Category Archives: Astronomy

Sky at a Glance December 9 – 16

Photo of the constellation Gemini

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

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

This year the shower peaks around 3 a.m. on December 14, making that morning and the previous evening the best time to watch. As a bonus for evening observers the moon doesn’t rise until 4 a.m., and its waning crescent phase will not wash out the sky significantly for morning viewers. Dress very warmly, get comfortable in a reclining position, face an unobstructed patch of sky toward the north or south away from artificial lighting, and hope for a cloudless evening. Viewing on the evenings before and after could also be worthwhile if the weather forecast isn’t promising for December 13.

The parent “comet” for the Geminids is actually the asteroid 3200 Phaethon, which was discovered in 1983. It orbits the Sun in a little more than 17 months, crossing the orbits of Mars, Earth, Venus and Mercury. At perihelion its temperature can exceed 600C, which can cause its carbon-water material to break down and release the dust particles that give us meteors when they burn up in our atmosphere. On December 16 Phaethon passes within 10 million kilometres of Earth and can be seen moving against the background stars with a medium-size telescope.

This Week in the Solar System

Saturday’s sunrise in Moncton is at 7:49 am and sunset will occur at 4:33 pm, giving 8 hours, 44 minutes of daylight (7:51 am and 4:41 pm in Saint John). Next Saturday the Sun will rise at 7:55 am and set at 4:34 pm, giving 8 hours, 39 minutes of daylight (7:57 am and 4:42 pm in Saint John).

The Moon is at third quarter on Sunday, and passes above Mars and Jupiter on Wednesday and Thursday mornings, respectively. Mercury is at inferior conjunction on Tuesday, moving into the morning sky later in the month. Saturn sets just 35 minutes after sunset midweek, while Mars is moving rapidly toward Jupiter in the morning sky. (Spoiler alert: It catches up on January 7.) Venus is heading sunward, reaching superior conjunction on January 9.

The William Brydone Jack Astronomy Club meets at the UNB Forestry / Earth Sciences Building in Fredericton on Tuesday at 7pm. All are welcome. That same evening, an uncertified lunatic gives a presentation on the Moon at the Mapleton Park Rotary Lodge in Moncton.

Questions? Contact Curt Nason.

Sky at a Glance December 2 – 9

Photo showing location of the constellations Lynx and Camelopardalis near Polaris.

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

Many naturalists are also avid environmentalists and, hence, strong believers in recycling. For that reason, I don’t mind recycling versions of this sky report, so…

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

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

This Week in the Solar System

Saturday’s sunrise in Moncton is at 7:42 am and sunset will occur at 4:34 pm, giving 8 hours, 52 minutes of daylight (7:44 am and 4:42 pm in Saint John). Next Saturday the Sun will rise at 7:49 am and set at 4:33 pm, giving 8 hours, 44 minutes of daylight (7:51 am and 4:41 pm in Saint John).

The Moon is full on Sunday, about 17 hours before perigee, making this the closest full Moon of 2017. Expect extreme tidal ranges early in the week. Mercury sets around 5:30 midweek, followed by Saturn less than ten minutes later. Mars is five degrees to the left of Spica this weekend and pulls rapidly away toward Jupiter over the week. Venus is rising after 7 am early in the week, heading sunward.

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

Questions? Contact Curt Nason.

Sky at a Glance Nov 25 – Dec 2

Photo showing the constellations Ursa Major (containing the Big Dipper) and Taurus.

This Week’s Sky at a Glance, Nov 25 – Dec 2 ~by Curt Nason

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

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

I would like to end this market report with a bad pun but, fortunately for you, none comes to mind. I find that unbearable.

This Week in the Solar System

Saturday’s sunrise in Moncton is at 7:33 am and sunset will occur at 4:38 pm, giving 9 hours, 5 minutes of daylight (7:36 am and 4:46 pm in Saint John). Next Saturday the Sun will rise at 7:42 am and set at 4:34 pm, giving 8 hours, 52 minutes of daylight (7:44 am and 4:42 pm in Saint John).

The Moon is at first quarter on Saturday, and on Sunday around 10:30 pm it will be half a binocular width below Neptune. Mercury passes a few degrees below Saturn in the early evening this weekend. Jupiter is halfway between Mars and Venus in the morning sky, with Venus rising 45 minutes before sunrise by next weekend. Early in the New Year, Mars and Jupiter will have a close conjunction, Mercury and Saturn will have moved to the morning sky, and Venus will be at superior conjunction behind the Sun.

RASC NB members will be holding a public observing session at the Moncton High School Observatory on the evening of Friday, November 24 from 6:30 to 8:30. The Saint John Astronomy Club meets at the Rockwood Park Interpretation Centre on Saturday, December 2 at 7pm. All are welcome.

Questions? Contact Curt Nason.

Sky at a Glance November 18 – 25

Photo of the constellation Cetus the Whale in the southern November sky, showing the location of the variable star Mira.

This Week’s Sky at a Glance, November 18 – November 25

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

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

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

This Week in the Solar System

Saturday’s sunrise in Moncton is at 7:24 am and sunset will occur at 4:44 pm, giving 9 hours, 20 minutes of daylight (7:27 am and 4:51 pm in Saint John). Next Saturday the Sun will rise at 7:33 am and set at 7:38 pm, giving 9 hours, 5 minutes of daylight (7:36 am and 4:46 pm in Saint John).

The Moon is new this Saturday, passes near Saturn on Monday, and is at first quarter next Saturday. Mercury is at greatest elongation from the Sun on Thursday evening but I recommend using binoculars to locate it a half hour after sunset, and then try to see it without optical aid. Saturn will be a binocular width above it. By the end of the week Jupiter will be almost halfway between Mars and Venus in the morning sky. The famous Leonid meteor shower peaks on Friday. It is famous for the meteor storms it can produce every few decades when Comet Tempel-Tuttle rounds the Sun, but currently the comet is near its farthest from the Sun. Early Saturday morning will be the best time to see maybe half a dozen meteors per hour.

Questions? Contact Curt Nason.

Sky at a Glance November 11 – 18

Photo showing the locations of some Open Clusters constellations Taurus and Auriga

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

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

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

The brightest star in Auriga is Capella the Goat Star, marking the charioteer’s left shoulder. It is the sixth brightest star in the night sky and the brightest circumpolar star seen from New Brunswick. Capella represents a mother goat, and a triangle of stars nearby on the left side represents three baby goats called The Kids. Quite an armful for someone driving a chariot.

This Week in the Solar System

Saturday’s sunrise in Moncton is at 7:14 am and sunset will occur at 4:51 pm, giving 9 hours, 37 minutes of daylight (7:17 am and 4:58 pm in Saint John). Next Saturday the Sun will rise at 7:24 am and set at 4:44 pm, giving 9 hours, 20 minutes of daylight (7:27 am and 4:51 pm in Saint John).

The Moon is new on Saturday, November 18; and see if you can spot the slim crescent near Venus on the morning before. Mercury passes a few degrees above Antares on Monday, setting 50 minutes after the Sun midweek. Although the prime observing time for Saturn is over, decent views may still be obtained when it appears in twilight. Mars shows its reddish colour high in the morning sky, while Venus and Jupiter are less than a Moon-width apart on Monday. Watch for meteors emanating from Taurus this weekend, as the minor North Taurid meteor showers peaks, and from Leo late in the week. Neither shower is likely to produce more than a few shooting stars per hour.

The William Brydone Jack Astronomy Club meets at the UNB Forestry-Earth Sciences Building in Fredericton on November 14 at 7 pm. All are welcome.

Questions? Contact Curt Nason.

Sky at a Glance November 4 – 11

Photo showing the constellation Taurus

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

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

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

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

This Week in the Solar System

Saturday’s sunrise in Moncton is at 8:04 am and sunset will occur at 6:00 pm, giving 9 hours, 56 minutes of daylight (8:07 am and 6:07 pm in Saint John). We return to Standard Time at 2:00 am this Sunday. Next Saturday the Sun will rise at 7:14 am and set at 4:51 pm, giving 9 hours, 37 minutes of daylight (7:17 am and 4:58 pm in Saint John).

The Moon is full on Saturday, November 4, the Hunter’s Moon or the Mi’kmaq Rivers Freezing Moon, and it is at third quarter next Friday. On Sunday evening it occults the bright star Aldebaran for an hour, beginning at approximately 9:10. You will want to be watching sooner to see the Moon approach the star, and also soon after 10 pm so you don`t miss it pop out from behind the slightly darkened right side of the Moon. Mercury sets 40 minutes after the Sun midweek; followed by Saturn at 7:15 pm. Mars shows its reddish colour high in the morning sky, whereas over the week Venus and Jupiter approach each other low in the east. Watch for meteors emanating from Taurus this week, as the minor South Taurid and North Taurid meteor showers peak this weekend and next, respectively.

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

Questions? Contact Curt Nason.

Sky at a Glance Oct 28 – Nov 4

Photo showing the location of the constellation Aquarius

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

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

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

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

This Week in the Solar System

Saturday’s sunrise in Moncton is at 7:54 am and sunset will occur at 6:10 pm, giving 10 hours, 16 minutes of daylight (7:58 am and 6:17 pm in Saint John). Next Saturday the Sun will rise at 8:04 am and set at 6:00 pm, giving 9 hours, 56 minutes of daylight (8:07 am and 6:07 pm in Saint John).

The Moon is full on Saturday, November 4, the Hunter’s Moon or the Mi’kmaq Rivers Freezing Moon. Binoculars are required to spot Mercury before it sets a half hour after the Sun midweek. Saturn follows Mercury to the horizon two hours later. Mars is an early riser, three hours before sunrise, followed by Venus an hour and a half later. This Tuesday, set up your scope and give your masked visitors and their parents views of Saturn and the waxing gibbous Moon while handing out goodies. It will be a welcome treat for all.

International Observe the Moon Night is on Saturday, October 28. Members and guests of RASC NB will have telescopes and binoculars set up at the Irving Nature Park in Saint John for this event on Friday, October 27 from 6:30 pm to 9 pm, with a back-up date of Saturday. There will also be public observing at the Moncton High School Observatory on October 27 from 7:30 pm to 9 pm. The Saint John Astronomy Club meets at the Rockwood Park Interpretation Centre on November 4 at 7 pm. All are welcome.

Questions? Contact Curt Nason.

Sky at a Glance October 21 – 28

Photo showing the location of the constellation Camelopardalis.

Photo showing the location of Kemble's Cascade in the constellation Camelopardalis

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

With an early-setting Moon this weekend it might be a good time for some good old fashioned giraffe hunting. No guns allowed, just find a place where the sky is not tainted by light pollution, and bring binoculars for an added treat.

The large constellation Camelopardalis (try ka-mellow-par’-da-lis) is somewhat easier to pronounce than it is to locate in the sky. Look below Cassiopeia, and between Perseus and Ursa Minor (the Little Dipper, which has the North Star at the end of the handle). Any stars you can see in this area compose the not-so-stellar giraffe. The constellation was imagined and charted on a globe by Dutch astronomer Petrus Plancius in 1612 and later adopted by other prominent makers of star charts. The name derives from how the Greeks regarded giraffes as camel leopards, with their long neck and spots.

An interesting binocular object called Kemble’s Cascade is an observing highlight within Camelopardalis. This asterism, forming a line of about 20 stars, was noticed by Canadian amateur astronomer Father Lucien Kemble, who reported it to a columnist at Sky and Telescope magazine. One method of finding your way there is to imagine a line across the top stars of Cassiopeia’s W shape, right to left, and extend it an equal distance. Near one end of this asterism a telescope will reveal the open star cluster NGC 1502. Happy hunting.

This Week in the Solar System

Saturday’s sunrise in Moncton is at 7:44 am and sunset will occur at 6:22 pm, giving 10 hours, 38 minutes of daylight (7:48 am and 6:28 pm in Saint John). Next Saturday the Sun will rise at 7:54 am and set at 6:10 pm, giving 10 hours, 16 minutes of daylight (7:58 am and 6:17 pm in Saint John).

The Moon is at first quarter on Friday, October 27; a great target for telescopes later in the week. Saturn continues to awe observers with views of its rings in early evening. Jupiter is in conjunction with the Sun on Thursday, while Mercury sets about 20 minutes after them. Mars is nine degrees above Venus this weekend in the morning sky, and they increase that spread by a few degrees over the week. Look for meteors springing from Orion’s club early in the morning this weekend. This minor meteor shower is one of two arising from Halley’s Comet.

International Observe the Moon Night is on Saturday, October 28. Members and guests of RASC NB will have telescopes and binoculars set up at the Irving Nature Park in Saint John for this event on Friday, October 27 from 6:30 pm to 9 pm, with a back-up date of Saturday.

Questions? Contact Curt Nason.

Observe the Moon Night 2017

Graphic showing Observe the Moon Night at Irving Nature Park 2017

On Friday, October 27 International Observe the Moon Night was celebrated at Irving Nature Park in Saint John. The public, along with members of the RASC NB provincial astronomy club, enjoyed an evening of Moon-watching and stargazing.

Setting Up~

Astronomer Chris Curwin setting up at the Observe the Moon Night October 2017 at Irving Nature Park

Astronomer Paul Owen setting up at the Observe the Moon Night October 2017 at Irving Nature ParkA total of eight telescopes were set up to give the public lots of viewing opportunities.Astronomers Paul Owen and Curt Nason checking things over at the Observe the Moon Night October 2017 at Irving Nature Park

The Event~

Observe the Moon Night 2017 at Irving Nature Park.

Observe the Moon Night 2017 at Irving Nature Park.

As darkness fell, views of the Moon proved to be spectacular. It is sometimes easier on the eyes to view the Moon when there is still some blue in the sky.

Observe the Moon Night 2017 at Irving Nature Park.

Photo of scene at Observe the Moon night at Irving Nature Park

Scene at Irving Nature Park of Observe the Moon Night 2017

Spectacular views of the first quarter Moon and the rings of Saturn were seen through various telescopes and binoculars. Some telescopes were equipped with adapters to allow people to capture close-ups of the Moon with their phone camera.

Observe the Moon Night 2017 at Irving Nature Park.

Observe the Moon Night 2017 at Irving Nature Park.

Observe the Moon Night 2017 at Irving Nature Park.

Observe the Moon Night 2017 at Irving Nature Park.

Observe the Moon Night 2017 at Irving Nature Park.

Observe the Moon Night 2017 at Irving Nature Park.

As with all park events, this was offered free of charge by J.D. Irving, Limited, who also provided hot chocolate courtesy of the Park staff. This event presented a beautiful way to enjoy the last weekend of October. Irving Nature Park is an ideal place to unwind, photograph, walk, hike and explore.

Below–view of the Bay of Fundy from the Observing Area.
Observe the Moon Night 2017 at Irving Nature Park.

Event: International Observe the Moon Night at Irving Nature Park
Where: Observing Area, above the Interpretative Shelter at Irving Nature Park, Saint John
When: Friday, October 27, 2017 6:30 – 9:00pm (cloud date Oct. 28)
Admission: Free
Parking: Parking lot at the Interpretative Shelter
Facebook Event: Observe the Moon at Irving Nature Park

Enjoy an evening of Moon-watching and stargazing with members of the RASC NB provincial astronomy club. Starting at 6:30 PM with a brief welcome at the observing field above the Interpretive Shelter, we will follow with spectacular views of the first quarter Moon and the rings of Saturn through various telescopes and binoculars. Soon after, the legends of Greek mythology appear as constellations to share their stellar wonders within. See the Double Cluster of Perseus, the Andromeda Galaxy (which is on a collision course with our Milky Way…in a few billion years), and Cassiopeia will show you where film legend ET calls home. Some telescopes will be equipped with adapters to allow you to capture close-ups of the Moon with your phone camera. The amateur astronomers will be happy to show you the constellations and answer your questions on telescopes and stargazing. Please park in the lot beside the Interpretive Shelter.

As with all park events, this is offered free of charge by J.D. Irving, Limited. Don’t forget to bring a mug for hot chocolate, and bring an extra layer or two as the park is chilly this time of year. If it is cloudy we will try again on Saturday, October 28.

Questions? Please contact the park at (506) 653-7367

Location~

Photo showing location of Interpretative Shelter at Irving Nature Park

Photo showing location of Interpretative Shelter at Irving Nature Park

Other astronomy events at Irving~

Moonlight Snowshoe Walk 2017
National Star Party at Irving Nature Park
Partial Solar Eclipse in Saint John


FYI: The photo of the Moon used in the graphic at the top of this page was taken by Paul Owen of the Saint John Astronomy Club. Paul is offering a free astronomy course Photographing the Night Sky this November, every Tuesday night 6:30 – 9:00 PM at the Rockwood Park Interpretation Centre. You can find more info including how to register by going to the Page. You can also check out the Facebook Event.


      

 

Sky at a Glance October 14 – 21

Photo showing location of Uranus and Neptune in the southern night sky.

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

The planet Uranus is at opposition this Thursday, rising at sunset and sitting high in the sky by late evening. I usually try to observe Uranus and Neptune at least once a year in binoculars or a telescope, often as part of an effort to see all eight planets (Earth is fairly easy) in one night or calendar day. Uranus can be seen with just your eyes around opposition but it requires a dark, transparent sky, good eyesight and knowledge of exactly where to look. Both of these planets are near dim naked-eye stars, making them easier to hunt down. A detailed star map including their locations is essential, such as the one published annually on the Sky and Telescope website.

See Path of Uranus and Neptune.pdf

Uranus is about one degree above Omicron Piscium and is brighter than any star that close, using binoculars, and over the next two months it will move west of that star. Neptune can be found less than one degree below Lambda Aquarii over that time span, much dimmer than Uranus but still brighter than any star within that distance below Lambda. With binoculars, the two planets will resemble stars with, perhaps, a slight blue-green hue and less twinkling. A telescope at moderate to high magnification will expand the planets into discs, which I usually see as pale green for Uranus and pale blue for Neptune. Stars, being at vast distances from us, do not look larger under higher magnification, and using this technique was how these planets were distinguished from stars in 1781 and 1846, respectively.

Uranus and Neptune are nearly twins, with Uranus four times wider than Earth and Neptune just a bit smaller but more massive. They are referred to as ice giants. Although their atmospheres are composed primarily of hydrogen and helium, they also contain frozen water, ammonia and methane. In addition, their interiors are predominantly rock and ices. Methane absorbs wavelengths of light in the red part of the visible light spectrum, passing the shorter-wavelength green and blue light. Methane in the planets’ upper atmosphere is responsible for the colours we see through a telescope.

This Week in the Solar System

Saturday’s sunrise in Moncton is at 7:35 am and sunset will occur at 6:34 pm, giving 10 hours, 59 minutes of daylight (7:39 am and 6:40 pm in Saint John). Next Saturday the Sun will rise at 7:44 am and set at 6:22 pm, giving 10 hours, 38 minutes of daylight (7:48 am and 6:28 pm in Saint John).

The Moon is new on Thursday, making this a great week for autumn deep-sky observing. Saturn continues to awe observers with views of its rings in early evening. Mercury and Jupiter are too low in the west for observing after sunset. Mars is about five degrees above Venus this weekend in the morning sky. Next weekend, look for meteors springing from Orion’s club early in the morning. This minor meteor shower is one of two arising from Halley’s Comet.

International Observe the Moon Night is on Saturday, October 28. Members and guests of RASC NB will have telescopes and binoculars set up at the Irving Nature Park in Saint John for this event on Friday, October 27 from 6:30 pm to 9 pm, with a back-up date of Saturday.

Questions? Contact Curt Nason.


FYI– below is a slide showing the relative size of the planets at a recent Learning the Night Sky astronomy course evening. Uranus and Neptune are the greenish and blueish objects [click photo to enlarge].

Photo showing relative size of the planets at the Learning the Night Sky free astronomy course Series

Sky at a Glance October 7 – 14

Photo showing the location of the Triangulum Galaxy in the Triangulum Constellation.

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

Small constellations tend to get overlooked unless, like Delphinus the Dolphin, they have fairly bright stars or an eye-catching pattern. Aries the Ram and cleverly named Triangulum aren’t quite as pretty as Delphinus but they do get noticed. Okay, Triangulum isn’t pretty but it is acute, situated below Andromeda in mid-evening. Below it is brighter Aries, which resembles a somewhat squashed triangle.

In mythology, the god Hermes sent a flying, golden ram to rescue a prince who was being sacrificed to end a famine. The prince showed his gratitude by slaughtering the ram and giving its fleece to a man in exchange for his daughter’s hand in marriage. The Golden Fleece later became the quest of Jason and the Argonauts. Over 2000 years ago the Sun was in Aries on the first day of spring, and the vernal equinox is still called the First Point of Aries despite having moved into the constellation Pisces long ago. That movement is due to the precession of the equinox, a wobble of the Earth’s polar axis that completes a circuit every 25,800 years.

Triangulum is not associated with an exciting tale from mythology but at times it had been regarded as a tribute to both the Nile Delta and the island of Sicily. I use the tip of the triangle as a reference for locating the Triangulum Galaxy, also called M33. It is almost halfway and a tad to the right of a line from the tip to orange Mirach in Andromeda. Smaller and slightly more distant than the nearby Andromeda Galaxy (M31), this face-on spiral galaxy is dim but attainable with binoculars in a reasonably dark sky.

This Week in the Solar System

Saturday’s sunrise in Moncton is at 7:25 am and sunset will occur at 6:47 pm, giving 11 hours, 22 minutes of daylight (7:30 am and 6:52 pm in Saint John). Next Saturday the Sun will rise at 7:35 am and set at 6:34 pm, giving 10 hours, 59 minutes of daylight (7:39 am and 6:40 pm in Saint John).

The Moon is at third quarter on Thursday, rising around 11:30 the previous evening and setting a little before 3 pm. Jupiter is just a few weeks from being in conjunction with the Sun so Saturn rules the early evening sky. Following their recent rendezvous, Venus and Mars proceed in opposite directions in the morning sky. Mercury is in superior conjunction with the Sun on Sunday, and moves into the evening western sky late in the month. The minor Draconid meteor shower is at its modest peak from Saturday evening to Sunday morning. You might see a few slow-moving meteors per hour coming out of the north, but it has surprised with intense activity a few times in the past century.

The Saint John Astronomy Club meets at the Rockwood Park Interpretation Centre on October 7 at 7 pm. The William Brydone Jack Astronomy Club meets at the Forestry-Earth Sciences building at UNB Fredericton on Tuesday at 7 pm. All are welcome.

Questions? Contact Curt Nason.

Sky at a Glance Sept 30 – Oct 7

A view of the southwester night sky showing locations of two "crown" constellations.

This Week’s Sky at a Glance, Sept. 30 – Oct. 7 ~by Curt Nason

Two stellar crowns are included among the 88 official constellations. Both are above our horizon around 8 pm but one requires an unobstructed and near-pristine sky to the south. Both crowns arise from mythological tales of the popular demigod Dionysus (Bacchus in Roman mythology), the god of wine.

Corona Borealis, the Northern Crown, is a pretty semicircle of stars situated high in the west, one third of the way from Arcturus to Vega. In mythology, Ariadne was the daughter of King Minos of Crete. She helped Theseus slay the bull-headed Minotaur and escape from the Labyrinth, and then accompanied him and his crew on a voyage home to Athens where they were to wed. Along the way they stopped at the island home of Dionysus, who was a great and wily host. After a night of revelry Theseus was forced into leaving without Ariadne, and Dionysus presented her with a beautiful crown if she would be his bride. The crown was placed in the sky to commemorate their wedding.

The Sagittarius teapot asterism is low in the south before 8 pm this time of year, and Corona Australis, the Southern Crown, rides the horizon below. This semicircle of stars is sometimes called the lemon wedge asterism, to go with the teapot and the teaspoon above the teapot’s handle. Dionysus was the result of an affair between Zeus and a mortal woman. The gods had to be careful in such affairs as mortals could not withstand the full passionate heat of their embrace. Vengeful Hera, the wife of Zeus, tricked the now-pregnant woman into requesting Zeus hold her as he would a goddess, and as expected she did not survive. The unborn child was sewn into the thigh of Zeus and raised by his aunt after birth. Later, Dionysus honoured his mother by placing a wreath in the sky. Such a start in life would drive anyone to drink.

This Week in the Solar System

Saturday’s sunrise in Moncton is at 7:16 am and sunset will occur at 7:00 pm, giving 11 hours, 44 minutes of daylight (7:21 am and 7:06 pm in Saint John). Next Saturday the Sun will rise at 7:25 am and set at 6:47 pm, giving 11 hours, 22 minutes of daylight (7:30 am and 6:52 pm in Saint John).

The full Harvest Moon occurs on Thursday, it being the full Moon near the autumnal equinox. Jupiter is pretty much out of the sky now, setting 20 minutes after sunset. Saturn is in the southwest after twilight, setting around 10:20 midweek. In the morning sky Venus has a close conjunction with Mars late in the week, appearing at its upper left on Thursday and lower left on Friday. Mercury is well on its way toward superior conjunction with the Sun on October 8.

RASC NB members in Saint John will be celebrating Fall Astronomy Day with public observing at the Rockwood Park Bark Park (First Arch) on Friday, September 29, with a cloud date of September 30. The Saint John Astronomy Club meets at the Rockwood Park Interpretation Centre on October 7 at 7 pm.

Questions? Contact Curt Nason.

Sky at a Glance Sept 23 – 30

Photo showing the constellations of Autumn

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

Autumn has arrived, and dedicated stargazers are happy to have the longer observing time afforded by earlier sunsets. The summer constellations appear reluctant to move on, however; emerging from twilight in nearly the same place each night because the earlier darkness masks that they rise four minutes sooner each day. But move on they do, and by mid-evening the two groups of autumn constellations lord over us.

Perseus sits below W-shaped Cassiopeia in the northeast these evenings. Cepheus, the king of ancient Ethiopia, is a house-shaped constellation fenced within his wife Cassiopeia, Cygnus and the North Star. The feet of Princess Andromeda are below the W of Cassiopeia, and her head is at the tail end of Pegasus the winged horse. The asterism called the Great Square of Pegasus rises as a large diamond, a harbinger of the baseball post season. Rounding out the mythological tale is Cetus, playing the role of a ferocious sea monster that is stoned, in a manner of speaking, by Perseus in his rescue of Andromeda. Cetus is actually a whale, and segues to the second group – the water constellations.

To the left of the Sagittarius Teapot we see the large chevron of Capricornus the sea goat, representing the goat-boy flautist Pan who didn’t completely morph into a fish when he tried to escape monstrous Typhon. Above and left is the source of all this water – Aquarius, the water bearing servant of the Olympians. Below him is the southern fish, Piscis Austrinus, and further east we have Aphrodite and Eros as Pisces the fishes. Cetus swims below them, and well above Capricornus we see Delphinus the dolphin trying to leap back into summer.

This Week in the Solar System

Saturday’s sunrise in Moncton is at 7:07 am and sunset will occur at 7:14 pm, giving 12 hours, 7 minutes of daylight (7:12 am and 7:19 pm in Saint John). Next Saturday the Sun will rise at 7:16 am and set at 7:00 pm, giving 11 hours, 44 minutes of daylight (7:21 am and 7:06 pm in Saint John).

The Moon is at first quarter on Wednesday, making the week a great time for lunar observing. Jupiter now sets less than an hour after sunset, but Saturn hangs around until 11 pm and hangs out with the Moon on Tuesday. Venus makes a move on Mars in the morning sky, while Mercury slowly drops sunward.

RASC NB members will offer views of the night sky and the Sun at the Kouchibouguac National Park Fall Festival on September 22 and 23. Visit rascnb.ca/events for details. RASC NB members in Saint John will be celebrating Fall Astronomy Day with public observing at the Rockwood Park Bark Park (First Arch) on Friday, September 29, with a cloud date of September 30.

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

Sky at a Glance September 16 – 23

Photo showing the location of the constellation Andromeda and some of it's features.

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

From late summer into autumn, the Greek tale of Perseus and Andromeda plays out on the eastern stage of the night sky each evening. Princess Andromeda, the daughter of Cepheus and Cassiopeia, is chained to the rocky coast of Ethiopia as a sacrifice to a vicious sea monster, portrayed by the constellation Cetus the Whale. Our hero Perseus, on his way home aboard Pegasus after beheading Medusa, rescues the princess and wins her unchained hand in matrimony.

The constellation Andromeda consists of two lines of stars stretching toward Perseus from a common point. That point is the bright star Alpheratz, which is officially Andromeda’s head but it also forms one corner of the Great Square of Pegasus. The bottom line of stars is more prominent, containing the orange star Mirach and ending with Almach, which resolves as a pretty double star in a small scope.

The highlight of the constellation is M31, the Andromeda Galaxy, the nearest spiral galaxy to our own Milky Way. A telescope is not required to see this. It looks great in binoculars, and in a rural area on a cloudless night you can see it with the naked eye as a smudge of light. Place Mirach at the bottom of your binocular view and perhaps raise it a bit to see a slightly dimmer star in the upper line of Andromeda. Continue up about the same distance to another star and find the fuzzy expanse of the Andromeda Galaxy nearby. A small telescope will show two other galaxies, M32 and M110, in the same field of view. M31 is 2.5 million light years distant and heading our way. We will have a spectacularly starry sky in a few billion years.

This Week in the Solar System

Saturday’s sunrise in Moncton is at 6:58 am and sunset will occur at 7:28 pm, giving 12 hours, 30 minutes of daylight (7:04 am and 7:32 pm in Saint John). Next Saturday the Sun will rise at 7:07 am and set at 7:14 pm, giving 12 hours, 7 minutes of daylight (7:12 am and 7:19 pm in Saint John). The Sun crosses the equator at 5:02 pm on Friday, September 22 to begin the autumn season in the northern hemisphere.

The Moon is new on Wednesday, making midweek a great time for seeking out those faint fuzzy objects with a telescope or binoculars. Jupiter sets around 8:30 this week, followed by Saturn a few hours later. It will be worthwhile to step outside around 6 am on Monday for a scenic view of Venus, Regulus, the crescent Moon, Mars and Mercury in a line about ten degrees long. Mercury appears very near to Mars this Saturday as it heads sunward, and Venus drops near Regulus on Wednesday.

The RASC NB star party at Fundy National Park takes place September 15 and 16 at the South Chignecto campground, and their telescopes will be set up on September 22 and 23 for the Fall Festival at Kouchibouguac National Park. Visit the website RASC.NB for details.

Questions? Contact Curt Nason.

Fall Astronomy Day in Rockwood Park

Fall Astronomy Day weekend was celebrated at Rockwood Park on Friday, September 29. Mild temperatures and some cloud cover provided comfortable views of the Moon and Saturn for the public to enjoy.

It was a great way to finish up what has been a beautiful September.

Photo of Fall Astronomy Day at Rockwood Park in September 2017.

Photo of Fall Astronomy Day at Rockwood Park in September 2017.

Photo of Fall Astronomy Day at Rockwood Park in September 2017.

Photo of Fall Astronomy Day at Rockwood Park in September 2017.

Photo of Fall Astronomy Day at Rockwood Park in September 2017.

Photo of Fall Astronomy Day at Rockwood Park in September 2017.

Photo of Fall Astronomy Day at Rockwood Park in September 2017.

Photo of Fall Astronomy Day at Rockwood Park in September 2017.

Photo of Fall Astronomy Day at Rockwood Park in September 2017.

Photo of Fall Astronomy Day at Rockwood Park in September 2017.

About Rockwood Park~

Photo of Rockwood Park, Saint John, New Brunswick

Rockwood Park in Saint John is one of the largest and diverse urban parks in North America. With over 2000 acres, 11 lakes, 55 trails, a zoo, stable, off-leash dog park, golf course, Interpretation Centre, and restaurant, it has something for everyone. An all season natural amusement park, it is also part of the Stonehammer Geopark System.

Photo of a bench beside a lake in Rockwood Park.

The park was designed by Calvert Vaux, one of the designers of New York City’s Central Park, during the “golden age of the city park” in the mid-19th century. It offers a myriad of activities, summer and winter.


Event: Fall Astronomy Day
Where: Rockwood Park Bark Park (Fisher Lakes Entrance)
When: Friday, September 29,  7:30–10pm (cloud date Sept. 30)
Facebook Event: Fall Astronomy Day in Rockwood Park

 


See also~

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

Moonlight Snowshoe Walk
Astronomy Day in Rockwood Park
National Star Party at Irving Nature Park
Partial Solar Eclipse in Saint John