Make 2009 your year to experience the wonders of the universe! Each month, our “Go Observe!” section will highlight a celestial object that you can locate in the sky. Go outside and look up, attend a Night Sky Network (http://nightsky.jpl.nasa.gov) star party or a sidewalk astronomy event, or go online and use a MicroObservatory (http://microobservatory.org) robotic telescope to make your own observations of the universe. Come back to our “Go Observe!” articles each month to learn more about each object, and to find tips and resources for making and sharing your own observations.
Our featured objects for 2009 are:
- January - Venus: By observing the phases of Venus, Galileo concluded Venus orbits the Sun - and not the Earth. The planet Venus is the brightest celestial object in the sky after the Sun and the Moon, and appears brighter to us than the star Sirius. January is the best time to view Venus in the evening sky in 2009.
- February - The Moon: The Moon is the closest astronomical object to the Earth. Galileo was among the first to observe craters and mountains on the Moon. NASA spacecraft scheduled to launch in 2009 will map the Moon in amazing detail and search for evidence of ancient ice to help prepare for future human exploration.
- March - Saturn: Galileo’s observations of Saturn revealed objects that looked like two handles around Saturn. Later observations showed these objects to be rings, composed of billions of ice particles. Modern spacecraft and telescopes have provided us with spectacular views of Saturn, its rings, and its moons.
- April - Whirlpool Galaxy: The Whirlpool Galaxy was the first galaxy recognized to have a spiral shape, as observed by Lord Rosse in 1845. Today, we know that our own Milky Way is also a spiral galaxy. The Whirlpool Galaxy is located in the constellation Canes Venatici, and can be observed with a small telescope.
- May - The Sun: The Sun is our closest star, and the source of energy that supports life on Earth. Galileo wrote his first letter on sunspots in May 1612. Modern telescopes and spacecraft help us explore how weather on the Sun affects our home planet Earth.
- June - The Hercules Globular Cluster: A globular cluster is a collection of hundreds of thousands of ancient stars held together by gravity. Discovered in 1714, the Hercules Globular Cluster is one of the brightest, closest, and most beautiful globular clusters that can be observed from the northern hemisphere.
- July - The Milky Way: Our solar system is located in the Milky Way galaxy. On a dark summer night, the Milky Way looks like a faint hazy band of light stretching across the night sky. Galileo discovered that the Milky Way is made of a countless number of stars. Modern telescopes allow us to explore the vast expanse of our home galaxy as never before.
- August - The Perseids: The Perseids is typically the most visible meteor shower for northern observers, although hampered by moonlight in 2009. Named because its streaks of light appear to originate near the constellation Perseus, the Perseids meteor shower occurs when Earth’s orbit crosses the tail of debris from Comet Swift-Tuttle.
- September - Jupiter: Jupiter is the largest planet in our solar system. Galileo’s discovery of four of Jupiter’s moons challenged the ideas of his time about our solar system. Modern telescopes and space probes continue Galileo’s legacy, with dramatic observations of Jupiter and its moons, and detections of giant planets around other stars.
- October - Andromeda: Visible in dark skies with the unaided eye or binoculars, Andromeda is the closest large spiral galaxy to our own. Scientists use telescopes in space and on the ground to study the stars, gas, and dust in this enormous galaxy, predicted to collide with our Milky Way galaxy billions of years from now.
- November - The Crab Nebula: Native Americans and Chinese astronomers recorded the appearance of a “star” in 1054 A.D. that was so bright that it could be seen during the day. This event was associated with the death of a star, and resulted in the creation of the Crab Nebula. The Crab Nebula can be seen with a modest telescope under dark skies.
- December - The Orion Nebula: The Orion Nebula, now known to be home to disks of material that could be the building blocks of future solar systems, can be easily seen on a dark night in the Orion constellation. Galileo recorded many more stars than he could see with his eyes alone when he viewed the Orion constellation through his telescope.
Where can I learn more? Visit our Resources section to begin your observations of the universe today! Check out the Night Sky Network IYA Discovery Guides for tips on locating our featured objects in the sky!