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Sky at a Glance April 21 – 28

Stellarium photo of some binocular targets in the western sky at twilight.

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

Sometimes I like to go tooling around in twilight with binoculars, picking off the bright stars as they emerge or even before they are visible to the naked eye. This time of year you can nab seven of the ten brightest in twilight and maybe another four of the next ten. Toward the southwest, Sirius, the brightest star of the night sky, might be the first you see, possibly flashing colours as our atmosphere acts like a prism for starlight. Next stop is lower to the west for #7, Rigel in Orion’s knee, which sets just an hour and a half after the Sun. Orange Betelgeuse, #10, will be well above it with the three belt stars in between.

Less than a hand span to the lower right of Betelgeuse is orange Aldebaran, the eye of Taurus the Bull and wearing lucky #13. See if you can pick out the Pleiades about two binocular widths to its right. This star cluster can be entertaining when it is low, with numerous stars twinkling like a Christmas tree. High above is #6 Capella, which often takes on a yellowish hue. Also fairly high is #9 Procyon, forming the peak of an equilateral triangle with Sirius and Betelgeuse. To its upper right is #16 Pollux, the brighter of the Gemini Twins.

Before heading east for more stars have a look at Venus to the right of Aldebaran. It is much brighter than the stars and can be seen easily with binoculars before sunset. Then, head eastward for #4 Arcturus at about the same altitude as Capella. How does its colour compare with that of Capella? Look for almost equally bright #5 Vega low in the northeast, although the thicker atmosphere at that altitude will rob some of its brightness. To its lower left you will eventually catch #20 Deneb, and #14 Spica shines in the southeast to the lower right of Arcturus. Regulus, between Spica and Pollux, comes in at #21. Happy star hunting.

This Week in the Solar System

Saturday’s sunrise in Moncton is at 6:22 am and sunset will occur at 8:14 pm, giving 13 hours, 52 minutes of daylight (6:28 am and 8:17 pm in Saint John). Next Saturday the Sun will rise at 6:10 am and set at 8:23 pm, giving 14 hours, 13 minutes of daylight (6:17 am and 8:26 pm in Saint John).

The Moon is at first quarter Sunday, possibly yielding a view of the Lunar X with a telescope in late afternoon or evening twilight. Look just within the shadow line a little below centre. On Tuesday, late afternoon, you might able to see the star Regulus to the right of the Moon with a scope. Venus outshines the bright stars of winter in the western sky after sunset, while Jupiter, Saturn and Mars offer great viewing in the morning sky. On Sunday evening look for a few meteors coming from between the constellations of Lyra and Hercules, as the Lyrid shower peaks in the afternoon.

If the sky is clear this weekend, look for amateur astronomers offering views of the sky for Astronomy Day.

Questions? Contact Curt Nason.

Sky at a Glance April 14 – 21

Photo of the constellations Orion and Taurus setting in our western night sky.

This Week’s Sky at a Glance, April 14 – 21 ~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 by 9 pm. Sometimes these constellations are enhanced with planets, since Taurus and Gemini are part of the ecliptic. By next weekend Venus will have crossed the constellation border from Aries into Taurus to appear within a binocular width below the Pleiades. And you will need binoculars to see the Pleiades. I have a pleasant memory of seeing them with binoculars when they were low in the west in twilight. Shining through a thicker layer of our atmosphere, the stars were 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 6:34 am and sunset will occur at 8:05 pm, giving 13 hours, 31 minutes of daylight (6:40 am and 8:08 pm in Saint John). Next Saturday the Sun will rise at 6:22 am and set at 8:14 pm, giving 13 hours, 52 minutes of daylight (6:28 am and 8:17 pm in Saint John).

The Moon is new on Sunday, leading into Dark Sky Week and International Astronomy Week. A less than 24 hour Moon might be seen with binoculars as a very slim crescent after sunset on Monday evening. On Tuesday evening it is near Venus, and it is waxing throughout the week for public observing events. Jupiter rises around 10 pm this week but still offers great viewing in the morning sky. Saturn is stationary on Tuesday, beginning five months of westward retrograde motion relative to the stars. Mars is getting brighter now as Earth is slowly catching up in orbit, and it will continue to do so until late July when we will be treated to its best opposition in 15 years.

During Astronomy Week amateur astronomers tend to set up their telescopes for public observing if the sky is clear. If you see one, stop and have a look.

Questions? Contact Curt Nason.

Sky at a Glance April 7 – 14

Photo showing location of the constellation Canes Venatici the Hunting Dogs below the handle of the Big Dipper.

This Week’s Sky at a Glance, April 7 – 14 ~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 the star shone brightly when Charles II returned to London after his defeat by Cromwell. 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.

This Week in the Solar System

Saturday’s sunrise in Moncton is at 6:47 am and sunset will occur at 7:55 pm, giving 13 hours, 8 minutes of daylight (6:53 am and 7:59 pm in Saint John). Next Saturday the Sun will rise at 6:34 am and set at 8:05 pm, giving 13 hours, 31 minutes of daylight (6:40 am and 8:08 pm in Saint John).

The Moon is at third quarter on Sunday, rising at 3 am and setting at 12:30 pm. It is near Mercury on the morning of April 14 but both will be difficult to see even with binoculars. Venus is slowly creeping higher in the west after sunset and is seen easily in twilight. Jupiter, Saturn and Mars continue to give good observing opportunities in the morning sky before 6 am, with the bonus of having the Moon near Saturn and Mars this weekend.

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

Questions? Contact Curt Nason.

Sky at a Glance March 31 – April 7

The constellation Leo in the southern spring sky, also showing the locations of several Messier deep sky objects.

This Week’s Sky at a Glance, March 31 – April 7 ~by Curt Nason

Leo the Lion is regarded 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 represents 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 it was the lion’s claws. The first of Hercules’s twelve labours was to kill this creature, which the legendary strongman did by strangulation. He then cut the lion’s hide off with its claws and used the skin as a shield. A friend of mine sees this constellation as a mouse, with the triangle as its head the sickle as its tail. However, legends are not made by having a strongman 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. For each, the trio can be seen simultaneously with 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 7:01 am and sunset will occur at 7:46 pm, giving 12 hours, 45 minutes of daylight (7:06 am and 7:50 pm in Saint John). Next Saturday the Sun will rise at 6:47 am and set at 7:55 pm, giving 13 hours, 8 minutes of daylight (6:53 am and 7:59 pm in Saint John).

The Mi’kmaq Maple Sugar full Moon occurs on Saturday, giving us Easter on the following day as it is the Sunday after the first full Moon of spring. In determining the date for Easter, March 21 is regarded as the first day of spring regardless of when the equinox actually occurs. Mercury is at inferior conjunction on Sunday and can be seen in the morning sky, with difficulty, in late April. Venus can be seen low in the west during evening twilight, setting after 9:30 pm. On Monday, early risers can catch Mars in the same telescopic field of view as the globular cluster M22, and can perhaps include Saturn with a low power eyepiece. Mars is directly below Saturn on Tuesday. Jupiter now rises around 11 pm and dominates the morning sky in the southwest.

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

Questions? Contact Curt Nason.

Sky at a Glance March 24 – 31

Photo showing the constellation Lepus under Orion.

This Week’s Sky at a Glance, March 24 -31  ~by Curt Nason

This being the week leading up to Easter, 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 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 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 7:14 am and sunset will occur at 7:37 pm, giving 12 hours, 23 minutes of daylight (7:19 am and 7:41 pm in Saint John). Next Saturday the Sun will rise at 7:01 am and set at 7:46 pm, giving 12 hours, 45 minutes of daylight (7:06 am and 7:50 pm in Saint John).

The Moon is at first quarter during Earth Hour on March 24, a great time to share views of our natural night light. The Mi’kmaq Maple Sugar full Moon occurs next Saturday, giving us Easter on the following day as it is the first full Moon of spring. Mercury spends the week plummeting sunward in the west, on its way to inferior conjunction on April 1. Venus moves slowly away from the Sun, revealing itself soon after sunset. Mars is closing in on Saturn, which is above the globular cluster M22 to the left of the Sagittarius Teapot lid. Jupiter dominates the morning sky in the southwest.

Questions? Contact Curt Nason.

Sky at a Glance March 17 – 24

Another way of looking at the constellation Orion, in honour of St. Patrick's Day

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

With this weekend being party time for many O’Revelers, is there anything green that we can see in the sky? Yes, but rarely. We can see stars that are red, orange, yellow, blue or white, but not green. The colours are representative of their outer temperature, with red being coolest and blue the hottest. Any star with an outer temperature corresponding to green, which is in the middle wavelengths of the visible spectrum, emits approximately equal but lesser amounts of red and blue light. This combination gives us white light, and our Sun is such a star.

Some stargazers have claimed to see green stars that are part of a binary pair with a red giant star. Green is the complementary colour of red, and it is thought that if you observe a white star after staring at a red one, the complementary after-image can make the white star look green. I tested this by looking at a dim red light in a darkened room for a minute and then I switched on the incandescent light. It had a green tinge. It is said that Zubeneshamali, the brightest star in Libra and the one with the longest common name, is green. It might have been the power of suggestion, but I did see it as a very pale green in an 8-inch telescope.

Some people have seen the Sun (aka Sol, the shortest name for a star) flash green just before setting, and usually over water under steady atmospheric conditions. The most common reason for green in the sky, although still fairly rare in New Brunswick, is the northern lights. Energetic electrons from the Sun can make oxygen atoms in our upper atmosphere emit green light in a manner similar to that of a neon light. Northern lights are seen more frequently around the equinoxes, and if electrons have escaped the Sun through holes in its magnetic field lines we could get lucky this weekend. If not, then take a break from the partying to look up at the constellation O’Ryan.

This Week in the Solar System

Saturday’s sunrise in Moncton is at 7:28 am and sunset will occur at 7:27 pm, giving 11 hours, 59 minutes of daylight (7:33 am and 7:32 pm in Saint John). Next Saturday the Sun will rise at 7:14 am and set at 7:37 pm, giving 12 hours, 23 minutes of daylight (7:19 am and 7:41 pm in Saint John). The Sun crosses the equator heading north on Tuesday at 1:15 pm, beginning our spring season. Notice that March 17 is the day when we are closest to having 12 hours of daylight, rather than on the equinox as many people believe.

The Moon is at third quarter on March 17, making a great weekend for the Messier Marathon. On Sunday in evening twilight the slim crescent Moon anchors a line-up above the western horizon, with Venus a few degrees to its upper right and Mercury an equal distance beyond. Next Saturday we get to observe the first quarter Moon during Earth Hour. Start your Monday morning with binocular observing before twilight. Mars lies between the Lagoon Nebula (M8) and the Trifid Nebula (M20), and Saturn is just north of the splendid globular cluster M22 to the left of the Sagittarius Teapot lid. Jupiter is rising before midnight again by midweek.

The provincial astronomy club, RASC NB, meets this Saturday at 1 pm in the Moncton High School. All are welcome.

Questions? Contact Curt Nason.

Sky at a Glance March 10 – 17

Photo showing location of 7 Messier objects (Deep Sky Objects) in the constellation Ursa Major.

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

For stargazers, early spring means it is time for a Messier Marathon. In 1758 a French comet hunter, Charles Messier, started compiling a catalogue of nebulous objects in the sky that resembled comets but weren’t. His completed catalogue was issued 13 years later with 103 objects. In the mid-20th century the catalogue was expanded to 110 based on Messier’s notes. Under a clear, dark sky all of the Messier objects can be seen in a small scope. It is a rite of passage for amateur astronomers to locate and observe all them.

The Messier catalogue includes 57 star clusters, 40 galaxies, 12 nebulae of new or dying stars, and an enigmatic pair of stars. The first on the list, called M1, is the Crab Nebula, the gaseous remnant of a supernova that was seen in daylight in 1054. M110 is a galaxy seen near M31, the Andromeda galaxy. The easiest to see is M45, the star cluster also known as the Pleiades or Seven Sisters. The Orion Nebula, a stellar nursery in the Hunter’s sword, is M42, with the much less spectacular M43 nearby. Ursa Major has seven Messiers including M51, the Whirlpool galaxy, and M97, the Owl Nebula.

For a few weeks in March and April, around the time of a new Moon, it is possible to see all the Messier objects in one night, hence the Messier Marathon. However, from New Brunswick one of them rises in bright twilight and is somewhere between very difficult and impossible to see at this time of year. That won’t keep some stellar stalwarts from trying.

This Week in the Solar System

Saturday’s sunrise in Moncton is at 6:41 am and sunset will occur at 6:18 pm, giving 11 hours, 37 minutes of daylight (6:46 am and 6:23 pm in Saint John). With the time change this weekend, next Saturday the Sun will rise at 7:28 am and set at 7:27 pm, giving 11 hours, 59 minutes of daylight (7:33 am and 7:32 pm in Saint John).

The Moon is at third quarter on Friday, March 9 and new on March 17. It makes a broad triangle with Saturn and Mars on the morning of March 10. Jupiter is rising before midnight but is still best for observing in the morning. Mercury is at its greatest elongation from the Sun on Thursday, when it is within a binocular view to the upper right of brighter Venus.

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

Questions? Contact Curt Nason.

Sky at a Glance March 3 – 10

Photo showing constellations in the March evening sky and locations of the stars Procyon and Sirus.

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

Let’s pay attention to the minority this week. By this I mean the Minor constellations: Ursa, Canis and Leo, all of which are visible on March evenings. Ursa Minor, the Little Bear, hosts the Little Dipper asterism and it has what is arguably the most important and famous star of the night sky – Polaris, the North Star – at the tip of its tail. Although smaller and less bright than the nearby Great Bear, Ursa Minor is at the centre of action in our night sky. How many have heard or even believe that Polaris is the brightest star in the night sky? It actually ranks at number 48.

Canis Minor, the Little Dog, is noted for having the eighth brightest star, Procyon. An imaginary arrowhead formed by Orion’s head and shoulder stars points eastward to the Little Dog. We usually see it as just two stars so it is probably a weiner dog. Despite the brilliance of its luminary, the Little Dog is just the opening act for Canis Major and its leading star, Sirius, the brightest one of the night sky. In early winter Procyon rises first to announce the impending arrival of Sirius, hence the name which means “before the dog.”

Leo Minor the Little Lion experiences difficulty in being noticed, and with good reason. It is one of those inconspicuous constellations created by the 17th century astronomer Johannes Hevelius to fill some gaps in the sky. We see it as a triangle between the back of Leo and the feet of Ursa Major. To give it some distinction and pride we can imagine the lion cub nipping at the heels of the Great Bear to keep it from attacking Leo.

This Week in the Solar System

Saturday’s sunrise in Moncton is at 6:54 am and sunset will occur at 6:08 pm, giving 11 hours, 14 minutes of daylight (6:58 am and 6:14 pm in Saint John). Next Saturday, the last day of Standard Time, the Sun will rise at 6:41 am and set at 6:18 pm, giving 11 hours, 37 minutes of daylight (6:46 am and 6:23 pm in Saint John).

The Moon is at third quarter next Friday, March 9. It is near Jupiter on Wednesday morning and joins Saturn and Mars on Saturday, March 10, making a great week for morning observing. Next Friday Jupiter halts its eastern progression against the stars and begins four months of retrograde motion that will see it passing Zubenelgenubi, giving me a chance to refer to that star again in early summer. Mercury and Venus will be side by side after sunset early in the week.

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

Questions? Contact Curt Nason.

Sky at a Glance Feb 24 – March 3

Photo showing the constellation Leo and others in the early Spring sky.

This Week’s Sky at a Glance, Feb 24 – March 3 ~by Curt Nason

We are all familiar with the weather-related saying that March comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb. This has a connection with the constellations, most likely by coincidence. As evening begins in early March, Leo the Lion is rising above the eastern horizon. I’d be blowing hot air if I claimed the roaring winds of early March were due to Leo announcing his presence.

Is there a lamb in the sky? Aries the Ram fits the bill, having been a lamb in his early days. As darkness settles in at the end of March, Aries is going out of the sky just above the western horizon. I’d be pulling the wool over your eyes if I claimed that was responsible for any calm weather we experience at that time. Beware the I’ds of March.

This Week in the Solar System

Saturday’s sunrise in Moncton is at 7:07 am and sunset will occur at 5:58 pm, giving 10 hours, 51 minutes of daylight (7:10 am and 6:04 pm in Saint John). Next Saturday the Sun will rise at 6:54 am and set at 6:08 pm, giving 11 hours, 14 minutes of daylight (6:58 am and 6:14 pm in Saint John).

The Moon is full on Thursday, the Mi’kmaq Snow Blinding Moon. Jupiter, Mars and Saturn are three good reasons to take a telescope outside an hour before sunrise. This summer they will be at their best for evening observing. By midweek Mercury sets in the west 45 minutes after sunset and 15 minutes before Venus. The next few weeks will be the best time to see Mercury for the year, as the steep angle of the ecliptic on March evenings places it higher in the sky than usual.

On Friday, February 23, Astronomy Moncton will hold a telescope clinic at Moncton High School beginning at 4 pm, followed by guides to observing the sky in the evening. See their website or Facebook page for details. The Saint John Astronomy Club meets on Saturday, March 3 at 7 pm in the Rockwood Park Interpretation Centre. All are welcome.

Questions? Contact Curt Nason.

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.