Category Archives: Astronomy

Sky at a Glance August 19 – 26

Photo showing an illustration of coverage of the Sun during the partial solar eclipse in New Brunswick.

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

There is no doubt about the astronomical highlight for New Brunswick this week – a partial solar eclipse on Monday afternoon. Times will vary a little across the province but 2:30 to 5:00 pm will cover it. At the peak, between 3:45 and 3:50, approximately 50% of the Sun’s surface area will be covered by the Moon. This is our best solar eclipse since August 11, 1999, when more than 90% of the Sun was covered, and slightly better than the Christmas 2000 partial eclipse.

Solar eclipses occur at new Moon, but since the lunar orbit is tilted to Earth’s orbit by five degrees (ten times the Moon’s apparent diameter) it is usually above or below the Sun at that phase. For a period of a few weeks, twice a year, new Moon occurs when it is near to crossing Earth’s orbit and there will be a partial, annular or total eclipse somewhere on the planet. With a total eclipse, a rarity at any one location, the Moon’s shadow races across part of Earth on a path 100 to 200 kilometres wide. Locations outside of the shadow get a partial eclipse, with percent coverage decreasing with distance. An annular eclipse occurs when the Moon is near apogee and its apparent width is smaller than that of the Sun.

Staring at the Sun without proper eye protection can cause permanent eye damage, even blindness, and since the eye has no pain receptors you may not notice any damage for several hours. Proper protection is #14 welder’s glass or approved eclipse viewers / glasses from a reputable dealer. Note that these are not safe for use with binoculars and telescopes; other filters can be purchased for this purpose. A cheap and effective way to view the partial eclipse is to project the sunlight through a pinhole onto a white surface. Check the Internet for methods of doing this. Or, use Nature’s projection method by looking at the shadows of leaves, which often have tiny holes to project the Sun’s image.

The RASC and other organizations are hosting eclipse events in the province on Monday afternoon, with free eclipse viewers supplied by the RASC and views through filtered telescopes. Locations include the Irving Nature Park and Rockwood Park Bark Park in Saint John, UNB and Science East in Fredericton, Resurgo Place in Moncton, Riverview Community Centre, and Mount Allison University. Don’t take chances with your eyesight. Observe the eclipse but do it safely, and start thinking about where you will be on April 8, 2024 when the Moon’s shadow crosses the central half of New Brunswick.

This Week in the Solar System

Saturday’s sunrise in Moncton is at 6:23 am and sunset will occur at 8:20 pm, giving 13 hours, 57 minutes of daylight (6:30 am and 8:24 pm in Saint John). Next Saturday the Sun will rise at 6:31 am and set at 8:08 pm, giving 13 hours, 37 minutes of daylight (6:38 am and 8:12 pm in Saint John).

The Moon is new on Monday afternoon, partially occulting a prominent star for a couple of hours, and it poses with Jupiter in evening twilight next Thursday and Friday. Jupiter sets by 10:00 pm next weekend and it is approaching Spica nightly. Saturn, in the southern sky in evening twilight, is the main telescopic attraction for the month. Venus, the bright Morning Star, moves from Gemini into Cancer late in the week. Mercury is at inferior conjunction on August 26, passing between us and the Sun.

Questions? Contact Curt Nason.

Partial Solar Eclipse in Saint John

Photo listing public observing locations of the partial solar eclipse in Saint John, NB

Event: Partial Eclipse of the Sun
Date: Monday, August 21, 2:00 pm – 5:00 pm
Locations for Observing: Irving Nature Park & Rockwood Bark Park
Facebook Event: Partial Eclipse of the Sun

On the afternoon of August 21 more than half the Sun will disappear over New Brunswick. Don’t be alarmed, but be safe. Join local members and guests of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada in observing the Moon pass in front of the Sun through safely filtered telescopes.

A view of the Sun through a safely filtered telescope

We will be set up at two locations in Saint John: Irving Nature Park (above the Interpretative Shelter) and Rockwood Park Bark Park (Fisher Lakes entrance). This is the best partial solar eclipse for our area in the past 18 years.

The eclipse begins at 2:37 pm, reaches maximum eclipse at 3:49 when 59% of the Sun is covered, and it ends at 4:56 pm. With luck we might see sunspots and prominences on the Sun through the filtered telescopes. Special eclipse viewers will be available to watch the event safely with just your eyes, courtesy of the RASC. Do not observe the eclipse without proper eye protection!

Photo of eclipse glasses for proper eye protection.

Looking at the Sun through a special telescope during the Fundy 2016 Star Party

Viewing the Sun through a specially filtered telescope.

Viewing the Sun safely through a special filteredl telescope.

What is an Eclipse?

Photo linking to a short pdf by Curt Nason about solar eclipses.Clicking the pic above opens a short pdf by Curt Nason about solar eclipses, and some information about the Moon which causes the eclipse in the first place.

Our Canadian view of the Partial Solar Eclipse~

Photo of what the eclipse will look like in different regions of Canada and the times.

Above photo (click to enlarge) courtesy Canadian Space Agency.

Other Interesting Information~

A short pdf presentation of Saint John astronomer Mike Powell about the Sun.Click the pic above to take you to a short pdf presentation by Saint John astronomer Mike Powell about the Sun. Good stuff.A photo of Saint John astronomer Mike Powell's IBRT (Itty Bitty Radio Telescope) listening to the Sun

A photo of some various parts Saint John astronomer Mike Powell uses in his IBRT (Itty Bitty Radio Telescope) while listening to the Sun.Above~Mike Powell’s IBRT (Itty Bitty Radio Telescope), cobbled together from various electronic parts.
Below~ an infrared shot of Mike listening to the Sun’s activity at a Star Party in Fundy National Park with his IBRT setup. FYI–he also listens to Jupiter, which you can check out here in a short pdf called Radio JupiterA black & white infrared photo of astronomer Mike Powell listening to the Sun with his homemade IBRT (Itty Bitty Radio Telescope).

Questions? (you are encouraged to ask them) Email Curt Nason.

Logo of the RASC New Brunswick Centre


Other Links: RASC Solar Eclipse 2017, NASA Eclipse Main Site
RASC.NB~ Viewing in Moncton at Riverview
Astronomy Moncton~ Moncton High School Observatory
Where to view the Eclipse in Canada (courtesy CBC News).

Sky at a Glance August 12 – 19

Photo of constellations showing the location of Perseus, from where the Perseids Meteors originate.

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

This weekend is the the annual Perseid meteor shower, which peaks on Saturday afternoon but it could delight patient stargazers throughout the weekend nights. You can see a few meteors per hour any night in a clear, dark sky, but the number increases 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 Swift-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. 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 weekend the Moon is near third quarter and therefore it rises late in the evening, decreasing the number of visible meteors. But don’t fret; if the sky is clear there should be enough brighter ones to keep you entertained for a while. They will seem to be coming from a point, called the radiant, between the constellations Perseus and Cassiopeia. You should see more of them well after midnight when the radiant is high, but the evening Perseids 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. I recommend looking roughly northward so that the Moon is at your back. Be very happy if you see about 20 per hour on the peak night, or half that a day before or after. Anything more is a bonus.

This Week in the Solar System

Saturday’s sunrise in Moncton is at 6:15 am and sunset will occur at 8:32 pm, giving 14 hours, 17 minutes of daylight (6:22 am and 8:35 pm in Saint John). Next Saturday the Sun will rise at 6:23 am and set at 8:20 pm, giving 13 hours, 57 minutes of daylight (6:30 am and 8:24 pm in Saint John).

The Moon is at third quarter on Monday, rising before midnight Sunday and setting around 1:40 pm Monday. It passes near Aldebaran on Wednesday morning and by Venus on August 19. Jupiter is sinking lower in the west at dusk, setting at 10:30 pm midweek and approaching Spica nightly. Saturn, in the southern sky in evening twilight, is the main telescopic attraction for the month. Venus is the bright Morning Star, rising around 3:15 am among the stars of Gemini. The Perseid meteor shower peaks on the afternoon of August 12 so look for increased meteor activity on all three nights and mornings this weekend. Ignore any Internet stories of this being the most spectacular meteor shower in recorded history

The Mount Carleton Star Party runs from August 11 – 13; a great place to spend the weekend taking nature hikes and catching shooting stars.

Questions? Contact Curt Nason at nasonc@nbnet.nb.ca.

Sky at a Glance August 5 – 12

Photo of the Constellation Perseus showing the location of the Double Cluster and other wonders.
This Week’s Sky at a Glance, August 5 – 12   ~by Curt Nason

With the Perseid meteor shower increasing nightly to a peak next weekend, let us visit its namesake constellation. Perseus the Hero starts rising in the north before sunset now and by midnight he stands on the northeastern horizon, just below the W shape of his mother-in-law, Cassiopeia. He is a hero because, among other deeds, he prevented his near-future wife Andromeda from becoming a tasty lunch for a ferocious sea monster.

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

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

This Week in the Solar System

Saturday’s sunrise in Moncton is at 6:06 am and sunset will occur at 8:43 pm, giving 14 hours, 37 minutes of daylight (6:13 am and 8:45 pm in Saint John). Next Saturday the Sun will rise at 6:15 am and set at 8:32 pm, giving 14 hours, 17 minutes of daylight (6:22 am and 8:35 pm in Saint John).

The Moon is full on Monday, the Mi’kmaw Ripening Moon. Mercury is moving sunward and sets 45 minutes after sunset by midweek. Jupiter is sinking lower in the west at dusk, setting before 11 pm midweek and approaching Spica nightly. Saturn, in the southern sky in evening twilight, makes an interesting colour contrast in binoculars with orange Antares to its lower right. Venus is the bright Morning Star, rising around 3:15 am among the stars of Gemini. The Perseid meteor shower peaks on the afternoon of August 12 and should make its presence known later this week. Moonlight will wash out the fainter meteors but take some time on a clear night to enjoy the show.

The Saint John Astronomy Club meets in the Rockwood Park Interpretation Centre on August 5 at 7 pm. All are welcome. The Mount Carleton Star Party runs from August 11 – 13; a great place to spend the weekend. Just think of how much closer you will be to the meteors.

Questions? Contact Curt Nason.

National Star Party at Irving Nature Park

Photo showing National Star Party to be celebrated at Irving Nature Park July 29, 2017

The National Star Party at Irving Nature Park was well attended with about 290 people showing up to look at the night sky. For many, it was their first look at Saturn, Jupiter and its moons, double stars, and our Moon itself. Clear skies and low humidity afforded good viewing.

A 360 pano of the National Star Party at Irving Nature Park celebrating Canada's Sesquicentennial in July of 2017.

Above~ Have a look around. This was at the Observing Area, above the Interpretative Shelter. Most of the crowd had left by this point.

Looking up at the National Star Party at Irving Nature Park, July 30, 2017

The Royal Astronomical Society of Canada celebrated Canada’s 150th birthday with a Canada-wide National Star Party.
In Saint John, Irving Nature Park hosted the public along with local members and guests of the SJAC and RASC NB Centre with an evening of stargazing, Starting at 9:00 pm with a brief talk by Saint John astronomer Curt Nason at the observing area, about a dozen telescopes were set up to give the public night sky views. It continued till about 11:30.

Chris Curwin of Astronomy by the Bay also hosted a Facebook Live Event. Many tuned in from all across the country. He also posted an video which you can view on Facebook here (8.37 min).

Photo at the National Star Party celebrated at Irving Nature Park, Saint John, NB.

Photo of setting up at the National Star Party celebrated at Irving Nature Park, Saint John, NB.

Photo of crowd at the National Star Party celebrated at Irving Nature Park, Saint John, NB.

Photo of crowd at the National Star Party celebrated at Irving Nature Park, Saint John, NB.

Photo at the INP National Star Party

Photo of looking through a telescope at the National Star Party celebrated at Irving Nature Park, Saint John, NB.

Photo at the INP National Star Party

Photo of nighttime at the INP National Star Party

James Carroll, Irving Nature Park’s Site Manager, gave the crowd a welcome followed by Curt Nason from the SJAC and RASC.NB informing everyone what to expect.

Early evening highlights were the craters and mountains on the Moon, Jupiter with its moons, and Saturn with its fascinating rings.

As with all park events, this was offered free of charge by J.D. Irving, Limited. The Park also provided hot chocolate, and stayed open late to accommodate the public and astronomers.

You may be also be able to see more pics on the Facebook Event page.

Irving Nature Park has been good for local astronomy and has made the Park and staff available for many events, among them the annual Moonlight Snowshoe Walk. Leading into the Park is also the site of Saints Rest Beach, where astronomer Chris Curwin sets up a telescope on most clear evenings for public viewing which he calls Astronomy by the Bay.


Sunday, July 30,  9 – 11:30 pm: Canada-wide National Star Party

Note: Event was scheduled for Saturday, July 29, postponed to Sunday due to clouds. Sunday promises to be almost pristine skies.

Where: Irving Nature Park, Observing Area (above the Interpretative Shelter)

Parking: Please park in the parking lot at the Interpretative Shelter.

Admission: Free

Logo of the RASC New Brunswick Centre


See also~

Outreach Events
Outreach~ Summer 2017
Outreach~ Spring 2017
Outreach~ Winter 2016-17
Outreach~ 2016

Partial Solar Eclipse in Saint John
Astronomy Day in Rockwood Park
Moonlight Snowshoe Walk

Sky at a Glance July 29 – August 5

Photo showing the constellations Aquila and Sputum with locations of the star Altair in Aquila and  the Wild Duck cluster in Sputum.

This Week’s Sky at a Glance, July 29 – August 5 ~by Curt Nason

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

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

This Week in the Solar System

Saturday’s sunrise in Moncton is at 5:58 am and sunset will occur at 8:52 pm, giving 14 hours, 54 minutes of daylight (6:05 am and 8:55 pm in Saint John). Next Saturday the Sun will rise at 6:06 am and set at 8:43 pm, giving 14 hours, 37 minutes of daylight (6:13 am and 8:45 pm in Saint John).

The Moon is at first quarter on Sunday, allowing for great views at star parties this weekend, and it passes near Saturn on Tuesday. Jupiter is sinking lower in the west as dusk, setting before 11:30 pm this week. Mercury is at greatest elongation this weekend, about halfway between the Sun and Jupiter and setting an hour after sunset. Venus is the bright Morning Star, rising around 3 am and situated approximately where the Sun resides at the summer solstice.

Astronomy clubs across the country are participating in a public National Star Party on the evening of July 29. New Brunswick locations are at Mactaquac Provincial Park, the Irving Nature Park in Saint John, and the Moncton High School Observatory. The Saint John Astronomy Club meets in the Rockwood Park Interpretation Centre on August 5 at 7 pm. All are welcome.

Questions? Contact Curt Nason.

Sky at a Glance July 22 – 29

A view of the constellations at their zenith.

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

Many people grew up watching Zenith televisions, which are now made by LG Electronics. Stargazers prefer zenith observing because that is when we should have our best views of objects in a telescope or binoculars. The zenith is the imaginary line running from north to south, separating the sky into eastern and western hemispheres. Objects are at their highest when they cross the zenith, shining through a minimal thickness of atmosphere en route to our eyes. Unstable pockets of atmosphere will distort the light from stars and planets, blurring the view. The less atmosphere light must pass through, the less distortion. Astronomers use the term “seeing” to describe the steadiness of the atmosphere; good seeing means steady air and we can use higher magnification for observing details of the Moon and planets.

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

Hercules goes head-to-head with Ophiuchus to its south, which contains a few globular clusters itself. Ophiuchus stands on Scorpius, keeping the scorpion underfoot so that it cannot fatally sting Orion again. Scorpius at the zenith is the best time to observe globular clusters M4 and M80, and open clusters M6 and M7. Observing all of these objects near their zenith is much more fun than watching a television of any brand.

This Week in the Solar System

Saturday’s sunrise in Moncton is at 5:50 am and sunset will occur at 9:00 pm, giving 15 hours, 10 minutes of daylight (5:58 am and 9:02 pm in Saint John). Next Saturday the Sun will rise at 5:58 am and set at 8:52 pm, giving 14 hours, 54 minutes of daylight (6:05 am and 8:55 pm in Saint John).

The Moon is new on Sunday and it passes near Jupiter on Friday evening. Mercury is 5 degrees to the upper left of the very slim crescent Moon on Monday, and on Tuesday it is 6 degrees to the lower right and just below dimmer Regulus. Jupiter is best observed in the first hour or so after sunset, before it gets too low in the west for steady viewing. Saturn is well placed for observing all evening between Scorpius and Sagittarius. Venus is the bright Morning Star, rising around 3 am. If you are out past midnight later in the week, keep an eye out for shooting stars from the South Delta Aquariid meteor shower. Mars is in conjunction with the Sun on Wednesday, emerging from the glare of sunrise in mid-September.

Astronomy clubs across the country are participating in a public National Star Party on the evening of July 29. New Brunswick locations are at Mactaquac Provincial Park, the Irving Nature Park in Saint John, and the Moncton High School Observatory.

Questions? Contact Curt Nason.

Sky at a Glance July 15 – 22

Photo of the constellation Serpens in the southern night sky.

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

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

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

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

This Week in the Solar System

Saturday’s sunrise in Moncton is at 5:43 am and sunset will occur at 9:06 pm, giving 15 hours, 23 minutes of daylight (5:51 am and 9:08 pm in Saint John). Next Saturday the Sun will rise at 5:50 am and set at 9:00 pm, giving 15 hours, 10 minutes of daylight (5:58 am and 9:02 pm in Saint John).

The Moon is at third quarter on Sunday, and it passes near Venus on Thursday morning. Mercury continues to pull away from the Sun in the evening sky but it still sets 70 minutes after sunset midweek. Jupiter is best observed in the first hour or so after sunset, before it gets too low in the west for steady viewing. Saturn is well placed for observing all evening between Scorpius and Sagittarius. Venus is the bright Morning Star, also called Phosphorus by the ancient Greeks and Lucifer by their Roman counterparts.

Astronomy clubs across the country are participating in a public National Star Party on the evening of July 29. New Brunswick locations are Mactaquac Provincial Park and the Irving Nature Park in Saint John.

Questions? Contact Curt Nason at nasonc@nbnet.nb.ca.

Sky at a Glance July 8 – 15

A photo showing deep sky objects in the constellations of Sagittarius and Scorpius.

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

With the Milky Way becoming prominent on summer evenings, binocular stargazing is a great way to pass the time. Save the campfire and ghost stories for cloudy evenings. A good place to start this year is with Saturn, which is as bright as orange Antares to its lower right. If you steady your binoculars on a railing or tripod you might be able to discern the planet’s rings or at least see that it looks elongated. Check out the colour of Antares, and pick out the globular cluster M4 in the same field of view to its right.

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

About a binocular-field width above the teapot’s spout you will find a fuzzy patch with a small cluster of stars in or near it. The fuzzy patch is a cloud of dust and gas called M8, the Lagoon Nebula, where stars are forming. Radiation from hot young stars makes the gas glow, and it can be seen with the naked eye in rural areas. The cluster of stars is called NGC 6530, where NGC stands for New General Catalogue. A telescope will reveal dark dust lanes in the nebula that suggest its lagoon name. Just above M8 is a smaller cloud, M20 or the Trifid Nebula, and the nearby star cluster M21. A large scope will show M20’s dust lanes that separate it into three petals; no relation to the mobile plants that had their day in the 1962 movie based on John Wyndham’s novel.

This Week in the Solar System

Saturday’s sunrise in Moncton is at 5:36 am and sunset will occur at 9:11 pm, giving 15 hours, 35 minutes of daylight (5:45 am and 9:13 pm in Saint John). Next Saturday the Sun will rise at 5:43 am and set at 9:06 pm, giving 15 hours, 23 minutes of daylight (5:51 am and 9:08 pm in Saint John).

The Moon is full on Sunday, the Mi’kmaq Birds Shed Feathers Moon. Mercury sets 70 minutes after sunset midweek but binoculars are recommended to locate it. Jupiter is best observed in the first hour or so after sunset, before it gets too low in the west for steady viewing. Saturn is well placed for observing all evening between Scorpius and Sagittarius. Venus spends the week moving through the Hyades star cluster, which forms the V-shaped face of Taurus the Bull.

The Saint John Astronomy Club meets on Saturday, July 8 at 7 pm in the Rockwood Park Interpretation Centre. All are welcome.

Questions? Contact Curt Nason.

Sky at a Glance July 1 – 8

Photo of the constellation Ophiuchus the Serpent Bearer

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

Saturn is in the constellation Ophiuchus the Serpent Bearer this summer; “in” meaning in the same direction. The stars are much farther than the planets, but how much farther? Neptune is the most distant planet from the Sun, about three times farther than Saturn and 30 times farther than Earth. Sunlight takes 4.2 hours to reach Neptune and 4.2 years to reach the closest star, Proxima Centauri. Stand on one leg* while you read this article, and then try to imagine continuing for 4.2 hours. Doing that for 4.2 years is as incomprehensible as picturing a distance of 4.2 light years.

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

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

This Week in the Solar System

Saturday’s sunrise in Moncton is at 5:32 am and sunset will occur at 9:13 pm, giving 15 hours, 41 minutes of daylight (5:40 am and 9:15 pm in Saint John). Next Saturday the Sun will rise at 5:36 am and set at 9:11 pm, giving 15 hours, 35 minutes of daylight (5:45 am and 9:13 pm in Saint John). Earth is at aphelion, its greatest distance from the Sun for the year at 152, 092,504 kilometres, around suppertime on Monday. Don’t bother putting on a sweater.

The Moon is at first quarter and near Jupiter on June 30, giving great views for holiday partiers who are fortunate enough to have clear skies this weekend. The waxing gibbous Moon is near Saturn on Thursday. On Wednesday, those with a telescope might catch Jupiter’s moon Europa playing “now you see me, now you don’t.” At 10:43 pm it starts emerging from behind Jupiter, only to disappear into the planet’s shadow four minutes later. Saturn’s rings are on display in a scope all evening, and in steady binoculars it will look somewhat elongated. Mercury sets an hour after sunset midweek but you will likely need binoculars to locate it. Venus rises two and a half hours before the Sun and dominates the morning sky with its brilliance.

The Saint John Astronomy Club meets on Saturday, July 8 at 7 pm in the Rockwood Park Interpretation Centre. All are welcome.

Questions? Contact Curt Nason at nasonc@nbnet.nb.ca.

*I am not responsible for any physical or emotional damage resulting from doing this. My lawyer tells me I do have a leg to stand on.

Sky at a Glance June 24-July 1

A photograph showing the constellation Lyra

This Week’s Sky at a Glance, June 24 – July 1 ~by Curt Nason

With Canada’s 150th birthday just around the corner, I will highlight once again my idea of our National Constellation. Although Lyra the Lyre (Harp) is not circumpolar in New Brunswick, it is circumpolar in NB West (aka Edmonton). For us it is below the northern horizon for about five hours daily, so it is in either the morning sky or evening sky every day. It is a rather modest constellation but it stands out thanks to its lucida Vega, the fifth brightest star in the sky and third brightest as seen from Canada. You will need a moderately-sized telescope, a steady sky and perhaps a coffee to see my point.

Near Vega is a fifth magnitude (too dim to see from urban or overly lit suburban areas) star called Epsilon Lyrae. Binoculars will easily show this as two stars, and a good quality telescope under steady skies (minimal star twinkling) can just distinguish each of those as a pair. Naturally, Epsilon Lyrae has been dubbed the Double-Double. The body of the harp is marked by a parallelogram of stars. Approximately midway between the two stars forming the short side of the parallelogram farther from Vega are the gaseous remnants of a dead star, a planetary nebula called M57 or the Ring Nebula. Ultraviolet radiation from the dead but very hot white dwarf star makes the expelled gases glow. In a small telescope this might look like a fat star, but a larger scope will show it as a smoke ring or doughnut. And if you need another clue, half the parallelogram forms a 7, the number worn by Tim Horton in a Leafs sweater.

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 5:32 am and set at 9:13 pm, giving 15 hours, 41 minutes of daylight (5:40 am and 9:15 pm in Saint John). The nights are getting longer!

The Moon is new just before midnight on June 23, less than a day after perigee, so expect higher than usual tides this weekend. It is at first quarter and near Jupiter next Friday, well placed for observing during the holiday fireworks. On Wednesday, as darkness sets in, Jupiter’s stormy Red Spot may be visible through a telescope at high magnification. Also that evening, a small telescope could reveal its moon Europa emerging from the planet’s shadow at 10:35, and 13 minutes later Ganymede reappearing from behind the planet. Saturn’s rings are on display in a scope all evening, and in steady binoculars it will look somewhat elongated. Venus rises two and a half hours before the Sun and dominates the morning sky with its brilliance.

The next meeting of the Saint John Astronomy Club will be on Saturday, July 8 at 7 pm in the Rockwood Park Interpretation Centre. All are welcome.

Questions? Contact Curt Nason

Sky at a Glance June 17 – 24

Photo of constellations and the summer solstice.

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

With the late sunsets and extended twilight near the summer solstice, it is quite late before the constellations emerge. Therefore, I will give my fingers a rest and concentrate on the affairs of the solar system.

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). The Sun reaches its most northerly declination at 1:24 am on Wednesday, marking the summer solstice in the northern hemisphere. Roll out those lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer.

The Moon is at third quarter on the morning of June 17 and it is new just before midnight next Friday. That it goes through a quarter phase in less than seven days indicates it is near perigee, its closest to Earth, at which time it orbits faster. Perigee occurs on Friday morning, bringing very high tides for next weekend. Jupiter and Saturn will delight evening observers for the next few months. On Monday a telescope at high magnification might reveal Jupiter’s moons Io and Europa in transit before 10:27 pm. A somewhat easier task will be observing the shadows of those moons on the planet’s cloud tops between 11:04 and 11:38 pm. Saturn is at its best viewing for the next 15 years, just past opposition and with the rings about as wide open as they get.

Venus rises two hours before the Sun and dominates the morning sky with its brilliance. Mercury is at superior conjunction behind the Sun on Wednesday, and it will join Jupiter and Saturn in the evening sky early next month. Mars is pretty much on summer vacation. It won’t be readily visible until mid-September in the morning sky.

If you have yet to plan your summer vacation, here are some opportunities to observe the sky through a variety of telescopes. RASC NB will be participating in a Canada-wide star party on July 29 with observing at Mactaquac Provincial Park and at the Irving Nature Park in Saint John. Weekend star parties with RASC NB members and park staff are being held at Mount Carleton on August 11-13 at the height of the Perseid meteor shower, at Fundy on September 15-17, and at Kouchibouguac on September 22-24. The summer astronomical highlight will be a partial eclipse of the Sun on the afternoon of August 21. RASC NB members will be offering safe views of this event through filtered telescopes and a limited number of free eclipse glasses for personal viewing. Locations will be provided in the August reports.

Questions? Contact Curt Nason.

Stargazing is Like a Box of Chocolates

Photo of the Northern Lights

Stargazing is Like a Box of Chocolates ~by Curt Nason

A memorable line from the movie Forrest Gump compared life to a box of chocolates; you never know what you’re going to get. Although the night sky is full of predictable observing targets and events, it is the unexpected treasures that make stargazing so enjoyable.

I was cat-sitting at my childhood home in McAdam last weekend, where the backyard night sky is much darker than at my home in suburban Saint John. I was struggling with a topic for this monthly column and I put it aside hoping for inspiration overnight. Around midnight I stepped out on the deck with binoculars to view a comet, one of my pet observing projects, and my attention was drawn to a wall of light to the north. My first impression was of light pollution, but then I noticed a few spikes of light with a subtle green tinge and I recalled an email alerting stargazers to the possibility of northern lights. After a quick dash inside for warmer clothes, I was treated to more than an hour of shimmering green lights that at times reached the North Star, halfway to the zenith; the best aurora I have seen in 13 years.

As I watched the northern lights I thought of how fortunate I was. My quick dash outside to see a gray blur in binoculars, which I had seen several times already this spring, had revealed Nature’s fireworks, accompanied by the restful chirping of peepers rather than resonating booms. Several airplanes passed by, all seemingly on the same path, and I envied the view that the pilots and alert passengers must be getting. The Milky Way was like a bright cloud rather than the hint of light I see from my backyard at home; its pearly stream split by clouds of interstellar dust between us and the inner spiral arm of our galaxy. A meteor flashed silently across the sky, the result of a tiny pebble shed from a comet long ago entering our atmosphere, making the thin air glow as it disintegrated from the heat of friction. Then I recalled why I went outside in the first place.

The comet was an easy find with binoculars, beside a fairly bright star in a prominent constellation overhead, looking much better than from my deck at home. Saturn and Jupiter called for my attention, and then I noticed the orange star Antares between two trees. In the same field of view was a globular cluster called M4, the fourth object in Charles Messier’s list of objects that resemble comets. I cannot always see it with a telescope from home because with its low altitude it gets lost in urban skyglow, but here it looked huge with just binoculars from its distance of 7000 light years.

Another comet was near Antares, one I have yet to see, so I set up a telescope. Life is not always a bowl of cherry chocolates, for this comet was too faint for my equipment, but it should brighten soon. The view of Saturn’s rings and Jupiter’s cloud belts in the telescope made up for any disappointment. It was now two o’clock, and back on the deck I could still see the aurora teasingly fading away and spiking up again. I herded the cats inside and went to bed, tired but inspired to write.

Stargazing is a wonderful hobby. Every clear night the sky is a familiar friend and yet serendipitously different, and I have never regretted dragging myself outside to look up. I never know what surprise might await me, but I do know it won’t be fattening.

Sky at a Glance June 10 – 17

A photo showing locations of various Globular Clusters in the June night sky.

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

Summer is globular cluster season. Globulars are massive, spherical clusters of old stars that orbit the core of a galaxy. They are typically composed of hundreds of thousands of stars in a volume of space where, in our galactic neighbourhood, there might be a few hundred stars. Picture a snow globe after you shake it, and imagine the tiny flakes as stars. Globular clusters formed about the same time their host galaxies were forming, approximately 12 billion years ago. The area of sky around Sagittarius, Scorpius and Ophiuchus above them is where we find many of the brighter globulars in the Messier catalogue.

The brightest star in Scorpius is the red supergiant Antares, which marks the heart of the scorpion. Easily within a binocular field to the right of Antares is the globular cluster M4, one of the closest to us at 7000 light years. Viewing from a rural location makes a big difference in how well you will see this and other globular clusters. Further to the right of Antares a bow of three bight stars forms the scorpion’s claws, and halfway between Antares and the upper star of the bow is M80, looking much tinier than M4 because it is nearly five times more distant. To the upper left of the Sagittarius Teapot’s lid is M22, another globular gem, and just above the lid is the tougher target of M28.

Although these objects are a hazy patch of light in binoculars, they are spectacular in a telescope at high magnification under a dark sky, when several of the individual stars can be seen. A common description is that of sugar crystals on black velvet.

This Week in the Solar System

Saturday’s sunrise in Moncton is at 5:27 am and sunset will occur at 9:09 pm, giving 15 hours, 42 minutes of daylight (5:36 am and 9:11 pm in Saint John). Next Saturday the Sun will rise at 5:27 am and set at 9:12 pm, giving 15 hours, 45 minutes of daylight (5:35 am and 9:14 pm in Saint John).

The Moon is full and a day past apogee on Friday, June 9, making this the smallest full Moon of the year, the annual Puny Moon. It is also called the Strawberry Moon, Honey Moon, or the Trees Fully Leaved Moon. The Moon is at third quarter on June 17. Jupiter will look a little different in a scope or binoculars for an hour after midnight on the evening of June 10, with only one of its four large moons visible. One moon is behind the planet and two are passing in front of it. Saturn is at opposition on Thursday, rising at sunset and being visible all night. Its rings are at their best viewing for the next 15 years, and around opposition they are also brighter due to the sunlight reflecting directly back toward us. Venus dominates the very early morning sky and it is near its greatest extent from the Sun. Around 10 am, try finding it high in the sky with binoculars, and if you are successful try to see it without binoculars.

The William Brydone Jack Astronomy Club meets at the UNB Fredericton Forestry / Earth Sciences Building on June 13 at 7 pm. All are welcome.

Questions? Contact Curt Nason.

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 through the 6th Workshops were at the Rockwood Park Interpretation Centre.

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!

Pdf of Presentations~

We now have pdfs of the now completed Series available. You can access them here:
Telescope Basics
Imaging the Moon
Astrophotography~Equipment
Astrophotography~Settings
Astrophotography~Images


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.


4th Session~Astrophotography: Part II~ April 12, 2017

The 4th in the series of Free Astronomy Workshops was Wednesday, April 12 at the Interpretation Centre, Rockwood Park.
A photo of star trails taken by Paul Owen
For this Workshop the Theme was Astrophotography: Part II –Using your DSLR, Nikon and Cannon free software, shooting Star Trails, the Milky Way, advantages of a modified DSLR, etc. [photo above taken by Paul Owen].

Paul Owen discussing which lens to use at the 4th Free Astronomy Workshop

Paul Owen discussing which settings to use for photographing Constellations at the 4th Free Astronomy Workshop

Paul Owen discussing which settings to use for photographing Twilight at the 4th Free Astronomy Workshop

Paul Owen discussing which settings to use for photographing Startrails at the 4th Free Astronomy Workshop

Paul Owen discussing which settings to use for photographing the Aurorae at the 4th Free Astronomy Workshop

Paul Owen discussing our position in the Milky Way at the 4th Free Astronomy Workshop Also included was Star Parties, what they are, when they are. Weather did not permit Observing after.


5th Session~Using Binoculars & Selecting Mounts

The 5th in the series of Free Astronomy Workshops was Wednesday, May 10th at the Interpretation Centre, Rockwood Park.

1st Half: Using Binoculars~

Paul Owen gave a comprehensive view of using Binoculars for night sky astronomy observing–how to use them, get the most out of them, and what to look for in buying.
Paul Owen explaining the tradeoffs of using different size binoculars for viewing different objects in the night sky.

Paul Owen explaining how binoculars are perfect for viewing wide star clusters.

Paul Owen explaining the exit pupil size in binoculars.

Paul Owen explaining how to mount binoculars for steady viewing.

A list of some of the best links to get the most out of binocular night sky viewing.

The links shown above are listed here for your convenience~
RASC Observer’s Handbook, Wide Field Wonders (in back of book)
RASC Calgary Centre, Binocular Observing Certificate
Astronomical League, Deep Sky Program (for binoculars)
Binocular Sky Website
Sky & Telescope, Binocular Stargazing Catalog
Light and Matter, BinoSky

2nd Half: Selecting Mounts~

In the second part of the Workshop, Paul showed how he sets up an EQ (equatorial) mount, start to finish, for night sky viewing. He also demonstrated how you can use a wifi connection and free software for controlling the scope and giving you more information about objects in the night sky.

Paul Owen demonstrating how to set up an equatorial telescope.

Paul Owen looking through the polar alignment scope on an equatorial mount.

Paul Owen mounting a refractor scope on an equatorial mount.

Paul Owen demonstrating using a wifi connection on a telescope mount to control the scope and give you more information about the object you are looking at.

Matt West explaining his refactor scope mounted on an a-z mount.
Above–Matt West shows his scope mounted on an  Alt-Azimuth (A-Z) mount, and how he uses it. Also shown was a Dobsonian Mount [no photo].

Below is a short video about Workshop #5~


Free Astronomy Workshop wraps up June 14, 2017~
Wrap-up Session, Prepping for Summer, Q&A

Free Astronomy Workshop # 6

Paul Owen with a picture of John Dobson

Paul Owen showing a small refactor telescope at the Free Astronomy Workshop # 6

Paul Owen going over Moon photography at the Free Astronomy Workshop # 6

Paul Owen at the Free Astronomy Workshop # 6

Paul Owen giving some pointer about a SCT Telescope at the Free Astronomy Workshop # 6

Photo of Paul Owen, host of the Free Astronomy Workshop series.

The Free Astronomy Workshop Series has ended for 2017. The Rockwood Park Interpretation Centre was the setting for the 6th and final in the series on June 14th.

These free workshops covered information that you may not easily find anywhere else. The response from the public was gratifying.

These Free Workshops were hosted by Paul Owen and the SJAC. You can still ask questions about anything you are curious about or need clarification. Contact the host, Paul Owen.

The Saint John Astronomy Club meets @ 7pm the 1st Saturday of every month (long weekends excepted) at the Rockwood Park Interpretation Centre. As with the workshops, all are welcome, no experience necessary.