This Week’s Sky at a Glance, 2021 January 23 – January 30

“Cold wind on the harbour and rain on the road, wet promise of winter brings recourse to coal.
There’s fire in the blood and a fog on Bras d’Or; the giant will rise with the Moon.”
(Giant, by Stan Rogers)

On Sunday afternoon the constellation Orion, mythological giant son of Poseidon, rises with the waxing gibbous Moon. We won’t see the constellation, of course, until evening twilight dwindles; but over the evening watch him become a New York Giant leaping to catch a lunar football.

When the Moon is full or nearly so amateur astronomers can get a little grumpy because the moonlight washes out the faint galaxies, nebulae and comets. That is also when the Moon gets less interesting to observe, but this time of year the nearly full Moon can play a role in some imaginative stargazing. On Sunday evening it is above Orion, looking like a football approaching his outstretched right hand. Will he catch it in the end zone and be a hero like Perseus, or miss it and be a goat like Capricornus? With the Moon in Taurus Sunday and in the feet of Gemini on Monday, we also have a Chicago Bull passing the ball to a Minnesota Twin for an all-star all-sport soccer game. Is that a lacrosse stick in Orion’s hand?

What if it is cloudy? Do what Stan Rogers recommends in his song: “Light a torch, bring a bottle and build the fire bright. The giant will rise with the Moon.”

This Week in the Solar System

Saturday’s sunrise in Moncton is at 7:51 am and sunset will occur at 5:11 pm, giving 9 hours, 20 minutes of daylight (7:53 am and 5:19 pm in Saint John).  Next Saturday the Sun will rise at 7:43 am and set at 5:21 pm, giving 9 hours, 38 minutes of daylight (7:46 am and 5:28 pm in Saint John).

The Moon is near the M35 star cluster in Gemini on Monday and it is full on Thursday. Mercury reaches greatest elongation from the Sun this Saturday, setting 100 minutes after sunset and outshining every star except Sirius. Mars is high in the south in early evening, with Uranus sitting half a binocular field lower right it. Venus rises 50 minutes before sunrise this weekend, shining easily through morning twilight. Saturn is in conjunction with the Sun this Sunday, followed by Jupiter on Thursday.

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, 2021 January 16 – January 23

Bright stars and eye-catching asterisms such as Orion’s Belt, the Big Dipper and the Pleaides were obvious targets to immortalize earthly creatures and activities. Rather than Orion being a hunter and the giant son of Poseidon, to the Egyptians he was Osiris, the god of light, riding up the Nile on a boat. In parts of China he was Commander Tsan, protecting farmers from barbarians seeking to steal their winter supplies. Brazilian tribes saw the figure as a turtle, or as the body of a giant caiman with its tail and head extending to constellations above and below Orion. The Inuit saw Orion’s belt and sword as three hunters pulling a sledge and chasing a bear, represented by the red star Betelgeuse, into the sky.

The Big Dipper forms the back half of the constellation Ursa Major, the Great Bear. In Britain it is The Plough, ancient Germans saw it as seven plowing oxen, and for others it was obviously a cart. Local First Nations people saw the bowl of the Big Dipper as a bear and the handle stars, along with other stars in the constellation Boötes, as hunters. The hunters, who are named for birds, chase the bear from spring to autumn until only the three closest hunters remain above the horizon, at which time the bear is slain by Robin. The bear’s blood stains Robin’s chest and the leaves of the trees.

The Pleiades represent seven daughters of Atlas and Pleione and they mark the shoulder of Taurus the Bull. The Maori of New Zealand imagined them as the prow of their founder’s canoe, with the upper half of Orion forming the stern. Cherokee legend in the southeastern United States tells of seven boys who, in response to being punished for not working, performed a Feather Dance and ascended to the sky. To the Ojibwe, Orion was the Wintermaker and the Pleiades the Hole-in-the-Sky.

This Week in the Solar System

Saturday’s sunrise in Moncton is at 7:56 am and sunset will occur at 5:01 pm, giving 9 hours, 5 minutes of daylight (7:58 am and 5:09 pm in Saint John).  Next Saturday the Sun will rise at 7:51 am and set at 5:11 pm, giving 9 hours, 20 minutes of daylight (7:53 am and 5:19 pm in Saint John).

The Moon is at first quarter on Wednesday, passing below Uranus and Mars in the early evening. Midweek Uranus will be the brightest “star” half a binocular field below Mars. Jupiter might still be visible in binoculars this weekend, setting 40 minutes after sunset. Mercury should be visible in binoculars and setting at 6:30 pm this weekend, and next weekend it reaches greatest elongation from the Sun. Mars is high in the south in evening twilight, glowing as brightly as Vega. Venus rises an hour before sunrise this weekend and in a few weeks it will be welcoming Saturn and Jupiter to the morning 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.

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