This Week’s Sky at a Glance, December 16 – 23 ~by Curt Nason
This time of year many naturalists throughout the province are busy performing Christmas bird counts. If you are on your toes and not too worn out you can add four more between dusk and dawn. Start with the easy ones around 6 pm by looking for the three bright stars of the Summer Triangle above the western horizon. The lowest of the three is Altair, the head of Aquila the Eagle, which is standing straight up on the horizon. The highest of the trio is Deneb at the tail of Cygnus, which is doing a swan dive. If it is cloudy you have a chance to catch them in the east in the morning, although the eagle will be difficult with Altair rising around 7 am.
Midnight is your best chance to spot the elusive and tiny Columba the Dove, but you will need an unobstructed southern horizon. Look below Orion for Lepus the Hare, and then try to see stars near the horizon directly below. Very few bird counts will be missing the common crow but, in case you did, look southward around 6:30 am for a distinct quadrilateral of stars to the right of Jupiter and Mars. There you will find Corvus the Crow hitching a ride on the tail of Hydra.
This Week in the Solar System
Saturday’s sunrise in Moncton is at 7:55 am and sunset will occur at 4:34 pm, giving 8 hours, 39 minutes of daylight (7:57 am and 4:42 pm in Saint John). Next Saturday the Sun will rise at 7:59 am and set at 4:37 pm, giving 8 hours, 38 minutes of daylight (8:01 am and 4:45 pm in Saint John). The Sun reaches its most southerly position at 12:28 pm on Thursday, giving us the longest night of stargazing for the year. Those who like to celebrate Saturnalia have an extra reason to party: Saturn is in conjunction with the Sun on that day, less than five hours after the solstice. Friday will be a good vacation day.
The Moon is new on Monday, but Sunday morning offers the opportunity to see a very slim crescent just 19 hours from new. You will need to do some planning to determine where to look, and binoculars will be necessary to locate it in twilight. Opportunities for observing the brighter planets are restricted to the morning sky for much of the winter. This week only Mars and Jupiter are visible. Mars yields a tiny orange disc in a telescope, but Jupiter is high enough in early twilight to give decent views of its cloud belts and four moons. The Ursid meteor shower, emanating from near the North Star, peaks on the morning of Friday, December 22. This is a minor shower; you might see a few per hour, but sometimes it surprises.
RASC NB members in Moncton are hosting a public observing session at the Moncton High School Observatory on Friday, December 15 from 6:30 to 8:30 pm. All are welcome.
Questions? Contact Curt Nason.