The night sky changes quickly and observing often, even for short periods, is a great way to stoke your love of astronomy. This section contains observing tips and reports to help you get the most from your time under the stars.

Easter Weekend Lunar Eclipse

I missed Saturday morning’s lunar eclipse due to being clouded out in Massachusetts, though had it been clear very little of the Moon would’ve been covered as most of the eclipse occurred after moonset on the East coast.

I’ve only observed one total eclipse; it was November 8, 2003. I remember it because I spent about 2 hours standing out in the cold night with my camera. Here’s a composite of my attempts to photograph it:

Total lunar eclipse on November 8, 2013.

Total lunar eclipse on November 8, 2003.

Matt Wedel was able to observe this weekend’s eclipse from California and has posted some nice photos over at 10 Minute Astronomy.*

*Taken with a 60mm refractor, no less.


Original content copyright 2015 by David Philips. All Rights Reserved. This post may contain links to affiliate sites; sales through affiliate links may benefit this site.

Viewing the Moon

Photo: Moon

Waxing Gibbous Moon on March 31, 2015

With signs of Spring finally appearing in New England I find my thoughts turning toward observing galaxies. The Lion is well positioned for viewing and I’ve been wanting to write a post on the Leo Triplet but that will have to wait a few weeks thanks to the brightening Moon.

While the Moon’s light does make it difficult to see the faint fuzzies that require dark skies, views of the planets as well as double stars are largely unaffected by the brightened skies and are good subjects between the 1st and 3rd quarters of the lunar cycle. Not to mention the Moon itself – the Moon is the richest object in the sky and time spent examining its treasures is well rewarded.

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60mm Sessions: Hunting for Doubles in Orion


Orion – The Hunter in early Spring. With the exception of Castor, all of the double stars visited during this session can be found in this photo.

When you think of night sky object classes within the grasp of the common 60mm refractor double stars often end up near the top of the list. Like the Moon and planets, many of these multiple star systems are bright enough to cut through light pollution making them easy to view from wherever you happen to be. There are some spectacular double stars in and around Orion and Late Winter / Early Spring is a good time to view them.

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Saying Goodbye to Comet Lovejoy

Finder chart showing Comet Lovejoy's position on March 8, 2015. Courtesy of Heavens-Above.com

Finder chart showing Comet Lovejoy’s position on March 8, 2015. Courtesy of Heavens-Above.com

Comet Lovejoy (official designation, C/2014 Q2) is hanging around longer than anticipated but even so my last views of the comet seem sure to come sometime this week. I was out tonight viewing the comet, which has faded to around magnitude 6, and while I could spot it in 8×40 binoculars it took much more effort than it did two weeks ago.

Not only is the brightness fading but its position is becoming less favorable. Cassiopeia is sinking ever lower in the Northern sky putting the comet down in the proverbial atmospheric muck. What’s more is that my backyard isn’t ideal for observing in this direction. I have trees back there. Still, this is one instance where the switch to EDT actually helps, giving me an extra hour to get home and have a shot at observing the comet before it drops below the tree line.

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60mm Sessions: Ganymede, its shadow, and the GRS

Last night after dinner I looked out the window to see Jupiter high in the sky with the nearly full Moon not far away. There were no signs of clouds so I decided to check if anything interesting might be visible on the planet. For this I use an app called Jupiter Simulator that shows me GRS and moon transits on my Android tablet. There are similar apps available for iOS and an online javascript utility at Shallow Sky.

I was pleasantly surprised to learn that Ganymede was currently in the middle of a transit. Even better, the Great Red Spot was just appearing on the Eastern limb. I grabbed my smallest aperture telescope that takes interchangeable eyepieces, a 60mm refractor, and headed outside.

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Moon, Venus, and Mars Conjunct

Photo: Conjunction

Conjunction of the crescent Moon, Venus (center left) and Mars (upper left) on the evening of February 20, 2015. Photo by David Philips.

I always enjoy trying to spot the waxing crescent moon as I leave work. It’s position can vary a bit depending on my schedule and the exact timing of the Lunar phase but I usually can catch it high enough in the South Western sky while I walk to my car and steal an occasional glimpse on the drive home.

Tonight I was greeted by an especially striking scene as both Venus and Mars shone close by and the full Lunar disc was visible in the Earthshine. By the time I arrived home the Moon was much lower in the sky but I was able to catch a photo of the conjunction.

Considering the past several weeks have been full of snow, clouds, and more snow, I’m thankful to have caught this conjunction and the clear but cold night is a welcome change. Keep looking up; you may see something beautiful!


Original content copyright 2015 by David Philips. All Rights Reserved. This post may contain links to affiliate sites; sales through affiliate links may benefit this site.

Viewing Jupiter’s Great Red Spot

This month offers prime viewing for one of the most interesting objects in our Solar System as Jupiter is now well positioned for observation from twilight to dawn.

Jupiter is easily visible to the naked eye as the brightest star-like object in the sky. Currently it is found in Cancer, which can be a difficult constellation to locate in my suburban sky – look for it between Gemini and Leo.

Jovian Features

Annotated picture of Jupiter taken by the Cassini spacecraft (Credit NASA/JPL for original picture) on December 29, 2000

Annotated picture of Jupiter taken by the Cassini spacecraft on December 29, 2000 (Credit NASA/JPL for original picture).

The planet offers a host of features for users of small telescopes. At powers around 10x the four Galilean moons can be seen nicely aligned with the planet. Increase the magnification to 40x and the main equatorial belts stand out clearly. Going to 100x and higher reveals more belts and zones.

For many observers of Jupiter the Great Red Spot (GRS), an enormous storm that has raged for hundreds of years, is a sought after highlight. Magnifications of around 130x are a good starting point for your first views of the GRS.

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