Category Archives: Astronomy

Sky at a Glance June 22 – 29

Photo of the planet Jupiter with the shadow of the moon lo crossing over the surface.

This Week’s Sky at a Glance, 2019 June 22 – 29 ~by Curt Nason

After watching the sky for many decades it is nice to see something new. Several people noticed shiny blue clouds stretching northwest to north on the evening of June 12, about an hour after sunset. Possibly, this was the first time noctilucent clouds (NLC) have been seen in southern New Brunswick.

NLCs form in the earth’s mesosphere at an altitude of about 80 kilometres. Water molecules rising to that height attach to smoke particles from disintegrating meteoroids and freeze. Sunlight from below the horizon refracts through the ice clouds, scattering the blue portion of the sunlight back toward the planet. This phenomenon was first seen in polar regions in 1885 after the eruption of the Krakatoa volcano spewed water vapour and gases such as methane high into the atmosphere. In recent decades the NLCs have been spotted at latitudes increasingly farther from the poles. Also, the periods when they are visible are stretching beyond a month either side of the solstices.

Studies of historical NLC reports suggest that these increases in range of latitude and time are related to both global warming and the 11-year sunspot cycle. Methane in the mesosphere undergoes a chemical reaction that produces water vapour, adding to the water vapour rising that high in warmer weather. During the minimum of the sunspot cycle, which we are currently experiencing, the reduced solar activity results in lower levels of the ultraviolet light that breaks up water molecules. Two days after seeing the NLCs in New Brunswick, they were seen at a record low latitude just north of Los Angeles. Satellite measurements of polar atmospheric water vapour showed higher than usual levels this year, which are now decreasing.

Keep an eye out for these electric blue clouds in the northwest about an hour after sunset or in the northeast before sunrise. To get an idea of what to look for you can see pictures of NLCs on the website spaceweather.com, which is the source of my information above.

This Week in the Solar System

Saturday’s sunrise in Moncton is at 5:28 am and sunset will occur at 9:14 pm, giving 15 hours, 46 minutes of daylight (5:36 am and 9:15 pm in Saint John). Next Saturday the Sun will rise at 5:30 am and set at 9:14 pm, giving 15 hours, 44 minutes of daylight (5:39 am and 9:16 pm in Saint John).

The Moon is at third quarter on Tuesday, rising at 1:40 am and setting at 1:35 pm. Jupiter is at its highest and best for observing around midnight, and telescope users might see the shadow of its moon Io crossing the planet’s atmosphere late Thursday evening. Saturn is rising around 10 pm this week. Mercury is at greatest elongation from the Sun on Monday and remains within a binocular view to the left of dimmer Mars. Venus rises around the beginning of civil twilight in the morning.

The next RASC NB star party will be at Mactaquac Provincial Park on July 5 – 6.

Questions? Contact Curt Nason.

Sky at a Glance June 15 – 22

Location of the Mi’gmaw Trees Fully Leaved Moon above Sagitarius on Monday, June 17, 2019.

This Week’s Sky at a Glance, 2019 June 15 – 22 ~by Curt Nason

It has been said we live in a topsy-turvy world. Actually, we live on one. Earth’s polar axis is tilted to its orbital path around the Sun, leaning just over a quarter of the way from upright to horizontal. At our summer solstice, the north polar axis is tipped toward the Sun and sunlight reaches us at a steep angle with concentrated warmth.

If you note the times of sunrise and sunset over the month you might be surprised to discover the earliest sunrise and latest sunset do not occur on the solstice. Although the most amount of daylight occurs then, we get our earliest sunrise around June 16 and latest sunset around June 26. Earth’s tilt plays a role in that, as does the fact that its orbit is not circular. We are about five million kilometres closer to the Sun in early January than we are in early July. Four centuries ago Johann Kepler showed that planets travel faster when they are nearer the Sun. Have you noticed that the time between the beginning of spring and fall is a week longer than between fall and spring?

We expect the Sun to reach its highest daily position in the sky, the zenith, at midday (noon local standard time, accounting for distance from the centre of our time zone). However, the Sun’s daily north-south movement over the seasons and Earth’s varying speed in orbit make the Sun appear to reach zenith ahead or behind schedule by as much as 16 minutes. Consequently, our 24-hour clock is based on an annual average noon called mean solar time. Sundial aficionados know they have to account for these daily corrections to agree with the clock.

This Week in the Solar System

Saturday’s sunrise in Moncton is at 5:27 am and sunset will occur at 9:12 pm, giving 15 hours, 45 minutes of daylight (5:35 am and 9:13 pm in Saint John). Next Saturday the Sun will rise at 5:28 am and set at 9:14 pm, giving 15 hours, 46 minutes of daylight (5:36 am and 9:15 pm in Saint John). The summer solstice occurs on Friday, June 21 at 12:54 pm when the Sun reaches its most northerly position and remains above the horizon for the longest period of the year.

The Moon is full at sunrise on Monday, the Mi’gmaw Trees Fully Leaved Moon. It is near Jupiter on Sunday and near Saturn on Tuesday. Jupiter is now seen low in the southeast in evening twilight, and its atmospheric storm called the Red Spot might be seen with a telescope around 11 pm on Monday. Mercury and Mars will be within the same twilight binocular view all week, crossing paths on June 18 with Mercury just above the dimmer red planet. Saturn rises around 10:30 pm, before the end of nautical twilight, and Venus rises around the beginning of civil twilight in the morning.

Weather permitting, the Ganong Nature Park near St. Stephen will be a hosting a presentation about facts and fantasy of the Moon on Monday at 8:30 pm, followed by an open field hike under the rising full Moon. Admission is by donation.

Questions? Contact Curt Nason.

Sky at a Glance June 8 – 15

Photo showing the constellation Lyra the Harp high in the eastern sky this time of year, with the bight star Vega and the location of the Ring Nebula, M57.

This Week’s Sky at a Glance, 2019 June 8 – 15 ~by Curt Nason

With turkey vultures becoming more prominent in the province, you might be interested in knowing a vulture once flew with the swan and the eagle in the sky. The bright star Vega can be seen high in the east in the late evening. Vega’s constellation is Lyra the Lyre or Harp, with the main part of the instrument being formed by a parallelogram of stars. If you point a telescope between the two brighter stars of the parallelogram, opposite Vega, you might notice a fat, blurry star. A moderate-sized telescope will show it as a smoke ring or doughnut. This is the Ring Nebula or M57, the remnants of a Sun-sized star that puffed off its layers of gas when it ran out of nuclear fuel. Near Vega is the star Epsilon Lyrae, a dimmer but naked-eye star that binoculars will show as two stars.

In mythology, the lyre was made from a tortoise shell by the Roman god Mercury, who gave it to Apollo. It was mastered by Apollo’s son Orpheus, who soothed all around him when he played. After his bride was killed tragically on their wedding night, he spurned the advances of the many young ladies vying for his attention. They schemed revenge, screaming loudly so as not to be affected by his music, and then beat him to death and tossed the lyre into the river. Zeus sent a vulture to retrieve the lyre and had it placed in the sky to commemorate Orpheus and his music. Star maps from a few centuries ago depicted the lyre in the talons of the vulture.

This Week in the Solar System

Saturday’s sunrise in Moncton is at 5:28 am and sunset will occur at 9:08 pm, giving 15 hours, 40 minutes of daylight (5:36 am and 9:09 pm in Saint John). Next Saturday the Sun will rise at 5:27 am and set at 9:12 pm, giving 15 hours, 45 minutes of daylight (5:35 am and 9:13 pm in Saint John).

The Moon is at first quarter on Monday, affording spectacular views in a telescope throughout the week. Jupiter reaches opposition on Monday, rising at sunset, and it will reign over the evening sky all summer. On Tuesday evening, about half an hour after midnight, telescope users have the opportunity to see the shadows of Jupiter’s moons Io and Ganymede crossing the planet’s clouds. Mercury and Mars will be within the same twilight binocular view for most of the week, crossing paths on June 18. Saturn rises before 11 pm early in the week and Venus continues to edge sunward in bright morning twilight.

RASC NB members will have telescopes set up for public viewing at the Kouchibouguac Park Spring Starfest on June 7 and 8. The William Brydone Jack Astronomy Club meets in the UNB Fredericton Forestry-Earth Sciences building on Tuesday at 7 pm. All are welcome.

Questions? Contact Curt Nason.

Sky at a Glance June 1 – 8

A map of the night sky showing locations of Vega, Arcturus and Jupiter.

This Week’s Sky at a Glance, 2019 June 1 – 8 ~by Curt Nason

The basis for ranking stars by brightness dates back to the Greek astronomer Hipparchus in the second century BC. He grouped several hundred stars by their apparent size, with the biggest being in the first magnitude group and the faintest to the naked eye being sixth magnitude. Magnitude in this sense means size, and even now many people refer to bright stars as big. The telescope and astrophotography allowed us to detect stars much fainter, and in the 19th century Norman Pogson adapted the old system to a standard. A five magnitude difference was defined as a difference in brightness of exactly 100. Therefore, a first magnitude star is a tad more than 2.5 times brighter than a second magnitude star, about 16 times brighter than a fourth magnitude star, and 100 times brighter than one of sixth magnitude. The scale extends into negative numbers for very bright objects, including planets and a few stars.

Check out a cloudless sky this week when it is dark. The bright star Vega is often regarded as the benchmark, being very close to mag 0 (astronomers usually shorten magnitude to mag). Arcturus is slightly brighter, edging into the negative decimals at mag -0.05. Spica, the brightest star in Virgo, is very close to mag 1 at 0.98. A mag 2 star is Polaris, the North Star, at the end of the Little Dipper’s handle. Obviously, it is not the brightest star as some people believe; it barely makes the top 50. A mag 3 star is Pherkad, the dimmer of the two stars at the base of the Little Dipper. Jupiter is currently near its brightest at mag -2.6, and Saturn is at mag 0.3. By the way, that star we see in daytime is mag -26.75 at midday.

This Week in the Solar System

Saturday’s sunrise in Moncton is at 5:31 am and sunset will occur at 9:02 pm, giving 15 hours, 31 minutes of daylight (5:39 am and 9:04 pm in Saint John). Next Saturday the Sun will rise at 5:28 am and set at 9:08 pm, giving 15 hours, 40 minutes of daylight (5:36 am and 9:09 pm in Saint John).

The Moon is near Venus this Saturday morning, is new on Monday and near the Beehive star cluster on Thursday evening. Mercury sets 90 minutes after the Sun by midweek and can be seen eight degrees above the horizon a half hour after sunset. Watch it and Mars slowly approach each other over the next two weeks. On Tuesday evening, between 9:30 and 10:55, telescope users have the opportunity to see the shadows of Jupiter’s moons Ganymede and Io crossing the planet’s clouds. By midnight later in the week Saturn will be high enough to give a decent view of its rings in a telescope. Venus continues to herald the sunrise by nearly 50 minutes.

The Saint John Astronomy Club meets in the Rockwood Park Interpretation Centre this Saturday at 7 pm. RASC NB members will have telescopes set up for public viewing at the Kouchibouguac Park Spring Starfest on June 7 and 8.

Questions? Contact Curt Nason.

Sky at a Glance May 25 – June 1

Photo showing location of the asteroid Ceres near Jupiter.

Photo showing wider view location of the asteroid Ceres near Jupiter.

This Week’s Sky at a Glance, 2019 May 25 – June 1 ~by Curt Nason

Asteroids, like comets, are solar system objects that some amateur astronomers like to collect; that is, identify them at least once with binoculars or a telescope. They are not as interesting to see as comets are, being just points of light, but they are usually more challenging to identify. If you are lucky one might be near an easily identifiable star or group of stars, and if you are even luckier you might be able to detect its movement relative to a star over several minutes or an hour. The few near-Earth asteroids that I have located, which can be seen moving in real time with a telescope, are among my lifetime observing highlights.

The first asteroid was discovered on January 1, 1801, and Ceres was initially called a planet once its orbit was calculated. In the 18th century a mathematical progression known as the Titius-Bode Law was formulated which fit the distances of the six known planets from the Sun. Uranus was discovered in 1781 and its distance fit that formula, but there was an inexplicable gap between Mars and Jupiter. Ceres filled that gap nicely, but over that decade three more new “planets” were found within the gap. Later in the century many more were found when astrophotography became a tool for astronomers, and now thousands are discovered monthly by automated telescopes programmed to look for asteroids that could potentially collide with Earth.

Ceres is by far the largest asteroid and it is now categorized as a dwarf planet along with distant Pluto, Eris, Makemake and Haumea. Ceres is at opposition on Tuesday and it can be seen easily with binoculars over the next month about a fist-width to the upper right of Jupiter. However, you will likely have difficulty distinguishing it from the stars. The Heavens-Above website has an Asteroids section which includes two maps for each of the brighter asteroids; one with a wide-field view of the constellations in the area, and an expanded inset with a binocular-size view showing the asteroid among the nearby stars. Currently, Ceres is moving westward relative to the stars and within a few weeks it will pass above the claws of Scorpius.

This Week in the Solar System

Saturday’s sunrise in Moncton is at 5:36 am and sunset will occur at 8:55 pm, giving 15 hours, 19 minutes of daylight (5:44 am and 8:58 pm in Saint John). Next Saturday the Sun will rise at 5:31 am and set at 9:02 pm, giving 15 hours, 31 minutes of daylight (5:39 am and 9:04 pm in Saint John).

The Moon is at third quarter this Sunday, rising at 2:21 am and setting at 12:38 pm. Mercury has moved into the evening sky, setting 50 minutes after the Sun by midweek. Jupiter is now getting high enough for late evening observing, while Saturn rises after midnight and is best seen in early morning twilight. Mars sets around 11:15 pm, and Venus continues to herald the sunrise by 50 minutes.

The Saint John Astronomy Club meets in the Rockwood Park Interpretative Centre on June 1at 7 pm. All are welcome.

Questions? Contact Curt Nason.

Sky at a Glance May 18 – 25

Graphic showing the path of the International Space Station (ISS) from the Heavens Above website.

This Week’s Sky at a Glance, 2019 May 18 – 25 ~by Curt Nason

Amateur astronomers have a Messier Marathon around the new Moon in mid-March to early April, in which they try to observe all 110 fuzzy objects in the Messier catalogue in one night. This week casual stargazers have an opportunity to do an ISS marathon.

The International Space Station (ISS) orbits the earth at an altitude of about 400 km, and at this height it completes an orbit in approximately 90 minutes. The ISS has large solar panels that reflect sunlight earthward, which make it bright enough to rival Jupiter and Venus at times. Usually, we can catch it once or twice in morning twilight for a period of about ten days, then in the evening twilight for the same stretch, and then it is unseen for a while as the overhead passes are in daylight. For a few weeks either side of the summer solstice, when we have long periods of twilight, the ISS can be seen four or five times from evening through to morning. If you see it in each pass throughout the night you have completed the ISS marathon. This week is one of those times.

To determine when and where to look I use the website Heavens-Above, but there are other apps such as Satellite Safari that give the same information and may even give you an alert when a pass is about to occur. Heavens-Above defaults to zero degrees latitude and longitude so be sure to enter your location. Information includes the date and time, brightness, and altitude and azimuth of when it is first visible (usually ten degrees above the horizon), at its highest, and when it disappears into earth’s shadow or below ten degrees. Brightness is given in stellar magnitude, where the lower the number the brighter is the object, and the ISS is usually bright enough to be a negative number (magnitude -3 is about 2.5 times brighter than -2). With the Heaven’s-Above website, clicking on the date brings up a sky map showing the path of the ISS through the constellations. Since earth rotates under the satellite, the path through the constellations will differ with each pass but it is always approximately west to east.

This Week in the Solar System

Saturday’s sunrise in Moncton is at 5:43 am and sunset will occur at 8:48 pm, giving 15 hours, 5 minutes of daylight (5:51 am and 8:50 pm in Saint John). Next Saturday the Sun will rise at 5:36 am and set at 8:55 pm, giving 15 hours, 19 minutes of daylight (5:44 am and 8:58 pm in Saint John).

The Moon is full this Saturday, the Mi’gmaw Frog Croaking Moon. Jupiter rises around 10:30 Monday evening, about 20 minutes before the Moon. Mars passes just above the M35 star cluster in Gemini on Sunday evening, making a pretty sight in binoculars or a telescope. Saturn rises at 12:30 and is well placed for early morning observing. Venus can be seen in morning twilight rising 50 minutes before sunrise, and Mercury reaches superior conjunction behind the Sun on Tuesday.

The provincial astronomy club, RASC NB, meets at the UNB Fredericton Forestry-Earth Sciences building this Saturday at 1 pm. All are welcome. The Ganong Nature Park near St. Stephen is hosting a presentation on the Moon and a full Moon hike this Saturday at 8:30 pm, weather permitting. Donations to the park are welcome.

Questions? Contact Curt Nason.

Sky at a Glance May 11 – 18

Photo showing location of the constellation Hercules, recognizable by the Keystone asterism, and the location of two globular clusters M13 and M92 within.

This Week’s Sky at a Glance, 2019 May 11 – 18 ~by Curt Nason

The constellation Hercules is up in the east after sunset, recognizable by the Keystone asterism that forms the legendary strongman’s body. He is usually pictured kneeling upside down in the sky, having a tête-à-tête with Ophiuchus the Serpent Bearer, with his foot placed triumphantly on the head of Draco the Dragon. The Keystone is situated two-thirds of the way from Arcturus to Vega.

Hercules (Heracles in Greek mythology) was the result of one of Zeus’s many affairs with a mortal woman. Consequently, Hera (wife of Zeus) did whatever she could to have Hercules killed. As a baby Hercules strangled two snakes sent by her, and the Twelve Labours he performed were assigned by King Eurystheus, a representative of Hera.

Two globular clusters, M13 and M92, can be seen with binoculars in the constellation. M13, the finest globular cluster in the northern hemisphere, is along the right side of the Keystone, two-thirds of the way from bottom to top. A line from the bottom right star of the Keystone to the middle of the top side, and extended not quite that same distance, will put you near M92.

This Week in the Solar System

Saturday’s sunrise in Moncton is at 5:52 am and sunset will occur at 8:39 pm, giving 14 hours, 47 minutes of daylight (5:59 am and 8:42 pm in Saint John). Next Saturday the Sun will rise at 5:43 am and set at 8:48 pm, giving 15 hours, 5 minutes of daylight (5:51 am and 8:50 pm in Saint John).

The Moon is at first quarter on Astronomy Day, May 11, and it is full on the following Saturday. Jupiter rises before 11 pm midweek, followed by Saturn two hours later, and both are well placed for early morning observing. Mars sets about an hour after Jupiter rises. Mercury is too close to the Sun for morning observing, while Venus rises 50 minutes before sunrise.

On Friday evening, May 10, public observing events are scheduled at Dutch Point Park in Hampton (8-11, with a cloud date of May 11) and at Moncton High School (9:30-11). The William Brydone Jack Astronomy Club meets at the UNB Fredericton Forestry-Earth Sciences building on Tuesday at 7 pm, and RASC NB meets in the same location on May 18 at 1 pm. All are welcome.

Questions? Contact Curt Nason.

Sky at a Glance May 4 – 11

Photo showing location of Aquarius which is the radiant of the Eta Aquarid meteor shower visible about 4am Sunday, May 5.

This Week’s Sky at a Glance, 2019 May 4 – May 11 ~by Curt Nason

May 6-12 is International Astronomy Week, and May 11 is Astronomy Day. Astronomy Day had its beginning in 1973 in California when amateur astronomers set up telescopes in busy urban areas to let people have views of the Moon and planets, hence its motto of “Bringing Astronomy to the People.” Astronomy Day is usually held on the Saturday nearest the first quarter Moon between mid-April and mid-May. More recently, a Fall Astronomy Day was added between mid-September and mid-October, when sunset is earlier and the weather is often better for observing.

Sidewalk astronomy, setting telescopes up in within a busy area of a community, is a popular activity during Astronomy Week. Often people will question why we are set up there, near streetlights, when their expectation is that nothing can be seen. The Moon and most planets, those celestial objects having the greatest “Wow Factor” for first-time observers, are bright enough that lighting has little effect on the views. If they are intrusive you can simply block them with your hand. Sidewalk observing events are often done on short notice, depending on the weather and whether the Moon or planets are visible.

See below for two Astronomy Week activities in New Brunswick. For details on other activities throughout the year, see the websites and social media pages for the NB Centre of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada (RASC NB), the Saint John Astronomy Club, Astronomy Moncton, or the William Brydone Jack Astronomy Club in Fredericton. We hope to put stars in your eyes!

This Week in the Solar System

Saturday’s sunrise in Moncton is at 6:01 am and sunset will occur at 8:31 pm, giving 14 hours, 30 minutes of daylight (6:08 am and 8:33 pm in Saint John).  Next Saturday the Sun will rise at 5:52 am and set at 8:39 pm, giving 14 hours, 47 minutes of daylight (5:59 am and 8:42 pm in Saint John).

The Moon is new on May 4 and at first quarter on Astronomy Day, May 11. It will be seen near Mars on Tuesday evening and near M44, the Beehive star cluster, on Friday. Jupiter and Saturn garner morning attention by framing the Teapot asterism of Sagittarius to the south. Mercury is too close to the Sun for morning observing, and Venus rises less than an hour before sunrise. The Eta Aquariid meteor shower peaks Sunday morning; the weather looks promising and there is no Moon in the sky. Stay up late or get up very early and look toward the south or northeast. The radiant, in Aquarius, rises around 3 am and, with luck, we might see a dozen shooting stars per hour before twilight. This is one of two annual meteor showers resulting from material shed by Halley’s Comet, but it is seen better from the southern hemisphere.

The Saint John Astronomy Club meets in the Rockwood Park Interpretative Centre at 7 pm on Saturday, May 4. On Thursday at 7 pm I am giving a presentation to seniors on The Joys of Stargazing at the Rothesay Town Hall. On Friday evening, May 10, public observing events are scheduled at Dutch Point Park in Hampton (8-11) and at Moncton High School (9:30-11). All are welcome.

Questions? Contact Curt Nason.

Sky at a Glance April 27 – May 4

Photo showing location of M104, the Sombrero Galaxy, in Virgo but near the constellation Corvus the Crow.

This Week’s Sky at a Glance, 2019 April 27 – May 4 ~by Curt Nason

A favourite galaxy among stargazers is M104; better known as the Sombrero Galaxy as it resembles such a bonnet in astrophotos, thanks to a central dust cloud that forms the brim. The dust cloud can be seen from a rural location with a medium-size amateur telescope. The galaxy is seen as a small gray smudge with binoculars.

Although M104 is officially within the borders of the constellation Virgo, most people start their search from the recognizable quadrilateral of stars that forms Corvus the Crow. In mythology, Corvus was sent by Apollo to fetch a cup of water from the river but the bird was distracted by ripening figs. When the crow returned late it made up a tale that it had been deterred by a water snake (Hydra). In a fit of rage, Apollo tossed the bird, the cup and the snake into the sky. To the right of Corvus is the constellation Crater the Cup, and they both sit atop Hydra. They can be seen in the southern sky when twilight fades to darkness.

To find M104, imagine a line from the middle of the bottom of Corvus to the upper left star, and extend it not quite that distance. Look in this area for a small arrowhead of three or four stars. This asterism has been called the Stargate. The arrowhead points to a small line of a few stars, which in turn points toward M104 nearby. That line of stars also forms the mouth of an asterism called the Shark, which has a fin and a curved body stretching away from the Stargate. Good luck, and wear your Sombrero proudly.

This Week in the Solar System

Saturday’s sunrise in Moncton is at 6:12 am and sunset will occur at 8:21 pm, giving 14 hours, 9 minutes of daylight (6:19 am and 8:27 pm in Saint John). Next Saturday the Sun will rise at 6:01 am and set at 8:31 pm, giving 14 hours, 30 minutes of daylight (6:08 am and 8:33 pm in Saint John).

The Moon is at third quarter on April 26 and new on May 4. On Thursday and Friday it is near Venus and Mercury, respectively, in morning twilight. Jupiter and Saturn garner morning attention by framing the Teapot asterism of Sagittarius to the south, and on Thursday Saturn begins five months of westerly retrograde motion relative to the stars. Over the next two weeks Mars will be passing between the horns of Taurus the Bull and setting before midnight.

The Saint John Astronomy Club meets in the Rockwood Park Interpretation Centre at 7 pm on Saturday, May 4. All are welcome. And, of course, that is Star Wars Day: May the Fourth be with you.

Questions? Contact Curt Nason.

Sky at a Glance April 20 – 27

Photo showing location of the constellation Corona Borealis between Arcturus and Vega.

This Week’s Sky at a Glance, 2019 April 20 – 27 ~by Curt Nason

One third of the way from Arcturus to Vega is a pretty semicircle of stars that makes up Corona Borealis, the Northern Crown. In the middle of the semicircle is the constellation’s brightest star, called Gemma (jewel) or Alphecca (bright star of the broken ring), among other names. A few years ago the International Astronomical Union started approving official names for stars, and Alphecca was chosen over Gemma.

Some ancient societies regarded Corona Borealis as a begging bowl, and in local aboriginal legend it is the cave from which the bear (the bowl of the Big Dipper) emerges in spring. In Greek mythology it was a crown worn by Bacchus, the god of wine, who lived on the island of Naxos. Theseus, an Athenian prince, went to Crete as part of a group of youth who were to be placed in the labyrinth as food for the Minotaur. With the aid of Ariadne, the beautiful daughter of King Minos, Theseus slew the Minotaur and found his way out of the labyrinth. In love with Ariadne, he took her aboard to sail back to Athens. They stopped at Naxos where Bacchus also fell in love with Ariadne, and he made Theseus leave without her. To prove his love and his godliness to the skeptical Ariadne, he tossed the crown into the sky as a symbol of her beauty. Immortality and a lifetime supply of wine, who could pass that up?

This Week in the Solar System

Saturday’s sunrise in Moncton is at 6:24 am and sunset will occur at 8:12 pm, giving 13 hours, 48minutes of daylight (6:30 am and 8:16 pm in Saint John). Next Saturday the Sun will rise at 6:12 am and set at 8:21 pm, giving 14 hours, 9 minutes of daylight (6:19 am and 8:25 pm in Saint John).

The Moon is near Jupiter on Tuesday, Saturn on Thursday, and it is at third quarter on Friday, April 26. Mars and Jupiter are in opposite ends of the sky this week, with Mars setting and Jupiter rising around 1 am. Saturn is a hand span to the left of Jupiter, with both being well-placed for observing as morning twilight begins. Venus and Mercury remain about a binocular width apart, rising less than an hour before sunrise. Uranus is in conjunction on Monday, and on Monday evening or early Tuesday morning you might catch a few extra meteors emanating from near the bright star Vega as the Lyrid meteor shower peaks.

Questions? Contact Curt Nason.

Sky at a Glance April 13 – 20

Photo showing the location of Spica in the constellation Virgo

This Week’s Sky at a Glance, 2019 April 13 – 20 ~by Curt Nason

As the Sun is setting this week, Spica is rising in the east. This blue giant star is the brightest in the constellation Virgo the Maiden, and the 14th brightest star of the night sky. It is usually located by following the arc of the Big Dipper’s handle to Arcturus and driving a spike to Spica. With Arcturus in Boötes and Regulus (or dimmer Denebola) in Leo, it forms the Spring Triangle. If you toss in Cor Coroli in Canes Venatici, below the handle of the Big Dipper, you get the Spring Diamond.

Spica represents an ear of wheat in the hand of Virgo. In Greek mythology she was Demeter, the goddess of wheat or agriculture (Ceres in Roman mythology). The Sun passes through this constellation in harvest time, and it is in the head of Virgo at the autumnal equinox. Virgo is the second largest of the 88 constellations in terms of area of sky, trailing only Hydra the Water Snake. Coincidentally, it also trails Hydra in the sky, which can be seen stretching below Leo.

This Week in the Solar System

Saturday’s sunrise in Moncton is at 6:37 am and sunset will occur at 8:03 pm, giving 13 hours, 26minutes of daylight (6:43 am and 8:07 pm in Saint John). Next Saturday the Sun will rise at 6:24 am and set at 8:12 pm, giving 13 hours, 48 minutes of daylight (6:30 am and 8:16 pm in Saint John).

The Moon is at its best for April observing this weekend and it is full on Good Friday, April 19. Mars is near Aldebaran, the brightest star in Taurus and which marks the Bull’s eye. This gives us a good opportunity to compare their brightness and colour. Jupiter rises by 1 am and is at its best for observing before dawn. Saturn is a hand span to Jupiter’s lower left, while Venus and Mercury are about a binocular width apart rising less than an hour before sunrise.

There will be public observing in Hampton at the Dutch Point Road entrance to Dutch Point Park on Friday, April 12 at sunset, with a cloud date of April 13. RASC NB, the provincial astronomy club, meets in the Rockwood Park Interpretation Centre on Saturday, April 13 at 1 pm. All are welcome.

Questions? Contact Curt Nason.

Sky at a Glance April 6 – 13

photo showing location of the Coma Star Cluster

This Week’s Sky at a Glance, 2019 April 6 – 13 ~by Curt Nason

The constellation Coma Berenices, or Berenice’s Hair, is midway up in the eastern sky at 10 pm this week, between the tail of Leo the Lion and kite-shaped Boötes. It is the only constellation with a mythological tale based on a real person. In the fourth century BC, King Ptolemy Soter of Egypt went to war against Assyria. His worried wife Berenice made a vow to the goddess Aphrodite that she would sacrifice her beautiful locks if he returned safely. He did return and she kept her vow against his wishes. When he visited the temple the next day he discovered the hair had been stolen, and he threatened to kill the temple priests. The court astronomer claimed that Zeus had taken the hair and placed it in the sky for all to admire, and that night he showed Ptolemy a cluster of stars.

The Coma Star Cluster, also called Melotte 111, can be seen with the naked eye in rural areas, and fills the field of view in binoculars. At one time it was considered to be the tuft of Leo’s tail. The area of sky encompassed by Coma Berenices and its surrounding constellations is called the Realm of the Galaxies. The galactic north pole lies within this constellation, perpendicular to the dusty disc of our Milky Way Galaxy. When we look in this direction the paucity of interstellar dust allows us to see deeper into space and observe other galaxies many dozens of light years away.

This Week in the Solar System

Saturday’s sunrise in Moncton is at 6:50 am and sunset will occur at 7:54 pm, giving 13 hours, 4minutes of daylight (6:55 am and 7:58 pm in Saint John). Next Saturday the Sun will rise at 6:37 am and set at 8:03 pm, giving 13 hours, 26 minutes of daylight (6:43 am and 8:07 pm in Saint John).

A very slim crescent Moon will appear in the west after sunset this weekend, looking like a smile in the sky with the cusps or horns pointing almost straight up. It is at first quarter next Friday and is near the Beehive star cluster in Cancer the following evening. Jupiter and Saturn dominate the morning sky until Venus rises an hour before the Sun comes up. Jupiter is stationary on Wednesday, beginning its four-month long westward movement against the stars. Mercury is at its greatest elongation from the Sun on Thursday, about a binocular width to the lower left of Venus. Mars continues its slide between the Pleaides and Hyades star clusters in the evening sky all week.

The Saint John Astronomy Club meets in the Rockwood Park Interpretative Centre on Saturday, April 6 at 7 pm, and the RASC NB provincial astronomy club meets in the same location at 1 pm on the following Saturday. Also, club members will be having a public observing event in Hampton at the Dutch Point Road entrance to the park on Friday, April 12 at sunset, with a cloud date of April 13. All are welcome.

Questions? Contact Curt Nason.

Sky at a Glance March 30 – April 6

Location of the bright star Arcturus in the constellation Bootes in the eastern night sky.

This Week’s Sky at a Glance, 2019 March 30 – April 6 ~by Curt Nason

The spring star is springing up in the east these evenings. Arcturus is the fourth, or third, brightest star in the sky and the second brightest we can see from New Brunswick. It is just a tad brighter than Vega, the summer star, which rises around 9:30 pm this weekend. The winter star, Sirius, sets after midnight and Capella, the autumn star, never sets in southern New Brunswick. The discrepancy over whether Arcturus is third or fourth brightest depends on how you define it. Alpha Centauri, in the southern hemisphere, appears brighter but it is a close double star – too close to split with the naked eye – and Arcturus is brighter than either but not both.

Arcturus anchors the constellation Boötes (bo-oh-teez) the Herdsman, and the star’s name means “bear driver.” Boötes is seen chasing the two bears, Ursa Major and Ursa Minor, around the celestial North Pole. To many people the constellation resembles a tie, a kite or an ice cream cone. The head of the herdsman, at the tip of the constellation opposite Arcturus, is the star Nekkar, which sounds somewhat like necktie.

Halfway between Arcturus and the hind leg of Ursa Major is the star Cor Coroli in Canes Venatici the Hunting Dogs. Use binoculars to look for a fuzzy patch halfway between Arcturus and Cor Coroli. This is a globular cluster called M3, the third entry in Charles Messier’s 18th century catalogue of things that resemble a comet but aren’t. This cluster contains half a million stars at a distance of 34,000 light years, nearly a thousand times farther than Arcturus.

This Week in the Solar System

Saturday’s sunrise in Moncton is at 7:03 am and sunset will occur at 7:44 pm, giving 12 hours, 41minutes of daylight (7:08 am and 7:49 pm in Saint John). Next Saturday the Sun will rise at 6:50 am and set at 7:54 pm, giving 13 hours, 4 minutes of daylight (6:55 am and 7:58 pm in Saint John).

The waning crescent Moon is a few degrees below Venus, and nine degrees to the right of Mercury, in twilight on Tuesday, and it is new on Friday. Saturn is a hand span to the lower left of bright Jupiter, with the pair straddling the Teapot asterism of Sagittarius. Mercury rises 50 minutes before sunrise but due to its low altitude you will require binoculars and luck to see it. Mars slides between the Pleiades and Hyades star clusters in the evening sky this week. Use Mars and the Pleiades as a guide to view the zodiacal light angling up from the western horizon about an hour after sunset. You will need a clear, dark sky to see this phenomenon of sunlight reflecting off dust along the ecliptic.

The Saint John Astronomy Club meets in the Rockwood Park Interpretation Centre on April 6 at 7 pm. All are welcome.

Questions? Contact Curt Nason.

Sky at a Glance March 23 – 30

Photo showing some of the constellations beginning with the letter "C" in the night sky.

This Week’s Sky at a Glance, 2019 March 23 – 30 ~by Curt Nason

Around 1930 the International Astronomical Union finalized the official constellations and their boundaries to cover the entire sky. Oddly, 22 of those 88 constellations begin with the letter “C.” Around 9 pm we can see 11 of those and parts of three others, so rather than deep sea fishing let’s go high C hunting. Starting in the west we might catch the head of Cetus the Whale before it sets, and toward the south Columba the Dove hugs the horizon. Meanwhile, Cygnus the Swan flaps a wing above the northern horizon for it never sets completely for us.

Higher in the north the house of Cepheus the King is upright for a change. To his west we see the W-shape of his wife, Cassiopeia the Queen, and above them we might have to strain to see Camelopardalis the Giraffe. Looking southwest, to the left of Orion are his faithful big and little dogs Canis Major and Canis Minor. Barely visible above the little dog is Cancer the Crab, nestled nicely between Gemini and Leo. In the southeast we have Corvus the Crow and Crater the Cup, both of which piggyback on Hydra. Tailing Leo high in the east is Coma Berenices, the locks of distressed Queen Berenice II of Egypt, and dogging Ursa Major is Canes Venatici the Hunting Dogs. Finally, lower in the east, we see the Northern Crown, Corona Borealis.

This episode of Sky at a Glance was brought to you by the letter C and the number 14. As you find each C constellation, count out loud like the Count (One! That’s one C constellation, ah ha ha!), and for each one you find you can reward yourself with … COOKIE!

This Week in the Solar System

Saturday’s sunrise in Moncton is at 7:16 am and sunset will occur at 7:35 pm, giving 12 hours, 19 minutes of daylight (7:22 am and 7:40 pm in Saint John). Next Saturday the Sun will rise at 7:03 am and set at 7:44 pm, giving 12 hours, 41 minutes of daylight (7:08 am and 7:49 pm in Saint John).

The Moon is at third quarter on Thursday, passing near Jupiter the day before and Saturn the day after. Throughout the week we see Venus, Saturn and Jupiter stretching from the east across a third of the sky before sunrise. Mercury rises 45 minutes before sunrise midweek but you will require binoculars and luck to see it. By the end of the week Mars will be within a binocular view below the Pleaides star cluster in the evening sky. Use Mars and the Pleaides as a guide to view the zodiacal light angling up from the western horizon about an hour after sunset. You will need a clear, dark sky to see this phenomenon of sunlight reflecting off dust along the ecliptic.

Questions? Contact Curt Nason.

Sky at a Glance March 16 – 23

The southern night sky on Saint Paddy's Day 2019

This Week’s Sky at a Glance, 2019 March 16 – 23 ~by Curt Nason

As darkness settles in this Sunday evening, and if you are able, go out and raise a glass to the southwest and toast the constellation Orion, the mighty sky-hunter who on this day signs his name as O’Ryan. And if you had dusted off an Irish Rovers record during the day, perhaps you will be hunting the sky for some animals in their signature tune written by Shel Silverstein, “The Unicorn.”

You will have no luck finding green alligators, chimpanzees, rats and elephants. Cygnus the Swan is waving part of one wing above the northern horizon, hoping to be picked for a long necked goose. If you check it out in the morning there is a faint constellation below its head called Vulpecula the Fox. Nineteenth century star maps depicted the fox with a goose in its mouth and the constellation was labelled as Vulpecula and Anser. There is no humpy back camel, either, but there is the large and faint Camelopardalis in the seemingly blank sky between Polaris and bright Capella in the northwest. The name means camel-leopard or giraffe.

Cats? Well, there is Leo the Lion in the east, tiny Leo Minor between it and Ursa Major, and elusive Lynx above Ursa Major. Hardly the loveliest of all, Monoceros the Unicorn is to the left of Orion, sandwiched between his bright dog stars Sirius and Procyon. Like Camelopardalis, Lynx and Leo Minor, Monoceros was imaginatively created within the past four centuries to fill in a blank area and requires a dark sky to trace its shape. A drop of the pure might help your imagination but not your eyesight. Happy Saint Paddy’s Day.

This Week in the Solar System

Saturday’s sunrise in Moncton is at 7:30 am and sunset will occur at 7:26 pm, giving 11 hours, 56 minutes of daylight (7:35 am and 7:31 pm in Saint John). Next Saturday the Sun will rise at 7:16 am and set at 7:35 pm, giving 12 hours, 19 minutes of daylight (7:22 am and 7:40 pm in Saint John). At 6:58 pm on Wednesday, March 20, the Sun crosses Earth’s equator to begin spring in the northern hemisphere. The day when we are closest to having exactly 12 hours of sunlight is actually March 17.

The Moon is full on Wednesday, less than four hours after the equinox. Throughout the week we see Venus, Saturn and Jupiter stretching from the east across a third of the sky before sunrise. For 45 minutes beginning at 6:05 Monday morning, a telescope or maybe even binoculars will show an oddity at Jupiter. Only one of its four large moons will be visible until one of them emerges from behind the planet. The other two are in transit, passing across the face of Jupiter. Mars edges toward the Pleaides star cluster in the evening sky, and beginning late in the week we once again have a two-week opportunity to view the zodiacal light reaching from the western horizon toward Mars about an hour after sunset.

The March meeting of RASC NB, the provincial astronomy club, will be held at Moncton High School on March 16 at 1 pm. All are welcome.

Questions? Contact Curt Nason.