Utah Skies

Utah Skies: Mars At Opposition

Oct 16, 2020
Celestron Sky Portal App

On Oct. 6,  the planet Mars was nearer the Earth than at any time since July 2018. It will not be this close again for another 16 years. If you own a telescope this would be a good time to take a look. You may be able to observe some markings on its surface and an icecap on its pole.

Utah Skies: BepiColoumbo, a Mercury Mission

Oct 16, 2020
By National Aeronautics and Space Administration

On October 20, 2018 BepiColumbo, a planetary mission to the Planet Mercury, was launched by the European Space Agency and the Japan Exploration Agency. It consists of three parts, the Mercury Planetary Orbiter, the Mercury Transfer Module and the Mercury Magnetospheric Orbiter that will separate into independent spacecraft upon arriving at Mercury. The transfer Module is an ion thruster that will give the spacecraft propulsion.

Utah Skies: Saturn Motionless In The Sky

Oct 6, 2020
NASA Hubble Telescope

This summer, evening sky observers have been treated to two solar system planets, Jupiter and Saturn.

Utah Skies: Autumnal Equinox

Sep 24, 2020
Tom Westre

Fall arrived in Utah this morning at 7:31 am Mountain Time. This is called the Autumnal Equinox. The word “equinox” is Latin and means “equal and “nox” means “night.” For a few days the time between Sunrise and Sunset is about 12 hours and the days and nights will just about be equal.

Utah Skies: Planets With Rings

Sep 16, 2020
By NASA/Jet Propulsion Lab

When we think of a ringed planet in our solar system, Saturn naturally comes to mind. Besides Saturn however, there are three other planets that have rings, namely Jupiter, Uranus, and Neptune.

The Minor Planet Eris On 'Utah Skies'

Sep 9, 2020
NASA, ESA, and M. Brown

Eris (AIR-ees) is the second-largest minor planet in our solar system and is only slightly smaller than Pluto by a mere 31 miles. Eris has an orbital period of 551 years, compared to Pluto’s 248 years.

Utah Skies: Atacama Large Millimeter Array

Sep 2, 2020
By Iztok Bončina/ESO - http://www.eso.org/public/images/potw1040a/, CC BY 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=11686363

The Atacama Large Millimeter Array also known by the acronym ALMA is a large interferometer of 66 radio telescopes located in the Atacama Desert in northern Chili. The array of radio telescopes is located at an altitude of 16,000 feet which allows it to see sub millimeter wavelengths that would otherwise be absorbed by the atmosphere if it were located at lower altitudes.

Utah Skies: The Moon Meets Antares

Aug 27, 2020

If you look south south west in the early evening in the late summer early fall you will see Antares, the 15th brightest star in the skies. Antares is a bright red star located in the “heart” of the constellation Scorpious the Scorpion, a fishhook shaped constellation. Antares is Greek for “Mars rival” the Greek god of war. Both are red and every few years Mars passes near Antares which lies over 600 light years away. The light we see tonight left Antares around 1400 AD.

Beautiful Albireo On Utah Skies

Aug 24, 2020
Tom Westre

One of the most popular night sky objects for amateur astronomers is the star Albireo located in the constellation Cygnus the swan.

Perseid Meteor Shower on Utah Skies

Aug 12, 2020
Celestron Sky Portal App with permission

The Perseid meteor shower is one of the best and most reliable meteor showers of the year. This year the shower is predicted to peak Tuesday night August 11th after 10 PM and into the pre-dawn hours of Wednesday morning on August 12th. This meteor shower regularly produces 50 to 100 meteors an hour at its peak. A great feature of this meteor shower is that occurs on the warm nights of August each year.

Utah Skies: News Mars Rover

Aug 6, 2020

While Jupiter and Saturn dominate the summer evening skies, the fourth planet from the Sun, Mars, rises in the eastern skies a little after midnight in the constellation Pisces the Fish. By mid-August Mars will rise about 10 pm. Its tiny disk will grow in size as the distance between Mars and Earth decreases.

Mars has been the focus of decades of robotic exploration looking for evidence of past life on Mars.

Utah Skies: Titan, Saturn's Largest Moon

Aug 6, 2020

Saturn’s largest moon Titan is a wondrous world that is both similar and different from our Earth.

On Oct. 15, 1997 a spacecraft launched from Earth arrived at the planet Saturn. The spacecraft consisted of two parts. The first part named Cassini was an orbiter that would orbit Saturn exploring it and its many moons. Huygens, the second craft, was destined to land on this mysterious cloud-covered moon named Titan.

The NEOWISE Comet on Utah Skies

Jul 23, 2020
Tom Westre

In 2007 NASA proposed a mission to look for New Earth Objects. The name of the mission was called the Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE). In late 2004 NASA selected the Space Dynamics Laboratory at Utah State University to build the telescope for WISE. WISE successfully launched in December of 2009.

Saturn At Opposition

Jul 14, 2020

The planet Saturn will reach opposition on Monday July 20, 2020. On that date if you were to draw a line between the Sun and the earth and then extend it outward it would pass close to Saturn. In the evening sky Saturn will be rising in the east at sunset. As soon as the sky darkens it will be high enough in the sky to be seen above the eastern mountains.

Utah Skies: Neutron Star

Jul 13, 2020

As a large star between 10 and 29 solar masses comes to the end of its life and uses up its fuel, it will collapse down to the size of a small sphere about 12 miles in diameter and form what is called a neutron star. The collapse of the star sets off a colossal explosion known as a supernova and gravity compresses the left over core of the star into a large mass of neutrons.

The Great Hercules Cluster

Jul 1, 2020
Tom Westre

Globular clusters are large collections of hundreds of thousands of stars in a gravitationally bound small area of space. They are one of most spectacular objects to view in binoculars or telescopes. These objects lie well outside in the halo of the Milky Way.

The Summer Triangle

Jun 24, 2020

The stars Altair, Vega and Deneb are three stars that form what is known as the Summer Triangle. These three stars are not a constellation but form an asterism which is an easily identified pattern of stars.

Summer Solstice Approaching

Jun 18, 2020

The Sun will appear highest in the sky above Utah and any place in the Northern Hemisphere on Saturday, June 20th at 3:44 pm MDT, known as the Summer Solstice.

Planetary Nebula

Jun 10, 2020
Blaine Dickey


When I was a boy one of the first deep sky objects that I observed was Messier 57. I saw it through a three-inch reflecting telescope that my parents gave me for Christmas. Messier 57, commonly called the Ring Nebula, looks very much like a smoke ring projected against the starry background of the sky in the constellation Lyra. The Ring Nebula is part of a group of objects called planetary nebula. 


Halley's Comet

Jun 2, 2020


Halley’s Comet is the most famous comet in history. It has probably been observed by more people living on the earth than any other comet. It has been periodically appearing in the night sky every 74 to 79 years since 240 BC.

American Astronauts Headed To Space

May 29, 2020
NASA/Space X

In 1961 Alan Shepherd became the first American in space. He made the first flight as part of Project Mercury in a spacecraft called Freedom 7.

Venus, Mercury, And The Moon

May 21, 2020


This spring after the sun sets in the west the 2nd planet from the Sun, Venus, has given us a wonderful evening celestial show. Venus at this point in its orbit around the Sun is known as the “evening star”.

The Large Binocular Telescope

May 18, 2020

While visiting my wife’s family in Safford Arizona I learned that a member of her family knew one of the chief engineers at the Large Binocular Telescope and that he was willing to give me a tour of that facility. The Large Binocular Telescope is part of the Mount Graham International Observatory and is located on 10,719 foot Mount Graham near Safford Arizona.

April Skies

Apr 17, 2020
Celestron Sky Portal App with permission

April is a superb time to watch four of the naked eye planets.

If you have noticed a brilliant gleaming star in the western sky the past few months, then you have probably seen the planet Venus which is the second planet from our Sun. It far outshines any other star in the Sky this month and is positioned high in the western sky in early evening and sets around midnight. Every eight years this same spectacle is seen in about the same place in the evening sky. You only have this month to observe Venus because it will be setting earlier each night until it disappears over the western mountains and then moves quickly to the morning sky.

William Herschel’s Discovery of Uranus

Apr 17, 2020

For most of the history of mankind there were only five known planets. These included the planets Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn. The sixth planet Uranus was unknown until William Herschel observed it with a homemade telescope on the 13th of March in the year 1871. It had been observed several other times previously by other astronomers but it was William Hershel that realized that it was not a fixed star as others had thought.

Leo The Lion

Mar 12, 2020
Leo the Lion constellation
Sky Portal

Leo the Lion is one of the most recognized constellations in the Sky. It is now rising in the East in the early evening and marks a transition between the winter and spring seasons. The shape of the constellation Leo forms a pattern that resembles a Lion. Leo also contains an easy to see asterism that looks like a hook or a backward question mark.

The Big Dipper

Mar 4, 2020


One of the most recognized asterisms in the sky is the Big Dipper. The Big dipper is part of the Constellation named Ursa Major which represents a great bear. The Big Dipper is easy to find and this month it can be seen rising in the northeastern sky. The handle is pointing downward. If the cup portion was able to hold a liquid then it would all spill out this month due to the vertical position of its cup.

Venus After Sunset

Feb 26, 2020
Venus shines with the Moon in Night Skies

Welcome to Utah Skies. This past month, we’ve been treated with a spectacular evening show as the bright planet Venus has dominated the western skies after sunset.

Early Morning Planets

Feb 24, 2020
Tom Westre



During February Venus is easy to spot in the evening sky after the sun sets.

For early risers, three planets are lined up in the eastern sky about one hour before the sunrises.

Mars is the highest, followed by the king of the planets, Jupiter, then closer to the horizon is the famous ringed planet Saturn.

The Winter Triangle

Feb 11, 2020
Celestron Sky Portal App


In the past I have talked about the Summer Triangle consisting of three bright stars in the summer sky namely, Deneb, Altair, and Vega. Did you know that there is also a Winter Triangle formed by the three stars, Sirius, Betelgeuse, and Procyon?