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.

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