Category Archives: Astronomy

Sky at a Glance March 25 – April 1

This Week’s Sky at a Glance, March 25 – April 1 ~by Curt Nason

What is the sign of spring for you? The first robin? For stargazers, spring is here when Leo the Lion clears the eastern horizon in twilight. Not only is it a sign of spring, it is a sign of the zodiac; one of the constellations that the Sun appears to travel through as our planet makes its annual orbit. A few thousand years ago the Sun passed in front of the stars of Leo at the height of summer, when the Nile River would rise and eventually flood its banks. Lions would bask at the riverside to escape the heat, and it doesn’t require a huge leap of imagination to see a lion in the stars of this area.

The constellation is composed of two prominent star patterns. A backwards question mark forms the lion’s neck and mane, with Leo’s brightest star marking the lion’s heart as the dot under the question mark. Eastward, to the left, is a triangle of stars representing its haunches and tail. The star at its heart is called Regulus, which means Little King. The Sun passes half its diameter below Regulus on August 22, more than a month later than it did when the constellation was named. Algieba, the bright star above Regulus, is actually two colourful stars when observed through a telescope.

In mythology Leo represents the Lion of Nemea, a beast with a hide impenetrable to anything but its own claws. Hercules was sent to kill the lion as the first of his twelve labours. After strangling it, he skinned the beast with its claws and used the pelt as a shield. If you look at the constellation backwards you might see a mouse, with the triangle as a mouse’s head and the backwards question mark as its tail, but having Hercules battle a mouse would not befit his legendary status.

This Week in the Solar System

Saturday’s sunrise in Moncton is at 7:12 am and sunset will occur at 7:38 pm, giving 12 hours, 26 minutes of daylight (7:17 am and 7:43 pm in Saint John). Next Saturday the Sun will rise at 6:58 am and set at 7:48 pm, giving 12 hours, 50 minutes of daylight (7:04 am and 7:52 pm in Saint John).

The Moon is new on Monday and on Tuesday evening a very slim crescent might be seen with binoculars above the sunset point. Mercury is at its best evening viewing over the next two weeks, reaching its greatest elongation from the Sun on April 1 when it sets 1 hour 45 minutes after sunset. Mars will be 15 degrees to its upper left. Jupiter rises in twilight this week. Use binoculars or a scope to watch its moon Ganymede disappear into the planet’s shadow around 9:40 Monday evening, and at 10:14 its moon Io will slowly emerge from behind the planet. Venus is at inferior conjunction this weekend and it can be seen before sunrise in the east. Look for Saturn above the spout of the Sagittarius Teapot.

The Saint John Astronomy Club meets at 7 pm on April 1 at the Rockwood Park Interpretation Centre. All are welcome.

Questions? You can contact Curt Nason here.

Sky at a Glance March 18 – 25

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

This week we will take the path less travelled to pick out a few of the more obscure constellations in our sky. If you don’t have a clear view to the south or if you are cursed by light pollution in that direction, they will be obscure to the point of invisible. Around 9 pm, cast your eyes toward Sirius in Canis Major, the Big Dog. If you can’t see that star, the brightest in the sky, then go back inside and read a book.

Hugging the horizon below Sirius you might detect a Y-shaped group of stars that forms Columba the Dove. This is one of the later constellations, created a century after Christopher Columbus made his first voyage, and it was meant to depict a dove sent by another famous sailor called Noah. It could also be the dove released by yet another famous sailor, Jason of the Argonauts fame, to gauge the speed of the Clashing Rocks of the Symplegades. The dove lost some tail feathers, and the Argo lost a bit of its stern.

There is a good case to be made for this interpretation. To the left of Columba, rising past the rear end of Canis Major, is the upper part of Puppis the Stern. It was once part of a much larger constellation called Argo Navis, Jason’s ship, which has been disassembled to form Puppis, Vela the Sails and Carina the Keel. Puppis is more traditionally described as the Poop Deck, a rather appropriate name considering its location relative to the Big Dog. To the left of Puppis is a vertical line of three stars forming Pyxis the (Mariner’s) Compass. At its highest it does point roughly north-south.

This Week in the Solar System

Saturday’s sunrise in Moncton is at 7:25 am and sunset will occur at 7:29 pm, giving 12 hours, 4 minutes of daylight (7:30 am and 7:34 pm in Saint John). Next Saturday the Sun will rise at 7:12 am and set at 7:38 pm, giving 12 hours, 26 minutes of daylight (7:17 am and 7:43 pm in Saint John). On Monday at 6:29 am the Sun crosses the equator heading northward, marking the beginning of spring. Any remaining snow will magically turn to mud at that moment and marble season will officially open.

The Moon is at third quarter near Saturn on Monday, so have a look before you watch the Sun rise due east. After the Sun sets early this week, use binoculars to look for the slim crescent of Venus above it. An ambitious and careful observer might also catch it in the east before sunrise. Venus is at inferior conjunction on March 25 and becomes the Morning Star in early April. This Saturday, Mercury sets an hour after sunset with Venus 8 degrees to its right and a tad higher. Jupiter rises at 9 pm mid-week, about two hours before Mars sets. Keen eyed observers might catch the glow of the zodiacal light along the western ecliptic, in a dark sky untarnished by light pollution, about an hour after sunset.

The provincial astronomy club, RASC NB, meets at Moncton High School on Saturday, March 18 at 1 pm. One of the speakers will be a recently retired NASA astronomer and club member who was involved in building the Hubble Space Telescope. All are welcome.

Questions? You can contact Curt Nason here.

Sky at a Glance March 11 – 18

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

Two of the largest constellations are seen in the southwest and southeast around mid-evening. Eridanus the River flows from Rigel in Orion’s foot to the lower right, and then makes a sharp curve to the left before disappearing below the horizon. It doesn’t end there; it extends at least the same distance southward to terminate at Achernar, the ninth brightest star in the sky. Achernar, of course, means “the river’s end.” The star near Rigel is named Cursa, which means “the footstool.” In terms of square degrees of sky, Eridanus is the sixth largest constellation. It has been associated with many earthly rivers but most often with the Po River in Italy, which the Greeks called Eridanos.

Hydra the female Water Snake rises out of the southeast, with its head reaching as high as Orion’s. A smaller constellation called Hydrus the male Water Snake is near Achernar and is never seen from New Brunswick. Hydra is the largest of the 88 constellations and one of the longest. If you consider the horizon as the ocean surface, and if you have all night, you can picture Hydra leaping completely out of the water and disappearing in a giant belly flop. Its brightest star, Alphard the “solitary one,” just makes the top 50 in terms of brightness. In mythology the Hydra was a multi-headed creature slain by Hercules as his second labour.

This Week in the Solar System

Saturday’s sunrise in Moncton is at 6:39 am and sunset will occur at 6:19 pm, giving 11 hours, 40 minutes of daylight (6:43 am and 6:25 pm in Saint John). Next Saturday the Sun will rise at 7:25 am and set at 7:29 pm, giving 12 hours, 4 minutes of daylight (7:30 am and 7:34 pm in Saint John). As you may have noticed, we switch to Daylight Time at 2 am this Sunday. Being slightly farther north, Moncton residents can boast of longer days than Saint John for the next six months, but Saint John stargazers will just smile throughout the slightly longer nights.

The Moon is full on Sunday, pretty to look at but a temporary nuisance for those hoping to spot a few comets in a telescope. It will be near Jupiter in our sky on Tuesday evening. This Saturday, Mercury sets 20 minutes after sunset and is nearly 20 degrees below Venus. Next Saturday, Mercury sets an hour after sunset with Venus 8 degrees to its right and a tad higher. Mars resembles an orange star much higher in the west. Saturn lies within a binocular field to the upper right of the hazy Lagoon Nebula in the southern sky before dawn. Starting mid-week, keen eyed observers might catch the glow of the zodiacal light along the western ecliptic, in a dark sky untarnished by light pollution, about an hour after sunset.

The provincial astronomy club, RASC NB, meets at Moncton High School on Saturday, March 18 at 1 pm. One of the speakers will be a recently retired NASA astronomer and club member who was involved in building the Hubble Space Telescope. All are welcome.

Questions? Contact Curt Nason.

Sky at a Glance March 4 – 11

A Stellarium photo showing the location of the Beehive Cluster in Cancer and Coma Star Cluster in Coma Berenices.

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

This past week a fellow amateur astronomer and I held an observing session in a rural area outside of Sussex for a home school group. It had been too long a time since I set up a telescope during winter in an area where the sky is truly dark. My local dark sky locations are usually inaccessible in winter and the early evening sky is often ruined by senseless spotlights advertising a shopping district I like to avoid. The dark sky this week made spectacular the objects that are comparatively nice to look at from my backyard. Objects that I can barely discern at the best of times with the naked eye at home were jumping out at me.

One of those objects was M44, the Beehive star cluster or Praesepe (Manger) in the constellation Cancer the Crab, which lies between Gemini and Leo. Even seeing the main stars that make up dim Cancer was a treat. The Beehive was a large glowing patch of haze to my eyes and its many stars filled the view in my telescope, but large clusters like this are appreciated best with binoculars. In times long past the cluster was used as a storm predictor. It would be one of the first objects to disappear when the light clouds that often precede a weather system would move in.

Two other clusters, technically three, are visible to the naked eye this time of year when the sky is clear and unpolluted by inefficient lighting. The Coma Star Cluster, or Melotte 111, lies in the constellation Coma Berenices, between the tail of Leo and Canes Venatici the Hunting Dogs. It is a large, somewhat sparse cluster that spills beyond the view of most binoculars, and centuries ago it was regarded as the tuft of Leo’s tail. The other one, or two, is the Double Cluster between Perseus and Cassiopeia. This pair fits within the view of a low power telescope eyepiece, but binoculars give a better perspective. Following a nearby string of stars with binos will bring you to the Stock 2 star cluster, less spectacular but just as delightful to observe.

This Week in the Solar System

Saturday’s sunrise in Moncton is at 6:52 am and sunset will occur at 6:10 pm, giving 11 hours, 18 minutes of daylight (6:56 am and 6:15 pm in Saint John). Next Saturday the Sun will rise at 6:39 am and set at 6:19 pm, giving 11 hours, 40 minutes of daylight (6:43 am and 6:25 pm in Saint John).

The Moon is at first quarter on Sunday, making it a great target for a scope this weekend. It slides just below Aldebaran on Saturday evening and approaches the bright star Regulus in Leo next Friday evening. Midweek, Jupiter is rising at 9 pm, 20 minutes after Venus sets and an hour before Mars sets.  Take a look at Saturn before 6 am some morning this week and see if it looks elongated due to the rings. Then move a binocular field to the lower left to see the hazy Lagoon Nebula (aka M8), and perhaps the fainter Trifid Nebula (M20) and star cluster M21 just above it. Mercury is in superior conjunction beyond the Sun on Monday, but it starts its best evening appearance of the year later this month.

Astronomy-Astronomie Moncton invites all to a public observing event at the Moncton High School Observatory on Friday, March 3 from 7:30 to 9:00 pm. The Saint John Astronomy Club meets in the Rockwood Park Interpretation Centre on March 4 at 7 pm. All are welcome.

Questions? You can contact Curt Nason here.

Free Astronomy Workshops

Series of 6 Free Astronomy Workshops for 2017

~hosted by Paul Owen and the Saint John Astronomy Club

Free Astronomy Workshops

The Saint John Astronomy Club has started a series of free astronomy workshops for both beginners and seasoned stargazers alike.
The first two in the series  of interactive workshops were held at The Old St George Restaurant in west Saint John and were well attended.
The 3rd free workshop was on March 8 at the Rockwood Park Interpretation Centre. Location of the 4th Workshop in April to be announced.

Overall Concept~

Members of the Saint John Astronomy Club and the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada (RASC) – New Brunswick Centre will be on hand to show you what to look for in your first, or next, telescope, or to help you get the most out of the telescope you have. If you have a telescope, bring it along, and make sure you dress warmly, as, weather permitting, the workshop will include a hands-on observing session. Future sessions will include the basics of astro-photography, observing with binoculars, time lapse photography, adjusting and maintaining your equipment, and more!


1st Session~ Telescope Basics   January 2017

Photograph of the first workshop hosted by the Saint John Astronomy Club was well attended.

Photograph of various telescopes set up at the first free astronomy workshop.

Photograph of Paul Owen pointing out different types of telescopes at workshop.

Photograph of Paul Owen showing different types of equipment at astronomy workshop.


2nd Session~  Navigating the Night Sky & Imaging the Moon

Photograph speaking at the second free astronomy workshop.Like the 1st Workshop, the 2nd one in February was well attended. Paul gave an in-depth view on photographing the Moon with a variety of devices, including using iPhone adapters on a telescope. Chris Curwin also gave hints and an overall view using the free astronomy app Stellarium in night sky navigating.
Photograph of Chris Curwin of Astronomy by the Bay showing how to use Stellarium.

Photograph of Paul Owen showing how to use a camera adapter on a telescope.


3rd Session~Observing the Solar System~ March, 2017

The Saint John Astronomy Club held its 3rd in the series of free interactive workshops at The Rockwood Park Interpretation Centre in St. John on March 8. Next one will be Wednesday, April 12.

Paul Owen giving a talk on observing the solar system.Paul Owen gave a presentation on Observing The Solar System and our position in the Milky Way Galaxy. He talked about the various sizes of the Planets, Comets, the Astroid Belt, and what to look for.
Paul Owen giving a talk on observing the solar system at the 3rd SJAC workshop.
As usual, everyone always enjoys the prizes the prizes too.Paul Owen giving away prizes at the 3rd SJAC workshop.

Chris Curwin from Astronomy by the Bay giving a talk on various free software programs to help in observing the planets.
Chris Curwin from Astronomy by the Bay gave a talk on using various free software programs to help in observing the planets. He talked about using Stellarium, Time and Date, and Heavens Above for help in navigating the night sky.
An outdoor observing session after the 3rd free astronomy workshop hosted by the SJAC and Paul Owen.
The skies cleared after a day of rain, drizzle and fog and we managed to work in some observing time after the workshop.
Observing with telescopes after a free astronomy workshop hosted by the SJAC.

The 4th Workshop will be Wednesday, April 12.  Questions? Contact the host, Paul Owen.

 

 

 

 

 

Sky at a Glance February 25 – March 4

A photo of the February and March night sky using the program Stellarium
This Week’s Sky at a Glance, February 25- March 4 ~by Curt Nason

As a kid, did you ever wonder where the Sun goes between rising and setting? Do the constellations have a dormitory where they sleep until their next evening shift? What would we see if the earth disappeared or became transparent? With the Stellarium program we have that option. Those of you reading this on the Nature NB list will have to visit the Nature Moncton blog, Saint John Naturalists’ Club Facebook page, or the Saint John Astronomy Club website in a couple of days to see the before and after pictures.

Facing northwest at 7 pm this weekend, about an hour after sunset, we see the Big Dipper standing on its handle to our right. The Pointers stars at the end of the bowl direct our attention to the North Star halfway up the sky, with the bowl of the Little Dipper swinging below. Draco is playing dead on the northern horizon with his feet in the air, waiting for someone to toss him a dragon biscuit as a reward for this trick. Cygnus and Pegasus are playing ostrich with their heads shoved below ground level. Except for part of the swan’s wing the rest of their bodies will soon disappear, or will they?

With our Superman X-ray vision in the second picture we lose ground to reveal the constellations on their off-time. Ground level is the bottom of the cardinal points W and N. There is mighty Hercules kneeling on the underside of the northern horizon, still having a tête-a-tête with Ophiuchus. Bright Vega won’t be kept out of sight for long. To the west the Sun still shines, with the Moon and Mercury biding time until they are dawning with Aquarius in twelve hours. What is this pace? Is it Middle Earth, or the mythological Greek Underworld ruled by Hades? Will someone turn out the light so they can sleep?

This Week in the Solar System

Saturday’s sunrise in Moncton is at 7:05 am and sunset will occur at 6:00 pm, giving 10 hours, 55 minutes of daylight (7:08 am and 6:06 pm in Saint John). Next Saturday the Sun will rise at 6:52 am and set at 6:10 pm, giving 11 hours, 18 minutes of daylight (6:56 am and 6:15 pm in Saint John).

The Moon is new on Sunday, giving dark skies for those seeking galaxies and comets this weekend. It will be lower left of Venus on Tuesday and left of Mars on Wednesday. Around spring the crescent Moon makes a Cheshire cat smile in the early evening sky. On Monday binoculars or a scope will reveal Uranus about one degree to the lower left of Mars. Jupiter and Saturn are well placed for early morning observing in the southwest and southeast, respectively.

Astronomy-Astronomie Moncton invites all to a public observing event at the Moncton High School Observatory on Friday, March 3 from 7:30 to 9:00 pm. The Saint John Astronomy Club meets in the Rockwood Park Interpretation Centre on March 4 at 7 pm. All are welcome.

Questions? You can contact Curt Nason here.

Favourite Binocular Targets

~by Chris Curwin, Astronomy by the Bay

You don’t need a huge telescope to enjoy the night sky…A pair of binoculars is great , and in some cases, actually preferred to a telescope due to their wide field of view. Here are 5 of my favourite binocular targets.. I hope you can grab a pair of binoculars and enjoy them too. The pictures have more info:)

My Favourite Binocular Targets~

Photograph of the Moon showing the terminator line and craters.
The moon is always beautiful through binoculars… and sometimes we even get to view a special event like the partial penumbral lunar eclipse [photo courtesy Paul Owen] that happened in February 2017 :). In that case, the view was more spectacular with the naked eye or through binoculars than with a telescope! Glance along the terminator line during a waxing crescent or quarter moon phase and you’ll see what I mean.

Two photographs showing Messier 45, or the Pleaides and its location in the Constellation Taurus, one of everyone's favourite binocular targetsMessier 45, or the Pleaides, is always an excellent target in binoculars and actually reveals a much better view than through a telescope in my opinion. Look for the Pleiades in Taurus.. the three stars in Orion’s belt point to the star Aldebaran and then on to the Pleiades cluster. (Illustration courtesy earthsky.org, photo courtesy Saint John Astronomy Club member Paul Owen). The Pleaides is one of everyone’s favourite binocular targets.

Photograph of the winter sky Milky Way, as seen from Saints Rest Beach, Saint John, New Brunswick.
The Milky Way can reveal so much… beautiful clusters, colourful double stars and so much more. And you don’t have to wait until summer…There is a “Winter Milky Way” that is also incredible through binoculars. (Photo taken at Saints Rest beach by Saint John Astronomy Club member Mike Powell)

Two photographs of the constellation Orion in the winter sky, showing location and image itself.
The constellation of Orion,  rising early in the eastern winter sky, features many targets… one of my favourites being the Orion Nebula, known as M42.  In the illustration here it is in the area of Orion’s sword, a famous stellar nursery 🙂  Illustration courtesy earthsky.org.

Photograph showing the locations of Jupiter and Saturn in the early winter sky from Saint John, New Brunswick
If you are an early riser (well, not that early, really) you can catch a view of Jupiter and its moons through binoculars… and give Saturn a chance as well. You may not see “glorious rings” but you will see them. This is the sky from Saint John, NB at 630am in early February (illustration from the free program Stellarium).

Photograph of Jupiter and its Moons through binoculars.
The view of Jupiter and it’s Galilean moons .. You can see all of them through binoculars. You can watch day after day as they change positions as they orbit the giant planet.


Questions?  You can contact me on Facebook at Astronomy by the Bay or send me an email.  Thanks.

More from Astronomy by the Bay~

Learning the Night Sky
Star Hopping

Astronomy by the Bay (web)
Astronomy by the Bay (Facebook)


 

Star Hopping

~by Chris Curwin, Astronomy by the Bay

“Star Hopping”…using familiar patterns to help you find unfamiliar objects in the night sky, is a great method used by most amateur astronomers like me. You don’t need a telescope… a pair of binoculars or your eyes will be just fine. Check the photos for some familiar patterns and some easy “new” targets. 🙂 (All illustrations courtesy earthsky.org).

Star Hopping– An Easy Way to Learn the Night Sky

 Photograph of the Big Dipper pointing to Polaris.
The “Big Dipper”… perhaps the most familiar pattern of stars in the night sky, and the stars Merak and Dubhe in the pot, which point to Polaris, our North Star… and the first star in the handle of the asterism known as the Little Dipper. This picture shows star hopping from Dubhe to Polaris.

Photograph of Cassiopeia, Polaris, and Ursa Major
Ursa Major (containing the Big Dipper asterism) also allows us to find the constellation of Cassiopeia. Follow the “pointer stars” in the Big Dipper to find Polaris, and then star hop on to Cassiopeia.

Photograph of West, Winter Evening Sky showing Constellation Andromeda and Great Square of Pegasus
The Great Square of Pegasus, now high in the west on winter evenings. Start from the star on the top left of the square, star hop two stars to the left to the star Mirach, then above Mirach to the star Mu, and then the same distance again above Mu to the Andromeda Galaxy.

Photograph of the Southern Winter Sky late at night showing Constellation Orion while Star Hopping from Sirius to Aldebaran
The belt in the Orion constellation is also another great sign post… with the three stars pointing down, star hop going in a straight line to the left to the bright star Sirius, then reverse direction upward through Orion’s Belt and hop to the right to the red supergiant Aldebaran in Taurus.


Questions?  You can contact me on Facebook at Astronomy by the Bay or send me an email.  Thanks.

More from Astronomy by the Bay~

Learning the Night Sky
Favourite Binocular Targets

Astronomy by the Bay (web)
Astronomy by the Bay (Facebook)


 

Sky at a Glance February 18 – 25

Photo of Constellations Orion and Taurus

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

Sometimes inspiration just doesn’t show up when I am trying to write. Rather than just copy and paste something from last winter I will relate some astronomical memories from my youth, when the stars were much closer and the snow was radioactive.

Orion and I became friends when I was about nine. I was reading astronomy books from the library at the time and constellation pictures from old star maps really captured my imagination. They remain imprinted, especially one of Orion threatening Taurus the Bull with his upraised club. Orion accompanied me on the mile-long walk home (yes, only about a mile, and uphill only near the end) from the outdoor rink, my overshoes squeaking and scrunching over the hard-packed snow of the sidewalk as I steered a hockey stick ahead of me. And I am sure he cheered each time I drilled a sponge ball past the invisible goalie tending the snowbank, leading the Leafs to yet another Stanley Cup. Perhaps it’s my fault they have faltered since I outgrew that.

The bedroom which I shared with two older brothers had a northwest-facing window, and on early winter evenings a bright star sparkled through the ice that formed on the glass inside. That must have been the star Vega. I recall attempting to melt the ice on another window with my thumb to catch sight of a lunar eclipse. I remember another lunar eclipse; of the setting Moon through the kitchen window before heading off to school. One winter, walking home from school in early twilight, Venus was in full bloom as the evening star. Occasionally the northern lights would dance, but only in black and white like our television. I never saw them in colour until much later in life.

Inspiration did come, from long ago.

This Week in the Solar System

Saturday’s sunrise in Moncton is at 7:17 am and sunset will occur at 5:50 pm, giving 10 hours, 33 minutes of daylight (7:20 am and 5:56 pm in Saint John). Next Saturday the Sun will rise at 7:05 am and set at 6:00 pm, giving 10 hours, 55 minutes of daylight (7:09 am and 6:06 pm in Saint John).

The Moon is at third quarter on Saturday, rising at 1 am and setting at 11 am. Venus continues its brilliance in the early evening sky as it edges westward from orange Mars, setting half an hour sooner late in the week. Jupiter rises around 10 pm but is still well placed for morning observing. Saturn crosses the constellation border from Ophiuchus into Sagittarius this week. You still have a week to catch the dim pyramid of zodiacal light along the western ecliptic an hour after sunset. You will need a clear sky with no light pollution to see sunlight reflecting off interplanetary dust.

The Saint John Naturalists’ Club meeting has been weather-bombed to this Monday, February 20, at 7 pm at the NB Museum in Market Square. It includes a presentation on the comet / asteroid impact that eventually wiped out the dinosaurs and most other forms of life, and the search for the crater it left as a souvenir. All are welcome and free to attend.

Questions? You can contact Curt Nason here.

Learning the Night Sky

~by Chris Curwin, Astronomy by the Bay

Learning the night sky can be a very rewarding experience… and today more than ever, we have many tools to guide us at our fingertips. Astronomy is an outdoor hobby… go out into the night and learn the patterns overhead. Looking up and saying “That’s Polaris!” or “There’s Venus!” can provide a sense of pleasure, and maybe even help you understand a bit more about our universe and our unique role in it’s story.

Learning the Night Sky the Easy Way~

A printable star chart showing constellations to assist in navigating the night sky.A typical, printable star chart can be a great tool under the night time sky. This one is available for download from the website heavens-above.com . The chart can be configured for any date and time. This is tonight’s sky from Saint John around 8pm. Most astronomy magazines also contain star charts.

A photograph showing the constellation Orion in the night winter sky
Look high in the south this evening to find Orion. It’s easily distinguishable pattern remains in the night sky most of the night. Try and see the colour difference between the red supergiant Betlegeuse at the top left and bright blue white supergiant Rigel, bottom right… as well as the Orion Nebula, below the three stars of the belt.

Photo image of the free software program and app Stellarium which assists in navigating and learning the night sky.
Free programs like this one, Stellarium, offer a wealth of information about the night sky. Once configured to your location, you can look up any sky any day of the week. It has many wonderful features and is available for download at www.stellarium.org. Many people consider it the easiest program for learning the night sky.

Logo of the Heavens Above website that provides information on astronomy and navigating the night sky.
An excellent app for tablet or phone is this one, offered at Google Play Store for free. it follows the pattern used on their website… www.heavens-above.com. and will reveal a huge amount of information on the night sky, including the next pass of the space station, satellites, comets and much more. This is only one of many free apps at our fingertips.


Questions?  You can contact me on Facebook at Astronomy by the Bay or send me an email.  Thanks.

More from Astronomy by the Bay~

Star Hopping
Favourite Binocular Targets

Astronomy by the Bay (web)
Astronomy by the Bay (Facebook)


 

Sky at a Glance Feb 11 – 18

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

In springtime they say that love is in the air, but why wait? On Valentine’s Day this Tuesday, step outside with your loved one to seek out love in the night sky. Around 7 pm your eye will no doubt be drawn to a bright object in the west; none other than Venus, the Roman goddess of love. In fact you get a double shot of the goddess, for the planet is “in” the constellation Pisces the Fish. In mythology the constellation depicts Venus and her son Cupid (Aphrodite and Eros in Greek mythology). Frightened by a ferocious monster, they changed into fish as they escaped into the sea but not before tying their ankles together so they would not be separated.

To the upper left of Orion is Gemini the Twins, the stellar personification of brotherly love. Pollux, the brighter of the constellation’s two “head” stars, was fathered by Zeus, and Castor was fathered by King Tyndareus of Sparta. Queen Leda was their mother. The boys were inseparable throughout life, and when Castor was killed immortal Pollux begged Zeus to allow him to die as well. Zeus compromised, allowing them to spend half the year together. Orion himself is smitten with one the Pleiades, but the sisters feared him and asked Zeus to place a bull in the sky to protect them. Had Orion carried flowers instead of a club he would have been less intimidating. The much photographed Rosette Nebula is nearby in the constellation Monoceros the Unicorn. Another much photographed object, the Heart Nebula, lies hidden in Cassiopeia. You won’t see either by stargazing, so Google them.

After stargazing with your sweetheart on Valentine’s Day it is almost as delightful to go back inside to warm up together. Have fun.

This Week in the Solar System

Saturday’s sunrise in Moncton is at 7:28 am and sunset will occur at 5:40 pm, giving 10 hours, 12 minutes of daylight (7:31 am and 5:46 pm in Saint John). Next Saturday the Sun will rise at 7:17 am and set at 5:50 pm, giving 10 hours, 33 minutes of daylight (7:20 am and 5:56 pm in Saint John).

The Moon is full on Friday, February 10, with the added attraction of a subtle penumbral eclipse. A light gray shadow might be detectable between 8 and 9:30 pm. The Moon is at third quarter on February 18 and Venus is at its greatest brilliance on February 17. Look for orange Mars about 8 degrees to its upper left. Saturn is high enough in the southeast for decent observing by morning twilight, as is Jupiter in the southwest. At 11:26 pm on Sunday, using a scope or steady binoculars you might catch Ganymede, the largest moon in the solar system, emerging from Jupiter’s shadow. Starting midweek you have a two-week period to see the ghostly zodiacal light along the western ecliptic an hour after sunset. You will need a clear sky with no light pollution.

The annual Irving Nature Park snowshoe hike and telescope observing occurs at 7 pm on Friday, February 10 at the Sheldon’s Point barn in Saint John. Visit the park Web site for details. The William Brydone Jack Astronomy Club meets on Tuesday at 7 pm in Room 203 of the UNB Forestry / Earth Sciences Building in Fredericton.

Questions? You can contact Curt Nason here.

Moonlight Snowshoe Walk 2017

Good Turnout for Snowshoe Walk

With the full moon falling on the weekend and a clear sky, there was a beautiful Moonlit trail to Sheldon Point in Irving Nature Park via snowshoes. As a special bonus, there was also a penumbral lunar eclipse as snowshoers arrived back to the telescopes and The Barn for hot chocolate. Five telescopes from members of the NB Centre of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada were set up for viewing. For many attendees, they said it was their first view ever through a telescope. What a view!

Above~ Astronomer and photographer Paul Owen captured the event from his backyard in Hampton, NB.

Despite a bone chilling night, 107 people showed up and about 45 to 50 had a look at the Moon, Orion, Venus and other celestial wonders.

Below~ A shot Chris Curwin captured at the event using a simple attachment with his Galaxy S4 phone at the telescope eyepiece.

Above and Below~ Setting up by The Barn prior to everyones arrival.

Curt Nason gave a talk out at the Point as what to look for in the night sky, and the discussion continued later back at The Barn. We are grateful for the support and opportunity presented by staff of the Irving Nature Park, with a special thanks to JDI Parks Manager Kelly Honeyman for his hospitality and enthusiasm in such a special place (and for the hot chocolate and cookies).

Where it is~

If you have never been, the Irving Nature Park is a gift. Whether you photograph, walk, hike, explore, unwind after a day or just sit and ponder, the shores and trails leave you wanting more. It is no surprise it has won Tourism Awards. There is also the Irving Eco-Centre on the Northumberland Strait, minutes north of the town of Bouctouche, (north of Moncton, NB).

This was the 13th year the Park has sponsored the popular Moonlight Snowshoe Walk. If you missed this year’s event, it usually happens every January or February. No ‘shoes?? Contact the Scout Shop (Union St, Saint John) for rentals. Meet at the Sheldon Point Trailhead (AKA The Barn) at 1379 Sand Cove Road. Contact the park at 653-7367 or check Irving Nature Park FaceBook page for updates.

      

Sky at a Glance Feb 4 – 11

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

Looking at a constellation it is easy to imagine its component stars as being fairly close together in space, as if it is an actual body. Let us look at two prominent winter constellations to see if that is true. Surely the three stars of Orion’s Belt are almost equidistant; at first glance they appear to be almost equally bright. Alnitak, the left star, is 820 light years (ly) away, 100 ly closer than Mintaka on the right. Alnilam, the middle star, is about 50% farther at 1300 ly. Orion must have a lumpy belly. Saiph and bright Rigel, marking Orion’s feet or knees, are reasonably equidistant at 770 ly and 720 ly, respectively. In the giant hunter’s shoulders orange Betelgeuse is 430 ly and Bellatrix is 245 ly.

Following the belt to the lower left we arrive at Canis Major, the Big Dog, with brilliant Sirius at its heart. Sirius is the brightest star of the night sky and the closest naked-eye star we can see in New Brunswick at 8.6 ly (only 82 trillion kilometres), which is the main reason it is the brightest. If Rigel were that close it would be more than four times brighter than Venus. Adhara, in the dog’s rear leg, is the 23rd brightest star and at the same distance as Betelgeuse (tenth brightest). Wezen in the dog’s butt is 1800 ly, and the tail star Aludra is 3200 ly distant. Obviously, the constellations are just chance alignments of stars from our viewpoint.

This Week in the Solar System

Saturday’s sunrise in Moncton is at 7:38 am and sunset will occur at 5:29 pm, giving 9 hours, 51 minutes of daylight (7:41 am and 5:36 pm in Saint John). Next Saturday the Sun will rise at 7:28 am and set at 5:40 pm, giving 10 hours, 12 minutes of daylight (7:31 am and 5:46 pm in Saint John).

The Moon is full on Friday, February 10, with the added attraction of a subtle penumbral eclipse. A light gray shading could be detectable between 8 and 9:30 pm. For a total lunar eclipse, this is the shading you see before the Moon enters Earth’s shadow and after it leaves. This time, the Moon is passing just below the shadow. If you happen to be staying at the Luna Hilton that day you would see a partial eclipse of the Sun. This Sunday, as twilight darkens, look for the Moon passing near Aldebaran, the fiery eye star of Taurus the Bull.

Venus moves a couple of degrees further westward of Mars over the week, heading toward inferior conjunction in late March. Saturn is high enough in the southeast for decent observing by morning twilight, as is Jupiter in the southwest. On Monday Jupiter ceases its normal eastward motion relative to the stars and begins four months of retrograde motion that will carry it a fist-width west of Spica. It doesn’t really back up; that is our perspective as Earth laps Jupiter in their racetrack orbits.

The Saint John Astronomy Club meets on February 4 at 7 pm in the Rockwood Park Interpretation Centre. All are welcome. The annual Irving Nature Park snowshoe hike and telescope observing occurs Friday, February 10 at the Sheldon’s Point barn in Saint John. Visit the park Web site for details.

Questions? You can contact Curt Nason here.

Sky at a Glance Jan 28 – Feb 4

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

This might be a good week to pay attention to four lesser known constellations that were created a few centuries ago, by Polish astronomer Johannes Hevelius, to fill in blank areas of the sky. You will need a clear sky with minimal light pollution, and even then you will likely see only a few of the stars in each. Look to the north around 7 pm and use the Big Dipper to locate Polaris, the North Star, halfway up our sky. It is at the end of the handle of the Little Dipper and the two brightest stars of the bowl are below. If you can see the other four stars that complete the handle and bowl then you have a chance of locating these dim constellations.

Above Polaris and to the right of W-shaped Cassiopeia is a giraffe doing a headstand, but if you can see perhaps a large triangle and maybe a few scattered stars then you have spotted Camelopardalis. Hevelius imagined this as a camel with spots like a leopard, hence the odd name. A camel had been imagined here prior to Hevelius. To the left of Polaris is house-shaped Cepheus, with the peak of the roof not far from Polaris. Between Cepheus and the foreleg of Pegasus is a zigzag of faint stars that forms Lacerta the Lizard.

Now look to the right of the Big Dipper and pick out the three pairs of stars that stretch midway up the sky and form the feet of the Great Bear, Ursa Major. This trio of star pairs has been called the Three Leaps of the Gazelle. Between the middle pair and the sickle-shaped mane of Leo the Lion is a squashed triangle forming Leo Minor, the Little Lion. Finally, a long string of faint stars running from Leo Minor and across the front of the Great Bear toward Camelopardalis depicts the elusive constellation of Lynx. Imagination is a wonderful thing.

This Week in the Solar System

Saturday’s sunrise in Moncton is at 7:46 am and sunset will occur at 5:19 pm, giving 9 hours, 33 minutes of daylight (7:49 am and 5:26 pm in Saint John). Next Saturday the Sun will rise at 7:38 am and set at 5:29 pm, giving 9 hours, 51 minutes of daylight (7:41 am and 5:36 pm in Saint John).

The Moon is at first quarter on Friday, February 3, giving great views through a scope from midweek through the weekend. It also provides the opportunity to check an item off your observing list. Late Tuesday morning the Moon passes four degrees (less than three finger-widths at arm’s length) south of Venus. Get them both in binoculars, and then try to see Venus with just your eyes in daylight. It is fairly easy when the sky is clear if you know where to look. The Moon passes by Mars that evening. By midweek Saturn is rising three hours before the Sun and two hours before Mercury. Jupiter rises around 11:30 pm and it is still well placed for viewing in the morning.

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

Questions? You can contact Curt Nason here.

Sky at a Glance Jan 21 – 28

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

This time of year the brilliant winter constellations really catch the eye, but this is also a good time to revisit some favourites of the past season. If you have a good view to the north, go out before 7 pm to observe two of the best known asterisms in the sky. To the northwest the Northern Cross stands upright, with its base star Albireo about ready to set. The cross forms most of Cygnus the Swan, now making its signature dive into what I hope is an unfrozen lake. To the north, the Big Dipper stands on its handle. In a rural area you can probably see the rest of the stars that make up the Great Bear, Ursa Major. Does the bear appear to be dancing across the horizon on its hind legs? That brings back fond memories of watching Captain Kangaroo.

Stretching overhead are the autumn constellations of Cassiopeia, Andromeda and Perseus. When you are dressed in a snowsuit, a snow bank makes a comfortable surface for lying down and observing these constellations with binoculars. Look for a miniature version of Draco around the brightest star in Perseus, the galaxy M31 in Andromeda, and if you draw a line across the tips of Cassiopeia and extend it eastward by about the same distance you might chance upon Kemble’s Cascade, a string of about 20 stars. From a dark area, try to pick out the Milky Way running from Cygnus through Perseus and the feet of Gemini to Canis Major in the southeast.

This Week in the Solar System

Saturday’s sunrise in Moncton is at 7:53 am and sunset will occur at 5:09 pm, giving 9 hours, 16 minutes of daylight (7:55 am and 5:16 pm in Saint John). Next Saturday the Sun will rise at 7:46 am and set at 5:19 pm, giving 9 hours, 33 minutes of daylight (7:49 am and 5:26 pm in Saint John).

The Moon is new on Friday, January 27, giving dark skies for locating those fainter objects on your observing list. Mercury rises an hour after Saturn this weekend and an hour and a half before the Sun. With Mercury heading sunward, the gap between it and Saturn will increase steadily over the next several weeks. Jupiter still reigns over the morning sky as it rises around midnight this week. Venus moves to within five degrees of Mars in the evening sky by the end of the week.

RASC NB, the provincial astronomy club, meets for astronomy talks on January 21 at 1 pm in the Rockwood Park Interpretation Centre. All are welcome and free to attend.

Questions? You can contact Curt Nason here.