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

Salamanders aren’t the most noticeable of critters; you usually have to make an effort to find one. This is a good time to locate the obscure constellation of Lacerta the Lizard, but it will take some effort and a dark sky.

Camouflaged partly by the Milky Way, Lacerta is surrounded by Cepheus, Cassiopeia, Pegasus and Cygnus. A good pointer to it is the base of the Summer Triangle. Running a line from bright Vega to Deneb at the tail of Cygnus and extending it about the same distance puts you near the zigzag shape of the lizard. It is one of those dim constellations created in the late 17th century by Johannes Hevelius to fill in an “empty” section of the sky. At first he named it Stellio; a stellion is a newt with star-like spots found near the Mediterranean Sea. If you manage to catch Lacerta, give yourself a pat on the back and let it go.

This Week in the Solar System

Saturday’s sunrise in Moncton is at 7:06 am and sunset will occur at 7:16 pm, giving 12 hours, 10 minutes of daylight (7:11 am and 7:21 pm in Saint John). The Sun crosses the equator heading south for winter at 10:54 pm that evening, marking the beginning of autumn. Next Saturday the Sun will rise at 7:15 am and set at 7:03 pm, giving 11 hours, 48 minutes of daylight (7:19 am and 7:08 pm in Saint John).

The Moon is full on Monday, the traditional Harvest Moon and the Mi’kmaq Moose Calling Moon. Venus remains very bright but sets before 8 pm midweek. Jupiter’s Red Spot is facing our way shortly after 8 pm on Thursday, an hour before the planet sets. Saturn continues to give awesome views in the early evening and sets before midnight. Mars is at its highest for best viewing around 9:30 pm.

RASC NB, the provincial astronomy club, meets at the UNB Fredericton Forestry / Earth Sciences building this Saturday at 1 pm. All are welcome. On Wednesday, the UNB Fredericton Astronomy Club will be holding a public observing session at Queen’s Square Park from 8:30 to 10 pm.

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

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

This is the time of year when the evening sky seems static; the stars are in the same place night after night when they appear in twilight. As you can see below, the Sun sets about two minutes earlier each evening. With reference to the stars, Earth rotates once every 23 hours, 56 minutes and 4 seconds. But since our clocks are based on a 24-hour solar day rather than the sidereal day, the stars rise about 4 minutes earlier each evening. The rate of earlier sunsets this time of year cancels much of that. Although the stars rise earlier we see also see them sooner. That is a bonus because many of the finest objects to observe in a telescope are prominent now, particularly the Milky Way.

The opposite occurs in spring when the later sunsets add to the earlier rising of stars. The constellations seem to fly past over a month or two, much to the chagrin of those who delight in observing the distant galaxies that abound in those constellations. Earth’s motion around the Sun results in many of the constellations being seasonal. For example, we currently see Orion in the southeast before sunrise. Come January it will be there after sunset and stick around in the evening sky until mid-spring. Those constellations near the north are circumpolar, meaning they never set and we see them year round. There are 22 constellations in the southern hemisphere sky that we see no part of at all from New Brunswick.

This Week in the Solar System

Saturday’s sunrise in Moncton is at 6:57 am and sunset will occur at 7:30 pm, giving 12 hours, 33 minutes of daylight (7:02 am and 7:35 pm in Saint John). Next Saturday the Sun will rise at 7:06 am and set at 7:16 pm, giving 12 hours, 10 minutes of daylight (7:11 am and 7:21 pm in Saint John). It crosses the equator heading south for winter at 10:54 pm on September 22, marking the beginning of autumn.

The Moon is at first quarter on Sunday and passes near Saturn on Monday. Venus is at its brightest, or greatest illuminated extent, on Friday but low enough after sunset to be hidden by trees or houses. Jupiter sets at 10 pm so it is observed best in late twilight before it gets too low for a steady view. Saturn continues to give awesome views in the early evening and sets around midnight this week. Mars remains a bright orange beacon toward the south all evening. Mercury is at superior conjunction behind the Sun on Thursday. If you are in a dark clear sky 60-90 minutes before sunrise, look for a subtle pyramid of light angling up from the eastern horizon: the zodiacal light, caused by sunlight reflecting off dust along the ecliptic.

This weekend has the final RASC NB star party of the season at the Kouchibouguac Fall Festival on September 14/15, and there is public observing at the Irving Nature Park in Saint John on September 14 from 7:30 to 11 pm (cloud date September 15).

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

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

Technically, any three stars in the sky will form some sort of a triangle, but there are those that stand out. Overhead in early evening is the best known celestial threesome, the isosceles Summer Triangle of Vega, Deneb and Altair. Straddling the Milky Way, each star is the brightest in their respective constellations of Lyra the Harp, Cygnus the Swan and Aquila the Eagle. An ancient tale of Eastern mythology depicted Vega and Altair as lovers separated by a river (the Milky Way). I look at them as an updated version of that tale, that of Running Bear and White Dove in the Johnny Preston hit written by the Big Bopper, J.P. Richardson. The Big Bopper would be a good name for a constellation.

With the Summer Triangle overhead, the constellation Triangulum the Triangle is low in the east below Andromeda. Known as a constellation for thousands of years, it has been said to represent, among other things, the Nile Delta and the island of Sicily. If you have a dark sky, use binoculars to look about a third of the way, and a tad to the right, between the tip of Triangulum and the orange star Mirach in Andromeda above to see the face-on spiral galaxy M33.

Now that summer is fading, and if you can’t wait for winter, just look to the east in morning darkness for the Winter Triangle. Orange Betelgeuse in Orion’s armpit joins with Orion’s companion Dog Stars of Sirius and Procyon to form an equilateral triangle. All three stars make the top ten in brightness, with Sirius leading the pack.

This Week in the Solar System

Saturday’s sunrise in Moncton is at 6:48 am and sunset will occur at 7:44 pm, giving 12 hours, 56 minutes of daylight (6:54 am and 7:48 pm in Saint John). Next Saturday the Sun will rise at 6:57 am and set at 7:30 pm, giving 12 hours, 33 minutes of daylight (7:02 am and 7:35 pm in Saint John).

The Moon is new on Sunday and passes near Jupiter on Thursday. Venus is low in the west after sunset, setting before 9 pm and appearing about one-third illuminated in a telescope. Jupiter sets at 10 pm so it is observed best in late twilight. Look for its Red Spot with a telescope at 9 pm on Monday. Saturn continues to give awesome views in the early evening while Mars is at its best after 10 pm. Mercury is moving sunward but can still be seen with binoculars. Comet 21P/ Giacobini-Zinner might be seen late evenings and early mornings this weekend within the same binocular field of star clusters M38 and M36 in Auriga, and close to M37 on Monday.

The Saint John Astronomy Club meets in the Rockwood Park Interpretation Centre on September 8 at 7 pm. The William Brydone Jack Astronomy Club meets on Tuesday at 7 pm in the UNB Fredericton Forestry / Earth Sciences Building. Next weekend has the final RASC NB star party of the season at the Kouchibouguac Fall Festival on September 14/15, and there is public observing at the Irving Nature Park in Saint John on September 14 from 7:30 to 11 pm (cloud date September 15).

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

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