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This Week’s Sky at a Glance, 2022 Dec 10 – Dec 17

Evening stargazing can be tricky this time of year with all the festive lights, especially if you have a neighbourhood Griswald. If you happen to be out, try identifying a few constellations. In the northeast there is pentagonal Auriga the Charioteer, with bright Capella the Goat Star at one corner. To the right is the V-shaped face of Taurus the Bull, with the dipper-like star cluster of the Pleiades marking its shoulder and Mars currently residing within its horns. Orion and Gemini follow below Taurus and Auriga. Above Auriga is Perseus, seemingly standing on the bull’s back. It is here a patient stargazer can watch a marvel of the night sky.

In mythology, Perseus beheaded Medusa and used her snaky head to seek revenge on tormentors by turning them to stone. The second brightest star in the constellation Perseus represents the evil eye of Medusa and it is called Algol, the ghoul or demon. There is a reason for this name. Every three days, minus about three hours, this star slowly dims by a factor of three and regains brightness over several hours.  Algol is an eclipsing binary, two stars orbiting each other closely and aligned to our line of sight. When the smaller, dimmer star passes in front of the brighter one we can see the stars’ light diminish and recover. By comparing it with nearby stars of similar brightness you might notice Algol dimming and getting brighter. Our next convenient evening opportunity to watch this is on Monday, when Algol is dimmest around 10:30 pm.

This Week in the Solar System

Saturday’s sunrise in Moncton is at 7:50 am and sunset will occur at 4:33 pm, giving 8 hours, 43 minutes of daylight (7:52 am and 4:41 pm in Saint John). Next Saturday the Sun will rise at 7:56 am and set at 4:34 pm, giving 8 hours, 38 minutes of daylight (7:58 am and 4:42 pm in Saint John).

The Moon is at third quarter on Friday, December 16, rising before midnight on Thursday and setting before 1 pm. Mars is highest around midnight and it will gradually appear smaller in telescopes over the next two months. Saturn is seen best in the early evening, while Jupiter is at its highest around 7 pm. Telescope users might see Jupiter’s Red Spot around 7:30 on Monday and 9 pm Wednesday.  The solar system highlight will be the reliable Geminid meteor shower, which peaks over Wednesday night but should be fairly active the night before and after. The waning gibbous Moon will reduce morning observing success but there should be plenty of bright meteors to make braving the chill worthwhile.

On Sunday evening at 8 pm, tune in to the Sunday Night Astronomy Show via the Facebook page or YouTube channel of Astronomy by the Bay.

Questions? Contact Curt Nason at nasonc@nbnet.nb.ca.

 

This Week’s Sky at a Glance, 2022 Dec 3 – Dec 10

With the Great Square of Pegasus at its peak in the early evening it is a good time to visit the autumn constellations with binoculars. The flying horse soars upside down, and if you regard the two lines of stars in Andromeda as its hind legs it looks like a rocking horse. Well, to me it does. The horse’s neck stretches off the southwest corner of the square, and then it angles off to the snout. Extending a line from the head to the snout by about half that distance brings you to the globular cluster M15, looking like a fat star in binoculars or something snorted from the horse.

The opposite star of the square is Alpheratz at the head of Andromeda. The second star from there, along the brighter line of her body, is Mirach, which looks orange in binoculars. Moving to the star above it in the second line of Andromeda, and beyond to another star, puts you near M31, the Andromeda Galaxy. In a dark sky you can see it as a faint smudge with the naked eye and it is spectacular in binoculars. Going the opposite direction from Mirach, about halfway to the tip of Triangulum and a tad to the left, is M33. This face-on spiral galaxy is much tougher to see; you will need a transparent sky.

This Week in the Solar System

Saturday’s sunrise in Moncton is at 7:43 am and sunset will occur at 4:34 pm, giving 8 hours, 51 minutes of daylight (7:45 am and 4:42 pm in Saint John). Next Saturday the Sun will rise at 7:50 am and set at 4:33 pm, giving 8 hours, 43 minutes of daylight (7:52 am and 4:41 pm in Saint John). We are into a two-week period, centred on December 10, when the sunset time varies by less than a minute, although daylight time decreases slowly until the solstice. The latest sunrise occurs during the first week of January.

The Moon is full just after midnight on the night of Wednesday/Thursday, around which time it passes in front of (occults) Mars for about 28 minutes. Less than two hours later, Mars is at opposition. Mars disappears at the lower left of the Moon and reappears at the bottom. This event is worth staying up to watch, especially with a scope of binoculars. Saturn is setting mid-evening so observe it early, while Jupiter is at its highest between 7 and 8 pm. On Friday evening binocular and telescope users can watch Jupiter’s moons Io and Europa disappear behind the planet at 8:29 and 11:43, respectively; and since you are up for the second one you can wait 20 minutes for Io to reappear from the planet’s shadow.

On Sunday evening at 8 pm, tune in to the Sunday Night Astronomy Show via the Facebook page or YouTube channel of Astronomy by the Bay.

Questions? Contact Curt Nason at nasonc@nbnet.nb.ca.

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