Category Archives: Stargazing

Stargazing is Like a Box of Chocolates

Photo of the Northern Lights

Stargazing is Like a Box of Chocolates ~by Curt Nason

A memorable line from the movie Forrest Gump compared life to a box of chocolates; you never know what you’re going to get. Although the night sky is full of predictable observing targets and events, it is the unexpected treasures that make stargazing so enjoyable.

I was cat-sitting at my childhood home in McAdam last weekend, where the backyard night sky is much darker than at my home in suburban Saint John. I was struggling with a topic for this monthly column and I put it aside hoping for inspiration overnight. Around midnight I stepped out on the deck with binoculars to view a comet, one of my pet observing projects, and my attention was drawn to a wall of light to the north. My first impression was of light pollution, but then I noticed a few spikes of light with a subtle green tinge and I recalled an email alerting stargazers to the possibility of northern lights. After a quick dash inside for warmer clothes, I was treated to more than an hour of shimmering green lights that at times reached the North Star, halfway to the zenith; the best aurora I have seen in 13 years.

As I watched the northern lights I thought of how fortunate I was. My quick dash outside to see a gray blur in binoculars, which I had seen several times already this spring, had revealed Nature’s fireworks, accompanied by the restful chirping of peepers rather than resonating booms. Several airplanes passed by, all seemingly on the same path, and I envied the view that the pilots and alert passengers must be getting. The Milky Way was like a bright cloud rather than the hint of light I see from my backyard at home; its pearly stream split by clouds of interstellar dust between us and the inner spiral arm of our galaxy. A meteor flashed silently across the sky, the result of a tiny pebble shed from a comet long ago entering our atmosphere, making the thin air glow as it disintegrated from the heat of friction. Then I recalled why I went outside in the first place.

The comet was an easy find with binoculars, beside a fairly bright star in a prominent constellation overhead, looking much better than from my deck at home. Saturn and Jupiter called for my attention, and then I noticed the orange star Antares between two trees. In the same field of view was a globular cluster called M4, the fourth object in Charles Messier’s list of objects that resemble comets. I cannot always see it with a telescope from home because with its low altitude it gets lost in urban skyglow, but here it looked huge with just binoculars from its distance of 7000 light years.

Another comet was near Antares, one I have yet to see, so I set up a telescope. Life is not always a bowl of cherry chocolates, for this comet was too faint for my equipment, but it should brighten soon. The view of Saturn’s rings and Jupiter’s cloud belts in the telescope made up for any disappointment. It was now two o’clock, and back on the deck I could still see the aurora teasingly fading away and spiking up again. I herded the cats inside and went to bed, tired but inspired to write.

Stargazing is a wonderful hobby. Every clear night the sky is a familiar friend and yet serendipitously different, and I have never regretted dragging myself outside to look up. I never know what surprise might await me, but I do know it won’t be fattening.

Free Astronomy Workshops

Series of 6 Free Astronomy Workshops for 2017

~hosted by Paul Owen and the Saint John Astronomy Club

Note: For 2018, see Night Time Imaging with Paul Owen.

Free Astronomy Workshops

The Saint John Astronomy Club started a series of free astronomy workshops for both beginners and seasoned stargazers alike.
The first two in the series  of interactive workshops were held at The Old St George Restaurant in west Saint John and were well attended.
The 3rd through the 6th Workshops were at the Rockwood Park Interpretation Centre.

Overall Concept~

Members of the Saint John Astronomy Club and the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada (RASC) – New Brunswick Centre will be on hand to show you what to look for in your first, or next, telescope, or to help you get the most out of the telescope you have. If you have a telescope, bring it along, and make sure you dress warmly, as, weather permitting, the workshop will include a hands-on observing session. Future sessions will include the basics of astro-photography, observing with binoculars, time lapse photography, adjusting and maintaining your equipment, and more!

Pdf of Presentations~

We now have pdfs of the now completed Series available. You can access them here:
Telescope Basics
Imaging the Moon

1st Session~ Telescope Basics   January 2017

Photograph of the first workshop hosted by the Saint John Astronomy Club was well attended.

Photograph of various telescopes set up at the first free astronomy workshop.

Photograph of Paul Owen pointing out different types of telescopes at workshop.

Photograph of Paul Owen showing different types of equipment at astronomy workshop.

2nd Session~  Navigating the Night Sky & Imaging the Moon

Photograph speaking at the second free astronomy workshop.Like the 1st Workshop, the 2nd one in February was well attended. Paul gave an in-depth view on photographing the Moon with a variety of devices, including using iPhone adapters on a telescope. Chris Curwin also gave hints and an overall view using the free astronomy app Stellarium in night sky navigating.
Photograph of Chris Curwin of Astronomy by the Bay showing how to use Stellarium.

Photograph of Paul Owen showing how to use a camera adapter on a telescope.

3rd Session~Observing the Solar System~ March, 2017

The Saint John Astronomy Club held its 3rd in the series of free interactive workshops at The Rockwood Park Interpretation Centre in St. John on March 8. Next one will be Wednesday, April 12.

Paul Owen giving a talk on observing the solar system.Paul Owen gave a presentation on Observing The Solar System and our position in the Milky Way Galaxy. He talked about the various sizes of the Planets, Comets, the Astroid Belt, and what to look for.
Paul Owen giving a talk on observing the solar system at the 3rd SJAC workshop.
As usual, everyone always enjoys the prizes the prizes too.Paul Owen giving away prizes at the 3rd SJAC workshop.

Chris Curwin from Astronomy by the Bay giving a talk on various free software programs to help in observing the planets.
Chris Curwin from Astronomy by the Bay gave a talk on using various free software programs to help in observing the planets. He talked about using Stellarium, Time and Date, and Heavens Above for help in navigating the night sky.
An outdoor observing session after the 3rd free astronomy workshop hosted by the SJAC and Paul Owen.
The skies cleared after a day of rain, drizzle and fog and we managed to work in some observing time after the workshop.
Observing with telescopes after a free astronomy workshop hosted by the SJAC.

4th Session~Astrophotography: Part II~ April 12, 2017

The 4th in the series of Free Astronomy Workshops was Wednesday, April 12 at the Interpretation Centre, Rockwood Park.
A photo of star trails taken by Paul Owen
For this Workshop the Theme was Astrophotography: Part II –Using your DSLR, Nikon and Cannon free software, shooting Star Trails, the Milky Way, advantages of a modified DSLR, etc. [photo above taken by Paul Owen].

Paul Owen discussing which lens to use at the 4th Free Astronomy Workshop

Paul Owen discussing which settings to use for photographing Constellations at the 4th Free Astronomy Workshop

Paul Owen discussing which settings to use for photographing Twilight at the 4th Free Astronomy Workshop

Paul Owen discussing which settings to use for photographing Startrails at the 4th Free Astronomy Workshop

Paul Owen discussing which settings to use for photographing the Aurorae at the 4th Free Astronomy Workshop

Paul Owen discussing our position in the Milky Way at the 4th Free Astronomy Workshop Also included was Star Parties, what they are, when they are. Weather did not permit Observing after.

5th Session~Using Binoculars & Selecting Mounts

The 5th in the series of Free Astronomy Workshops was Wednesday, May 10th at the Interpretation Centre, Rockwood Park.

1st Half: Using Binoculars~

Paul Owen gave a comprehensive view of using Binoculars for night sky astronomy observing–how to use them, get the most out of them, and what to look for in buying.
Paul Owen explaining the tradeoffs of using different size binoculars for viewing different objects in the night sky.

Paul Owen explaining how binoculars are perfect for viewing wide star clusters.

Paul Owen explaining the exit pupil size in binoculars.

Paul Owen explaining how to mount binoculars for steady viewing.

A list of some of the best links to get the most out of binocular night sky viewing.

The links shown above are listed here for your convenience~
RASC Observer’s Handbook, Wide Field Wonders (in back of book)
RASC Calgary Centre, Binocular Observing Certificate
Astronomical League, Deep Sky Program (for binoculars)
Binocular Sky Website
Sky & Telescope, Binocular Stargazing Catalog
Light and Matter, BinoSky

2nd Half: Selecting Mounts~

In the second part of the Workshop, Paul showed how he sets up an EQ (equatorial) mount, start to finish, for night sky viewing. He also demonstrated how you can use a wifi connection and free software for controlling the scope and giving you more information about objects in the night sky.

Paul Owen demonstrating how to set up an equatorial telescope.

Paul Owen looking through the polar alignment scope on an equatorial mount.

Paul Owen mounting a refractor scope on an equatorial mount.

Paul Owen demonstrating using a wifi connection on a telescope mount to control the scope and give you more information about the object you are looking at.

Matt West explaining his refactor scope mounted on an a-z mount.
Above–Matt West shows his scope mounted on an  Alt-Azimuth (A-Z) mount, and how he uses it. Also shown was a Dobsonian Mount [no photo].

Below is a short video about Workshop #5~

Free Astronomy Workshop wraps up June 14, 2017~
Wrap-up Session, Prepping for Summer, Q&A

Free Astronomy Workshop # 6

Paul Owen with a picture of John Dobson

Paul Owen showing a small refactor telescope at the Free Astronomy Workshop # 6

Paul Owen going over Moon photography at the Free Astronomy Workshop # 6

Paul Owen at the Free Astronomy Workshop # 6

Paul Owen giving some pointer about a SCT Telescope at the Free Astronomy Workshop # 6

Photo of Paul Owen, host of the Free Astronomy Workshop series.

The Free Astronomy Workshop Series has ended for 2017. The Rockwood Park Interpretation Centre was the setting for the 6th and final in the series on June 14th.

These free workshops covered information that you may not easily find anywhere else. The response from the public was gratifying.

These Free Workshops were hosted by Paul Owen and the SJAC. You can still ask questions about anything you are curious about or need clarification. Contact the host, Paul Owen.

The Saint John Astronomy Club meets @ 7pm the 1st Saturday of every month (long weekends excepted) at the Rockwood Park Interpretation Centre. As with the workshops, all are welcome, no experience necessary.

For 2018, see Night Time Imaging with Paul Owen.

See also~
Photographing the Moon
Photographing the Milky Way
Choosing the Right Equipment

Learning the Night Sky
Explore the Universe Astronomy Course
Astronomy by the Bay




Sky at a Glance March 4 – 11

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

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

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

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

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

This Week in the Solar System

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

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

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

Questions? You can contact Curt Nason here.

Favourite Binocular Targets

~by Chris Curwin, Astronomy by the Bay

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

My Favourite Binocular Targets~

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

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

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

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

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)


Learning the Night Sky

~by Chris Curwin, Astronomy by the Bay

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

Learning the Night Sky the Easy Way~

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

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

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

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

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

More from Astronomy by the Bay~

Star Hopping
Favourite Binocular Targets
“Sign Posts” for Navigating the Night Sky

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


Moonlight Snowshoe Walk 2017

Good Turnout for Snowshoe Walk

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

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

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

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

Setting telescopes up by the barn at the Irving Nature Park Moonlight Snowshoe Walk 2017Above and Below~ Setting up by The Barn prior to everyones arrival.

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

Where it is~

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

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


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
Astronomy Day in Rockwood Park