This Week’s Sky at a Glance, 2020 November 28 – December 5

I like to observe the sky at least once every day that I can, even if it is just for a few minutes. At night, if I don’t feel like taking out a telescope, I grab binoculars to tour the brighter star clusters. The winter constellations, which are prominent now in late evening, are home to many star clusters within easy reach of binoculars.

I usually start with the best open cluster, the Pleiades (M45), in the shoulder of Taurus the Bull, and focus the binos on its stars. The large V-shaped Hyades cluster, catalogued as Melotte 25, is nearby forming the face of the bull. It is anchored by orange Aldebaran at one corner, but that star is not really part of the cluster because it is less than half the distance to the others. The brightest star in nearby Perseus, Mirfak, is part of a group of stars called Melotte 20 that resembles a miniature version of the constellation Draco in binoculars. Perseus also holds the star cluster M34, which appears as a fuzzy patch in binos due to its distance. Between Perseus and Cassiopeia is a scenic close pair of clusters, NGC 869 and NGC 884, aptly called the Double Cluster.

This Week in the Solar System

Saturday’s sunrise in Moncton is at 7:37 am and sunset will occur at 4:36 pm, giving 8 hours, 59 minutes of daylight (7:40 am and 4:44 pm in Saint John).  Next Saturday the Sun will rise at 7:45 am and set at 4:33 pm, giving 8 hours, 48 minutes of daylight (7:48 am and 4:41 pm in Saint John).

The Moon is full on Monday morning, when keen-eyed observers might catch the subtle gray shading of a penumbral eclipse as the Moon passes just below Earth’s shadow. The best time to observe it is between 5:30 and 6 am. Jupiter continues its approach to Saturn, setting at 8 pm midweek followed by the ringed planet about 10 minutes later. Around that time Mars is near its highest position in the south, where it offers its best views. Mercury rises an hour before sunrise this weekend but that decreases to 40 minutes by next weekend. Venus crosses the constellation border into Libra on Saturday and next weekend it passes between the celestial Pillars of Hercules. Comet C/2020 S3 Erasmus might be visible with binoculars between 6 and 6:30 am, about a fist-width to the right of Venus and a tad lower this weekend. Over the week it moves a little closer to Venus and lower. The International Space Station is making bright early evening passes all week. Check the Heavens Above website for times and locations, and also for locations of Comet Erasmus. Be aware that the comet maps are north up and will need to be tilted to the left for proper orientation in the eastern sky.

With astronomy meetings and outreach activities on hold, you can watch the local Sunday Night Astronomy Show at 8 pm, and view archived shows, on YouTube at:  https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCAEHfOWyL-kNH7dBVHK8spg

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

 

This Week’s Sky at a Glance, 2020 November 21 – November 28

Like Nate the pirate in the Overboard comics, some people do not want to let go of summer. I usually don’t succumb to the cold right away, waiting for -10 C before my winter coat gets worn regularly. But you have to accept the inevitable, so around 8:30 pm this week don your coat and imagination to say goodbye to the summer constellations as they sink below the western horizon.

The first thing you might notice is the Summer Triangle, balanced on Altair and tipping to the right. Aquila the Eagle, with Altair at its head, is flapping furiously and futilely to stay above ground, a battle it will lose over two hours. To its right, Hercules is diving head first, hopefully into a lake. Between them, if you are in the country, you might see the haze of the Milky Way spilling over the ground, perhaps to become frost. Four smaller constellations form a line above Altair, highlighted by Lyra to the right with its brilliant star Vega. Foxy Vulpecula, Sagitta the Arrow and eye-catching Delphinus the Dolphin are balanced across the eagle’s wingspan. While you are at it, try for the triangular head of Equuleus the Little Horse, who leads his big brother Pegasus by a nose.

This Week in the Solar System

Saturday’s sunrise in Moncton is at 7:28 am and sunset will occur at 4:40 pm, giving 9 hours, 12 minutes of daylight (7:31 am and 4:48 pm in Saint John).  Next Saturday the Sun will rise at 7:37 am and set at 4:36 pm, giving 8 hours, 59 minutes of daylight (7:40 am and 4:44 pm in Saint John).

The Moon is at first quarter after midnight this Saturday night (12:45 Sunday morning), and it passes below Mars in the waxing gibbous phase on Wednesday. Jupiter creeps to within three degrees of Saturn over the week, setting around 8:30 pm midweek. Mars resembles a garnet gem among the dim stars of Pisces throughout the evening. Mercury remains visible in the morning sky, rising more than 75 minutes before sunrise to the lower left of Venus. The extended coma of comet C/2020 M3 ATLAS was a tough object to spot with a telescope in a suburban sky last weekend, but I also spotted C/2020 S3 Erasmus with binoculars as it passed through the constellation Corvus the Crow in the morning. By late week Erasmus will be directly below Spica and to the right of Venus.

With astronomy meetings and outreach activities on hold, you can watch the local Sunday Night Astronomy Show at 8 pm, and view archived shows, on YouTube at:  https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCAEHfOWyL-kNH7dBVHK8spg

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

This Week’s Sky at a Glance, 2020 November 14 – November 21

Orion can be seen getting out of bed around 8 pm now, preparing for a night of hunting. Being a giant and very old, it takes an hour and a half for his hourglass shape to clear the horizon. He rises on his side and stands upright when he is in the south. The celestial equator, an imaginary line in the sky directly above our equator, runs very near Mintaka, the star at the right of Orion’s Belt. Therefore, Mintaka rises due east. Notice how huge Orion appears as he rises, bigger than he appears a few hours later in the southeast. This is the same optical illusion that makes the Moon appear larger when it is rising or setting. The twins Castor and Pollux of the constellation Gemini rise on their side at the same time as Orion, just to his left.

If you are into genealogy, Orion, as a son of Poseidon, is a cousin to Pollux, a son of Zeus. Castor had the same mother as Pollux but a mortal father. Genealogy is more complicated when immortals are involved.

This Week in the Solar System

Saturday’s sunrise in Moncton is at 7:19 am and sunset will occur at 4:47 pm, giving 9 hours, 28 minutes of daylight (7:21 am and 4:55 pm in Saint John).  Next Saturday the Sun will rise at 7:28 am and set at 4:40 pm, giving 9 hours, 12 minutes of daylight (7:31 am and 4:48 pm in Saint John).

The Moon is new on Sunday, passing below Jupiter and Saturn on Thursday and reaching first quarter after midnight next Saturday night. Jupiter and Saturn are in good position for early evening observing, while Mars resumes its eastern motion against the stars at the beginning of the week. Mercury remains a naked-eye object within 15 degrees to the lower left of Venus throughout the week. Comet C/2020 M3 ATLAS is a potential target for binoculars or small telescopes at late evening this weekend, near Orion’s “other” shoulder star, Bellatrix, above of  his three-star belt. The Leonid meteor shower might add of few shooting stars for viewers over Tuesday night to Wednesday morning.

With astronomy meetings and outreach activities on hold, you can watch the local Sunday Night Astronomy Show at 8 pm, and view archived shows, on YouTube at:  https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCAEHfOWyL-kNH7dBVHK8spg

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

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