Movement of the Planets (including Earth), Feb 14 and 21, 2015

Edit:Feb 21 (2pm): Weather not improving.  According to the Charlottetown Clear Sky Chart, we’ll have poor transparency (water vapour in atmosphere so would get fuzzy image) and increasing clouds over the evening.  This month’s viewing cancelled.


And just because I was curious as to how much “sun” (or lack of) we get in Charlottetown, I did some checking.  According to, Charlottetown is number 19 out of 100 cities in Canada for the least amount of sunshine.  So glad we’re not number 1. Comparing nearby cities, St. John’s, NL is number 5, Truro is number 11 and Halifax is 51.

Edit: Feb 20 (11am): Current weather forecast is for clouds cover starting about 4pm on Saturday.  Still tentatively on for now.  Further update by Saturday 5:30pm. 

Edit: Feb 14 (5:39pm): This evening’s session cancelled due to the overcast skies.  Based on satellite images, it looks like an even thicker cloud cover than now moving in in the next hours.  We’ll try to have it on the 21st.

We’re still pinning down some volunteers for potential astronomy sessions on Feb 14 (alternate date Feb 21st if needed).  With the weather being so cold, it’s harder to rotate the dome and the electronics on our telescopes also don’t work as well.  Check out this site (and phone message at 902-566-0745) after 5:30pm to make sure the session is running.

Generally — if the sky is more than 25% covered or the weather forecast is for clouds moving strongly in, or there’s precipitation (snow or rain) or it’s really REALLY cold (e.g. -20C), then we could post-pone it to Feb 21st.  Currently there’s a lot of snow forecast for Friday Feb 13th and that could also cause issues.

With that out of the way, I’d like to give you an idea of what sort of things we could be looking at that evening.

Just after 7pm, there’s a chance to see Venus and Mars near the horizon (Uranus very very faint). Two things about the Stellarium generated image below — it’s a good example of how the planets are mostly in “a line” with respect to each other.  They’re not perpendicular as the Earth’s rotation axis is tilted with respect to the plane in which the planets rotate.  The second… because we’re in the city and our dome is surrounded by buildings and vegetation, we may not be able to see any of these planets at all as Mars and Venus may be blocked from view and Uranus is likely too faint.  That’s where taking a portable telescope to near a dark beach (or other flat location) can really shine.

Venus Feb14 1912

Venus, Mars and Uranus (showing planetary orbit paths, about 7:15pm Feb 14 2015)

As the evening progresses, Venus and Mars move below the horizon, leaving only the very faint Uranus a possibility if you’ve got a really nice dark sky, a still air mass and a good telescope.

Curious why Venus’ orbital path doesn’t continue on with that of Mars and Uranus?  It’s because Venus is closer to the Sun than the Earth, so we “pass” it and it seems to reverse direction as it falls behind.  (Some excellent Flash-based labs here.)

Uranus Feb14 2014

Uranus, Feb 14 (about 8:45pm), Mars and Venus below the horizon

If we end up post-poning a week, Mars and Venus move a lot closer together (from our viewpoint on the Earth), but still very low to the horizon. We’ll also have a nice sliver of moon available.

Venus Feb21 1912

Venus, Mars and the Moon, Feb 21 2015 (about 7:15pm)

A likely “star” or rather “planet” attraction for the evening, whether it’s on the 14th or 21st would be Jupiter instead.  Further up from the horizon, bright and a gorgeous planet to view.

Jupiter Feb14 1914

Jupiter Feb 14 2015 (about 7:15pm)

Jupiter Feb21 1912

Jupiter, Feb 21 2015 (about 7:15pm)

Here’s to a good viewing.



Future observatory sessions

The start of term is always a bit crazy at universities.  I’ve been watching the weather to see if we could have an observing session this weekend, and Saturday is supposed to be relatively clear, but also quite cold (not great for telescopes or for the people standing outside and not able to move).

No January viewing this month. Next month, I’m hoping to set up two Saturdays a week apart (having the 2nd one if the 1st is canceled).  I’ll be organizing a couple more things and I’m hoping to have the spring schedule for the next months by the end of next Friday.

Closed Early: Extra December Viewing: Saturday Dec 13th, 7-9pm

Closed as of 8:00pm: The viewing ran from 7-8pm, with much of it cloudy out.  We had clear sky at the start and the clouds moved in as we were aligning the telescope.  We did work the telescope manually from about 7:40-8pm and gave 2 people a chance to use the telescope on a star cluster and a double star, but not the other people here earlier which is disappointing.

If you’re checking thing out, please search on the “Gemini meteor shower” as they’re quite prominent tonight and you could spot some near or after midnight if the clouds clear up.  Check out for information on how to search for them.

We don’t normally try to organize a viewing in December as people’s schedules tend to be busier, but since we’ve had quite a few cancellations in the past months, we’re going to put one on.

If you’d like to go see the telescope at UPEI Saturday December 13th, 7-9pm, come on over.  Telescope dome on the rooftop of Memorial, UPEI.  We’ve got Brian from the local Charlottetown RASC group who has volunteered to help with the telescope and we’ll have a variety of different things available in Memorial 417 for both adults and children.

Mars will be up near the horizon close to seven but too low to get a viewing with our telescope.  It may or may not be possible to get a look at the planet Uranus (very far away as planets go and very dim), but we should have some good stars to check out.

Hope the weather forecasts holds as accurate. Right now it’s forecasted to be clear for Saturday evening.  Unfortunately, if the weather changes, there won’t be a “rain date”.  Watch this blog for any cancellation notice.

Upcoming Viewing: Saturday November 15th

The weather’s been cloudy or raining for seeming forever at this point (today it was rainy and sunny at the same time).  The weather for this coming weekend seems questionable, so we’re setting up a single public viewing (no Sunday backup) for Saturday November 15th and we’ll see how it goes.

Update: 5:07pm Sat Nov 15 — Due to the overcast skies, we will have to cancel this evening’s viewing.

We don’t normally have a viewing in December, but due to the recent string of cancellations, we will be trying to set one up.  Possible days include Tuesday December 9th or Saturday December 13th.  More details once volunteers have been lined up.

No public observing in Oct 2014, Chris Hadfield event at the Confederation Centre

Quick note to let people know that we won’t be having a public observing session in October, but hope that everyone enjoys this Thanksgiving weekend.  We do plan to have a public viewing in November, date Saturday November 8th or 15th (date and time to be confirmed).

Our telescopes will be heading over to the Confederation Centre, along with a couple of student volunteers, at the end of the month to help with Chris Hadfield’s event (includes telescope session).  I’d promote it more, but tickets have already sold out, so I’ll leave it with a quick link.