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The Sky This Month - June 2021

Sunrise Solar Eclipse

As mentioned last month, the long-awaited annular solar eclipse will occur on the morning of June 10th. Although most of the eastern part of Canada failed to enjoy the May 26 lunar eclipse, this area will see the sun covered by the moon as it rises behind trees, buildings and hills, making for some spectacular photo opportunities. An annular eclipse occurs when the moon is farthest in its elliptical orbit around the earth and covers about 99% of the sun called the “ring of fire”. For those living on the eclipse path, the one per cent of sunlight around the edge is still extremely dangerous to look at directly without proper filtration. This is not to be confused with a total solar eclipse where the closer moon blocks the entire sun from a few seconds to a few minutes depending on the moon’s distance in its orbit.

The safest way to look at the eclipse is with eclipse glasses purchased from reputable telescope dealers online. For your telescope, camera lens or binoculars, Baader solar film can be purchased in larger pieces. Always secure the filter securely to the front of the instrument to cool the image to reduce the sun’s intensity by 99.999%. If you cannot acquire this material you can build or use a projection system by making a pinhole projector using a cereal box. There are other props found around the house such as a spaghetti and vegetable strainer or anything with small holes to project the image of “happy faces” safely on a sheet of paper or the side of a building. Now you can photograph the projection. Ottawa and Toronto will see rise around 5:21 a.m. with the last contact at 6:40 a.m. Mid eclipse will show 80% of the sun covered with St. John’s NL witnessing about 72% coverage.

The heart of the Milky Way is now above the SE horizon by midnight local time. Take advantage of moonless nights and try your hand at wide-angle astrophotography. With a high ISO setting on many new DSLR cameras, a few seconds exposure can reveal a frame full of stars and some colourful nebulae. For best results use a camera tracker anchored to a sturdy tripod or piggyback your camera on top of the scope. Here you can guide in the main scope while looking through the eyepiece while the camera is imaging a nice wide-angle. Take many 3 to 4-minute images and then co-add them in free stacking software such as Deep Sky Stacker.

The planet Venus is slowly rising higher in the west as the sky darkens and sets just after 10 p.m. at the beginning of the month. Mercury is now sinking closer to the solar glare and will be glimpsed in the morning sky at the end of June. At a distance of more than 341 million kilometres from Earth, Mars is seen at magnitude 1.75 and will be nestled at the centre of the Beehive Cluster (M44) on June 23. However, this 600 light-year cluster of stars will be situated very close to the western horizon.

Switching to the morning sky, Saturn up in the SE sky around 1 a.m. with brighter Jupiter appearing about 40 minutes later. The moon will appear below Saturn on the 27th and new Jupiter two nights later. Refer to pages 232 and 233 of the 2021 RASC Observer’s Handbook for times of upcoming transits and shadows of Jupiter’s moons.

The word solstice is derived from the Latin meaning “to stand still”. This occurs on June 21 at 3:32 universal time signifying the first day of summer in the northern hemisphere and winter in the south. We will soon notice the days getting slightly shorter. New moon (lunation 1218) occurs on June 19 while the Full Strawberry Moon lights up the night on June 24.

Until next month, clear skies everyone.

Gary Boyle

Author: Gary BoyleeNews date: Tuesday, June 1, 2021Category: Northern SkiesTweet::  Pages

The Sky This Month - May 2021

One Eclipse Leads To Another

This year the earth will witness four eclipses, two lunar and two solar. Depending on where you live in Canada, you will have a chance to see one of each or even both. On May 26 the Full Flower Moon will be subject to a total lunar eclipse. This is the largest moon of the year producing large tides.

The bad news is the sun will be up in the east and the moon will have already set. Parts of western Ontario might see first umbra contact at moonset. However, the farther west you live, the better the chances of seeing more of the eclipse in progress. Most of Alberta and all of British Columbia as well as the western United States and Mexico will see totality low in the west or when the moon is setting.

 

 

Atlantic Time
Not visible

Eastern Time
Partial umbral eclipse begins at 5:44 a.m. Moon already below the horizon for most locations.

Central Time
Partial umbral eclipse begins at 4:44 a.m.

Totality – moon sets before totality begins.
 

Mountain Time
Partial umbral eclipse begins at 3:44 a.m.

Totality occurs at moonset

 

Pacific Time
Partial umbral eclipse begins at 2:44 a.m.

Totality begins at 4:11 a.m.

Mid eclipse at 4:18 a.m.

Totality ends at 4:25 a.m.
Moon sets before partial eclipse end.

 

Two weeks later the sun, moon and earth will still be geometrically lined up. On the morning of June 10, the eastern half of Canada and the United States will witness a sunrise eclipse sun. This is an annular eclipse where the moon is farthest in its orbit and will not cover the entire sun, even on the total path where it will look like a “wedding band” in the sky.

This will be a fantastic photo opportunity as the sun rises behind the trees or building so plan your location. Opposed to lunar eclipse NEVER LOOK AT THE SUN WITHOUT A PROPER FILTER. Sunglasses are not designed to look directly at the sun. Use #14 welders glass or purchase Baader film which is made to be used with a telescope and binoculars. The filter must be placed in front of the lens thus cooling the image before it gets magnified. You can also look online for eclipse glasses from reputable telescope dealers. A great project with the family is making a pinhole projector using a cereal box. There are other props found around the house such as a spaghetti collinear or anything with small holes to project the image safely on a sheet of paper or the side of a building. Ottawa and Toronto will see 80% of the sun covered with St. John’s NL witnessing about 72% coverage. Precautions to prevent eye injury must always be taken when observing the sun.

We now say goodbye to the winter sky as Taurus, Orion and Gemini sink in the west after sunset. Ursa Majoris (Big Dipper) is now found overhead. On the night of May 4/5, the Eta Aquariid meteor shower will produce an estimated 40 meteors per hour moving at 66 km/sec. This shower is produced by the dusty remains of comet 1P/Halley. The moon will be passed the third-quarter stage and begins to interfere starting around 3:30 a.m. local time.

Mars is low in the western sky in the constellation Gemini. The 16% crescent moon will appear to the left of the red planet on the 15th. As the month progresses, look for Mercury and Venus together low in the NW sky on May 28.  The planet Saturn now rises at 2:40 a.m. local time and Jupiter about half an hour after. This is about the time the constellation Sagittarius and the Milky Way is visible to adore and image on a moonless night. From the countryside on a moonless night, the heart of the Milky Way Galaxy will be visible in the south by 3 am and by 1 am local time at the end of the month.

 

The new moon occurs on May 11

 

Until next month, clear skies everyone.

Gary Boyle

 

Author: Gary BoyleeNews date: Saturday, May 1, 2021Category: Northern SkiesTweet::  Pages

The Sky This Month - April 2021

Distant Islands

Longer days and shorter nights are telltale signs winter are all but gone. As Orion and Taurus are sinking in the west, disappearing by midnight, we now focus on the abundance of galaxies available. We can observe and photograph a few classic groupings in Leo the Lion such as the Leo Triplet consisting of M65/M66/NGC 3628 or the combination of M95/M96/M105. This pales in comparison to the swarm of galaxies found from Virgo through Coma Berenices and up into Ursa Major.

An observing challenge would to locate the dwarf spheroidal galaxy Leo 1. It is estimated to be 820,000 light-years away with a diameter of around 2,000 light-years across. As irregulars go, it has no structure whatsoever and glows at eleventh magnitude. One problem spotting this smudge in the eyepiece of a telescope is the galaxy’s proximity of a mere 20 arcseconds from the bright star Regulus, blazing at magnitude 1.4. Putting this bright sun out of the field of view is key to viewing Leo 1.

Galaxies are distant islands containing hundreds of millions of stars just like our Milky Way. A great object to observe and image is M64 - the Blackeye Galaxy. Catalogued as a type 2 Seyfert Galaxy, this spiral resides only 17 million light-years from us and has a distinctive thick band of dust hiding part of the bright nucleus thus giving the galaxy its name. This object should be on your observing list.

With this vast region populated with so many galaxies, groupings are very common. With a wide-angle eyepiece, locate the duo of M84/86 measuring 66 and 57 million light-years respectively and you should see about half a dozen fainter objects closeby These members are part of “Markarian’s Chain”. Wide-angle photography will allow you to catch extended portions of the chain. More than 15 galaxies are associated with this amazing collection.

As for the planets, Mars has now dimmed to magnitude +1.3 and sets after 1 a.m. at the beginning of the month. The moon will appear below it on the 16th. Jupiter and Saturn are now emerging out of the solar glare and visible low in the southeast before 5 a.m. A digital moment of these two gas giants and the 20% waning moon occurs on April 7 as dawn is just about to start.

April 22 is the peak night of the annual Lyrid meteor shower. The Leonids produce about 20 meteors per hour but you will be battling a 70% lit moon that only sets after 4 a.m. This month’s new moon occurs on April 11 (lunation 1216) with the Full Pink Full lighting up the sky on the 26th.

Until next month, clear skies everyone.

Gary Boyle

Author: Gary BoyleeNews date: Thursday, April 1, 2021Category: Northern SkiesTweet::  Pages

The Sky This Month - March 2021

Signs of Spring

With the icy grip of snow, ice and bone-chilling temperatures keeping most of us indoors at night, the change of season on the way this month. The Spring Equinox occurs on March 20 at 9:37 UT. The Equinox both Spring and Fall are the best chance to glimpse the ghostly Zodiacal Light, a slanted triangle column of interplanetary dust scattered by the sun. For two weeks starting March 1, you can glimpse or even photograph this elusive glow seen after evening twilight. Dark country skies and the absence of all light sources including moonlight will reward you with faint light appearing to point to the Pleiades star cluster. Another two-week period occurs at the end of the month after the full moon.

The Messier list is a collection of 110 celestial objects comprised of open star clusters, globular clusters, nebulae and remote galaxies. This number represents the brightest or near brightest as seen in earlier telescopes of antiquity. This is a far cry from the countless hundreds of objects modern scopes and photography can see and image. Many of the Messier objects are the favourite targets at public star parties and a great way for beginners to hunt the wonders of the night.

One roadblock to seeing a certain object is its proximity to the sun. If a particular object is too close to the solar glare, one must wait a few weeks for the earth to move away from the glare in its yearly orbit around the sun. But there is a time of year where all 110 objects can be glimpsed if you are up for the Messier Marathon.

March is always the month but the optimal night varies as to when the moon is at new phase. The marathon usually takes place on a weekend closest to the new moon. This is an all-night event from dusk till dawn and would be difficult to achieve when you must wake up for work or school. This year’s weekend of choice is the night of March 13/14 which happens to coincide with the exact date of the new moon. However, time is of the essence and following an exact order of objects (link above) maximizes your chances of accomplishing the marathon in one night. You must begin with the spiral galaxy M77 as the sky darkens in the west and battling a brightening eastern sky as dawn approaches by ending the list with the globular cluster M30. This is the same weekend that most of Canada will be advancing the clocks by one hour as we move Daylight Saving Time (DST).

Another change you will notice is the constellations themselves. As of the beginning of March Scorpius is seen low in the southeast and Cygnus low in the northeast around 3:30 a.m. and appear two hours earlier by April 1. From a dark location, you should be able to glimpse the Milky Way stretching above the treetops from the countryside. As weeks and months tick by, the band of stars will rise earlier and will be swatting mosquitoes before you know it.

The Full Worm Moon occurs on March 28 at 18:48 UT. With that said Easter is one of the holidays that varies with the lunar cycle. It always occurs on the Sunday after the full moon following the Spring Equinox. This year we will be celebrating Easter on April 4.           

Until next month, clear skies everyone.

Gary Boyle

Author: Gary BoyleeNews date: Monday, March 1, 2021Category: Northern SkiesTweet::  Pages