The purpose of this feature is to give scout leaders, educators and naturalists an idea of some of the natural events coming up each month. We will try to cover a variety of natural events ranging from sky events to calling periods of amphibians, bird and mammal watching tips, prominent wildflowers and anything else that comes to mind. We will also note prominent constellations appearing over the eastern horizon at mid-evening each month for our area for those who would like to learn the constellations. If you have suggestions for other types of natural information you would like to see added to this calendar, let us know!
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Notes and Images From May 2014
In May we continued to work on the observatory for the new telescope, and the structural part of the project is almost complete. The wiring for the various observatory functions is the main task now, and we hope to have that finished by the end of this month. When done, tasks such as opening and closing the observatory, as well as the operation of the scope, can be done via the web, either by computer, cell phone or tablet. A small micro-controller controls the relays that perform the tasks.
We still intend to spend a lot of time outside with the scope, both while observing visually and when imaging, but the automation should make the process a lot more efficient. Having an observatory also keeps us from having to lug the tube assembly back and forth to the house. The observing platform should also make a good photography blind for birds.
We are still enjoying the company of our jumping spiders. We imaged the one above on May 13th. The actual size of these spiders is not much bigger than one of the eyes in the image. They are said to have the best vision of all of the spiders, and it always amazes us to see such a tiny creature cock its head to look us over.
Sky Events for June 2014:
The Sun reaches the June solstice at 5:51am CDT on June 21st. This marks the beginning of summer in the Northern Hemisphere.
Jupiter is low in the western sky in Gemini at dusk at the beginning of June. Binoculars, if held steady, will show the four Galilean moons when they are not transiting the planet or being eclipsed.
Mars is gradually getting fainter and smaller in the eyepiece as the distance between Earth and Mars increases. It's still pretty bright, and remains in Virgo. Look for it about 50 degrees above the southern horizon around 8:42pm.
Saturn is about 30 degrees above the southeast horizon at dusk at the beginning of the month, in Libra. The rings are now tilted to around 21 degrees from edge-on, giving a wonderful view of the ring system in any size telescope. To get the best telescopic views wait until the planet has climbed high in the sky.
You can still spot Mercury low in the west-northwest during the first few days of June, but it's fading fast. Look for it low in the West-Northwest beginning about 45 minutes after sunset.
Venus continues to shine brightly in the dawn sky during June. Look for it about 12 degrees above the horizon about 30 minutes before sunrise.
Constellations: The views below show the sky looking east at 10:00pm CDT on June 15th. The first view shows the sky with the constellation outlined and names depicted. Star and planet names are in green. Constellation names are in blue. The second view shows the same scene without labels. New constellations this month in the eastern sky are Lyra, the Lyre, with its bright star Vega, Cygnus, the Swan, and Aquila, the Eagle. The bright stars Vega, Deneb and Altair form the "summer triangle." Looking to the north, the edge-on galaxy NGC 5907 rides high above the Little Dipper in Draco. This galaxy was discovered in 1788 by William Herschel. Most estimates place it at a distance of around 40 million light-years. Using averted vision, I've seen it as a faint narrow streak of light in my 85mm Televue refractor. A 6 inch telescope will give you a better view. As with all deep sky objects, you need a clear dark sky.
On Learning the Constellations: We advise learning a few constellations each month, and then following them through the seasons. Once you associate a particular constellation coming over the eastern horizon at a certain time of year, you may start thinking about it like an old friend, looking forward to its arrival each season. The stars in the evening scene above, for instance, will always be in the same place relative to the horizon at the same time and date each June. Of course, the planets do move slowly through the constellations, but with practice you will learn to identify them from their appearance. In particular, learn the brightest stars (like Altair and Vega in the above scene looking east), for they will guide you to the fainter stars. Once you can locate the more prominent constellations, you can "branch out" to other constellations around them. It may take you a little while to get a sense of scale, to translate what you see on the computer screen or what you see on the page of a book to what you see in the sky. Look for patterns, like the stars that make up the constellation Lyra.
The earth's rotation causes the constellations to appear to move across the sky just as the sun and the moon appear to do. If you go outside earlier than the time shown on the charts, the constellations will be lower to the eastern horizon. If you observe later, they will have climbed higher.
As each season progresses, the earth's motion around the sun causes the constellations to appear a little farther towards the west each night for any given time of night. If you want to see where the constellations in the above figures will be on July 15th at 10:00pm CDT, you can stay up till 12:00am CDT on June 15th and get a preview. The westward motion of the constellations is equivalent to two hours per month.
Sky & Telescope's Pocket Star Atlas is beautiful, compact star atlas.
For skywatching tips, an inexpensive good guide is Secrets of Stargazing, by Becky Ramotowski.
A good general reference book on astronomy is the Peterson Field Guide, A Field Guide to the Stars and Planets, by Pasachoff. The book retails for around $14.00.
Starry Night has several software programs for learning the night sky. Visit the Starry Night web site at www.starrynight.com for details.
The Virtual Moon Atlas is a terrific way to learn the surface features of the Moon. And it's free software. You can download the Virtual Moon Atlas here.
Cartes du Ciel (described in the monthly notes above) is a great program for finding your way around the sky. It is also free, and can be downloaded here.
Apps: We really love the Sky Safari Pro application described here. For upcoming events, the Sky Week application is quite nice. Both apps are available for both I-phone and Android operating systems. The newest version, Sky Safari 4, is available here.
In June the treefrogs really hit their stride. Listen for Cope's Gray Treefrogs, Gray Treefrogs, Bird-Voiced Treefrogs, Green Treefrogs and Barking Treefrogs. Northern Cricket Frogs and Southern Cricket Frogs call a lot during June, and the calls of Bullfrogs, Green Frogs and Fowler's Toads fill the night air. After heavy rains listen for the high, insect-like call of the Eastern Narrowmouth Toad and the strange-sounding Eastern Spadefoot.
Recommended: The Frogs and Toads of North America, Lang Elliott, Houghton Mifflin Co.
Now is a good time to get to know the breeding birds of Tennessee. It's fun to take a trip to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in June and hike a high altitude trail, like the Alum Cave Bluff trail. By doing so you can encounter birds that breed in Tennessee at these higher elevations, like Black-throated Blue Warblers, Canada Warblers, Chestnut-sided Warblers and Blackburnian Warblers.
The Sibley Guide to Birds, David Allen Sibley
The Sibley Guide to Birds of Eastern North America, David Allen Sibley
An inexpensive guide for beginners is the Golden Guide for Birds.
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Nature Notes Archives: Nature Notes was a page we published in 2001 and 2002 containing our observations about everything from the northern lights display of November 2001 to frog and salamander egg masses.
Night scenes prepared with The Sky Professional from Software Bisque
All images and recordings © 2014 Leaps