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Build Your Own Eclipse Projector

The Canadian Space Agency has published a web page on how to build your own eclipse projector using simple household materials. If you can’t attend a public eclipse viewing event, and haven’t had the chance to purchase eclipse viewing glasses, this is an effective way to see the moon take a bite out the sun.

English Instructions: http://asc-csa.gc.ca/eng/multimedia/activities/eclipse-projector.asp

Instructions en Français: http://asc-csa.gc.ca/fra/multimedia/activites/projecteur-eclipse.asp

Image Credit: Canadian Space Agency

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This Week’s Sky at a Glance, August 19 – August 26

There is no doubt about the astronomical highlight for New Brunswick this week – a partial solar eclipse on Monday afternoon. Times will vary a little across the province but 2:30 to 5:00 pm will cover it. At the peak, between 3:45 and 3:50, approximately 50% of the Sun’s surface area will be covered by the Moon. This is our best solar eclipse since August 11, 1999, when more than 90% of the Sun was covered, and slightly better than the Christmas 2000 partial eclipse.

Solar eclipses occur at new Moon, but since the lunar orbit is tilted to Earth’s orbit by five degrees (ten times the Moon’s apparent diameter) it is usually above or below the Sun at that phase. For a period of a few weeks, twice a year, new Moon occurs when it is near to crossing Earth’s orbit and there will be a partial, annular or total eclipse somewhere on the planet. With a total eclipse, a rarity at any one location, the Moon’s shadow races across part of Earth on a path 100 to 200 kilometres wide. Locations outside of the shadow get a partial eclipse, with percent coverage decreasing with distance. An annular eclipse occurs when the Moon is near apogee and its apparent width is smaller than that of the Sun.

Staring at the Sun without proper eye protection can cause permanent eye damage, even blindness, and since the eye has no pain receptors you may not notice any damage for several hours. Proper protection is #14 welder’s glass or approved [ISO 12312-2] eclipse viewers / glasses from a reputable dealer. Note that these are not safe for use with binoculars and telescopes; other filters can be purchased for this purpose. A cheap and effective way to view the partial eclipse is to project the sunlight through a pinhole onto a white surface. Check the Internet for methods of doing this [see Canadian Space Agency’s instructions]. Or, use Nature’s projection method by looking at the shadows of leaves, which often have tiny holes to project the Sun’s image.

The RASC and other organizations are hosting eclipse events in the province on Monday afternoon, with free eclipse viewers supplied by the RASC and views through filtered telescopes. Locations include the Irving Nature Park and Rockwood Park Bark Park in Saint John, UNB and Science East in Fredericton, Resurgo Place in Moncton, Riverview Community Centre, and Mount Allison University. Don’t take chances with your eyesight. Observe the eclipse but do it safely, and start thinking about where you will be on April 8, 2024 when the Moon’s shadow crosses the central half of New Brunswick.

This Week in the Solar System

Saturday’s sunrise in Moncton is at 6:23 am and sunset will occur at 8:20 pm, giving 13 hours, 57 minutes of daylight (6:30 am and 8:24 pm in Saint John). Next Saturday the Sun will rise at 6:31 am and set at 8:08 pm, giving 13 hours, 37 minutes of daylight (6:38 am and 8:12 pm in Saint John).

The Moon is new on Monday afternoon, partially occulting a prominent star for a couple of hours, and it poses with Jupiter in evening twilight next Thursday and Friday. Jupiter sets by 10:00 pm next weekend and it is approaching Spica nightly. Saturn, in the southern sky in evening twilight, is the main telescopic attraction for the month. Venus, the bright Morning Star, moves from Gemini into Cancer late in the week. Mercury is at inferior conjunction on August 26, passing between us and the Sun.

Questions? Contact Curt Nason using the form below.

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This Week’s Sky at a Glance, August 12 – August 19

This weekend is the the annual Perseid meteor shower, which peaks on Saturday afternoon but it could delight patient stargazers throughout the weekend nights. You can see a few meteors per hour any night in a clear, dark sky, but the number increases when Earth passes through a trail of pebbles and dust left by a comet that makes frequent orbits around the Sun. The pebbles left by comet Swift-Tuttle in its 133-year orbit are quite large at a few centimetres, and they enter our atmosphere at a high relative velocity of 60 km/s (Earth travels at 30 km/s). Therefore, they can be very bright.

Meteors, also called shooting stars or falling stars, are the streaks of light created when particles enter the atmosphere at an altitude of about 100 kilometres. Those particles from comets disintegrate before they reach an altitude of 50 kilometres. Many meteors are faint and easily made invisible by moonlight and light pollution. This weekend the Moon is near third quarter and therefore it rises late in the evening, decreasing the number of visible meteors. But don’t fret; if the sky is clear there should be enough brighter ones to keep you entertained for a while. They will seem to be coming from a point, called the radiant, between the constellations Perseus and Cassiopeia. You should see more of them well after midnight when the radiant is high, but the evening Perseids tend to be long and bright.

Although a dark sky is preferred for watching meteors, many can still be enjoyed from an urban or suburban area. Get comfortable in a chair, have extra clothes or blankets if you plan to stay long as it can get very chilly, and select a patch of sky that is free of clouds and light. It is better to keep Perseus to your side rather than look in that direction because the meteors will look more spectacular, covering a longer distance. I recommend looking roughly northward so that the Moon is at your back. Be very happy if you see about 20 per hour on the peak night, or half that a day before or after. Anything more is a bonus.

This Week in the Solar System

Saturday’s sunrise in Moncton is at 6:15 am and sunset will occur at 8:32 pm, giving 14 hours, 17 minutes of daylight (6:22 am and 8:35 pm in Saint John). Next Saturday the Sun will rise at 6:23 am and set at 8:20 pm, giving 13 hours, 57 minutes of daylight (6:30 am and 8:24 pm in Saint John).

The Moon is at third quarter on Monday, rising before midnight Sunday and setting around 1:40 pm Monday. It passes near Aldebaran on Wednesday morning and by Venus on August 19. Jupiter is sinking lower in the west at dusk, setting at 10:30 pm midweek and approaching Spica nightly. Saturn, in the southern sky in evening twilight, is the main telescopic attraction for the month. Venus is the bright Morning Star, rising around 3:15 am among the stars of Gemini. The Perseid meteor shower peaks on the afternoon of August 12 so look for increased meteor activity on all three nights and mornings this weekend. Ignore any Internet stories of this being the most spectacular meteor shower in recorded history

The Mount Carleton Star Party runs from August 11 – 12; a great place to spend the weekend taking nature hikes and catching shooting stars.

Questions? Contact Curt Nason using the form below.

[Featured image credit: Jared Tennant via Wikimedia]
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This Week’s Sky at a Glance, August 5 – August 12

With the Perseid meteor shower increasing nightly to a peak next weekend, let us visit its namesake constellation. Perseus the Hero starts rising in the north before sunset now and by midnight he stands on the northeastern horizon, just below the W shape of his mother-in-law, Cassiopeia. He is a hero because, among other deeds, he prevented his near-future wife Andromeda from becoming a tasty lunch for a ferocious sea monster.

Alpha Perseus Cluster (Image Credit: Martin Gembec, Wikimedia)

The brightest star in Perseus, Mirfak, is part and namesake of the Alpha Persei Cluster. This is one of my favourite binocular targets because it resembles a miniature version of the constellation Draco. Another popular binocular target is a close pair of star clusters located halfway between Perseus and Cassiopeia. Astronomers have cleverly called this the Double Cluster. The Perseid meteors all appear to originate from a point, called the radiant, to the left of the Double Cluster.

The constellation’s second brightest star is Algol the Demon, representing the eye of the Gorgon Medusa. Perseus beheaded the Medusa in a plan to avenge an embarrassing moment by using her head to turn his hecklers into stone. The sea monster was his first victim of this weapon. Algol is famous for dimming by a factor of three every 69 hours. It is a very close pair of stars orbiting each other in our line of sight, and their combined brightness drops when the dimmer star passes in front of the brighter one. Look for the star cluster M34 about a binocular width above Algol.

This Week in the Solar System

Saturday’s sunrise in Moncton is at 6:06 am and sunset will occur at 8:43 pm, giving 14 hours, 37 minutes of daylight (6:13 am and 8:45 pm in Saint John). Next Saturday the Sun will rise at 6:15 am and set at 8:32 pm, giving 14 hours, 17 minutes of daylight (6:22 am and 8:35 pm in Saint John).

The Moon is full on Monday, the Mi’kmaw Ripening Moon. Mercury is moving sunward and sets 45 minutes after sunset by midweek. Jupiter is sinking lower in the west at dusk, setting before 11 pm midweek and approaching Spica nightly. Saturn, in the southern sky in evening twilight, makes an interesting colour contrast in binoculars with orange Antares to its lower right. Venus is the bright Morning Star, rising around 3:15 am among the stars of Gemini. The Perseid meteor shower peaks on the afternoon of August 12 and should make its presence known later this week. Moonlight will wash out the fainter meteors but take some time on a clear night to enjoy the show.

The Saint John Astronomy Club meets in the Rockwood Park Interpretation Centre on August 5 at 7 pm. All are welcome. The Mount Carleton Star Party runs from August 11 – 13; a great place to spend the weekend. Just think of how much closer you will be to the meteors.

Questions? Contact Curt Nason using the form below.

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This Week’s Sky at a Glance, July 29 – August 5

After twilight the bright star Altair is halfway up in the southeastern sky, forming the lower peak of the Summer Triangle with Vega and Deneb. It is flanked by two somewhat dimmer stars, Tarazed and Alshain, and the trio forms the head of Aquila the Eagle. The eagle’s body and tail stretch southward, while the wings reach forward to propel it up the Milky Way. In Greek mythology the eagle was the pet of Zeus and the bearer of his deadly thunderbolts. In Chinese mythology Tchi-Niu (Lyra) was a princess and royal weaver, and Kien-Niou (Aquila) tended the king’s cows. The two fell in love and were married but they subsequently neglected their chores. Angered, the king placed the herder on the opposite side of the river, represented by the Milky Way. On the seventh day of the seventh month all of the magpies in the country form a bridge to allow the lovers to be together for one day.

M11 – The Wild Duck Cluster (Image credit: NASA)

Following a string of stars beyond the eagle’s tail, over the constellation border into Scutum the Shield, a binocular search will pick up a smudge of light which is a cluster of stars called M11 or the Wild Duck Cluster. From the eagle’s head toward Cygnus or Lyra is a tiny constellation called Sagitta the Arrow. Look to the upper right of the arrow’s fletching with binoculars to see a popular asterism of about a dozen stars. Although it is upside down you will recognize the Coathanger Cluster.

This Week in the Solar System

Saturday’s sunrise in Moncton is at 5:58 am and sunset will occur at 8:52 pm, giving 14 hours, 54 minutes of daylight (6:05 am and 8:55 pm in Saint John). Next Saturday the Sun will rise at 6:06 am and set at 8:43 pm, giving 14 hours, 37 minutes of daylight (6:13 am and 8:45 pm in Saint John).

The Moon is at first quarter on Sunday, allowing for great views at star parties this weekend, and it passes near Saturn on Tuesday. Jupiter is sinking lower in the west as dusk, setting before 11:30 pm this week. Mercury is at greatest elongation this weekend, about halfway between the Sun and Jupiter and setting an hour after sunset. Venus is the bright Morning Star, rising around 3 am and situated approximately where the Sun resides at the summer solstice.

Astronomy clubs across the country are participating in a public National Star Party on the evening of July 29. New Brunswick locations are at Mactaquac Provincial Park, the Irving Nature Park in Saint John, and the Moncton High School Observatory. The Saint John Astronomy Club meets in the Rockwood Park Interpretation Centre on August 5 at 7 pm. All are welcome.

Questions? Contact Curt Nason using the form below:

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This Week’s Sky at a Glance, July 22 – July 29

Many people grew up watching Zenith televisions, which are now made by LG Electronics. Stargazers prefer zenith observing because that is when we should have our best views of objects in a telescope or binoculars. The zenith is the imaginary line running from north to south, separating the sky into eastern and western hemispheres. Objects are at their highest when they cross the zenith, shining through a minimal thickness of atmosphere en route to our eyes. Unstable pockets of atmosphere will distort the light from stars and planets, blurring the view. The less atmosphere light must pass through, the less distortion. Astronomers use the term “seeing” to describe the steadiness of the atmosphere; good seeing means steady air and we can use higher magnification for observing details of the Moon and planets.

Around 10 pm now we have several prominent constellations at the zenith. Moving southward from the North Star we have Ursa Minor or the Little Dipper. A small telescope with good seeing conditions will show the close companion star of Polaris, which is actually a triple star although only two can be seen in a telescope. Heading southward we pass through Draco the Dragon on our way to Hercules. The faintest of the four stars in the dragon’s head is an easy double star to resolve in binoculars. The globular cluster M92 is about halfway between the head and the Keystone asterism of Hercules, and don’t forget M13 along the western side of the Keystone.

Hercules goes head-to-head with Ophiuchus to its south, which contains a few globular clusters itself. Ophiuchus stands on Scorpius, keeping the scorpion underfoot so that it cannot fatally sting Orion again. Scorpius at the zenith is the best time to observe globular clusters M4 and M80, and open clusters M6 and M7. Observing all of these objects near their zenith is much more fun than watching a television of any brand.

This Week in the Solar System

Saturday’s sunrise in Moncton is at 5:50 am and sunset will occur at 9:00 pm, giving 15 hours, 10 minutes of daylight (5:58 am and 9:02 pm in Saint John). Next Saturday the Sun will rise at 5:58 am and set at 8:52 pm, giving 14 hours, 54 minutes of daylight (6:05 am and 8:55 pm in Saint John).

The Moon is new on Sunday and it passes near Jupiter on Friday evening. Mercury is 5 degrees to the upper left of the very slim crescent Moon on Monday, and on Tuesday it is 6 degrees to the lower right and just below dimmer Regulus. Jupiter is best observed in the first hour or so after sunset, before it gets too low in the west for steady viewing. Saturn is well placed for observing all evening between Scorpius and Sagittarius. Venus is the bright Morning Star, rising around 3 am. If you are out past midnight later in the week, keep an eye out for shooting stars from the South Delta Aquariid meteor shower. Mars is in conjunction with the Sun on Wednesday, emerging from the glare of sunrise in mid-September.

Astronomy clubs across the country are participating in a public National Star Party on the evening of July 29. New Brunswick locations are at Mactaquac Provincial Park, the Irving Nature Park in Saint John, and the Moncton High School Observatory.

Questions? Contact Curt Nason using the form below.

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This Week’s Sky at a Glance, July 15 – July 22

Serpens the Serpent is unique among the 88 constellations in that it is split in two by another constellation, Ophiuchus. As the name suggests, Ophiuchus is the Serpent Bearer, and he is often depicted holding a large snake behind his back. The two constellations are also intertwined in mythology.

Ophiuchus represents Asclepius, a renowned healer who could raise the dead. After killing a snake one day, he watched as another snake placed an herb on its dead companion and revived it. From this, Asclepius learned the healing arts and his success at reviving people drew the ire of Hades, a brother of Zeus and ruler of the underworld. Receiving a complaint from Hades that he was being robbed of subjects, Zeus killed Asclepius with a thunderbolt.

The part of Serpens west of Ophiuchus is called Serpens Caput (meaning head); to the east is Serpens Cauda (for tail). M16, the Eagle Nebula, is a rather faint nebula with a star cluster in Serpens Cauda. It gained fame as the iconic Pillars of Creation photo from the early years of the Hubble Space Telescope. The delightful globular cluster M5 is found in Serpens Caput.

This Week in the Solar System

Saturday’s sunrise in Moncton is at 5:43 am and sunset will occur at 9:06 pm, giving 15 hours, 23 minutes of daylight (5:51 am and 9:08 pm in Saint John). Next Saturday the Sun will rise at 5:50 am and set at 9:00 pm, giving 15 hours, 10 minutes of daylight (5:58 am and 9:02 pm in Saint John).

The Moon is at third quarter on Sunday, and it passes near Venus on Thursday morning. Mercury continues to pull away from the Sun in the evening sky but it still sets 70 minutes after sunset midweek. Jupiter is best observed in the first hour or so after sunset, before it gets too low in the west for steady viewing. Saturn is well placed for observing all evening between Scorpius and Sagittarius. Venus is the bright Morning Star, also called Phosphorus by the ancient Greeks and Lucifer by their Roman counterparts.

Astronomy clubs across the country are participating in a public National Star Party on the evening of July 29. New Brunswick locations are Mactaquac Provincial Park and the Irving Nature Park in Saint John.

Questions? Contact Curt Nason using the form below.

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This Week’s Sky at a Glance, July 8 – July 15

With the Milky Way becoming prominent on summer evenings, binocular stargazing is a great way to pass the time. Save the campfire and ghost stories for cloudy evenings. A good place to start this year is with Saturn, which is as bright as orange Antares to its lower right. If you steady your binoculars on a railing or tripod you might be able to discern the planet’s rings or at least see that it looks elongated. Check out the colour of Antares, and pick out the globular cluster M4 in the same field of view to its right.

Lower left of Saturn is the Teapot asterism that makes up much of Sagittarius the Archer. If you extend the two stars at the top of the teapot’s spout to the right you will find M6, the aptly named Butterfly Cluster. To its lower left is a large star cluster called M7 or Ptolemy’s Cluster. To the right of M7 is a pair of bright stars, Shaula and Lesath, which marks the stinger of Scorpius. They have been nicknamed the Cat’s Eyes.

About a binocular-field width above the teapot’s spout you will find a fuzzy patch with a small cluster of stars in or near it. The fuzzy patch is a cloud of dust and gas called M8, the Lagoon Nebula, where stars are forming. Radiation from hot young stars makes the gas glow, and it can be seen with the naked eye in rural areas. The cluster of stars is called NGC 6530, where NGC stands for New General Catalogue. A telescope will reveal dark dust lanes in the nebula that suggest its lagoon name. Just above M8 is a smaller cloud, M20 or the Trifid Nebula, and the nearby star cluster M21. A large scope will show M20’s dust lanes that separate it into three petals; no relation to the mobile plants that had their day in the 1962 movie based on John Wyndham’s novel.

This Week in the Solar System

Saturday’s sunrise in Moncton is at 5:36 am and sunset will occur at 9:11 pm, giving 15 hours, 35 minutes of daylight (5:45 am and 9:13 pm in Saint John). Next Saturday the Sun will rise at 5:43 am and set at 9:06 pm, giving 15 hours, 23 minutes of daylight (5:51 am and 9:08 pm in Saint John).

The Moon is full on Sunday, the Mi’kmaq Birds Shed Feathers Moon. Mercury sets 70 minutes after sunset midweek but binoculars are recommended to locate it. Jupiter is best observed in the first hour or so after sunset, before it gets too low in the west for steady viewing. Saturn is well placed for observing all evening between Scorpius and Sagittarius. Venus spends the week moving through the Hyades star cluster, which forms the V-shaped face of Taurus the Bull.

The Saint John Astronomy Club meets on Saturday, July 8 at 7 pm in the Rockwood Park Interpretation Centre. All are welcome.

Questions? Contact Curt Nason using the form below.

[Featured image credit: Wikimedia Commons]
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This Week’s Sky at a Glance, July 1 – July 8

Saturn is in the constellation Ophiuchus the Serpent Bearer this summer; “in” meaning in the same direction. The stars are much farther than the planets, but how much farther? Neptune is the most distant planet from the Sun, about three times farther than Saturn and 30 times farther than Earth. Sunlight takes 4.2 hours to reach Neptune and 4.2 years to reach the closest star, Proxima Centauri. Stand on one leg* while you read this article, and then try to imagine continuing for 4.2 hours. Doing that for 4.2 years is as incomprehensible as picturing a distance of 4.2 light years.

Rasalhague, the brightest star of Ophiuchus and which marks his head, is 49 light years away, while the one at his waist is about ten times farther. We are closer to Rasalhague than some of the stars that form the constellation. The constellation shapes are a matter of perspective but they will look the same from Saturn’s moons as they do from Earth.

Centuries ago the area where Saturn currently resides was shared by Scorpius and Ophiuchus. When the constellation borders were set by the International Astronomical Union in 1930, this area was designated for Ophiuchus and, since the ecliptic runs through here, it became the 13th constellation of the zodiac. But don’t expect to find it in the daily horoscope.

This Week in the Solar System

Saturday’s sunrise in Moncton is at 5:32 am and sunset will occur at 9:13 pm, giving 15 hours, 41 minutes of daylight (5:40 am and 9:15 pm in Saint John). Next Saturday the Sun will rise at 5:36 am and set at 9:11 pm, giving 15 hours, 35 minutes of daylight (5:45 am and 9:13 pm in Saint John). Earth is at aphelion, its greatest distance from the Sun for the year at 152, 092,504 kilometres, around suppertime on Monday. Don’t bother putting on a sweater.

The Moon is at first quarter and near Jupiter on June 30, giving great views for holiday partiers who are fortunate enough to have clear skies this weekend. The waxing gibbous Moon is near Saturn on Thursday. On Wednesday, those with a telescope might catch Jupiter’s moon Europa playing “now you see me, now you don’t.” At 10:43 pm it starts emerging from behind Jupiter, only to disappear into the planet’s shadow four minutes later. Saturn’s rings are on display in a scope all evening, and in steady binoculars it will look somewhat elongated. Mercury sets an hour after sunset midweek but you will likely need binoculars to locate it. Venus rises two and a half hours before the Sun and dominates the morning sky with its brilliance.

The Saint John Astronomy Club meets on Saturday, July 8 at 7 pm in the Rockwood Park Interpretation Centre. All are welcome.

Questions? Contact Curt Nason using the form below.

*I am not responsible for any physical or emotional damage resulting from doing this. My lawyer tells me I do have a leg to stand on.

[Saturn image credit: https://images.nasa.gov]