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Sky at a Glance 2020 July 4 – 11

Photo showing location of the constellation Scutum the Shield with the Wild Duck Cluster or M11 just under the the bright star Altair in Aquila the Eagle.

This Week’s Sky at a Glance, 2020 July 4 – 11 ~by Curt Nason

Saturn and Jupiter are currently within the eastern boundary of Sagittarius the Archer. Sagittarius is an old constellation of a centaur with a bow and arrow aiming toward Scorpius the Scorpion. If he tries to shoot Aquila the Eagle above, chances are the arrow will be deflected by a shield.

Scutum the Shield is a relatively new constellation, created by the Polish astronomer Johannes Hevelius in the late 17th century. It commemorates the Polish king John Sobieski III, who defended his country against the Turks. Originally named Scutum Sobiescianum (Sobieski’s Shield) it is generally just called the Shield. Seeing it can be difficult, for its main stars are dim and shielded within the Milky Way. One way to locate it is to find its most prominent deep sky object, the Wild Duck Cluster or M11.

Find the bright star Altair in the head of Aquila and then identify the wings and tail of the eagle. Binoculars will reveal a string of stars leading from the tail to M11 at the top of the shield. The rich Wild Duck Cluster looks good in binoculars and great in a scope, and an imaginative observer can see a V-shape or maybe two. Star cluster M26 is also in Scutum, a binocular width south of M11.

This Week in the Solar System

Saturday’s sunrise in Moncton is at 5:34 am and sunset will occur at 9:12 pm, giving 15 hours, 38 minutes of daylight (5:42 am and 9:14 pm in Saint John). Next Saturday the Sun will rise at 5:39 am and set at 9:09 pm, giving 15 hours, 30 minutes of daylight (5:47 am and 9:11 pm in Saint John). The earth is at aphelion, its farthest distance from the Sun at 152, 095,295 kilometres, on Saturday morning.

The Moon is full just past midnight Sunday morning. Around 1:30 am a keen-eyed observer looking south might notice a very subtle gray shade on the upper third of the Moon, a penumbral eclipse, as the earth blocks a portion of the sunlight. At that time Jupiter will near its best for observing, just a fist-width east of the Moon, with Saturn even less distance beyond Jupiter. Mars will be low in the east but giving better views a few hours later in morning twilight. Venus is at its brightest on Friday morning, in the Hyades star cluster just above Aldebaran. Mercury rises about 40 minutes before the Sun on Friday, and with luck comet C/2020 F3 NEOWISE might be visible in binoculars a fist-width above the northeastern horizon around 4:30.

With astronomy meetings and outreach activities on hold, you can watch the local Sunday Night Astronomy Show at 8 pm and view archived shows.

Questions? Contact Curt Nason.

Sky at a Glance 2020 June 27 – July 4

This Week’s Sky at a Glance, 2020 June 27 – July 4 ~by Curt Nason

Arrows are used in signs as pointers to direct us to notable sites. As the Summer Triangle of the bright stars Vega, Deneb and Altair rise high in late evening, the tiny constellation of Sagitta the Arrow can direct us to a few interesting binocular objects. Sagitta is a compact arrow situated halfway between Altair and Albireo, which form the heads of Aquila the Eagle and Cygnus the Swan. Albireo itself is an interesting binocular object, being revealed as two colourful stars.

Looking under the shaft of the arrow with binoculars you might notice a hazy patch of stars called M71, which is a globular cluster containing more than 10,000 stars. As globular clusters go it is younger than most and relatively small. Half a binocular field above the arrowhead is ghostly M27, the Dumbbell Nebula. This is a planetary nebula; gases emitted from a Sun-sized star as its nuclear fuel was running out. The star collapsed into a hot, dense Earth-sized star called a white dwarf, and the ultraviolet radiation emitted from it causes the gases to glow. In older photographs of M27 its bipolar shape resembled a dumbbell. About a binocular width to the upper right of the arrow’s feathers is an asterism called the Coathanger cluster, a favourite treat for closet astronomers.

This Week in the Solar System

Saturday’s sunrise in Moncton is at 5:30 am and sunset will occur at 9:14 pm, giving 15 hours, 44 minutes of daylight (5:38 am and 9:16 pm in Saint John). Next Saturday the Sun will rise at 5:34 am and set at 9:12 pm, giving 15 hours, 38 minutes of daylight (5:42 am and 9:14 pm in Saint John). The earth is at aphelion, its farthest distance from the Sun at 152, 095,295 kilometres, on the morning of July 4. Brrrr.

The Moon is at first quarter on Sunday, giving great views for weekend observers. In evening twilight this Saturday, telescope users might pick out the Lunar X within the shadow line a little below centre. At midweek Jupiter rises before 10 pm followed by Saturn 20 minutes later, while Mercury is out of sight at inferior conjunction. On Tuesday evening telescope users can catch Jupiter’s Red Spot transiting around midnight. Mars will give its best views in early morning twilight, and while you are there look for brilliant Venus rising before 4 am.

With astronomy meetings and outreach activities on hold, you can watch the local Sunday Night Astronomy Show at 8 pm and view archived shows.

Questions? Contact Curt Nason.

Sky at a Glance 2020 June 20 – 27

Photo depicting the Sun in the club of Orion.

This Week’s Sky at a Glance, 2020 June 20 – 27 ~by Curt Nason

Seasons are the result of the earth’s rotational axis being tilted about 23.5 degrees off the vertical, with respect to its orbit. The first day of astronomical summer is this Saturday. The “astronomical” qualification is used because meteorologists have taken to confusing people with meteorological seasons based on temperatures. Meteorological summer in the northern hemisphere includes June, July and August because they have the highest average temperatures for the year.

On the summer solstice, the Sun rises and sets at its most northerly points on the horizon. For those of us at 45 degrees latitude, at midday (1:20 pm in Moncton) the Sun is about 67.5 degrees above the southern horizon; its highest altitude for the year. If we lived at latitude 23.5 degrees the Sun would be directly overhead at midday on the solstice. Several millennia ago the Sun was “in” the constellation Cancer on the solstice, hence that latitude is marked on maps as the Tropic of Cancer. The dim constellation does resemble a crab somewhat, but there is speculation that the Sun’s forth and back movement along the horizon at that time of year was reminiscent of a crab’s sideways walk.

Prior to being in Cancer at the start of summer, the Sun was in Leo. Lions tended to gather by the Nile in the dry season around the solstice. Now the summer solstice point on the ecliptic, the Sun’s path through the constellations, lies in Taurus, just within its boundary with Gemini. The roaming solstice is due to Earth’s axis wobbling like a top, making one revolution every 25,800 years in what we call the precession of the equinox. Enjoy your summer, whenever it starts.

This Week in the Solar System

Saturday’s sunrise in Moncton is at 5:27 am and sunset will occur at 9:13 pm, giving 15 hours, 46 minutes of daylight (5:36 am and 9:15 pm in Saint John). Next Saturday the Sun will rise at 5:30 am and set at 9:14 pm, giving 15 hours, 44 minutes of daylight (5:38 am and 9:16 pm in Saint John). Astronomical summer begins at 6:44 pm this Saturday.

The Moon is new early Sunday morning and, with ideal sky conditions and binoculars, the 18-hour crescent might be spotted in early twilight that evening. Mercury will be a binocular width to its left but likely too dim to be seen in bright twilight. By midweek Jupiter and Saturn are rising less than 90 minutes after sunset, but they will not give good views in a telescope until well past midnight. Mars will give its best views in early morning twilight, and while you are there look for the crescent Venus rising just after 4 am.

With astronomy meetings and outreach activities on hold, you can watch the local Sunday Night Astronomy Show at 8 pm and view archived shows.

Questions? Contact Curt Nason.

Sky at a Glance 2020 June 13 – 20

Photo showing the location of the constellations Hercules and Corona Borealis situated between the bright stars Arcturus and Vega in the southern night sky.

This Week’s Sky at a Glance, 2020 June 13 – 20 ~by Curt Nason

Arcturus and Vega, the fourth and fifth brightest stars of the night sky, are seen high above in evening twilight. I use them to locate the constellation Hercules, which is one third of the way from Vega to Arcturus. Another constellation, the nominal crowning glory of the northern sky, is one third of the way from Arcturus to Vega. Corona Borealis, the Northern Crown, does not stand out among its neighbours or contain any popular telescopic treasures like Hercules does, but its semicircle of stars is pretty to look at. If you have a really clear view of the southern horizon you might catch the Southern Crown, Corona Australis, hugging the horizon below Sagittarius around 2 am this week or midnight in late July.

In mythology, Ariadne was the daughter of King Minos of Crete. She helped Theseus slay the bull-headed Minotaur and escape from the Labyrinth, and then accompanied him and his crew on a voyage home to Athens. Along the way they stopped at the island home of Dionysus, the god of wine. After a night of revelry the crew was made to leave without Ariadne, and Dionysus presented her with a beautiful crown if she would be his bride. The crown was placed in the sky to commemorate their wedding. The constellation also represents a bear’s den in a local aboriginal legend of the bear and seven hunters, which includes stars in the Big Dipper and Boötes.

This Week in the Solar System

Saturday’s sunrise in Moncton is at 5:27 am and sunset will occur at 9:11 pm, giving 15 hours, 44 minutes of daylight (5:35 am and 9:13 pm in Saint John). Next Saturday the Sun will rise at 5:27 am and set at 9:13 pm, giving 15 hours, 46 minutes of daylight (5:36 am and 9:15 pm in Saint John). The Sun reaches its most northerly point, our summer solstice, at 6:44 pm next Saturday.

The Moon is at third quarter and below Mars this Saturday, and it passes less than a binocular width below Uranus around 4 am on Wednesday. A highlight occurs at 5:10 Friday morning when Venus appears from behind the unlit side of the crescent Moon. With luck and preparation, binocular viewers in the southeastern part of the province (Moncton) might see the Moon pass in front of (occult) Venus at 4:23 am, just after it clears the horizon. Mercury sets an hour after sunset mid-week, with Jupiter rising at 11 pm followed by Saturn 17 minutes later. Mars will be half a binocular field below Neptune before morning twilight this weekend and Monday.

With astronomy meetings and outreach activities on hold, you can watch the local Sunday Night Astronomy Show at 8 pm and view archived shows.

Questions? Contact Curt Nason.

Sky at a Glance 2020 June 6 – 13

Photo showing some of the Globular Clusters that can be found in the night sky.

This Week’s Sky at a Glance, 2020 June 6 – 13 ~by Curt Nason

Globular clusters are among the oldest and largest objects associated with our galaxy, being about 12 billion years old and containing tens to hundreds of thousands of stars packed into a compact sphere. There are more than 150 globulars orbiting in the halo of the Milky Way galaxy, and many more are known to be orbiting larger galaxies like M31 in Andromeda. Many can be seen in binoculars as a fuzzy patch of light, perhaps resembling those little white patches you see below bird feeders. A medium size telescope is able to resolve some of their stars. The larger globulars as seen from a dark location have been described as looking like granules of sugar against black velvet.

Summer is the season for observing globular clusters. M4 is just to the right of Antares in the constellation Scorpius and it is one of the closest globulars at 7000 light years. M13 in the Keystone of Hercules is relatively close at 22,000 light years. One that would outshine M13 if it were higher in our sky is M22, just left of the lid of the Teapot in Sagittarius. Another easy target is M3, located halfway between Arcturus and Cor Caroli, the brightest star in the small constellation Canes Venatici below the handle of the Big Dipper. Two other standouts are M92 in Hercules and M5 in Serpens. From a dark sky, many dimmer globulars can be picked out in the region of Sagittarius and Ophiuchus.

The concentration of globular clusters in this region of sky is not by accident, and it played a role in another lesson of humility for humanity. Harvard’s Harlow Shapley studied globular clusters a century ago and noticed that most were located around Sagittarius. If they were evenly distributed around the core of our galaxy, as believed, then the centre of the galaxy must lie in that direction. Just as Copernicus and Galileo demoted Earth from the centre of the solar system, Shapley showed that the Sun was not at the centre of the Milky Way.

This Week in the Solar System

Saturday’s sunrise in Moncton is at 5:29 am and sunset will occur at 9:07 pm, giving 15 hours, 38 minutes of daylight (5:37 am and 9:09 pm in Saint John). Next Saturday the Sun will rise at 5:27 am and set at 9:11 pm, giving 15 hours, 44 minutes of daylight (5:35 am and 9:13 pm in Saint John).

The Moon is at third quarter and below Mars next Saturday, June 13, and it is below Saturn this Monday. Mercury remains visible in the evening, setting 90 minutes after the Sun mid-week. Jupiter and Saturn are rising before midnight this weekend, and next weekend Mars will be half a binocular field below Neptune while Venus rises in morning twilight 45 minutes before sunrise. Those with a medium size telescope might catch comet C/2017 T2 PanSTARRS in the bowl of the Big Dipper all week.

With astronomy meetings and outreach activities on hold, you can watch the local Sunday Night Astronomy Show at 8 pm and view archived shows.

Questions? Contact Curt Nason.

Sky at a Glance 2020 May 30 – June 6

Photo showing two of the "snake" constellations--Serpens and Ophiuchus the Serpent Bearer.

This Week’s Sky at a Glance, 2020 May 30 – June 6 ~by Curt Nason

When Charley Pride sang “Snakes Crawl at Night” he wasn’t talking about the constellations, but he might as well have been. When twilight gives way to darkness there are two snakes stretching nearly halfway across the sky. The first is Hydra the female water snake, which is also the largest constellation. It is so long it takes eight hours to rise completely. At 11 pm these evenings it stretches along the horizon with its head in the west and its tail to the south. In this position the snake takes only three hours to nestle underground

Almost as long but more U-shaped is Serpens, the only constellation that is in two parts, separated by Ophiuchus the Serpent Bearer. The western half is called Serpens Caput, the head of the snake, and the eastern half is the tail, Serpens Cauda. Ophiuchus represents Asclepius, a son of the Greek god Apollo, who learned the healing arts by watching a snake bring another back to life. The Rod of Asclepius, a snake entwined around a staff, is the symbol of medicine and health.

If your like things in threes you can look at serpentine Draco as a snake instead of a dragon. Its tail begins above the bowl of the Big Dipper, with the body curling around the Little Dipper before arcing back toward the foot of Hercules. If that doesn’t suit you then you can go Down Under to see Hydrus the male water snake slithering around the south celestial pole.

This Week in the Solar System

Saturday’s sunrise in Moncton is at 5:32 am and sunset will occur at 9:01 pm, giving 15 hours, 29 minutes of daylight (5:40 am and 9:03 pm in Saint John). Next Saturday the Sun will rise at 5:29 am and set at 9:07 pm, giving 15 hours, 38 minutes of daylight (5:37 am and 9:09 pm in Saint John).

The Moon is full next Friday, the traditional Rose, Flower, Strawberry, Honey, or Trees Fully Leaved Moon. Venus is at inferior conjunction on Wednesday, moving into the morning sky in mid-June. Mercury remains visible in the evening, setting around 10 pm on Tuesday and reaching its greatest elongation from the Sun on Thursday. By midweek Jupiter rises at midnight, followed 15 minutes later by Saturn. After passing both those planets in late March, Mars now trails them by two hours. Unless C/2010 F8 SWAN flares following its recent maiden voyage around the Sun, it will be the second comet this year to disappoint hopeful stargazers in the northern hemisphere. Perhaps C/2020 F3 NEOWISE will live up to naked-eye predictions in July.

With astronomy meetings and outreach activities on hold, you can watch the local Sunday Night Astronomy Show at 8 pm and view archived shows. This week’s topics will be part 2 of telescope accessories and how to plan for a successful observing session.

Questions? Contact Curt Nason.

Sky at a Glance 2020 May 23 – 30

Photo showing the constellation Draco the Dragon in relation to the Big and Little Dippers (Ursa Major and Minor).

This Week’s Sky at a Glance, 2020 May 23 – 30 ~by Curt Nason

By 10 pm the zigzag constellation of Draco the Dragon is halfway up the northern sky to the right of the Little Dipper. Draco’s tail is a line of stars between the Big and Little Dippers. One of those stars is Thuban, which lies between the bowl of the Little Dipper and the middle of the Big Dipper’s handle. About 5000 years ago, when the Egyptian pyramids were built, Thuban was the North Star and entrances to the pyramids were designed with a descending passageway aligned to this star. Coincidentally, the inner two stars of the Big Dipper’s bowl point to Thuban, just as the outer pair points toward Polaris.

>From the tail, Draco arcs around the bowl of the Little Dipper and then curves back toward Hercules, with its head being a quadrilateral of stars by the strongman’s foot. The two brightest stars in Draco’s head, Eltanin and Rastaban, are its eyes. They are the brightest and third brightest of the constellation. The faintest of the four is a treat in binoculars, showing matching white stars that resemble headlights or cat eyes. In mythology, the dragon was one of the Titans, rivals of the Olympians. In one of their battles, Athena slung the dragon high into the northern sky. Writhing to right itself, it struck against the northern sky and froze in that position.

This Week in the Solar System

Saturday’s sunrise in Moncton is at 5:37 am and sunset will occur at 8:54 pm, giving 15 hours, 17 minutes of daylight (5:45 am and 8:56 pm in Saint John). Next Saturday the Sun will rise at 5:32 am and set at 9:01 pm, giving 15 hours, 29 minutes of daylight (5:40 am and 9:03 pm in Saint John).

The Moon is at first quarter next Friday, giving spectacular views of craters and mountains all week in a telescope or binoculars. This Saturday around 9:30 pm look for the slim crescent Moon a binocular width below and slightly left of the crescent Venus, with Mercury about half a binocular field to the upper left of Venus. This will be your last week to see Venus in the evening sky for the rest of the year. Jupiter and Saturn are in great position for early morning observing in the south, while reddish Mars brightens in the southeast.

With astronomy meetings and outreach activities on hold, you can watch the local Sunday Night Astronomy Show at 8 pm and view archived shows. This week’s topic will be telescope accessories.

Questions? Contact Curt Nason.

Sky at a Glance, 2020 May 16 – 23

Photo showing Mercury and Venus very close to each other after sunset on May 21, 2020.

This Week’s Sky at a Glance, 2020 May 16 – 23 ~by Curt Nason

In the second century BC the Greek astronomer Hipparchus of Nicaea ranked the stars according to their brightness in six categories called magnitudes (for greatness). The 20 brightest stars were rated first magnitude and the faintest stars were sixth magnitude. This system was retained for two millennia and standardized in the 19th century when much fainter stars were being detected by astrophotography. English astronomer Norman Pogson devised a logarithmic system whereby five magnitudes was a difference in star brightness of exactly 100 times. With this system, a magnitude 1 star is about 2.5 times brighter than a magnitude 2 star, and that one is 2.5 times brighter than a magnitude 3 star.

For many of us, the faintest star we can detect with the naked eye in a reasonably dark sky is sixth magnitude (commonly just called mag 6). Vega, the fifth brightest star, is mag 0, slightly dimmer than Arcturus and slightly brighter than Capella. With the ability to measure the exact brightness of stars, their magnitudes are often recorded to one or two decimal places, and negative values are used for very bright objects. Sirius is mag -1.4; Jupiter is currently mag -2.4 and Venus is -4.3. The full Moon is mag -12.6, approximately 400,000 times fainter than the Sun at -26.7. A first magnitude star is brighter than mag 1.5, a second magnitude star shines between mag 1.5 and 2.5, and so on.

These brightness values are for the apparent magnitude of a star, as we see them when they are highest in the sky. At lower altitudes the atmosphere will absorb some of the starlight, making them appear dimmer. Astronomers call this effect extinction. The apparent magnitude of a star depends on its size and temperature, and also on its distance from us. A doubling of distance reduces the brightness by a factor of four, and ten times the distance by a factor of 100. Therefore, if one star is ten times farther than a mag 3 star of equal size and temperature, it would be at mag 8 and we would require binoculars to see it. There is nothing like an astronomy lesson to brighten your day.

This Week in the Solar System

Saturday’s sunrise in Moncton is at 5:45 am and sunset will occur at 8:46 pm, giving 15 hours, 1 minute of daylight (5:52 am and 8:49 pm in Saint John). Next Saturday the Sun will rise at 5:37 am and set at 8:54 pm, giving 15 hours, 17 minutes of daylight (5:45 am and 8:56 pm in Saint John).

The Moon is new next Friday, a great time to take advantage of mostly contrail-free skies to hunt down distant galaxies with a telescope or binoculars. Mercury and Venus approach each other after sunset, being within a binocular view for the latter half of the week. Mercury is less than a thumb width below Venus on Thursday and to its left on Friday. Jupiter and Saturn are in great position for early morning observing, as they slowly start to move apart. Mars is starting to brighten as we are catching up to it, and by the end of the month it will be as bright as the stars Vega and Arcturus.

With astronomy meetings and outreach activities on hold, you can catch the local Sunday Night Astronomy Show at 8 pm and view archives of previous shows.

Questions? Contact Curt Nason.

This Week’s Sky at a Glance 2020 May 9 – 16

Photo showing two comets around the constellation Camelopardalis the Giraffe.

This Week’s Sky at a Glance, 2020 May 9 – 16 ~by Curt Nason

Comets are my favourite observing target and the fact that they can be tantalizingly coy and unpredictable only adds to their allure. Famed comet discoverer David Levy compared them to cats, in that they have tails and do exactly what they want. Once or twice a decade one will be bright enough to be seen easily without optical aid, and one or two a year might be reasonable targets with binoculars. Several can be within reach of a medium size telescope each year, depending on the size of the scope and on the darkness of your sky. It is not unusual to have months elapse with no comets to target.

Currently we have a three plus comets within reach of a telescope under good conditions, three more teasingly near the Sun, and a potential naked eye one on our doorstep. I say three plus because one has broken apart and two of the pieces are seen as comets, although fading quickly. All three are within the sparse constellation Camelopardalis the Giraffe, between the two Dippers (Big and Little) and Auriga, and the dearth of bright stars to guide you makes locating them a challenge. I prefer to use the maps on the Heavens Above website to locate comets.

The three in Camelopardalis are 2017 T2 Pan-STARRS, 2019 Y1 ATLAS, and 2019 Y4 ATLAS (and Y4-A) . I saw all three one evening in mid-March from a reasonably dark-sky site with my 8-inch telescope, and two of them from my backyard last month. The names derive from the year of discovery, the half-month of discovery (I and Z are not used), and the person(s) or robotic telescope program that made the discovery. Of the above, two were discovered in the latter half of December 2019 by the ATLAS program which, like Pan-STARRS, is searching for potentially hazardous asteroids. Comet 2020 F8 SWAN is currently a binocular object in southern hemisphere twilight and will be near bright Capella in Auriga by the end of this month. It could be seen with binoculars in twilight or, as it rounds the Sun a few days before, it could become a naked-eye object or break up and disappear. Such are comets.

This Week in the Solar System

Saturday’s sunrise in Moncton is at 5:53 am and sunset will occur at 8:38 pm, giving 14 hours, 45 minutes of daylight (6:01 am and 8:41 pm in Saint John). Next Saturday the Sun will rise at 5:45 am and set at 8:46 pm, giving 15 hours, 1 minute of daylight (5:52 am and 8:49 pm in Saint John).

The Moon is below Jupiter on Tuesday, reaches third quarter on Thursday, and it is lower left of Mars on Friday. Saturn and Jupiter reach their stationary points this week, on Monday and Thursday, respectively. For the next four months they will be in retrograde motion, separating slowly while moving westward relative to the distant stars. This weekend Mars crosses the constellation border into Aquarius. Needing a rest, Venus is also stationary on Wednesday before plummeting sunward over the next few weeks. By midweek, Mercury will be setting an hour after sunset.

With astronomy meetings and outreach activities on hold, you can catch the local Sunday Night Astronomy Show at 8 pm and view archives of previous shows.

Questions? Contact Curt Nason.

Sky at a Glance 2020 May 2 – 9

Photo showing the constellation Hercules with the keystone asterism located between the bright stars Vega and Arcturus

This Week’s Sky at a Glance, 2020 May 2 – 9 ~by Curt Nason

I was fascinated by the movie Hercules, starring bodybuilder Steve Reeves, which I saw one Saturday afternoon at the Vogue theatre in McAdam sometime in the early 60s. I was nurturing my interest in the sky at that time so the constellation of Hercules has long been a part of my life. These spring evenings it is in the east as twilight fades.

Look for a keystone asterism one third of the way from the bright star Vega toward equally bright Arcturus; that is the upside-down body of the legendary strongman. Hercules is usually depicted down on his right knee, with his left foot on the head of Draco the Dragon and his head close to that of Ophiuchus. Originally the constellation was called The Kneeler, and the star at his head is called Rasalgethi for “head of the kneeler.” It is the alpha star of the constellation, although Kornephoros (the club bearer) is brighter.

With binoculars you can pick out two globular clusters from the Messier catalogue in Hercules. Globular clusters are ancient compact groups of typically tens-to-hundreds of thousands of stars that orbit our galaxy’s core. One third of the way from the top right star of the Keystone to the bottom right star is M13, perhaps the finest globular cluster in the northern hemisphere. A line from the bottom right star through the middle of the top of the Keystone, and extended about an equal distance, will put you in the area of M92, one of the oldest objects in our area of the galaxy at more than 13 billion years.

This Week in the Solar System

Saturday’s sunrise in Moncton is at 6:03 am and sunset will occur at 8:29 pm, giving 14 hours, 26 minutes of daylight (6:10 am and 8:32 pm in Saint John). Next Saturday the Sun will rise at 5:53 am and set at 8:38 pm, giving 14 hours, 45 minutes of daylight (6:01 am and 8:41 pm in Saint John).

The Moon is full on Thursday; the Milk, Planting or Frog Croaking Moon. Brilliant Venus is still setting after midnight, while Mercury is at superior conjunction on Monday. The two inner planets will be crossing paths in a few weeks. Jupiter and Saturn retain their 5 degree physical distancing in the morning sky, but soon they will start to separate. Mars rises after 3 am, about 75 minutes after two gas giants. If you are out early on Wednesday you might catch a few meteors from the Eta Aquariid shower coming out of the south, although bright moonlight will wash out the fainter ones.

Saturday is International Astronomy Day, and you can cap off Astronomy Week with the local Sunday Night Astronomy Show at 8 pm.

Questions? Contact Curt Nason.

Sky at a Glance 2020 April 25 – May 2

Photo showing closeup of Orion and the Moon in the eye of Taurus with Venus above.

This Week’s Sky at a Glance, 2020 April 25 – May 2
~by Curt Nason

When people see a telescope that doesn’t look like it came from a department store, they often ask how far you can see with it. The answer is difficult to explain and even more difficult to comprehend. Sometimes I just say “way far” and hope they don’t press for details.

On a clear evening this week just go outside and look up. The brightest object will be the Moon and this weekend it is about 395,000 kilometres away. Next weekend it will be near perigee at 360,000 km. The next brightest object is Venus, which will be at inferior conjunction on June 3 and hence closest to us at a distance of 43 million kilometres. In the morning sky, Mars is currently 180 million km away, Jupiter 720 million, and Saturn is 1.6 billion km out there. Light travels at 300,000 km per second, so at 150 million km the Sun is a distance of 500 light seconds away. The Moon is a tad more than one light second away; Jupiter is 40 light minutes and Saturn about 80 light minutes.

The brightest star we see in the evening now is still Sirius, the closest star we can see from New Brunswick at 8.6 light years (ly). The next brightest is Arcturus and it is 37 ly or 350 trillion km. Polaris, the North Star, is about 400 ly away; and Alnilam, the middle star of Orion’s belt, is 2000 ly, If you are under a dark sky well before morning twilight you might get a naked eye glimpse of the Andromeda Galaxy at a distance of 2.5 million light years. A small telescope will reveal things even more distant, but at what point do these distances become incomprehensible and “way far” is a reasonable answer?

This Week in the Solar System

Saturday’s sunrise in Moncton is at 6:14 am and sunset will occur at 8:20 pm, giving 14 hours, 6 minutes of daylight (6:21 am and 8:23 pm in Saint John). Next Saturday the Sun will rise at 6:03 am and set at 8:29 pm, giving 14 hours, 26 minutes of daylight (6:10 am and 8:32 pm in Saint John).

This Saturday (April 25) the Moon occults a star that forms one eye of Taurus the Bull, within a half hour of setting. Around 10 pm find a location with a good western horizon and use binoculars to watch the sinking Moon creep toward the star and, around 10:30, make it disappear. The Moon is near Venus on Sunday and the next evening it passes near the M35 star cluster in Gemini. On Wednesday, the day before first quarter phase, telescope users can see the Lunar X forming on mountaintops just inside the shadow line during late evening. On Tuesday Venus is at its greatest illumination, which occurs approximately five weeks before and after it reaches inferior conjunction. By next weekend Mars will have moved to 20 degrees east of Saturn, while Saturn and brighter Jupiter remain within 5 degrees, the field of view of most 10×50 binoculars.

Monday marks the beginning of International Astronomy Week, but this year the outreach events will be online. You can catch the local Sunday Night Astronomy Show at 8 pm and view archives of previous shows.

Questions? Contact Curt Nason.

Sky at a Glance 2020 April 18 – 25

Photo showing the Orion and Taurus constellations starting to set in the western night sky, a sign that winter is over.

This Week’s Sky at a Glance, 2020 April 18 – 25 ~by Curt Nason

In April we can start a long goodbye with the winter constellations. Orion and Taurus are setting together, which makes it easier to imagine their eternal battle. The bull is protecting the Pleiades (Seven Sisters) from the amorous advances of Orion, who is about to strike a downward blow to the bull’s head with his upraised club. The bull’s long horns, one tip of which is the bottom left star of Auriga (Elnath – officially the second brightest star of Taurus), are not to be taken lightly. It is difficult to tell which of the two combatants is more keratinous.

The winter constellations of Auriga and Gemini are still up past midnight but Rigel, in the knee of Orion and the low point of the Winter Circlet of bright stars, is setting around 10 pm. Sometimes these constellations are enhanced with planets, since Taurus and Gemini are part of the ecliptic. Venus crossed the Pleiades a fortnight ago and it is moving through Taurus toward Elnath. Next month it will approach near that horn tip and wisely start reversing its course. With the Pleiades sinking in the western twilight, through a thicker layer of our atmosphere, they, like other stars, will twinkle more. I have a pleasant memory of seeing them with binoculars when they were low in the west, flickering wildly like candles in a breeze. I had the urge to make a wish and blow them out.

This Week in the Solar System

Saturday’s sunrise in Moncton is at 6:26 am and sunset will occur at 8:11 pm, giving 13 hours, 45 minutes of daylight (6:33 am and 8:14 pm in Saint John). Next Saturday the Sun will rise at 6:14 am and set at 8:20 pm, giving 14 hours, 6 minutes of daylight (6:21 am and 8:23 pm in Saint John).

The Moon is new on Wednesday and, for a binocular challenge, try to spot the 21 hour crescent Moon after sunset Thursday. Venus continues to rule the evening sky, setting soon after midnight. In the morning sky Mars has pulled well eastward of Saturn, while Saturn and brighter Jupiter are within the field of view of most binoculars. Wednesday and Thursday mornings are the best times to catch a few shooting stars from the Lyrid meteor shower. They emanate from near the bright star Vega, which is high in the sky on those moonless mornings this week.

With astronomy meetings and outreach on hold, there are many educational astronomy websites such as Heavens Above to fill in your time. You can catch the local Sunday Night Astronomy Show at 8 pm and view archives of previous shows.

Questions? Contact Curt Nason.

Sky at a Glance 2020 April 11 – 18

Photo showing the constellation Lepus the Hare located beneath the feet of Orion.

This Week’s Sky at a Glance, 2020 April 11 – 18 ~by Curt Nason

With Easter happening this weekend, let us look for signs of it in the night sky. Lambs have long been associated with spring and Easter, so we can start with Aries the Ram low in the west. For many, the symbol of Easter is Peter Cottontail, the Easter Bunny. When darkness sets in we can see Lepus the Hare below the feet of Orion. I see the constellation as three vertical pairs of stars, with the brightest pair in the middle and the widest to the right. With a reasonably dark sky you can see the bunny ears between the widest pair and Orion’s brightest star, Rigel.

In Germanic mythology, Ostara, the goddess of spring, found a wounded bird and changed it into a hare so that it could survive. This animal was allowed to run as fast as it could fly and it retained the ability to lay eggs, which it did in spring to honour its rescuer. The Saxon name for the goddess was Eostre.

Sunrise services are a popular way to celebrate Easter, and that is a good time to look for religious Easter symbols in the sky if you are an hour or two early. The Northern Cross, the most recognizable part of Cygnus the Swan, is high in the east among the procession of constellations. Look for semicircular Corona Borealis to the southwest, one third of the way from the bright star Arcturus toward equally bright Vega. Can you picture this as a cave with an open door? It does play the role of a cave in a local aboriginal legend in which the bowl of the Big Dipper is a bear pursued by seven hunters.

I think the best symbol is seen on the Moon when it is full or nearly so. When it rises in spring, look for the dark bunny ears to the upper right. With them identified, it isn’t difficult to picture Peter Cottontail clutching a giant egg.

This Week in the Solar System

Saturday’s sunrise in Moncton is at 6:39 am and sunset will occur at 8:01 pm, giving 13 hours, 22 minutes of daylight (6:45 am and 8:05 pm in Saint John). Next Saturday the Sun will rise at 6:26 am and set at 8:11 pm, giving 13 hours, 45 minutes of daylight (6:33 am and 8:14 pm in Saint John).

The Moon is at third quarter on Tuesday and is seen to the right of Jupiter. The next morning the Moon is below Saturn, and it is lower left of Mars on Thursday. Mercury is sneaking sunward under the cover of bright twilight and will appear in the evening sky next month. Venus rules the evening sky, setting soon after midnight.

With astronomy meetings and outreach on hold, there are many educational astronomy websites to fill in your time. You can catch the local Sunday Night Astronomy Show at 8 pm and view archives of previous shows.

Questions? Contact Curt Nason.

Sky at a Glance 2020 April 4 – 11

Photo showing the constellation Canes Venatici the Hunting Dogs, with location of the large globular star cluster M3 and M94 as well.

This Week’s Sky at a Glance, 2020 April 4 – 11 ~by Curt Nason
Although Orion and his two dogs, Canis Major and Canis Minor, are slipping into the sunset, they are not the only pooches in the night sky. The small constellation of Canes Venatici the Hunting Dogs is generally seen as a pair of stars well below the handle of the Big Dipper. They assist their master, Boötes, in chasing the celestial bears around the pole.
In one tale from mythology Boötes is Icarius, a vineyard owner who was taught the art of winemaking by Bacchus. He introduced his shepherd neighbours to his product, and when they awoke hung over the next morning they thought they had been poisoned. In retaliation they killed Icarius and threw him in a ditch. His dogs, Chara and Asterion, sensed something was wrong, and when they eventually found their master they jumped into the ditch to die with him.
The brightest star in Canes Venatici is a double star called Cor Caroli, which means the Heart of Charles. Edmond Halley coined this because it was said to have shone brightly when Charles II returned to London after his defeat by Cromwell. The other naked eye star in the constellation is Chara, from the Greek word for “joy,” and opponents of the Boston Bruins will disagree with that. Halfway between Cor Caroli and Arcturus, the brightest star in Boötes, you can see a fuzzy patch with binoculars. This is the globular star cluster M3 from Messier’s catalogue. Galaxy M94 lies just north of the midpoint between Cor Caroli and Chara; and the much-imaged Whirlpool Galaxy is within the borders of Canes Venatici, despite being near the handle of the Big Dipper.
This Week in the Solar System
Saturday’s sunrise in Moncton is at 6:52 am and sunset will occur at 7:52 pm, giving 13 hours of daylight (6:58 am and 7:56 pm in Saint John).  Next Saturday the Sun will rise at 6:39 am and set at 8:01 pm, giving 13 hours, 22 minutes of daylight (6:45 am and 8:05 pm in Saint John).
The Moon is full on Tuesday evening, just eight and a half hours after perigee, giving extreme tides during midweek. Venus remains within a binocular view of the Pleiades for several days. Venus makes 13 orbits of the sun in the same time it takes Earth to make eight orbits. Therefore, it makes this close pass by the Pleiades in early April every eight years. Mars puts some eastward distance between it and Saturn in the morning sky, while Jupiter edges toward Saturn. Mercury rises 35 minutes before sunrise and it is pretty much out of sight.
With astronomy meetings and outreach on hold, there are many educational astronomy websites to fill your time. One I check daily is Astronomy Picture of the Day (APOD). It gives beautiful image or a short educational video with a few lines of explanation. Heavens Above is another favourite to explore.
Questions? Contact Curt Nason.

Sky at a Glance 2020 March 28 – April 4

Photo showing the constellation Leo with the location of two groups of Messier objects towards the bottom.

This Week’s Sky at a Glance, 2020 March 28 – April 4
~by Curt Nason
I regard Leo the Lion is as the signature constellation of spring, and it is not difficult to picture a lion in its distinctive pair of asterisms. A backwards question mark or a sickle represents its chest and mane, anchored by the bright star Regulus at its heart. To the east a triangle of stars forms the back leg and tail. Originally, a faint naked-eye cluster of stars represented a tuft at the end of the tail, but that now makes the tresses of Coma Berenices.
In mythology, the lion was a vicious creature that resided in the mountains of Nemea. Its hide was impenetrable to spears or arrows; the only thing sharp enough to penetrate the lion’s hide was its claws. The first of Hercules’s twelve labours was to kill this creature, which the legendary strongman did by strangulation. He then used the claws to cut off the lion’s hide for use as a shield. A friend of mine sees this constellation as a mouse, with the triangle as its head and the sickle as its tail. However, legends are not made by having a muscular demigod battle a mouse.
Amateur astronomers often point their telescopes at Leo for two trios of galaxies; one under the belly and the other by the back leg. Each trio can fit within the view through a wide-field eyepiece. Five of the six galaxies are Messier objects.
This Week in the Solar System
Saturday’s sunrise in Moncton is at 7:05 am and sunset will occur at 7:43 pm, giving 12 hours, 38 minutes of daylight (7:11 am and 7:47 pm in Saint John).  Next Saturday the Sun will rise at 6:52 am and set at 7:52 pm, giving 13 hours of daylight (6:58 am and 7:56 pm in Saint John).
The crescent Moon is near Venus this Saturday and it is at first quarter phase on Wednesday. On Thursday evening the Moon approaches the Beehive star cluster. The highlight this week will be watching Venus approach the Pleiades, a star cluster we also call the Seven Sisters. They are a binocular view apart this weekend, with Venus passing in front of the cluster late in the week. Morning people can watch Mars slide below Saturn over the week, with bright Jupiter nearby to their upper right. Mercury rises about 40 minutes before sunrise and it can be seen with luck and some difficulty in binoculars.

All local public astronomy events are cancelled. However, you can catch the local Sunday Night Astronomy Show on YouTube at 8 pm this weekend, and watch previous shows.

Questions? Contact Curt Nason.