Category Archives: Astronomy

Sky at a Glance December 8 – 15

Photo showing location of Comet 46PWirtanen in the December sky courtesy of Sky and Telescope.

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

The excitement in the sky this week is twofold: a comet and comet (or asteroid) remnants. Comet 46P/Wirtanen has been in the news the past month as a possible naked eye sight in mid-December, with cautionary notes from experienced observers that it might appear large and therefore have a low surface brightness. Under such conditions, light pollution could mask it entirely. I saw Wirtanen from Saints Rest Beach, outside the Irving Nature Park in Saint John, on Wednesday evening. My initial view was with 15×63 binoculars and my first impression was that I could see hints of its green glow that appear in pictures. A trick we use to enhance star colours is to de-focus a telescope or binoculars so that the light falls on a larger number of cone cells in our eye. With the comet’s coma being nearly the apparent size of the Moon, perhaps that was the reason for that impression. Before observing it in my 8-inch telescope I saw it in the 8×50 finder, and I had occasional glimpses naked eye using averted vision (looking off to the side of it to take advantage of the more sensitive rod cells that circle our day-vision cone cells).

Over this week Comet Wirtanen passes rapidly east of the head of Cetus the Whale and into Taurus. Next weekend, when it is closest to Earth at a distance of about 11 million kilometres, it passes between the V-shaped Hyades star cluster and the compact dipper-shaped Pleiades star cluster. It is expected to brighten and look larger than the Moon over that time, which could reduce the surface brightness. Comet maps can be obtained from the Skyhound and Heavens-Above websites, but the most practical one for Wirtanen this week was produced by Bob King for the Sky and Telescope website.

The other highlight this week is the peak of the Geminid meteor shower, which occurs around 9 am Friday, December 14. Thursday night, Friday morning and Friday night are prime time hours. The Moon sets around 10:30 pm Thursday and an hour later on Friday. Find a location away from streetlights, get comfortable in a reclining chair, dress for warmth and use a blanket, and look up toward your clearest and darkest patch of sky. The Geminids progenitor is asteroid 3200 Phaethon, which is likely a dead comet.

This Week in the Solar System

Saturday’s sunrise in Moncton is at 7:48 am and sunset will occur at 4:33 pm, giving 8 hours, 45 minutes of daylight (7:50 am and 4:41 pm in Saint John). Next Saturday the Sun will rise at 7:54 am and set at 4:34 pm, giving 8 hours, 40 minutes of daylight (7:56 am and 4:42 pm in Saint John).

The Moon is a slender crescent this weekend after sunset and is at first quarter next Saturday. Planetary action has shifted to the morning sky with Venus blazing brilliantly and Mercury climbing to its greatest elongation next weekend, rising nearly two hours before the Sun. Jupiter is less than a fist-width lower left of Mercury and closing in. Saturn is too low in the west at sunset for observing, and Mars getting too small to reveal much detail in a telescope.

The William Brydone Jack Astronomy Club meets in the UNB Fredericton Forestry / Earth Sciences building on Tuesday, December 11 at 7 pm. All are welcome.

Questions? Contact Curt Nason.

Sky at a Glance December 1 – 8

Photo of the constellation Taurus showing the location of the star clusters Pleiades in the bull's shoulder and the Hyades in the bull's face.

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

The constellation of Taurus the Bull has completely cleared the eastern horizon by 6:30 pm this week. It is distinguished by two relatively close star clusters: the compact dipper-shaped Pleiades in the bull’s shoulder and the V-shaped Hyades that forms the bull’s face. The bright orange star Aldebaran anchors one side of the V, representing the bull’s fiery eye, but it is not actually part of the cluster as it is much closer. Both clusters are a delightful view in binoculars. In a couple of weeks comet 46P/Wirtanen passes between them but a dark transparent sky might be needed to see it. In mythology the Pleiades (aka the Seven Sisters) and the Hyades were half-sisters; daughters of Atlas, who obviously didn’t spend all his time holding up the sky.

Starting from the apex of the Hyades, extend each side of the V outward to a star. These stars are the tips of the bull’s horns. The upper star is Alnath, which forms one of the corners of Auriga the Charioteer although it is officially part of Taurus. The other horn star has a famous dim neighbour, which is about one degree away and slightly to the right of a line joining the horns. Called the Crab Nebula or M1 for being the first entry in Charles Messier’s 18th century catalogue, this little fuzzy patch is a gaseous supernova remnant. The supernova, a death-explosion of a giant star, was seen in daylight for three weeks in 1054. I have seen M1 in a transparent sky with binoculars but a scope gives a better view.

This Week in the Solar System

Saturday’s sunrise in Moncton is at 7:40 am and sunset will occur at 4:35 pm, giving 8 hours, 55 minutes of daylight (7:43 am and 4:43 pm in Saint John). Next Saturday the Sun will rise at 7:48 am and set at 4:33 pm, giving 8 hours, 45 minutes of daylight (7:50 am and 4:41 pm in Saint John).

The Moon makes a tight triangle with Venus and Spica on Monday morning and is at the new phase on Friday morning. Saturn is low in the southwest in twilight, heading toward conjunction on January 2. Mars remains in good observing position most of the evening and it passes very closely to Neptune on Thursday and Friday. Venus, the morning star, is at its brightest or greatest illuminated extent on December 1. As it pulls ahead of us in orbit its angular size decreases but we see more of its sunlit half. Jupiter and Mercury will be better placed for morning observers in a week or two.

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

Questions? Contact Curt Nason.

Sky at a Glance November 24 – December 1

A photo showing the constellation Orion rising in the East, about 8pm in the late November sky.

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

Orion can be seen getting out of bed around 8 pm now, preparing for a night of hunting. Being a giant and very old, it takes an hour and a half for his hourglass shape to clear the horizon. He rises on his side and stands upright when he is in the south. The celestial equator, an imaginary line in the sky directly above our equator, runs very near Mintaka, the star at the right of Orion’s Belt. Therefore, Mintaka rises due east. Notice how huge Orion appears as he rises, bigger than he appears a few hours later in the southeast. This is the same optical illusion that makes the Moon appear larger when it is rising or setting. The twins Castor and Pollux of the constellation Gemini rise on their side at the same time as Orion, just to his left.

If you are into genealogy, Orion, as a son of Poseidon, is a cousin to Pollux, a son of Zeus. Castor had the same mother as Pollux but a mortal father. Genealogy is more complicated when immortals are involved.

This Week in the Solar System

Saturday’s sunrise in Moncton is at 7:32 am and sunset will occur at 4:39 pm, giving 9 hours, 7 minutes of daylight (7:34 am and 4:46 pm in Saint John). Next Saturday the Sun will rise at 7:32 am and set at 4:39 pm, giving 9 hours, 7 minutes of daylight (7:34 am and 4:46 pm in Saint John).

The Moon passes near the Beehive star cluster on Tuesday and is at third quarter on Thursday, appearing near the bright star Regulus in Leo. Saturn sets two hours after sunset late in the week, past its prime for good observing. Mars remains in good observing position most of the evening but it gets smaller and reveals less detail in a telescope as Earth increases distance from it. Venus, the morning star, is at its brightest on December 1. Jupiter is in conjunction behind the Sun on Monday while Mercury reaches inferior conjunction between us and the Sun on Tuesday.

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

Questions? Contact Curt Nason.

Sky at a Glance November 17 – 24

Photo showing the summer constellations in the night sky.

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

Like Nate the pirate in the Overboard comics, some people do not want to let go of summer. I usually don’t succumb to the cold right away, waiting for -10 C before my winter coat gets worn regularly. But you have to accept the inevitable, so around 8:30 pm this week don your coat and imagination to say goodbye to the summer constellations as they sink below the western horizon.

The first thing you might notice is the Summer Triangle, balanced on Altair and tipping to the right. Aquila the Eagle, with Altair at its head, is flapping furiously and futilely to stay above ground, a battle it will lose over two hours. To its right, Hercules is diving head first, hopefully into a lake. Between them, if you are in the country, you might see the haze of the Milky Way spilling over the ground, perhaps to become frost. Four smaller constellations form a line above Altair, highlighted by Lyra to the right with its brilliant star Vega. Foxy Vulpecula, Sagitta the Arrow and eye-catching Delphinus the Dolphin are balanced across the eagle’s wingspan. While you are at it, try for the triangular head of Equuleus the Little Horse, who leads his big brother Pegasus by a nose.

You will have more time to pay regards to the main summer constellation. Cygnus is into its swan dive but it is head doesn’t go under until late evening. In fact, one wing never sets to remind us that summer will be back, sometime. It is this time of year that Cygnus lives up to its asterism nickname of the Northern Cross, which stands upright over the western horizon all evening.

This Week in the Solar System

Saturday’s sunrise in Moncton is at 7:22 am and sunset will occur at 4:45 pm, giving 9 hours, 23 minutes of daylight (7:25 am and 4:52 pm in Saint John). Next Saturday the Sun will rise at 7:32 am and set at 4:39 pm, giving 9 hours, 7 minutes of daylight (7:34 am and 4:46 pm in Saint John).

The Moon is full, the Mi’kmaq Rivers Freezing Moon, early next Friday and passes near Aldebaran that evening. Saturn is at its best viewing in twilight, while the rapid eastern motion of Mars keeps it in good observing position most of the evening. Venus is the brilliant morning star, known as Lucifer (light bringer) in ancient Rome. Jupiter and Mercury are too close to the Sun for observing. The Leonids meteor shower peaks on Saturday evening but your best chance to see them is early Sunday. The shower is at its best every 33 years when its parent comet, 55P/Tempel-Tuttle rounds the Sun, but that is 15 years away.

Questions? Contact Curt Nason.

Sky at a Glance November 10 – 17

Photo showing the winter constellations and some of the star clusters that are easy to spot in binoculars.

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

I like to observe the sky at least once every day that I can, even if it is just for a few minutes. Often that entails observing the Sun through filtered telescopes and sketching the sunspots and prominences in my logbook. At night if I don’t feel like taking out a telescope I grab binoculars to perhaps see a comet or Mercury, or more often I tour the brighter star clusters. The winter constellations, which are prominent now in late evening, are home to many star clusters within easy reach of binoculars.

I usually start with the best open cluster, the Pleiades (M45) in the shoulder of Taurus the Bull, and focus the binos on its stars. The large V-shaped Hyades cluster, catalogued as Melotte 25, is nearby forming the face of the bull. It is anchored by orange Aldebaran at one corner, but that star is not really part of the cluster because it is less than half the distance to the others. The brightest star in nearby Perseus, Mirfak, is part of a group of stars called Melotte 20 that resembles a miniature version of the constellation Draco in binoculars. Perseus also holds the star cluster M34, which appears as a fuzzy patch in binos due to its distance. Between Perseus and Cassiopeia is a scenic close pair of clusters, NGC 869 and NGC 884, aptly called the Double Cluster.

This Week in the Solar System

Saturday’s sunrise in Moncton is at 7:12 am and sunset will occur at 4:52 pm, giving 9 hours, 40 minutes of daylight (7:15 am and 5:00 pm in Saint John). Next Saturday the Sun will rise at 7:22 am and set at 4:45 pm, giving 9 hours, 23 minutes of daylight (7:25 am and 4:52 pm in Saint John).

The Moon passes near Saturn this Sunday and it is at first quarter on Wednesday. Jupiter and Mercury are difficult targets very low in the southwest, setting 30 minutes and 50 minutes after sunset, respectively, by midweek. Saturn is at its best viewing in twilight, while the rapid eastern motion of Mars keeps in in good observing position most of the evening. Brilliant Venus is catching the morning eye now, rising more than two hours before the Sun. Early risers or late-night revellers might notice an occasional shooting star coming from Taurus on Monday as that is the peak of the minor North Taurid meteor shower. The Leonids meteor shower peaks the following weekend and, although the numbers are expected to be low, it does tend to produce brighter meteors called fireballs.

The William Brydone Jack Astronomy Club meets in the UNB Fredericton Forestry / Earth Sciences building this Tuesday at 7 pm. All are welcome.

Questions? Contact Curt Nason.

Sky at a Glance November 3 – 10

Photo showing location of Deep Sky Objects (DSOs) starting from the constellation Pegasus.

This Week’s Sky at a Glance, November 3 – 10 ~by Curt Nason

Deep sky objects are often called faint fuzzies by amateur astronomers, but many are bright enough to be seen with binoculars. Since we are about halfway through autumn let’s start by using the constellation Pegasus as a guidepost. The southwest corner of the square (or diamond) is the base of the winged horse’s neck, and moving away from the square by a couple of stars takes us to the horse’s eye. Extending that line by the distance from the middle of the neck to the eye is where you will find a small blurry patch called M2, a globular cluster that is the second entry in the Messier list of deep sky objects. Angling to the left at the eye we come to a star at the horse’s snout, and extending by nearly half that distance is a larger globular cluster, M15.

The star at the northeast corner of the square is Alpheratz, the brightest star of Andromeda, from which spread two lines of stars. The second star away from Alpheratz along the brighter string is orange Mirach, and moving up two stars from there we encounter the large Andromeda Galaxy, M31. From a dark sky you might notice a fat star and a subtle hazy patch close by, They are M32 and M110, satellite galaxies of M31. In the opposite direction from Mirach and at about the same distance as M31 is fainter M33, the third largest galaxy in our Local Group behind Andromeda and the Milky Way. We see M33 face on, which makes it appear dimmer.

The third brightest star of Andromeda is the double star Almach, situated at the end of the string from Mirach. Look in the area halfway between Almach and Algol, the second brightest star in Perseus, for the open cluster of stars called M34. Next, look above Andromeda for the familiar W-shape of Cassiopeia. A line from the bottom right star of the W to the top right and extended the same distance brings us to open cluster M52. Now go outside and locate them.

This Week in the Solar System

Saturday’s sunrise in Moncton is at 8:02 am and sunset will occur at 6:02 pm, giving 10 hours of daylight (8:06 am and 6:06 pm in Saint John). Next Saturday the Sun will rise at 7:12 am and set at 4:52 pm, giving 9 hours, 40 minutes of daylight (7:15 am and 5:00 pm in Saint John). We revert to Standard Time at 2 am Sunday, gaining an extra hour of evening observing.

The Moon is new on Wednesday, giving darker skies for teasing deep sky objects out of the background stars. Mercury is at greatest elongation from the Sun on Tuesday, with Jupiter about two binocular widths to its right and a tad higher. You might need binoculars to see them, Mercury especially. Mars is highest in the sky around 7 pm while Saturn sets around 8 pm. Early risers or late-night revellers might notice an occasional shooting star coming from Taurus on Monday as that is the peak of the minor South Taurid meteor shower.

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

Questions? Contact Curt Nason.

This Week’s Sky at a Glance, October 27 – November 3

Photo showing the location of the constellation Sculptor in the southern night sky.

This Week’s Sky at a Glance, October 27 – November 3
~by Curt Nason

The western side of the Square of Pegasus points southward to the solitary bright star Fomalhaut in the mouth of Piscis Austrinus the Southern Fish. Fomalhaut is the 18th brightest star in our night sky. Astronomers have known it is surrounded by discs of debris for many years and an exoplanet has been imaged near the inner edge of a disc. The eastern side of Pegasus points down to Diphda, the brightest star in Cetus the Whale. This star is also called Deneb Kaitos, the tail of the whale. A circlet of stars well to the east forms the head of the whale.

Between Piscis Austrinus and Cetus is the dim constellation Sculptor, which is a shortened version of its original name, Apparatus Sculptoris (the sculptor’s studio), given by Louis de Lacaille in the 18th century. By 11 pm it is low in the south but it does have a prominent marker. Use binoculars to seek out a long triangle of dim stars stretching eastward from Fomalhaut, but don’t be discouraged if your attempt to locate Sculptor is a bust.

This Week in the Solar System

Saturday’s sunrise in Moncton is at 7:52 am and sunset will occur at 6:12 pm, giving 10 hours, 20 minutes of daylight (7:56 am and 6:19 pm in Saint John). Next Saturday the Sun will rise at 8:02 am and set at 6:02 pm, giving 10 hours of daylight (8:06 am and 6:08 pm in Saint John).

The Moon is at third quarter on Wednesday, rising much too late to treat the Trick or Treaters and their parents. Mercury passes within a binocular field below Jupiter this weekend but you will need a clear horizon toward the southwest to see them, with Mercury setting by 7 pm. Saturn is still well placed for early evening observing, while Mars has recovered from its global dust storm and is showing a distinct gibbous phase in a telescope.

The Saint John Astronomy Club meets in the Rockwood Park Interpretative Center on November 3 at 7 pm. All are welcome.

Questions? Contact Curt Nason.

Sky at a Glance October 20 – 27

Photo showing how to locate the planet Uranus close to the constellation Pisces and Aries this coming week in October.

This Week’s Sky at a Glance, October 20 – 27 ~by Curt Nason

With the Square of Pegasus appearing higher in the east after twilight, look under it (or outside the first base line of the diamond) for a circle of fainter stars. This asterism is the Circlet of Pisces and it forms the head of one of the two fish that make up this zodiac constellation. Below left of the circlet is the Vernal Equinox, the point where the Sun crosses the equator to mark the beginning of our spring season. It is often called the First Point of Aries despite having moved well to the west of the zodiacal ram.

The fishes represent Aphrodite and her son Eros, who tied their ankles together with a cord before changing into fish and leaping into the sea to escape the fearsome Typhon. The star where the fishes’ tails meet is called Alrescha, which means “the cord.”

On Tuesday the near full Moon is passing through Pisces. In mid-evening it will be a fist-width to the right of the planet Uranus, which reaches opposition that day. With a planetarium app or a star map like one available on the Sky & Telescope website you can track down Uranus with binoculars. Although the planet is officially within the constellation Aries it will spend next month skimming the border of Pisces. Through a telescope Uranus appears as a tiny, pale green ball.

This Week in the Solar System

Saturday’s sunrise in Moncton is at 7:43 am and sunset will occur at 6:24 pm, giving 10 hours, 41 minutes of daylight (7:46 am and 6:30 pm in Saint John). Next Saturday the Sun will rise at 7:52 am and set at 6:12 pm, giving 10 hours, 20 minutes of daylight (7:56 am and 6:19 pm in Saint John).

The Moon is full on Wednesday, the traditional Hunter’s Moon and the Mi’kmaw Animal Fattening Moon. Venus is at inferior conjunction on Friday and will visible in the morning sky late next month. Mercury sets around 7 pm all week and it will be a few degrees below Jupiter on October 27. Saturn and Mars are still well placed for evening observing. The Orionid meteor shower peaks on Sunday afternoon so early risers on Sunday and Monday have a chance at seeing a few extra shooting stars.

October 20 is International Observe the Moon Night. RASC NB is giving Moon-related talks from 11 am to 4:30 pm at Moncton High School, followed by evening observing (7:30 pm) at the high school observatory. As well, UNB Fredericton will be hosting public observing at the Physics building from 8:00 to 9:30 pm.

Questions? Contact Curt Nason.

Sky at a Glance October 13 – 20

Photo by Paul Owen of the Pleiades Star Cluster M45

This Week’s Sky at a Glance, October 13 – 20
~by Curt Nason

The Pleiades star cluster, which is located in the shoulder of Taurus the Bull, is rising before 8 pm now as a harbinger of winter. In a month it will be rising at sunset. Due to its shape, this eye-catching cluster has been mistaken for the Little Dipper by many people. Most of us can count six stars in the Pleiades under good conditions but keen-eyed wonders have picked out twice that number from a dark sky. A low power view of it in binoculars will show a couple of dozen stars and it is one of the prettiest sights you will see in the night sky. I always look for the hockey stick in the binocular view.

The name Pleiades likely comes from the Greek word “plein,” which means “to sail” (Wikipedia). Sailing season in the Mediterranean Sea typically began when the cluster was first spotted before sunrise. In mythology it became the seven daughters of Atlas and Pleione, hence its common name of the Seven Sisters. Somewhere along the way one of them got lost. Astronomers also know it as M45 from the Messier catalogue. The cluster played a significant role in marking time for several ancient cultures, including the Maori, Mayan, Aztec and some First Nations.

Perhaps you have seen the Pleiades while stuck in traffic and just haven’t realized it. The six-star logo of Subaru automobiles depicts the Pleiades, as Subaru is the Japanese name for the cluster. The name, which means “united,” was chosen because the company was formed from a merger of several.

This Week in the Solar System

Saturday’s sunrise in Moncton is at 7:33 am and sunset will occur at 6:36 pm, giving 11 hours, 3 minutes of daylight (7:37 am and 6:42 pm in Saint John). Next Saturday the Sun will rise at 7:43 am and set at 6:24 pm, giving 10 hours, 41 minutes of daylight (7:46 am and 6:30 pm in Saint John).

The Moon is at first quarter on Tuesday, making for great lunar observing throughout the week. Although Venus is still heading sunward, its position below the ecliptic has it setting before the Sun. Mercury sets a half hour after sunset, followed by Jupiter an hour later. Saturn and Mars are well placed for evening observing. With the steep angle of the ecliptic on Moonless autumn mornings, stargazers in rural areas might notice the subtle pyramid of the zodiacal light angling up from the eastern horizon.

Fredericton RASC and astronomy club members are celebrating Fall Astronomy Day this Saturday evening with public observing at Regent Mall near Chapters (7 to 9 pm), and UNB Fredericton is hosting public observing at the Physics building next Saturday (8 to 9:30 pm) for International Observe the Moon Night. RASC NB is giving Moon-related talks next Saturday (11 am to 4:30 pm) at Moncton High School followed by evening observing (7:30 pm) at the high school observatory. All are welcome.

Questions? Contact Curt Nason.

Pleaides photo by RASC NB member Paul Owen.

Sky at a Glance October 6 – 13

Photo showing the night Autumn sky and constellations.

This Week’s Sky at a Glance, October 6 – 13 ~by Curt Nason

This is a good time of year to double your sky observing time. For the next few weeks, before we return to Standard Time, the sky is dark and the stars are blazing when most people are up to start their day. And it is not bitterly cold or snowbound. Orion and his dogs are prominent to the south, with Taurus, Auriga and Gemini arching over them.

In early evening you can see the 4th, 5th and 6th brightest stars. Look for yellow Arcturus sinking to the west, blue-white Vega overhead and Capella in Auriga rising in the northeast. Later, notice the positions of the circumpolar Big Dipper, Little Dipper and Cassiopeia. The next morning go outside and see how they have changed. Sometimes it is nice to have a little assurance that the world keeps right on turning.

This Week in the Solar System

Saturday’s sunrise in Moncton is at 7:24 am and sunset will occur at 6:49 pm, giving 11 hours, 25 minutes of daylight (7:28 am and 6:55 pm in Saint John). Next Saturday the Sun will rise at 7:33 am and set at 6:36 pm, giving 11 hours, 3 minutes of daylight (7:37 am and 6:42 pm in Saint John).

The Moon is new soon after midnight on Tuesday morning, appearing as a waxing crescent low in the west later in the week. The shallow angle of the ecliptic on early autumn evenings makes it very difficult to see Venus and Mercury this week; Mercury is pulling away from the Sun and Venus is heading toward it. Jupiter sets less than 90 minutes after sunset so catch it in twilight when you can. Saturn and Mars take centre stage for evening observers this week. Comet dust provides possible entertainment for early risers. The Draconid meteor shower peaks on Monday but, despite the recent close passage of its parent comet 21P/ Giacobini-Zinner, only a few shooting stars per hour are expected. With the steep angle of the ecliptic on Moonless autumn mornings, skywatchers in rural areas might notice the zodiacal light later this week and all of next week.

The Saint John Astronomy Club meets in the Rockwood Park Interpretation Center on Saturday, October 6 at 7 pm, and the William Brydone Jack Astronomy Club meets at the UNB Fredericton Forestry / Earth Sciences building at 7 pm on Tuesday. All are welcome.

Questions? Contact Curt Nason.

Sky at a Glance September 29 – October 6

Photo showing the Great Square of Pegasus in the eastern Fall sky.

This Week’s Sky at a Glance, September 29 – October 6
~by Curt Nason

Major League Baseball playoff season kicks off, or rather throws out the first pitch, on Tuesday and they always arrange to have the Great Square of Pegasus form a diamond in the eastern sky for evening games. At home plate is Algenib, the third brightest star of the constellation. Who’s on first? Yes, that is Markab, the brightest star of Pegasus. On second base we have its second brightest luminary, Sheat, which is probably what he mutters when he makes an error. On third is a star brighter than the other three, Alpheratz, who was traded to Andromeda but still likes to whip the ball around the horn with his former teammates.

Trailing off toward the dugout from third is a string of stars that forms the left side of Princess Andromeda. The second in the string is no second string player. Mirach is as bright as Alpheratz and shows a distinct orange colour in binoculars. Raising your binoculars above the string from Mirach will bring M31, the Andromeda Galaxy, into your view, and from a dark sky that is a view you don’t want to miss. It might resemble a pool of champagne on the clubhouse floor of the World Series champions. Go Expos!

This Week in the Solar System

Saturday’s sunrise in Moncton is at 7:15 am and sunset will occur at 7:03 pm, giving 11 hours, 48 minutes of daylight (7:19 am and 7:08 pm in Saint John). Next Saturday the Sun will rise at 7:24 am and set at 6:49 pm, giving 11 hours, 25 minutes of daylight (7:28 am and 6:55 pm in Saint John).

The Moon is at third quarter on Tuesday and makes a binocular pairing with M44, the Beehive star cluster, before twilight on Thursday morning. Venus is stationary on Friday, preparing to make its sunward plunge toward inferior conjunction three weeks later. Jupiter’s Red Spot is facing our way shortly after 7 pm on Tuesday, and with the giant planet getting lower after sunset our chances of seeing the Red Spot again this year diminish rapidly. Saturn and Mars will be the main targets for stargazers over the next two weeks.

The Saint John Astronomy Club meets in the Rockwood Park Interpretation Center on Saturday, October 6 at 7 pm. All are welcome.

Questions? Contact Curt Nason.

Sky at a Glance September 22 – 29

Location of the elusive constellation Lacerta the Lizard.

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

Salamanders aren’t the most noticeable of critters; you usually have to make an effort to find one. This is a good time to locate the obscure constellation of Lacerta the Lizard, but it will take some effort and a dark sky.

Camouflaged partly by the Milky Way, Lacerta is surrounded by Cepheus, Cassiopeia, Pegasus and Cygnus. A good pointer to it is the base of the Summer Triangle. Running a line from bright Vega to Deneb at the tail of Cygnus and extending it about the same distance puts you near the zigzag shape of the lizard. It is one of those dim constellations created in the late 17th century by Johannes Hevelius to fill in an “empty” section of the sky. At first he named it Stellio; a stellion is a newt with star-like spots found near the Mediterranean Sea. If you manage to catch Lacerta, give yourself a pat on the back and let it go.

This Week in the Solar System

Saturday’s sunrise in Moncton is at 7:06 am and sunset will occur at 7:16 pm, giving 12 hours, 10 minutes of daylight (7:11 am and 7:21 pm in Saint John). The Sun crosses the equator heading south for winter at 10:54 pm that evening, marking the beginning of autumn. Next Saturday the Sun will rise at 7:15 am and set at 7:03 pm, giving 11 hours, 48 minutes of daylight (7:19 am and 7:08 pm in Saint John).

The Moon is full on Monday, the traditional Harvest Moon and the Mi’kmaq Moose Calling Moon. Venus remains very bright but sets before 8 pm midweek. Jupiter’s Red Spot is facing our way shortly after 8 pm on Thursday, an hour before the planet sets. Saturn continues to give awesome views in the early evening and sets before midnight. Mars is at its highest for best viewing around 9:30 pm.

RASC NB, the provincial astronomy club, meets at the UNB Fredericton Forestry / Earth Sciences building this Saturday at 1 pm. All are welcome. On Wednesday, the UNB Fredericton Astronomy Club will be holding a public observing session at Queen’s Square Park from 8:30 to 10 pm.

Questions? Contact Curt Nason.

Sky at a Glance September 15 – 22

Photo showing circumpolar constellations in the northern overhead sky, that do not disappear with the seasons.

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

This is the time of year when the evening sky seems static; the stars are in the same place night after night when they appear in twilight. As you can see below, the Sun sets about two minutes earlier each evening. With reference to the stars, Earth rotates once every 23 hours, 56 minutes and 4 seconds. But since our clocks are based on a 24-hour solar day rather than the sidereal day, the stars rise about 4 minutes earlier each evening. The rate of earlier sunsets this time of year cancels much of that. Although the stars rise earlier we see also see them sooner. That is a bonus because many of the finest objects to observe in a telescope are prominent now, particularly the Milky Way.

The opposite occurs in spring when the later sunsets add to the earlier rising of stars. The constellations seem to fly past over a month or two, much to the chagrin of those who delight in observing the distant galaxies that abound in those constellations. Earth’s motion around the Sun results in many of the constellations being seasonal. For example, we currently see Orion in the southeast before sunrise. Come January it will be there after sunset and stick around in the evening sky until mid-spring. Those constellations near the north are circumpolar, meaning they never set and we see them year round. There are 22 constellations in the southern hemisphere sky that we see no part of at all from New Brunswick.

This Week in the Solar System

Saturday’s sunrise in Moncton is at 6:57 am and sunset will occur at 7:30 pm, giving 12 hours, 33 minutes of daylight (7:02 am and 7:35 pm in Saint John). Next Saturday the Sun will rise at 7:06 am and set at 7:16 pm, giving 12 hours, 10 minutes of daylight (7:11 am and 7:21 pm in Saint John). It crosses the equator heading south for winter at 10:54 pm on September 22, marking the beginning of autumn.

The Moon is at first quarter on Sunday and passes near Saturn on Monday. Venus is at its brightest, or greatest illuminated extent, on Friday but low enough after sunset to be hidden by trees or houses. Jupiter sets at 10 pm so it is observed best in late twilight before it gets too low for a steady view. Saturn continues to give awesome views in the early evening and sets around midnight this week. Mars remains a bright orange beacon toward the south all evening. Mercury is at superior conjunction behind the Sun on Thursday. If you are in a dark clear sky 60-90 minutes before sunrise, look for a subtle pyramid of light angling up from the eastern horizon: the zodiacal light, caused by sunlight reflecting off dust along the ecliptic.

This weekend has the final RASC NB star party of the season at the Kouchibouguac Fall Festival on September 14/15, and there is public observing at the Irving Nature Park in Saint John on September 14 from 7:30 to 11 pm (cloud date September 15).

Questions? Contact Curt Nason.

Sky at a Glance September 8 – 15

Photo showing the Triangulum Constellation below Andromeda and location of M33.

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

Technically, any three stars in the sky will form some sort of a triangle, but there are those that stand out. Overhead in early evening is the best known celestial threesome, the isosceles Summer Triangle of Vega, Deneb and Altair. Straddling the Milky Way, each star is the brightest in their respective constellations of Lyra the Harp, Cygnus the Swan and Aquila the Eagle. An ancient tale of Eastern mythology depicted Vega and Altair as lovers separated by a river (the Milky Way). I look at them as an updated version of that tale, that of Running Bear and White Dove in the Johnny Preston hit written by the Big Bopper, J.P. Richardson. The Big Bopper would be a good name for a constellation.

With the Summer Triangle overhead, the constellation Triangulum the Triangle is low in the east below Andromeda. Known as a constellation for thousands of years, it has been said to represent, among other things, the Nile Delta and the island of Sicily. If you have a dark sky, use binoculars to look about a third of the way, and a tad to the right, between the tip of Triangulum and the orange star Mirach in Andromeda above to see the face-on spiral galaxy M33.

Now that summer is fading, and if you can’t wait for winter, just look to the east in morning darkness for the Winter Triangle. Orange Betelgeuse in Orion’s armpit joins with Orion’s companion Dog Stars of Sirius and Procyon to form an equilateral triangle. All three stars make the top ten in brightness, with Sirius leading the pack.

This Week in the Solar System

Saturday’s sunrise in Moncton is at 6:48 am and sunset will occur at 7:44 pm, giving 12 hours, 56 minutes of daylight (6:54 am and 7:48 pm in Saint John). Next Saturday the Sun will rise at 6:57 am and set at 7:30 pm, giving 12 hours, 33 minutes of daylight (7:02 am and 7:35 pm in Saint John).

The Moon is new on Sunday and passes near Jupiter on Thursday. Venus is low in the west after sunset, setting before 9 pm and appearing about one-third illuminated in a telescope. Jupiter sets at 10 pm so it is observed best in late twilight. Look for its Red Spot with a telescope at 9 pm on Monday. Saturn continues to give awesome views in the early evening while Mars is at its best after 10 pm. Mercury is moving sunward but can still be seen with binoculars. Comet 21P/ Giacobini-Zinner might be seen late evenings and early mornings this weekend within the same binocular field of star clusters M38 and M36 in Auriga, and close to M37 on Monday.

The Saint John Astronomy Club meets in the Rockwood Park Interpretation Centre on September 8 at 7 pm. The William Brydone Jack Astronomy Club meets on Tuesday at 7 pm in the UNB Fredericton Forestry / Earth Sciences Building. Next weekend has the final RASC NB star party of the season at the Kouchibouguac Fall Festival on September 14/15, and there is public observing at the Irving Nature Park in Saint John on September 14 from 7:30 to 11 pm (cloud date September 15).

Questions? Contact Curt Nason.

Sky at a Glance September 1 – 8

Photo showing the Summer Triangle of Vega, Altair and Deneb in the overhead sky.

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

The Summer Triangle is at its highest in early evening. Vega pokes through the twilight overhead, followed by Altair to the south and Deneb to the east. All three are the brightest stars of their respective constellations of Lyra, Aquila and Cygnus. Although it is the dimmest of the trio, Deneb is actually much brighter but it is about 60 times more distant. If it were as close as the other two it would be more than ten times brighter than Venus.

I occasionally sit out on the deck shortly after sunset and just look up at the blue sky, waiting for Vega to appear. Easily amused, the blue background gives me a three dimensional view of my eye floaters. Then, with a little concentration, I look for a Maltese cross of pale yellow and blue light. Haidinger’s Brush isn’t in the sky; it is a phenomenon of the eye caused by the polarized light overhead. If you are really keen to learn about this see Haidinger’s Brush.

This Week in the Solar System

Saturday’s sunrise in Moncton is at 6:39 am and sunset will occur at 7:57 pm, giving 13 hours, 18 minutes of daylight (6:45 am and 8:01 pm in Saint John). Next Saturday the Sun will rise at 6:48 am and set at 7:44 pm, giving 12 hours, 56 minutes of daylight (6:54 am and 7:48 pm in Saint John).

The Moon is at third quarter on Sunday, rising near the bright star Aldebaran just before midnight. Venus is low in the west after sunset, setting around 9 pm later in the week. Jupiter sets at 10:30 so it is observed best in twilight. Look for its Red Spot with a telescope at 9 pm on Monday. Saturn is the showpiece of the evening sky and it resumes its eastward motion relative to the stars late in the week. Mars still captures the eye with its bright orange glare but a dust storm continues to hide some of its features from telescope users. Mercury is brightening but also moving sunward; this is the last good week to pick it out of morning twilight. Neptune, a binocular object, is at opposition on Friday in case you are looking for something to celebrate.

The RASC NB star party at Fundy National Park takes place Friday and Saturday, August 31 – September 1. The Saint John Astronomy Club meets in the Rockwood Park Interpretation Centre on September 8 at 7 pm.

Questions? Contact Curt Nason.