Category Archives: Astronomy

Sky at a Glance 2020 January 18 – 25

Location of the constellation Eridanus the River in the southern winter sky to the lower right of Orion.

This Week’s Sky at a Glance, 2020 January 18 – 25 ~by Curt Nason

There is one river seen from New Brunswick that is completely ice-free all winter, but we can only see it at night. Eridanus the River, the fifth largest constellation in area of sky, has its head just off the foot of Orion near Rigel. Even when it is at its highest in our sky, the river’s meandering path takes it more than ten degrees below the horizon to where it terminates at Achernar, the ninth brightest star.

In mythology the river is associated with Phaethon, a mortal son of Apollo. Apollo drove the Sun, a golden chariot powered by mighty steeds, across the sky by day. Phaethon was allowed to drive it one day but he couldn’t control the steeds. They ran amok, scorching the sky (the Milky Way) and the Earth (Sahara), until Zeus blasted Phaethon with a thunderbolt and he fell to his death in the river. The twisty constellation was also considered to be the path of souls.

Although we can’t see Achernar without travelling to Florida, there is a notable star in Eridanus that we can see from outside a city. Omicron-2 Eridani, also called 40 Eridani or Keid (circled on the map), has a famous fictional and fascinating planet: Vulcan, the home of Spock. Did you know that there was once believed to be a planet closer to the Sun than Mercury? It was named Vulcan after the Roman god of fire, metalworking and the forge. Anomalies in Mercury’s orbit were thought to be due to an interior planet, and some astronomers even claimed to have seen it crossing the Sun. This was about 150 years ago, after Neptune was predicted and discovered based on anomalies in the orbit of Uranus. Coincidentally, regarding the god Vulcan, the constellation Fornax the Furnace barely crests our horizon near Eridanus.

This Week in the Solar System

Saturday’s sunrise in Moncton is at 7:55 am and sunset will occur at 5:03 pm, giving 9 hours, 8 minutes of daylight (7:58 am and 5:11 pm in Saint John). Next Saturday the Sun will rise at 7:49 am and set at 5:13 pm, giving 9 hours, 24 minutes of daylight (7:52 am and 5:20 pm in Saint John).

The Moon is at third quarter on Friday, January 17, and it passes near Mars on Monday and Jupiter Wednesday before reaching new Moon phase next Friday. Jupiter rises an hour before the Sun this week and about two hours after Mars. Venus rules the early evening sky, easily cutting through bright twilight in the southwest, while Mercury begins its best evening apparition for the year, setting 45 minutes after sunset by next weekend.

The provincial astronomy club, RASC NB, meets in the Rockwood Park Interpretation Centre on January 18 at 1 pm. There will be public observing at the Mactaquac Park office, across the road from the park entrance, in the early evening of Saturday, January 25. All are welcome.

Questions? Contact Curt Nason.

Sky at a Glance, 2020 January 11 – 18

Photo showing location of the constellation Canis Minor with the bright star Procyon.

This Week’s Sky at a Glance, 2020 January 11 – 18 ~by Curt Nason

With Orion’s hourglass figure now above the horizon after sunset, the giant hunter waits an hour or so for his two dogs to get up before he starts hunting. The first to greet the night is Canis Minor the Little Dog, a small constellation highlighted by Procyon, the eighth brightest star. To identify this star, Orion’s head and shoulders form an arrowhead, with orange Betelgeuse at the apex, which points toward Procyon. Like Sirius in Canis Major, this star is bright because it is in our celestial backyard, about 11 light years away.

The name Procyon means “before the dog,” indicating it is a harbinger of Sirius the Dog Star which rises about 40 minutes later. Ancient Egyptian farmers watched for the first visible rising of Sirius before sunrise, as experience had taught them the Nile would soon flood its banks with fertile soil when this occurred. In mythology the two dogs are sometimes depicted as Laelaps (Canis Major), an extremely fast dog, and an equally fast fox (Canis Minor). The dog was sent to hunt the fox but, after a long chase with no apparent end, Zeus turned them both to stone and placed them in the sky.

I like to look at the dogs and their westerly neighbours, Orion the Hunter and Lepus the Hare, in a more modern sense. The mighty demigod Orion becomes everyone’s favourite hunter, Elmer Fudd, with that wascawwy wabbit bugging him below his feet. The big and little dogs become Spike and Chester,who were also part of the Looney Tunes gang. Just as Chester would bounce around in front of his hero, the bulldog Spike, Canis Minor bounces up before Canis Major.

This Week in the Solar System

Saturday’s sunrise in Moncton is at 7:59 am and sunset will occur at 4:54 pm, giving 8 hours, 55 minutes of daylight (8:01 am and 5:02 pm in Saint John). Next Saturday the Sun will rise at 7:55 am and set at 5:03 pm, giving 9 hours, 8 minutes of daylight (7:58 am and 5:11 pm in Saint John).

The Moon is full on Friday, January 10, and it is at perigee on Monday, giving high tides this weekend. Next Friday the Moon is at third quarter. The eastward motion of Mars relative to the stars will bring it within a binocular field above its namesake star, Antares; the red supergiant star in the heart of Scorpius the Scorpion. Compare their colour and brightness in the southeast before morning twilight. Jupiter rises about 45 minutes before sunrise midweek. Venus rules the early evening sky, easily cutting through bright twilight in the southwest. Mercury and Saturn are passing behind the Sun in opposite directions this weekend. Not to be outdone, dwarf planets Pluto and Ceres are following Saturn’s lead.

The William Brydone Jack Astronomy Club meets in the UNB Fredericton Forestry-Geology building on Tuesday at 7 pm. The provincial astronomy club, RASC NB, meets in the Rockwood Park Interpretation Centre on January 18 at 1 pm. All are welcome.

Questions? Contact Curt Nason.

Sky at a Glance 2020 January 4 – 11

Photo showing location of the bright star Sirius, down to the left of Orion's belt, in the constellation Canis Major.

This Week’s Sky at a Glance, 2020 January 4 – 11 ~by Curt Nason

Around midnight in the first week of January the brightest star in the night sky is due south, at its highest above the horizon. Astronomers would say it is transiting the meridian when it crosses the north-south line. Many 19th century observatories, including the one now called the William Brydone Jack Observatory at UNB Fredericton, would collaborate in timing the transits of stars to determine the longitudes of the observatories.

Sirius is called the Dog Star because is part of the constellation Canis Major the Great Dog, one of Orion’s hunting companions. If you are unsure which star is Sirius, follow Orion’s Belt down to the left. The star is about twice the size of the Sun and 25 times more luminous, but that is not why it is the brightest. It is only 8.6 light years away, a mere 82 trillion kilometres, and the nearest naked eye star for us in New Brunswick. The name means “scorcher” or “scintillating one” and it often twinkles wildly and colourfully, especially when it is lower in the sky. I like to observe it with binoculars or a telescope just to enjoy the light show. Look for the star cluster M41 about a binocular field below Sirius. With the Sun passing above Orion in summer, people once believed the hot days were due to extra heat from Sirius, hence the term “dog days of summer.”

This Week in the Solar System

Saturday’s sunrise in Moncton is at 8:01 am and sunset will occur at 4:46 pm, giving 8 hours, 45 minutes of daylight (8:03 am and 4:54 pm in Saint John). Next Saturday the Sun will rise at 7:59 am and set at 4:54 pm, giving 8 hours, 55 minutes of daylight (8:01 am and 5:02 pm in Saint John). On Sunday Earth is at perihelion, when it is closest to the Sun for the year; a whopping three percent closer than in early July.

The Moon is at first quarter on Friday, January 3, and it is full the following Friday. Mars crosses the constellation border into Scorpius this week, and within a week it will be a binocular field above its namesake star, Antares, which means “rival of Mars.” They often have similar colour and brightness, although the star is currently brighter than the planet. Setting around 8 pm this week, Venus passes over the tail stars of Capricornus the Sea Goat and enters Aquarius next weekend. The brief Quadrantid meteor shower, with its radiant between the handle of the Big Dipper and Hercules, peaks this Saturday morning (January 4). With no Moon in the sky to wash out these typically faint meteors, this shower could make it worthwhile to visit an area relatively free of light pollution.

The Saint John Astronomy Club meets in the Rockwood Park Interpretation Centre on January 4 at 7 pm. The annual Irving Nature Park Moonlight Snowshoe Hike and Observing takes place at the Sheldon Point barn in Saint John on January 11 at 7 pm.

Questions? Contact Curt Nason.

Sky at a Glance December 28 – January 4

Photo showing some of the winter's brightest stars clustered around the constellation Orion.

This Week’s Sky at a Glance, 2019 December 28 – 2020 January 4 ~by Curt Nason

Before, or after, the flash of New Year’s Eve fireworks this week, take a look around the sky. As a new year begins, many of the brightest stars are at their best when you face south. Halfway up the sky is the slanted line of three stars that forms Orion’s Belt. Above it are the shoulders of the giant hunter, marked by reddish-orange Betelgeuse and Bellatrix. Below, blue-white Rigel and Saiph are parts Orion’s legs. The Belt points to the right at the V-shaped Hyades cluster star, anchored by orange Aldebaran, and the compact, eye-catching Pleiades cluster, which together form the face and shoulder of Taurus the Bull.

To the left of the Belt is the night sky’s brightest star, Sirius, in Canis Major, the larger of Orion’s two canine companions. Bellatrix and dim Meissa, marking Orion’s head, form an arrowhead with Betelgeuse at the tip, which points toward Procyon in two-star Canis Minor. Auriga and Gemini ride above Orion. Among these New Year’s Eve constellations are five of the ten brightest stars, with 12 more in the top 50. Betelgeuse, like many red supergiant stars, varies in brightness over long periods as it expands and contracts. Over the past few months it has dimmed and might have slipped out of the top ten.

Rather than make a New Year’s resolution that involves great sacrifice and likely won’t see February, why not start an astronomy project to learn the sky over the year. I recommend the RASC Explore the Universe program, which involves observing and describing or sketching objects using your unaided eyes, binoculars or a small telescope. The objects include constellations and bright stars, lunar features, the solar system, deep sky, and double stars. By observing 55 of the 110 objects you could earn a certificate and a pin. For details, see https://www.rasc.ca/explore-universe or contact me.

This Week in the Solar System

Saturday’s sunrise in Moncton is at 8:00 am and sunset will occur at 4:40 pm, giving 8 hours, 40 minutes of daylight (8:02 am and 4:48 pm in Saint John). Next Saturday the Sun will rise at 8:01 am and set at 4:46 pm, giving 8 hours, 45 minutes of daylight (8:03 am and 4:54 pm in Saint John).

The Moon is at first quarter on Friday, giving great evening views through telescopes and binoculars all week. After sunset on Thursday telescope users can see the Lunar X just inside the shadow line, a little below centre. Mars opens the New Year near the Libra-Scorpius border, rising three hours and 15 minutes before sunrise. Meanwhile, Venus shines easily through evening twilight in the southwest and Saturn sets less than an hour after the Sun. The Quadrantid meteor shower, with its radiant between the handle of the Big Dipper and Hercules, peaks on the morning of January 4. With no Moon in the sky, this shower could make it worthwhile to get up very early or stay up very late.

The Saint John Astronomy Club meets in the Rockwood Park Interpretation Centre on January 4 at 7 pm. All are welcome.

Questions? Contact Curt Nason.

Sky at a Glance December 21 – 28

Photo showing the constellation Orion with surrounding stars in constellations making up the Winter Hexagon.

This Week’s Sky at a Glance, 2019 December 21 – 28 ~by Curt Nason

Having official constellations doesn’t prevent us from imagining our own. The sight of Orion, with club raised high and a lion-skin shield warding off the horns of a raging bull, has been etched in my memory for over half a century. But, come December, reddish Betelgeuse in Orion’s armpit becomes Santa’s red nose in profile, the curve of the shield outlines a sack of toys, and the iconic three-star belt is…well, Santa’s wide black leather belt. And on cold, clear nights there is no mistaking that twinkle in his eye. Look to the north and there is Santa’s sleigh, usually seen as the Big Dipper, being loaded up for the long night’s ride.

Many doors and windows are decorated with wreaths and the window of the winter sky is no exception. Here, Betelgeuse is a red light near the middle of a wreath we call the Winter Circle or Hexagon. By mid-evening you can trace the lights decorating the wreath, from blue-white Rigel in Orion’s leg to brilliant Sirius the Dog Star, up through Procyon the Little Dog Star, around Pollux and Castor in Gemini and Capella in Auriga to orange Aldebaran as the Bull’s eye, and back to Rigel. Imagination is a gift and Santa won’t mind if you open yours before Christmas.

This Week in the Solar System

Saturday’s sunrise in Moncton is at 7:58 am and sunset will occur at 4:36 pm, giving 8 hours, 38 minutes of daylight (8:00 am and 4:44 pm in Saint John). The Sun reaches its farthest southern position, over the Tropic of Capricorn, at 12:19 am on Sunday. In Moncton, both Saturday and Sunday have 8 hours, 37 minutes and 42 seconds of daylight, 5 second less than both Friday and Monday, and 7 hours, 8 minutes less than on the summer solstice. Next Saturday the Sun will rise at 8:00 am and set at 4:40 pm, giving 8 hours, 40 minutes of daylight (8:02 am and 4:48 pm in Saint John).

The Moon is new on Thursday, giving dark skies for observing faint star clusters and nebulae with new Christmas telescopes. For an observing challenge, use binoculars to see if you can spot the extremely thin crescent above the southeastern horizon before sunrise Wednesday morning. Mars will be about 15 degrees to its upper right. Saturn sets shortly after 6 pm Christmas Eve, followed by Venus about 70 minutes later. Jupiter is in conjunction with the Sun on Friday, and by late January it will have traded places with Mercury in the morning sky. A few shooting stars from the Ursid meteor shower might be spotted Sunday morning or evening, emanating from the bowl of the Little Dipper near the North Star. This is usually a minor shower but it has been surprisingly active on rare occasions.

Questions? Contact Curt Nason.

Sky at a Glance December 14 – 21

Photo location of the consolation Columba the Dove, below Orion and just about the Southern horizon.

This Week’s Sky at a Glance, 2019 December 14 – 21 ~by Curt Nason

This time of year many naturalists throughout the province are busy performing Christmas bird counts. If you are on your toes and not too worn out you can add four stellar birds between dusk and dawn. Start with the easy ones around 6 pm by looking for the three bright stars of the Summer Triangle above the western horizon. The lowest of the three is Altair, the head of Aquila the Eagle, which is standing straight up on the horizon. The highest of the trio is Deneb at the tail of Cygnus the Swan, which is doing its signature dive. If it is cloudy you have a chance to catch them in the east in the morning, although the eagle will be difficult with Altair rising around 7 am.

Midnight is your best chance to spot the elusive and tiny Columba the Dove, but you will need an unobstructed southern horizon. Look below Orion for Lepus the Hare, and then try to see stars near the horizon directly below. Very few bird counts will be missing the common crow but, in case you did, look about a hand span above the southern horizon around 6:30 am for a distinct quadrilateral of stars. There you will find Corvus the Crow hitching a ride on the tail of Hydra the Water Snake.

This Week in the Solar System

Saturday’s sunrise in Moncton is at 7:53 am and sunset will occur at 4:33 pm, giving 8 hours, 40 minutes of daylight (7:55 am and 4:41 pm in Saint John). Next Saturday the Sun will rise at 7:58 am and set at 4:36 pm, giving 8 hours, 38 minutes of daylight (8:00 am and 4:44 pm in Saint John). Winter solstice occurs just after midnight on the night of December 21/22.

The Moon is at third quarter on Thursday morning, rising around 1 pm and setting 6:40 the following morning. In the morning sky Mars remains within a binocular view to the lower left of the double star Zubenelgenubi for much of the week. Mercury is moving sunward but still rises 50 minutes before the Sun next weekend. In the evening sky, Venus moves rapidly eastward from Saturn, while Jupiter is lost in twilight moving toward a conjunction with the Sun on December 27. The Geminid meteor shower peaks this Saturday afternoon and, despite the bright moonlight, it should reward us with several shooting stars from Friday evening to Sunday morning if the clouds take pity on us.

Questions? Contact Curt Nason.

Sky at a Glance December 7 – 14

Photo showing the location of the Geminids Meteors origin in the constellation Gemini, which is due to peak on December 14, 2019.

This Week’s Sky at a Glance, 2019 December 7 – 14
~by Curt Nason

Perhaps the year’s best meteor shower radiates from near the star Castor in Gemini next weekend. Under ideal conditions the Geminids can average two shooting stars per minute, but don’t expect to see anywhere near that number. With the bright moonlight, be very happy if you see ten per hour. With Gemini rising soon after an early sunset and riding high just after midnight, convenient evening viewing is rewarded more often than for the showers from Perseus and Leo, which rise much later on their peak nights. Geminids are relatively slow and easier to catch with the eye, and they often have a golden glow.

This year the shower peaks around 3 pm on December 14, making that morning and evening the best time to watch. Dress very warmly, get comfortable in a reclining position, face an unobstructed patch of sky toward the north or south away from artificial lighting, and hope for a cloudless evening. Viewing on the days before and after could also be worthwhile if the weather forecast isn’t promising for December 14.

The parent “comet” for the Geminids is actually the asteroid 3200 Phaethon, which was discovered in 1983. It orbits the Sun in a little more than 17 months, crossing the orbits of Mars, Earth, Venus and Mercury. At perihelion its temperature can exceed 600C, which can cause its carbon-water material to break down and release the dust particles that give us meteors when they burn up in our atmosphere.

This Week in the Solar System

Saturday’s sunrise in Moncton is at 7:47 am and sunset will occur at 4:33 pm, giving 8 hours, 46 minutes of daylight (7:49 am and 4:41 pm in Saint John). Next Saturday the Sun will rise at 7:53 am and set at 4:33 pm, giving 8 hours, 40 minutes of daylight (7:55 am and 4:41 pm in Saint John). After this week the sunsets will gradually occur later but the later sunrises will continue into January.

The Moon is full on Thursday morning, the Long Night Moon as it is the one nearest the winter solstice. Mercury rises 95 minutes before the Sun this weekend but that gap lessens by 20 minutes over the week. On Thursday morning Mars is very close to the double star Zubenelgenubi in Libra, looking like a colourful triple star through binoculars. In the evening sky, Jupiter sets around 5:30 while Venus has a rendezvous with Saturn, appearing below the ringed planet on Tuesday and to its left on Thursday. The Geminid meteor shower peaks on Saturday afternoon and, despite the bright moonlight, it should reward us with several shooting stars from Friday evening to Sunday morning.

The Saint John Astronomy Club meets in the Rockwood Park Interpretation Centre on December 7 at 7 pm. 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 November 30 – December 7

Location of the elusive Lynx and Camelopardalis constellations in the Northeastern winter sky.

This Week’s Sky at a Glance, 2019 November 30 – December 7
~by Curt Nason

By 1930 the borders of 88 constellations had been set to cover the entire sky by the International Astronomical Union (IAU), the overlords of all things astronomical. Many constellations were created by stargazers in Babylonia more than 6000 years ago, later to be adopted and expanded by the Greeks. Claudius Ptolemy’s second-century treatise, The Almagest, included a star map which included 48 constellations, most of which survived the IAU. A few centuries ago many constellations were made up for the newly “discovered” skies of the deep southern hemisphere and to fill in gaps in the familiar northern hemisphere. In New Brunswick we get to see all or parts of 66 constellations, but some are rather elusive.

Two of the gap-fillers lurk between the traditional autumn and winter constellations in the northeast these evenings, and they can be as difficult to see as their namesakes in New Brunswick. Stretching between Ursa Major and the Gemini-Auriga pair is a sparse zigzag of stars making the Lynx. Just as you are unlikely to see a lynx near urban areas, you need to be in a rural region to spot Lynx. Between Lynx and the semicircle of Cepheus, Cassiopeia and Perseus is the enigmatic and tough-to-pronounce-after-a-few Camelopardalis, which of course is a giraffe. With its head near Polaris, a critter this far north should have been a reindeer. Before you have a few, go out and see if you can locate them.

This Week in the Solar System

Saturday’s sunrise in Moncton is at 7:39 am and sunset will occur at 4:35 pm, giving 8 hours, 56 minutes of daylight (7:41 am and 4:43 pm in Saint John). Next Saturday the Sun will rise at 7:47 am and set at 4:33 pm, giving 8 hours, 46 minutes of daylight (7:49 am and 4:41 pm in Saint John).

The Moon is at first quarter on Wednesday, making this a great week for lunar observing. Mercury is still readily visible in the morning sky, extending its eastward distance from Mars from 10 to 15 degrees over the week. The eastward motion of Mars relative to the stars keeps it about midway between Mercury and Spica. In the evening sky, Venus zooms from 1/3 to 3/4 of the distance from Jupiter to Saturn. By midweek, Jupiter is situated where the Sun will be on the first day of winter.

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

Questions? Contact Curt Nason.

Sky at a Glance November 23 – 30

Photo showing the Moon and planets in the early evening sky on Thursday, November 28, 2019.

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

Stock market-minded astronomers could be inspired by looking to the northeast after twilight. On evenings in mid-May, Ursa Major the Great Bear is high overhead, dominating the sky. Taurus the Bull, meanwhile, sets early, and then we have several months of a bear market for stargazing. Later sunsets and extended twilight, with the compounded interest of daylight time, means sparse hours for viewing the summer night sky. Now that we are well beyond the autumnal equinox and have returned to standard time, early darkness reveals the Great Bear has reached bottom to the north after sunset, and the Celestial Bull is rising in the east. We are entering the bull market phase of stargazing.

Although we lose the globular clusters and nebulae that abound within the Milky Way areas of Scorpius, Ophiuchus and Sagittarius, we can still observe the summer treasures near Lyra and Cygnus before they set. The autumn constellations of Cassiopeia, Andromeda and Perseus are peaking in mid-evening, ceding their reign to the bright stars and open clusters of winter’s Taurus, Orion and his dogs, Auriga and Gemini by midnight. Early risers can start on the springtime galaxies in Leo and Virgo before morning twilight. For stargazers, as the carol goes, it’s the most wonderful time of the year. Invest some time in observing the night sky.

This Week in the Solar System

Saturday’s sunrise in Moncton is at 7:30 am and sunset will occur at 4:40 pm, giving 9 hours, 10 minutes of daylight (7:32 am and 4:47 pm in Saint John). Next Saturday the Sun will rise at 7:39 am and set at 4:35 pm, giving 8 hours, 56 minutes of daylight (7:41 am and 4:43 pm in Saint John).

The Moon does a snowball dance with the planets this week, appearing to the left of Mars on Sunday morning, to the lower left of Mercury the next day, and sliding above the Sun in its new phase on Tuesday. Meanwhile, Mercury and Mars edge to within 8 degrees until the inner planet reaches its greatest elongation from the Sun on Thursday, after which it turns tail and speeds away. Venus passes by Jupiter in the early evening sky this weekend, and on Thursday the Moon sits just above Venus with Jupiter a binocular width to their lower right. On Friday evening the Moon is below Saturn.

Questions? Contact Curt Nason.

Sky at a Glance November 16 – 23

Photo showing the constellations Auriga the Charioteer and Taurus the Bull, with hints to locate some Messier objects within.

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

Open clusters, sometimes called galactic clusters, are groups of relatively young stars (usually less than 500 million years old) that formed from the same vast cloud of gas and dust. The Pleiades cluster (M45) in the shoulder of Taurus the Bull is seen easily with the naked eye because it is fairly close at 440 light years (mind you, a light year is 9.5 trillion kilometres). The V-shaped Hyades in the face of Taurus is the closest at 150 light years, although Aldebaran at one end of the V is actually a foreground star at a distance of 65 light years. Many other clusters are greater than ten times farther and require binoculars or a telescope to be seen at all, usually as a hazy patch with some individual stars.

To the left of Taurus is a pentagram of stars marking the head, shoulders and knees of the constellation Auriga the Charioteer. One of those stars – in Auriga’s right knee, with him facing us – is officially part of Taurus. Point your binoculars halfway between this star and the one in Auriga’s right shoulder. Open cluster M36 is just inside the line between the stars, and M37 is just outside. They look like fuzzy patches because, at distances of greater than 4000 light years, a telescope is required to resolve individual stars. Further inside is the diffuse open cluster M38, midway between the right shoulder and left knee. All three clusters can be seen together in wide-field binoculars

This Week in the Solar System

Saturday’s sunrise in Moncton is at 7:20 am and sunset will occur at 4:46 pm, giving 9 hours, 26 minutes of daylight (7:23 am and 4:53 pm in Saint John). Next Saturday the Sun will rise at 7:30 am and set at 4:40 pm, giving 9 hours, 10 minutes of daylight (7:32 am and 4:47 pm in Saint John).

The Moon is near the Beehive star cluster in the constellation Cancer before sunrise on Monday, and it is at third quarter on Tuesday. Mercury has jumped into the morning sky, rising more than an hour before sunrise this weekend, and over the week it will close the gap to Mars from 15 degrees to 10 degrees (a fist-width at arm’s length). Venus lies 7 degrees to the lower right of Jupiter in the evening sky this Saturday, and by next Saturday it will be less than 2 degrees below Jupiter. By December 9, Venus will be 3 degrees below Saturn. The Leonid meteor shower peaks on Monday morning, but we will have to wait for the return of Comet Tempel-Tuttle in about 14 years before this shower produces a significant number of shooting stars. For a brief time in 1966, some people were seeing 40-50 meteors per second at the peak of the shower; more like a torrent. Meteor experts are predicting a possible, but brief (maybe half an hour), outburst from the Alpha Monocerotid shower after midnight Thursday evening (centered on 12:50 am Friday morning). They will be emanating from near the bright star Procyon to the left of Orion.

The provincial astronomy club, RASC NB, meets in the UNB Fredericton Forestry-Earth Sciences building at 1 pm this Saturday. All are welcome.

Questions? Contact Curt Nason.

Sky at a Glance November 9 – 16

This Week’s Sky at a Glance, 2019 November 9 – 16 ~by Curt Nason

The observing highlight of the week, and of the year, is a transit of Mercury. On Monday, from 8:36 am to 2:04 pm, Mercury can be seen crossing the face of the Sun with a properly filtered telescope, providing the weather cooperates. A Mercury transit occurs only 13 or 14 times a century, and of those the Sun might not be up in New Brunswick or it might be cloudy. Although Mercury passes between Earth and the Sun every 116 days, it is usually above or below the Sun in our sky because its orbit is tilted to ours. It is only when Mercury reaches inferior conjunction within a few days of May 8 or November 10, when the two orbits line up with the Sun, that we see a transit. Mercury will be a tiny, sharply defined black circle moving slowly across the Sun, too tiny to be seen without a solar-filtered telescope.

Members of RASC NB, the provincial astronomy club, are planning public observing events for the Mercury transit. On Monday, look for safely-filtered telescopes set up at Bore View Park in Moncton, and in Saint John at Saints Rest Beach, at the entrance to Rockwood Park, and at Loyalist Plaza by Market Square. It will be 30 years before another Mercury transit is visible from New Brunswick.

This Week in the Solar System

Saturday’s sunrise in Moncton is at 7:11 am and sunset will occur at 4:54 pm, giving 9 hours, 43 minutes of daylight (7:14 am and 5:01 pm in Saint John). Next Saturday the Sun will rise at 7:20 am and set at 4:46 pm, giving 9 hours, 26 minutes of daylight (7:23 am and 4:53 pm in Saint John).

The Moon passes near Uranus on Sunday and it is full, the Rivers Freezing Moon, on Tuesday. Mercury is at inferior conjunction on Monday, becoming visible in the morning sky next week, while Venus and Jupiter are moving toward a southwestern rendezvous in two weeks. Saturn remains in good position for suppertime observing and sets around 8:30 pm. Mars rises at 5 am above the bright star Spica. The North Taurid meteor shower peaks this Tuesday. Although the Taurids are not plentiful, they tend to be bright.

The Fredericton Astronomy Club meets in the UNB Forestry-Earth Sciences building at 7 pm this Tuesday, and RASC, the provincial astronomy club, meets in the same location at 1 pm on November 16. All are welcome.

Questions? Contact Curt Nason.

Sky at a Glance November 2 – 9

Photo showing the constellations Taurus and Auriga with the location for the beautiful Pleiades M45 in Taurus.

This Week’s Sky at a Glance, 2019 November 2 – 9 ~by Curt Nason

Around sunset now the Pleiades star cluster is rising. Also known as M45 or the Seven Sisters, and sometimes mistaken to be the Little Dipper, this compact eye-catcher represents the shoulder of Taurus the Bull. Over the next two hours the rest of the constellation clears the eastern horizon; in particular, the V-shaped Hyades star cluster anchored by orange Aldebaran, and the two stars marking the horn-tips.

In mythology, Zeus changed himself into a beautiful white bull to attract the attention of Europa, a princess of Sidon. She was taken by its gentleness and made the mistake of climbing on its back. Bully Zeus took off to the nearby seashore and swam all the way to Crete, where he changed back into his godly form and completed his conquest. The result was a baby boy who was named Minos, and he grew up to become the first King of Crete.

One of the horn stars of Taurus had been shared with the constellation Auriga. This star, Alnath, was officially assigned to Taurus when the constellation boundaries were set by the International Astronomical Union (IAU) in the late 1920s. Taurus is one of the zodiac constellations; the ecliptic passes between the Pleiades and Hyades and also between the horn-tips. A few millennia ago this occurred during late April and May. With the precession of the equinox due to Earth’s 25,800 year wobble, and the IAU’s reshaping of constellation boundaries, the Sun now is “in” Taurus from May 14 to June 21.

This Week in the Solar System

Saturday’s sunrise in Moncton is at 8:00 am and sunset will occur at 6:03 pm, giving 10 hours, 3 minutes of daylight (8:04 am and 6:10 pm in Saint John). Next Saturday the Sun will rise at 7:11 am and set at 4:54 pm, giving 9 hours, 43 minutes of daylight (7:14 am and 5:01 pm in Saint John). Note that we turn our timepieces back to AST (Atlantic Stargazing Time) at 2 am this Sunday.

The Moon approaches Saturn this Saturday evening and it is at first quarter on Monday. Mercury ends its month long dance with Venus and begins to plummet toward the Sun, while Venus heads toward a new dance partner in Jupiter. Saturn, meanwhile, is content to shine its rings in anticipation of an early December date with the goddess of love. In the morning sky, Mars can be seen low in the east above the bright star Spica. Over the next two weeks you might catch a meteor shooting away from Taurus, as the minor South Taurid and North Taurid meteor showers peak this Tuesday and next Tuesday, respectively.

The Saint John Astronomy Club meets this Saturday in the Rockwood Park Interpretation Centre at 7 pm. All are welcome.

Questions? Contact Curt Nason.

Sky at a Glance October 26 – November 2

Photo showing the constellation Cetus the Whale in the southern November night sky.

This Week’s Sky at a Glance, 2019 October 26 – November 2 ~by Curt Nason

November is a time for mid-evening whale watching while the large constellation of Cetus the Whale is well placed for viewing in the southern sky. Many of its stars are not particularly bright so it can be elusive, but you can piece it together in a fairly dark sky. The eastern side of the square of Pegasus is a handy arrow that points down toward Diphda, the brightest star in Cetus. Also called Deneb Kaitos, “the tail of the whale,” it anchors a pentagram of stars forming the rear half of Cetus below dim Pisces. A circlet of stars to the upper left, west of Taurus, is the whale’s head.

A famous star in Cetus is Mira, perhaps the first star to be recognized as a variable or one that changes its brightness regularly. The name Mira translates as “wonderful.” It is a red giant star that expands and contracts; brightening as it expands. At minimum brightness it cannot be seen with binoculars, but every 11 months it brightens to easy naked eye visibility. The next maximum is expected to be reached in mid-November. Midway on the western side of the circlet of the whale’s head is a star which anchors an asterism that resembles a question mark. Don’t ask why, just try it. A scope or binoculars could reveal the galaxy M77 approximately midway between Mira and Menkar, the star at the bottom of the circlet. The planet Uranus, which is at opposition on Monday, can be seen within a binocular field above the double star to the upper right of the circlet.

In mythology Cetus represents the sea monster created by Poseidon to ravage the coastal area of Ethiopia as punishment for Queen Cassiopeia’s bragging. Her daughter Andromeda was chained to a rock at the seashore as a sacrifice to make the monster go away. Perseus was homeward bound on the back of Pegasus after slaying the Gorgon Medusa when he chanced upon Andromeda’s plight. He rescued the princess by using Medusa’s head to turn the monster to stone, winning the day and the hand of Andromeda.

This Week in the Solar System

Saturday’s sunrise in Moncton is at 7:51 am and sunset will occur at 6:14 pm, giving 10 hours, 23 minutes of daylight (7:54 am and 6:21 pm in Saint John). Next Saturday the Sun will rise at 8:00 am and set at 6:03 pm, giving 10 hours, 3 minutes of daylight (8:04 am and 6:10 pm in Saint John).

The Moon is new shortly after midnight on Monday morning, and it appears within a binocular view above Venus and Mercury in Tuesday evening twilight. For a real observing challenge, try to spot the extremely thin crescent Moon with binoculars in twilight Sunday morning when it is about 17 hours from new. Jupiter sets around 8:40 pm this week, an hour and a half after Venus and Mercury. Saturn remains well-placed for early evening observing above the handle of the Sagittarius Teapot asterism.

The Saint John Astronomy Club meets in the Rockwood Park Interpretation Centre at 7 pm on November 2. All are welcome.

Questions? Contact Curt Nason.

Sky at a Glance October 19 – 26

Photo showing the Pleiades Star Cluster or M45 on the constellation Taurus the Bull.

This Week’s Sky at a Glance, 2019 October 19 – 26 ~by Curt Nason

The Pleiades star cluster is rising now in the early evening. Also known as M45 or the Seven Sisters, and sometimes mistaken to be the Little Dipper, this compact eye-catcher represents the shoulder of Taurus the Bull. Over the next two hours the rest of the constellation clears the eastern horizon; in particular, the V-shaped Hyades star cluster anchored by orange Aldebaran, and the two stars marking the tips of the bull’s horns.

In mythology, Zeus changed himself into a beautiful white bull to attract the attention of Europa, a princess of Sidon. She was taken by its gentleness and made the mistake of climbing on its back. Bully Zeus took off to the nearby seashore and swam all the way to Crete, where he changed back into his godly form and completed his conquest. The result was a baby boy who was named Minos, and he grew up to become the first King of Crete.

One of the horn stars of Taurus had been shared with the constellation Auriga. This star, Alnath, was officially assigned to Taurus when the constellation boundaries were set by the International Astronomical Union (IAU) in the late 1920s. Taurus is one of the zodiac constellations; the ecliptic passes between the Pleiades and Hyades and also between the horn-tips. Since the Moon’s orbit is tilted to the ecliptic by about five degrees, at times it can be seen passing in front of the Pleiades and Aldebaran.

This Week in the Solar System

Saturday’s sunrise in Moncton is at 7:41 am and sunset will occur at 6:26 pm, giving 10 hours, 45 minutes of daylight (7:45 am and 6:32 pm in Saint John). Next Saturday the Sun will rise at 7:51 am and set at 6:14 pm, giving 10 hours, 23 minutes of daylight (7:54 am and 6:21 pm in Saint John).

The Moon is at third quarter on Monday, scuttling through the Beehive star cluster (M44) in Cancer when it rises after midnight that night. Jupiter sets around 9 pm this week but it is still high enough in twilight to show detail through a telescope, although Saturn with its rings is the evening highlight. Venus can be seen with binoculars shortly after sunset, and Mercury is at its greatest elongation from the Sun this weekend, about 7 degrees left of Venus. The Orionid meteor shower, one of two showers arising from remnants of Halley’s Comet, will add a few extra meteors per hour over Monday evening and Tuesday morning.

The provincial astronomy club, RASC NB, is giving astronomy presentations at Moncton High School on the afternoon of October 19. For details, see their website.

Questions? Contact Curt Nason.

Sky at a Glance October 12 – 19

Photo showing the constellation Aquarius the Water Bearer and location of some of the Messier objects including M2.

This Week’s Sky at a Glance, 2019 October 12 – 19 ~by Curt Nason

Aquarius the Water Bearer is the source of all the water associated with our southern autumn constellations. It is situated among Pisces to the east and Capricornus to the west, with Pegasus north and Pisics Austrinus south. Its western end stretches over top of the Capricornus. Most of the stars of Aquarius are relatively dim but one asterism stands out, the tight group of four stars that forms the Water Jar. Resembling a circle with three spokes, this asterism is also called the Steering Wheel.

One tale from mythology has Aquarius representing Ganymede, the handsome son of a Trojan king. Zeus was attracted to the lad and sent his pet eagle to kidnap him. Ganymede was given the important position of cup bearer (wine pourer) at Olympian feasts. There may have been another motive of the kidnapping, for the moons of the planet Jupiter are named for Zeus’s lovers and Ganymede is the largest of those moons.

A few Messier objects lie within Aquarius, the best being the globular cluster M2. I usually star hop to this one by going from a star in the neck of Pegasus to its ear, and extending that line an equal distance. A fainter globular cluster, M73, is above the back of Capricornus, and just to its east is enigmatic M73. Stargazers wonder how this four-star asterism made it to the Messier list. Nearby to the northeast a moderate-size telescope might reveal the Saturn Nebula, the glowing gaseous remnant of a dead star that somewhat resembles the ringed planet.

This Week in the Solar System

Saturday’s sunrise in Moncton is at 7:31 am and sunset will occur at 6:38 pm, giving 11 hours, 7 minutes of daylight (7:35 am and 6:44 pm in Saint John). Next Saturday the Sun will rise at 7:41 am and set at 6:26 pm, giving 10 hours, 45 minutes of daylight (7:45 am and 6:32 pm in Saint John).

The Moon is full on Sunday, the Hunter’s Moon, which is the same effect as the Harvest Moon where the shallow angle of the ecliptic results in the Moon rising 22-25 minutes later for several evenings rather than the average 50 minutes. By midweek Jupiter sets around 9:20 pm, about two hours after Mercury and Venus set and nearly two hours before Saturn. Venus can be seen with binoculars shortly after sunset, and Mercury might be visible through the fading twilight to its left before they set.

The provincial astronomy club, RASC NB, is giving astronomy presentations at Moncton High School on the afternoon of October 19. For details, see their website.

Questions? Contact Curt Nason.