Sometimes I like to go tooling around in twilight with binoculars, picking off the bright stars as they emerge or even before they are visible to the naked eye. This time of year you can nab seven of the ten brightest in twilight and maybe another four of the next ten. Toward the southwest, Sirius, the brightest star of the night sky, might be the first you see, possibly flashing colours as our atmosphere acts like a prism for starlight. Next stop is lower to the west for #7, Rigel in Orion’s knee, which sets just an hour and a half after the Sun. Orange Betelgeuse, #10, will be well above it with the three belt stars in between.
Less than a hand span to the lower right of Betelgeuse is orange Aldebaran, the eye of Taurus the Bull and wearing lucky #13. See if you can pick out the Pleiades about two binocular widths to its right. This star cluster can be entertaining when it is low, with numerous stars twinkling like a Christmas tree. High above is #6 Capella, which often takes on a yellowish hue. Also fairly high is #9 Procyon, forming the peak of an equilateral triangle with Sirius and Betelgeuse. To its upper right is #16 Pollux, the brighter of the Gemini Twins.
Before heading east for more stars have a look at Venus to the right of Aldebaran. It is much brighter than the stars and can be seen easily with binoculars before sunset. Then, head eastward for #4 Arcturus at about the same altitude as Capella. How does its colour compare with that of Capella? Look for almost equally bright #5 Vega low in the northeast, although the thicker atmosphere at that altitude will rob some of its brightness. To its lower left you will eventually catch #20 Deneb, and #14 Spica shines in the southeast to the lower right of Arcturus. Regulus, between Spica and Pollux, comes in at #21. Happy star hunting.
This Week in the Solar System
Saturday’s sunrise in Moncton is at 6:22 am and sunset will occur at 8:14 pm, giving 13 hours, 52 minutes of daylight (6:28 am and 8:17 pm in Saint John). Next Saturday the Sun will rise at 6:10 am and set at 8:23 pm, giving 14 hours, 13 minutes of daylight (6:17 am and 8:26 pm in Saint John).
The Moon is at first quarter Sunday, possibly yielding a view of the Lunar X with a telescope in late afternoon or evening twilight. Look just within the shadow line a little below centre. On Tuesday, late afternoon, you might able to see the star Regulus to the right of the Moon with a scope. Venus outshines the bright stars of winter in the western sky after sunset, while Jupiter, Saturn and Mars offer great viewing in the morning sky. On Sunday evening look for a few meteors coming from between the constellations of Lyra and Hercules, as the Lyrid shower peaks in the afternoon.
If the sky is clear this weekend, look for amateur astronomers offering views of the sky for Astronomy Day.
Questions? Contact Curt Nason at email@example.com.