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This website has been created by and is supported by a group of Boston, MA - area amateur astronomers. It is intended to be a convenient site to access news and information about astronomy and space-related activities of interest to the community and the public.



       New Astronomy Course: MEET THE UNIVERSE - Spring 2016!


As the brilliant stars of Winter fade and give way to the “Deep Skies” of Spring, our thoughts turn upward and outward. It’s natural to ponder such questions as how the Universe came into existence, how life began, and whether we are alone. Modern astronomy is increasingly in the news, and in this course we’ll come to an understanding of often confusing concepts such as brown dwarfs, red giants, black holes, and dark matter.  We’ll also have a chance to learn some of the constellations of the seasons, see the rugged surface of the Moon and the moons of Jupiter through a telescope, learn about the Orion and the “Seven Sisters”, and construct a model of the Solar System that you can keep in your pocket!

One of our meetings will be at a local observatory; there we will be able to use a large telescope to learn about the sky first-hand.

No math or science background required!

8 Tuesdays 8:00 – 9:30 PM

Runs from March 29 - May 17.

Cambridge Center for Adult Education:



           February Astronomy-Related Events in the Boston Area  



Thursday, February 11th, 2015 8:00 PM - 10:00 PM

Amateur Telescope Makers of Boston

Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics

Topic and Speaker: "The World at Night", Babak Taffreshi

This month, we are pleased to welcome Babak Tafreshi, founder and director of The World At Night (TWAN). The World At Night is an international program to produce and present stunning photographs and time-lapse videos of the world’s landmarks against celestial backdrops. TWAN includes 50 of the world’s best photographers and coordinators from about 30 countries. TWAN images, which represent naked eye views, help to popularize astronomy while playing a role in increasing awareness of the value of dark skies and the growing problem of light pollution.
Babak A. Tafreshi is a photojournalist and science communicator. A freelance photographer at the National Geographic, he received the 2009 Lennart Nilsson Award, the world’s most recognized award for scientific photography, for his global contribution to night sky photography. He is the founder and director of The World At Night (TWAN), a board member of Astronomers Without Borders, a contributing photographer at Sky&Telescope magazine and the European Southern Observatory.
Born in 1978 in Tehran, Babak is an Iranian based in the United States, but he is often on the move and could be anywhere, from the heart of Sahara to the Himalayas or Antarctica. When living in Iran he was editor of the Persian astronomy magazine (Nojum) for a decade and has been a board member of the Astronomical Society of Iran's outreach committee where he directed many national astronomy events.
TWAN is a bridge between art, humanity, and science, with a unique message. The eternally peaceful sky looks the same above all nations and regions, attesting to the unified nature of Earth and mankind. One People, One Sky!



Thursday, February 18th, 2016 7:30 PM

Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics

60 Garden Street, Cambridge, MA

Topic and Speaker: "Big Data to Big Art", Henry "Trae" Winter, CfA

We currently live in the Information Age, where terms like "Big Data" and the "Internet of Things" are ingrained into the public consciousness. This massive compilation of data is useless without tools to aid us in comprehending what the numbers mean. These tools are almost always visual in nature and creating them requires not only a knowledge of math and science, but also an understanding of how human beings interpret and interact with the world around them. We will explore a few large datasets and the tools developed to visualize them, and see that the boundaries between art and science are very often blurred.




Plus (ongoing):  


Tuesdays (beginning March 29, 2016, 9:00 PM)

Public Telescope Night 

Clay Center Observatory

Dexter Southfield School

Brookline, MA

617-454-2795 (appoint. required)



Boston University

Boston, MA.
Open Night at Coit Observatory most Wednesdays 8:30 PM - 9:30 PM. 



Thursdays (everry 3rd Thursday of month)

Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics

60 Garden Street, Cambridge, MA


Fridays (beginning March 4, 2016, 8:30 PM)

Astronomy After Hours

Museum of Science, Boston, MA




The Sky Report for the Month of February 2016


Current Night Sky: At A Glance



            Phases of the Moon:



New Moon

February 8

         9:39 AM EST

First Quarter

February 15

       2:46 AM EST

Full Moon

February 22

1:20 PM EST



The Moon & Planets:



Planet Visibility:


In Evening (after sunset):

    Neptune, in SW

    Uranus, in SW 


 At Midnight:

    Jupiter, in SE


 In Morning (before sunrise):

    Jupiter, in W

  •     Mars, in S

  •     Saturn, in S 

  •     Venus, in SE

  •     Mercury, in SE 




        Comet Catalina (C/2013 US10) is now in the northernmost sky and is circumpolar. Its brightness seems to have plateaued at magnitude 6 - just below naked-eye visibility – and is now fading




    •     There are no major meteor showers in February.








    For much of February, all five naked-eye planets – Jupiter, Mars, Saturn, Venus, and Mercury –

    are lined up like beads on a string along the Ecliptic – the plane in which all the planets orbit.

    At the beginning of the month and again its end, the Moon makes its way along the line,

    passing each planet in turn. (It had slipped by Jupiter on January 27th).

    As this is underway, the Moon itself shrinks from a First Quarter to a very thin waning crescent.

     (February 2, 2016, 6:00 AM EST).





        As February begins, the Moon makes a close pass of Mars in the early morning sky before sunrise. At closest approach, they are separated

    by just 4° - or about 8 “Moon-widths”. But Mars isn’t the only planet the Moon slides by this month;

    during February, it pays a visit to each of the bright planets – in the case of Mars, twice!

    (February 1, 2016, 6:00 AM).





     Exactly one day later, the Moon lies between Mars and Saturn.

      (February 2, 2016, 6:00 AM EST).





       On the 6th, the very hairline-thin Moon forms a compact triangle with Venus and Mars.

     (February 6, 2016, 6:00 AM EST).




              Of Magnification and "Seeing"    


    One of the most common questions telescope operators at observatory public nights or amateur astronomers at star parties get is, “What’s the magnification of this telescope?”


    The magnification of “a telescope” is not a fixed quantity. Certainly it depends on the size of the telescope’s objective (primary lens or mirror). Each telescope will have an objective of a fixed diameter (in inches or millimeters). And like all lenses, the objective will have a focal length – the distance from the objective where light rays from the target are brought to a focus. These are, in fact, fixed quantities. But the other factor determining magnification is the focal length of the lenses in the eyepiece. There is a simple numerical ratio determining the power of the optical system:


    Magnification = Focal Length of Objective / Focal Length of Eyepiece


    So, as an example, a telescope with a focal length of 2,000 mm, when used with an eyepiece of focal length of 20 mm, will yield a magnification of 2,000 / 20 = 100 times. The same 2,000 mm focal length scope, when used with an eyepiece of 10 mm focal length, will yield 2,000 / 10 = 200 times.


    So if increasing the magnification is as easy as switching eyepieces, why don’t we just use the smaller focal length eyepieces all the time? After all, isn’’t more magnification better?


    Not necessarily!


    One of the major limitations is caused by Earth’s atmosphere. When we magnify the image of a celestial object, we also magnify the distortions caused by Earth’s atmosphere. These distortions are caused by small fluctuations due to turbulence, thermal effects, dust, etc., in the atmosphere which tend to bend or distort the light beams between the target and the telescope. These effects are generically called “seeing”, and can vary night by night and location by location. And “seeing” is not something than can be readily judged by the naked eye; a calm, clear, dark night can still be one of terrible seeing, while a hazy one can produce one of excellent seeing – or vice versa! While there are sophisticated techniques to overcome poor seeing, the effects can never be completely removed – except by situating the telescope in space where there is no atmosphere to distort the view (as in the case of the Hubble Telescope). Short of that, the seeing is considerably improved by situation observatories on mountaintops, where the quantity of atmosphere between the target and the telescope is minimized. Indeed, for the sake of good seeing, it can be said that some astronomers would prefer that the Earth had no atmosphere to begin with!



    An example of poor “seeing”


    A Schedule of Events - February 2016
    Feb. 1 Mon. 4:00 AM EST Moon 3° N of Mars
    Feb. 3 Wed. 2:00 PM EST Moon 3° N of Saturn
    Feb. 3 Wed. 6:23 PM EST - 6:27 PM Bright ISS Pass (magnitude: -3.4)
    Feb. 4 Thur.   Clyde Tombaugh born 110 years ago
    Feb. 4 Thur. 6:21 PM EST Astronomical Midpoint of Winter
    Feb. 6 Sat. 3:00 AM EST Moon 4° N of Venus
    Feb. 6 Sat. 12:00 PM EST Moon 4° N of Mercury
    Feb. 6 Sat. 8:00 PM EST Mercury @ greatest western elongation (26° W of Sun)
    Feb. 8 Mon. 9:39 AM EST New Moon
    Feb. 9 Tue. 7:00 PM EST Moon 2° N of Neptune
    Feb. 10 Wed. 9:41 AM EST Moon @ perigee (364,360 km / 226,403 mi)
    Feb. 12 Fri. 9:00 AM EST Moon 1.7° S of Uranus
    Feb. 12 Fri. 10:00 PM EST Mercury 4° E of Venus
    Feb. 15 Mon. 2:46 AM EST First Quarter Moon
    Feb. 16 Tue. 3:00 AM EST Moon 0.3° N of Aldebaran
    Feb. 16 Tue. 9:00 PM EST Sun enters Aquarius
    Feb. 18 Thur. 6:08 PM EST - 6:14 PM EST Bright ISS Pass (magnitude: -3.4)
    Feb. 22 Mon. 1:20 PM EST Full Moon ("Full Snow Moon")
    Feb. 23 Tue. 11:00 PM EST Moon 1.7° S of Jupiter
    Feb. 23 Wed. 4:37 AM EST - 5:03 AM EST Double shadow transit on Jupiter (Europa, Io)
    Feb. 24 Wed.   Zodiacal light visible until about March 9.
    Feb. 26 Fri. 10:28 PM EST Moon @ apogee (405,384 km / 251,894 mi)
    Feb. 28 Sun. 11:00 AM EST Neptune @ solar conjunction
    Feb. 29 Mon. 1:00 PM EST Moon 4° N of Mars


       (bold = cool or important)


           * = best time to see from Boston


    An Overview of Major 2016 Astronomical Events

    Jan. 2 Sat. 6:00 PM EST Earth @ perihelion (0.98330 AU)
    Jan. 3 Sun. 7:13 AM EST Latest sunrise
    Jan. 4 Mon. 3:00 AM EST Quadrantid meteors
    Jan. 19 Tue. 9:35 PM EST - 10:49 PM Moon occults Aldebaran
    Feb. 6 Sat. 0:00 (midnight) EST Mercury @ greatest western elongation (26° W); Morning "Star
    Mar. 8 Tue. 5:00 AM EST Jupiter @ opposition
    Mar. 9     Total Solar Eclipse (Pacific, SE Asia)
    Mar. 13   2:00 AM EST Daylight Saving Time begins
    Mar. 14     ESA ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter / Schiaparelli EDL launch
    Mar. 19   00:30 AM EST March Equinox
    Mar. 23     Penumbral Lunar Eclipse
    Apr. 10   6:52 PM EDT - 7:56 PM EDT Moon occults Aldebaran (daytime, late afternoon)
    Apr. 18   8:00 AM EDT Mercury @ greatest eastern elongation (20° W); Evening "Star
    May 5   4:00 PM EDT Eta Aquariid meteor shower peaks
    May 9     Transit of Mercury
    May 22   7:00 AM EDT Mars @ opposition
    May 30     Mars @ closest approach
    June 3   2:00 AM EDT Saturn @ opposition
    June 4   3:41 PM EDT - 4:47 PM EDT Moon occults Aldebaran (daytime, close to Sun)
    June 5   5:00 AM  EDT Mercury @ greatest western elongation (24° W); Morning "Star
    June 6     Venus @ superior conjunction
    June 20   6:00 PM EDT June Solstice
    July 4     Earth @ aphelion (1.01675 AU)
    July 5     Juno Jupiter orbit insertion
    July 7     Pluto @ opposition
    July 23   12:07 AM EDT - 1:01 AM EDT Moon occults Neptune
    July 29   6:21 AM EDT - 7:03 AM EDT Moon occults Aldebaran (daytime)
    Aug. 12   11:30 AM EDT Perseid meteors peak (ZHR 150), favoring central Pacific
    Aug. 16   2:00 PM EDT Mercury @ greatest eastern elongation (27° W); Evening "Star
    Aug. 27   6:00 PM EDT Venus passes 4' from Jupiter (closest naked-eye planet conjunction)
    Sept. 1   5:00 AM EDT Annular Solar Eclipse (Sothern Africa, Indian Ocean)
    Sept. 2     Neptune @ opposition
    Sept. 3     OSIRIS-Rex sample-return mission to asteroid Bennu launched
    Sept. 22   10:21 AM EDT September Equinox
    Sept. 28     Mercury @ greatest western elongation (18° W); Morning "Star
    Oct. 15     Uranus @ opposition
    Oct. 16     ExoMars TGO/Schiaparelli separation
    Oct. 19     ExoMars TGO Mars orbit insertion
    Oct. 19     ExoMars Schiaparelli Mars landing
    Oct. 19   1:50 AM EDT - 2:54 PM EDT Moon occults Aldebaran
    Oct. 21     Ceres @ opposition
    Nov. 6   2:00 AM EDT Daylight Saving Time ends
    Nov. 17   6:00 AM EST Leonid meteroids
    Dec. 5     Mercury @ greatest eastern elongation (21° W); Evening "Star
    Dec. 6   11:18 PM EST - 12:32 AM EST Moon occults Neptune
    Dec. 13   7:00 PM EST Geminid meteors
    Dec. 21   5:44 AM EST December Solstice
    Dec. 22   4:00 AM EST Ursid meteors

    February 15, 2016
          February 15, 2016, 9:00 PM EST