Category Archives: Astronomy

Sky at a Glance August 17 – 24

Photo showing location of the constellation Cepheus the King to the right of Polaris in the northern night sky.

This Week’s Sky at a Glance, 2019 August 17– 24 ~by Curt Nason

The constellation Cepheus the King is quite large but it can be difficult to pick out. Around 9:30 pm, look northward for a group of five moderately bright stars in the shape of a house on its side and situated above the W-shape of Cassiopeia the Queen. The peak of the house is only about a fist-width to the right of Polaris, the North Star, and the constellation lies just below a line from Polaris to Deneb at the tail of Cygnus the Swan. A colourful star can be seen in binoculars or a scope just below the base of the house. Herschel’s Garnet Star, a red supergiant, is one of the most luminous stars known and is a thousand times wider than the Sun. If placed in the middle of our solar system it would stretch beyond the orbit of Jupiter.

Another famous star in Cepheus is Delta Cephei, which is situated near the bottom left of the house; it being the namesake of the Cepheid variable stars. Such giant stars pulsate with a regular period and subsequently dim and brighten consistently over that time. For example, Delta Cephei dims and brightens by a factor of two over about five days. Early in the 20th century, Harvard astronomer Henrietta Swan Leavitt discovered that the intrinsic brightness of a Cepheid variable was proportional to its period and worked out a formula for this relationship. Using the 100-inch telescope on Mount Wilson in the 1920s, Edwin Hubble detected Cepheid variables in what was then called the Andromeda Nebula. Knowing the intrinsic brightness of these stars based on their periods, and how stars dim with distance, he determined the distance to these stars and proved that the nebula was actually a galaxy outside of the Milky Way.

In mythology, Cepheus and Cassiopeia were the rulers of Ethiopia. Poseidon had made a ferocious sea monster to ravage the land as punishment for Cassiopeia’s boasts of their daughter Andromeda’s beauty. To get rid of the monster, they chained Andromeda to the rocks at the seashore as a sacrifice to the monster. She was rescued by Perseus, whose namesake constellation is seen below Cassiopeia.

This Week in the Solar System

Saturday’s sunrise in Moncton is at 6:20 am and sunset will occur at 8:25 pm, giving 14 hours, 5 minutes of daylight (6:27 am and 8:28 pm in Saint John). Next Saturday the Sun will rise at 6:29 am and set at 8:12 pm, giving 13 hours, 43 minutes of daylight (6:35 am and 8:16 pm in Saint John).

The Moon is at third quarter on Friday, rising before midnight Thursday and setting at 2:25 the following afternoon. Jupiter is at its highest at sunset, followed by Saturn two hours later. Telescope users might see Jupiter’s Red Spot around 10 pm on Wednesday and 11:30 pm on Friday. Mercury rises about an hour before the Sun and is an easy binocular target in twilight. Venus and Mars are on vacation for a while.

There will be public observing at the ball field in St. George on Friday, August 23, with a cloud date of August 24. The annual RASC NB Fundy Stargaze will be held on August 30 and 31 at the Herring Cove campsite in Fundy National Park.

Questions? Contact Curt Nason.

Sky at a Glance August 10 – 17

Photo showing location of the constellation Perseus in the northeastern night sky.

This Week’s Sky at a Glance, 2019 August 10– 17 ~by Curt Nason

With the Perseid meteor shower peaking this week, let us visit its namesake constellation. Perseus the Hero stands on the northeastern horizon by midnight, just below the W shape of his mother-in-law, Cassiopeia. He is a hero because, among other deeds, he prevented his future wife Andromeda from becoming a tasty lunch for a ferocious sea monster.

The brightest star in Perseus, Mirfak, is part and namesake of the Alpha Persei Cluster. This is one of my favourite binocular targets because it resembles a miniature version of the constellation Draco. Another popular binocular target is a close pair of star clusters – NGC 869 and 884 – located halfway between Perseus and Cassiopeia, which astronomers have cleverly called the Double Cluster. The Perseid meteors appear to originate from a point near the Double Cluster.

The constellation’s second brightest star is Algol the Demon, representing the eye of the Gorgon Medusa. Perseus beheaded the Medusa in a plan to avenge an embarrassing moment by using her head to turn his hecklers into stone. The sea monster was his first victim of this weapon. Algol is famous for dimming by a factor of three every 69 hours. It is a very close pair of stars orbiting each other in our line of sight, and their combined brightness drops when the dimmer star passes in front of the brighter one. Look for the star cluster M34 about a binocular width above Algol.

This Week in the Solar System

Saturday’s sunrise in Moncton is at 6:12 am and sunset will occur at 8:36 pm, giving 14 hours, 24 minutes of daylight (6:19 am and 8:39 pm in Saint John). Next Saturday the Sun will rise at 6:20 am and set at 8:25 pm, giving 14 hours, 5 minutes of daylight (6:27 am and 8:28 pm in Saint John).

The Moon is full on Thursday, the Mi’gmaw Ripening Moon, and passes near Saturn on Monday. Jupiter is stationary on Sunday, after which it begins its normal eastward motion relative to the stars. Telescope users might see its Red Spot around 11:30 pm on Sunday and 11 pm on Friday. Saturn is highest in the south and at its best for observing around 11 pm. Mercury will slowly start moving sunward but it also brightens in doing so, making this week a good time to look for it with binoculars 45 minutes before sunrise. Venus reaches superior conjunction behind the Sun on Wednesday and will move into the evening sky in autumn. The highlight of the week is the annual Perseid meteor shower, which peaks over Monday evening into Tuesday morning. Moonlight will obscure the fainter meteors but this shower is noted for having more than its share of bright shooting stars. The nights immediately before and after will typically produce half the number seen on the peak night.

There will be public observing in Cambridge Narrows on Saturday evening as part of the Life at the Lakes Festival, and at Oak Bay on Friday, August 16.

Questions? Contact Curt Nason.

Sky at a Glance August 3 – 10

Photo of the constellation Aquila with the bright star Altair and location of the Wild Duck cluster, M11.

This Week’s Sky at a Glance, 2019 August 3 – 10 ~by Curt Nason

After twilight the bright star Altair is halfway up in the southeastern sky, forming the lower peak of the Summer Triangle with Vega and Deneb. It is flanked by two somewhat dimmer stars, Tarazed and Alshain, and the trio forms the head of Aquila the Eagle. The eagle’s body and tail stretch southward, while the wings reach forward to propel it up the Milky Way. In Greek mythology the eagle was the pet of Zeus and the bearer of his deadly thunderbolts. In Chinese mythology Tchi-Niu (Lyra) was a princess and royal weaver, and Kien-Niou (Aquila) tended the king’s cows. The two fell in love and were married but they subsequently neglected their chores. Angered, the king placed the herder on the opposite side of the river, represented by the Milky Way. On the seventh day of the seventh month all of the magpies in the country form a bridge to allow the lovers to be together for one day.

Following a string of stars beyond the eagle’s tail, over the constellation border into Scutum the Shield, a binocular search will pick up a smudge of light which is a cluster of stars called M11 or the Wild Duck Cluster. From the eagle’s head toward Cygnus or Lyra is a tiny constellation called Sagitta the Arrow. Look to the upper right of the arrow’s fletching with binoculars to see a popular asterism of about a dozen stars. Although it is upside down you will recognize the Coathanger Cluster, also known as Collinder 399 or Brocchi’s Cluster.

This Week in the Solar System

Saturday’s sunrise in Moncton is at 6:03 am and sunset will occur at 8:46 pm, giving 14 hours, 43 minutes of daylight (6:10 am and 8:49 pm in Saint John). Next Saturday the Sun will rise at 6:12 am and set at 8:36 pm, giving 14 hours, 24 minutes of daylight (6:19 am and 8:39 pm in Saint John).

The Moon is at first quarter on Wednesday and passes near Jupiter on Friday. Jupiter is at its highest and best for observing in twilight, and telescope users might see its Red Spot around 10 pm on Friday. Saturn transits the meridian around 10:30 pm. Mercury rises before 5 am and is well placed for locating in morning twilight. On clear mornings you might catch some late meteors from South Delta Aquariid shower or some early Perseids.

The annual star party at Mount Carleton Provincial Park takes place on August 2-3. The Saint John Astronomy Club meets in the Rockwood Park Interpretative Centre on August 3 at 7 pm. All are welcome.

Questions? Contact Curt Nason.

Sky at a Glance July 27 – August 3

Photo showing the night sky at zenith in late July.

This Week’s Sky at a Glance, 2019 July 27 – August 3 ~by Curt Nason

Stargazers prefer meridian observing because that is when we should have our best views of objects in a telescope or binoculars. The meridian is the imaginary line running from north to south, separating the sky into eastern and western hemispheres. When stars and planets cross the meridian they are at their highest, shining through a minimal thickness of atmosphere en route to our eyes. Unstable pockets of atmosphere will distort the light from stars and planets, blurring the view; so minimal atmosphere means less distortion. Astronomers use the term “seeing” to describe the steadiness of the atmosphere. Good seeing means steady air and we can use higher magnification for observing details of the Moon and planets.

Around 10 pm this week we have several prominent constellations near the meridian. Moving southward from the North Star we have Ursa Minor or the Little Dipper. A small telescope with good seeing conditions will show the close companion star of Polaris, which is actually a triple star although only two can be seen in a telescope. Heading southward we pass through Draco the Dragon on our way to Hercules. The faintest of the four stars in the dragon’s head is an easy double star to resolve in binoculars. The globular cluster M92 is about halfway between the head and the Keystone asterism of Hercules, and don’t forget M13 along the western side of the Keystone.

Hercules goes head-to-head with Ophiuchus to its south, which contains a few globular clusters itself. Ophiuchus stands on Scorpius, keeping the scorpion underfoot so that it cannot fatally sting Orion again. Scorpius at the meridian is the best time to observe globular clusters M4 and M80, and open clusters M6 and M7.

This Week in the Solar System

Saturday’s sunrise in Moncton is at 5:55 am and sunset will occur at 8:55 pm, giving 15 hours of daylight (6:02 am and 8:57 pm in Saint John). Next Saturday the Sun will rise at 6:03 am and set at 8:46 pm, giving 14 hours, 43 minutes of daylight (6:10 am and 8:49 pm in Saint John).

The Moon is new around midnight Wednesday evening, and appears as a slim crescent in the west after sunset by Friday. Jupiter is at its highest and best for observing after twilight, and telescope users might see its Red Spot around 10 pm on Sunday and 11:30 pm on Tuesday. Saturn is near the meridian around midnight. Late in the week Mercury will be rising an hour before sunrise. The South Delta Aquariid meteor shower will be at its best two hours before sunrise on Sunday and Monday mornings, but the radiant does not rise very high in the south.

The annual star party at Mount Carleton Provincial Park takes place on August 2-3, and the Saint John Astronomy Club meets in the Rockwood Park Interpretative Centre on August 3 at 7 pm. All are welcome.

Questions? Contact Curt Nason.

Sky at a Glance July 20 – 27

Photo showing the constellation Ophiuchus and Serpens the Serpent in the night sky.

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

Serpens the Serpent is unique among the 88 constellations in that it is split in two by another constellation, Ophiuchus. As the name suggests, Ophiuchus is the Serpent Bearer, and he is often depicted holding a large snake behind his back. The two constellations are also intertwined in mythology.

Ophiuchus represents Asclepius, a renowned healer who could raise the dead. After killing a snake one day, he watched as another snake placed an herb on its dead companion and revived it. After this, Asclepius learned the healing arts and his success at reviving people drew the ire of Hades, a brother of Zeus and ruler of the Underworld. Receiving a complaint from Hades that he was being robbed of subjects, Zeus killed Asclepius with a thunderbolt.

The part of Serpens west of Ophiuchus is called Serpens Caput (meaning head); to the east is Serpens Cauda (for tail). M16, the Eagle Nebula, is a rather faint nebula with a star cluster in Serpens Cauda. It gained fame as the iconic Pillars of Creation photo from the early years of the Hubble Space Telescope. The delightful globular cluster M5 is found in Serpens Caput, and several other globular clusters reside within the borders of Ophiuchus.

This Week in the Solar System

Saturday’s sunrise in Moncton is at 5:47 am and sunset will occur at 9:02 pm, giving 15 hours, 15 minutes of daylight (5:55 am and 9:05 pm in Saint John). Next Saturday the Sun will rise at 5:55 am and set at 8:55 pm, giving 15 hours of daylight (6:02 am and 8:57 pm in Saint John).

The Moon is at third quarter on Wednesday evening, rising soon after midnight for a 13 hour trip across the sky. Jupiter is at its highest and best for observing shortly after 10 pm, and telescope users might see its Red Spot around 11 pm on Tuesday. Saturn trails Jupiter by about two hours in the evening sky. Mercury is at inferior conjunction on Sunday, moving into morning sky visibility in early August. The next time it reaches inferior conjunction will be November 11, when it passes directly between us and the Sun and can be seen through a solar-filtered telescope. Transits of Mercury occur 13 times a century.

Members of RASC NB and the Saint John Astronomy Club will be commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 lunar landing on July 20 at the Moonlight Bazaar in Uptown Saint John.

Questions? Contact Curt Nason.

Sky at a Glance July 13 – 19

Photo showing good binocular targets in the summer southern night sky in Scorpius and Sagittarius.

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

With the Milky Way becoming prominent on summer evenings, binocular stargazing is a great way to pass the time. A good place to start this year is with Jupiter to pick out its four moons, which look like dimmer stars on either side and change position nightly. Often, one or two might be unseen as they pass in front of or behind the planet. Orange Antares is to the lower right of Jupiter. Check out the colour of this supergiant star, and pick out the globular cluster M4 in the same field of view to its right.

Lower left of Jupiter is the Teapot asterism that makes up much of Sagittarius the Archer. If you extend the two stars at the top of the Teapot’s spout to the right you will find M6, the aptly named Butterfly Cluster. To its lower left is a large star cluster called M7 or Ptolemy’s Cluster. To the right of M7 is a pair of bright stars, Shaula and Lesath, which marks the stinger of Scorpius. They have been nicknamed the Cat’s Eyes.

About a binocular-field width above the teapot’s spout you will find a fuzzy patch with a small cluster of stars in or near it. The fuzzy patch is a cloud of dust and gas called M8, the Lagoon Nebula, where stars are forming. Radiation from hot young stars makes the gas glow, and it can be seen with the naked eye in rural areas. A telescope will reveal dark dust lanes in the nebula that suggest its lagoon name. The cluster of stars is called NGC 6530, where NGC stands for New General Catalogue. Just above M8 is a smaller cloud, M20 or the Trifid Nebula, and the nearby star cluster M21.

This Week in the Solar System

Saturday’s sunrise in Moncton is at 5:40 am and sunset will occur at 9:08 pm, giving 15 hours, 28 minutes of daylight (5:48 am and 9:10 pm in Saint John). Next Saturday the Sun will rise at 5:47 am and set at 9:02 pm, giving 15 hours, 15 minutes of daylight (5:55 am and 9:05 pm in Saint John).

The Moon is full on Tuesday, the Mi’gmaw Birds Shed Feathers Moon. It is near Jupiter this Saturday and near Saturn on Monday, but much of the media focus will be on the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 landing next Saturday. Jupiter is at its highest and best for observing in late evening, and telescope users might see its Red Spot around 10 pm on Tuesday and before midnight on Thursday. Saturn trails Jupiter by about two hours in the evening sky, while Mercury, Mars and Venus are too close to the Sun for comfortable viewing.

Members of RASC NB and the Saint John Astronomy Club will be offering views of the night sky at the St. George Summerfest on July 19, and celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 lunar landing on July 20 at the Moonlight Bazaar in Uptown Saint John.

Questions? Contact Curt Nason.

Sky at a Glance July 6 – 13

Photo showing the location of Jupiter passing through the constellation Ophiuchus the Serpent Bearer.

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

Although Jupiter appears to be in the constellation Scorpius this summer, it is actually within the official borders of Ophiuchus the Serpent Bearer. By being in the constellation I mean passing in front of it. The stars are much farther than the planets, but how much farther? Neptune is the most distant planet from the Sun, about six times farther than Jupiter and 30 times farther than Earth. Sunlight takes 4.2 hours to reach Neptune but 4.2 years to reach the closest star, Proxima Centauri.

Rasalhague, the brightest star of Ophiuchus and which marks his head, is 49 light years away, while the one at his waist is about ten times farther. Rasalhague is closer to us than it is to some of the other stars that form the constellation. The constellation shapes are a matter of perspective but they will look the same from Neptune as they do from Earth.

Centuries ago the area where Jupiter currently resides was shared by Scorpius and Ophiuchus. When the constellation borders were set by the International Astronomical Union in 1930 this area was designated for Ophiuchus and, since the ecliptic runs through here, it became the 13th constellation of the zodiac. But don’t expect to find it in the daily horoscope.

This Week in the Solar System

Saturday’s sunrise in Moncton is at 5:35 am and sunset will occur at 9:12 pm, giving 15 hours, 37 minutes of daylight (5:43 am and 9:14 pm in Saint John). Next Saturday the Sun will rise at 5:40 am and set at 9:08 pm, giving 15 hours, 28 minutes of daylight (5:48 am and 9:10 pm in Saint John).

The Moon is at first quarter on Tuesday, giving great views through binoculars or a telescope all week. Jupiter is at its highest and best for observing in late evening, and telescope users might see its Red Spot around 11 pm on Thursday. Saturn reaches opposition on Tuesday and will be in the evening sky after sunset throughout the summer. Mercury and Mars are very low in the west after sunset, while Venus is very low in the east before sunrise.

The next RASC NB star party will be at Mactaquac Provincial Park on July 5 – 6. The Saint John Astronomy Club meets at the Rockwood Park Interpretation Centre at 7 pm on July 6. All are welcome.

Questions? Contact Curt Nason.

Sky at a Glance June 29 – July 6

Photo showing the locations of the "Royal Stars" Regulus, Antares, Fomalhaut and Aldebaran as noted 5000 years ago.

This Week’s Sky at a Glance, 2019 June 29 – July 6 ~by Curt Nason

Five millennia ago, Persian and perhaps Egyptian astrologers designated four of the first magnitude stars (the 20 brightest) as Watchers of the Sky, with each guarding one of the four cardinal directions. With their proximity to the Sun at the equinoxes and solstices they were also used to mark seasonal changes. Collectively, they were known as the Royal Stars.

Regulus in Leo and Antares in Scorpius were two of the Royal Stars, and we see them now appearing through evening twilight. Regulus guarded the north and marked the summer solstice, while Antares guarded the west and marked the beginning of autumn. Fomalhaut, in Piscis Austrinus below Aquarius, guarded the south and marked the winter solstice. Aldebaran, currently rising in Taurus less than an hour before sunrise, guarded the east and marked the spring equinox. These stars no longer mark the seasons as they did 5000 years ago due to precession of Earth’s polar axis, which makes one complete wobble every 25,800 years. On the summer solstice, the Sun is now located near the border of Gemini and Taurus.

None of the Royal Stars make the top ten in brightness. The brightest star in the sky for this time of year, Arcturus, is at its highest at sunset. It precedes almost equally bright Vega, which anchors the Summer Triangle with Deneb and Altair. Vega reaches its highest point about half an hour before Fomalhaut rises around 2:30 am. These two stars are the same distance from us, at 25 light years.

This Week in the Solar System

Saturday’s sunrise in Moncton is at 5:30 am and sunset will occur at 9:14 pm, giving 15 hours, 44 minutes of daylight (5:39 am and 9:16 pm in Saint John). Next Saturday the Sun will rise at 5:35 am and set at 9:12 pm, giving 15 hours, 37 minutes of daylight (5:43 am and 9:14 pm in Saint John). Earth is at aphelion on Thursday, its farthest distance from the Sun for the year at 152.1 million kilometres.

The Moon is new on Tuesday, with a very slim crescent forming a triangle with Mercury and Mars on Wednesday after sunset. Jupiter is at its highest and best for observing around midnight, and telescope users might see its Red Spot around 11 pm this Saturday. Saturn is high enough around midnight to give decent views of its magnificent icy rings. Venus can be seen with difficulty in morning twilight, rising 45 minutes before sunrise.

The next RASC NB star party will be at Mactaquac Provincial Park on July 5 – 6. The Saint John Astronomy Club meets at the Rockwood Park Interpretative Centre at 7 pm on July 6. All are welcome.

Questions? Contact Curt Nason.

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.