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Sky at a Glance October 13 – 20

Photo by Paul Owen of the Pleiades Star Cluster M45

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

The Pleiades star cluster, which is located in the shoulder of Taurus the Bull, is rising before 8 pm now as a harbinger of winter. In a month it will be rising at sunset. Due to its shape, this eye-catching cluster has been mistaken for the Little Dipper by many people. Most of us can count six stars in the Pleiades under good conditions but keen-eyed wonders have picked out twice that number from a dark sky. A low power view of it in binoculars will show a couple of dozen stars and it is one of the prettiest sights you will see in the night sky. I always look for the hockey stick in the binocular view.

The name Pleiades likely comes from the Greek word “plein,” which means “to sail” (Wikipedia). Sailing season in the Mediterranean Sea typically began when the cluster was first spotted before sunrise. In mythology it became the seven daughters of Atlas and Pleione, hence its common name of the Seven Sisters. Somewhere along the way one of them got lost. Astronomers also know it as M45 from the Messier catalogue. The cluster played a significant role in marking time for several ancient cultures, including the Maori, Mayan, Aztec and some First Nations.

Perhaps you have seen the Pleiades while stuck in traffic and just haven’t realized it. The six-star logo of Subaru automobiles depicts the Pleiades, as Subaru is the Japanese name for the cluster. The name, which means “united,” was chosen because the company was formed from a merger of several.

This Week in the Solar System

Saturday’s sunrise in Moncton is at 7:33 am and sunset will occur at 6:36 pm, giving 11 hours, 3 minutes of daylight (7:37 am and 6:42 pm in Saint John). Next Saturday the Sun will rise at 7:43 am and set at 6:24 pm, giving 10 hours, 41 minutes of daylight (7:46 am and 6:30 pm in Saint John).

The Moon is at first quarter on Tuesday, making for great lunar observing throughout the week. Although Venus is still heading sunward, its position below the ecliptic has it setting before the Sun. Mercury sets a half hour after sunset, followed by Jupiter an hour later. Saturn and Mars are well placed for evening observing. With the steep angle of the ecliptic on Moonless autumn mornings, stargazers in rural areas might notice the subtle pyramid of the zodiacal light angling up from the eastern horizon.

Fredericton RASC and astronomy club members are celebrating Fall Astronomy Day this Saturday evening with public observing at Regent Mall near Chapters (7 to 9 pm), and UNB Fredericton is hosting public observing at the Physics building next Saturday (8 to 9:30 pm) for International Observe the Moon Night. RASC NB is giving Moon-related talks next Saturday (11 am to 4:30 pm) at Moncton High School followed by evening observing (7:30 pm) at the high school observatory. All are welcome.

Questions? Contact Curt Nason.

Pleaides photo by RASC NB member Paul Owen.

Sky at a Glance October 6 – 13

Photo showing the night Autumn sky and constellations.

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

This is a good time of year to double your sky observing time. For the next few weeks, before we return to Standard Time, the sky is dark and the stars are blazing when most people are up to start their day. And it is not bitterly cold or snowbound. Orion and his dogs are prominent to the south, with Taurus, Auriga and Gemini arching over them.

In early evening you can see the 4th, 5th and 6th brightest stars. Look for yellow Arcturus sinking to the west, blue-white Vega overhead and Capella in Auriga rising in the northeast. Later, notice the positions of the circumpolar Big Dipper, Little Dipper and Cassiopeia. The next morning go outside and see how they have changed. Sometimes it is nice to have a little assurance that the world keeps right on turning.

This Week in the Solar System

Saturday’s sunrise in Moncton is at 7:24 am and sunset will occur at 6:49 pm, giving 11 hours, 25 minutes of daylight (7:28 am and 6:55 pm in Saint John). Next Saturday the Sun will rise at 7:33 am and set at 6:36 pm, giving 11 hours, 3 minutes of daylight (7:37 am and 6:42 pm in Saint John).

The Moon is new soon after midnight on Tuesday morning, appearing as a waxing crescent low in the west later in the week. The shallow angle of the ecliptic on early autumn evenings makes it very difficult to see Venus and Mercury this week; Mercury is pulling away from the Sun and Venus is heading toward it. Jupiter sets less than 90 minutes after sunset so catch it in twilight when you can. Saturn and Mars take centre stage for evening observers this week. Comet dust provides possible entertainment for early risers. The Draconid meteor shower peaks on Monday but, despite the recent close passage of its parent comet 21P/ Giacobini-Zinner, only a few shooting stars per hour are expected. With the steep angle of the ecliptic on Moonless autumn mornings, skywatchers in rural areas might notice the zodiacal light later this week and all of next week.

The Saint John Astronomy Club meets in the Rockwood Park Interpretation Center on Saturday, October 6 at 7 pm, and 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 September 29 – October 6

Photo showing the Great Square of Pegasus in the eastern Fall sky.

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

Major League Baseball playoff season kicks off, or rather throws out the first pitch, on Tuesday and they always arrange to have the Great Square of Pegasus form a diamond in the eastern sky for evening games. At home plate is Algenib, the third brightest star of the constellation. Who’s on first? Yes, that is Markab, the brightest star of Pegasus. On second base we have its second brightest luminary, Sheat, which is probably what he mutters when he makes an error. On third is a star brighter than the other three, Alpheratz, who was traded to Andromeda but still likes to whip the ball around the horn with his former teammates.

Trailing off toward the dugout from third is a string of stars that forms the left side of Princess Andromeda. The second in the string is no second string player. Mirach is as bright as Alpheratz and shows a distinct orange colour in binoculars. Raising your binoculars above the string from Mirach will bring M31, the Andromeda Galaxy, into your view, and from a dark sky that is a view you don’t want to miss. It might resemble a pool of champagne on the clubhouse floor of the World Series champions. Go Expos!

This Week in the Solar System

Saturday’s sunrise in Moncton is at 7:15 am and sunset will occur at 7:03 pm, giving 11 hours, 48 minutes of daylight (7:19 am and 7:08 pm in Saint John). Next Saturday the Sun will rise at 7:24 am and set at 6:49 pm, giving 11 hours, 25 minutes of daylight (7:28 am and 6:55 pm in Saint John).

The Moon is at third quarter on Tuesday and makes a binocular pairing with M44, the Beehive star cluster, before twilight on Thursday morning. Venus is stationary on Friday, preparing to make its sunward plunge toward inferior conjunction three weeks later. Jupiter’s Red Spot is facing our way shortly after 7 pm on Tuesday, and with the giant planet getting lower after sunset our chances of seeing the Red Spot again this year diminish rapidly. Saturn and Mars will be the main targets for stargazers over the next two weeks.

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

Questions? Contact Curt Nason.

Sky at a Glance September 22 – 29

Location of the elusive constellation Lacerta the Lizard.

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

Salamanders aren’t the most noticeable of critters; you usually have to make an effort to find one. This is a good time to locate the obscure constellation of Lacerta the Lizard, but it will take some effort and a dark sky.

Camouflaged partly by the Milky Way, Lacerta is surrounded by Cepheus, Cassiopeia, Pegasus and Cygnus. A good pointer to it is the base of the Summer Triangle. Running a line from bright Vega to Deneb at the tail of Cygnus and extending it about the same distance puts you near the zigzag shape of the lizard. It is one of those dim constellations created in the late 17th century by Johannes Hevelius to fill in an “empty” section of the sky. At first he named it Stellio; a stellion is a newt with star-like spots found near the Mediterranean Sea. If you manage to catch Lacerta, give yourself a pat on the back and let it go.

This Week in the Solar System

Saturday’s sunrise in Moncton is at 7:06 am and sunset will occur at 7:16 pm, giving 12 hours, 10 minutes of daylight (7:11 am and 7:21 pm in Saint John). The Sun crosses the equator heading south for winter at 10:54 pm that evening, marking the beginning of autumn. Next Saturday the Sun will rise at 7:15 am and set at 7:03 pm, giving 11 hours, 48 minutes of daylight (7:19 am and 7:08 pm in Saint John).

The Moon is full on Monday, the traditional Harvest Moon and the Mi’kmaq Moose Calling Moon. Venus remains very bright but sets before 8 pm midweek. Jupiter’s Red Spot is facing our way shortly after 8 pm on Thursday, an hour before the planet sets. Saturn continues to give awesome views in the early evening and sets before midnight. Mars is at its highest for best viewing around 9:30 pm.

RASC NB, the provincial astronomy club, meets at the UNB Fredericton Forestry / Earth Sciences building this Saturday at 1 pm. All are welcome. On Wednesday, the UNB Fredericton Astronomy Club will be holding a public observing session at Queen’s Square Park from 8:30 to 10 pm.

Questions? Contact Curt Nason.

Sky at a Glance September 15 – 22

Photo showing circumpolar constellations in the northern overhead sky, that do not disappear with the seasons.

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

This is the time of year when the evening sky seems static; the stars are in the same place night after night when they appear in twilight. As you can see below, the Sun sets about two minutes earlier each evening. With reference to the stars, Earth rotates once every 23 hours, 56 minutes and 4 seconds. But since our clocks are based on a 24-hour solar day rather than the sidereal day, the stars rise about 4 minutes earlier each evening. The rate of earlier sunsets this time of year cancels much of that. Although the stars rise earlier we see also see them sooner. That is a bonus because many of the finest objects to observe in a telescope are prominent now, particularly the Milky Way.

The opposite occurs in spring when the later sunsets add to the earlier rising of stars. The constellations seem to fly past over a month or two, much to the chagrin of those who delight in observing the distant galaxies that abound in those constellations. Earth’s motion around the Sun results in many of the constellations being seasonal. For example, we currently see Orion in the southeast before sunrise. Come January it will be there after sunset and stick around in the evening sky until mid-spring. Those constellations near the north are circumpolar, meaning they never set and we see them year round. There are 22 constellations in the southern hemisphere sky that we see no part of at all from New Brunswick.

This Week in the Solar System

Saturday’s sunrise in Moncton is at 6:57 am and sunset will occur at 7:30 pm, giving 12 hours, 33 minutes of daylight (7:02 am and 7:35 pm in Saint John). Next Saturday the Sun will rise at 7:06 am and set at 7:16 pm, giving 12 hours, 10 minutes of daylight (7:11 am and 7:21 pm in Saint John). It crosses the equator heading south for winter at 10:54 pm on September 22, marking the beginning of autumn.

The Moon is at first quarter on Sunday and passes near Saturn on Monday. Venus is at its brightest, or greatest illuminated extent, on Friday but low enough after sunset to be hidden by trees or houses. Jupiter sets at 10 pm so it is observed best in late twilight before it gets too low for a steady view. Saturn continues to give awesome views in the early evening and sets around midnight this week. Mars remains a bright orange beacon toward the south all evening. Mercury is at superior conjunction behind the Sun on Thursday. If you are in a dark clear sky 60-90 minutes before sunrise, look for a subtle pyramid of light angling up from the eastern horizon: the zodiacal light, caused by sunlight reflecting off dust along the ecliptic.

This weekend has the final RASC NB star party of the season at the Kouchibouguac Fall Festival on September 14/15, and there is public observing at the Irving Nature Park in Saint John on September 14 from 7:30 to 11 pm (cloud date September 15).

Questions? Contact Curt Nason.

Sky at a Glance September 8 – 15

Photo showing the Triangulum Constellation below Andromeda and location of M33.

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

Technically, any three stars in the sky will form some sort of a triangle, but there are those that stand out. Overhead in early evening is the best known celestial threesome, the isosceles Summer Triangle of Vega, Deneb and Altair. Straddling the Milky Way, each star is the brightest in their respective constellations of Lyra the Harp, Cygnus the Swan and Aquila the Eagle. An ancient tale of Eastern mythology depicted Vega and Altair as lovers separated by a river (the Milky Way). I look at them as an updated version of that tale, that of Running Bear and White Dove in the Johnny Preston hit written by the Big Bopper, J.P. Richardson. The Big Bopper would be a good name for a constellation.

With the Summer Triangle overhead, the constellation Triangulum the Triangle is low in the east below Andromeda. Known as a constellation for thousands of years, it has been said to represent, among other things, the Nile Delta and the island of Sicily. If you have a dark sky, use binoculars to look about a third of the way, and a tad to the right, between the tip of Triangulum and the orange star Mirach in Andromeda above to see the face-on spiral galaxy M33.

Now that summer is fading, and if you can’t wait for winter, just look to the east in morning darkness for the Winter Triangle. Orange Betelgeuse in Orion’s armpit joins with Orion’s companion Dog Stars of Sirius and Procyon to form an equilateral triangle. All three stars make the top ten in brightness, with Sirius leading the pack.

This Week in the Solar System

Saturday’s sunrise in Moncton is at 6:48 am and sunset will occur at 7:44 pm, giving 12 hours, 56 minutes of daylight (6:54 am and 7:48 pm in Saint John). Next Saturday the Sun will rise at 6:57 am and set at 7:30 pm, giving 12 hours, 33 minutes of daylight (7:02 am and 7:35 pm in Saint John).

The Moon is new on Sunday and passes near Jupiter on Thursday. Venus is low in the west after sunset, setting before 9 pm and appearing about one-third illuminated in a telescope. Jupiter sets at 10 pm so it is observed best in late twilight. Look for its Red Spot with a telescope at 9 pm on Monday. Saturn continues to give awesome views in the early evening while Mars is at its best after 10 pm. Mercury is moving sunward but can still be seen with binoculars. Comet 21P/ Giacobini-Zinner might be seen late evenings and early mornings this weekend within the same binocular field of star clusters M38 and M36 in Auriga, and close to M37 on Monday.

The Saint John Astronomy Club meets in the Rockwood Park Interpretation Centre on September 8 at 7 pm. The William Brydone Jack Astronomy Club meets on Tuesday at 7 pm in the UNB Fredericton Forestry / Earth Sciences Building. Next weekend has the final RASC NB star party of the season at the Kouchibouguac Fall Festival on September 14/15, and there is public observing at the Irving Nature Park in Saint John on September 14 from 7:30 to 11 pm (cloud date September 15).

Questions? Contact Curt Nason.

Sky at a Glance September 1 – 8

Photo showing the Summer Triangle of Vega, Altair and Deneb in the overhead sky.

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

The Summer Triangle is at its highest in early evening. Vega pokes through the twilight overhead, followed by Altair to the south and Deneb to the east. All three are the brightest stars of their respective constellations of Lyra, Aquila and Cygnus. Although it is the dimmest of the trio, Deneb is actually much brighter but it is about 60 times more distant. If it were as close as the other two it would be more than ten times brighter than Venus.

I occasionally sit out on the deck shortly after sunset and just look up at the blue sky, waiting for Vega to appear. Easily amused, the blue background gives me a three dimensional view of my eye floaters. Then, with a little concentration, I look for a Maltese cross of pale yellow and blue light. Haidinger’s Brush isn’t in the sky; it is a phenomenon of the eye caused by the polarized light overhead. If you are really keen to learn about this see Haidinger’s Brush.

This Week in the Solar System

Saturday’s sunrise in Moncton is at 6:39 am and sunset will occur at 7:57 pm, giving 13 hours, 18 minutes of daylight (6:45 am and 8:01 pm in Saint John). Next Saturday the Sun will rise at 6:48 am and set at 7:44 pm, giving 12 hours, 56 minutes of daylight (6:54 am and 7:48 pm in Saint John).

The Moon is at third quarter on Sunday, rising near the bright star Aldebaran just before midnight. Venus is low in the west after sunset, setting around 9 pm later in the week. Jupiter sets at 10:30 so it is observed best in twilight. Look for its Red Spot with a telescope at 9 pm on Monday. Saturn is the showpiece of the evening sky and it resumes its eastward motion relative to the stars late in the week. Mars still captures the eye with its bright orange glare but a dust storm continues to hide some of its features from telescope users. Mercury is brightening but also moving sunward; this is the last good week to pick it out of morning twilight. Neptune, a binocular object, is at opposition on Friday in case you are looking for something to celebrate.

The RASC NB star party at Fundy National Park takes place Friday and Saturday, August 31 – September 1. The Saint John Astronomy Club meets in the Rockwood Park Interpretation Centre on September 8 at 7 pm.

Questions? Contact Curt Nason.

Sky at a Glance August 25 – September 1

Photo showing preview of the constellations Ursa Major and Minor in the autumn sky.

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

The signs of autumn appear in the sky before they become readily apparent terrestrially. As darkness settles the great mama bear, Ursa Major, scampers across the northern horizon in search of food and lodging for winter. If you live in a rural area with an excellent view to the north you might even catch a glimpse of Lynx running ahead of the bear, and consider yourself fortunate if you do. The thicker layer of atmosphere at low altitudes reduces the brightness of starlight, a phenomenon called extinction. The lynx may become extinct for a few hours.

The bowl of the Little Dipper (Ursa Minor) is upside down in early evening, pouring out its contents to fill the Big Dipper below, at the rear of Ursa Major. This scenario is at odds with Greek mythology, for the bears were cursed to eternal thirst by the goddess Hera in revenge for an indiscretion of her husband, Zeus. She placed the bears in a position where they never reach the horizon for a drink. Perhaps Zeus placed dippers of water inside the bears so that they could share water and survive. Someone has to make these stories up.

To the east Pegasus is already quite high after twilight, with its signature square asterism tilted as a diamond for the imminent baseball pennant stretch. Perseus stands above the northeast horizon below his in-laws, W-shaped Cassiopeia and house-shaped Cepheus, while their daughter Andromeda leads him toward the flying horse. There is much to see in this area with binoculars but start with the Double Cluster of stars between Perseus and Cassiopeia, and the Andromeda Galaxy (M31).

This autumn preview is not a fleeting glimpse. The eastward progression of constellations from evening to evening is compensated by earlier sunsets, such that they emerge from twilight in the same part of the sky for many weeks. Autumn is a great time for stargazing.

This Week in the Solar System

Saturday’s sunrise in Moncton is at 6:31 am and sunset will occur at 8:10 pm, giving 13 hours, 39 minutes of daylight (6:37 am and 8:14 pm in Saint John). Next Saturday the Sun will rise at 6:39 am and set at 7:57 pm, giving 13 hours, 18 minutes of daylight (6:45 am and 8:01 pm in Saint John).

The Moon is full on Sunday, the Mi’kmaq Ripening Moon. Venus shines brilliantly but low in the west after sunset, hidden by trees or buildings in many areas. Jupiter’s Red Spot can be seen with a telescope around 9 pm on Wednesday. Saturn is the showpiece of the evening sky, at its best for observing as twilight fades. Mars is stationary on Tuesday, after which it resumes its normal eastward motion against the stars. Mercury is at its greatest elongation from the Sun in the morning sky on Sunday, and it will brighten over the next couple of weeks during its best morning apparition for the year.

The RASC NB star party at Fundy National Park takes place next Friday and Saturday, August 31 – September 1.

Questions? Contact Curt Nason.

Sky at a Glance August 18 – 25

Photo showing the constellation Bootes.

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

With the hot and muggy weather this summer there is nothing like an ice cream to cool you down. If the night sky had a constellation honouring the ice cream cone it would have to be the one we call Boötes (bo-OH-teez). Boötes is easy to pick out because it is anchored by Arcturus, the fourth brightest star of the sky. To identify the star, “just follow the arc (of the Big Dipper’s handle) to Arcturus.” This star is the bottom of the cone and the ice cream is to the left of the Dipper’s handle, somewhat northward where it will stay cold and not melt. The constellation can also pass for a kite or a necktie.

The name Boötes means ox driver but the constellation is often regarded as a bear driver or a ploughman. With his hunting dogs, the Canes Venatici constellation, he is seen chasing the two bears (Ursa Major and Ursa Minor) around the pole. In Britain the Big Dipper is usually called the Plough, and in mythology the goddess of agriculture requested Zeus to honour Boötes in the sky for inventing the plough. I guess he is the John Deere of the night sky, or perhaps Ernest Hamwi who popularized the edible ice cream cone at the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis.

Speaking of World’s Fairs, the 1893 and 1933 fairs were held in Chicago. To commemorate technology, the lights for the latter fair were lit using a current generated from photocells and the starlight of Arcturus. It was believed the star was 40 light years distant, so the light reaching them would have been emitted during the previous Chicago fair. We now know Arcturus is only 37 light years away. Several observatories supplied starlight for the opening but, considering the shape of the constellation, it is unfortunate that one of them wasn’t the Lick Observatory in California.

This Week in the Solar System

Saturday’s sunrise in Moncton is at 6:22 am and sunset will occur at 8:22 pm, giving 14 hours of daylight (6:28 am and 8:26 pm in Saint John). Next Saturday the Sun will rise at 6:31 am and set at 8:10 pm, giving 13 hours, 39 minutes of daylight (6:37 am and 8:14 pm in Saint John).

The Moon is at first quarter on Saturday, making a great weekend for lunar observing. Venus sets at 9:45 pm midweek, followed by Jupiter an hour and a half later. Jupiter’s Red Spot can be seen with a telescope around 10 pm next Friday, August 24. Saturn is at its highest and best around 9:30 pm, while Mars reaches its best two hours later. Mercury is popping up in the morning sky, rising an hour before sunrise this weekend.

Moncton members of RASC NB are hosting free public observing at Moncton High School Observatory this Friday, August 17 from 9 to 11 pm.

Questions? Contact Curt Nason.

Sky at a Glance August 11 – 18

Photo showing the location of the Perseus constellation in the low northeast sky, originating point of the Perseids Meteor Shower.

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

The main event in the sky this week is the Perseid meteor shower. On any clear night this weekend you will have a better chance of seeing meteors, especially in the wee hours before morning twilight. The peak time is predicted to occur around 10 pm on Sunday when, unfortunately, the constellation Perseus is still low on the northeast. You can see a few meteors per hour any night in a clear, dark sky, but the number increases greatly when Earth passes through a trail of pebbles and dust left by a comet that makes frequent orbits around the Sun. The pebbles left by comet Temple-Tuttle in its 133 year orbit are quite large at a few centimetres, and they enter our atmosphere at a high relative velocity of 60 km/s (Earth travels at 30 km/s). Therefore, they can be very bright.

Meteors, also called shooting stars or falling stars, are the streaks of light created when particles enter the atmosphere at an altitude of about 100 kilometres, and those particles from comets disintegrate before they reach an altitude of 50 kilometres. Many meteors are faint and easily made invisible by moonlight and light pollution. This year the Perseid shower occurs near the new Moon phase so we can expect to see more than usual. They will seem to be coming from a point within the constellation Perseus, which is at its highest in the sky in early morning. You will see fewer in the evening but they tend to be long and bright.

Although a dark sky is preferred for watching meteors, many can still be enjoyed from an urban or suburban area. Get comfortable in a chair, have extra clothes or blankets if you plan to stay long as it can get very chilly, and select a patch of sky that is free of clouds and light. It is better to keep Perseus to your side rather than look in that direction because the meteors will look more spectacular, covering a longer distance. Be very happy if you see about 20-30 per hour on the peak night, or fewer a day before or after. Anything more is a bonus, and this could be a bonus year.

This Week in the Solar System

Saturday’s sunrise in Moncton is at 6:13 am and sunset will occur at 8:34 pm, giving 14 hours, 21 minutes of daylight (6:20 am and 8:37 pm in Saint John). Next Saturday the Sun will rise at 6:22 am and set at 8:22 pm, giving 14 hours of daylight (6:28 am and 8:26 pm in Saint John).

The Moon is new on Saturday, August 11 and it is at first quarter the following Saturday. Venus has a twilight photo opportunity with a slim Moon on Tuesday, and it is at its greatest elongation from the Sun on Friday. Saturn is at its best in the early evening. On Thursday, telescope users might see the shadows of Jovian moons Io and Europa moving across the atmosphere of Jupiter, starting around 9:08 pm and lasting for more than two hours. Mars is in good position for observing by late evening and its global dust storm is weakening. The Perseid meteor shower peaks in a moonless sky Sunday evening and should be active enough to keep most stargazers happy over the weekend and Monday.

The RASC NB star party at Mactaquac Provincial Park takes place this weekend, August 10-11.

Questions? Contact Curt Nason.

Sky at a Glance August 4 – 11

Photo showing the constellation Ophiuchus the Serpent Bearer in the southern sky, above the orange star Antares in the heart of Scorpius.

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

After twilight look for orange Antares in the heart of Scorpius between Jupiter and Saturn. High above the scorpion is a large house-shaped constellation called Ophiuchus the Serpent Bearer. If your area isn’t light polluted you can see two lines of stars rising up and outward from the bottom of the house. The line on the right is Serpens Caput and the one on the left is Serpens Cauda. Together they comprise Serpens the Serpent, the only constellation that is in separate parts. Globular clusters contain many tens of thousands of stars and orbit the centre of our galaxy, which is in the direction where Saturn currently resides. Therefore, these clusters abound in the Sagittarius-Scorpius-Ophiuchus region of our sky and many can be seen in binoculars as a fat, fuzzy star.

Ophiuchus represents Asclepius from mythology, who became interested in the healing arts after killing a snake and watching another snake bring it back to life with a leaf. Asclepius brought many people back from the dead, including Orion after he was killed by the scorpion. Hades, god of the Underworld, complained to Zeus about a decrease in business so Zeus sent his pet eagle to kill Asclepius with a thunderbolt. The constellation of Aquila the Eagle is east of Serpens Cauda.

This Week in the Solar System

Saturday’s sunrise in Moncton is at 6:04 am and sunset will occur at 8:44 pm, giving 14 hours, 40 minutes of daylight (6:12 am and 8:47 pm in Saint John). Next Saturday the Sun will rise at 6:13 am and set at 8:34 pm, giving 14 hours, 21 minutes of daylight (6:20 am and 8:37 pm in Saint John).

The Moon is at third quarter on Saturday, August 4 and it is new the following Saturday, giving a dark sky for meteor watching. Mercury is at inferior conjunction, between Earth and the Sun, on Tuesday and it will be well placed for morning observing toward the end of the month. Venus sets at 10:15 mid-week, when Saturn is at its highest in the south, and Jupiter sets around midnight. Mars looks brilliant to the naked eye but a global dust storm continues to obscure much of its telescopic treasures. The Perseid meteor shower peaks late next weekend but start watching a few nights before then.

The Saint John Astronomy Club meets in the Rockwood Park Interpretation Centre on August 4 at 7 pm. All are welcome. The RASC NB star party at Mactaquac Provincial Park takes place next weekend, August 10-11.

Questions? Contact Curt Nason.

Sky at a Glance July 28 – August 4

Photo showing four small constellations in the southeastern sky toward late evening in July-August.

This Week’s Sky at a Glance, July 28 – August 4 ~by Curt Nason

They say it is the little things that count, and if you are counting constellations there are four little ones lined up in the southeast toward late evening. Start your search with the Summer Triangle, which is composed of the brightest star in each of three constellations: Vega in Lyra the Lyre, Deneb in Cygnus the Swan, and Altair in Aquila the Eagle. Sagitta the Arrow is a distinct shape between Altair and Albireo, which is at the head of Cygnus. The arrow, poisoned with the blood of the Hydra, is one of those shot by Hercules to kill the Stymphalian birds as his sixth Labour.

Between Sagitta and Albireo is obscure Vulpecula the Fox, which at one time was two constellations called the Little Fox and the Goose. Vulpecula is known best for having the binocular object M27, the Dumbbell Nebula, within its borders. Below Sagitta is the eye-catching Delphinus the Dolphin, seen leaping out of the watery constellations that hug the horizon below. The dolphin was given its place of honour in the sky by Poseidon for convincing beautiful Amphitrite to be his wife. Below Delphinus and just off the snout of Pegasus the Flying Horse is Equuleus the Little Horse, the second smallest of the 88 constellations. Perhaps representing the foal Celeris, an offspring or brother of Pegasus, it was one of the 48 constellations included in Claudius Ptolemy’s second century map of the sky.

This Week in the Solar System

Saturday’s sunrise in Moncton is at 5:56 am and sunset will occur at 8:53 pm, giving 14 hours, 57 minutes of daylight (6:04 am and 8:56 pm in Saint John). Next Saturday the Sun will rise at 6:04 am and set at 8:44 pm, giving 14 hours, 40 minutes of daylight (6:12 am and 8:47 pm in Saint John).

The full Puny Moon occurs on Friday, July 28, and it is at third quarter on Saturday, August 4. Mars is at opposition on July 27 and closest to Earth on July 31. Normally, the outer planets are closest at opposition but Mars has a more elongated orbit than the others. Its continued sunward motion brings it about 100,000 km closer after opposition before Earth pulls farther ahead in orbit. Mars looks brilliant to the naked eye but a global dust storm still obscures much of its telescopic treasures. Venus shows its nearly half-lit phase in a telescope, best seen in twilight, while Jupiter and its moons and Saturn’s rings more than make up for the Martian disappointment. The South Delta Aquariid meteor shower peaks this Saturday morning, a harbinger of the more prolific Perseid shower in a few weeks.

The Saint John Astronomy Club meets in the Rockwood Park Interpretation Centre on August 4 at 7 pm. All are welcome.

Questions? Contact Curt Nason.

Sky at a Glance July 21 – 28

Photo showing the constellation Cygnus.
This Week’s Sky at a Glance, July 21 – 28 ~by Curt Nason

Constellations are not the only stellar figures in the night sky. Any imaginative figure seen that is not one of the 88 constellations is called an asterism. The Big Dipper in Ursa Major and the Sagittarius Teapot are two of the most prominent. Others require binoculars or a telescope, such as the Coathanger and ET star clusters. One I read about in Sky & Telescope magazine a couple of years ago is a smiley face in Cygnus the Swan. Scan with binoculars just below the swan’s right (western) wing near the brightest star in that wing, and look for a pair of eyes above a semicircle grin of five stars. You will probably smile back.

This summer, spend some time scanning the night sky randomly and let your imagination run wild. Pareidolia is a phenomenon in which your mind sees a familiar pattern where none exists. Just as we imagine figures in clouds by day, we can imagine them in the stars at night. Let me know what you see.

This Week in the Solar System

Saturday’s sunrise in Moncton is at 5:48 am and sunset will occur at 9:01 pm, giving 15 hours, 13 minutes of daylight (5:56 am and 9:03 pm in Saint John). Next Saturday the Sun will rise at 5:56 am and set at 8:53 pm, giving 14 hours, 57 minutes of daylight (6:04 am and 8:56 pm in Saint John).

The Moon is near Saturn on Tuesday and is full on Friday, July 28, the Mi’kmaq Birds Shed Feathers Moon. It is also the most distant full Moon of the year – the Puny Moon. I hope you can see it, but most eyes will be on Mars rising at opposition less than half an hour later. Venus, Jupiter, Saturn and Mars stretch from west to east throughout the summer evenings. Mercury is stationary on Wednesday, beginning a two week plunge toward the Sun. The South Delta Aquariid meteor shower peaks on Friday morning, a harbinger of the more prolific Perseid shower in three weeks.

There is public observing at the Irving Nature Park in Saint John on Friday, July 20 at 9 pm (cloud date Saturday, July 21). Friday, July 27 is Astronomy Day at the Huntsman Aquarium in St. Andrews.

Questions? Contact Curt Nason.

Sky at a Glance July 14 – 21

Photo showing location of several galaxies in the southern night sky near Sagittarius.

This Week’s Sky at a Glance, July 14 – 21 ~by Curt Nason

Galaxies are favourite targets for amateur astronomers and many are visible with just binoculars. Two are easily seen with the naked eye in the southern hemisphere: the Large and Small Magellanic Clouds. The Andromeda Galaxy is a naked-eye blur for rural New Brunswickers and it looks majestic in binoculars. But there is one galaxy that is spectacular regardless of your location or observing equipment, and that is our home galaxy.

The Milky Way is at least 110,000 light years across, and although it is composed of 200 billion stars we can distinguish only about 4000 as individual stars from a rural area. The Sun is 27,000 light years from the galactic core, within a spur between the inner Sagittarius and outer Perseus spiral arms. When we look above the spout of the Sagittarius Teapot asterism we are looking toward the galactic core, but vast clouds of dust hide the stars between the spiral arm and the core. South of the head of Cygnus the Swan we see the Milky Way split in two by the Great Rift, one of those dust clouds.

Star formation occurs in clouds of gas and dust within the spiral arms and some can be seen as bright patches with binoculars. Just above the spout of the Teapot is M8, the Lagoon Nebula; and a hint of M20, the Trifid Nebula, can be seen in the same field of view above. Scanning to the upper left up the Milky Way you encounter M17, the Swan (or Omega) Nebula; M16, the Eagle Nebula; and star clusters such as M11, the Wild Duck Cluster in the constellation Scutum the Shield. A tour of the Milky Way under a dark sky can keep a binocular stargazer engaged for an evening.

This Week in the Solar System

Saturday’s sunrise in Moncton is at 5:41 am and sunset will occur at 9:07 pm, giving 15 hours, 26 minutes of daylight (5:49 am and 9:09 pm in Saint John). Next Saturday the Sun will rise at 5:48 am and set at 9:01 pm, giving 15 hours, 13 minutes of daylight (5:56 am and 9:03 pm in Saint John).

The Moon is at first quarter on Thursday, making a great week for public observing events. It passes just above Mercury this Saturday evening, is near Venus on Monday and Jupiter next Friday. Jupiter’s red spot faces our way at 10 pm on Thursday and, under steady sky conditions, it can be seen with a telescope. Saturn continues to give great views of its rings in a telescope. Mars looks awesome in the late evening; its bright yellow-orange colour really catches the eye.

The annual RASC NB star party at Mount Carleton Provincial Park occurs July 13-14, taking advantage of very dark and moonless skies. Public observing events are also scheduled for Thursday, July 19, at the ball field in St. Martins for Old Home Week, and at the Irving Nature Park in Saint John on Friday, July 20 at 9 pm (cloud date Saturday, July 21).

Questions? Contact Curt Nason.

Sky at a Glance July 7 – 14

Photo showing the planet Saturn between the constellations Sagittarius and Scutum with many Messier objects in that region of the night sky.

This Week’s Sky at a Glance, July 7 – 14 ~by Curt Nason

Saturn currently sits above the Teapot asterism 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. A week ago the bottom of the shield drew the attention of astronomers with the appearance of a nova.

When an average size star like our Sun runs out of fuel it collapses to an earth-sized white dwarf star. If the white dwarf has a binary companion it can draw hydrogen gas – fuel for fusion reactions – away from the companion. If enough collects on the surface of the white dwarf the hydrogen can flash in a thermonuclear explosion thousands of times brighter than the Sun. Nova Scuti 2018 is bright enough to be seen in a backyard telescope.

This Week in the Solar System

Saturday’s sunrise in Moncton is at 5:35 am and sunset will occur at 9:11 pm, giving 15 hours, 36 minutes of daylight (5:44 am and 9:13 pm in Saint John). Next Saturday the Sun will rise at 5:41 am and set at 9:07 pm, giving 15 hours, 26 minutes of daylight (5:49 am and 9:09 pm in Saint John).

The Moon is new just before midnight Thursday evening and reaches perigee before sunrise on Friday, resulting in very high tides next weekend. The slender crescent passes just above Mercury next Saturday evening, about 15 degrees to the lower right of Venus. Venus is near Regulus this Monday, and Mercury reaches its greatest elongation from the Sun on Wednesday. Jupiter is stationary on Wednesday, resuming its normal eastward motion against the stars until next spring. Saturn continues to give great views of its rings in a telescope. Ever-brightening Mars rises by 10:30 pm late in the week and might look more like a pumpkin while it remains wrapped in a global dust storm.

The Saint John Astronomy Club meets in the Rockwood Park Interpretation Centre on Saturday, July 7 at 7 pm. All are welcome. The annual RASC NB star party at Mount Carleton Provincial Park occurs July 13-14, taking advantage of very dark and moonless skies.

Questions? Contact Curt Nason.