Category Archives: Astronomy

Sky at a Glance November 16 – 23

Photo showing the constellations Auriga the Charioteer and Taurus the Bull, with hints to locate some Messier objects within.

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

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

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

This Week in the Solar System

Saturday’s sunrise in Moncton is at 7:20 am and sunset will occur at 4:46 pm, giving 9 hours, 26 minutes of daylight (7:23 am and 4:53 pm in Saint John). Next Saturday the Sun will rise at 7:30 am and set at 4:40 pm, giving 9 hours, 10 minutes of daylight (7:32 am and 4:47 pm in Saint John).

The Moon is near the Beehive star cluster in the constellation Cancer before sunrise on Monday, and it is at third quarter on Tuesday. Mercury has jumped into the morning sky, rising more than an hour before sunrise this weekend, and over the week it will close the gap to Mars from 15 degrees to 10 degrees (a fist-width at arm’s length). Venus lies 7 degrees to the lower right of Jupiter in the evening sky this Saturday, and by next Saturday it will be less than 2 degrees below Jupiter. By December 9, Venus will be 3 degrees below Saturn. The Leonid meteor shower peaks on Monday morning, but we will have to wait for the return of Comet Tempel-Tuttle in about 14 years before this shower produces a significant number of shooting stars. For a brief time in 1966, some people were seeing 40-50 meteors per second at the peak of the shower; more like a torrent. Meteor experts are predicting a possible, but brief (maybe half an hour), outburst from the Alpha Monocerotid shower after midnight Thursday evening (centered on 12:50 am Friday morning). They will be emanating from near the bright star Procyon to the left of Orion.

The provincial astronomy club, RASC NB, meets in the UNB Fredericton Forestry-Earth Sciences building at 1 pm this Saturday. All are welcome.

Questions? Contact Curt Nason.

Sky at a Glance November 9 – 16

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

The observing highlight of the week, and of the year, is a transit of Mercury. On Monday, from 8:36 am to 2:04 pm, Mercury can be seen crossing the face of the Sun with a properly filtered telescope, providing the weather cooperates. A Mercury transit occurs only 13 or 14 times a century, and of those the Sun might not be up in New Brunswick or it might be cloudy. Although Mercury passes between Earth and the Sun every 116 days, it is usually above or below the Sun in our sky because its orbit is tilted to ours. It is only when Mercury reaches inferior conjunction within a few days of May 8 or November 10, when the two orbits line up with the Sun, that we see a transit. Mercury will be a tiny, sharply defined black circle moving slowly across the Sun, too tiny to be seen without a solar-filtered telescope.

Members of RASC NB, the provincial astronomy club, are planning public observing events for the Mercury transit. On Monday, look for safely-filtered telescopes set up at Bore View Park in Moncton, and in Saint John at Saints Rest Beach, at the entrance to Rockwood Park, and at Loyalist Plaza by Market Square. It will be 30 years before another Mercury transit is visible from New Brunswick.

This Week in the Solar System

Saturday’s sunrise in Moncton is at 7:11 am and sunset will occur at 4:54 pm, giving 9 hours, 43 minutes of daylight (7:14 am and 5:01 pm in Saint John). Next Saturday the Sun will rise at 7:20 am and set at 4:46 pm, giving 9 hours, 26 minutes of daylight (7:23 am and 4:53 pm in Saint John).

The Moon passes near Uranus on Sunday and it is full, the Rivers Freezing Moon, on Tuesday. Mercury is at inferior conjunction on Monday, becoming visible in the morning sky next week, while Venus and Jupiter are moving toward a southwestern rendezvous in two weeks. Saturn remains in good position for suppertime observing and sets around 8:30 pm. Mars rises at 5 am above the bright star Spica. The North Taurid meteor shower peaks this Tuesday. Although the Taurids are not plentiful, they tend to be bright.

The Fredericton Astronomy Club meets in the UNB Forestry-Earth Sciences building at 7 pm this Tuesday, and RASC, the provincial astronomy club, meets in the same location at 1 pm on November 16. All are welcome.

Questions? Contact Curt Nason.

Sky at a Glance November 2 – 9

Photo showing the constellations Taurus and Auriga with the location for the beautiful Pleiades M45 in Taurus.

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

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

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

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

This Week in the Solar System

Saturday’s sunrise in Moncton is at 8:00 am and sunset will occur at 6:03 pm, giving 10 hours, 3 minutes of daylight (8:04 am and 6:10 pm in Saint John). Next Saturday the Sun will rise at 7:11 am and set at 4:54 pm, giving 9 hours, 43 minutes of daylight (7:14 am and 5:01 pm in Saint John). Note that we turn our timepieces back to AST (Atlantic Stargazing Time) at 2 am this Sunday.

The Moon approaches Saturn this Saturday evening and it is at first quarter on Monday. Mercury ends its month long dance with Venus and begins to plummet toward the Sun, while Venus heads toward a new dance partner in Jupiter. Saturn, meanwhile, is content to shine its rings in anticipation of an early December date with the goddess of love. In the morning sky, Mars can be seen low in the east above the bright star Spica. Over the next two weeks you might catch a meteor shooting away from Taurus, as the minor South Taurid and North Taurid meteor showers peak this Tuesday and next Tuesday, respectively.

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

Questions? Contact Curt Nason.

Sky at a Glance October 26 – November 2

Photo showing the constellation Cetus the Whale in the southern November night sky.

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

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

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

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

This Week in the Solar System

Saturday’s sunrise in Moncton is at 7:51 am and sunset will occur at 6:14 pm, giving 10 hours, 23 minutes of daylight (7:54 am and 6:21 pm in Saint John). Next Saturday the Sun will rise at 8:00 am and set at 6:03 pm, giving 10 hours, 3 minutes of daylight (8:04 am and 6:10 pm in Saint John).

The Moon is new shortly after midnight on Monday morning, and it appears within a binocular view above Venus and Mercury in Tuesday evening twilight. For a real observing challenge, try to spot the extremely thin crescent Moon with binoculars in twilight Sunday morning when it is about 17 hours from new. Jupiter sets around 8:40 pm this week, an hour and a half after Venus and Mercury. Saturn remains well-placed for early evening observing above the handle of the Sagittarius Teapot asterism.

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

Questions? Contact Curt Nason.

Sky at a Glance October 19 – 26

Photo showing the Pleiades Star Cluster or M45 on the constellation Taurus the Bull.

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

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

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

One of the horn stars of Taurus had been shared with the constellation Auriga. This star, Alnath, was officially assigned to Taurus when the constellation boundaries were set by the International Astronomical Union (IAU) in the late 1920s. Taurus is one of the zodiac constellations; the ecliptic passes between the Pleiades and Hyades and also between the horn-tips. Since the Moon’s orbit is tilted to the ecliptic by about five degrees, at times it can be seen passing in front of the Pleiades and Aldebaran.

This Week in the Solar System

Saturday’s sunrise in Moncton is at 7:41 am and sunset will occur at 6:26 pm, giving 10 hours, 45 minutes of daylight (7:45 am and 6:32 pm in Saint John). Next Saturday the Sun will rise at 7:51 am and set at 6:14 pm, giving 10 hours, 23 minutes of daylight (7:54 am and 6:21 pm in Saint John).

The Moon is at third quarter on Monday, scuttling through the Beehive star cluster (M44) in Cancer when it rises after midnight that night. Jupiter sets around 9 pm this week but it is still high enough in twilight to show detail through a telescope, although Saturn with its rings is the evening highlight. Venus can be seen with binoculars shortly after sunset, and Mercury is at its greatest elongation from the Sun this weekend, about 7 degrees left of Venus. The Orionid meteor shower, one of two showers arising from remnants of Halley’s Comet, will add a few extra meteors per hour over Monday evening and Tuesday morning.

The provincial astronomy club, RASC NB, is giving astronomy presentations at Moncton High School on the afternoon of October 19. For details, see their website.

Questions? Contact Curt Nason.

Sky at a Glance October 12 – 19

Photo showing the constellation Aquarius the Water Bearer and location of some of the Messier objects including M2.

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

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

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

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

This Week in the Solar System

Saturday’s sunrise in Moncton is at 7:31 am and sunset will occur at 6:38 pm, giving 11 hours, 7 minutes of daylight (7:35 am and 6:44 pm in Saint John). Next Saturday the Sun will rise at 7:41 am and set at 6:26 pm, giving 10 hours, 45 minutes of daylight (7:45 am and 6:32 pm in Saint John).

The Moon is full on Sunday, the Hunter’s Moon, which is the same effect as the Harvest Moon where the shallow angle of the ecliptic results in the Moon rising 22-25 minutes later for several evenings rather than the average 50 minutes. By midweek Jupiter sets around 9:20 pm, about two hours after Mercury and Venus set and nearly two hours before Saturn. Venus can be seen with binoculars shortly after sunset, and Mercury might be visible through the fading twilight to its left before they set.

The provincial astronomy club, RASC NB, is giving astronomy presentations at Moncton High School on the afternoon of October 19. For details, see their website.

Questions? Contact Curt Nason.

Sky at a Glance October 5 – 12

Photo showing location of the constellation Camelopardalis which contains the stunning asterism Kemble’s Cascade.

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

With moose season out of the way and before the Moon gets too bright, this weekend it might be a good time for some good old fashioned giraffe hunting. No guns allowed, just find a place where the sky is not tainted by light pollution and bring binoculars for an added treat.

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

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

This Week in the Solar System

Saturday’s sunrise in Moncton is at 7:22 am and sunset will occur at 6:52 pm, giving 11 hours, 30 minutes of daylight (7:27 am and 6:57 pm in Saint John). Next Saturday the Sun will rise at 7:31 am and set at 6:38 pm, giving 11 hours, 7 minutes of daylight (7:35 am and 6:44 pm in Saint John).

The Moon is at first quarter and near Saturn this Saturday, and in late evening telescope users can watch the Lunar X form just inside the shadow line (called the terminator) below centre. Jupiter and Saturn remain as prime targets in the early evening. On Sunday at sunset the shadow of Jupiter’s moon Io begins a two-hour crawl across the planet’s cloud top, and the Red Spot will be prominent for the latter hour if conditions are good for telescope viewing. Venus and Mercury set 30-40 minutes after the Sun all week. Venus can be seen with binoculars soon after sunset, but Mercury will be a much more difficult target to the left of Venus. You might catch a few extra shooting stars throughout Tuesday night from the Draconid meteor shower.

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

Questions? Contact Curt Nason.

Sky at a Glance September 28 – October 5

Photo showing the location of the constellations Triangulum and Aries the Ram with M33.

This Week’s Sky at a Glance, 2019 September 28 – October 5
~by Curt Nason

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

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

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

This Week in the Solar System

Saturday’s sunrise in Moncton is at 7:13 am and sunset will occur at 7:05 pm, giving 11 hours, 52 minutes of daylight (7:18 am and 7:10 pm in Saint John). Next Saturday the Sun will rise at 7:22 am and set at 6:52 pm, giving 11 hours, 30 minutes of daylight (7:27 am and 6:57 pm in Saint John).

The Moon is new and at perigee this Saturday, so expect extreme high and low tide levels this weekend. Jupiter and Saturn remain as the favourite targets in the early evening, with the Moon paying both a visit late in the week. Venus and Mercury set a half hour after the Sun this weekend. Venus can be seen with binoculars soon after sunset, but Mercury will be a more difficult target a binocular-field to its left. The slim crescent Moon will be a bino-field above them on Sunday, with the bright star Spica being a challenge to spot just below Mercury.

There will be public observing at the Irving Nature Park in Saint John and at the Moncton High School observatory at dusk on Friday, October 4. The Saint John Astronomy Club meets in the Rockwood Park Interpretation Centre on October 5 at 7 pm. All are welcome.

Questions? Contact Curt Nason.

Sky at a Glance September 21 – 28

Photo showing the Autumn constellations in the night sky.

This Week’s Sky at a Glance, 2019 September 21 – 28
~by Curt Nason

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

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

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

This Week in the Solar System

Saturday’s sunrise in Moncton is at 7:04 am and sunset will occur at 7:19 pm, giving 12 hours, 15 minutes of daylight (7:09 am and 7:24 pm in Saint John). Next Saturday the Sun will rise at 7:13 am and set at 7:05 pm, giving 11 hours, 52 minutes of daylight (7:18 am and 7:10 pm in Saint John). The Sun crosses the equator Monday at 4:50 am – the autumnal equinox – heading south for winter.

The Moon is at third quarter this Saturday, and it is new and at perigee next Saturday. Jupiter and Saturn remain as the favourite targets in the early evening, but after twilight Jupiter is getting too low for steady atmospheric observing. Venus can be seen with difficulty in binoculars very low in the west 15 minutes after sunset, with Mercury a binocular field to its left.

The provincial astronomy club, RASC NB, meets in the UNB Fredericton Forestry-Earth Sciences building at 1 pm on September 21. All are welcome.

Questions? Contact Curt Nason.

Sky at a Glance September 14 – 21

Photo showing location of two "crown" constellations, Coroan Borealis in the high western sky and Corona Australis in the low southern night sky.

This Week’s Sky at a Glance, 2019 September 14 – 21
~by Curt Nason

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

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

The Sagittarius teapot asterism is low in the south at 9 pm this week, and Corona Australis, the Southern Crown, rides the horizon below. This semicircle of stars is sometimes called the lemon wedge asterism, to go with the teapot and the teaspoon above the teapot’s handle. Dionysus was the result of an affair between Zeus and a mortal woman. The gods had to be careful in such affairs as mortals could not withstand the full passionate heat of their embrace. Vengeful Hera, the wife of Zeus, tricked the now-pregnant woman into requesting Zeus hold her as he would a goddess, and as expected she did not survive. The unborn child was sewn into the thigh of Zeus and raised by his aunt after birth. Later, Dionysus honoured his mother by placing a wreath in the sky. Such a start in life would drive anyone to drink.

This Week in the Solar System

Saturday’s sunrise in Moncton is at 6:55 am and sunset will occur at 7:33 pm, giving 12 hours, 38 minutes of daylight (7:01 am and 7:37 pm in Saint John). Next Saturday the Sun will rise at 7:04 am and set at 7:19 pm, giving 12 hours, 15 minutes of daylight (7:09 am and 7:24 pm in Saint John).

The Harvest Moon, which is the full Moon nearest the autumn equinox, occurs at 1:33 am this Saturday so it will rise closest to full on Friday evening. Due to the shallow angle of the ecliptic at sunset this time of year, successive moonrises occur only 20-30 minutes later, making it seem like we have a full Moon several days in a row. Jupiter sets around 11 pm this week, followed by Saturn two hours later. Saturn is stationary on Wednesday, resuming its normal eastward motion relative to the stars. Telescope users might see Jupiter’s Red Spot between 9 and 10 pm on Thursday. Mercury, Venus and Mars are too close to the Sun for observing.

The Saint John Astronomy Club meets in the Rockwood Park Interpretation Centre this Saturday, and RASC NB meets in the UNB Fredericton Forestry-Earth Sciences building at 1 pm on September 21. All are welcome.

Questions? Contact Curt Nason.

Sky at a Glance September 7 – 14

Photo showing the chevron shaped constellation Capricornus in the southern night sky.

This Week’s Sky at a Glance, 2019 September 7 – 14
~by Curt Nason

The constellation Capricornus is a large chevron shape that is due south around 10 pm this week. A pair of stars marks each upper corner, and both stars of the western pair are colourful wide double stars. The sea goat arises from a tale of the Olympian gods being surprised by Typhon, the most ferocious of the rival Titans. Knowing Typhon was not fond of water, the gods changed into fish and escaped to the sea. The god Pan, who was half-goat and half-man, panicked and dove in before the transformation was complete and wound up with a goat’s head and the tail of a fish.

There are four common targets for backyard telescope users near Capricornus, but only the globular cluster M30 off the east side of the chevron is officially within its borders. It is also the easiest of the targets for binoculars. The globular cluster M75 lies west of the chevron in Sagittarius, while globular cluster M72 and the four-star (literally four stars, it is not an observing highlight) asterism M73 are above in Aquarius. Nearby is the more challenging, but worth the effort, Saturn Nebula, the gaseous remnant of a dead star that somewhat resembles the ringed planet.

A few millennia ago the Sun was in Capricornus at the winter solstice, when at midday it was overhead at its most southerly point, at latitude -23.5 degrees. This is the southern border of the tropics, and it is still called the Tropic of Capricorn despite the Sun now being in Sagittarius at this time. Earth’s 25,800 year polar wobble, called the precession of the equinox, is responsible for this shift.

This Week in the Solar System

Saturday’s sunrise in Moncton is at 6:46 am and sunset will occur at 7:46 pm, giving 13 hours of daylight (6:52 am and 7:50 pm in Saint John). Next Saturday the Sun will rise at 6:55 am and set at 7:33 pm, giving 12 hours, 38 minutes of daylight (7:01 am and 7:37 pm in Saint John).

The Moon is in a waxing gibbous phase this weekend and it is full, the Harvest Moon, on September 14. Jupiter and Saturn share the evening spotlight with it in the constellations Ophiuchus and Sagittarius, respectively. Telescope users might see Jupiter’s Red Spot around 8:15 pm on Thursday.

The Saint John Astronomy Club meets in the Rockwood Park Interpretative Centre on September 7, possibly moving to September 14 if Dorian dumps a lot of rain on this Saturday.

Questions? Contact Curt Nason.

Sky at a Glance August 31 – September 7

Photo showing the constellation Andromeda in the eastern late summer and autumn sky.
This Week’s Sky at a Glance, 2019 August 31 – September 7
~by Curt Nason

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

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

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

This Week in the Solar System

Saturday’s sunrise in Moncton is at 6:37 am and sunset will occur at 7:59 pm, giving 13 hours, 22 minutes of daylight (6:44 am and 8:03 pm in Saint John). Next Saturday the Sun will rise at 6:46 am and set at 7:46 pm, giving 13 hours of daylight (6:52 am and 7:50 pm in Saint John).

The Moon was new and at perigee on August 30, making for a great long weekend of dark sky observing and extreme tides. The Moon is at first quarter just after midnight on Thursday evening, giving stunning views through a small telescope of its craters and mountains over several days. Jupiter sets around 11 pm, and telescope users might see its Red Spot around 10 pm on Monday. Saturn is at its highest and best for observing at 9:30 pm. Mars is in conjunction behind the Sun on Monday, being joined the next day by Mercury in superior conjunction.

The annual RASC NB Fundy Park StarGaze will be held on August 30 and 31 at the Herring Cove campsite in Fundy National Park. There will be public observing at Dutch Point Park in Hampton on September 5 and at the Irving Nature Park in Saint John on September 6. The Saint John Astronomy Club meets in the Rockwood Park Interpretation Centre on September 7, possibly moving to September 14 if a previously mentioned observing event gets shifted to September 7 due to clouds.

Questions? Contact Curt Nason.

Sky at a Glance August 24 – 31

Photo showing the diamond shaped constellation Delphinus the Dolphin and nearby features in the southeastern sky about 10pm.

This Week’s Sky at a Glance, 2019 August 24 – 31 ~by Curt Nason

One of the prettiest constellations can be seen halfway up in the southeastern sky around 10 pm. Delphinus the Dolphin is composed of a small diamond-shaped asterism with a star tailing off to the right, and it doesn’t take a lot of imagination to picture a dolphin leaping out of the sea. Although its stars are not bright, its compact shape is eye-catching. Below it are the watery constellations of Capricornus, Aquarius, Piscis Austrinus and Pisces. In mythology, Poseidon had designs on the sea nymph Amphitrite but she hid on him. A dolphin kept track of her and eventually convinced her that the sea god was an okay guy, and it was rewarded with a place of honour in the sky. The diamond part of the constellation has also been called Job’s Coffin but the origin of this is unknown.

Above Delphinus, and within the Summer Triangle, are two other small constellations called Sagitta the Arrow and Vulpecula the Fox. Like Delphinus, Sagitta does resemble its namesake but apparently the fox is too sly to give itself away readily. Sagitta is supposedly the arrow shot by Hercules to kill an eagle (Aquila) that had been commanded by Zeus to peck out the liver of Prometheus each day to punish him for giving humans the secret of fire. Binoculars might reveal the tiny gaseous remnants of an expired star, called the Dumbbell Nebula or M27, above the arrowhead, and the Coathanger Cluster is to the upper right of the fletching.

This Week in the Solar System

Saturday’s sunrise in Moncton is at 6:29 am and sunset will occur at 8:12 pm, giving 13 hours, 43 minutes of daylight (6:35 am and 8:16 pm in Saint John). Next Saturday the Sun will rise at 6:37 am and set at 7:59 pm, giving 13 hours, 22 minutes of daylight (6:44 am and 8:03 pm in Saint John).

The Moon is new and at perigee on August 30, making for a great long weekend of dark sky observing and extreme tides. Jupiter dominates the first half of the evening this week, while Saturn will be a better target in the latter half. Telescope users might see Jupiter’s Red Spot around 9 pm on Monday and 10:45 pm on Wednesday. Mercury rises an hour before the Sun this weekend but rises by only 20 minutes sooner next weekend.

The annual RASC NB Fundy Park StarGaze will be held on August 30 and 31 at the Herring Cove campsite in Fundy National Park.

Questions? Contact Curt Nason.

Sky at a Glance August 17 – 24

Photo showing location of the constellation Cepheus the King to the right of Polaris in the northern night sky.

This Week’s Sky at a Glance, 2019 August 17– 24 ~by Curt Nason

The constellation Cepheus the King is quite large but it can be difficult to pick out. Around 9:30 pm, look northward for a group of five moderately bright stars in the shape of a house on its side and situated above the W-shape of Cassiopeia the Queen. The peak of the house is only about a fist-width to the right of Polaris, the North Star, and the constellation lies just below a line from Polaris to Deneb at the tail of Cygnus the Swan. A colourful star can be seen in binoculars or a scope just below the base of the house. Herschel’s Garnet Star, a red supergiant, is one of the most luminous stars known and is a thousand times wider than the Sun. If placed in the middle of our solar system it would stretch beyond the orbit of Jupiter.

Another famous star in Cepheus is Delta Cephei, which is situated near the bottom left of the house; it being the namesake of the Cepheid variable stars. Such giant stars pulsate with a regular period and subsequently dim and brighten consistently over that time. For example, Delta Cephei dims and brightens by a factor of two over about five days. Early in the 20th century, Harvard astronomer Henrietta Swan Leavitt discovered that the intrinsic brightness of a Cepheid variable was proportional to its period and worked out a formula for this relationship. Using the 100-inch telescope on Mount Wilson in the 1920s, Edwin Hubble detected Cepheid variables in what was then called the Andromeda Nebula. Knowing the intrinsic brightness of these stars based on their periods, and how stars dim with distance, he determined the distance to these stars and proved that the nebula was actually a galaxy outside of the Milky Way.

In mythology, Cepheus and Cassiopeia were the rulers of Ethiopia. Poseidon had made a ferocious sea monster to ravage the land as punishment for Cassiopeia’s boasts of their daughter Andromeda’s beauty. To get rid of the monster, they chained Andromeda to the rocks at the seashore as a sacrifice to the monster. She was rescued by Perseus, whose namesake constellation is seen below Cassiopeia.

This Week in the Solar System

Saturday’s sunrise in Moncton is at 6:20 am and sunset will occur at 8:25 pm, giving 14 hours, 5 minutes of daylight (6:27 am and 8:28 pm in Saint John). Next Saturday the Sun will rise at 6:29 am and set at 8:12 pm, giving 13 hours, 43 minutes of daylight (6:35 am and 8:16 pm in Saint John).

The Moon is at third quarter on Friday, rising before midnight Thursday and setting at 2:25 the following afternoon. Jupiter is at its highest at sunset, followed by Saturn two hours later. Telescope users might see Jupiter’s Red Spot around 10 pm on Wednesday and 11:30 pm on Friday. Mercury rises about an hour before the Sun and is an easy binocular target in twilight. Venus and Mars are on vacation for a while.

There will be public observing at the ball field in St. George on Friday, August 23, with a cloud date of August 24. The annual RASC NB Fundy Stargaze will be held on August 30 and 31 at the Herring Cove campsite in Fundy National Park.

Questions? Contact Curt Nason.

Sky at a Glance August 10 – 17

Photo showing location of the constellation Perseus in the northeastern night sky.

This Week’s Sky at a Glance, 2019 August 10– 17 ~by Curt Nason

With the Perseid meteor shower peaking this week, let us visit its namesake constellation. Perseus the Hero stands on the northeastern horizon by midnight, just below the W shape of his mother-in-law, Cassiopeia. He is a hero because, among other deeds, he prevented his future wife Andromeda from becoming a tasty lunch for a ferocious sea monster.

The brightest star in Perseus, Mirfak, is part and namesake of the Alpha Persei Cluster. This is one of my favourite binocular targets because it resembles a miniature version of the constellation Draco. Another popular binocular target is a close pair of star clusters – NGC 869 and 884 – located halfway between Perseus and Cassiopeia, which astronomers have cleverly called the Double Cluster. The Perseid meteors appear to originate from a point near the Double Cluster.

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

This Week in the Solar System

Saturday’s sunrise in Moncton is at 6:12 am and sunset will occur at 8:36 pm, giving 14 hours, 24 minutes of daylight (6:19 am and 8:39 pm in Saint John). Next Saturday the Sun will rise at 6:20 am and set at 8:25 pm, giving 14 hours, 5 minutes of daylight (6:27 am and 8:28 pm in Saint John).

The Moon is full on Thursday, the Mi’gmaw Ripening Moon, and passes near Saturn on Monday. Jupiter is stationary on Sunday, after which it begins its normal eastward motion relative to the stars. Telescope users might see its Red Spot around 11:30 pm on Sunday and 11 pm on Friday. Saturn is highest in the south and at its best for observing around 11 pm. Mercury will slowly start moving sunward but it also brightens in doing so, making this week a good time to look for it with binoculars 45 minutes before sunrise. Venus reaches superior conjunction behind the Sun on Wednesday and will move into the evening sky in autumn. The highlight of the week is the annual Perseid meteor shower, which peaks over Monday evening into Tuesday morning. Moonlight will obscure the fainter meteors but this shower is noted for having more than its share of bright shooting stars. The nights immediately before and after will typically produce half the number seen on the peak night.

There will be public observing in Cambridge Narrows on Saturday evening as part of the Life at the Lakes Festival, and at Oak Bay on Friday, August 16.

Questions? Contact Curt Nason.