All posts by admin

Sky at a Glance Feb 17 – 24

Photo of the Orion constellation.

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

Binoculars are great instruments for observing the brighter star clusters and nebulae in the night sky, and Orion is a great place for binocular treasures. Its most prominent naked eye feature is the angled line of three stars that make Orion’s Belt. This trio will fit easily within almost any binocular view. They are hot giant stars, with the one on the right, Mintaka, being a little dimmer than Alnitak on the left and Alnilam in between. Although they appear to be near each other, at a distance of 1300 light years Alnilam is more than 400 light years farther than the other two. Between Alnilam and Mintaka binoculars will show an S-shaped asterism, Orion’s S, which peeks above his belt as if he were a stereotypical plumber.

Below the belt is a string of a few dimmer stars that makes Orion’s sword, one of which looks fuzzy to the eye. Binoculars reveal this to be the Orion Nebula or M42, a vast cloud of gas and dust where stars are forming. Just above the nebula is an asterism that resembles a person running or perhaps the figure in a WALK sign. Several double or multiple stars can be seen in this general area. Binoculars will also enhance star colours so check out Orion’s two brightest stars, blue Rigel and orange Betelgeuse. Defocussing slightly will enhance the colours even more.

This Week in the Solar System

Saturday’s sunrise in Moncton is at 7:18 am and sunset will occur at 5:48 pm, giving 10 hours, 30 minutes of daylight (7:22 am and 5:54 pm in Saint John). Next Saturday the Sun will rise at 7:07 am and set at 5:58 pm, giving 10 hours, 51 minutes of daylight (7:10 am and 6:04 pm in Saint John).

The Moon is at first quarter on Friday, February 23, and sword-like Rupes Recta, a 110 km long fault known as the Straight Wall, will be visible in a telescope that evening just below the Moon’s middle. Jupiter rises by 1 am early in the week and is well-placed for morning observing. Saturn shines in the southeast above the lid of the Sagittarius Teapot asterism at 6 am, and by midweek orange Mars will be halfway between Saturn and Jupiter. Mercury is at superior conjunction this weekend but it will be seen near Venus in the evening sky early next month.

The provincial astronomy club, RASC NB, meets on Saturday, February 17 at 1 pm at the Cherry Brook Zoo in Saint John. All are welcome. Also, on the evening of February 17, RASC NB members are co-hosting the Kouchibouguac Winter Stargaze. See the Kouchibouguac National Park website for more information on the observing location and obtaining a park permit.

Questions? Contact Curt Nason.

Sky at a Glance Feb. 10 – 17

Photo showing the constellation Cancer the Crab and locations of M44 and M67

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

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

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

This Week in the Solar System

Saturday’s sunrise in Moncton is at 7:29 am and sunset will occur at 5:37 pm, giving 10 hours, 8 minutes of daylight (7:32 am and 5:44 pm in Saint John). Next Saturday the Sun will rise at 7:18 am and set at 5:48 pm, giving 10 hours, 30 minutes of daylight (7:22 am and 5:54 pm in Saint John).

The Moon is near Saturn on Sunday morning and it is new on Thursday. Jupiter and Mars are well-placed in the south for morning observing, while Saturn can be found to their lower left above the lid of the Sagittarius Teapot asterism. Mars is within a binocular width above the orange supergiant star Antares, in the heart of Scorpius. Mars was the Roman god of war, Ares was the Greek counterpart. The name Antares means “rival of Mars” due to the star’s similar colour and sometimes similar brightness of the planet. Mercury and Venus will be visible after sunset in the west before the end of the month. The International Space Station makes at least one evening pass between 6 pm and 8 pm until Tuesday. Check out the Heavens Above website for the times after setting your location.

The William Brydone Jack Astronomy Club meets on Tuesday at 7 pm in the UNB Forestry – Earth Sciences Building in Fredericton. The provincial astronomy club, RASC NB, meets on Saturday, February 17 at 1 pm in the Rockwood Park Interpretation Centre. All are welcome.

Questions? Contact Curt Nason.

Sky at a Glance Feb 3 – 10

Photo showing the location of the constellation Hydra, the largest of 88 constellations.

This Week’s Sky at a Glance, February 3 – 10 ~by Curt Nason

The constellation Hydra is the largest of the 88 and it represents a female water snake. I mention the gender because there is a male water snake constellation, Hydrus, in the southern hemisphere. A small trapezoid of stars, located about halfway below a line between Procyon in Canis Minor and Regulus in Leo, represents the snake’s head. To its lower left is a solitary bright star called Alphard, the heart of the snake. The rest of the constellation is a long serpentine string of fainter stars that stretches to Virgo. It takes about eight hours for the entire constellation to rise. Two other constellations, Corvus the Crow and Crater the Cup, are sitting on Hydra’s back.

In mythology, Hercules had to kill the multi-headed Hydra as the second of his famous labours. Knowing the creature could only be killed by severing all of the heads, and that two would grow in where one was severed, he placed a tree stump in a fire. When he cut off a head he cauterized the wound with the glowing stump to prevent the regrowth. When Hera saw that Hercules might win she sent a crab to distract him, but he easily stomped it dead. That explains the presence of the dim constellation Cancer the Crab just above the head of Hydra. Hera despised Hercules because he was the illegitimate son (one of many) of her husband Zeus. When the Hydra was slain, Hercules dipped his arrows in the Hydra’s poisonous blood for later use.

This Week in the Solar System

Saturday’s sunrise in Moncton is at 7:39 am and sunset will occur at 5:27 pm, giving 9 hours, 38 minutes of daylight (7:42 am and 5:34 pm in Saint John). Next Saturday the Sun will rise at 7:29 am and set at 5:37 pm, giving 10 hours, 8 minutes of daylight (7:32 am and 5:44 pm in Saint John).

The Moon is at third quarter on Wednesday morning, and it is near Mars on Friday. Jupiter and Mars are well-placed in the south for morning observing, while Saturn can be found far to their lower left above the lid of the Sagittarius Teapot asterism. The solar system looks to be fairly quiet this week, so try to spot the International Space Station. Brighter than Jupiter, it makes at least one evening pass each evening this week between 6 pm and 8 pm, travelling approximately west to east. Check out the Heavens Above website for the times after setting your location.

The Saint John Astronomy Club meets on Saturday, February 3 at 7 pm in the Rockwood Park Interpretation Centre. All are welcome.

Questions? Contact Curt Nason.

Sky at a Glance Jan 27 – Feb 3

Photo showing the constellation Monoceros

This Week’s Sky at a Glance, January 27 – February 3 ~by Curt Nason

Monoceros is a constellation that is easy to locate, sandwiched between Orion’s dogs Canis Major and Canis Minor, but it is not easy to see. From urban areas its dim stars are as elusive as the unicorn they depict. It was one of eight new constellations created on a globe by the Dutch cartographer Petrus Plancius around 1612. Of those eight, only Monoceros and Camelopardalis are recognized as official constellations today. Monoceros is situated within the winter Milky Way, which is apparent in rural skies.

Despite being a dim constellation, Monoceros is home to some favourite targets of astrophotographers, in particular the beautiful Rosette Nebula. Another is the combination of the Cone Nebula, Christmas Tree Cluster and the Fox Fur Nebula. Check the Internet for their stunning images. Monoceros has one Messier object within its boundary, the large open cluster M50, otherwise known as the Heart-Shaped Cluster. It can be seen in binoculars about 40% of the distance from Sirius to Procyon. Three other open clusters on the Messier list are found near Monoceros but lie officially within other constellations. They are the close pair of M46 and M47 in Puppis, and M48 in Hydra.

This Week in the Solar System

Saturday’s sunrise in Moncton is at 7:47 am and sunset will occur at 5:17 pm, giving 9 hours, 30 minutes of daylight (7:50 am and 5:24 pm in Saint John). Next Saturday the Sun will rise at 7:39 am and set at 5:27 pm, giving 9 hours, 48 minutes of daylight (7:42 am and 5:34 pm in Saint John).

The Moon is full on Wednesday morning, and just after it sets for most of New Brunswick it enters Earth’s shadow for the beginning of a total eclipse. If we are lucky and dedicated, we might catch the subtle gray shading of the penumbra on the Moon when it is near the horizon. It won’t look blue just because it is full for the second time this month; it should look orange for those west of us who get to see the total eclipse; and, if it looks super huge Wednesday morning, it always does when it is near the horizon thanks to an optical illusion. Jupiter and Mars are well-placed in the south for morning observing, while Saturn can be found far to their lower left above the lid of the Sagittarius Teapot asterism.

EOS Eco-Energy Inc. in Sackville is hosting a presentation on light pollution and astronomy, entitled De-Lighting the Night Sky, on January 27 from 4 to 6 pm at Open Sky (12 Folkins Drive). The Saint John Astronomy Club meets on February 3 at 7 pm in the Rockwood Park Interpretation Centre.

Questions? Contact Curt Nason.

Sky at a Glance Jan 20 – 27

Photo showing the location of the constellation Eridanus in the Southern Winter sky.

This Week’s Sky at a Glance, January 20 – 27 ~by Curt Nason

There is one river seen from New Brunswick that is completely ice-free all winter, but we can only see it at night. Eridanus the River, the fifth largest constellation in area of sky, has its head just off the foot of Orion near Rigel. Even when it is at its highest in our sky, the river’s meandering path takes it more than ten degrees below the horizon to where it terminates at Achernar, the ninth brightest star.

In mythology the river is associated with Phaethon, a mortal son of Apollo. Apollo drove the Sun, a golden chariot powered by mighty steeds, across the sky by day. Phaethon was allowed to drive it one day but he couldn’t control the steeds. They ran amok, scorching the sky (the Milky Way) and the Earth (Sahara), until Zeus blasted Phaethon with a thunderbolt and he fell to his death in the river. The twisty constellation was also considered to be the path of souls.

Although we can’t see Achernar without travelling to Florida, there is a notable star in Eridanus that we can see from outside a city. Omicron-2 Eridani, also called 40 Eridani or Keid (circled on the map), has a famous fictional and fascinating planet: Vulcan, the home of Spock. Did you know that there was once believed to be a planet closer to the Sun than Mercury? It was named Vulcan after the Roman god of fire, metalworking and the forge. Anomalies in Mercury’s orbit were thought to be due to an interior planet, and some astronomers even claimed to have seen it crossing the Sun. This was about 150 years ago, after Neptune was predicted and discovered based on anomalies in the orbit of Uranus. Coincidentally, regarding the god Vulcan, the constellation Fornax the Furnace barely crests our horizon near Eridanus.

This Week in the Solar System

Saturday’s sunrise in Moncton is at 7:54 am and sunset will occur at 5:07 pm, giving 9 hours, 13 minutes of daylight (7:56 am and 5:14 pm in Saint John). Next Saturday the Sun will rise at 7:47 am and set at 5:17 pm, giving 9 hours, 30 minutes of daylight (7:50 am and 5:24 pm in Saint John).

The Moon is at first quarter on Wednesday, giving great views in a telescope of its craters and mountains all week. Jupiter and Mars are well-placed in the south for morning observing, and Saturn rises almost two hours before sunrise. Mercury is heading sunward and is difficult to pick out with binoculars.

Questions? Contact Curt Nason.

Sky at a Glance January 13 – 20

Photo showing location of the constellation Orion, with the the dog constellations Canis Major and Canis Minor nearby.

This Week’s Sky at a Glance, January 13 – 20 ~by Curt Nason

With Orion’s hourglass figure now above the horizon after sunset, the giant hunter waits an hour or so for his two dogs to get up before he starts hunting. The first to greet the night is Canis Minor the Little Dog, a small constellation highlighted by Procyon, the eighth brightest star. To identify this star, Orion’s head and shoulders form an arrowhead, with orange Betelgeuse at the apex, which points toward Procyon. Like Sirius in Canis Major, this star is bright because it is in our celestial backyard, about 11 light years away.

The name Procyon means “before the dog,” indicating it is a harbinger of Sirius the Dog Star which rises about 40 minutes later. Ancient Egyptian farmers watched for the first visible rising of Sirius before sunrise, as experience had taught them the Nile would soon flood its banks with fertile soil when this occurred. In mythology the two dogs are sometimes depicted as Laelaps (Canis Major), an extremely fast dog and an equally fast fox. The dog was sent to hunt the fox but, after a long chase with no apparent end, Zeus turned them both to stone and placed them in the sky.

I like to look at the dogs and their westerly neighbours, Orion the Hunter and Lepus the Hare, in a more modern sense. The mighty demigod Orion becomes everyone’s favourite hunter, Elmer Fudd, with that wascawwy wabbit bugging him below his feet. Although not related directly to Bugs Bunny cartoons, the big and little dogs become Spike and Chester. Just as Chester would bounce around in front of his hero, the bulldog Spike, Canis Minor bounces up before Canis Major.

This Week in the Solar System

Saturday’s sunrise in Moncton is at 7:58 am and sunset will occur at 4:57 pm, giving 8 hours, 59 minutes of daylight (8:00 am and 5:05 pm in Saint John). Next Saturday the Sun will rise at 7:54 am and set at 5:07 pm, giving 9 hours, 13 minutes of daylight (7:56 am and 5:14 pm in Saint John).

The Moon is new on Tuesday and, with binoculars and some weather luck, the old crescent might be seen near Mercury and Saturn on the morning before. Those two planets are closest together this weekend. Also on Monday morning, Mars is a binocular-width to the lower left of Jupiter. Having passed Jupiter last weekend, Mars sets its sights on a rendezvous with Saturn in early April.

Questions? Contact Curt Nason.

Sky at a Glance Jan 6 – 13

Photo showing the location of the bright star Sirius, in the constellation Canis Major, down from the left of Orion's belt.

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

Around midnight in the first week of January the brightest star in the night sky is due south, at its highest above the horizon. Astronomers would say it is transiting the meridian when it crosses the north-south line. Many 19th century observatories, including the one now called the William Brydone Jack Observatory at UNB Fredericton, would collaborate in timing the transits of stars to determine the longitude of the observatory.

Sirius is part of the constellation Canis Major the Great Dog, one of Orion’s hunting companions. If you are unsure which star is Sirius just follow Orion’s belt down to the left. The star is about twice the size of the Sun and 25 times more luminous, but that is not why it is the brightest. It is only 8.6 light years away, a mere 82 trillion kilometres, and the nearest naked eye star for us in New Brunswick. The name means “scorcher” or “scintillating one” and it often twinkles wildly and colourfully, especially when it is lower in the sky. On more than one occasion I have been contacted by someone who has seen Sirius flashing colours and wondered if it was a UFO. I like to observe it with binoculars or a telescope just to enjoy the light show.

Canis Major is one of those constellations that actually resembles what it represents. Look for the star cluster M41 below the body of the dog, about a binocular field from Sirius. You might pick out a few fainter clusters near the dog’s tail. The big dog appears to be chasing Lepus the Hare, which sits below Orion.

This Week in the Solar System

Saturday’s sunrise in Moncton is at 8:01 am and sunset will occur at 4:49 pm, giving 8 hours, 48 minutes of daylight (8:03 am and 4:57 pm in Saint John). Next Saturday the Sun will rise at 7:58 am and set at 4:57 pm, giving 8 hours, 59 minutes of daylight (8:00 am and 5:05 pm in Saint John).

The Moon is at third quarter on Monday and makes a scenic grouping with Jupiter and Mars on Thursday morning. Mars is less than a Moon-width below Jupiter on Sunday morning. Mercury is just to the right of Saturn on Friday, January 12 and below it the next morning. Venus passes behind the Sun on Tuesday and it will be seen low in the west after sunset in March.

The Saint John Astronomy Club meets on Saturday, January 6 at 7 pm in the Rockwood Park Interpretation Centre. The William Brydone Jack Astronomy Club meets on Tuesday, January 9 at 7 pm in the UNB Fredericton Forestry / Earth Sciences Building. All are welcome.

Questions? Contact Curt Nason.

Sky at a Glance Dec 30 – Jan 6

Photo showing the location of the constellation Orion in the southern winter sky.

This Week’s Sky at a Glance, Dec 30 – Jan 6 ~by Curt Nason

Before, or after, the flash of New Year’s Eve fireworks this weekend, take a look around the sky. As a new year begins, many of the brightest stars are at their best when you face south. Halfway up the sky is the slanted line of three stars that forms Orion’s Belt. Above it are the shoulders of the giant hunter, marked by orange Betelgeuse and Bellatrix. Below, blue-white Rigel and Saiph are parts Orion’s legs. The Belt points to the right at the V-shaped Hyades cluster star, anchored by orange Aldebaran, and the compact, eye-catching Pleiades cluster, which together form the face and shoulder of Taurus the Bull.

To the left of the Belt is the night sky’s brightest star, Sirius, in Canis Major, the larger of Orion’s two canine companions. Bellatrix and dim Meissa, marking Orion’s head, form an arrowhead with Betelgeuse at the tip, which points toward Procyon in two-star Canis Minor. Auriga and Gemini ride above Orion. Among these New Year’s Eve constellations are five of the ten brightest stars, with four more in the top 25. In addition, 2018 begins with the brightest Moon of the year above Orion’s head.

Rather than make a resolution that involves great sacrifice and likely won’t see February, why not start an astronomy project to learn the sky over the year. I recommend the RASC Explore the Universe program, which involves observing and describing or sketching objects using your unaided eyes, binoculars or a small telescope. The objects include constellations and bright stars, lunar features, solar system, deep sky, and double stars. By completing 55 of the 110 objects you could earn a certificate and a pin. For details, see https://www.rasc.ca/explore-universe or contact me.

This Week in the Solar System

Saturday’s sunrise in Moncton is at 8:01 am and sunset will occur at 4:42 pm, giving 8 hours, 41 minutes of daylight (8:03 am and 4:50 pm in Saint John). Next Saturday the Sun will rise at 8:01 am and set at 4:49 pm, giving 8 hours, 48 minutes of daylight (8:03 am and 4:57 pm in Saint John). Earth reaches perihelion at 2:34 am on Wednesday, at a distance from the Sun of only 147 million kilometres and change. This is about 3% closer than it is in early July but, still, wear a warm coat outside.

The closest full Moon of 2018 falls on New Year’s Day, with perigee occurring four hours before the syzygy. This Saturday the Moon occults the bright star Aldebaran around 7:30 pm, with the star reappearing a little less than an hour later. On the morning of January 5 the Moon is near Leo’s lucida, Regulus. Mars closes in on Jupiter this week, leading to a close conjunction next weekend. Closer to the southeastern horizon, Mercury reaches its greatest elongation from the Sun on Monday. The short-lived Quadrantid meteor shower, radiating from off the handle of the Big Dipper between Boötes and Draco, peaks around sunset Wednesday but the low altitude and Moon phase will hamper our ability to see many.

The Saint John Astronomy Club meets on Saturday, January 6 at 7 pm in the Rockwood Park Interpretation Centre. All are welcome.

Questions? Contact Curt Nason.

Sky at a Glance December 23 – 30

Photo of the constellation Orion in the winter sky relative to the Beehive Cluster M44 in the constellation Cancer.

This Week’s Sky at a Glance, December 23 – 30 ~by Curt Nason

Having official constellations doesn’t prevent us from imagining our own. The sight of Orion, with club raised high and a lion-skin shield warding off the horns of a raging bull, has been etched in my memory for over half a century. But, come December, reddish Betelgeuse in Orion’s armpit becomes Santa’s red nose in profile, the curve of the shield outlines a sack of toys, and the iconic three-star belt is…well, that wide black leather belt. And on cold, clear nights there is no mistaking that twinkle in his eye. Look to the north and there is Santa’s sleigh, usually seen as the Big Dipper, being loaded up for the long night’s ride.

Many doors and windows are decorated with wreaths and the window of the winter sky is no exception. Here, Betelgeuse is a red light near the middle of a wreath we call the Winter Circle or Hexagon. By mid-evening you can trace the lights decorating the wreath, from blue-white Rigel in Orion’s leg to brilliant Sirius the Dog Star, up through Procyon the Little Dog Star, around Pollux and Castor in Gemini and Capella in Auriga to orange Aldebaran as the Bull’s eye, and back to Rigel.

If you prefer an even more traditional Christmas view, but one that will require binoculars, it is found in the constellation Cancer and is best seen in late evening when it is higher. A star cluster called the Beehive also goes by the name Praesepe, which is Latin for the Manger. Under a clear dark sky the cluster can just be detected as a fuzzy patch to the eye. It lies within a square of four stars, the two brightest of which are called Assellus Borealis and Assellus Australis, the northern and southern asses feeding at the manger. Can you picture Auriga and the twins of Gemini as the Magi on their eastward journey?

Imagination is a gift and Santa won’t mind if you open yours before Christmas.

This Week in the Solar System

Saturday’s sunrise in Moncton is at 7:59 am and sunset will occur at 4:37 pm, giving 8 hours, 38 minutes of daylight (8:01 am and 4:45 pm in Saint John). Next Saturday the Sun will rise at 8:01 am and set at 4:42 pm, giving 8 hours, 41 minutes of daylight (8:03 am and 4:50 pm in Saint John). Have you noticed the Sun has been setting later over the past week but it continues to rise later each day?

The Moon is at first quarter on Tuesday, making a great target for any new telescopes and binoculars found under the Christmas tree. On December 30 it occults the bright star Aldebaran around 7:30 pm, with the star reappearing a little less than an hour later. Mars is about seven degrees to the upper right of Jupiter this weekend, and moves to within half that distance by next weekend. Mercury can be found in-line well to their lower left, rising around 6:15 am midweek. Use binoculars to locate it, and then try to see it without the binos.

Questions? Contact Curt Nason.

Sky at a Glance December 16 – 23

Photo of the "bird" constellations--Aquila, Columba, and Corvus

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

This time of year many naturalists throughout the province are busy performing Christmas bird counts. If you are on your toes and not too worn out you can add four more between dusk and dawn. Start with the easy ones around 6 pm by looking for the three bright stars of the Summer Triangle above the western horizon. The lowest of the three is Altair, the head of Aquila the Eagle, which is standing straight up on the horizon. The highest of the trio is Deneb at the tail of Cygnus, which is doing a swan dive. If it is cloudy you have a chance to catch them in the east in the morning, although the eagle will be difficult with Altair rising around 7 am.

Midnight is your best chance to spot the elusive and tiny Columba the Dove, but you will need an unobstructed southern horizon. Look below Orion for Lepus the Hare, and then try to see stars near the horizon directly below. Very few bird counts will be missing the common crow but, in case you did, look southward around 6:30 am for a distinct quadrilateral of stars to the right of Jupiter and Mars. There you will find Corvus the Crow hitching a ride on the tail of Hydra.

This Week in the Solar System

Saturday’s sunrise in Moncton is at 7:55 am and sunset will occur at 4:34 pm, giving 8 hours, 39 minutes of daylight (7:57 am and 4:42 pm in Saint John). Next Saturday the Sun will rise at 7:59 am and set at 4:37 pm, giving 8 hours, 38 minutes of daylight (8:01 am and 4:45 pm in Saint John). The Sun reaches its most southerly position at 12:28 pm on Thursday, giving us the longest night of stargazing for the year. Those who like to celebrate Saturnalia have an extra reason to party: Saturn is in conjunction with the Sun on that day, less than five hours after the solstice. Friday will be a good vacation day.

The Moon is new on Monday, but Sunday morning offers the opportunity to see a very slim crescent just 19 hours from new. You will need to do some planning to determine where to look, and binoculars will be necessary to locate it in twilight. Opportunities for observing the brighter planets are restricted to the morning sky for much of the winter. This week only Mars and Jupiter are visible. Mars yields a tiny orange disc in a telescope, but Jupiter is high enough in early twilight to give decent views of its cloud belts and four moons. The Ursid meteor shower, emanating from near the North Star, peaks on the morning of Friday, December 22. This is a minor shower; you might see a few per hour, but sometimes it surprises.

RASC NB members in Moncton are hosting a public observing session at the Moncton High School Observatory on Friday, December 15 from 6:30 to 8:30 pm. All are welcome.

Questions? Contact Curt Nason.

Sky at a Glance December 9 – 16

Photo of the constellation Gemini

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

Perhaps the year’s best meteor shower radiates from near the star Castor in Gemini this week. Under ideal conditions the Geminids can average two shooting stars per minute, but don’t expect to see anywhere near that number. Be very happy if you see a couple dozen per hour. With Gemini rising soon after an early sunset and riding high just after midnight, convenient evening viewing is rewarded more often than for the showers from Perseus and Leo, which rise much later on their peak nights. Geminids are relatively slow and easier to catch with the eye, and they often have a golden glow.

This year the shower peaks around 3 a.m. on December 14, making that morning and the previous evening the best time to watch. As a bonus for evening observers the moon doesn’t rise until 4 a.m., and its waning crescent phase will not wash out the sky significantly for morning viewers. Dress very warmly, get comfortable in a reclining position, face an unobstructed patch of sky toward the north or south away from artificial lighting, and hope for a cloudless evening. Viewing on the evenings before and after could also be worthwhile if the weather forecast isn’t promising for December 13.

The parent “comet” for the Geminids is actually the asteroid 3200 Phaethon, which was discovered in 1983. It orbits the Sun in a little more than 17 months, crossing the orbits of Mars, Earth, Venus and Mercury. At perihelion its temperature can exceed 600C, which can cause its carbon-water material to break down and release the dust particles that give us meteors when they burn up in our atmosphere. On December 16 Phaethon passes within 10 million kilometres of Earth and can be seen moving against the background stars with a medium-size telescope.

This Week in the Solar System

Saturday’s sunrise in Moncton is at 7:49 am and sunset will occur at 4:33 pm, giving 8 hours, 44 minutes of daylight (7:51 am and 4:41 pm in Saint John). Next Saturday the Sun will rise at 7:55 am and set at 4:34 pm, giving 8 hours, 39 minutes of daylight (7:57 am and 4:42 pm in Saint John).

The Moon is at third quarter on Sunday, and passes above Mars and Jupiter on Wednesday and Thursday mornings, respectively. Mercury is at inferior conjunction on Tuesday, moving into the morning sky later in the month. Saturn sets just 35 minutes after sunset midweek, while Mars is moving rapidly toward Jupiter in the morning sky. (Spoiler alert: It catches up on January 7.) Venus is heading sunward, reaching superior conjunction on January 9.

The William Brydone Jack Astronomy Club meets at the UNB Forestry / Earth Sciences Building in Fredericton on Tuesday at 7pm. All are welcome. That same evening, an uncertified lunatic gives a presentation on the Moon at the Mapleton Park Rotary Lodge in Moncton.

Questions? Contact Curt Nason.

Sky at a Glance December 2 – 9

Photo showing location of the constellations Lynx and Camelopardalis near Polaris.

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

Many naturalists are also avid environmentalists and, hence, strong believers in recycling. For that reason, I don’t mind recycling versions of this sky report, so…

By 1930 the borderlines of 88 constellations had been set to cover the entire sky by the International Astronomical Union (IAU), the overlords of all things astronomical. Many constellations were created by stargazers in Babylonia more than 6000 years ago, later to be adopted and expanded by the Greeks. Claudius Ptolemy’s second century treatise The Almagest included a star map which included 48 constellations, most of which survived the IAU. A few centuries ago many constellations were made up for the newly “discovered” skies of the deep southern hemisphere, and to fill in gaps in the familiar northern hemisphere. In New Brunswick we get to see all or parts of 66 constellations, but some are rather elusive.

Two of the gap-fillers lurk between the traditional autumn and winter constellations in the northeast these evenings, and they can be as difficult to see as their namesakes in New Brunswick. Stretching between Ursa Major and the Gemini-Auriga pair is a sparse zigzag of stars making the Lynx. Just as you are unlikely to see a lynx near urban areas, you need to be in a rural region to spot Lynx. Between Lynx and the semicircle of Cepheus, Cassiopeia and Perseus is the enigmatic and tough-to-pronounce-after-a-few Camelopardalis, which of course is a giraffe. With its head near Polaris, a critter this far north should have been a reindeer. Before you have a few, go out and see if you can locate them.

This Week in the Solar System

Saturday’s sunrise in Moncton is at 7:42 am and sunset will occur at 4:34 pm, giving 8 hours, 52 minutes of daylight (7:44 am and 4:42 pm in Saint John). Next Saturday the Sun will rise at 7:49 am and set at 4:33 pm, giving 8 hours, 44 minutes of daylight (7:51 am and 4:41 pm in Saint John).

The Moon is full on Sunday, about 17 hours before perigee, making this the closest full Moon of 2017. Expect extreme tidal ranges early in the week. Mercury sets around 5:30 midweek, followed by Saturn less than ten minutes later. Mars is five degrees to the left of Spica this weekend and pulls rapidly away toward Jupiter over the week. Venus is rising after 7 am early in the week, heading sunward.

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

Questions? Contact Curt Nason.

Sky at a Glance Nov 25 – Dec 2

Photo showing the constellations Ursa Major (containing the Big Dipper) and Taurus.

This Week’s Sky at a Glance, Nov 25 – Dec 2 ~by Curt Nason

Stock market-minded astronomers could be inspired by looking to the northeast after twilight. On evenings in mid-May, Ursa Major the Great Bear is high overhead, dominating the sky. Taurus the Bull, meanwhile, sets early, and then we have several months of a bear market for stargazing. Later sunsets and extended twilight, with the compounded interest of daylight time, means sparse hours for viewing the night sky. Now that we are well beyond the autumnal equinox and have returned to standard time, early darkness reveals the Great Bear has reached bottom to the north after sunset, and the celestial Bull is rising in the east. We are entering the bull market phase of stargazing.

Although we lose the globular clusters and nebulae that abound within the Milky Way areas of Scorpius, Ophiuchus and Sagittarius, we can still observe the summer treasures near Lyra and Cygnus before they set. The autumn constellations of Cassiopeia, Andromeda and Perseus are peaking in mid-evening, ceding their reign to the bright stars and open clusters of winter’s Taurus, Orion and his dogs, Auriga and Gemini around midnight. Early risers can start on the springtime galaxies in Leo and Virgo before morning twilight. For astronomers, as the carol goes, it’s the most wonderful time of the year.

I would like to end this market report with a bad pun but, fortunately for you, none comes to mind. I find that unbearable.

This Week in the Solar System

Saturday’s sunrise in Moncton is at 7:33 am and sunset will occur at 4:38 pm, giving 9 hours, 5 minutes of daylight (7:36 am and 4:46 pm in Saint John). Next Saturday the Sun will rise at 7:42 am and set at 4:34 pm, giving 8 hours, 52 minutes of daylight (7:44 am and 4:42 pm in Saint John).

The Moon is at first quarter on Saturday, and on Sunday around 10:30 pm it will be half a binocular width below Neptune. Mercury passes a few degrees below Saturn in the early evening this weekend. Jupiter is halfway between Mars and Venus in the morning sky, with Venus rising 45 minutes before sunrise by next weekend. Early in the New Year, Mars and Jupiter will have a close conjunction, Mercury and Saturn will have moved to the morning sky, and Venus will be at superior conjunction behind the Sun.

RASC NB members will be holding a public observing session at the Moncton High School Observatory on the evening of Friday, November 24 from 6:30 to 8:30. The Saint John Astronomy Club meets at the Rockwood Park Interpretation Centre on Saturday, December 2 at 7pm. All are welcome.

Questions? Contact Curt Nason.

Sky at a Glance November 18 – 25

Photo of the constellation Cetus the Whale in the southern November sky, showing the location of the variable star Mira.

This Week’s Sky at a Glance, November 18 – November 25

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 (circled in the diagram), 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 late December. Midway on the western side of the circlet of the whale’s head is a star that anchors an asterism which 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.

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 7:24 am and sunset will occur at 4:44 pm, giving 9 hours, 20 minutes of daylight (7:27 am and 4:51 pm in Saint John). Next Saturday the Sun will rise at 7:33 am and set at 7:38 pm, giving 9 hours, 5 minutes of daylight (7:36 am and 4:46 pm in Saint John).

The Moon is new this Saturday, passes near Saturn on Monday, and is at first quarter next Saturday. Mercury is at greatest elongation from the Sun on Thursday evening but I recommend using binoculars to locate it a half hour after sunset, and then try to see it without optical aid. Saturn will be a binocular width above it. By the end of the week Jupiter will be almost halfway between Mars and Venus in the morning sky. The famous Leonid meteor shower peaks on Friday. It is famous for the meteor storms it can produce every few decades when Comet Tempel-Tuttle rounds the Sun, but currently the comet is near its farthest from the Sun. Early Saturday morning will be the best time to see maybe half a dozen meteors per hour.

Questions? Contact Curt Nason.

Sky at a Glance November 11 – 18

Photo showing the locations of some Open Clusters constellations Taurus and Auriga

This Week’s Sky at a Glance, November 11 – 18 ~by Curt Nason

Open clusters, sometimes called galactic clusters, are groups of relatively young (usually less than 500 million years old) stars 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. As mentioned last week, 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

The brightest star in Auriga is Capella the Goat Star, marking the charioteer’s left shoulder. It is the sixth brightest star in the night sky and the brightest circumpolar star seen from New Brunswick. Capella represents a mother goat, and a triangle of stars nearby on the left side represents three baby goats called The Kids. Quite an armful for someone driving a chariot.

This Week in the Solar System

Saturday’s sunrise in Moncton is at 7:14 am and sunset will occur at 4:51 pm, giving 9 hours, 37 minutes of daylight (7:17 am and 4:58 pm in Saint John). Next Saturday the Sun will rise at 7:24 am and set at 4:44 pm, giving 9 hours, 20 minutes of daylight (7:27 am and 4:51 pm in Saint John).

The Moon is new on Saturday, November 18; and see if you can spot the slim crescent near Venus on the morning before. Mercury passes a few degrees above Antares on Monday, setting 50 minutes after the Sun midweek. Although the prime observing time for Saturn is over, decent views may still be obtained when it appears in twilight. Mars shows its reddish colour high in the morning sky, while Venus and Jupiter are less than a Moon-width apart on Monday. Watch for meteors emanating from Taurus this weekend, as the minor North Taurid meteor showers peaks, and from Leo late in the week. Neither shower is likely to produce more than a few shooting stars per hour.

The William Brydone Jack Astronomy Club meets at the UNB Forestry-Earth Sciences Building in Fredericton on November 14 at 7 pm. All are welcome.

Questions? Contact Curt Nason.