Neptune at Opposition

Today the planet Neptune will pass through opposition, directly opposite the Sun in our sky. The planet will be well placed for observation all night long, rising at sunset, transiting at midnight, and setting at sunrise. If you are looking to observe Neptune, it is currently shining at magnitude 7.8 in southern Pisces just south of the circlet .

Neptune from Voyager 2
Neptune from Voyager 2, Credit: NASA /JPL

As the outer planets Uranus and Neptune move so slowly across the sky, the timing of oppositions is driven by the Earth’s orbit and occur each year at nearly the same time. Neptune’s orbital period is 164.8 years, taking over a century and a half to circle the celestial globe once. As Neptune was discovered in 1846, it has completed a little over one orbit since discovery.

Neptune at Opposition

Today the planet Neptune will pass through opposition, directly opposite the Sun in our sky. The planet will be well placed for observation all night long, rising at sunset, transiting at midnight, and setting at sunrise. If you are looking to observe Neptune, it is currently shining at magnitude 7.8 in
in southern Pisces just south of the circlet.

Neptune from Voyager 2
Neptune from Voyager 2, Credit: NASA /JPL

As the outer planets Uranus and Neptune move so slowly across the sky, the timing of oppositions is driven by the Earth’s orbit and occur each year at nearly the same time. Neptune’s orbital period is 164.8 years, taking over a century and a half to circle the celestial globe once. As Neptune was discovered in 1846, it has completed a little over one orbit since discovery.

A Not Quite Total Lunar Eclipse

Normally when I see a partial lunar eclipse on the calendar I do not take much note. As a partial will not create the deep red Moon that makes a lunar eclipse so striking, it is not something that I usually make a point to view.

A Not Quite Total Lunar Eclipse
A not quite total lunar eclipse on November 18th, 2021

This eclipse was a bit different. As this was a very deep partial, only a few percent of the Moon remaining in the sunlight, it should look pretty good… And it did. I setup the little TV-76mm scope to snap a few photos.

Even a not quite total lunar eclipse can be quite nice. Since this eclipse occured just a few degrees from the Pleiades star cluster it was possible to frame both in the camera with a wider field of view. Thus I changed to a classic 100mm f/2.8 Canon FD lens to shoot a few of the cluster and the eclipsed Moon.

Of course this means I will get to sleep at midnight and need to get up at 5am for work. The price I will pay for staying up to watch an eclipse.

A deep partial lunar eclipse and the Pleiades star cluster
A deep partial lunar eclipse and the Pleiades star cluster

Neptune at Opposition

Today the planet Neptune will pass through opposition, directly opposite the Sun in our sky. The planet will be well placed for observation all night long, rising at sunset, transiting at midnight, and setting at sunrise. If you are looking to observe Neptune, it is currently shining at magnitude 7.8 in eastern Aquarius.

Neptune from Voyager 2
Neptune from Voyager 2, Credit: NASA /JPL

As the outer planets Uranus and Neptune move so slowly across the sky, the timing of oppositions is driven by the Earth’s orbit and occur each year at nearly the same time. Neptune’s orbital period is 164.8 years, taking over a century and a half to circle the celestial globe once. As Neptune was discovered in 1846, it has completed a little over one orbit since discovery.

Neptune at Opposition

Today the planet Neptune will pass through opposition, directly opposite the Sun in our sky. The planet will be well placed for observation all night long, rising at sunset, transiting at midnight, and setting at sunrise. If you are looking to observe Neptune, it is currently shining at magnitude 7.8 in eastern Aquarius.

Neptune from Voyager 2
Neptune from Voyager 2, Credit: NASA /JPL

As the outer planets Uranus and Neptune move so slowly across the sky, the timing of oppositions is driven by the Earth’s orbit and occur each year at nearly the same time. Neptune’s orbital period is 164.8 years, taking over a century and a half to circle the celestial globe once. As Neptune was discovered in 1846, it has completed a little over one orbit since discovery.

A Bright Comet in the Dawn

We have a bright comet in the dawn sky for a few days. Comet C/2020 F3 NEOWISE has brightened rapidly over the past few weeks, now about 1st magnitude it can just be seen against the glow of dawn.

Comet C/2020 F3 NEOWISE against the dawn
Comet C/2020 F3 NEOWISE against the dawn

I took along Hodepodge to serve as a tracking mount for the TV-76mm scope and a couple cameras to do some comet shooting. The Canon 6D would go with the small ‘scope, the EOS-M5 with a tripod for wide angle shots.

Driving up Waikoloa road I was troubled by a bank of clouds in the Waimea saddle, thus I elected to head for the Humuʻula saddle instead. I ended up in the lava fields along the Mauna Loa access road. The view was perfect, and I had just enough time to get the mount and camera setup as the comet rose.

Continue reading “A Bright Comet in the Dawn”

A Leap Day

Today is February 29th, that odd date that only occurs every four years.

The reason for a leap day inserted into the calendar, the existence of February 29th, is ultimately astronomical. Perhaps a little explanation is in order…

We originally defined days as the time it takes the Earth to rotate. While we define years as the time it takes the Earth to orbit once around the Sun. The problem is that these values do not divide evenly into one another.

Mauna Kea Sunrise
Sunrise seen from the summit of Mauna Kea

The Earth takes about 365.24219 days to obit the Sun, when measured by the Sun’s position in the sky, what is called a tropical year. There are different ways to measure a year, but if one is concerned with keeping the seasons in sync with your calendar, then you are interested in tropical years.

It is that bunch of decimals, the 0.24219 etc., that is the problem, every four years the count drifts out of sync by roughly one day. The insertion of an extra day every four years helps bring the calendar back into synchronization with the orbit of the Earth and with the seasons.

Even leap years do not quite fix the problem as 0.24219 is close, but not quite 0.25 or one quarter of a day. Thus additional corrections are needed… Enter leap centuries.

Our current calendar was instituted by Pope Gregory XIII in 1582, setting up a standard set of corrections for the fractional difference between the length of a year and the length of a day. Scholars knew that errors had been accumulating in the calendar for centuries, resulting in a drift of several days.

Religious authorities were concerned that this drift had displaced important celebrations in the church calendar, in particular the celebration of Easter. After much argument it was decided to reform the calendar. The current solution was devised by a number of astronomers, including Aloysius Lilius, the primary author of the new system.

The Gregorian Calendar uses an extra day in February every four years, unless the year is divisible by 100, then there is no leap leap day that year. However, if the year is divisible by 400, then it is a leap year. While this may sound odd, it does create a correction much closer to the ideal value of 365.24219 days per year.

I am a geek, so let us put that into code…

Even this is not perfectly precise. The correction is close but will drift given enough time. The length of a tropical year also changes slowly over time. We will eventually have to add another correction to keep the calendar and the seasons in sync. But not for a few millennia, good enough, for now.

As 2020 is divisible by four and not divisible by 100, there will be a leap day added to the end of this February… Today.