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This Week’s Sky at a Glance, 2019 November 9 – November 16

The observing highlight of the week, and of the year, is a transit of Mercury. On Monday, from 8:36 am to 2:04 pm, Mercury can be seen crossing the face of the Sun with a properly filtered telescope, providing the weather cooperates. A Mercury transit occurs only 13 or 14 times a century, and of those the Sun might not be up in New Brunswick or it might be cloudy. Although Mercury passes between Earth and the Sun every 116 days, it is usually above or below the Sun in our sky because its orbit is tilted to ours. It is only when Mercury reaches inferior conjunction within a few days of May 8 or November 10, when the two orbits line up with the Sun, that we see a transit. Mercury will be a tiny, sharply defined black circle moving slowly across the Sun, too tiny to be seen without a solar-filtered telescope.

Members of RASC NB, the provincial astronomy club, are planning public observing events for the Mercury transit. On Monday, look for safely-filtered telescopes set up at Bore View Park in Moncton, and in Saint John at Saints Rest Beach, at the entrance to Rockwood Park, and at Loyalist Plaza by Market Square. It will be 30 years before another Mercury transit is visible from New Brunswick.

This Week in the Solar System

Saturday’s sunrise in Moncton is at 7:11 am and sunset will occur at 4:54 pm, giving 9 hours, 43 minutes of daylight (7:14 am and 5:01 pm in Saint John). Next Saturday the Sun will rise at 7:20 am and set at 4:46 pm, giving 9 hours, 26 minutes of daylight (7:23 am and 4:53 pm in Saint John).

The Moon passes near Uranus on Sunday and it is full, the Rivers Freezing Moon, on Tuesday. Mercury is at inferior conjunction on Monday, becoming visible in the morning sky next week, while Venus and Jupiter are moving toward a southwestern rendezvous in two weeks. Saturn remains in good position for suppertime observing and sets around 8:30 pm. Mars rises at 5 am above the bright star Spica. The North Taurid meteor shower peaks this Tuesday. Although the Taurids are not plentiful, they tend to be bright.

The Fredericton Astronomy Club meets in the UNB Forestry-Earth Sciences building at 7 pm this Tuesday, and RASC, the provincial astronomy club, meets in the same location at 1 pm on November 16. All are welcome.

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

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This Week’s Sky at a Glance, 2019 November 2 – November 9

Around sunset now the Pleiades star cluster is rising. Also known as M45 or the Seven Sisters, and sometimes mistaken to be the Little Dipper, this compact eye-catcher represents the shoulder of Taurus the Bull. Over the next two hours the rest of the constellation clears the eastern horizon; in particular, the V-shaped Hyades star cluster anchored by orange Aldebaran, and the two stars marking the horn-tips.

In mythology, Zeus changed himself into a beautiful white bull to attract the attention of Europa, a princess of Sidon. She was taken by its gentleness and made the mistake of climbing on its back. Bully Zeus took off to the nearby seashore and swam all the way to Crete, where he changed back into his godly form and completed his conquest. The result was a baby boy who was named Minos, and he grew up to become the first King of Crete.

One of the horn stars of Taurus had been shared with the constellation Auriga. This star, Alnath, was officially assigned to Taurus when the constellation boundaries were set by the International Astronomical Union (IAU) in the late 1920s. Taurus is one of the zodiac constellations; the ecliptic passes between the Pleiades and Hyades and also between the horn-tips. A few millennia ago this occurred during late April and May. With the precession of the equinox due to Earth’s 25,800 year wobble, and the IAU’s reshaping of constellation boundaries, the Sun now is “in” Taurus from May 14 to June 21.

This Week in the Solar System

Saturday’s sunrise in Moncton is at 8:00 am and sunset will occur at 6:03 pm, giving 10 hours, 3 minutes of daylight (8:04 am and 6:10 pm in Saint John). Next Saturday the Sun will rise at 7:11 am and set at 4:54 pm, giving 9 hours, 43 minutes of daylight (7:14 am and 5:01 pm in Saint John). Note that we turn our timepieces back to AST (Atlantic Stargazing Time) at 2 am this Sunday.

The Moon approaches Saturn this Saturday evening and it is at first quarter on Monday. Mercury ends its month long dance with Venus and begins to plummet toward the Sun, while Venus heads toward a new dance partner in Jupiter. Saturn, meanwhile, is content to shine its rings in anticipation of an early December date with the goddess of love. In the morning sky, Mars can be seen low in the east above the bright star Spica. Over the next two weeks you might catch a meteor shooting away from Taurus, as the minor South Taurid and North Taurid meteor showers peak this Tuesday and next Tuesday, respectively.

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

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

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