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

The Sky This Month - April 2017

A String of Galaxies

Before three quarter mark of 1923, astronomers knew our Milky Way Galaxy as being unique. Edwin Hubble changed all that with a historic image taken on Oct 6, 1923. He exposed a photographic plate at a hazy patch of light with the 100 inch Hooker telescope; the largest telescope in the world at the time. The results shocked the astronomical community. A newly discovered Cepheid variable observed within that patch of light led to the conclusion the variable was located in a separate galaxy other than the Milky Way.

An international team of astronomers using images from the Hubble Space Telescope have revised the number to at least two trillion galaxies in the known universe, a ten fold jump from older estimates. The Andromeda Galaxy is estimated to be 2.25 million light years away and is a favourite target at summer and fall star parties. From a dark site, you can see this remote object with the naked eye. Although Andromeda is still lost in early morning twilight for another few weeks, many other targets are at your disposal.

Starting from the constellation Ursa Major, many Messier galaxies line a pathway all the way down to the Virgo cluster consisting of dozens of galaxies. For example we find M106 located in Canes Venatici. This intermediate spiral galaxy is located 25 million light years away and lists as magnitude 8.4 and measures 19 by 8 arc minutes. The brightest galaxy of this constellation is M94 which is a slightly elongated, tightly wound galaxy with a very bright core. This 14 million light year object has a face-on orientation and glows at magnitude 8.2. This is a definite stop on your galactic survey. Detailed images show active star forming regions (in red) dotted along the outer edges of the galaxy like a string of pearls.

Move your scope less than five degrees to the west to swoop upon M63. Just a tad fainter then its Messier neighbour, the magnitude 8.6 also known as the Sunflower Galaxy has an estimated distance of 37 million light years and measures 10 by 6 arc minutes, keeping in mind the moon is 30 arc minutes wide.

Lower your telescope to the constellation Coma Berenices until you come across an inverted letter “Y”, more commonly known as Mel 111. Now that you are here, you must find and enjoy the edge-on beauty of NGC 4565 AKA the Needle Galaxy. Pretty well any instrument will reveal its sharp dust lane made up of dark interstellar clouds and star soot which obscures light. Take your time on this 31 million ly gem. Toward the upper boundary of this constellation is a pretty pair of 10th magnitude galaxies.

Not one but two comets are now visible. First is C/2017 E4 (Lovejoy) found low in the eastern sky before dawn in the constellation Pegasus. Lovejoy seems to have gone through a recent outburst and is presently magnitude 7.1 thus exceeding its predicted peak of magnitude 9 by mid April. It is an easy find in 50mm binoculars. Comet 41P/Tuttle-Giacobini is presently a circumpolar object at around 7th magnitude as well. Both comets do not sport a tail but show the distinctive green colour.

April 22/23 will be the peak of the Lyrid meteor shower. On that night/morning Earth will be passing through for debris field from Comet Thatcher. This is a long period comet as one lap around the Sun takes 415 years with its last visit in 1861. By midnight the radiant should be high enough to see the predicted 10 to 20 meteors per hour. With at said, outbursts of 100 meteors per hour have been observed in 1922, 1945 and 1982.  With a thin waning 13% illuminated cresent rising at 5 a.m. local along with Venus, skies will stay dark.

Jupiter will be at opposition on April 7 meaning it rises as the Sun sets and be the shortest distance from Earth. The Full Pink Moon occurs on April 11. This month’s moon also goes by the Sprouting Grass Moon, the Egg Moon, and the Fish Moon. New Moon occurs on the 26 (lunation 1167).

Until next month, clear skies everyone.

Gary Boyle

Twitter: @astroeducator

Author: Gary BoyleeNews date: Saturday, April 1, 2017Category: Northern SkiesFile:  2017 - 04 chart 1.png 2017 - 04 chart 2.pngTweet::  Pages