Category Archives: Astronomy

Sky at a Glance March 9 – 16

Location of the constellation Columba the Dove under the bright star Sirius in the southern night sky.

This Week’s Sky at a Glance, 2019 March 9 – 16 ~by Curt Nason

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

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

There is a good case to be made for this interpretation. To the left of Columba, rising past the rear end of Canis Major, is the upper part of Puppis the Stern. It was once part of a much larger constellation called Argo Navis, Jason’s ship, which has been disassembled to form Puppis, Vela the Sails and Carina the Keel. To the left of Puppis is a vertical line of three stars forming Pyxis, the (Mariner’s) Compass, and some say it once formed the mast of Argo Navis. At its highest it does point roughly north-south.

This Week in the Solar System

Saturday’s sunrise in Moncton is at 6:43 am and sunset will occur at 6:16 pm, giving 11 hours, 33 minutes of daylight (6:48 am and 6:21 pm in Saint John). With the change to Daylight Time at 2:00 am this Sunday, next Saturday the Sun will rise at 7:30 am and set at 7:26 pm, giving 11 hours, 56 minutes of daylight (7:35 am and 7:31 pm in Saint John).

The Moon is at first quarter on Thursday, making this a great week for lunar observing. Throughout the week we see Venus, Saturn and Jupiter nearly equally spaced along the shallow morning ecliptic of spring. All three are moving slowly eastward relative to the stars, with Saturn’s motion being the slowest. Mars is zipping through the constellation Aries in the evening sky, whereas Mercury is at inferior conjunction on Thursday and will become a difficult morning target in the ensuing weeks.

RASC NB members will be holding a re-scheduled public observing event at the Kouchibouguac Park Visitor Centre on Friday, March 8 from 7:30 to 9:30 pm. The William Brydone Jack Astronomy Club meets in the UNB Fredericton Forestry-Earth Sciences building on March 12 at 7 pm. The March meeting of RASC NB, the provincial astronomy club, will be held at Moncton High School on March 16 at 1 pm. All are welcome.

Questions? Contact Curt Nason.

Sky at a Glance March 2 – 9

Photo showing the location of two large (and long) constellations: Eridanus the River flowing from Orion's foot, and Hydra the female Water Snake whose head is opposite Orion to the east.

This Week’s Sky at a Glance, 2019 March 2 – 9 ~by Curt Nason

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

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

This Week in the Solar System

Saturday’s sunrise in Moncton is at 6:56 am and sunset will occur at 6:06 pm, giving 11 hours, 10 minutes of daylight (7:01 am and 6:12 pm in Saint John). Next Saturday the Sun will rise at 6:43 am and set at 6:16 pm, giving 11 hours, 33 minutes of daylight (6:48 am and 6:21 pm in Saint John). Sadly, for some, this is the last week of Standard Time. The later sunset times make it more difficult to perform outreach observing for youth groups and elementary schools.

The Moon is new on Wednesday and the slim crescent sits 8 degrees left of Mercury in evening twilight on Thursday. Mars is zipping through the constellation Aries and in a month it will pass between the Pleaides and Hyades star clusters. By the end of the week, Venus, Saturn and Jupiter will be nearly equally spaced along the shallow morning ecliptic.

The Saint John Astronomy Club meets in the Rockwood Park Interpretation Centre on March 2 at 7 pm. Also, RASC NB members will be holding a public observing event at the Kouchibouguac Park Visitor Centre on March 2 from 7:30 to 9:30 pm. All are welcome.

Questions? Contact Curt Nason.

Sky at a Glance February 23 – March 2

Photo showing locations of the beautiful open clusters M44 (The Beehive) in Cancer and Melotte 111 (Coma Star Cluster) in Coma Berenices.

This Week’s Sky at a Glance, 2019 February 23 – March 2 ~by Curt Nason

Winter is open cluster season for stargazers; star clusters that have formed from the same vast cloud of gas and dust and that usually hang around together for half a billion years. They are also called galactic clusters because these vast clouds typically appear in the spiral arms of our galaxy, and in winter we are looking toward a spiral arm opposite the centre of our Milky Way galaxy. Two of these, the Pleaides (M45) and the Hyades, form the shoulder and face of Taurus the Bull and they are bright enough to be seen within urban areas. Other clusters are visible to the naked eye but require a clear sky with minimal light pollution.

One of those objects is the Beehive star cluster (M44) in the constellation Cancer the Crab, which lies between Gemini and Leo. The Beehive is a large glowing patch of haze and its many stars fill the view in a 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.

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 delightful to observe.

This Week in the Solar System

Saturday’s sunrise in Moncton is at 7:09 am and sunset will occur at 5:56 pm, giving 10 hours, 47 minutes of daylight (7:11 am and 6:04 pm in Saint John). Next Saturday the Sun will rise at 6:56 am and set at 6:06 pm, giving 11 hours, 10 minutes of daylight (7:01 am and 6:12 pm in Saint John).

The Moon is at third quarter on Tuesday and it is near Jupiter the following day. Venus pulls away from Saturn in the morning sky, while Jupiter rules over the wee hours until Venus gets out of bed. Mercury is at greatest elongation east of the Sun on Tuesday, sitting high to the left of the sunset point and an easy naked-eye target. Look for a subtle cone of light stretching from the horizon toward Mars, about 45-90 minutes after sunset. Caused by sunlight reflecting off dust within the ecliptic, seeing the zodiacal light requires a clear sky untainted by light pollution.

The provincial astronomy club, RASC NB, meets on February 23 at 1 pm in UNB Fredericton Forestry – Earth Sciences building. The Saint John Astronomy Club meets in the Rockwood Park Interpretation Centre on March 2 at 7 pm. Also, RASC NB members will be holding a public observing event at the Kouchibouguac Park Visitor Centre on March 2 from 7:30 to 9:30 pm. All are welcome.

Questions? Contact Curt Nason.

Sky at a Glance February 16 – 23

The constellation Puppis, in the southern night sky to the left of Sirius and Canis Major.

This Week’s Sky at a Glance, 2019 February 16 – 23 ~by Curt Nason

By the time I was ten I had been into astronomy for a year or two, thanks in part to a fascination with mythology. That summer I suffered through advertisements for the movie Jason and the Argonauts, knowing I wouldn’t get to Saint John to see it and it likely wouldn’t get to the Vogue theatre in McAdam for 20 years. Twenty years later the Vogue was closed and I was living in Saint John, but I finally saw the movie after buying the VHS tape. Throughout the year I get to see some of the tale in the constellations.

One of the 48 constellations in Ptolemy’s second century star chart was Argo Navis, the ship that carried the Argonauts to their adventures. The constellation was large, too large for the astronomers who designated the 88 constellations that now fill our sky, and they broke it up into three: Carina the Keel, Vela the Sails, and Puppis the Poop Deck or Stern. The first is below our southern horizon and just the tip of the sails rises, but a good chunk of Puppis is seen on winter evenings. It is the stars just behind the tail of Orion’s big dog, Canis Major, and perhaps that is why it is called the poop deck. Nicolaus Louis de Lacaille, an 18th century astronomer, had unofficially dismantled Argo Navis into these constellations and made the ship’s mast into the constellation of Pyxis, the Compass.

Some of the Argonauts are also in the sky, particularly Hercules, who is rising around midnight, and the Gemini twins Castor and Pollux. Also present are the musician Orpheus, represented by his harp Lyra, and the healer Asclepius who is depicted by Ophiuchus. The Golden Fleece, which the Argonauts sought, is represented in the sky by Aries the Ram. Draco is sometimes regarded as the vigilant dragon that guarded the Golden Fleece.

This Week in the Solar System

Saturday’s sunrise in Moncton is at 7:20 am and sunset will occur at 5:46 pm, giving 10 hours, 26 minutes of daylight (7:24 am and 5:52 pm in Saint John). Next Saturday the Sun will rise at 7:09 am and set at 5:56 pm, giving 10 hours, 47 minutes of daylight (7:11 am and 6:04 pm in Saint John).

The Moon is near the Beehive star cluster (M44) on late Sunday evening, and it is at perigee on Tuesday just nine hours before being opposite the Sun in the sky. Being imperceptibly larger as the closest full Moon of the year, it is most noticeable in the extent of the Bay of Fundy tides over the following two days. Over the first half of the week, Venus slides above and to the left of Saturn in the morning sky, stealing attention away from Jupiter to their upper right. Mercury starts to make its presence known in the early evening, setting 80 minutes after the Sun midweek in its best evening apparition for the year. Starting late in the week, and for the next two weeks, look for a subtle cone of light stretching from the horizon toward Mars, about 45-90 minutes after sunset. Caused by sunlight reflecting off dust within the ecliptic, seeing the zodiacal light requires a clear sky untainted by light pollution.

Conditions permitting, the annual Moonlight Snowshoe Hike and stargazing at Sheldon Point barn in Saint John takes place on February 16 at 7 pm. The provincial astronomy club, RASC NB, meets on February 23 at 1 pm in UNB Fredericton Forestry – Earth Sciences building. All are welcome.

Questions? Contact Curt Nason.

Sky at a Glance February 9 – 16

The constellation Orion rising and reaching for the Moon.

This Week’s Sky at a Glance, 2019 February 9 – 16 ~by Curt Nason

“Cold wind on the harbour and rain on the road, wet promise of winter brings recourse to coal.
There’s fire in the blood and a fog on Bras d’Or; the giant will rise with the Moon.”
(Giant, by Stan Rogers)

On Thursday afternoon this week the constellation Orion, mythological giant son of Poseidon, rises with the waxing gibbous Moon. We won’t see the constellation, of course, until evening twilight dwindles; but when he appears in the southeast be becomes a New York football star.

When the Moon is full or nearly so amateur astronomers can get a little grumpy because the moonlight washes out the faint galaxies, nebulae and comets. That is also when the Moon is less interesting to observe, but this time of year the nearly full Moon can play a role in some imaginative stargazing. On Thursday evening it is above Orion, looking like a football approaching his outstretched right hand. Will he catch it in the end zone and be a hero like Perseus, or miss it and be a goat like Capricornus? Unfortunately, they set before the big moment so we will have to wait for Friday evening to find out.

What if it is cloudy? Do what Stan Rogers recommends in his song: “Light a torch, bring a bottle and build the fire bright. The giant will rise with the Moon.”

This Week in the Solar System

Saturday’s sunrise in Moncton is at 7:31 am and sunset will occur at 5:35 pm, giving 10 hours, 4 minutes of daylight (7:34 am and 5:42 pm in Saint John). Next Saturday the Sun will rise at 7:20 am and set at 5:46 pm, giving 10 hours, 26 minutes of daylight (7:24 am and 5:52 pm in Saint John).

The Moon swims below Mars on Sunday evening, is at first quarter on Tuesday, and passes through the V-shaped Hyades star cluster near Aldebaran on Wednesday. Meanwhile, Mars passes above Uranus midweek with the pair being closest, just two Moon-widths apart, on Wednesday. Toward the end of the week Mercury sets an hour after the Sun, entering its best evening apparition for the year. Venus is hoping to get a ring from Saturn for Valentine’s Day but she will have to wait until next week when the two planets meet up in the morning sky. Jupiter climbs higher in the sky each morning, claiming dominance until Venus rolls out of bed. In the late evening or very early morning during midweek you might catch comet C/2018 Y1 Iwamoto passing through the Sickle asterism of Leo above Regulus. Binoculars or a telescope and a dark sky are needed.

The Saint John Astronomy Clubs meets on February 9 at 7 pm in the Rockwood Park Interpretation Centre. The William Brydone Jack Astronomy Clubs meets on February 12 at 7 pm in UNB Fredericton Forestry – Earth Sciences building. The annual Moonlight Snowshoe Hike and stargazing event at Sheldon Point barn in Saint John takes place on February 16 at 7 pm.

Questions? Contact Curt Nason.

Sky at a Glance February 2 – 9

The early morning sky as it will appear on Groundhog Day 2019.

This Week’s Sky at a Glance, 2019 February 2 – 9 ~by Curt Nason

Groundhog Day is on or near one of the cross-quarter days of the year, which lie halfway between a solstice and an equinox. Solstices are what we call the first days of summer and winter, when the sun rises and sets at its farthest points north and south. The name implies the sun is stationary, like a yo-yo that has reached the end of the string. Equinoxes occur when the sun rises due east and sets due west. Prior to the reformation of the calendar under Pope Gregory XIII, the spring equinox occurred on March 16, six weeks after February 2, hence the tongue-in-cheek prediction of the groundhog adopted in North America.

Pagan cultures celebrated the solstices and equinoxes and, always up for a party, the cross-quarter days as well. Many considered this day to be the start of spring, a reasonable belief in warmer climates than we enjoy. Bears emerging from their dens, ewes lactating prior to birthing, and the lengthening days were all signs that winter had been broken. Irish folk celebrated Imbolc at this time to honour the coming of the spring lambs.

Other cross-quarter days occur around the beginning of May, August and November, yielding such festivities as Walpurgis or May Day, and All Hallows Day with its more famous celebration of Halloween. The August quarter day has a related festival in Greece. For those who bemoan our long winters, take heart in knowing that our spring to autumn period is a week longer than autumn to spring. Earth is at its farthest from the sun in early July, therefore it travels more slowly in its orbit at that time.

This Week in the Solar System

Saturday’s sunrise in Moncton is at 7:40 am and sunset will occur at 5:25 pm, giving 9 hours, 45 minutes of daylight (7:43 am and 5:32 pm in Saint John). Next Saturday the Sun will rise at 7:31 am and set at 5:35 pm, giving 10 hours, 4 minutes of daylight (7:34 am and 5:42 pm in Saint John).

The Moon is near Saturn this Saturday morning and is new on Monday. Venus and Jupiter compete for attention in the morning, with Venus heading toward a rendezvous with Saturn in a couple of weeks. Mars holds its sunset position in the southwest, setting around 11:30 pm and awaiting some company from Mercury.

The Saint John Astronomy Clubs meets on February 9 at 7 pm in the Rockwood Park Interpretation Centre. All are welcome.

Questions? Contact Curt Nason.

Sky at a Glance January 26 – February 2

Photo showing location of the constellation Lepus (the hare) under the feet of Orion in the southern night sky.

This Week’s Sky at a Glance, 2019 January 26 – February 2
~by Curt Nason

With Groundhog Day coming up next weekend it would be nice to talk about the groundhog constellation, but there is none. Technically, no rodents have been so honoured, although the second brightest star in Gemini is called Castor, which is the genus of beavers. Wait a minute, what about…? Well, some time ago the cute bunnies decided they didn’t want to be associated with rodents and called themselves lagomorphs. So, at the risk of being attacked by the killer rabbit in Arthurian legend, we will celebrate the advent of Groundhog Day by focusing on Lepus the Hare.

By 9 pm Orion stands high in the southern sky while Lepus cowers below his feet, hoping to avoid detection by Orion’s larger canine companion to the east. I see the constellation as three vertical pairs of stars, with the brightest pair in the middle and the widest to the right. With a reasonably dark sky you can see the bunny ears between the widest pair and Orion’s brightest star, Rigel. If you extend the middle pair down an equal distance a small telescope will reveal a fuzzy patch called M79. This globular cluster is unusual in that it is in our winter sky, whereas most of the globulars are seen among the summer constellations. M79 could be part of another galaxy that is interacting with the Milky Way.

If you draw a line from the top of the middle pair to the top of the widest pair and extend it a little more than half that distance, a telescope might pick up Hind’s Crimson Star, one of the reddest stars in the sky. Its brightness varies by a factor of 300 over 14 months, with the red colour being most pronounced at its dimmest.

This Week in the Solar System

Saturday’s sunrise in Moncton is at 7:48 am and sunset will occur at 5:15 pm, giving 9 hours, 27 minutes of daylight (7:51 am and 5:22 pm in Saint John). Next Saturday the Sun will rise at 7:40 am and set at 5:25 pm, giving 9 hours, 45 minutes of daylight (7:43 am and 5:32 pm in Saint John).

The Moon is at third quarter on Sunday and it is bracketed by Venus and Jupiter on Thursday. By the end of the week the two brightest planets will be ten degrees apart, with Venus heading toward a rendezvous with Saturn in a few weeks. Mercury is in superior conjunction on Tuesday, moving into its best evening apparition for the year in late February. Mars resembles a first magnitude red star in the southwest during the evening.

Questions? Contact Curt Nason.

Sky at a Glance January 19 – 26

The 2019 Lunar Eclipse near the Beehive Cluster on January 20 - 21.

This Week’s Sky at a Glance, 2019 January 19 – 26 ~by Curt Nason

At the mercy of the weather, night-owl stargazers could be treated to a lunar eclipse beginning late Sunday evening. This is our first lunar eclipse since the Harvest Moon eclipse in September 2015, and we won’t get another until a deep partial eclipse in November 2021 and a total one in May 2022.

Although the Moon starts slipping into Earth’s dark shadow at 11:34 pm, look for subtle gray shading on the lunar surface beginning a half hour sooner. This is the penumbra, a lesser shadow created when Earth partly covers the Sun as seen from the Moon. From 11:34 pm to 12:41am the dark umbra will creep across the lunar surface toward totality. Note that the umbra appears on the left side, which indicates the Moon is moving eastward in its orbit rather than the westward motion we see as our planet rotates. Also, note the curvature of the shadow. Aristotle noticed this in the fourth century BC and correctly assumed it was because the Earth is spherical. Watch for more stars to appear as totality approaches and the sky darkens. The Beehive star cluster, also called the Praesepe and M44, will be just to the east of the Moon.

Totality lasts for 62 minutes, ending at 1:43 am. The Moon could take on a red or orange hue during totality, caused by our atmosphere acting like a lens and bending the red part of the sunlight moonward. Blue light is scattered more, right across our sky, which is why we see that colour on a clear day. You might also note that the top of the Moon is brighter than the bottom. The Moon passes above the centre of Earth’s shadow during this eclipse, so the top portion is farther from the deepest and darkest part of the umbra. From 1:43 you get to watch the partial phase play out in reverse over 67 minutes, followed by the fading of the penumbra.

Weather permitting, telescopes will be set up at Saints Rest Beach in Saint John and a live feed of the eclipse through a telescope will be broadcast via the Facebook page Astronomy by the Bay. The Physics and Astronomy Department at the Université de Moncton plans to host a talk and eclipse observing. Attendance is limited but the tickets are free.

This Week in the Solar System

Saturday’s sunrise in Moncton is at 7:54 am and sunset will occur at 5:05 pm, giving 9 hours, 11 minutes of daylight (7:57 am and 5:12 pm in Saint John). Next Saturday the Sun will rise at 7:48 am and set at 5:15 pm, giving 9 hours, 27 minutes of daylight (7:51 am and 5:22 pm in Saint John).

The Moon is full and somewhat brick-coloured very early on Monday morning, the traditional Wolf Moon and the Mi’gmaw Tom Cod Moon. The two brightest planets make a striking pair in the morning sky; with Venus being a binocular width above Jupiter on Saturday and about the same distance to the left of Jupiter by next Saturday. Saturn might be spotted in twilight a hand span to their lower left. Mars resembles a first magnitude red star in the southwest during the evening.

RASC NB, the provincial astronomy club, meets in the Rockwood Park Interpretation Centre on January 19 at 1 pm. All are welcome.

Questions? Contact Curt Nason.

Sky at a Glance January 12 – 19

Photo of the winter constellations accompanied by some interesting distance to Earth comparisons in the post.

This Week’s Sky at a Glance, 2019 January 12 – 19 ~by Curt Nason

Looking at a constellation it is easy to imagine its component stars as being fairly close together in space, as if it is an actual body. Let us look at two prominent winter constellations to see if that is true. Surely the three stars of Orion’s Belt are almost equidistant; at first glance they appear to be almost equally bright. Alnitak, the left star, is 1260 light years (ly) away, 60 ly farther than Mintaka on the right. Alnilam, the middle star, is much farther at 2000 ly. Orion must have a lumpy belly. Saiph and bright Rigel, marking Orion’s feet or knees, are reasonably equidistant at 650 ly and 860 ly, respectively. In the giant hunter’s shoulders orange Betelgeuse is about 600 ly away and Bellatrix is 250 ly.

Following the belt to the lower left we arrive at Canis Major, the Big Dog, with brilliant Sirius at its heart. Sirius is the brightest star of the night sky and the closest naked-eye star we can see in New Brunswick at 8.6 ly (only 82 trillion kilometres), which is the main reason it is the brightest. If Rigel were that close it would be about as bright as the quarter Moon. Adhara, in the dog’s rear leg, is the 23rd brightest star and 430 ly away, Wezen in the dog’s butt is 1600 ly, and the tail star Aludra is 2000 ly distant. Obviously, the constellations are just chance alignments of stars from our viewpoint. The distances cited here are taken from Wikipedia, but other sources could vary significantly as stellar distances are difficult to determine precisely. This is an update of an article I wrote two years ago and most of the values have changed.

This Week in the Solar System

Saturday’s sunrise in Moncton is at 7:59 am and sunset will occur at 4:56 pm, giving 8 hours, 57 minutes of daylight (8:01 am and 5:03 pm in Saint John). Next Saturday the Sun will rise at 7:54 am and set at 5:05 pm, giving 9 hours, 11 minutes of daylight (7:57 am and 5:12 pm in Saint John).

The Moon is at first quarter on Monday and it sits to the left of Aldebaran after sunset on Thursday. Jupiter lies nine degrees to the lower left of Venus this Saturday; watch them close the gap by half over the week. Mercury meets up with Saturn in the morning sky this weekend but they will be difficult to observe, rising just half an hour before the Sun. Mars resembles a first magnitude red star in the southwest during the evening.

There will be public observing at Moncton High School Observatory on Friday, January 11 from 7:00 pm to 8:30 pm. RASC NB, the provincial astronomy club, meets in the Rockwood Park Interpretative Center on January 19 at 1 pm. All are welcome.

Questions? Contact Curt Nason.

Total Lunar Eclipse 2019

Photo showing Atlantic Standard Times (AST) for the Jan 20-21 2019 Lunar Eclipse.Lunar eclipses are always a treat to observe, but viewing the total lunar eclipse starting on the evening of January 20, 2019 is not to be here in New Brunswick due to a massive winter storm.
As you can see from the chart above, the Penumbra will begin at 10:36pm AST Sunday evening, the Total Eclipse will begin at 12:41 reaching totality at 1:12am Monday morning, and exit the earth’s shadow at 3:48 am, lasting 5 hours, 12 minutes. It will also be a “SuperMoon.” [click the pic to enlarge]
Note: Next total eclipse of the Moon in Canada– May 2022.

Live Feed~

Link to Astronomy by the Bay Facebook PageChris Curwin of Astronomy by the Bay has cancelled the Live Feed and viewing from Saints Rest Beach in Saint John due to a brutal winter storm. Thanks Chris for trying, and thanks to all the fellow astronomers who were planning to set up and join in offering views to the public. You can still check his Facebook Event for more info.
However, Time and Date is posting a Live Feed for those who want to watch. The link is here.

Worth Watching~

Link to short video explaining lunar eclipses by Jenna Hinds of RASC.Jenna Hinds of the RASC has put together an excellent short video explaining eclipses, about 5 minutes. [click the pic to watch]

Teaching Webinar Available January 10~

Link to free webinar on observing eclipses-Discover the Universe will offer a free webinar January 10th to give you the tips and tricks (models, animations, etc.) to make this lesson easy and fun. They will also explain exactly how to observe the eclipse so as not to miss a single moment.
The webinar will be recorded for those who cannot attend the live presentation. Register now to access the webinar and the recording. It’s free! The link to register is here.

From SkyNews~

Screenshot 1 from SkyNews.ca pdf

Screenshot 2 from SkyNews.ca pdf

Lunar eclipse timeline in Canada 2019Above~ from SkyNews.ca [click any pic to enlarge]

More info from RASC NB~

Link to the RASC NB Total Lunar Eclipse 2019 page.[click the pic to view]

Photography and Observing~

A couple of links you may find useful:

Paul Owen~ Imaging the Moon
Mike Powell~ The Moon (interesting, general information)

 

 

 

 

Sky at a Glance January 5 – 12

Constellations looking to the north in the winter sky.

This Week’s Sky at a Glance, 2019 January 5 – 12 ~by Curt Nason

This time of year the brilliant winter constellations really catch the eye, but this is also a good time to revisit some favourites of the past season. If you have a good view to the north, go out around 8 pm to observe two of the best known asterisms in the sky. To the northwest the Northern Cross stands upright, with its base star Albireo about ready to set. The cross forms most of Cygnus the Swan, now making its signature dive into what I hope is an unfrozen lake. To the northeast, the Big Dipper stands on its handle. In a rural area you can probably see the rest of the stars that make up the Great Bear, Ursa Major. Does the bear appear to be dancing across the horizon on its hind legs? That brings back fond memories of watching Captain Kangaroo.

Stretching overhead are the autumn constellations of Cassiopeia, Andromeda and Perseus. With binoculars, look for a miniature version of Draco around the brightest star in Perseus; the galaxy M31 in Andromeda; and if you draw a line right to left across the tips of the W of Cassiopeia and extend by about the same distance, you might chance upon a string of about 20 stars called Kemble’s Cascade. From a dark area, try to pick out the Milky Way running from Cygnus through Perseus and the feet of Gemini to Canis Major in the southeast.

This Week in the Solar System

Saturday’s sunrise in Moncton is at 8:01 am and sunset will occur at 4:48 pm, giving 8 hours, 47 minutes of daylight (8:03 am and 4:56 pm in Saint John). Next Saturday the Sun will rise at 7:59 am and set at 4:56 pm, giving 8 hours, 57 minutes of daylight (8:01 am and 5:03 pm in Saint John).

The Moon is new on Saturday and a very slim 20-hour-old crescent might be detected with binoculars after sunset Sunday. Early Thursday evening the Moon will pass within a binocular view below Neptune. Venus is at its greatest elongation from the Sun on Sunday. Watch the morning sky over the next few weeks as Venus and Jupiter approach each other. Mercury meets up with Saturn in the morning sky next weekend but they are rising just half an hour before the Sun. Mars sets before midnight but reveals little detail in a telescope now.

The Saint John Astronomy Club meets in the Rockwood Park Interpretation Centre on January 5 at 7 pm, and the William Brydone Jack Astronomy Club meets at the UNB Fredericton Forestry – Earth Sciences building on Tuesday at 7 pm. All are welcome.

Questions? Contact Curt Nason.

Sky at a Glance December 29 – January 5

Spotting animal constellations in the eastern night sky.

This Week’s Sky at a Glance, 2018 December 29 – 2019 January 5 ~by Curt Nason

This week, check out the eastern sky around 10 pm to hunting down four dogs, three cats, two bears, a hare, a snake and a crab. 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? 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 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 4:41 pm, giving 8 hours, 40 minutes of daylight (8:03 am and 4:49 pm in Saint John). Next Saturday the Sun will rise at 8:01 am and set at 4:48 pm, giving 8 hours, 47 minutes of daylight (8:03 am and 4:56 pm in Saint John). Earth reaches perihelion, its closest position to the Sun, early Thursday morning. You’ll still need a coat.

The Moon is at third quarter on Saturday, and it passes near Venus on Tuesday and Jupiter on Thursday. If you can see the Moon in daylight late Tuesday morning, try spotting Venus about four degrees (less than a typical binocular width) to its left. Try the same challenge with Jupiter after sunrise on Thursday, looking the same distance to the right of the Moon. Mercury can still be seen in the morning, rising an hour before the Sun midweek. Mars is at its highest in the south at 5:40 pm, and Saturn is in conjunction behind the Sun on Wednesday. The Quadrantid meteor shower peaks late Thursday evening, emanating from Boötes off the handle of the Big Dipper. The name derives from an old constellation called Quadrans Muralis, the Mural Quadrant, and although the peak of the shower lasts only a few hours it occasionally gives a fine display of shooting stars.

The Saint John Astronomy Club meets in the Rockwood Park Interpretation Centre on January 5 at 7 pm. All are welcome.

Questions? Contact Curt Nason.

Sky at a Glance December 22 – 29

Location of the beautiful Beehive Cluster (M44) in the constellation Cancer.

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

The most inconspicuous of the zodiac constellations is faint Cancer the Crab, which is nestled between Gemini and Leo. In mythology, the crab was sent by the goddess queen Hera to distract Hercules while he was battling the Hydra. The crab was no match for the strongman’s stomp. Ancient Egyptians saw it as their sacred dung beetle, the scarab. In the first millennium BC the Sun was in Cancer at the summer solstice, the time when it halts its northward motion and slowly starts heading south. This back and forth motion of the rising and setting Sun on the horizon was perhaps reminiscent of a crab sidling on a beach.

The constellation is recognized by a trapezoid of dim but naked eye stars as the crab’s body, with other stars representing the claws and legs. The trapezoid was also seen as a manger flanked by a pair of donkeys, Asellus Borealis and Asellus Australus. On a clear dark night we can see a hazy patch of hay within the manger, and binoculars reveal it as a beautiful star cluster called the Beehive, Praesepe (manger) or M44. Being near the ecliptic, the Moon and planets often pass through or near this cluster. The Beehive was once used to forecast storms, for if it could not be seen it was hidden by light clouds at the front of a weather system. Binoculars reveal another star cluster, M67, less than a fist-width south of M44.

Around midnight on Christmas Eve the Moon is near Praesepe. This will make it difficult to see the hay in the manger as moonlight washes out the stars. Perhaps the Moon is an ox joining the donkeys to eat the hay. Magic, or Magi?

This Week in the Solar System

Saturday’s sunrise in Moncton is at 7:58 am and sunset will occur at 4:36 pm, giving 8 hours, 38 minutes of daylight (8:00 am and 4:44 pm in Saint John). Next Saturday the Sun will rise at 8:01 am and set at 4:41 pm, giving 8 hours, 40 minutes of daylight (8:03 am and 4:49 pm in Saint John).

The Moon is full on Saturday, the Long Night Moon or the Mi’mgaw Chief Moon, and it approaches the Beehive star cluster on Monday evening. Mercury is two degrees left of Jupiter on Saturday morning and they appear within the same binocular view until Boxing Day, with Mercury heading sunward. Venus rules the morning sky to their upper right. Mars is at its highest in the south at 6 pm while Saturn is too low in the west at sunset for observing. Comet 46P/Wirtanen passes below Capella, the sixth brightest star, on Sunday evening. It is seen best with binoculars, resembling a hazy thumbprint the size of the Moon or larger. You might see the odd shooting star emanating from the handle of the Big Dipper this weekend as the minor Ursid meteor shower peaks on Saturday evening. The bright full Moon will be doing its best to hide them, however.

Questions? Contact Curt Nason.

Sky at a Glance December 15 – 22

Photo showing the location of the eclipsing binary star(s) Algol in the constellation Perseus.

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

Evening stargazing can be tricky this time of year with all the festive lights, especially if you have a neighbourhood Griswald. You can make the best of it by finding a darker location or waiting until most people have turned their lights off. Occasionally I make the best of it by targeting some distant colourful outdoor display with binoculars or a telescope.

If you happen to be out, try identifying a few constellations. In the northeast there is pentagonal Auriga the Charioteer, with bright Capella the Goat Star at one corner. To the right is the V-shaped face of Taurus the Bull, with the dipper-like star cluster of the Pleiades marking its shoulder. Orion and Gemini follow below Taurus and Auriga. Above Auriga is Perseus, seemingly standing on the bull’s back. It is here a patient stargazer can watch a marvel of the night sky.

In mythology, Perseus beheaded Medusa to seek revenge on tormentors by turning them to stone. The second brightest star in the constellation Perseus represents the evil eye of Medusa and it is called Algol, the ghoul or demon. There is a reason for this name. Every three days, minus about three hours, this star slowly dims by a factor of three and regains brightness over several hours. Algol is an eclipsing binary, two stars orbiting each other closely and aligned to our line of sight. When the smaller, dimmer star passes in front of the brighter one we can see their combined-light diminish and recover. By comparing it with nearby stars of similar brightness you might notice Algol getting brighter. Our next evening opportunity to watch this is around 10 pm Christmas night.

This Week in the Solar System

Saturday’s sunrise in Moncton is at 7:54 am and sunset will occur at 4:34 pm, giving 8 hours, 40 minutes of daylight (7:56 am and 4:42 pm in Saint John). Next Saturday the Sun will rise at 7:58 am and set at 4:36 pm, giving 8 hours, 38 minutes of daylight (8:00 am and 4:44 pm in Saint John). The Winter Solstice occurs on December 21 at 6:23 pm, the day of minimum sunlight but giving lots of time for stargazing.

The Moon is at first quarter this Saturday and full next Saturday, the Long Night Moon or the Mi’mgaw Chief Moon. Mercury is at greatest elongation this Saturday, rising nearly two hours before the Sun and two hours after Venus. Jupiter climbs to within one degree of Mercury by Thursday, and next Saturday they rise together with brighter Jupiter on the right. Mars is at its highest in the south at 6 pm, but Saturn is too low in the west at sunset for observing. Comet 46P/Wirtanen passes between the V-shaped Hyades star cluster and the Pleiades star cluster this weekend as it moves to within 11.5 million kilometres of Earth. It is seen best with binoculars, resembling a hazy thumbprint the size of the Moon or larger. You might also catch a few late meteors from the Geminid shower this weekend.

Questions? Contact Curt Nason.

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.