Mars makes closest approach to Earth for next 15 years Oct 6

Mars makes closest approach to Earth for next 15 Years on October 6

October 6 - The red planet will be making its closest approach to Earth in 15 years. This will give us an incredible look at our planetary neighbour. 

A week after this, Mars will reach opposition. An opposition is when Earth is located in a straight line directly between the sun and another orbiting planet in our solar system. Mars oppositions happen around every other year. This year’s opposition is on Oct 13, however a week earlier will be the best time to observe Mars. 

When Mars is this close to Earth, amateur astronomers can see details of the planet’s surface with their telescope, but many factors can play into the quality of observing. During the 2018 opposition the surface of Mars was covered by a massive dust storm. However, things are shaping up for some incredible observing! 

Mars will be very large and bright in the sky in upcoming weeks, becoming brighter than Jupiter on September 24, and remaining this bright well into November.

In conjunction with this astronomical event taking place Oct. 6, RASC Outreach Coordinator Jenna Hinds will be hosting a livestream as part of the “Insider’s Guide to the Galaxy” series at 3:30pm (ET). Members of the public are more than welcome to join. More information on the livestream can be found at www.rasc.ca/homebound-astronomy.


Author: The Royal Astronomical Society of CanadaeNews date: Tuesday, September 29, 2020File:  Press release Mars Opposition.pdf Mars.pdfTweet::  Pages

The Sky This Month - September 2020

Rising Pegasus

The Great Square of Pegasus depicting the mythological winged horse is now high in the eastern sky. Pegasus is one of the original 48 constellations listed by Ptolomy sometime after 150 BC and was part of the story of the “Royal Family of Constellations”. The story depicts King Cepheus and Queen Cassiopeia sacrificing their daughter Andromeda to the sea creature Cetus to appease the angry gods. Our hero Perseus the Hunter saves Andromeda and they both ride off on Pegasus.

The celestial square is quite obvious in the sky and is home to a few interesting and challenging deep-sky objects. First is the spiral galaxy NGC 7331 nicknamed the ‘Deerlick’ which can be located a little more than four degrees north of the star Matar. Matar has a spectral class of G5, so it is a bit cooler than the sun. It is a double star or quadruple star system – a double-double located about 230 light-years. At 47 million light-years, NGC 7331 is a common target for astrophotographers. Close to this galaxy are a few fainter and much farther galaxies aka ‘The Fleas’. They are NGC 7335 magnitude 13.5 and 310 million ly away, NGC 7336 magnitude 15.6 and 430 million ly distant, NGC 7337 also magnitude 15.6 but 320 million ly away and NGC 3740 at magnitude 14.6 and 320 million ly from us. Not far is ‘Stephen’s Quintet’ with members around the 14th magnitude range and locate 2080 to 320 million ly away.

The most famous and a favourite shown at stars parties is the Andromeda Galaxy. This is the closest neighbouring galaxy other than our satellite Megallantic Clouds. A truly amazing object to observe with a telescope but is bright enough to be seen on a clear moonless night in the countryside without optical aid. The galaxy is only 2.25 million ly away so the photons of light you see, left the galaxy when Homo Habilus was walking the earth. M31 possesses a couple of satellite galaxies namely M32 and M 110. Today’s modern telescopes along with state of the art CCD cameras can image globular clusters in the galaxy. How many can you find?

There are a couple of naked-eye stars that are known to harbour exoplanets. The first is 51 Pegasi located 50 light-years from earth and in 1995 was the first sun-like star discovered to harbour a planet. It has been officially named Dimidium and has a magnitude of 5.4. Over in Andromeda, look for the star Upsilon Andromedae located 44 light-years away. The parent star to four exoplanets is a bit brighter at magnitude 3.8.

After a memorable month of July Comet 2020 F3 (NEOWISE) is rapidly dimming and is now located low in the western sky after sunset. By month’s end, it will be near Virgo and an eleventh magnitude smudge. It is currently magnitude 8.7 and returns 6,700 years from now.

Aside from the above-mentioned objects, the bright planets own the night. Jupiter and Saturn are well up in the southern sky after sunset. Be sure to consult the RASC Observer’s Handbook 2020 for the ephemeris of moon transits and eclipses. Mars is up in the eastern sky by 9:30 p.m. local time with brilliant Venus seen in the northeast by 3 a.m. Sure signs of winter knocking at the door in a few months is seeing the constellation Orion well up in the east and along with Venus, the Hyades and Pleiades. This is something to witness on a clear moonless morning.

The equinox occurs on September 22 at 13:31 UT signifying the beginning of Fall in the northern hemisphere and Spring in the south. The equinox is also time to look for the elusive zodiacal light in the eastern sky before the first glimmer of dawn. The zodiacal light is caused by reflected sunlight of dust grains in the inner solar system. Your two-week window to capture this begins September 15. Dark sky locations and moonless mornings are a must to see this tilted wedge of light. Try imaging the lights with a DSRL on a tripod. The Full Corn Moon occurs September 2 and New Moon will occur on September 17.

Until next month, clear skies everyone.

Gary Boyle

Author: Gary BoyleeNews date: Wednesday, September 2, 2020Category: Northern SkiesTweet::  Pages

The Sky This Month - August 2020

NEOWISE – The Little Comet That Did

Not since the memorable appearances of Comets Hyakutake in 1996 and Hale-Bopp in 1997 has the world had the opportunity to see and photograph a fantastic naked-eye comet. Discovered on March 27, 2020, Comet C/2020 F3 NEOWISE rounded the sun on July 3 at a close approach of 43 million kilometres and survived. Two other comets namely Atlas and Swan fizzled out a few months prior and so did our opportunity to see these celestial visitors.

NEOWISE has treated us to a “once in a decade” event as it was reported by news sources around the world and help draw people outdoors to see it, allowing them to become one with nature. I started imaging the comet on the morning of July 5, the day after the extremely faint penumbral lunar eclipse. As the month went on, the comet kept moving higher in the north sky and became circumpolar thus never setting from our location.

With the backdrop of the familiar Big Dipper, photographers had perfect sky conditions as the moon did not start interfering until July 24. With advancements in technology, today’s DSLR cameras along with better processing software have resulted in high-quality images. The comet was closest to earth on July 23 at a distance of 103 million kilometres and will not be returning for another 6,800 years. The comet will continue to dim in August and hopefully, this will not be the last grand naked-eye comet to be seen in our lifetime.

August is known for one of the top meteor showers of the year, the Perseids. The best night to view this annual shower is on August 12 into the morning of the 13. You will see close to 100 meteors per hour striking the earth’s atmosphere at 72 km/sec. The 34% lit moon will rise before 1 a.m. and will be a bit of a factor when seeing the fainter meteors.

As you count meteor all night long Jupiter and Saturn are visible in the southern sky as the sun sets. Mars rises around 10:30 p.m. and is steadily getting brighter. Over the next few weeks and will the same brightness as Jupiter around September 25 at magnitude -2.39. The brightest planet of the solar system, Venus will be rising at 2:30 local time and will be at its great western elongation on the 13th when it is 46 degrees from the sun. It will appear 50% lit in the eyepiece of a telescope. Two mornings later, the 15% lit moon will appear above Venus and pose for a great digital moment.

The Full Sturgeon Moon occurs on August 3 with New Moon on August 18.

Until next month, clear skies everyone.

Gary Boyle

Author: Gary BoyleeNews date: Saturday, August 1, 2020Category: Northern SkiesTweet::  Pages

The Sky This Month - July 2020


A few months ago we had expectations of seeing Comet Atlas at naked-eye status and possibility the best comet to appear in two decades but it disintegrated into some thirty pieces as seen by Hubble. Then Comet Swan was given a fantastic show in the southern United States and was moving north to Canadian skies. Along the way, it had a dramatic brightening which ultimately led to the comet’s demise as it met its fate and disappeared, but third time a charm. Comet C/2020 F3 (NEOWISE) has been a fantastic object in the early morning pre-dawn sky and is now moving to the early evening sky. It will be well placed below the Big Dipper to see and photograph over the next couple of weeks and hopefully into August. I have been following and imaging this comet since the first week of July and could see it even without binoculars (naked eye).

The comet was discovered on March 27, 2020, by the Near Earth Object Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer space telescope as it looks for near-earth objects that could come close or even potentially impact our planet. Measuring a little more than half the height of Mount Everest, this object falls into the category of a “once in a decade comet”.

Every year astronomers both amateur and professional observe 5 to 10 comets with telescopes. In most cases, they show a green nucleus from the sublimation of frozen chemicals such as ammonia and others. The extremely faint tail is seen when photographed but all comets are different in composition and appearance as Neowise does not appear green. The last bright comet that was visible to the naked eye for the whole world to see was Comet Hale-Bopp in 1997. And like Neowise, it too had a blue ion or gas tail and a fan-shaped dust tail created when comets round the sun as this one did on July 3 at a close distance of 43 million kilometres.

Neowise will be closest to earth on its way out of the solar system on July 22 at a safe distance of 103 million kilometres and will be starting to fade with a shortening tail as it retreats from the sun's heat and back to the icy depths of space. Comet Neowise originates from the Oort Cloud, where long-period comets reside and will return close to 6,800 years from now. Halley’s Comet is a short period comet originating from the Kuiper Belt. Along with this chart of the comet’s path, many smartphone astronomy apps will also guide you to our celestial visitor.

The comet is also a very easy target to image with a DSLR camera on a tripod and a cable release or an intervalometer. Set your camera to a high ISO such as 3200 and you will be surprised what you will capture in just a few seconds. Enjoy this spectacular comet every chance you can as you never know when the next bright will come to visit.

As the sun sets, look for the brilliant planet Jupiter in the southeast as it achieves opposition on the 14 with fainter Saturn to the left rising shortly after and also achieves opposition on the 20. Both planets will be out all night long and set at sunrise. Mars is steadily getting brighter as our distance with the red planet continues to shorten. Mars will be closest to earth on October 6 and opposition on the 13th. Venus is now in the eastern sky into the Hyades cluster and close to Aldebaran or the angry eye of the bull.

The new moon occurs on July 20 so we should have moon free nights to image the comet.

Until next month, clear skies everyone.

Gary Boyle

Author: Gary BoyleeNews date: Monday, July 13, 2020Category: Northern SkiesTweet::  Pages