high in the west; it is in fact the brightest object in the night sky other than the Moon. Below Venus, and a little to the right and just above the horizon lies the planet Mercury. Mercury is much more difficult to locate than Venus; at the time and date of the chart it’s only a little brighter than Polaris. During the next several days it will ... Read More »

Arc to Arcturus


SOUTHERN SKIES By Mike P. Usher usher34105@earthlink.net   Extend the curve of the Big Dipper’s handle eastward and you will reach the bright star Arcturus. (You can always find it easily by remembering the mnemonic arc to Arcturus). The star itself is hard to miss; it’s the fourth brightest in the whole sky and the brightest star in the northern hemisphere – although Arcturus is close enough to the celestial equator to be easily visible over nearly the entire Earth. For the Hawaiian Islands this star appears directly overhead on summer evenings; ancient Polynesians could use this information to navigate ... Read More »

Before the Dog

Looking south, 9:00PM Apr 3. See how many star clusters you can
find with your binoculars in the Milky Way.

SOUTHERN SKIES By Mike P. Usher Shining high in the sky tonight in the southeast is the bright star Procyon in the otherwise non-descript of Canis Minor – the little dog. Canis Minor processes but two stars – Procyon being the brightest. Procyon is larger, hotter and brighter than our Sun, but the primary reason it’s the seventh brightest star in the sky is that it is so close to us, only 11.46 light years. Procyon is thought to be approaching the end of its life and will soon become what is known as a red giant star and expand ... Read More »

Look Northward!

Looking Northeast, 9:00PM Mar 20. How many stars can you see in the  bowl of the Little Dipper? SUBMITTED PHOTO

SOUTHERN SKIES By Mike P. Usher usher34105@earthlink.net Last issue we mentioned the Big Dipper was once again visible during the evenings here in Southwest Florida. As we but seldom look northwards during these articles it is time we examine the northern sky more carefully. The second star on the handle of the Big Dipper is called Mizar – said to be a test for vision since ancient times. Very close to Mizar is a faint star called Alcor; if you can spot it your vision is supposed to be excellent. Try in a couple of hours when Mizar is higher ... Read More »

The Dipper Returns

Looking Northeast, 9:00PM Mar 6. Even though the Moon looks huge  when near the horizon you can still cover it up by a pinky finger held at arm’s length!

SOUTHERN SKIES By Mike P. Usher usher34105@earthlink.net After setting a few months ago the Big Dipper has returned to the early evening sky. The Dipper of course is not a constellation but merely an asterism and makes up a portion of the rather large constellation of Ursa Major, the bear. It is an odd fact that roughly half of the world’s cultures regard this grouping of stars as a bear; after all it does not look much like a bear. One possible explanation is that this constellation’s identification as a bear is a shared cultural tradition springing from a common ... Read More »

The Argo Backs into the Sky

Looking Southeast, 9 PM, Feb. 20. Can you make out the stern of Argo? SUBMITTED PHOTO

SOUTHERN SKIES By Mike P. Usher usher34105@earthlink.net Tonight, we look again into the Southeast where the ancient constellation Argo, the ship, is rising stern first into the sky. Argo is no longer counted as one of the 88 constellations visible in the night sky; about two centuries ago it was found to be inconveniently large so it was broken into four separate constellations, Carina the keel, Puppis the deck, Pyxis the compass and Vela the sails. The old Argo is so large and deep in the southern sky that it never is completely above our horizon at the same time, ... Read More »

Auriga the Charioteer

Looking High in the North, 9:00PM February 6. Can you see the kids? SUBMITTED PHOTO

SOUTHERN SKIES By Mike P. Usher usher34105@earthlink.net Very high tonight in the northern sky rides Auriga the Charioteer. The driver usually also is visualized as a shepherd holding a goat over his shoulder. The bright star Capella is thus nicknamed “the goat star,” and the two dimmer stars just to the left are likewise named “the kids.” Auriga is located 180 degrees away from the galactic center in Sagittarius, and so when you look at Auriga, you are looking at the shortest way out from our galaxy. The Milky Way, although thinner, is still substantial in this area, and there ... Read More »

Jupiter Returns to the Evening

Looking South, 9 PM, Jan. 23, the vertical line is called the meridian,  an imaginary line passing through both poles and the zenith. SUBMITTED PHOTO

SOUTHERN SKIES By Mike P. Usher usher34105@earthlink.net After a vacancy of some months, we finally have a bright planet available for viewing this evening, two actually, but Venus has set by the 9 PM chart time. Looking east at that time you can’t miss Jupiter. It’s the brightest thing in the sky. Tonight, four of its satellites are visible in binoculars. Between 10-11 PM, Callisto and Io appear so close together that they be difficult to split apart in your binoculars. The moons move fast though so this state of affairs will not last very long. A tripod will greatly ... Read More »

Sirius, Jupiter Rise Tonight

Looking Southeast, 9 PM, Jan. 9. How many moons of Jupiter can you spot with your binoculars? SUBMITTED PHOTO

SOUTHERN SKIES By Mike P. Usher usher34105@earthlink.net Sirius has been known as the “Dog Star” for many centuries, presumably because it is the brightest star in Canis Major, the big dog. Indeed, Sirius is by far the brightest star in the night sky. Long ago, it was thought (wrongly) that in the summertime when the Sun and Sirius were in the sky simultaneously the extra heat Sirius provided caused the season to be hot. Thus, the old phrase the “dog days of summer” was born. Sirius is a good example of a star that is bright because it is close ... Read More »