This Week’s Sky at a Glance, 2020 September 19 – September 26

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 7:02 am and sunset will occur at 7:21 pm, giving 12 hours, 19 minutes of daylight (7:08 am and 7:26 pm in Saint John). Next Saturday the Sun will rise at 7:11 am and set at 7:07 pm, giving 11 hours, 56 minutes of daylight (7:16 am and 7:13 pm in Saint John). The Sun crosses the equator, migrating southward for winter, at 10:31 am on Tuesday. Autumn is in the air.

The Moon is at first quarter on Wednesday, then sliding below Jupiter and Saturn over the next two evenings. Telescope users might catch Jupiter’s stormy Red Spot around 9 pm Sunday and 10:30 pm on Tuesday. Mars rises around 8:30 pm, when Jupiter and Saturn are at their highest in the south. Mercury is very close to Spica on Tuesday, setting 40 minutes after the Sun, but the shallow angle of ecliptic makes them a difficult target in binoculars. Venus rises around 3:30 am, perhaps seen amid the zodiacal light between 5:30 and 6 if you have a clear dark 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 September 12 – September 19

This is the time of year when the evening sky seems static; the stars appear to be in the same place night after night 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 half of that westward movement. Although the stars rise earlier we 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 6:54 am and sunset will occur at 7:35 pm, giving 13 hours, 41 minutes of daylight (6:59 am and 7:39 pm in Saint John). Next Saturday the Sun will rise at 7:02 am and set at 7:21 pm, giving 12 hours, 19 minutes of daylight (7:08 am and 7:26 pm in Saint John).

The Moon is near Venus on Monday and it is new on Thursday. Jupiter reaches a stationary point this Saturday, beginning a slow dash toward Saturn which will end in a spectacular conjunction at the winter solstice. Both planets are well placed for evening twilight observing. Watch for Jupiter’s moon Io to reappear from the planet’s shadow between 9:10 and 9:15 pm on Wednesday. By midweek Mars will be rising around 9 pm and appearing almost as bright as Jupiter, while Mercury is setting 40 minutes after the Sun. With the new Moon this week, zodiacal light might be visible to the east in a dark morning sky for the rest of the month.

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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