This Week’s Sky at a Glance, October 7 – October 14

Small constellations tend to get overlooked unless, like Delphinus the Dolphin, they have fairly bright stars or an eye-catching pattern. Aries the Ram and cleverly named Triangulum aren’t quite as pretty as Delphinus but they do get noticed. Okay, Triangulum isn’t pretty but it is acute, situated below Andromeda in mid-evening. Below it is brighter Aries, which resembles a somewhat squashed triangle.

In mythology, the god Hermes sent a flying, golden ram to rescue a prince who was being sacrificed to end a famine. The prince showed his gratitude by slaughtering the ram and giving its fleece to a man in exchange for his daughter’s hand in marriage. The Golden Fleece later became the quest of Jason and the Argonauts. Over 2000 years ago the Sun was in Aries on the first day of spring, and the vernal equinox is still called the First Point of Aries despite having moved into the constellation Pisces long ago. That movement is due to the precession of the equinox, a wobble of the Earth’s polar axis that completes a circuit every 25,800 years.

Triangulum is not associated with an exciting tale from mythology but at times it had been regarded as a tribute to both the Nile Delta and the island of Sicily. I use the tip of the triangle as a reference for locating the Triangulum Galaxy, also called M33. It is almost halfway and a tad to the right of a line from the tip to orange Mirach in Andromeda. Smaller and slightly more distant than the nearby Andromeda Galaxy (M31), this face-on spiral galaxy is dim but attainable with binoculars in a reasonably dark sky.

This Week in the Solar System

Saturday’s sunrise in Moncton is at 7:25 am and sunset will occur at 6:47 pm, giving 11 hours, 22 minutes of daylight (7:30 am and 6:52 pm in Saint John). Next Saturday the Sun will rise at 7:35 am and set at 6:34 pm, giving 10 hours, 59 minutes of daylight (7:39 am and 6:40 pm in Saint John).

The Moon is at third quarter on Thursday, rising around 11:30 the previous evening and setting a little before 3 pm. Jupiter is just a few weeks from being in conjunction with the Sun so Saturn rules the early evening sky. Following their recent rendezvous, Venus and Mars proceed in opposite directions in the morning sky. Mercury is in superior conjunction with the Sun on Sunday, and moves into the evening western sky late in the month. The minor Draconid meteor shower is at its modest peak from Saturday evening to Sunday morning. You might see a few slow-moving meteors per hour coming out of the north, but it has surprised with intense activity a few times in the past century.

The Saint John Astronomy Club meets at the Rockwood Park Interpretation Centre on October 7 at 7 pm. The William Brydone Jack Astronomy Club meets at the Forestry-Earth Sciences building at UNB Fredericton on Tuesday at 7 pm. All are welcome.

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