Dean Regas wearing glasses standing in front of Grand Canyon

 

Grand Canyon Astronomer in Residence, Dean Regas, kept a daily journal of astronomical events during his residency at Grand Canyon National Park. These entries are what he shared. 

November 17, 2021: Remember the Leonids

Twenty years ago, the greatest meteor shower in a generation lit up a late night. Shooting stars rained, arced, and streaked across the sky every few seconds. This was the Leonid Meteor Storm and there has not been a meteor shower like it since.

The comet that creates the Leonid Meteor Shower is called Tempel-Tuttle. This comet circles the Sun and leaves parts of its icy tail behind. When the Earth runs into them at tremendous speeds, the tiny pieces of cometary ice burn up in our atmosphere and create shooting stars.

The Leonid Meteor shower puts on an average show every year around November 17-18 but don’t expect a dazzling display this year. The nearly full Moon will wash away all but the brightest few meteor streaks. But ask astronomers where they were on November 17-18, 2001, and they’ll tell you tales of the night the sky fell.

     

November 18, 2021: Lunar Eclipse Tonight (late tonight)

On Thursday night into Friday morning, the Sun, Earth, and Moon align and will give us a lunar eclipse. The Moon probably won’t turn blood red like other lunar eclipses, but it is still one of the greatest shows in the heavens and it will be visible across the entire United States. 

The eclipse will begin when the shadow of the Earth makes its first appearance on the Moon at 12:18 a.m. Mountain Standard Time. Then the darkness will slowly cover more of the Moon until 2:02 a.m. when 97.4% of the lunar surface will be dimmed. Although not technically a total lunar eclipse, you may still see some colorful shades of gray and hints of pink along the darkest portions of the Moon that is deepest in the Earth’s shadow. 

The eclipse will end when the Earth’s shadow finally leaves the lunar surface at 3:47 a.m. returning the Moon to its full brilliance. If you are clouded out on November 19, the next lunar eclipse will be May 15, 2022. But try to watch them all.

    Time lapse photos of a lunar eclipse with a black background 

November 19, 2021: Watch a (nearly) Full Moon Rise

I hope you caught the lunar eclipse this morning. After a nap, you can catch the Moon coming back around and rising at 5:38 pm tonight. Although the full Moon technically happened this morning, the Moon tonight will look pretty darned full. And as the Sun sets in the west-southwest, the Moon will rise in the east-northeast. 

So here’s what you do:

1) Find a spot where you have a clear view to the western and eastern sky. 

2) Take in a glorious Grand Canyon sunset around 5:15 p.m.

3) Go inside to grab another jacket, hat, and gloves (it gets cold fast out here)

4) Go back outside at 5:38 p.m. and face away from where the Sun just set. Turn 180 degrees.

5) Watch for the first glimpses of the Moon to pop its head above the horizon.

6) When you see it, howl!

    Closeup of greyish moon with a black background 

November 20, 2021: Find Three Planets

You can find three bright planets really easily this month. You don’t need a telescope or binoculars. In fact, two of them will grab your attention like UFOs in the sky.

Just after sunset face southwest and you can’t miss planet #1. It’s dazzlingly bright – suspiciously bright. Brighter than any other starlike object, this is the planet, Venus.

Then, make a quarter turn and look higher in the sky. There you’ll spot another brilliant light. That is the planet Jupiter and will shine with a steady cream-colored glow.

Finally about 1/3 of the way between Jupiter and Venus you’ll detect a semi-bright star. It’s actually the ringed planet Saturn giving off a yellow tint in the night sky. 

After you find the three planets, be sure to share your knowledge with others. They will think you’re really cool!

    Three planets are highlighted in a row by red text 

November 21, 2021: Find Cassiopeia

After dark look high in the northern sky and maybe, just maybe, you can imagine a queen embedded in the stars. This is the famous constellation Cassiopeia, the legendary Queen of Ethiopia sitting on her royal throne.

I know, I know… those stars don’t look anything like a queen. Cassiopeia is notorious for discouraging would-be stargazers because her outline is so ridiculously un-queen-like. That said, her five stars are semi-bright and make a very recognizable pattern that is visible almost all year. Instead of looking for a queen, merely find a small group of five stars that resemble a squished letter M, or W. If you still want to use your imagination, the stars in Cassiopeia could make a star-studded crown for our starry queen. (And notice the crown is a little bent on one side, indicating that everything might not be a-ok in the queendom.)

    Outline of constellations that make up Cassiopeia in the sky 

November 22, 2021: Find Three Planets

You can find three planets super easily this month. You don’t need a telescope or binoculars. In fact, two of them will grab your attention like UFOs in the sky.

Just after sunset face southwest and you can’t miss suspiciously bright Venus just above the horizon. Turn left and look higher in the sky to spot Jupiter which is the next brightest starlike object.  And in between the two, you can find Saturn glowing like a steady yellow star. You did it!

 

    Jupiter, Saturn, and Venus are pointed out on a night sky map 

 

November 23, 2021: Find Capella

What’s that crazy twinkling star in the northeastern sky? Just after dark when it’s low above the horizon, the bright star Capella jumps, dances, and flickers red, white, and blue. All stars do this to some extent, but Capella seems to excel at it. It may be because Capella is really a four-star system – four stars that circle each other. Or there could be dust lanes between us and Capella. We’re not sure. But find Capella tonight and see if you can unlock its twinkling secret.

 

    Capella star shines bright in a black night sky
 

November 24, 2021: Find the Pleiades (aka the Seven Sisters)

Face east this evening and your eye may play tricks on you.  Do you see a little cloud?  And upon closer examination does the cloud have some stars in it?  Yep, that’s the brightest open star cluster in the night sky: the Pleiades. 

Ancients could see seven stars in the cluster with their naked eye so it got the nickname, The Seven Sisters.  Some say the cluster looks like a dove. And a sharp-eyed first grader called it The Dinky Dipper. Find the Sisters tonight and see what you see.

    Seven blue starts are highlighted in a dark night sky
 

November 25, 2021: Find Aldebaran

When you found the Pleiades star cluster in the sky last night, did you also notice a bright orange star below them? That is Aldebaran, the eye of Taurus the Bull. Aldebaran means, “the follower” since it rises after the Pleiades and seems to follow them as the night move on.

Face east after dark and you’ll see Aldebaran casting its ruddy hue. Then look up and make sure it is following the Pleiades.

     

November 26, 2021: Find Capricornus

This zodiac constellation may be a fantastical half-goat, half-fish, but it is not easy to find in the sky. The classical outline looks like a sideways, goofy grin – and not a sea-goat. But this month the bright planets Jupiter and Saturn can guide you to Capricornus.

Face southwest after dark and you’ll easily spot Jupiter about halfway up in the sky shining with a stunning light.  Just below Jupiter are two stars on the left corner of Capricornus’ “smile.” To the right and down a bit you’ll find Saturn looking like a solid yellow-colored star. To Saturn’s right are two other stars that form the right corner of the “smile.” So even if you can’t imagine a sea-goat in the sky, at least now you can find it.

 
     
 

November 27, 2021: Find the Summer Triangle

Face west after sunset and high in the sky you’ll find the Summer Triangle. Basically look for the three brightest stars in this area, connect the dots, and bingo, you’ve found it. It’s called the Summer Triangle since starts rising in the summer months. But you can still see it through December.

The three stars at the triangle’s corners are Vega on the bottom right, Altair on the bottom left, and Deneb at the top.  The Summer Triangle is an asterism (an unofficial constellation).  You should totally find out what three official constellations are embedded in the Summer Triangle!

 

     
 

November 28, 2021: Find the Satellite

What’s that slow-moving, non-blinking light in the night sky?  Chances are it is one of the satellites circling the Earth. The brightest satellite is the International Space Station (ISS) which can shine as bright as the planet Venus.

You can spot a satellite on any given night but the best times to look are about 30-60 minutes after sunset and 30-60 minutes before sunrise. That’s when the Sun is still shining on them reflecting that light back to you still in the dark. To find when satellites will pass over you, get the app Sputnik.

     

 

November 29, 2021: Find the Moon during the day

Have you ever looked up and seen the Moon during the daytime?  The Moon is at its waning crescent phase which means you can only see it just before sunrise and a few hours into the morning sky. Try looking tomorrow morning – it should be there before the glare of the noonday Sun washes it out. 

 

 

     

 

November 30, 2021: Find Delphinus

Delphinus, the Dolphin, is one of the smallest, cutest constellations in the sky. Look for a faint diamond shape of stars outside the Summer Triangle and just above Altair. Once you find it, you may even be persuaded to agree it looks a little like a dolphin arching its back and jumping above the cosmic waves.

 

     

 

 

December 1, 2021: Find Deneb

Deneb is the top star in the Summer Triangle and the faintest of the three. That is largely because Deneb is so distant. Astronomers aren’t even sure how far away it is – estimates range between 1600 and 3200 light-years. This tail star of the constellation Cygnus could be one of the farthest stars you can see with the naked eye.

 

   

 

December 2, 2021: Find Albireo

Last night you found the tail of Cygnus the Swan (the star Deneb). Now find the head star Albireo. Albireo looks like ordinary white light, but through a telescope, you’ll see it is actually two stars of contrasting colors. The brighter star is orange and the dimmer one is blue. That means if you lived on a planet around there you’d have two colorful suns.

 

   

 

December 3, 2021: Find Fomalhaut

First, this star is fun to pronounce – go ahead, I dare you. However you say it, it’s probably correct. Fomalhaut is the lone bright star in the southern sky after dark. Look for it to the left of much, much brighter Jupiter. Astronomers found a huge disc of material around Fomalhaut giving it the appearance of the Eye of Sauron. And embedded in the disc may be a massive planet (or just a bunch of reflective dust – it’s a big debate right now!)

 

   

 

December 4, 2021: Find Venus

Venus is the suspiciously bright thing you see in the southwestern sky just after sunset. Look at it closely with the naked eye – can you see that it has a shape? Venus is not just a dot right now but is in its crescent phase. It’s heading between us and the Sun and so less of Venus’ lit surface is visible to us. Sharp eyes can actually detect Venus’ phase. Take a look and test your eyes (and then look through a telescope)

 

 

   

 

December 5, 2021: Find Saturn

About halfway between dazzling Venus and stunning Jupiter, you’ll spot a steady yellow-colored “star” that is actually the planet Saturn.  Even at around 1 billion miles away, you can still see Saturn with the naked eye. And you only need a backyard telescope to see the rings. If you don’t have a scope, connect with your local astronomy club and see Saturn this month before it rides off into the sunset.

 

   

 

December 6, 2021: Find Conjunctions

Just after sunset, look to the southwest and you’ll see the classic evening view: the crescent Moon cozying up to the brightest starlike object, Venus. It’s almost perfect! This is called a conjunction and the Moon passes by the planets on its monthly rounds. December 7, the Moon will be near Saturn and on December 8, look for it below Jupiter.

 

     

 

December 7, 2021: Find Altair

Altair is the bright star at the bottom left corner of the Summer Triangle visible in the western sky after dark. It is a rapidly rotating star, making a spin once every 10 hours. This has caused Altair to appear squished like a blue skittle. And at 16.8 light-years from us, Altair is one of our closer stellar neighbors.

 

     

 

December 8, 2021: Find Jupiter

Okay, this is an easy one. Look for the super-bright light above the crescent Moon tonight after sunset and you’ve found the mighty planet Jupiter. The largest planet in our solar system, Jupiter is more than 1300 times the size of Earth. Even at 500 million miles away, it’s still dazzling. Try aiming a telescope at it tonight to see some stripes and moons.

 

     

 

December 9, 2021: Find Pegasus

This one’s a neck-strainer! Look high in the sky tonight and you can find a big square of four stars. Some call this the Great Square (since there’s not much else going on there). This is the body of Pegasus the flying horse. The stars at the corners are Alpheratz, Algenib, Markab, and Scheat with Enif as his nose. Yep, he’s upside-down - but you can still find him straight overhead. Ouch, my neck!

 

     

 

December 10, 2021: Find Andromeda

We’re going back to the zenith tonight and taking another look at Pegasus. You found the Great Square last night and one of those stars, Alpheratz, is actually princess Andromeda’s head. Yes, her head is also, well, a part of the flying horse’s rear end. Anyway, her body is shaped like a skinny letter “A” stretching to the left of the Great Square. And if you are viewing from a dark sky, you may detect the farthest object you can see with the naked eye, the Andromeda Galaxy.    

 

     

 

December 11, 2021: Find Perseus

Identifying Perseus the sword-wielding, Medusa-head-holding mythological hero with winged sandals is tough. The constellation doesn’t stand out in the evening sky. So use the more noticeable outlines of M-shaped Cassiopeia and A-shaped Andromeda to triangulate Perseus’ position. Go down and to the right of Cassiopeia or down and to the left of Andromeda and you can find Perseus.

 

 

     

 

December 12, 2021: Find Orion

Where’s Orion been hiding? You may not have seen him in a while unless you were up really late at night. Orion is a winter constellation and can best be found January-April in the evening skies. But if you stay up to 8:30 p.m., you can see his snazzy belt of three stars plus his brightest stars Rigel and Betelgeuse above the treetops. And know winter is coming!

 

     

 

Learn more about the Astronomer in Residence Program