Category Archives: Observing

Sky at a Glance March 4 – 11

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

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

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

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

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

This Week in the Solar System

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

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

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

Questions? You can contact Curt Nason here.

Favourite Binocular Targets

~by Chris Curwin, Astronomy by the Bay

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

My Favourite Binocular Targets~

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

More from Astronomy by the Bay~

Learning the Night Sky
Star Hopping

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


 

Star Hopping

~by Chris Curwin, Astronomy by the Bay

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

Star Hopping– An Easy Way to Learn the Night Sky

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

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

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

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


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

More from Astronomy by the Bay~

Learning the Night Sky
Favourite Binocular Targets

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


 

Learning the Night Sky

~by Chris Curwin, Astronomy by the Bay

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

Learning the Night Sky the Easy Way~

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

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

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

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


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

More from Astronomy by the Bay~

Star Hopping
Favourite Binocular Targets

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


 

Moonlight Snowshoe Walk 2017

Good Turnout for Snowshoe Walk

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

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

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

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

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

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

Where it is~

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

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

      

Sky at a Glance Jan 28 – Feb 4

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

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

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

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

This Week in the Solar System

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

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

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

Questions? You can contact Curt Nason here.

Sky at a Glance Jan 7 – 14


This Week’s Sky at a Glance, January 7- January 14  ~by Curt Nason

Can you bear to be outside when it is raining cats and dogs? Or do you slither, sidle or hop back inside? If you have a clear, dark sky this week, check out the eastern sky around 10 pm to test your mettle and constellation hunting skills. There may be four dogs, three cats, two bears, a hare, a snake and a crab to greet you. Oh, and a unicorn if you believe in them.

Start looking toward the southeast where Orion is hunting. Below his feet is Lepus the Hare, staying immobile in hopes that Orion’s canine companions overlook him. Can you see the ears pointing to Rigel at Orion’s foot? Following Orion’s belt to the left brings you to sparkling Sirius at the heart of Canis Major the Big Dog, and it doesn’t take a great imagination to see a dog in this group of stars. Orion’s shoulders and head form an arrowhead that points toward bright Procyon, one of only a few visible stars in Canis Minor the Little Dog. Use your imagination to see Monoceros the Unicorn between the two dogs.

Now find the Big Dipper in the northeast. It forms the rear haunches and tail of Ursa Major the Big Bear, and from a rural area the legs and head of the bear can be seen easily. The two stars at the front of the bowl of the Dipper point northward to Polaris, the North Star, at the end of the handle of the Little Dipper, which is officially Ursa Minor the Little Bear. Below the handle of the Big Dipper are the two main stars and hounds of Canes Venatici the Hunting Dogs, seemingly nipping at the big bear’s butt.

Well below the bowl of the Big Dipper is Leo the Lion, recognized by the stellar backwards question mark of its chest and mane, with Regulus at its heart and a triangle forming its tail and hind legs. A faint triangle of stars between Leo and the Dipper is Leo Minor, the Little Lion. The third cat is Lynx, a faint line of stars running from Little Leo and past the front of Ursa Major. Between Regulus and Procyon is the head of Hydra the Water Snake, which will take much of the night to rise completely; and faint, crabby Cancer is above Hydra’s head. Stay warm and dry, and happy hunting.

This Week in the Solar System

Saturday’s sunrise in Moncton is at 8:01 am and sunset will occur at 4:51 pm, giving 8 hours, 50 minutes of daylight (8:03 am and 4:59 pm in Saint John). Next Saturday the Sun will rise at 7:58 am and set at 4:59 pm, giving 9 hours, 1 minute of daylight (8:00 am and 5:07 pm in Saint John).

The Moon is full on Thursday. I love to watch the full Moon setting in morning twilight this time of year. Also on Thursday, Venus reaches its greatest elongation from the Sun and passes just above Neptune. A small scope will now show Venus in its half-lit phase. Mars is less than 10 degrees east of Venus. In midweek Saturn rises two hours before the Sun and a half hour before Mercury. Jupiter rises less than an hour after midnight.

The Saint John Astronomy Club meets on January 7 at 7 pm in the Rockwood Park Interpretation Centre. The William Brydone Jack Astronomy Club in Fredericton meets on Tuesday at 7 pm in the UNB Forestry / Earth Sciences Building. All are welcome and free to attend.

Questions? You can contact Curt Nason here.