Category Archives: Astronomy

Sky at a Glance August 18 – 25

Photo showing the constellation Bootes.

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

With the hot and muggy weather this summer there is nothing like an ice cream to cool you down. If the night sky had a constellation honouring the ice cream cone it would have to be the one we call Boötes (bo-OH-teez). Boötes is easy to pick out because it is anchored by Arcturus, the fourth brightest star of the sky. To identify the star, “just follow the arc (of the Big Dipper’s handle) to Arcturus.” This star is the bottom of the cone and the ice cream is to the left of the Dipper’s handle, somewhat northward where it will stay cold and not melt. The constellation can also pass for a kite or a necktie.

The name Boötes means ox driver but the constellation is often regarded as a bear driver or a ploughman. With his hunting dogs, the Canes Venatici constellation, he is seen chasing the two bears (Ursa Major and Ursa Minor) around the pole. In Britain the Big Dipper is usually called the Plough, and in mythology the goddess of agriculture requested Zeus to honour Boötes in the sky for inventing the plough. I guess he is the John Deere of the night sky, or perhaps Ernest Hamwi who popularized the edible ice cream cone at the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis.

Speaking of World’s Fairs, the 1893 and 1933 fairs were held in Chicago. To commemorate technology, the lights for the latter fair were lit using a current generated from photocells and the starlight of Arcturus. It was believed the star was 40 light years distant, so the light reaching them would have been emitted during the previous Chicago fair. We now know Arcturus is only 37 light years away. Several observatories supplied starlight for the opening but, considering the shape of the constellation, it is unfortunate that one of them wasn’t the Lick Observatory in California.

This Week in the Solar System

Saturday’s sunrise in Moncton is at 6:22 am and sunset will occur at 8:22 pm, giving 14 hours of daylight (6:28 am and 8:26 pm in Saint John). Next Saturday the Sun will rise at 6:31 am and set at 8:10 pm, giving 13 hours, 39 minutes of daylight (6:37 am and 8:14 pm in Saint John).

The Moon is at first quarter on Saturday, making a great weekend for lunar observing. Venus sets at 9:45 pm midweek, followed by Jupiter an hour and a half later. Jupiter’s Red Spot can be seen with a telescope around 10 pm next Friday, August 24. Saturn is at its highest and best around 9:30 pm, while Mars reaches its best two hours later. Mercury is popping up in the morning sky, rising an hour before sunrise this weekend.

Moncton members of RASC NB are hosting free public observing at Moncton High School Observatory this Friday, August 17 from 9 to 11 pm.

Questions? Contact Curt Nason.

Sky at a Glance August 11 – 18

Photo showing the location of the Perseus constellation in the low northeast sky, originating point of the Perseids Meteor Shower.

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

The main event in the sky this week is the Perseid meteor shower. On any clear night this weekend you will have a better chance of seeing meteors, especially in the wee hours before morning twilight. The peak time is predicted to occur around 10 pm on Sunday when, unfortunately, the constellation Perseus is still low on the northeast. You can see a few meteors per hour any night in a clear, dark sky, but the number increases greatly when Earth passes through a trail of pebbles and dust left by a comet that makes frequent orbits around the Sun. The pebbles left by comet Temple-Tuttle in its 133 year orbit are quite large at a few centimetres, and they enter our atmosphere at a high relative velocity of 60 km/s (Earth travels at 30 km/s). Therefore, they can be very bright.

Meteors, also called shooting stars or falling stars, are the streaks of light created when particles enter the atmosphere at an altitude of about 100 kilometres, and those particles from comets disintegrate before they reach an altitude of 50 kilometres. Many meteors are faint and easily made invisible by moonlight and light pollution. This year the Perseid shower occurs near the new Moon phase so we can expect to see more than usual. They will seem to be coming from a point within the constellation Perseus, which is at its highest in the sky in early morning. You will see fewer in the evening but they tend to be long and bright.

Although a dark sky is preferred for watching meteors, many can still be enjoyed from an urban or suburban area. Get comfortable in a chair, have extra clothes or blankets if you plan to stay long as it can get very chilly, and select a patch of sky that is free of clouds and light. It is better to keep Perseus to your side rather than look in that direction because the meteors will look more spectacular, covering a longer distance. Be very happy if you see about 20-30 per hour on the peak night, or fewer a day before or after. Anything more is a bonus, and this could be a bonus year.

This Week in the Solar System

Saturday’s sunrise in Moncton is at 6:13 am and sunset will occur at 8:34 pm, giving 14 hours, 21 minutes of daylight (6:20 am and 8:37 pm in Saint John). Next Saturday the Sun will rise at 6:22 am and set at 8:22 pm, giving 14 hours of daylight (6:28 am and 8:26 pm in Saint John).

The Moon is new on Saturday, August 11 and it is at first quarter the following Saturday. Venus has a twilight photo opportunity with a slim Moon on Tuesday, and it is at its greatest elongation from the Sun on Friday. Saturn is at its best in the early evening. On Thursday, telescope users might see the shadows of Jovian moons Io and Europa moving across the atmosphere of Jupiter, starting around 9:08 pm and lasting for more than two hours. Mars is in good position for observing by late evening and its global dust storm is weakening. The Perseid meteor shower peaks in a moonless sky Sunday evening and should be active enough to keep most stargazers happy over the weekend and Monday.

The RASC NB star party at Mactaquac Provincial Park takes place this weekend, August 10-11.

Questions? Contact Curt Nason.

Sky at a Glance August 4 – 11

Photo showing the constellation Ophiuchus the Serpent Bearer in the southern sky, above the orange star Antares in the heart of Scorpius.

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

After twilight look for orange Antares in the heart of Scorpius between Jupiter and Saturn. High above the scorpion is a large house-shaped constellation called Ophiuchus the Serpent Bearer. If your area isn’t light polluted you can see two lines of stars rising up and outward from the bottom of the house. The line on the right is Serpens Caput and the one on the left is Serpens Cauda. Together they comprise Serpens the Serpent, the only constellation that is in separate parts. Globular clusters contain many tens of thousands of stars and orbit the centre of our galaxy, which is in the direction where Saturn currently resides. Therefore, these clusters abound in the Sagittarius-Scorpius-Ophiuchus region of our sky and many can be seen in binoculars as a fat, fuzzy star.

Ophiuchus represents Asclepius from mythology, who became interested in the healing arts after killing a snake and watching another snake bring it back to life with a leaf. Asclepius brought many people back from the dead, including Orion after he was killed by the scorpion. Hades, god of the Underworld, complained to Zeus about a decrease in business so Zeus sent his pet eagle to kill Asclepius with a thunderbolt. The constellation of Aquila the Eagle is east of Serpens Cauda.

This Week in the Solar System

Saturday’s sunrise in Moncton is at 6:04 am and sunset will occur at 8:44 pm, giving 14 hours, 40 minutes of daylight (6:12 am and 8:47 pm in Saint John). Next Saturday the Sun will rise at 6:13 am and set at 8:34 pm, giving 14 hours, 21 minutes of daylight (6:20 am and 8:37 pm in Saint John).

The Moon is at third quarter on Saturday, August 4 and it is new the following Saturday, giving a dark sky for meteor watching. Mercury is at inferior conjunction, between Earth and the Sun, on Tuesday and it will be well placed for morning observing toward the end of the month. Venus sets at 10:15 mid-week, when Saturn is at its highest in the south, and Jupiter sets around midnight. Mars looks brilliant to the naked eye but a global dust storm continues to obscure much of its telescopic treasures. The Perseid meteor shower peaks late next weekend but start watching a few nights before then.

The Saint John Astronomy Club meets in the Rockwood Park Interpretation Centre on August 4 at 7 pm. All are welcome. The RASC NB star party at Mactaquac Provincial Park takes place next weekend, August 10-11.

Questions? Contact Curt Nason.

Sky at a Glance July 28 – August 4

Photo showing four small constellations in the southeastern sky toward late evening in July-August.

This Week’s Sky at a Glance, July 28 – August 4 ~by Curt Nason

They say it is the little things that count, and if you are counting constellations there are four little ones lined up in the southeast toward late evening. Start your search with the Summer Triangle, which is composed of the brightest star in each of three constellations: Vega in Lyra the Lyre, Deneb in Cygnus the Swan, and Altair in Aquila the Eagle. Sagitta the Arrow is a distinct shape between Altair and Albireo, which is at the head of Cygnus. The arrow, poisoned with the blood of the Hydra, is one of those shot by Hercules to kill the Stymphalian birds as his sixth Labour.

Between Sagitta and Albireo is obscure Vulpecula the Fox, which at one time was two constellations called the Little Fox and the Goose. Vulpecula is known best for having the binocular object M27, the Dumbbell Nebula, within its borders. Below Sagitta is the eye-catching Delphinus the Dolphin, seen leaping out of the watery constellations that hug the horizon below. The dolphin was given its place of honour in the sky by Poseidon for convincing beautiful Amphitrite to be his wife. Below Delphinus and just off the snout of Pegasus the Flying Horse is Equuleus the Little Horse, the second smallest of the 88 constellations. Perhaps representing the foal Celeris, an offspring or brother of Pegasus, it was one of the 48 constellations included in Claudius Ptolemy’s second century map of the sky.

This Week in the Solar System

Saturday’s sunrise in Moncton is at 5:56 am and sunset will occur at 8:53 pm, giving 14 hours, 57 minutes of daylight (6:04 am and 8:56 pm in Saint John). Next Saturday the Sun will rise at 6:04 am and set at 8:44 pm, giving 14 hours, 40 minutes of daylight (6:12 am and 8:47 pm in Saint John).

The full Puny Moon occurs on Friday, July 28, and it is at third quarter on Saturday, August 4. Mars is at opposition on July 27 and closest to Earth on July 31. Normally, the outer planets are closest at opposition but Mars has a more elongated orbit than the others. Its continued sunward motion brings it about 100,000 km closer after opposition before Earth pulls farther ahead in orbit. Mars looks brilliant to the naked eye but a global dust storm still obscures much of its telescopic treasures. Venus shows its nearly half-lit phase in a telescope, best seen in twilight, while Jupiter and its moons and Saturn’s rings more than make up for the Martian disappointment. The South Delta Aquariid meteor shower peaks this Saturday morning, a harbinger of the more prolific Perseid shower in a few weeks.

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

Questions? Contact Curt Nason.

Sky at a Glance July 21 – 28

Photo showing the constellation Cygnus.
This Week’s Sky at a Glance, July 21 – 28 ~by Curt Nason

Constellations are not the only stellar figures in the night sky. Any imaginative figure seen that is not one of the 88 constellations is called an asterism. The Big Dipper in Ursa Major and the Sagittarius Teapot are two of the most prominent. Others require binoculars or a telescope, such as the Coathanger and ET star clusters. One I read about in Sky & Telescope magazine a couple of years ago is a smiley face in Cygnus the Swan. Scan with binoculars just below the swan’s right (western) wing near the brightest star in that wing, and look for a pair of eyes above a semicircle grin of five stars. You will probably smile back.

This summer, spend some time scanning the night sky randomly and let your imagination run wild. Pareidolia is a phenomenon in which your mind sees a familiar pattern where none exists. Just as we imagine figures in clouds by day, we can imagine them in the stars at night. Let me know what you see.

This Week in the Solar System

Saturday’s sunrise in Moncton is at 5:48 am and sunset will occur at 9:01 pm, giving 15 hours, 13 minutes of daylight (5:56 am and 9:03 pm in Saint John). Next Saturday the Sun will rise at 5:56 am and set at 8:53 pm, giving 14 hours, 57 minutes of daylight (6:04 am and 8:56 pm in Saint John).

The Moon is near Saturn on Tuesday and is full on Friday, July 28, the Mi’kmaq Birds Shed Feathers Moon. It is also the most distant full Moon of the year – the Puny Moon. I hope you can see it, but most eyes will be on Mars rising at opposition less than half an hour later. Venus, Jupiter, Saturn and Mars stretch from west to east throughout the summer evenings. Mercury is stationary on Wednesday, beginning a two week plunge toward the Sun. The South Delta Aquariid meteor shower peaks on Friday morning, a harbinger of the more prolific Perseid shower in three weeks.

There is public observing at the Irving Nature Park in Saint John on Friday, July 20 at 9 pm (cloud date Saturday, July 21). Friday, July 27 is Astronomy Day at the Huntsman Aquarium in St. Andrews.

Questions? Contact Curt Nason.

Sky at a Glance July 14 – 21

Photo showing location of several galaxies in the southern night sky near Sagittarius.

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

Galaxies are favourite targets for amateur astronomers and many are visible with just binoculars. Two are easily seen with the naked eye in the southern hemisphere: the Large and Small Magellanic Clouds. The Andromeda Galaxy is a naked-eye blur for rural New Brunswickers and it looks majestic in binoculars. But there is one galaxy that is spectacular regardless of your location or observing equipment, and that is our home galaxy.

The Milky Way is at least 110,000 light years across, and although it is composed of 200 billion stars we can distinguish only about 4000 as individual stars from a rural area. The Sun is 27,000 light years from the galactic core, within a spur between the inner Sagittarius and outer Perseus spiral arms. When we look above the spout of the Sagittarius Teapot asterism we are looking toward the galactic core, but vast clouds of dust hide the stars between the spiral arm and the core. South of the head of Cygnus the Swan we see the Milky Way split in two by the Great Rift, one of those dust clouds.

Star formation occurs in clouds of gas and dust within the spiral arms and some can be seen as bright patches with binoculars. Just above the spout of the Teapot is M8, the Lagoon Nebula; and a hint of M20, the Trifid Nebula, can be seen in the same field of view above. Scanning to the upper left up the Milky Way you encounter M17, the Swan (or Omega) Nebula; M16, the Eagle Nebula; and star clusters such as M11, the Wild Duck Cluster in the constellation Scutum the Shield. A tour of the Milky Way under a dark sky can keep a binocular stargazer engaged for an evening.

This Week in the Solar System

Saturday’s sunrise in Moncton is at 5:41 am and sunset will occur at 9:07 pm, giving 15 hours, 26 minutes of daylight (5:49 am and 9:09 pm in Saint John). Next Saturday the Sun will rise at 5:48 am and set at 9:01 pm, giving 15 hours, 13 minutes of daylight (5:56 am and 9:03 pm in Saint John).

The Moon is at first quarter on Thursday, making a great week for public observing events. It passes just above Mercury this Saturday evening, is near Venus on Monday and Jupiter next Friday. Jupiter’s red spot faces our way at 10 pm on Thursday and, under steady sky conditions, it can be seen with a telescope. Saturn continues to give great views of its rings in a telescope. Mars looks awesome in the late evening; its bright yellow-orange colour really catches the eye.

The annual RASC NB star party at Mount Carleton Provincial Park occurs July 13-14, taking advantage of very dark and moonless skies. Public observing events are also scheduled for Thursday, July 19, at the ball field in St. Martins for Old Home Week, and at the Irving Nature Park in Saint John on Friday, July 20 at 9 pm (cloud date Saturday, July 21).

Questions? Contact Curt Nason.

Sky at a Glance July 7 – 14

Photo showing the planet Saturn between the constellations Sagittarius and Scutum with many Messier objects in that region of the night sky.

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

Saturn currently sits above the Teapot asterism of Sagittarius the Archer. Sagittarius is an old constellation of a centaur with a bow and arrow aiming toward Scorpius the Scorpion. If he tries to shoot Aquila the Eagle above, chances are the arrow will be deflected by a shield.

Scutum the Shield is a relatively new constellation, created by the Polish astronomer Johannes Hevelius in the late 17th century. It commemorates the Polish king John Sobieski III, who defended his country against the Turks. Originally named Scutum Sobiescianum (Sobieski’s Shield) it is generally just called the Shield. Seeing it can be difficult, for its main stars are dim and shielded within the Milky Way. One way to locate it is to find its most prominent deep sky object, the Wild Duck Cluster or M11.

Find the bright star Altair in the head of Aquila and then identify the wings and tail of the eagle. Binoculars will reveal a string of stars leading from the tail to M11 at the top of the shield. The rich Wild Duck Cluster looks good in binoculars and great in a scope, and an imaginative observer can see a V-shape or maybe two. A week ago the bottom of the shield drew the attention of astronomers with the appearance of a nova.

When an average size star like our Sun runs out of fuel it collapses to an earth-sized white dwarf star. If the white dwarf has a binary companion it can draw hydrogen gas – fuel for fusion reactions – away from the companion. If enough collects on the surface of the white dwarf the hydrogen can flash in a thermonuclear explosion thousands of times brighter than the Sun. Nova Scuti 2018 is bright enough to be seen in a backyard telescope.

This Week in the Solar System

Saturday’s sunrise in Moncton is at 5:35 am and sunset will occur at 9:11 pm, giving 15 hours, 36 minutes of daylight (5:44 am and 9:13 pm in Saint John). Next Saturday the Sun will rise at 5:41 am and set at 9:07 pm, giving 15 hours, 26 minutes of daylight (5:49 am and 9:09 pm in Saint John).

The Moon is new just before midnight Thursday evening and reaches perigee before sunrise on Friday, resulting in very high tides next weekend. The slender crescent passes just above Mercury next Saturday evening, about 15 degrees to the lower right of Venus. Venus is near Regulus this Monday, and Mercury reaches its greatest elongation from the Sun on Wednesday. Jupiter is stationary on Wednesday, resuming its normal eastward motion against the stars until next spring. Saturn continues to give great views of its rings in a telescope. Ever-brightening Mars rises by 10:30 pm late in the week and might look more like a pumpkin while it remains wrapped in a global dust storm.

The Saint John Astronomy Club meets in the Rockwood Park Interpretation Centre on Saturday, July 7 at 7 pm. All are welcome. The annual RASC NB star party at Mount Carleton Provincial Park occurs July 13-14, taking advantage of very dark and moonless skies.

Questions? Contact Curt Nason.

Sky at a Glance June 30 – July 7

Photo showing the constellation Sagitta and two Messier objects, M71 and M27.

This Week’s Sky at a Glance, June 30 – July 7 ~by Curt Nason

Arrows are used in signs as pointers to direct us to notable sites. As the Summer Triangle of the bright stars Vega, Deneb and Altair rise high in late evening, the tiny constellation of Sagitta the Arrow can direct us to a few interesting binocular objects. Sagitta is a compact arrow situated halfway between Altair and Albireo, which form the heads of Aquila the Eagle and Cygnus the Swan. Albireo itself is an interesting binocular object, being revealed as two colourful stars.

Looking under the shaft of the arrow with binoculars you might notice a hazy patch of stars called M71, which is a globular cluster containing more than 10,000 stars. As globular clusters go it is younger than most and relatively small. Half a binocular field above the arrowhead is ghostly M27, the Dumbbell Nebula. This is a planetary nebula; gases emitted from a Sun-sized star as its nuclear fuel was running out. The star collapsed into a hot, dense Earth-sized star called a white dwarf, and the ultraviolet radiation emitted from it causes the gases to glow. In older photographs of M27 its bipolar shape resembled a dumbbell. About a binocular width to the upper right of the arrow’s feathers is an asterism called the Coathanger cluster, a favourite treat for closet astronomers.

This Week in the Solar System

Saturday’s sunrise in Moncton is at 5:31 am and sunset will occur at 9:14 pm, giving 15 hours, 43 minutes of daylight (5:39 am and 9:15 pm in Saint John). Next Saturday the Sun will rise at 5:35 am and set at 9:11 pm, giving 15 hours, 36 minutes of daylight (5:44 am and 9:13 pm in Saint John). Next Friday afternoon the earth is at aphelion, its farthest distance from the Sun for the year. Keep a sweater handy.

The Moon is near Mars this Saturday and it is at third quarter next Friday. Mercury is moving toward Venus, setting an hour and a half after sunset midweek, but it is also dimming. Bright Venus sets 45 minutes after Mercury. Jupiter and its moons put on a different show every evening, and its Red Spot can be seen with a telescope around 11 pm on Monday and 10 pm next Saturday. Saturn is now in our sky at sunset, flaunting its rings of ice particles in small telescopes. There are reports that the dust storm on Mars is starting to thin, making astronomers more hopeful that it will yield views of its polar ice cap and basaltic ground this summer.

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

Questions? Contact Curt Nason.

Sky at a Glance June 23 – 30

Photo showing location of the constellation Corona Borealis close to Hercules.

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

The bright stars Arcturus and Vega, fourth and fifth brightest of the night sky, are seen high above in twilight. I use them to locate the constellation Hercules, which is one third of the way from Vega to Arcturus. Another constellation, the nominal crowning glory of the northern sky, is one third of the way from Arcturus to Vega. Corona Borealis, the Northern Crown, does not stand out among its neighbours or contain any popular telescopic treasures like Hercules does, but its semicircle of stars is pretty to look at. If you have a really clear view of the southern horizon you might catch the Southern Crown, Corona Australis, hugging the horizon below Sagittarius around 2 am this week or midnight in late July.

In mythology, Ariadne was the daughter of King Minos of Crete. She helped Theseus slay the bull-headed Minotaur and escape from the Labyrinth, and then accompanied him and his crew on a voyage home to Athens. Along the way they stopped at the island home of Dionysus, the god of wine. After a night of revelry the crew was made to leave without Ariadne, and Dionysus presented her with a beautiful crown if she would be his bride. The crown was placed in the sky to commemorate their wedding. The constellation also represents a bear’s den in a local aboriginal legend of the bear and seven hunters, which includes stars in the Big Dipper and Boötes.

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 5:31 am and set at 9:14 pm, giving 15 hours, 43 minutes of daylight (5:39 am and 9:15 pm in Saint John). The nights are getting longer!

The Moon is full at 1:53 am on Thursday, the Mi’kmaq Trees Fully Leaved Moon. It is near Jupiter this Saturday, Saturn on Wednesday and Mars next Saturday. Venus sets around 11:30 pm this week, and a telescope will show it slightly more than half-lit by sunlight. Look for Mercury with binoculars 15 degrees to the lower right of Venus, starting a half hour after sunset when it is about 9 degrees above the horizon. Jupiter is situated for great observing in the evening and a telescope could show its Red Spot eyeing us around 10 pm on Monday. The shadow of its largest moon, Ganymede, might also be seen at that time, starting its transit across the Jovian cloud top. Saturn is at opposition on Wednesday, rising below the Moon around sunset. Mars rises well before midnight this week and perhaps it will look more yellow than bright orange. The dust storm that sprang up a couple of weeks ago has gone global. We hope the storm will dissipate before the end of July, when Mars will be at its closest in 15 years.

The last RASC NB meeting until September takes place on June 23 at 1 pm in Moncton High School. All are welcome.

Questions? Contact Curt Nason.

Sky at a Glance June 16 – 23

Photo of the south sky at midday from Moncton, NB at the Summer Solstice.
This Week’s Sky at a Glance, June 16 – 23 ~by Curt Nason

Seasons are the result of Earth’s rotational axis being tilted about 23.5 degrees off the vertical with respect to its orbit. The first day of astronomical summer occurs this Thursday. The “astronomical” qualification is used because meteorologists have taken to confusing people with meteorological seasons based on temperatures. Meteorological summer in the northern hemisphere includes June, July and August because they have the highest average temperatures for the year. Anyone who has lost crops this month due to frost will not be in total agreement with that.

On the summer solstice, the Sun rises and sets at its most northerly points on the horizon. For those of us at 45 degrees latitude, at midday (1:21 pm in Moncton) the Sun is 90 – 45 + 23.5 = 68.5 degrees above the southern horizon, at its highest for the year. If we lived at latitude 23.5 degrees the Sun would be directly overhead at midday on the solstice. Several millennia ago the Sun was “in” the constellation Cancer on the solstice, hence that latitude is marked on maps as the Tropic of Cancer. The dim constellation does resemble a crab somewhat, but there is speculation that the Sun’s forth and back movement along the horizon at that time of year was reminiscent of a crab’s sidewise walk.

Prior to being in Cancer at the start of summer, the Sun was in Leo. Lions tended to gather by the Nile in the dry season around the solstice. Now the summer solstice point on the ecliptic, the Sun’s path through the constellations, lies in Taurus, just within its boundary with Gemini. The roaming solstice is due to Earth’s axis wobbling like a top, making one revolution every 25,800 years in what we call the precession of the equinox. Enjoy your summer, whenever it starts.

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 9:14 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). Summer solstice occurs at 7:07 am on Thursday.

The Moon is at first quarter on Wednesday, giving great views in a telescope throughout the week. If you can spot it in the east this Saturday morning, look for Venus within a binocular field above it. If you are successful with that, try for Venus without the binoculars. After twilight on Tuesday look for M44, the Beehive Cluster, just below Venus. Jupiter is situated for great observing in the evening and it will get extra attention on June 23 with the Moon nearby. A binocular view of Jupiter will show its line-up of moons and the double star Zubenelgenubi to its lower left. Saturn rises around 9:30 pm and a late evening view of it in binoculars will include the globular cluster M22 to its lower left. A dust storm has kicked up on Mars – hopefully, it will dissipate soon and not obscure features of the Red Planet like one did in 2001.

The The first RASC NB star party of the year takes place at Kouchibouguac National Park on June 15-16. The last RASC NB meeting until September takes place on June 23 at 1 pm in Moncton High School. All are welcome.

Questions? Contact Curt Nason.

Sky at a Glance June 9 – 16

Photo showing the location of some globular star clusters in the regions of constellations Bootes and Hercules.

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

Globular clusters are among the oldest and largest objects associated with our galaxy, being about 12 billion years old and containing tens to hundreds of thousands of stars packed into a compact sphere. There are more than 150 globulars orbiting in the halo of the Milky Way galaxy, and many more are known to be orbiting larger galaxies like M31 in Andromeda. Many can be seen in binoculars as a fuzzy patch of light, perhaps resembling those little white patches you see below bird feeders. A good sized telescope is able to resolve some of their stars. The larger globulars seen from a dark location have been described as granules of sugar against black velvet.

Summer is the season for observing globular clusters. M4 is just to the right of Antares in the constellation Scorpius and it is one of the closest to us at 7000 light years. M13 in the Keystone of Hercules is relatively close at 22,000 light years. One that would outshine M13 if it were higher in our sky is M22, just left of the lid of the Teapot in Sagittarius. Another easy target is M3, located halfway between Arcturus and Cor Caroli, the brightest star in the small constellation Canes Venatici below the handle of the Big Dipper. Two other standouts are M92 in Hercules and M5 in Serpens. From a dark sky, many dimmer globulars can be picked out in the region of Sagittarius and Ophiuchus.

The concentration of globular clusters in this region of sky is not by accident, and it played a role in another lesson of humility for humanity. Harvard’s Harlow Shapley studied globular clusters a century ago and noticed that most were located around Sagittarius. If they were evenly distributed around the core of our galaxy, as believed, then the centre of the galaxy must lie in that direction. Just as Copernicus and Galileo demoted Earth from the centre of the solar system, Shapley showed that the Sun was not at the centre of the Milky Way.

This Week in the Solar System

Saturday’s sunrise in Moncton is at 5:28 am and sunset will occur at 9:09 pm, giving 15 hours, 41 minutes of daylight (5:36 am and 9:10 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 (5:33 am and 9:14 pm in Saint John).

The Moon is new on Wednesday and, if you can spot it around 10 am on June 16, look for Venus within a binocular field above it. If you are successful with that, try for Venus without the binoculars. Jupiter is at its best for observing around 11 pm, and with a telescope you might see its Red Spot around 10 pm on Wednesday and midnight on Friday. Saturn rises around 10 pm above the lid of the Sagittarius Teapot. Mars continues to brighten in the morning sky; it will be the main attraction for observers this summer.

The William Brydone Jack Astronomy Club meets in the UNB Forestry / Earth Sciences building in Fredericton on Tuesday at 7 pm. All are welcome. The first RASC NB star party of the year takes place at Kouchibouguac National Park on June 15-16.

Questions? Contact Curt Nason.

Sky at a Glance June 2 – 9

Photo showing the snake constellations Hydra and Serpens

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

When Charley Pride sang “Snakes Crawl at Night” he wasn’t talking about the constellations, but he might as well have been. When twilight gives way to darkness there are two snakes stretching nearly halfway across the sky. The first is Hydra the female water snake, which is also the largest constellation. It is so long it takes eight hours to rise completely. At 11 pm these evenings it stretches along the horizon with its head in the west and its tail to the south. In this position the snake takes only three hours to nestle underground

Almost as long but more U-shaped is Serpens, the only constellation that is in two parts, separated by Ophiuchus the Serpent Bearer. The western half is called Serpens Caput, the head of the snake, and the eastern half is the tail, Serpens Cauda. Ophiuchus represents Asclepius, a son of the Greek god Apollo, who learned the healing arts by watching a snake bring another back to life. The Rod of Asclepius, a snake entwined around a staff, is the symbol of medicine and health.

If your like things in threes you can look at serpentine Draco as a snake instead of a dragon. Its tail begins above the bowl of the Big Dipper, with the body curling around the Little Dipper before arcing back toward the foot of Hercules. If that doesn’t suit you then you can go Down Under to see Hydrus the male water snake slithering around the south celestial pole.

This Week in the Solar System

Saturday’s sunrise in Moncton is at 5:30 am and sunset will occur at 9:04 pm, giving 15 hours, 34 minutes of daylight (5:38 am and 9:06 pm in Saint John). Next Saturday the Sun will rise at 5:28 am and set at 9:09 pm, giving 15 hours, 41 minutes of daylight (5:36 am and 9:11 pm in Saint John).

The Moon is near Mars on Sunday and is at third quarter on Wednesday. Venus and Jupiter dominate the western and southeastern sky, respectively, during the evening. If you can landmark where they are in bright twilight, try to see them before sunset without optical aid the next clear evening. Saturn is slowly moving westward over the lid of the Sagittarius Teapot asterism, and by the end of the month it will be rising before sunset. Mars continues to brighten in the morning sky; it will be the main attraction for observers this summer. Mercury is in superior conjunction on Tuesday, passing behind the Sun.

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

Questions? Contact Curt Nason.

Sky at a Glance May 26 – June 2

Photo of the constellation Draco in the northern sky, including a binocular treat in the dragon's head.

This Week’s Sky at a Glance, May 26 – June 2 ~by Curt Nason

By 10 pm the zigzag constellation of Draco the Dragon is halfway up the northern sky to the right of the Little Dipper. Draco’s tail is a line of stars between the Big and Little Dippers. One of those stars is Thuban, which lies between the bowl of the Little Dipper and the middle of the Big Dipper’s handle. About 5000 years ago, when the Egyptian pyramids were built, Thuban was the North Star and entrances to the pyramids were designed with a descending passageway aligned to this star. Coincidentally, the inner two stars of the Big Dipper’s bowl point to Thuban, just as the outer pair points toward Polaris.

From the tail, Draco arcs around the bowl of the Little Dipper and then curves back toward Hercules, with its head being a quadrilateral of stars by the strongman’s foot. The two brightest stars in Draco’s head, Eltanin and Rastaban, are its eyes. They are the brightest and third brightest of the constellation. The faintest of the four is a treat in binoculars, showing matching white stars that resemble headlights or cat eyes. In mythology the dragon was one of the Titans, rivals of the Olympians. In one of their battles, Athena slung the dragon high into the northern sky. Writhing to right itself, it struck against the sky and froze in that position.

This Week in the Solar System

Saturday’s sunrise in Moncton is at 5:35 am and sunset will occur at 8:57 pm, giving 15 hours, 22 minutes of daylight (5:43 am and 8:59 pm in Saint John). Next Saturday the Sun will rise at 5:30 am and set at 9:04 pm, giving 15 hours, 34 minutes of daylight (5:38 am and 9:06 pm in Saint John).

The Moon is near Jupiter on Sunday and it is full on Tuesday, the Mi’kmaq Frog Croaking Moon. Saturn now rises around 11 pm, a little before Venus sets and Jupiter is transits the north-south meridian. Jupiter’s Red Spot can be seen in a telescope at high power on Sunday at 11 pm and on Friday at 10 pm. If I drag my telescope out early enough I can now see the polar ice cap of Mars and dark ground features, and the views will get even better over the next two months as it moves into the evening sky.

RASC NB, the provincial astronomy club, meets in the Rockwood Park Interpretation Centre in Saint John on May 26 at 1 pm for astronomy talks. The Saint John Astronomy Club meets in the same location on June 2 at 7 pm. All are welcome.

Questions? Contact Curt Nason.

Sky at a Glance May 19 – 26

Photo of the planetary lineups during summer 2018

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

The long weekend in May is usually the start of baseball season in New Brunswick. It is also the harbinger of star party season for members of RASC NB; the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, New Brunswick Centre. RASC NB has more than 100 members across the province and astronomy education through public outreach is a focal point of our activities. Star parties are part of the outreach program, along with visits to schools, youth and seniors groups, and general observing sessions.

Star parties are held in the larger parks of the province, usually when the Moon is near the new or first quarter phase. Saturday afternoon events could include solar observing, telescope clinics or children activities, and Friday and Saturday evenings involve a “What’s Up” presentation and telescope observing. This summer the four best planets for observing – Jupiter, Saturn, Mars and Venus – will be at or near their best for viewing. Mars will be at its closest since 2003. The Moon near looks astounding through a telescope, and those who stay up later will be treated to star clusters, nebulae and galaxies.

Often, a dozen or more telescopes of various types and sizes are operated by RASC NB members and guests for your enjoyment. There could be line-ups at each scope so please be patient and respectful of the equipment. All you need to do is place your eye up to, but not on, the telescope eyepiece. Touching the scope could move it off the object you want to observe. Please avoid using white or otherwise bright lights in the observing area; allow your eyes to adjust to the dimmer light. Supervise your young children and, if possible, leave the dogs at the campsite or keep them at the periphery of the observing area.

This year’s star parties are at Kouchibouguac June 15-16, Mount Carleton July 13-14, Mactaquac August 10-11, Fundy August 31-September 1, and back to Kouchibouguac September 14-15. Play ball and party with the stars!

This Week in the Solar System

Saturday’s sunrise in Moncton is at 5:42 am and sunset will occur at 8:49 pm, giving 15 hours, 7 minutes of daylight (5:50 am and 8:51 pm in Saint John). Next Saturday the Sun will rise at 5:35 am and set at 8:57 pm, giving 15 hours, 22 minutes of daylight (5:43 am and 8:59 pm in Saint John).

The first quarter Moon will be near Regulus on Monday, and on Tuesday a telescope could reveal Rupes Recta, a 110 km long fault line commonly called the Straight Wall. Venus will be within a binocular view to the right of the M35 star cluster on Sunday and above it on Monday. Their low altitude by the time twilight ends could make this a difficult observation. Late evening is prime time for observing Jupiter, with its moons shifting positions nightly for binocular viewers and its Red Spot facing telescope viewers on Sunday and Tuesday. Saturn is now rising before midnight and teams up with Mars for those who like to get up very early.

Local RASC NB members are hosting public observing at the Moncton High School Observatory on Friday, May 18 at 9 pm, with a cloud date of May 19. RASC NB meets in the Rockwood Park Interpretation Centre in Saint John on May 26 at 1 pm for astronomy talks. All are welcome.

Questions? Contact Curt Nason.

Attachment: Jupiter on May 20 at 10:30 pm

Sky at a Glance May 12 – 19

Photo showing Apparent Magnitude of various celestial objects.

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

In the second century BC the Greek astronomer Hipparchus of Nicaea ranked the stars according to their brightness in six categories called magnitudes (for greatness). The 20 brightest stars were rated first magnitude and the faintest stars were sixth magnitude. This system was retained for two millennia and standardized in the 19th century when much fainter stars were being detected by astrophotography. English astronomer Norman Pogson devised a logarithmic system whereby five magnitudes was a difference in star brightness of exactly 100 times. With this system, a magnitude 1 star is about 2.5 times brighter than a magnitude 2 star, and that one is 2.5 times brighter than a magnitude 3 star.

For many of us, the faintest star we can detect with the naked eye in a reasonably dark sky is sixth magnitude (commonly just called mag 6). Vega, the fifth brightest star, is mag 0, as is slightly brighter Arcturus. With the ability to measure the exact brightness of stars, their magnitudes are often recorded to one or two decimal places, and negative values are used for very bright objects. Sirius is mag -1.4; Jupiter is currently mag -2.5 and Venus is -3.8. The full Moon is mag -12.6, approximately 400,000 times fainter than the Sun at -26.7. A first magnitude star is brighter than mag 1.5, a second magnitude star shines between mag 1.5 and 2.5, and so on.

These brightness values are for the apparent magnitude of a star, as we see them when they are highest in the sky. At lower altitudes the atmosphere will absorb some of the starlight, making them appear dimmer. Astronomers call this effect extinction. The apparent magnitude of a star depends on its size and temperature, and also on its distance from us. A doubling of distance reduces the brightness by a factor of four, and ten times the distance by a factor of 100. Therefore, if one star is ten times farther than a mag 3 star of equal size and temperature, it would be at mag 8 and we would require binoculars to see it.

Just a little astronomy lesson to brighten your day.

This Week in the Solar System

Saturday’s sunrise in Moncton is at 5:50 am and sunset will occur at 8:41 pm, giving 14 hours, 51 minutes of daylight (5:57 am and 8:43 pm in Saint John). Next Saturday the Sun will rise at 5:42 am and set at 8:49 pm, giving 15 hours, 7 minutes of daylight (5:50 am and 8:51 pm in Saint John).

The Moon is new on Tuesday and the crescent Moon pairs with Venus in the evening sky on Thursday. Jupiter teeters upward in the southeast as they totter toward the northwestern horizon. Jupiter’s famous Red Spot storm is prominent in a telescope this year and it is facing in our direction at 11:15 pm on Tuesday. Saturn and Mars offer great viewing in the morning sky, with Mars passing near the faint globular cluster M75 early in the week.

Questions? Contact Curt Nason.

The Apparent Magnitude chart shown above was made by the European Space Agency.