Explore the Universe Astronomy Course

Photo showing stargazing with binoculars.

SJAC member Mike Powell pointing out some stars at Saints Rest beach in Saint John, NB

Astronomy Course: Explore the Universe
Location: Rockwood Park Interpretation Centre
When: Wednesdays from 7:00 – 9:30 pm, October 3, 10, 17, 24, 2017
Cost: FREE
Instructor: Curt Nason

Photo showing book cover of Explore the Universe RASC program.

This course is based on the Explore the Universe beginner’s observing program of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada (RASC). By locating, observing and recording 55 of 110 objects you can receive an Explore the Universe certificate and pin, and you do not have to be a member of the RASC. This can be achieved using only your eyes and binoculars, although a small telescope might be required to observe all 110 objects.

What you need:
RASC Explore the Universe Program Requirements.pdf
RASC Fillable Application Form.pdf
Optional~ Explore the Universe Guide Book (2nd Edition)
Overview~RASC RASC.CA/Explore the Universe.

Although this course was four evenings, it could take you several months to locate and observe enough targets by yourself to earn a certificate.

Class photo of the Explore the Universe astronomy course offered by Curt Nason and the SJAC in 2018A full house attended the 1st evening, and continued all the way through the course. Although the course is now finished, you may find interesting material in the recaps listed below.

Course Schedule~

October 3: Program overview, using binoculars, understanding star maps (star names and brightness)A starfinder planisphere tool from RASC.

Photo showing advantages of binocular stargazing.
View pdf recap~Explore the Universe Course~1st Evening

October 10: Locating constellations, observing the MoonPhoto showing illustration of why phases of the Moon happen.

Photo of map showing Moon Maria (seas).
View Recap–Explore the Universe Course~2nd Evening

October 17: Observing the solar system: planets, conjunctions, eclipses, meteorsPhoto showing the relative sizes of our planets.

Photo showing the relative size of our Sun to Planets.
View Recap–Explore the Universe Course~3rd Evening

October 24: Locating and observing stars and deep sky objects: double stars, clusters, nebulae, galaxiesPhoto showing a star nursery and a graveyard.Recap–Explore the Universe Course–4th Evening

Questions? Contact Curt Nason 

This course was limited to 35 attendees. Because of limited seating, it was requested to please do not register unless you were certain you could attend. The course is intended for those who are keen enough about learning the sky to go outside at night and actually do it and maintain a record of what they see.

Requirements for earning your Certificate~

Screenshot of Course Requirements to obtain certificate from the RASC Explore the Universe

The above is a screenshot (click to enlarge) of the observing requirements to obtain your certificate in the RASC Explore the Universe astronomy course program. As you can see, you have some options on what you might observe (55 out of 110). You can view an explanation and the program requirements in pdf form here.

Category Requirements and things you might observe~

These are in order as listed in the program requirements pdf guide:

Constellations and Bright Stars~

12 out of 24 are required, all listed by season for best viewing. Here are 2 of them:Photo by Paul Owen of the constellation Cygnus (with labels)Above~Paul Owen photo with labels of the constellation Cygnus with the stars Deneb and Albireo. Below~The beautiful bluish star Vega, high overhead in the Summer night sky in the constellation Lyra (The Harp). Photo by Jim StewartPhoto of the bright bluish star Vega in the constellation Lyra high overhead in the summer sky.

Observing the Moon–Lunar Phases~

The 2nd Quarter Moon on October 2, 2018, 22 days after the New Moon. Photo by Jim Stewart4 out of 8 Moon Phases are required for observing.
Above–the 2nd Quarter Moon, 22 days after the New Moon. The certificate program requires this phase to be observed within 18 hours before or after the phase time. Photo by Jim Stewart, October 2, 2018.
Photo of the Waning Cresent Moon on Oct. 6 2018 by Paul OwenAbove~ the Waning Cresent Moon, 26 days after a New Moon. The program requires this phase to be observed within 3 hours before sunrise on the 26th day. Photo by Paul Owen, October 6, 2018.
Below~ the Waxing Cresent Moon appears to be on fire due to clouds. The program requires this phase to be observed within 3 hours after sunset, 3 days after a New Moon . Paul Owen, October 12. 2018. Note earthshine on left side in this image.Photo by Paul Owen of the Waxing Cresent Moon on October 12, 2018.

Observing the Moon–Lunar Basins and Maria~

Photo of the Moon's Straight Wall by Paul Owen6 out of 12 Basins are required. While you may not see the Great Straight Wall fault line and it is not required for an observing certificate, it is on the eastern side of the Lunar Basin (Maria) Mare Nubium, which is 1 of the 6 out of 12 Maria required to be observed. Photo by Paul Owen.

Observing the Moon–Impact Craters~

Close up photo of the Moon by Paul Owen6 out of 12 are required. Two of the twelve are shown above–Plato and Copernicus. Photo by Paul Owen

The Solar System~

Photo of Saturn and moons by Paul Owen5 out of 10 observations are required, from a choice of 7 planetary (Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune), 1 observing orbital motion, 1 Satellite or Meteor (3 of a satellite (such as the ISS) + 3 meteors), and 1 Sunspot. See the RASC Course requirements for an explanation. Photos by Paul Owen.Photo of Jupiter and moons by Paul Owen

The Solar System–Optional Observations~

The Partial Solar Eclipse as photographed by David McCashion of the Saint John Astronomy ClubDepending on the type of solar filter and type of telescope used, safe observing of the Sun might appear as white such as the photo by David McCashion above or orange as the photo by Paul Owen below. These photos are showing a solar eclipse AND sunspots in August 2017. Photo by Paul Owen of the Partial Solar Eclipse in Saint John, NBThe Certificate Program has 7 optional observations which count towards getting your certificate and pin. They are Eclipses, Conjunctions, Meteor Showers, Aurorae, Comets, Zodiacal Light, and Dwarf Planets or Minor Planets.

Deep-Sky Objects~

Photo by Paul Owen of the Pleiades Star Cluster M45Above~ A closeup of The Pleiades or M45 in Taurus by Paul Owen.
12 out of 24 Deep Sky are required for the beginner certificate. All of them can be observed with binoculars, and are listed according to season for best viewing opportunity. They may include Open Clusters, Globular Clusters, various types of Nebulae, and Galaxies. Many are spectacular through binoculars.Photo of the Double Cluster by Jim Stewart Above, The Double Cluster NGC 869/884, best seen in Autumn, and below, The Sagittarius Star Cloud M24, with its neighbour M17, The Swan Nebula, best seen in Summer. Click any pic to enlarge.Photo of the Sagittarius Star Cloud M24 by Jim Stewart

Photo of the Eagle Nebula M16 as seen through binoculars by Jim StewartAbove, The Eagle Nebula M16, and below the Lagoon Nebula M8 and Trifid Nebula M20, are best viewed in Summer. Although M20 is not required, it is hard to miss since both are within a 10X50 binocular field of view, especially with Saturn thrown in on this particular Summer night.Photo of M8 and M20 as seen through binoculars by Jim Stewart

Double and Multiple Stars~

Photo of the double star Alberio by Paul Owen10 out of 20 required, and they are all listed by season for best viewing. Above~ the beautiful double star Alberio in the constellation Cygnus. Photo by Paul Owen.

Variable Stars–Optional Observations~

Two variable are available for optional observing–Mira in the constellation Cetus and the more famous Algol “the Demon Star” in Perseus. (no photos)

Even if you aren’t able to obtain your certificate, the RASC Explore the Universe.pdf makes interesting reading, and the Explore the Universe Guide book is one of the best introductory astronomy books anywhere.

Bringing Astronomy to Southern New Brunswick, Canada