Sky at a Glance February 16 – 23

The constellation Puppis, in the southern night sky to the left of Sirius and Canis Major.

This Week’s Sky at a Glance, 2019 February 16 – 23 ~by Curt Nason

By the time I was ten I had been into astronomy for a year or two, thanks in part to a fascination with mythology. That summer I suffered through advertisements for the movie Jason and the Argonauts, knowing I wouldn’t get to Saint John to see it and it likely wouldn’t get to the Vogue theatre in McAdam for 20 years. Twenty years later the Vogue was closed and I was living in Saint John, but I finally saw the movie after buying the VHS tape. Throughout the year I get to see some of the tale in the constellations.

One of the 48 constellations in Ptolemy’s second century star chart was Argo Navis, the ship that carried the Argonauts to their adventures. The constellation was large, too large for the astronomers who designated the 88 constellations that now fill our sky, and they broke it up into three: Carina the Keel, Vela the Sails, and Puppis the Poop Deck or Stern. The first is below our southern horizon and just the tip of the sails rises, but a good chunk of Puppis is seen on winter evenings. It is the stars just behind the tail of Orion’s big dog, Canis Major, and perhaps that is why it is called the poop deck. Nicolaus Louis de Lacaille, an 18th century astronomer, had unofficially dismantled Argo Navis into these constellations and made the ship’s mast into the constellation of Pyxis, the Compass.

Some of the Argonauts are also in the sky, particularly Hercules, who is rising around midnight, and the Gemini twins Castor and Pollux. Also present are the musician Orpheus, represented by his harp Lyra, and the healer Asclepius who is depicted by Ophiuchus. The Golden Fleece, which the Argonauts sought, is represented in the sky by Aries the Ram. Draco is sometimes regarded as the vigilant dragon that guarded the Golden Fleece.

This Week in the Solar System

Saturday’s sunrise in Moncton is at 7:20 am and sunset will occur at 5:46 pm, giving 10 hours, 26 minutes of daylight (7:24 am and 5:52 pm in Saint John). Next Saturday the Sun will rise at 7:09 am and set at 5:56 pm, giving 10 hours, 47 minutes of daylight (7:11 am and 6:04 pm in Saint John).

The Moon is near the Beehive star cluster (M44) on late Sunday evening, and it is at perigee on Tuesday just nine hours before being opposite the Sun in the sky. Being imperceptibly larger as the closest full Moon of the year, it is most noticeable in the extent of the Bay of Fundy tides over the following two days. Over the first half of the week, Venus slides above and to the left of Saturn in the morning sky, stealing attention away from Jupiter to their upper right. Mercury starts to make its presence known in the early evening, setting 80 minutes after the Sun midweek in its best evening apparition for the year. Starting late in the week, and for the next two weeks, look for a subtle cone of light stretching from the horizon toward Mars, about 45-90 minutes after sunset. Caused by sunlight reflecting off dust within the ecliptic, seeing the zodiacal light requires a clear sky untainted by light pollution.

Conditions permitting, the annual Moonlight Snowshoe Hike and stargazing at Sheldon Point barn in Saint John takes place on February 16 at 7 pm. The provincial astronomy club, RASC NB, meets on February 23 at 1 pm in UNB Fredericton Forestry – Earth Sciences building. All are welcome.

Questions? Contact Curt Nason.

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