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The Sky This Month - August 2017

The Long Awaited Eclipse

Astronomers across North America have been preparing for the long awaited total solar eclipse and the time has come. On August 21 the 115 kilometre wide path approaches the main land in Oregon. Over time, it will move eastward until it heads out the Atlantic Ocean off the South Carolina coast. In all, the path cuts through fourteen states with millions of people seeing the Sun fully covered for a maximum of two minutes and forty seconds. This allows the unique opportunity to glimpse the red prominences along the rim of the Sun as well as the illusive corona without protective filters. The corona is the outer part of the Sun's atmosphere and only visible during totality. Temperatures exceed one million degrees in this layer but the solar surface is a cooler 5,600 degrees. For the tens of millions of people living north and south of the line, they will witness a partial phase including Canada. The big winner will be Victoria, BC where the eclipse begins at 9:08 a.m. PDT with 91% coverage at its greatest point. On the other side of the country St. John's, NL begins at 3:29 p.m. NDT with only 43% coverage. 

Precautions must be taken anytime you stare at the Sun. Never take chances with your eyes. There are various filters on the market to enjoy this wonderful event in safety. The RASC and other sites sell eclipse veiwers or eclipse glasses which are popular at public gatherings. You can also purchase Baader sheet film at various telescope locations. These are ideal to place in front of telescopes, binoculars and camera lenses. Never try to make and use homemade alternatives as eye damage can occur. Even pointing an unfiltered DSLR or point and shoot cameras can damage the sensitive chip inside. You can also damage your smart phone camera it pointed directly at the Sun. 

A great project with the family is to construct a pin hole camera. With the image of the eclipse projected on the back of the shoe box, this illuminates the dangers of looking directly at the Sun. Trees can also make great pin hole cameras with hundreds of projections being cast on the ground. Interlocking fingers also works and practically anything with tiny holes. Welder glass can also be used. Be sure to only purchase #14 grade glass used for arc welding.  Various RASC Centres will be hosting eclipse viewing parties open to the public. Check online for your closest centre or astronomy club.

 There should be a few good sites streaming live on the internet. The next total solar eclipse will take place on April 8, 2024 when it crosses Mexico, the USA and Canada. Since its creation some 4.5 billion years ago, the Moon is slowly spiralling away from Earth at a rate of four centimetres or the width of a golf ball per year. The last total solar eclipse will occur some 600 million years from now.

 A mere nine nights before the eclipse, the Perseid meteor shower will grace out skies. The Perseids are produce from the dusty debris from Comet Swift-Tuttle that last rounded the Sun in 1992 in its 133 year orbit. As Earth orbits the Sun, we encounter this clouds of particles the same time each year. Considered as the best meteor shower of the year, the Perseids can produce about 100 meteors per hour with a few brilliant fireballs. The 2016 shower had an outburst of 160 per hour. Unfortunately the 71% illuminated waning gibbous moon will rise around 11 p.m. local time will cast a glow in the sky and reduce the hourly rate. The good news is this is a weekend event.

The planet Jupiter is sinking lower in the west as the weeks march on. Venus still lights up the morning sky and is located just above Orion's club. This also means the Pleiades are up by 1 a.m. local time. Saturn is visible most of the night by is below the horizon before 2 a.m. local time on August 1. The full Sturgeon Moon will be on August 7.

Until next month, clear skies everyone.

Gary Boyle

Twitter: @astroeducator

Author: Gary BoyleeNews date: Monday, July 31, 2017Category: Northern SkiesFile:  image 1 - eclipse path.jpg Saturn.jpgTweet::  Pages

The Sky This Month - June 2017

Ursa Major

The great bear commonly known as the Big Dipper is a circumpolar constellation that never sets from Canadian locations. Its familiar four stars of the bowl and three stars of its handle are bright enough to be recognized at first glance. At this time of year, the Big Dipper is directly overhead and well placed to observe its celestial treasures.

Ursa Major is a great reference marker and jumping point to other constellations such as finding the North Star. To do this, draw an imaginary line through the two front stars from Merak and up through Dubhe located 79 light years and 123 years respectively. Now continue this same line until it brings you to Polaris – the pole star. This 432 light year F7 yellow supergiant star has a very close companion.

One of the best visual double stars in the sky belongs to the middle star in the handle called Alcor and Mizar (the rider and the horse). Splitting them with the naked eye is a good indicator of sky condition. With a telescope, you can now see how Mizar itself is a close double star.

Amongst the handful of Messier objects that reside in and near Ursa Major, the Owl Nebula is a challenge to see visually. At 2,600 light years from us, M97 is a faint planetary nebula that spans two light years in width. The Owl is nicely positioned close to the bowl star Merak. Not too far is the 10th magnitude galaxy M108. Located 45 million light years, the galaxy also called the Surfboard Galaxy, appears cigar shaped. Separated by one and a half times the width of the full moon both make a striking contrast.

Moving to the other bowl star named Phecda located 83 light years we find the galaxy M109. At a distance of only 38 arc seconds you will have to keep the bright magnitude 2.4 star out of the field of view to catch the much fainter magnitude 9.8 galaxy. There are numerous other galaxies in and below the bowl to locate and enjoy.

The planet Jupiter is high in the sky for most of the night and sets at 2:45 a.m. eastern time at the beginning of the month. There are three double transits of the Jovian moons visible this month on the 2, 4 and 20. Check page 234 of the Observer’s Handbook 2017 for details. Times are listed in Universal Time so remember to convert to your time zone. The king of planets becomes stationary on the 5th.

Saturn is nestled in the Milky Way with a wonderful back ground of stars. It rises in the south east by 10 p.m. It is at opposition on the 15 and sets in the west at sunrise. Venus rules the morning sky at is at its greatest western elongation on the 3rd at 46 degrees from the Sun. On the morning of the 3rd, the planet Uranus will be 1.8 degrees north of Venus. A great photo opportunity with the pairing of the crescent moon comes on the morning of 20 and 21.

On May 14, a magnitude 12.6 supernova was discovered in NGC 6946. The face on galaxy is located in Cygnus at an estimated 22 million light years away and is listed at magnitude 9.6. This galaxy is a hot spot for supernova activity as this latest discovery makes it the tenth in the past 100 years.

The summer solstice occurs on June 21 at 12:24 a.m. EDT. The full Strawberry Moon occurs on June 9 at 9:10 a.m. EDT with new moon (lunation 1169) on the 23rd.

Until next month, clear skies everyone.

Gary Boyle

Twitter: @astroeducator

Author: Gary BoyleeNews date: Thursday, June 1, 2017Category: Northern SkiesFile:  2017 - 06 chart 1.png 2017 - 06 chart 2.pngTweet::  Pages

Candidate Statements 2017

Candidate Statements for the RASC Board of Directors are at http://www.rasc.ca/candidate-statements-2017

A short summary follows:
Each year the Term of three Directors of the Board ends, and this year Randy BoddamCharles Ennis, and Colin Haig see their three-year terms come to an end. All three Directors are eligible to stand for re-election, and both Charles Ennis and Colin Haig have elected to do so.

Nominations for the RASC Board of Directors closed April 30, and by that time, we had two additional candidates, Anthony Gucciardo, President of the Yukon Centre, and Dr. Rob Thacker of the Halifax Centre. We were also informed in April by James Edgar that he would be stepping down from his role on the Board for personal reasons as of GA 2017, ending his term early. As a result, it appeared that all positions would be filled by acclamation and no election would be required.

In May, we confirmed that Susan Yeo, on leave from the Board since November 2016, would also be ending her term early for personal reasons leaving an additional unfilled vacancy. This additional position is to be filled by Michael Watson, by acclamation.

Your new Board of Directors, effective 2017 July 2, will be Craig LevineCharles EnnisColin HaigChris GainorAnthony GucciardoHeather LairdRob ThackerMichael Watson, and Robyn Foret.

On behalf of the Nominating Committee, The Board, and The Society, I would like to thank James EdgarRandy Boddam, and Susan Yeo for their service to the Society. Please be sure to thank them individually as circumstance permits; serving the Society in this capacity takes dedication, commitment, and sometimes a thick skin, and all have served us well.

Robyn Foret

2nd Vice-President

Royal Astronomical Society of Canada

Author: James S EdgareNews date: Saturday, May 27, 2017Category: AnnouncementseNews Tag: electionsRASCBoardDirectorsTweet::  Pages

The Sky This Month - May 2017

Corvus The Crow

Corvus the Crow soars all night in southern skies. Four stars ranging from magnitude 2.5 to 3.0 form a somewhat crooked rectangle. If these are difficult to locate because of light pollution, the bright star Spica and planet Jupiter located to the upper left will point the way. The upper left star forming a wing is named Algorab. It is a double star located 86 light years away and consists of a magnitude 2.9 yellow star along with a fainter magnitude 8,5 orange sun that appear more like yellow and lilac. They have a 650 AU separation meaning the fainter sun orbits once in 9,400 years.

One of the best examples of an edge-on galaxy is the magnitude 8.6 Sombrero Galaxy or M104. Technically it resides just over the border in Virgo. Never the less you must add this to your list of objects to see. M104 is a spiral galaxy located 31 million light years away that reveals a fantastic dust lane along its outer edge. A combination of the ring and its large halo makes M104 a target for the eyepiece and the camera.

To the right the four star asterism are a pair of galaxies interacting with each other, a process that has been occurring for some 600 million years. In about 400 million years from now, they will have formed one larger galaxy. Know as the Antennae Galaxies, their catalogue numbers are NGC 4038 and 4039. This is the fate of the Milky Way Galaxy in four billion years as we become one with the Andromeda Galaxy. The Antennae reside 69 million light years away and have a magnitude value of 10.5.

Towards the centre of the box is the only planetary nebula belonging to Corvus. NGC 4361 is an odd shaped planetary nebula, looking more like a galaxy than the traditional shell of gas surrounding the white dwarf star – the fate of our Sun in four billion years from now. NGC 4361 only measures 1.8 arc minutes wide and glows at 10th magnitude.

The only meteor shower this month is the Eta Aquarid meteor shower. Your best chance to see some will be in the pre-dawn sky on May 5 and 6. Unfortunately the shower produces only 30 meteors per hour and the southern hemisphere will be favoured to see more than here in the north.

There are presnetly three comets that should be easy to spot. First we have C/2015 ER61 (PANSTARRS). Through most of the month the comet travels through Pisces. At magnitude 7.4 it is still a binocular object and will pass close to Venus on 23rd. Another comet still putting on a good show an pickup up in binoculars is 41P/Tuttle-Giacobini-Kresak. This one is a bit fainter at magnitude 7.7 and well placed in Hercules and glides by the Brilliant star Vega on May 3 on its way south. 41P is fading fast. The third and last of the somewhat brighter comets is C/2015 V2 (Johnson). This too starts from Hercules but moving west. At magnitude 9.1, you might need a telescope for this one. Towards the end of May it should brighten a bit.

The brilliant planet Jupiter dominates the night sky and is well up in the east as the sun sets. From time to time the four Jovian moons have their individual turn crossing the planet’s cloud tops. Every so often a double transit occurs when two moons cross the same time leaving a double shadow. There will be three chances to see a double transit this month on May 11, 19 and 26. Please refer to page 233 of the RASC Observer’s Handbook 2017 for specific times.

The ringed planet Saturn is now visible from midnight local time. Seeing the rings in any eyepiece of a telescope is beyond words. Mercury is at its greatest western elongation at 26 degrees from the sun on the 17th. Venus is high in the eastern sky before sunrise.

Until next month, clear skies everyone.

Gary Boyle

Twitter: @astroeducator

Asteroid (22406) Garyboyle

Author: Gary BoyleeNews date: Monday, May 1, 2017Category: Northern SkiesFile:  2017 - 05 chart 1.pngTweet::  Pages