The Sky This Month - August 2018

Draco The Dragon

Ursa Major places a key role in helping identify other constellations such as Ursa Minor and namely the North Star. Located between these two iconic asterisms is Draco the Dragon. Its overall size measures 1,083 square degrees of sky and ranks eighth largest overall. No less than fourteen stars make up the Dragon’s asterism which begins with its head situated above the constellation Hercules.  

We presently refer to Polaris as the North or Pole Star. Such has not always the case. If we can go back in time to in 2787 BC, we would see Thuban (alpha Draconis) was the pole star at the time. This position slowly changes during the precession of Earth’s axis. Just as a spinning top slows down, its axis begins to wobble. Since Earth’s axis is tilted 23.5 degrees, the circle of precession also measures 23.5 degree wide and takes the 26,000 years to complete one revolution. In fact the star Vega will be somewhat the North Star 12,000 years from now. The same polar shift occurs in the southern hemisphere as well.

Thuban is a magnitude 3.6 giant star located 310 light years from us and appear to harbour an unseen companion that orbits every 51 days. Thuban is a white giant star of spectral class A0. Its surface temperature registers at 9800 Kelvin but shines a rare five times brighter than what it should be and 300 times more luminous than our Sun.

Now move eleven degrees to Edasich which is a K2 giant located 101 light years away. Edasich is one of the ten stars in Draco that have at least one orbiting extrasolar planet named Hypatia. Discovered in 2001, Iota Draconis b has the mass 8.9 times that of Jupiters and orbits once every 536 days.Half way between Iota and Theta Draconis is a fantastic group of elongated structures. They are NGC 5981, 5982, and 5985 with magnitudes of 12.9, 11.0 and 11.1 respectively. With distances estimated to be 170 million, 120 million and 180 million light years. Another fantastic edge-on galaxy is NGC 5907 also known as the Splinter or Knife Galaxy. It is only 56 million light years away and glows at magnitude 10.1. Measuring 11.3 arc minutes by 1.8 arc minutes, NGC 5907 is a must to hunt down and image.

The Cat’s Eye Nebula catalogued as NGC 6543 is a planetary nebula that lies 3,262 light years from us with a magnitude of 8.1. There is a strange structure to the remains of the central dead star. The theoretical cause is what was thought to be one central star is actually a binary star system. Some 10 arc minutes east of the Cat’s Eye is a real challenge. NGC 6552 is a magnitude 14.6 irregular spiral galaxy located an estimated 370 million ly away.

The Perseid meteor shower is active from July 17 to August 26 with best nights viewing at its peak on the 11/12 and again on the 12/13 and with no moon interference you should see more than 100 meteors per hour. The key is to find wide open spaces away from city lights, pack a lawn chair and enjoy. The particles strike the atmosphere at 60 km/sec and the Perseids also produce bright fireballs. 

Over the next weeks and months you should notice Mars begin to shrink in size and fade. The red planet was well publicized by the media during its closest approach since 2003 and peak the public’s interest to step outside at night and the lovely night sky. Mars is now up in the south east as the Sun sets. The planet Saturn is still in immersed in the Milky Way and forms a nice trio with the Lagoon and Trifid Nebulas.

The ringed planet sets just before 3 a.m. local time on the first of the month. In the lower western sky we see Jupiter that now sets at midnight. Venus has passed greatest angular distance from the Sun (elongation) and will begin to set lower and earlier as the nights tick by. This is my favourite time to follow Venus in a telescope. As Venus moves between the Earth and the Sun, its phase will change from half lit to crescent as well as grow in size.  

This month’s new Moon is slated for the 11th. Take advantage three nights before and after to enjoy the dark skies away from city light. The Milky Way is a sight only appreciated in person. The full Sturgeon Moon will occur on August 26.

Until next month, clear skies everyone.

Gary Boyle

Author: Gary BoyleeNews date: Wednesday, August 1, 2018Category: Northern SkiesTweet::  Pages

The Sky This Month - July 2018

The Milky Way and Big Bold Mars

Opposed to the Big Dipper that is seen all year round, Sagittarius the Archer appears low in the south skies for only a few months. With so many celestial objects to hunt down, we definitely have our work cut out.

To fully appreciate the majesty of the night, head out to the countryside on a moonless night and prepared to be dazzled. Looking at Sagittarius as well as the eastern half of Scorpius, there appears to be a misty haze amongst the distant stars. This cosmic haze is the glow of literally billions of suns that make up our Milky Way Galaxy.

One of my favourite globular clusters in Sagittarius is M22. It is located some two and a half degrees to the upper left of the top star of the teapot named Kaus Borealis. In a telescope it appears as an even distribution of stars. Situated at more than ten thousand light years (ly) away, M22 houses an estimated 100,000 stars. At magnitude 5.2and is easily picked up without optical aid.

One of the best examples of a stellar nursery is the Lagoon Nebula or M8. Just look a few degrees north of the star Alnasl, a spectral type K1 star located 97 ly away. This star has a brightness that equals 64 times that of the Sun, has a surface temperature of 4800 degrees Kelvin and is 12 times the Sun’s radius.

M8 resides about 5,000 ly away and takes up two lunar diameters of sky. The hydrogen gas cloud is being lit up by hot, infant stars. To the left of the gas cloud is an extremely young cluster catalogued as NGC 6530 containing about 100. A bit north and west is M20 aka the Trifid Nebula. Photos reveal a nice impression of a flower petal of red and blue. Also at 5,000 ly, the Trifid is considered an open cluster with nebulosity.

The next cosmic maternity ward is M17 that goes by a few names such as Swan Nebula, Horseshoe and even the Lobster from observers in the southern hemisphere. Any way you say it, this beautiful shell of interstellar gas and dust is forming an estimated 35 stars which are embedded deep in the nebulosity and not readily resolved. The very young stars are causing the region to glow.

With wide angle binoculars, you can hunt down numerous interstellar clouds that appear dark by blocking starlight. You will need dark skies and a very clear south. One good star chart for locating these dark objects is the old Skalnate Pleso sky charts which I have owned since the 1970’s. Even in our hi-tech world, you still can’t replace the old faithful star charts.

Let’s take a few moments and hop over to Scorpius. The orangey coloured star called Antares is listed at magnitude 1.1 and is the 13th brightest star in the sky. At a distance of about 600 ly, this supergiant star that is so large, if we replaced it with the Sun its boundaries would end somewhere between the asteroid belt and mighty Jupiter.

Moving one and a quarter degrees to the west of Antares is M4, a magnitude 5.6 globular cluster. This loose cluster by nature is estimated to be 7,200 ly from us and close to 75 ly wide. It takes up a little more that the area of the full Moon and contains 43 known variable stars. Ptolemy’s cluster (M7) is large, scattered and shines at magnitude 3.8 and is less than 1,000 ly away. This open cluster is bright enough to reflect off a calm lake. What a sight in any optical instrument.

Move up half way to the Scorpion’s top claw to locate M80. This is one of the densest globulars in the sky. Large scopes are needed to resolve stars to the center. This 8th magnitude cluster has a diameter of around 90 ly and is estimated to be some 36,000 ly from us. It is pretty rare to hear of a nova in a globular cluster but this was the case in 1860.

Higher up along the Milky Way is one of the prettiest open clusters buried in the Scutum Star Cloud. Commonly known as the Wild Duck cluster, M11 contains and estimated 500 stars brighter than 14 magnitude. Looking at this object in a telescope, you will see a bright star close to the middle of the cluster. This single sun is simply in the line of sight and not physically part of the cluster.

Venus is still high in the western sky and will form a nice conjunction on July 9 with the star Regulus. Venus is almost half lit and is spectacular in a telescope. Jupiter is very high in the sky and past the meridian. Every night will show a completely different orientation of the four main Galilean moons and in fact an elapsed hour will show subtle positional change. A complete timetable of Jupiter’s moons crossing the planet along with their shadows is found in the 2018 RASC Observer’s Handbook. Jupiter sets just after 2 a.m. at the beginning of the month. The moon will be about Jupiter on the 20th which also happens to be the 49th anniversary of humans setting foot on the moon. Saturn is past opposition and is above the southern horizon as the sky darkens.

The long awaited opposition of Mars occurs on July 27 with the closest approach on the 31st.  The planet rises around 11 p.m. on July 1 and by 9 p.m. at month’s end. At is brightest the red planet will even be brighter than Jupiter. Mars will be 57.6 million km from us at its closest compared to 56 million back in 2003. Although our two planets come close about every 26 months, it is the seventh opposition that we get very close. As luck would have it there is a global dust storm occurring on the red planet right now. This is hiding surface detail which would have been spectacular. A total lunar eclipse occurs on the 27th but will not be visible from North America.

This month’s new moon occurs on July 12 with the full moon on the 27.

Until next month, clear skies everyone.

Gary Boyle

Author: Gary BoyleeNews date: Sunday, July 1, 2018Category: Northern SkiesTweet::  Pages

The Sky This Month - June 2018

Bootes And Serpens

This month the constellation Bootes is highin the sky and just past the meridian. Its prominent star called Arcturus is 37 light years (ly) away and shines at zero magnitude. Simply follow the stars in the Big Dipper’s handle as it arcs down to Arcturus. This spectral class K0 supergiant shines 113 times brighter than our Sun measure 26 solar diameters across or one quarter the size of the orbit of Mercury.

Looking ten degrees north of Arcturus along the left side of the kite is the star Izar. Shining at second magnitude, this nice but difficult double star displays a pale yellow and light blue stars. They are separated by a mere 2.9 arc seconds thus requiring medium size optics to split. Independently these suns glow at magnitudes 2.7 and 5.1 respectively and are 209 ly away.

The only globular cluster within Bootes is NGC 5466. At 47,000 ly away, it is fairly dim and this magnitude 10.0 smudge will require at least a four inch telescope to begin resolving it. Do not forget to move your scope to the globular cluster M3 that is officially located 34,000 ly away in Canes Venatici.

So who is up for a challenge? For those who are, we have Arp 297. This faint group of four galaxies consisting of NGC 5752 at 14th magnitude, NGC 5753 at 15th, NGC 5755 at 15th and the largest and brightest member NGC 5754 at magnitude 13.8. Arp galaxies are basically, faint peculiar objects. Some of these shape and interactions are quite remarkable. The marker galaxy NGC 5754 is located a little east of the midpoint of the imaginary line between Nekkar and Seginus at the top of the kite.

Moving to Serpens, we find ourselves again in galaxy country. Starting from the head and NGC 5962, this 12th magnitude galaxy possesses many tight galactic arms and has a bright core. We then have the lovely globular cluster M5 – the Rose Cluster. At a distance of 25,000 light years, this magnitude 6.6 fuzzy ball may contain as many as 500,000 stars. A little north of M5 is the 12th magnitude face on galaxy NGC 5921.

The ringed planet Saturn will be at opposition on the 27th. It will rise at sunset and visible all night long. The planets Mars and Earth are still closing in on each other. Mars will be at its best on the last days of July but is already noticeably brightening. It rises at 1 a.m. local time and is magnitude -1.2 at the beginning of the month and will brighten to magnitude -2.2 on July 1 when it rises at 11 p.m. local time.

Summer solstice officially begins on June 21 at 10:27 UT. New moon (lunation 1181) occurs on the 15th and the full Strawberry Moon occurs on June 28 at 4:53 UT.

Until next month, clear skies everyone.

Gary Boyle

Twitter: @astroeducator

Author: Gary BoyleeNews date: Friday, June 1, 2018Category: Northern SkiesTweet::  Pages

2018 Elections Update


Craig Levine, our Society’s Past President, has advised that he will be ending his 3 year Director’s term 1 year early at the General Assembly in Calgary. Craig has served on the Board of Directors for 4 years now, including a term as President, after 6 busy years on National Council. On behalf of the Society and all of its Members, we wish Craig all the best and thank him for 10 years of service at the Society level of the RASC.

This leaves an additional 1 year Director’s term open, therefore all 4 Candidates standing for Director’s positions are acclaimed. Congratulations to all Candidates and thank you all in advance for your support and dedication to the RASC.

To read the candidate statements from the four elected candidates see 2018 Candidate Statements.

Robyn Foret

Vice President

Chair, Nominating Committee

Royal Astronomical Society of Canada


Author: Robyn ForeteNews date: Tuesday, May 15, 2018Category: AnnouncementseNews Tag: 2018 ElectionTweet::  Pages

Open House Highlights

Over 50 people attended the RASC Archive History Centre Open House on Saturday May 12.

Local Member of Parliament James Maloney attended and announced that the RASC would receive funding for two summer students this year. The students will carry our various administrative assignments to enhance fundraising and RASC Centre public outreach activities.

The new RASC Archive History Centre.

MP James Maloney (Etobicoke Lakeshore) addresses the visitors. RASC President Colin Haig and Executive Director Randy Attwood are on either side of Mr Maloney.

Visitors listen to the opening ceremonies.

Archivist Randall Rosenfeld describes various Society archival items to members. 

Assistant Observer's Handbook Editor Chris Malicki chats with Archivist Randall Rosenfeld and Finance Manager Renata Koziol


Author: Randy AttwoodeNews date: Monday, May 14, 2018Category: AnnouncementsTweet::  Pages

The Sky This Month - May 2018

A Time For Galaxies

The most abundant celestial objects to hunt are galaxies. Of the estimated two trillion galaxies that make up the known universe, the average telescope has the ability to see only a small tiny of this number. The New General Catalogue (NGC) contains 7,840 objects with more that 80% being galaxies. Mind you, the catalogue encompasses both north and south hemispheres.

The Virgo cluster of galaxies is a close group of galaxies that is very impressive when viewing through the eyepiece. First locate the star Denebola – the end star of the Leo the Lion. Proceed to move about eleven degrees east and a bit south until you arrive at the coordinates; right ascension (RA) 12 hours 28 minutes and declination (Dec) +12 degrees 13 minutes.

Your telescope is now at the somewhat heart of the vast swarm of a hundred or so remote galaxies down to 14th magnitude. From here you will be galaxy hopping to these faint objects. The challenge of sky conditions and your telescope is to see how faint a galaxy you can discern.

One of my favourite regions of the Virgo cluster is the pair of M84 and 86 that form the right most end of Markarian’s Chain of galaxies. They are listed at magnitudes 9.2 and 8.7 respectively with M86 being 50% larger than our Milky Way Galaxy. Both are about 55 million light years away. Just as the name suggests, it is a line of eight galaxies stretching from NGC 4458 and ending at M84. This cosmic lineup takes up one and a half degrees of sky or three full moons placed side by side. Other smaller galaxies dot the area below the Chain.

Moving back west about a quarter of the way to Denebola and a bit north you will come across M99 which lies across the border in Coma Berenices. This 60 million light year object is a magnitude 9.7 face-on spiral galaxy with extended arms. This galaxy has seen three supernovas back in 1967, 1972 and 1986.

For a change of pace from galaxies, follow Comet PanSTARRS (C/2016 M1) as it move south towards Sagittarius. Currently at magnitude 10.5, we should have a couple of months to observe and photograph it. 

The planet Venus continues it steady climb higher each night as it has passed between the Pleiades and Hyades cluster. The planet is still well positioned for a photo opportunity with the two clusters. In the south east, Jupiter rises at sunset and is at opposition on May 9 and the closest to Earth. This is the best time to observe and image the subtle detail of its cloud tops and or course the four Galilean moons. For crisp images, just wait a few hours for the planet to climb higher in the sky as the night progresses.

Saturn and Mars rise about four and five hours respectively after Jupiter with Mars starting to put on its great show till the end of July. Over the past month, Mars has been gaining in brightness from magnitude +0.4 to -0.2. Keep taking note of its ever changing movement and brightness. New Moon occurs on May 15 with the full Frog Croaking Moon on May 29.

Until next month, clear skies everyone.

Gary Boyle

Author: Gary BoyleeNews date: Tuesday, May 1, 2018Category: Northern SkiesTweet::  Pages

New Archive History Centre Open House

RASC Archive Open House: Join Us!

Who? RASC Members and their guests.

When? Saturday May 12, 2018

Where? 4920 Dundas St W, Unit 203

Time? 1:00pm to 4:00pm

Note: Guests are welcome to drop-in and stay for any length of time!


2018 marks 150 years of lasting organized astronomy in Canada, and that story is pre-eminently the story of the RASC. Join us on the afternoon of May 12th for an open house launching the official opening of our new Archives space! This invitation is extended to all RASC members, and their guests. The refurbished Archives facility is a RASC sesquicentennial project, providing improved storage, display, and consultation space for the RASC’s material heritage, and a congenial location for select meetings and programming, in a setting richly evocative of our history. The fabric of our history is a resource the entire Society can draw on as we build our future. 

If you’ve ever wondered if any of the telescopes in the iconic earliest RASC star-party images survived, or ever wanted to hear the probable sound of Galileo’s clock mechanism, or look at documents from our earliest years, or peer at Voltaire’s contribution to the Newton wars, or discover which famous astronomers left their mark in our archives and books, come to the open house! The history of the RASC is your history.

The event runs from 1 to 4 PM, with the official program commencing at 1:30. The National President will welcome everyone, James Maloney MP for Etobicoke—Lakeshore will bring greetings on behalf of the Government of Canada, CASCA President Roberto Abraham will be on hand, the Executive Director will speak on programs and the RASC, and the Archivist will introduce some of our artifacts. Light refreshments will be served.


*Open House Agenda*

  • space opens for guests at 1 PM
  • 1:30-1:35 National President Colin Haig welcomes guests
  • 1:35-1:40 MP James Maloney conveys greetings on behalf of the Government of Canada
  • 1:40-1:45 CASCA President Prof. Roberto Abraham represents CASCA, and himself as a professional and amateur astronomer, and long-time RASC member
  • 1:45-1:55 Executive Director Randy Attwood talks about the uses of the space, and future programming
  • 1:55-2:15 Archivist briefly address the place of the RASC’s history in the cultural fabric of the country, and introduces a few of the artifacts on display
  • 2:30-2:35 Raffle draw – 150th prize package
  • 2:35 – 4:00 Various RASC artifacts available for viewing

Note: speaker timings are approximate

Author: Randy AttwoodeNews date: Wednesday, May 2, 2018Category: AnnouncementsTweet::  Pages