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.

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