Finding Polaris – Embrace the North Star

Ah Polaris, commonly known as the North Star – humanities guide since the dawn of time. Located directly above the north celestial pole, northern hemisphere skies rotate around this near constant pole star. Knowing where to find Polaris means you’ll always know which direction to travel. Face Polaris, stretch your arms out sideways – the right hand points due east, the left due west. About face and you’re pointed south.

Very many bright concentric circles in sky around a bright irregular dot, trees in foreground.

Ken Christison captured these glorious star trails around Polaris, the North Star. He wrote, “For the most common and often the most spectacular star trails, you want to locate Polaris and compose the image so it is centered horizontally and hopefully you can have a bit of foreground for reference.”

To find Polaris locate the Big Dipper, focus on Dubhe and Merak, two stars forming the outermost edge of Big Dipper’s bowl. In your mind’s eye draw a straight line to the tip of Little Dipper’s handle – voila, that’s Polaris the North Star.

Think of northern hemisphere skies as a clock with Polaris at the centre, the line from Dubhe and Merak to Polaris as the hour hand. The Big Dipper rotates once around Polaris every 23 hours, 56 minutes. A few minutes short of a day, equivalent to 361 degrees in 24 hours. As such the North Star moves ever so slightly with each passing day. What never falters is the hour hand from the outermost bowl of Big Dipper to Polaris. Find the Big Dipper, you’ll locate the North Star. Do that and you’ll never be lost in the woods.

Diagram: White sky with four black Big Dippers in a circle around Polaris.

If you’re in the northern U.S., Canada or at a similar latitude, the Big Dipper is circumpolar for you, always above the horizon. Image via

Not Too Late to Ponder Comet NEOWISE

On March 27, 2020 C/2020 F3 was discovered by astronomers at WISE (Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer), a NASA space telescope launched in 2009. – . On March 31, 2020 it gained official comet status, April 1, 2020 saw it dubbed comet NEOWISE. In a nutshell comets are cosmic objects comprised of ice, dust and space gak presenting a observable tail courtesy close orbital proximity to the Sun. (hence, ice melt)  NEOWISE, current darling of space and common observers alike, made closest approach to the Sun on July 3, 2020. The rest is history, history which won’t be repeated until NEOWISE returns in 6,800 years.

Comet NEOWISE is a rare naked eye cosmic spectacle. A remarkably bright experience afforded Northern Hemisphere residents willing to find a dark place, look northwest after sunset toward the Big Dipper to catch a glimpse of NEOWISE.

NEOWISE-F3-July-4-2020-Chris-Schur-S.jpg (1140×712)


See the source image


Explore the Night Sky

Adrian Mauduit at Night Lights Films launched a mesmerizing timelapse endeavor titled Explore the Night Sky. From Night Lights Films –

“Welcome to this new series of educational videos about the cosmos titled ‘Explore the Night Sky’. They consist of short episodes focusing on one celestial object or phenomenon that can be observed from Earth. They are kid friendly and their purpose is to make people discover the sky at night while encouraging science education and promoting the fight against light pollution. In this episode, we feature the open star cluster ‘Pleiades’, aka Messier 45, M 45 or the ‘Seven Sisters’ through a series of time-lapse sequences taken in various locations around the Earth (Norway, Switzerland, Spain, Chile). A lot of people have seen this small patchy group of star without realizing it contains about 1000 of them! Learn more about it by watching the rest of this mesmerizing film.”

Cosmic wonder is a gift. No better way to embrace wonder than by following Adrian Mauduit.

No Telescope? No Problem

On April 29th behemoth asteroid 1998 OR2 will make closest approach to Earth at a safe distance of approximately 6 million kilometers. Traveling through the cosmos at 31,320 km/h, 1.8 km wide, 4.1 km long 1998 OR2 reigns as largest near Earth asteroid flyby of the year. There’s no chance of planetary impact and sadly no chance of seeing it without a telescope. Fear not, the Virtual Telescope Project hosts free online viewing starting April 28, 2020.

Ghostly image of a large boulder in space.

Radar image of asteroid 1998 OR2, acquired April 18, 2020. According to current estimates, this space rock is probably at least a mile wide (1.8 km) and maybe 2 1/2 times that long (4.1 km). Image via Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico.

First glimpses of large asteroid due to pass soon

Super Pink Grass Egg

Folklore in North America regards the April full moon as Pink, Grass or Egg Moon. When the full moon coincides with perigee ( closest point in elliptic lunar orbit to Earth ) it’s called a Supermoon. Tonight’s pink supermoon boasts closest lunar perigee of 2020, a mere 356,909 km distance from Earth.

Year’s biggest and brightest supermoon on April 7-8

Moments ago I ushered my husband and son outside to the telescope. Nothing short of joy describes their reaction. A Moon so full and bright my son grabbed sunglasses to fully appreciate jaw dropping resolution. Can’t remember the last time anything made me as happy.

Lost track of how many times I’ve posted this video. Without hesitation, here it is again – three minutes of cosmic wonder guaranteed to evoke childhood wonder and imagination.

Couldn’t let this Pink Moon set without a nod to Nick Drake –


In December 2019 astronomers at ATLAS ( Asteroid Terrestrial-impact Last Alert System ) in Hawaii discovered Comet C/2019Y4, flagging it as one to watch come May 2020. Almost immediately C/2019Y4 became known as comet ATLAS.  At first astronomers predicted May 31, 2020 as day to watch ATLAS pass within the orbit of Mercury and the Sun at 0.25 AU distance, culminating in spectacular brightness as dissolving heat set ATLAS ablaze.

This week astronomers watched in amazement as magnitude increased 4,000 fold from +17 in early February to +8 by mid-March, stunned by runaway magnitude several months ahead of perihelion (closest orbital approach to the Sun ).  Magnitude is a measure of brightness observed from Earth, the lower the magnitude, the brighter the cosmic object. For perspective, faintest objects visible from Earth with binoculars have a magnitude of +9.5. Venus and Mars at their brightest, magnitude -4.4 and -3.0 respectively.  More magnitude linked below –

“Comet ATLAS continues to brighten much faster than expected,” says Karl Battams of the Naval Research Lab in Washington DC. “Some predictions for its peak brightness now border on the absurd.”

According to Dr. Tony Phillips at if ATLAS magnitude continues to bloom at this pace, by May it could range between +1 to -5, possibly brighter than Venus and visible to the naked eye in daylight.


Comet ATLAS (C/2019 Y4) photographed on March 6, 2020, by Austrian astrophotographer Michael Jäger. The comet’s diffuse green atmosphere is about twice as wide as the planet Jupiter.




On August 5, 2011 NASA’s Juno mission left Earth orbit, destination Jupiter. The farthest space probe ever to be powered by solar arrays, Juno arrived in orbit around Jupiter on July 4, 2016. Every 53 days Juno completes one orbit of Jupiter. Close orbital passes are called perijoves, from the Greek word peri which means near. Images from Juno’s latest close approach, ( perijove 25 completed on February 27, 2020 ) were made public this week by NASA.

Blue ball with white swirls.

Jupiter at mid-northern latitudes as seen by Juno during Perijove 25. The small, round, swirly spots are storms in Jupiter’s atmosphere. Image via NASA/ JPL-Caltech/ SwRI/ MSSS/ Kevin M. Gill.

And now, a word from Juno at Jupiter

Ponder timelapse from JunoCam –