Solar System

Four Galilean moons shadows

Can all four Galilean moons cast their shadows on Jupiter ’s disk at the same time? No. A triple shadow transit is as good as it gets (S&T: July 2004, page 94). The motions of the three inner moons are gravitationally locked so that, as English astronomer George B. Airy wrote more than a century…

Tim Hunter and his telescope

How Can Amateurs Find Asteroids?

In a 1996 article titled “Hunting Asteroids,” you said a dedicated amateur could discover an asteroid on almost any night using a CCD-equipped 8-inch telescope. Is that still true today? It was easier for backyard observers to discover asteroids a few years ago. Today, massive professional surveys such as LINEAR, NEAT,and LONEOS are sweeping the…

What defines a planet’s north pole?

Uranus is often said to have a retrograde rotation with its axis tilted 98°. Why don’t we say it has a direct spin with the axis tilted 82°? Since 1982, the International Astronomical Union has defined the north pole of a planet to be the pole that lies north of the ecliptic plane (the plane…

Mercury near the Sun's limb

Will Mercury and Venus ever transit the Sun simultaneously?

Will Mercury and Venus ever transit the Sun simultaneously? Yes, but this will not happen until AD 69,163. A transit can take place only when Mercury or Venus is near an ascending or descending node, meaning a crossing point of its orbit on the plane of the ecliptic. For this reason, transits of Mercury currently…