Category Archives: Astronomy

Sky at a Glance May 6 – 13

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

Last week we found the constellation Hercules by looking two-thirds of the way from Arcturus to Vega, the fourth and fifth brightest stars in the sky. One third of the way to Vega is a pretty semicircle of stars that makes up Corona Borealis, the Northern Crown. In the middle of the semicircle is the constellation’s brightest star, called Gemma (jewel) or Alphecca (bright star of the broken ring), among other names. In the past year the International Astronomical Union approved official names for about 240 stars, and Alphecca was chosen over Gemma.

Some ancient societies regarded the constellation as a begging bowl, and in local aboriginal legend it is the cave from which the bear (the bowl of the Big Dipper) emerges in spring. In Greek mythology it was a crown worn by Bacchus, the god of wine, who lived on the island of Naxos. Theseus, an Athenian prince, went to Crete as part of a group of youth who were to be placed in the labyrinth as food for the Minotaur. With the aid of Ariadne, the beautiful daughter of King Minos, Theseus slew the Minotaur and found his way out of the labyrinth. In love with Ariadne, he took her aboard to sail back to Athens. They stopped at Naxos where Bacchus also fell in love with Ariadne, and made Theseus leave without her. To prove his love and his godliness to the skeptical Ariadne, he tossed the crown into the sky as a symbol of her beauty. Immortality and a lifetime supply of wine, who could pass that up?

This Week in the Solar System

Saturday’s sunrise in Moncton is at 5:58 am and sunset will occur at 8:34 pm, giving 14 hours, 36 minutes of daylight (6:05 am and 8:36 pm in Saint John). Next Saturday the Sun will rise at 5:48 am and set at 8:42 pm, giving 14 hours, 54 minutes of daylight (5:56 am and 8:45 pm in Saint John).

The Moon is near Jupiter on Sunday and full on Wednesday, the Frog Croaking Moon. Jupiter rules the sky throughout the night, something Venus cannot do. Perhaps this is why Jupiter was selected to represent the king of the gods in ancient Rome. Mars passes above the Hyades star cluster this week, a good opportunity to compare its colour with that of orange Aldebaran using binoculars. Brilliant Venus starts its morning shift 30-40 minutes before Jupiter ends the night shift. Mercury rises 45-50 minutes before the Sun but you might need binoculars to see it. Next Saturday, May 13, the Moon and Saturn rise together shortly after 11 pm.

The Saint John Astronomy Club meets at the Rockwood Park Interpretation Centre at 7 pm on Saturday, May 6. The Fredericton Astronomy Club meets on Tuesday at 7 pm in the UNB Forestry / Earth Sciences Building, That will also be the venue for a 1 pm meeting of the provincial club, RASC NB, on May 13. All are welcome.

Questions? Contact Curt Nason.

Sky at a Glance April 29-May 6

Photo showing the Constellation Hercules in the night sky.

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

The constellation Hercules is up in the east after sunset, recognizable by the Keystone asterism that forms the legendary strongman’s body. He is usually pictured kneeling upside down in the sky, having a tête-à-tête with Ophiuchus the Serpent Bearer, with his foot placed triumphantly on the head of Draco the Dragon. The Keystone is situated two-thirds of the way from Arcturus to Vega.

Hercules (Heracles in Greek mythology) was the result of one of Zeus’s many affairs with a mortal woman. Consequently, Hera (wife of Zeus) did whatever she could to have Hercules killed. As a baby Hercules strangled two snakes sent by her, and the Twelve Labours he performed were assigned by King Eurystheus, a representative of Hera.

Two globular clusters, M13 and M92, can be seen with binoculars in the constellation. M13, the finest globular cluster in the northern hemisphere, is along the right side of the Keystone, two-thirds of the way from bottom to top. A line from the bottom right star of the Keystone to the middle of the top side, and extended not quite that same distance, will put you near M92. Currently there are comets near both feet of Hercules, bright enough to be seen in a small scope or perhaps in binoculars with a dark sky. Comet 41P/Tuttle-Giacobini-Kresak is near the left foot by Draco’s head, and C/2015 V2 Johnson is near the right foot past the knee of Hercules. See the Comets section of the Heavens-Above website for their current locations.

This Week in the Solar System

Saturday’s sunrise in Moncton is at 6:08 am and sunset will occur at 8:24 pm, giving 14 hours, 16 minutes of daylight (6:15 am and 8:27 pm in Saint John). Next Saturday the Sun will rise at 5:58 am and set at 8:33 pm, giving 14 hours, 35 minutes of daylight (6:04 am and 8:36 pm in Saint John).

The Moon is at first quarter on Tuesday, giving great views in a scope all week. Jupiter is highest in the south around 11:30 pm. On Wednesday evening, with a scope or even binoculars, you can watch its volcanic moon Io approach and finally disappear behind the planet at 11:11 pm. Late the next evening Io will be in nearly the same position, having emerged from a transit in front of Jupiter at 10:39 pm. Mars approaches the Hyades star cluster, which is anchored on one side by orange Aldebaran, and sets around 10:45 midweek. Venus is at its brightest for its current morning apparition on Sunday, while later in the week Mercury rises 45 minutes before the Sun. By midweek Saturn is rising before midnight.

To cap off Astronomy Week RASC NB members in Moncton will be holding public observing at the soccer field next to Lou MacNarin School from 9-11 pm on Friday, April 28; solar observing at that location Saturday, April 29, from 9 am to 1pm, and observing at the Moncton High School Observatory from 9-11 pm that evening. In Saint John, members are holding public observing at the Rockwood Park Bark Park (Fisher Lakes entrance) from 9-11 pm on Saturday, April 29, with Sunday as a back-up date if it is cloudy.

Questions? Contact Curt Nason.

Astronomy Day at Rockwood Park

Stargazers on International Astronomy Day. International Astronomy Day was celebrated in Rockwood Park on April 29 with members of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, the Saint John Astronomy Club, and members of the public. About 50-60 people showed up.

EVENT: Public Stargazing Night   
WHERE: Rockwood Park Bark Park
WHEN: Saturday, April 29 from 9 – 11 pm
ADMISSION:  FREE

Despite less than ideal conditions, several telescopes were set up for observing the treasures of the night sky. Craters on Moon, Mars, and Jupiter with its cloud belts, 4 moons and a giant storm called the Great Red Spot. As darkness set in we also observed star clusters, galaxies millions of light years away, and an interstellar cloud where stars are forming called the Orion nebula.

Astronomy Day in Rockwood Park

Setting up for the SJAC Astronomy Day in Rockwood Park


A couple of new telescopes were set up, some right out of the box.

From Curt Nason, April 21:

April 24 -30 is International Astronomy Week, and April 29 is Astronomy Day. Astronomy Day had its beginning in 1973 in California when amateur astronomers set up telescopes in busy urban areas to let people have views of the Moon and planets, hence its motto of “Bringing Astronomy to the People.” Astronomy Day is usually held on the Saturday nearest the first quarter Moon between mid-April and mid-May. Ten years ago a Fall Astronomy Day was added between mid-September and mid-October, when sunset is earlier and the weather is often better for observing.

Sidewalk astronomy, setting telescopes up in within a busy area of a community, is a popular activity during Astronomy Week. Often people will question why we are set up there, near streetlights, when their expectation is that nothing can be seen. The Moon and most planets, those celestial objects having the greatest “Wow Factor” for first-time observers, are bright enough that lighting has little effect on the views. If they are intrusive you can simply block them with your hand. Sidewalk observing events are often done on short notice, depending on the weather and whether the Moon or planets are visible.

Astronomers in Saint John are celebrating Astronomy Day with public observing at the Rockwood Park Bark Park (using the Fisher Lakes entrance to the park) from 9 pm to 11 pm, with Sunday (April 30) as a back-up date in case it is cloudy on Saturday. The Moon, Jupiter and Mars will hold court until after twilight. As darkness falls a variety of telescopes will be turned toward star clusters, double stars, galaxies, maybe a comet, and more. Such events are great places to learn the constellations, have questions answered, and to scope out any equipment you might have thought about buying. If you need a break from hockey playoffs, please join us.

Bringing astronomy to the people; hoping to bring more people to astronomy. Happy Astronomy Week!


You can also respond to our Facebook Event:
International Astronomy Day Public Stargazing Night


 

See also~

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

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

 

 

Sky at a Glance April 22 – 29

Photo of Venus and the Moon near the constellation Virgo in April

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

April 24 -30 is International Astronomy Week, and April 29 is Astronomy Day. Astronomy Day had its beginning in 1973 in California when amateur astronomers set up telescopes in busy urban areas to let people have views of the Moon and planets, hence its motto of “Bringing Astronomy to the People.” Astronomy Day is usually held on the Saturday nearest the first quarter Moon between mid-April and mid-May. Ten years ago a Fall Astronomy Day was added between mid-September and mid-October, when sunset is earlier and the weather is often better for observing.

Sidewalk astronomy, setting telescopes up in within a busy area of a community, is a popular activity during Astronomy Week. Often people will question why we are set up there, near streetlights, when their expectation is that nothing can be seen. The Moon and most planets, those celestial objects having the greatest “Wow Factor” for first-time observers, are bright enough that lighting has little effect on the views. If they are intrusive you can simply block them with your hand. Sidewalk observing events are often done on short notice, depending on the weather and whether the Moon or planets are visible.

Astronomers in Saint John are celebrating Astronomy Day with public observing at the Rockwood Park Bark Park (using the Fisher Lakes entrance to the park) from 9 pm to 11 pm, with Sunday (April 30) as a back-up date in case it is cloudy on Saturday. The Moon, Jupiter and Mars will hold court until after twilight. As darkness falls a variety of telescopes will be turned toward star clusters, double stars, galaxies, maybe a comet, and more. Such events are great places to learn the constellations, have questions answered, and to scope out any equipment you might have thought about buying. If you need a break from hockey playoffs, please join us.

Bringing astronomy to the people; hoping to bring more people to astronomy. Happy Astronomy Week!

This Week in the Solar System

Saturday’s sunrise in Moncton is at 6:20 am and sunset will occur at 8:14 pm, giving 13 hours, 54 minutes of daylight (6:26 am and 8:18 pm in Saint John). Next Saturday the Sun will rise at 6:08 am and set at 8:24 pm, giving 14 hours, 16 minutes of daylight (6:15 am and 8:27 pm in Saint John).

The waning crescent Moon is near Venus in the morning sky on Sunday and it is new on Wednesday. Jupiter is in good position for observing all evening, but at its best near midnight when it is highest in the south. Its moon Europa emerges from the planet’s shadow at 11:29 pm on Tuesday. Mars can be seen low in the west between the dipper-shaped Pleiades and V-shaped Hyades star clusters this week. Venus continues to brighten in the morning sky while Saturn puts its rings on display for early risers with a small scope. Early risers might also catch a few shooting stars from the minor Lyrid meteor shower on April 22.

Questions? Contact Curt Nason.

Picture: Moon and Venus at 5:30 am Sunday.

Sky at a Glance April 15 – 22

A photograph of Constellations in the springtime sky showing Virgo

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

With Jupiter being prominent in the east after twilight our eyes are also drawn to Spica, the 14th brightest star, which trails the planet by about seven degrees. Jupiter’s retrograde motion will carry it toward the star Porrima until mid-June, after which it will head eastward again to pass above Spica in September when they are setting an hour after sunset. When no bright planets are nearby, Spica is located by following the arc of the Big Dipper’s handle to bright Arcturus and driving a spike to Spica.

Spica represents an ear of wheat in the hand of the constellation Virgo the Maiden. In Greek mythology she was Demeter, the goddess of wheat or agriculture (Ceres in Roman mythology). The Sun passes through this constellation in harvest time, and it is in the head of Virgo at the autumnal equinox. Virgo is the second largest of the 88 constellations in terms of area of sky, trailing only Hydra the Water Snake. Coincidentally, it also trails Hydra in the sky, which can be seen stretching below Leo.

The region of sky encompassed by Virgo, Leo, Ursa Major and Boötes is known as the Realm of the Galaxies. The Galactic North Pole is in this direction, so we are looking away from the plane of our Milky Way galaxy and its obscuring dust clouds. Dozens of distant galaxies can be seen in a small telescope and many with binoculars. Spring is galaxy season for amateur astronomers.

This Week in the Solar System

Saturday’s sunrise in Moncton is at 6:32 am and sunset will occur at 8:05 pm, giving 13 hours, 33 minutes of daylight (6:38 am and 8:09 pm in Saint John). Next Saturday the Sun will rise at 6:20 am and set at 8:14 pm, giving 13 hours, 54 minutes of daylight (6:26 am and 8:18 pm in Saint John).

The Moon is at third quarter on Wednesday, rising in the middle of the night and setting early afternoon. Jupiter is in position for observing all evening but at its best near midnight when it is higher. Its moon Europa emerges from the planet’s shadow at 8:55 on Tuesday, and Io does the same trick at 10:10 on Wednesday. Mercury is at inferior conjunction on Thursday, moving to the morning sky late in the month. Mars passes below the Pleiades and they are a scenic couple in binoculars toward the end of the week. Brilliant Venus rises around 5 am, about the same time Saturn is at its highest in the southern sky. Early risers might catch a few shooting stars from the minor Lyrid meteor shower on April 22.

Questions? You can contact Curt Nason here.

Sky at a Glance April 8 – 15

A photo of the Spring sky showing Constellations.

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

The spring star is springing up in the east these evenings. Arcturus is the fourth brightest star in the sky and the second brightest we can see from New Brunswick. It is just a tad brighter than Vega, the summer star, which rises around 9 pm this week. The winter star, Sirius, sets around midnight and Capella, the autumn star, never sets in southern New Brunswick.

Arcturus anchors the constellation Boötes (bo-oh-teez) the Herdsman, and the star’s name means “bear driver.” Boötes is seen chasing the two bears, Ursa Major and Ursa Minor, around the celestial North Pole. To many people the constellation resembles a tie, a kite or an ice cream cone. The head of the herdsman, at the tip of the constellation opposite Arcturus, is the star Nekkar, which sounds somewhat like necktie.

Halfway between Arcturus and the hind leg of Ursa Major is the star Cor Coroli in Canes Venatici the Hunting Dogs. Use binoculars to look for a fuzzy patch halfway between Arcturus and Cor Coroli. This is a globular cluster called M3, the third entry in Charles Messier’s 18th century catalogue of things that resemble a comet but aren’t. This cluster contains half a million stars at a distance of 34,000 light years, nearly a thousand times farther than Arcturus.

This Week in the Solar System

Saturday’s sunrise in Moncton is at 6:45 am and sunset will occur at 7:56 pm, giving 13 hours, 11 minutes of daylight (6:51 am and 8:01 pm in Saint John). Next Saturday the Sun will rise at 6:32 am and set at 8:05 pm, giving 13 hours, 33 minutes of daylight (6:38 am and 8:09 pm in Saint John).

The Moon passes near Jupiter on Monday and on Tuesday it is full; the Mi’Kmaw Birds Laying Eggs Time Moon. Jupiter is higher in the east after sunset each evening. Use binoculars over the next few weeks to see its retrograde westward motion relative to the nearby star Theta Virginis. Mercury is ending its best evening viewing for the year, working its way sunward toward an inferior conjunction on April 20. Mars is seen as an orange star in the west, setting before 11 pm. Venus brightens the morning sky before sunrise in the east, and look south for Saturn above the spout of the Sagittarius Teapot. With binoculars around 5:30 am this weekend you might see comet C/2014 E4 Lovejoy as a small fuzzy patch near the northwest corner of the Square of Pegasus. Another comet, C/2015 ER61 PanSTARRS, has apparently brightened to binocular range above Capricornus. See the Heavens-Above website for finder maps of both comets.

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

Questions? You can contact Curt Nason here.

Sky at a Glance April 1 – 8

A picture of the night sky showing the Constellations

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

Around 1930 the International Astronomical Union finalized the official constellations and their boundaries to cover the entire sky. Oddly, 22 of those 88 constellations begin with the letter “C.” Around 9 pm we can see 11 of those and parts of three others, so rather than deep sea fishing let’s go high C hunting. Starting in the west we might catch the head of Cetus the Whale before it sets, and toward the south Columba the Dove hugs the horizon. Meanwhile, Cygnus the Swan flaps a wing above the northern horizon for it never sets completely for us.

Higher in the north the house of Cepheus the King is upright for a change. To his west we see the W-shape of his wife, Cassiopeia the Queen, and above them we might have to strain to see Camelopardalis the Giraffe. Looking southwest, to the left of Orion are his faithful big and little dogs Canis Major and Canis Minor. Barely visible above the little dog is Cancer the Crab, nestled nicely between Gemini and Leo. In the southeast we have Corvus the Crow and Crater the Cup, both of which piggyback on the Hydra. Tailing Leo high in the east is Coma Berenices, the locks of distressed Queen Berenice II of Egypt, and dogging Ursa Major is Canes Venatici the Hunting Dogs. Finally, lower in the east, we see the Northern Crown, Corona Borealis.

This episode of Sky at a Glance was brought to you by the letter C and the number 14. As you find each C constellation, count out loud like the Count (One! That’s one C constellation, ah ha ha!), and for each one you find you can reward yourself with … COOKIE!

This Week in the Solar System

Saturday’s sunrise in Moncton is at 6:58 am and sunset will occur at 7:48 pm, giving 12 hours, 50 minutes of daylight (7:04 am and 7:52 pm in Saint John). Next Saturday the Sun will rise at 6:45 am and set at 7:56 pm, giving 13 hours, 11 minutes of daylight (6:51 am and 8:01 pm in Saint John).

The Moon is at first quarter on Monday. Use a scope to see the Lunar X forming in the early evening, just inside the shadow below centre. The Moon is near Regulus in Leo on Thursday. Mercury is at its best evening viewing for the year, reaching its greatest elongation from the Sun on April 1 when it sets 1 hour 45 minutes after sunset. Mars will be 15 degrees to its upper left. Jupiter is at opposition, rising at sunset, on April 7. If you are scoping out the Lunar X on Monday evening, swing over to Jupiter a little before 8:40 to see its moon Io disappear into the planet’s shadow. Venus can be seen before sunrise in the east, and look for Saturn above the spout of the Sagittarius Teapot. It is stationary on Thursday, beginning a four-month retrograde westward motion against the starry background.

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

Questions? You can contact Curt Nason here.

Sky at a Glance March 25 – April 1

This Week’s Sky at a Glance, March 25 – April 1 ~by Curt Nason

What is the sign of spring for you? The first robin? For stargazers, spring is here when Leo the Lion clears the eastern horizon in twilight. Not only is it a sign of spring, it is a sign of the zodiac; one of the constellations that the Sun appears to travel through as our planet makes its annual orbit. A few thousand years ago the Sun passed in front of the stars of Leo at the height of summer, when the Nile River would rise and eventually flood its banks. Lions would bask at the riverside to escape the heat, and it doesn’t require a huge leap of imagination to see a lion in the stars of this area.

The constellation is composed of two prominent star patterns. A backwards question mark forms the lion’s neck and mane, with Leo’s brightest star marking the lion’s heart as the dot under the question mark. Eastward, to the left, is a triangle of stars representing its haunches and tail. The star at its heart is called Regulus, which means Little King. The Sun passes half its diameter below Regulus on August 22, more than a month later than it did when the constellation was named. Algieba, the bright star above Regulus, is actually two colourful stars when observed through a telescope.

In mythology Leo represents the Lion of Nemea, a beast with a hide impenetrable to anything but its own claws. Hercules was sent to kill the lion as the first of his twelve labours. After strangling it, he skinned the beast with its claws and used the pelt as a shield. If you look at the constellation backwards you might see a mouse, with the triangle as a mouse’s head and the backwards question mark as its tail, but having Hercules battle a mouse would not befit his legendary status.

This Week in the Solar System

Saturday’s sunrise in Moncton is at 7:12 am and sunset will occur at 7:38 pm, giving 12 hours, 26 minutes of daylight (7:17 am and 7:43 pm in Saint John). Next Saturday the Sun will rise at 6:58 am and set at 7:48 pm, giving 12 hours, 50 minutes of daylight (7:04 am and 7:52 pm in Saint John).

The Moon is new on Monday and on Tuesday evening a very slim crescent might be seen with binoculars above the sunset point. Mercury is at its best evening viewing over the next two weeks, reaching its greatest elongation from the Sun on April 1 when it sets 1 hour 45 minutes after sunset. Mars will be 15 degrees to its upper left. Jupiter rises in twilight this week. Use binoculars or a scope to watch its moon Ganymede disappear into the planet’s shadow around 9:40 Monday evening, and at 10:14 its moon Io will slowly emerge from behind the planet. Venus is at inferior conjunction this weekend and it can be seen before sunrise in the east. Look for Saturn above the spout of the Sagittarius Teapot.

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

Questions? You can contact Curt Nason here.

Sky at a Glance March 18 – 25

This Week’s Sky at a Glance, March 18 – March 25 ~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 invisible. 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. Puppis is more traditionally described as the Poop Deck, a rather appropriate name considering its location relative to the Big Dog. To the left of Puppis is a vertical line of three stars forming Pyxis the (Mariner’s) Compass. At its highest it does point roughly north-south.

This Week in the Solar System

Saturday’s sunrise in Moncton is at 7:25 am and sunset will occur at 7:29 pm, giving 12 hours, 4 minutes of daylight (7:30 am and 7:34 pm in Saint John). Next Saturday the Sun will rise at 7:12 am and set at 7:38 pm, giving 12 hours, 26 minutes of daylight (7:17 am and 7:43 pm in Saint John). On Monday at 6:29 am the Sun crosses the equator heading northward, marking the beginning of spring. Any remaining snow will magically turn to mud at that moment and marble season will officially open.

The Moon is at third quarter near Saturn on Monday, so have a look before you watch the Sun rise due east. After the Sun sets early this week, use binoculars to look for the slim crescent of Venus above it. An ambitious and careful observer might also catch it in the east before sunrise. Venus is at inferior conjunction on March 25 and becomes the Morning Star in early April. This Saturday, Mercury sets an hour after sunset with Venus 8 degrees to its right and a tad higher. Jupiter rises at 9 pm mid-week, about two hours before Mars sets. Keen eyed observers might catch the glow of the zodiacal light along the western ecliptic, in a dark sky untarnished by light pollution, about an hour after sunset.

The provincial astronomy club, RASC NB, meets at Moncton High School on Saturday, March 18 at 1 pm. One of the speakers will be a recently retired NASA astronomer and club member who was involved in building the Hubble Space Telescope. All are welcome.

Questions? You can contact Curt Nason here.

Sky at a Glance March 11 – 18

This Week’s Sky at a Glance, March 11 – March 18   ~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 6:39 am and sunset will occur at 6:19 pm, giving 11 hours, 40 minutes of daylight (6:43 am and 6:25 pm in Saint John). Next Saturday the Sun will rise at 7:25 am and set at 7:29 pm, giving 12 hours, 4 minutes of daylight (7:30 am and 7:34 pm in Saint John). As you may have noticed, we switch to Daylight Time at 2 am this Sunday. Being slightly farther north, Moncton residents can boast of longer days than Saint John for the next six months, but Saint John stargazers will just smile throughout the slightly longer nights.

The Moon is full on Sunday, pretty to look at but a temporary nuisance for those hoping to spot a few comets in a telescope. It will be near Jupiter in our sky on Tuesday evening. This Saturday, Mercury sets 20 minutes after sunset and is nearly 20 degrees below Venus. Next Saturday, Mercury sets an hour after sunset with Venus 8 degrees to its right and a tad higher. Mars resembles an orange star much higher in the west. Saturn lies within a binocular field to the upper right of the hazy Lagoon Nebula in the southern sky before dawn. Starting mid-week, keen eyed observers might catch the glow of the zodiacal light along the western ecliptic, in a dark sky untarnished by light pollution, about an hour after sunset.

The provincial astronomy club, RASC NB, meets at Moncton High School on Saturday, March 18 at 1 pm. One of the speakers will be a recently retired NASA astronomer and club member who was involved in building the Hubble Space Telescope. All are welcome.

Questions? Contact Curt Nason.

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.

Sky at a Glance February 25 – March 4

A photo of the February and March night sky using the program Stellarium
This Week’s Sky at a Glance, February 25- March 4 ~by Curt Nason

As a kid, did you ever wonder where the Sun goes between rising and setting? Do the constellations have a dormitory where they sleep until their next evening shift? What would we see if the earth disappeared or became transparent? With the Stellarium program we have that option. Those of you reading this on the Nature NB list will have to visit the Nature Moncton blog, Saint John Naturalists’ Club Facebook page, or the Saint John Astronomy Club website in a couple of days to see the before and after pictures.

Facing northwest at 7 pm this weekend, about an hour after sunset, we see the Big Dipper standing on its handle to our right. The Pointers stars at the end of the bowl direct our attention to the North Star halfway up the sky, with the bowl of the Little Dipper swinging below. Draco is playing dead on the northern horizon with his feet in the air, waiting for someone to toss him a dragon biscuit as a reward for this trick. Cygnus and Pegasus are playing ostrich with their heads shoved below ground level. Except for part of the swan’s wing the rest of their bodies will soon disappear, or will they?

With our Superman X-ray vision in the second picture we lose ground to reveal the constellations on their off-time. Ground level is the bottom of the cardinal points W and N. There is mighty Hercules kneeling on the underside of the northern horizon, still having a tête-a-tête with Ophiuchus. Bright Vega won’t be kept out of sight for long. To the west the Sun still shines, with the Moon and Mercury biding time until they are dawning with Aquarius in twelve hours. What is this pace? Is it Middle Earth, or the mythological Greek Underworld ruled by Hades? Will someone turn out the light so they can sleep?

This Week in the Solar System

Saturday’s sunrise in Moncton is at 7:05 am and sunset will occur at 6:00 pm, giving 10 hours, 55 minutes of daylight (7:08 am and 6:06 pm in Saint John). Next Saturday the Sun will rise at 6:52 am and set at 6:10 pm, giving 11 hours, 18 minutes of daylight (6:56 am and 6:15 pm in Saint John).

The Moon is new on Sunday, giving dark skies for those seeking galaxies and comets this weekend. It will be lower left of Venus on Tuesday and left of Mars on Wednesday. Around spring the crescent Moon makes a Cheshire cat smile in the early evening sky. On Monday binoculars or a scope will reveal Uranus about one degree to the lower left of Mars. Jupiter and Saturn are well placed for early morning observing in the southwest and southeast, respectively.

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
“Sign Posts” for Navigating the Night Sky
Europa

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
“Sign Posts” for Navigating the Night Sky

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


 

Sky at a Glance February 18 – 25

Photo of Constellations Orion and Taurus

This Week’s Sky at a Glance, February 18 – 25 ~by Curt Nason

Sometimes inspiration just doesn’t show up when I am trying to write. Rather than just copy and paste something from last winter I will relate some astronomical memories from my youth, when the stars were much closer and the snow was radioactive.

Orion and I became friends when I was about nine. I was reading astronomy books from the library at the time and constellation pictures from old star maps really captured my imagination. They remain imprinted, especially one of Orion threatening Taurus the Bull with his upraised club. Orion accompanied me on the mile-long walk home (yes, only about a mile, and uphill only near the end) from the outdoor rink, my overshoes squeaking and scrunching over the hard-packed snow of the sidewalk as I steered a hockey stick ahead of me. And I am sure he cheered each time I drilled a sponge ball past the invisible goalie tending the snowbank, leading the Leafs to yet another Stanley Cup. Perhaps it’s my fault they have faltered since I outgrew that.

The bedroom which I shared with two older brothers had a northwest-facing window, and on early winter evenings a bright star sparkled through the ice that formed on the glass inside. That must have been the star Vega. I recall attempting to melt the ice on another window with my thumb to catch sight of a lunar eclipse. I remember another lunar eclipse; of the setting Moon through the kitchen window before heading off to school. One winter, walking home from school in early twilight, Venus was in full bloom as the evening star. Occasionally the northern lights would dance, but only in black and white like our television. I never saw them in colour until much later in life.

Inspiration did come, from long ago.

This Week in the Solar System

Saturday’s sunrise in Moncton is at 7:17 am and sunset will occur at 5:50 pm, giving 10 hours, 33 minutes of daylight (7:20 am and 5:56 pm in Saint John). Next Saturday the Sun will rise at 7:05 am and set at 6:00 pm, giving 10 hours, 55 minutes of daylight (7:09 am and 6:06 pm in Saint John).

The Moon is at third quarter on Saturday, rising at 1 am and setting at 11 am. Venus continues its brilliance in the early evening sky as it edges westward from orange Mars, setting half an hour sooner late in the week. Jupiter rises around 10 pm but is still well placed for morning observing. Saturn crosses the constellation border from Ophiuchus into Sagittarius this week. You still have a week to catch the dim pyramid of zodiacal light along the western ecliptic an hour after sunset. You will need a clear sky with no light pollution to see sunlight reflecting off interplanetary dust.

The Saint John Naturalists’ Club meeting has been weather-bombed to this Monday, February 20, at 7 pm at the NB Museum in Market Square. It includes a presentation on the comet / asteroid impact that eventually wiped out the dinosaurs and most other forms of life, and the search for the crater it left as a souvenir. All are welcome and free to attend.

Questions? You can contact Curt Nason here.