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July 7, 7:00 PMstars across a dark sky with a telescope in the foreground

Our guest this month is Brad Vietje, science advisor and educator at the Northeast Kingdom Astronomy Foundation and former president of Stellafane. In his discussion, “Tools of the Trade: Telescopes and More,” he'll review basic telescope types, their uses, and how cameras have changed amateur and professional astronomy. He will also discuss Stellafane,  an active amateur astronomy and telescope making club located in Springfield, Vermont, and how space-based telescopes like Hubble and the James Webb Space Telescope differ from those on the ground.

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artemis orbitThe Fairbanks Museum is home to the only public planetarium in Vermont, and our astronomy educators are connected with the latest NASA projects. We'll bring a passion for space exploration and astronomy events to this monthly conversation, where you can bring your questions and observations. Together, we'll discover the latest images from deep space, once-in-a-lifetime astronomical occurrences, and advances in space technology that make our solar system more accessible. We'll also uncover new mysteries and celebrate achievements in understanding our universe.

Drawing on monthly updates from planetarium director Mark Breen, astronomy and spaceflight presenter Christian Bradley Hubbs will highlight a few topics with images and deeper explanations. Come with questions or simply listen-in for your Night Owl inspiration that will help you read the night sky through the month.

Tune in at 7:00 PM on the first Thursday of each month to “talk shop” with astronomy and spaceflight presenters, educators, and experts.

For more about spaceflight and launches, check our Night Owl Launch Watch.

How can stars and planets be differentiated in the night sky?

Stars can come in a wide variety of colors and brightnesses. This is determined by the star's size, type, and distance from the Solar System. A relatively close, small star can appear just as bright as a very distant but colossal star. Stars can be seen in colors like red, orange, yellow, white, and blue. However, despite the variety, the actual view of the stars doesn't change very much (except over the course of thousands or millions of years).

Planets, contrastingly, change their appearance very regularly, and can usually be distinguished fairly easily from stars with a few simple tips. Most visible planets are much brighter than most of the stars. However there are some very bright stars that rival the brightness of the planets, so next, the position of the objects must be considered. All of the visible planets will appear along a single line in the sky, called the ecliptic. This is the same line the Sun and Moon move along, and also the line along which all of the zodiac constellations can be found. So, if you see a particularly bright object and it is roughly in a line from where the Sun is setting or rising, or along with the Moon, then it is very likely a planet.

Determining which planet it is can be a bit less clear. First, if the planet is nowhere in the same part of the sky as the Sun (like being out overhead near midnight) then Mercury and Venus, the two innermost planets, can be ruled out. If the object is distinctly red then it is likely the planet Mars, UNLESS it is near the constellation of Scorpius (visible from ~February to October) where the red star Antares resides. The name literally derives from “anti-Ares”, with Ares being the Greek name for the deity which the Romans named Mars. AKA “Not Mars”; the ancient astronomers were very specific about not getting these two red objects along the ecliptic mixed up. Other planets such as Jupiter and Saturn will appear as a whitish-yellow, while the two outermost giant planets will be much dimmer and require the observer to know exactly where to look: Uranus is the most distant planet visible to the human eye, is pale blue-green, and can blend in with other stars of mediocre brightness. Neptune requires binoculars or a telescope to be seen, and has a dark blue color.