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Night Vision: Glorious Galaxies

March 5th, 2017

Milky Way galaxy from above

Milky Way Galaxy. Credit: NASA

What do you really know about your own stellar neighborhood? Most people know what block they live on, what the grocery store a few streets over is called, and whether they live on a third, half, or full acre, but what do you know about our cosmic address? Our resident star group is called “The Milky Way Galaxy.” Our solar system sits within one of its spiral arms, but not all galaxies are created equal. Not only are there spiral, but also elliptical ones, not to mention all of the different “Irregular” galaxies out there.

And when was the last time your neighbor’s lot collided and merged with yours? Well, Andromeda (our closest neighboring galaxy) is looking to do just that! When is that happening? And what do we need to do to prepare? I hope you’ll join me in finding out.

Night Vision: Glorious Galaxies is presented by DJ Luna on Thursday evening, March 9th, and Saturday evening, March 11th, in the Hansen Dome Theatre at 6:45pm. Tickets available online or at the Clark Planetarium ticket desk. Free for members.

Gateway to the Stars: March 2017

March 1st, 2017

Gateway to the Stars is our monthly exploration of the sights in the nighttime sky, as well as the news and hot topics in the field of astronomy, from the latest findings from the JUNO probe at Jupiter, to other deep space probes exploring the environment around Earth.

In the night sky, we’ll keep track of the position and motion of the planets. Only the elusive Mercury is out of sight, but the other visible planets (i.e. Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn) will be easily visible and each make excellent targets for amateur observers. And as the spectacularly bright stars of the winter sky around Orion begin to slide out of view, we’ll turn to some of the hallmark constellations and deep-sky sights of spring.

One more thing… On the night of the show (March 4th), naked-eye observers in parts of North America will get to observe the Moon blot out the first-magnitude star Aldebaran during the early evening.

The Moon will pass through Taurus on and around the night of March 4th. High in the west after sunset, and low in the west by about midnight.

The Moon will pass through Taurus the night of March 4th. It will be high in the west after sunset, moving to low in the west by about midnight. Click for larger version.


Close-up of the region outlined in the previous image, showing the Moon and Aldebaran on the night of March 4th. Click for a time-lapse view of the occultation.

Lunar occultations happen several times per year, but its visibility depends on one’s position on Earth, and this one will be nicely visible from Salt Lake City. So, it’s not immensely rare, but it’s a lovely occasional treat, and a great reminder that the sky is a dynamic environment that’s always changing. That’s an easy thing to forget if we just glance at the stars for a few seconds.

Gateway to the Stars​ is hosted live by Nick Jarvis on Saturday, March 4th at 6:45pm in the Hansen Dome Theater. Tickets are $2, or free for planetarium members. Buy tickets here, or at the Clark Planetarium ticket desk.​

Night Vision: Uranus & Neptune

February 20th, 2017

In this week’s Night Vision, we’ll explore our solar system’s outer ice giants: Uranus* and Neptune. While the nearer planets are easy for anyone to find in the sky, these distant and still-mysterious planets were only detected after the invention of sufficiently-powerful telescopes.

In this week’s show, we’ll outline the story of how we’ve explored these outer planets, from their first detections in the 18th and 19th centuries, to generations later when each was briefly visited by the Voyager 2 probe on its way out of the solar system.

The planets Uranus (left) and Neptune (right) as seen by Voyager 2 in 1986 and 1989. Credit: NASA/JPL

Uranus (left) and Neptune (right) as seen by Voyager 2 in 1986 and 1989, respectively. Credit: NASA/JPL

From those brief encounters, and our distant glimpses from here on Earth, we’ve begun to build a picture of these outer worlds, each with unique characteristics and fascinating moons. You’re invited to join us as we explore our current understanding of Uranus and Neptune. See you there!

*Before the show, all attendees are advised to say the name “Uranus” at least 100 times, or until you stop giggling! … Uranus… Uranus… Urrrr-aaannnn-uuusss…

Night Vision: Uranus & Neptune is presented by Nick Jarvis on Thursday evening, February 23rd, and Saturday evening, February 25th, in the Hansen Dome Theatre at 6:45pm. Tickets available online or at the Clark Planetarium ticket desk. Free for members.