All posts by ejknight

Five Planets in View

Five planets adorn the morning sky this week — the same quintet of “wanderers” (Mercury to Saturn) our ancient ancestors recognized as being different from the background stars. Head outside about 45 minutes before sunrise and you will see the solar system objects spread out across approximately 110°.

Start with Jupiter in the southwestern sky, then pick up Mars nearly due south, Saturn climbing in the southeast, brilliant Venus to its lower left, and lastly Mercury hanging low in the twilight. The view of the five improves over the next week or two as Mercury climbs higher and grows brighter.

Bright and Early

By the time morning twilight starts to paint the sky, both Venus and Saturn appear prominent in the southeast. Venus shines brilliantly at magnitude –4.0 — the brightest point of light in the sky.

Although Venus may be brighter, there’s no denying the charms of neighboring Saturn. The ringed planet shines at magnitude 0.5 and lies 15° to Venus’ upper right. When viewed through a telescope, Saturn shows a 16″-diameter disk surrounded by a stunning ring system that spans 36″ and tilts 26° to our line of sight.

The Red Planet has also now brightened considerably since the start of the New Year, shining at magnitude 0.8. Mars’ rapid motion nearly matches the Sun’s pace, so the world rises only about a half-hour earlier at January’s close than it did on New Year’s Day.

Mars was a telescopic dud during 2015 because its diameter never exceeded 5.5″. That starts to change in January because the planet pulls significantly closer to Earth. By month’s end, it appears 6.8″ across and may start to show some subtle surface markings through larger scopes. Conditions will improve quickly this spring as Mars approaches opposition in May, when it will appear bigger and brighter than at any time since 2005.

Mercury approaches Venus as this week progresses. The innermost planet stands 9° high in the southeast a half-hour before sunrise on the 31st, when you can locate it 7° to Venus’ lower left. It shines at magnitude 0.0 and should show up clearly through binoculars. Of academic interest only, Mercury passes 0.5° north of Pluto (invisible in twilight, of course) on the 30th.

The waning gibbous Moon pokes above the eastern horizon around 9 p.m. (CDT) Wednesday, just a few minutes after Jupiter. The planet remains within a few degrees of the Moon from the time they rise until morning twilight is well underway. Shining at magnitude –2.3, Jupiter stands out even in the presence of our satellite, though it grows more conspicuous as the Moon moves over the next several nights. A telescope reveals the gas giant’s 42″-diameter disk and at least two parallel dark belts in its dynamic atmosphere.

The Moon will then pass above the star Spica on Jan. 30, before approaching Mars on Feb. 1 and Saturn on Feb. 3. It sits above both Venus and Mercury on Feb. 6.

The evening sky also hosts the outer two major planets, Uranus and Neptune, which were too faint for our forebears to see.

(This post originally appeared on

Jupiter Mutual Events

Hey folks

Check out!

Jupiters four Galilean satellites continue to perform mutual eclipses and occultation’s among themselves. These events will continue until Jupiter sinsl into the sunset this summer. Jupiter is at opposition in February, so observers in any given part of the world can now see lots of them while Jupiter is well up in a dark sky. Most, howveer, involve only a slight dimming of the satellites’ light however some will cause a complete ‘blinking out’ of a satellite.



And We Are Back

Sorry we have been away for a bit.. We’re back now so look for updates soon!

While we were away we made a trek to French Camp, Ms to view some fantastic skies with some of the club members.


This is a shot of Scott’s rig in the daylight!


Here’s to you Neil

I heard that Neil Armstrong had passed away on the 25th of August. My friend had sent me a text about his passing.  I stopped, re-reading the message I cursed and looked up at the sky at the rising moon.

I was 16 when Neil and Buzz walked on the moon, a matter of fact they landed on the moon on my birthday . That was the nicest gift I had ever ben given. I sat in awe with the rest of the world that evening as we watched Neil slowly climb down the ladder and put the first footprints of man on the moon. ‘That’s one small step for [a] man one giant leap for mankind”.

Neil became a silent hero for the American people. He was a quite man that shied away from  public life. He never made a big deal about the fact that he was the first man to walk on the moon. He would have rather been teaching and working in beloved areo-space engineering world than to do the public thing. No matter what he will always have the honor of being the first man to step from the earth to the moon.

So on a bright moonlit night lets all look up at the moon and give a wink and say a silent thank you to Neil Armstrong.

RIP Neil

Theta Orionis

The Trapezium

Multiple Star system
Constellation: Orion
RA: 5h 35m 17s
Dec: -5 23′ 27″

The Trapezium is the most famous multiple star system in the entire night sky. Located at the very heart of M42, the Orion Nebula, it is one of the youngest star clusters known.

The other weekend I was out observing with our club. I was using my trusty C9.25 and it was a clear and steady night. One of our club members (Bob Pitt) had his 10mm Ethos eyepiece with him and he plopped it into my scope to see how well the 9.25 could handle a good eyepiece. And away we went on a wild ride through the night sky. After tackling a few 9th and 10th magnitude doubles and the like we ended up on M42.

I centered the ‘trap’ in the eyepiece and ‘POP’ there were 4 bright stars staring back at me. What a view, 4 beautiful stars wrapped in a nebulous cloud. I settled into a comfortable viewing position and let my eye relax and then I saw the (for the first time clearly with the C9.25) E and F stars as faint specks of light in the eyepiece!

He and I were very excited that we had them and called some others over to the scope to share the view. After couching the guys on what to look for and how to look for them it hit me that not many people go beyond the 4 principle stars in the trapezium.There are actually 10 stars in Theta Orionius (as illustrated below)

A-D are readily apparent in a 3.5-6 inch scope. In an 8-10 inch scope A-F are very easy to view given the proper conditions. Normally the cluster looks like the illustration below

Personally I have never tried to get G-I (which are hard to get I have heard) but at the next star party I plan to attack these stars with the clubs 20 inch Obsession and see how far I get!

These are stars that vary in magnitude from 14.5 to 15.5, which are on the far outer edge of what I can get with the 9.25, but I think that the Obsession 20 can handle the calling. I really want to try and split H1/H2 which have been measured at 1.6 arch seconds and should be easily done on a still night with a 20 inch telescope.

BAS Events for July 2009

On July 18, 2009  the BAS will be having a Star Party at the CMO site . Sunset that day is at 19:55 so if you need to be escourted to the site please plan to meet Quentin Jones at 18:30 at the Texico Station at I59 exit 166 .

On July 21, 2009 there will be the monthy meeting of the BAS at Samford University Planetarium.

On July 25,2009 The BAS will be hosting a Star Party at Oak Mountain State Park. Star partyis free but there is a $3.00 fee for park utilization.

Please note that all Star Parties are subject to cancellation if the weather is bad.

Star Party 20 June 2009

Okay all we are going to try this One More Time.There is a star party scheduled to be held at our Chandler Mountain Site on 20 June 2009. Now if the weather is bad we may be forced to cancel. Right now though it is on
If you need assistance please contact Quentin Jones .

Star Party Cancellation Notice

The Birmingham Astronomical Society, regretfully, has cancelled the Star Party scheduled for May 23, 2009 due to the weather (needless to say the clouds and the rain have moved in again!). The CSC and NWS show 90-100 % cloud cover and 80-90 % chance of rain. 

 We hope you have a great Memorial Day holiday and we will be rescheduling the starparties shortly.