Northern Skies

The Sky This Month - December 2022

The Mars Show

Ever since the early telescopic observations made by the Italian astronomer Giovanni Schiaparelli in 1877 when Mars was in opposition at 56-million-kilometres away, he is said to have seen “canali” or canals on Mars. Seeing these features gave the impression of a possible civilization. Since then the red planet has been the focus of the search for ancient life and is also the base of science fiction writers and movie makers.

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The Sky This Month - November 2022

Last Total Lunar Eclipse Until 2025

With memories of the last total lunar eclipse back in May still fresh in our minds, the Sun, Earth and Moon are once again lining up for a spectacular celestial show. In the early morning hours of November 8, we will once again have the chance to see magic in the sky with another total eclipse.

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The Sky This Month - August 2022

The Perseid Meteor Shower

As we look forward to August nights, the Milky Way is nicely placed, high on the meridian. As dusk transforms the bluish sky to black, the stars Vega and Arcturus are the first to announce themselves. About an hour the familiar “teapot” outlining the constellation Sagittarius is found in the southern portion of the sky.

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The Sky This Month - May 2022

Total Lunar Eclipse

On the night of May 15/16, North America will witness a wonderful cosmic lineup. Occurring twice and sometimes three times each year, the sun, earth and moon geometrically align to produce either a solar or lunar eclipse. This does not happen each month as the moon orbits earth on a slight tilt of five degrees. Some months the full moon will be positioned above or below the cone of darkness projected by the earth’s shadow.

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The Sky This Month - March, 2022

The Messier Marathon

Charles Messier (1730 – 1817) was one of the most prolific comet hunters of his time. Over his career, he used a 100 mm telescope and discovered 13 new comets, and co-discovered seven more. During many observing sessions, he would come across objects that were not comets such as nebulae, star clusters, and galaxies which he plotted on his star charts. With the collaboration of Pierre Mechain, the first version of the Messier catalogue contained only 45 entries. Other revisions saw more entries for a total of 110 objects we see today. From this list, 76 objects are bright enough (some challenging) to be seen in a pair of 10 X 50 binoculars from a dark sight on a moonless night.

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The Sky This Month - February 2022

The Flaming Star Nebula

For most of Canada, winter has been extra brutal this year. However, for those who insist on challenging the cold, February nights will not disappoint. Perched high in the night sky is the constellation Auriga the Charioteer. Its bright beacon – Capella shines a tad brighter than zero magnitude. Auriga is home to eleven exoplanets which can be found with a six-inch reflecting telescope.

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The Sky This Month - December 2021

Comet Leonard And The Geminids

If predictions hold, Comet C/2021 A1 (Leonard) should be a great target to view and image this month. It was discovered on January 3, 2021, by Gregory Leonard. The comet will be located close to the globular cluster M3 low in the east in the early morning hours of December 3. The fast-moving comet will be closest to the earth on December 13 at a distance of 34 million kilometres. Comet Leonard will be positioned south of the planet Venus low in the southwest on December 18. This will make a great photo op.

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The Sky This Month - November 2021

Here Comes The Lunar Eclipse

Nothing is more magical than viewing a lunar eclipse. A few times each year, the full moon steps into the earth’s shadow for a few hours, leaving us with lasting memories. Such an eclipse will take place on the night of Nov 18/19 with the Full Beaver Moon. This one will be extra special and appear very close to a total eclipse. Because of the geometry, the moon will be in the larger shadow of the earth except for a mere three percent, leaving the edge in sunlight. A lunar eclipse is very safe to enjoy.

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The Sky This Month - August 2021

Gas Giants and The Perseids

One of the best meteor showers is now underway. The Perseids runs from July 17 to August 24. According to Ottawa Centre’s Pierre Martin, “the peak of the Perseids producing about 90 meteors per hour will occur late afternoon on the 12th. Therefore the nights of Aug 11/12, as well as the 12/13, should reward you with 50 to 60 or more meteors per hour striking the atmosphere at 59 km/sec”. Pierre also says “a higher number of bright fireballs may be seen on nights before the peak rather than nights after”. Moonlight will not be a factor this year with the new moon on August 8. By contrast, next year’s Perseids takes place under a full moon, drastically reducing the hourly rate. This year's full Sturgeon Moon takes place on August 22.

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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.

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