Waiting for Betelgeuse: What’s Up with the Tempestuous Star?

Orion rising on December 21, 2019 with yellow-red Betelgeuse at upper centre reportedly dimmer than usual as it drops to one of its occasional dim episodes as a long-period variable star. It is a red supergiant that varies between 0.0 and +1.3 magnitude. rrThis is a stack of 6 x 1-minute tracked exposures plus a single exposure through the Kenko Softon A filter to add the star glows. All on the iOptron Sky Guider Pro and with the stock Canon 6D MkII and 35mm lens at f/2.8. Taken from home in Alberta on a partly cloudy and foggy night.

Have you noticed that Orion the Hunter—one of the most iconic and familiar of the wintertime constellations—is looking a little… different as of late? The culprit is its upper shoulder star Alpha Orionis, aka Betelgeuse, which is looking markedly faint, the faintest it has been for the 21st century.

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Our Guide to the December 26th Annular ‘Ring of Fire’ Eclipse

Mid-eclipse, perfectly centered ring of fire. Image credit and copyright: Kevin Baird.

Ready for the final ‘Ring of Fire’ solar eclipse of 2019? The final eclipse of the year kicks off this week on Wednesday, early on December 26th the day after Christmas, with an annular solar eclipse spanning the Indian Ocean region from the Middle East to the western Pacific.

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Will Blanpain Perform? Comet Prospects for 2020

Comet T2 PanSTARRS
Getting brighter... Comet T2 PanSTARRS from December 6th. Image credit and copyright: Efrain Morales Rivera.

Looking forward to the next bright comet in 2020 or beyond? You’re not alone. Though we’ve had a steady string of decent binocular comets over the past few years, we haven’t had a good naked eye comet since W3 Lovejoy beat solar death during its blistering perihelion passage in 2011. But this survivor turned out to be bashful, and headed for southern hemisphere skies… Comet P1 McNaught followed suit in 2007, hiding from northern hemisphere observers at its best. And we all remember what happened to Comet S1 ISON—touted as the next great ‘Comet of the Century’ on U.S. Thanksgiving Day 2013. Here it is almost 2020, and you have to go allll the way back nearly a quarter of a century to Hale-Bopp and Hyakutake to remember just how brilliant a good naked eye comet can be.

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December Meteor Squalls: Prospects for the 2019 Geminids and Ursids

2019 Geminids
A composite of several exposures to stack images of five Geminid meteors into a wide view of the winter sky with Comet Wirtanen at upper right in Taurus, taken on December 12, 2018. The meteors are shooting away from the radiant point in Gemini near the bluish-white star Castor at left. The Milky Way runs vertically through the frame from Auriga at top to past Orion at bottom. All the images for the base sky layer and the meteors were shot as part of the same sequence and framing, with a 24mm lens and Nikon D750 on a Star Adventurer tracker. The camera is unmodified so the red nebulosity in this part of the sky appears rather pale. Capella and the Pleiades are at top, Orion is at bottom, Taurus is at centre, while Gemini and the radiant point of the shower is at lower left. The Taurus Dark Clouds complex is at upper centre. All exposures were 30 seconds at f/2 and ISO 1600. I started the sequence with the camera framing this area of the sky when it was just rising in the east in the moonlight then followed it for 4 hours until clouds moved in. So all the images align, but out of 477 frames shot only these 5 had Geminid meteors. Images layered and stacked in Photoshop. Image Credit and Copyright: Alan Dyer/AmazingSky.com

December means chillier climes for northern hemisphere residents, a time to huddle inside near the campfire, both real and cyber. I’ve always thought this was a shame, as the cold crisp nights of winter also offer up sharp, clear skies. Over the past decade or so, December gives observers another reason to brave the cold: the Geminids.

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Conjunction Alert: Jupiter Meets Venus at Dusk

Jupiter and Venus
Invasion of the naked eye planets... shining a laser at Jupiter and Venus. Credit: Dave Dickinson

Get ready: The conjunction queries are inbound. “Did you see those two bright things in the sky last night?” Says a well-meaning family member/friend/coworker/random person on Twitter who knows you’re into astronomy. “They were HUGE!”

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Our Guide to the November 11th, 2019 Transit of Mercury Across the Sun

Mercury transits the Sun in 2016. Image credit and copyright: David Blanchflower.

One of the finest spectacles in astronomy is to witness the passage of one object in front of another. This can transpire as an eclipse, an occultation, or a rare event known as a planetary transit. We get a shot at seeing just such a singular event next Monday on November 11th, as a transit of Mercury across the face of Sol occurs for the last time this decade.

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Did an Ancient Supernova Force Humans to Walk Upright?

Crab nebula
The Crab Nebula (Messier 1) a recent supernova remnant noticed as a bright new star in Taurus in the 11th century. Image credit and copyright: Nick Howes.

A new study hints at a possible fascinating twist in human evolution. Did a chain of cosmic events triggered by a nearby ancient supernova force humans to walk upright?

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Tracking Twilight: ‘Purple Sunset Effect’ Seen Worldwide

Has twilight looked at little… purple to you as of late? The ‘purple sunset’ effect is subtle, but currently noticeable on a clear evening. Sunsets are always colorful events, as the Sun’s rays shine through a thicker layer of the atmosphere at an oblique angle, scattering out at longer, redder wavelengths. When the air is clear and relatively dust free, this effect is at a minimum… but when the upper atmosphere becomes saturated with dust particles and aerosols, the sky can erupt in a panoply of colors at twilight.

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Our Guide to Tuesday Night’s Partial Lunar Eclipse

The Full Moon rises in partial eclipse over the sandstone formations of Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park in southern Alberta, on the evening of September 27, 2015.

Happen to be in Europe, Africa, Asia or Australia on Tuesday night, July 16th with clear skies? If the July weather cooperates, you’ll have a good view of a fine partial lunar eclipse, the final lunar eclipse for 2019.

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