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This Week’s Sky: August 31 – September 7

The Moon visits the Hyades and greets Aldebaran.

Ron Brecher - M11

This fine view of the Wild Duck Cluster (M11) was captured by Ontario imager Ron Brecher. The cluster is a prime target for evening viewing.

All Week

East, 1hr before sunrise

The view facing east, 1 hour before sunrise.

Saturn continues to hang in as the evening sky’s single planet of note. Shining at 0.5-magnitude, it’s still some 18 degrees above the south-southwest horizon an hour after sunset and sets at 11 p.m., local daylight time. The morning sky is where the rest of the planetary action is taking place. Both Mars and Venus now rise before astronomical dawn. The 1.8-magnitude red planet rises in the east at 4:30 and its brilliant, –4.4-magnitude neighbour clears the horizon 15 minutes later. Both planets currently reside in the constellation Cancer.

August 31

Neptune finderchart

Neptune is found in Aquarius. The highlighted circle represents the field of view in 10×50 binoculars.

Tonight Neptune reaches opposition at 11:38 p.m., EDT, and is visible all night.

September 3

Today Mercury has its greatest evening elongation (27 degrees), but this is a poor apparition, so you’ll need a clear western horizon and binoculars to have any chance at finding the 0.2-magnitude planet. Mercury will put on a much better show in the morning sky in October.

September 4/5

Aldebaran occultation - Halifax

The Moon just before it overtakes the star Aldebaran, as seen in 10×50 binoculars from Halifax, Nova Scotia.

Tonight is a busy one for the Moon. It visits the Hyades cluster in Taurus and, at 4:54 a.m. EDT, is at last quarter phase. For some parts of the country it also covers up Aldebaran, the brightest star in Taurus. More on that shortly. Most of us will simply get to see the Moon next to the stars of the Hyades — an enjoyable sight in binoculars or a small telescope used at low power. The best views will be from Eastern Canada. By the time the Moon rises on the West Coast, it will lie near the outer edge of the Hyades.

Observers from central Ontario east will get to see the Moon occult Aldebaran as the bright edge of the lunar disc overtakes the star. From Toronto this occurs at 12:04 a.m., EDT; from Montreal at 12:05 a.m., EDT; and from Halifax at 12:59 a.m., ADT. Depending on your location, the star reappears on the Moon’s dark limb roughly 35 minutes later. For more details, turn to page 32 of the September/October issue of SkyNews.

Weekend Stargazer

Seronik-M11 chart

Image courtesy Gary Seronik

On the September 4 – 6 weekend the Moon is absent from the evening sky, which means there’s some prime dark hours to be enjoyed. Overhead, the glowing band of the Milky Way stretches from horizon to horizon inviting exploration with a telescope or binoculars. One area that I find particularly eye-catching is the Scutum Star Cloud.

Scutum itself isn’t much of a constellation, which is why it’s easier to think of this region as the tail end of Aquila, the eagle. The Star Cloud is a conspicuous five-degree-wide blob of Milky Way that rewards careful inspection with binoculars. If your skies are free from light pollution, seek out some of the delicate strands of dark nebulosity that criss-cross the region.


Easily visible in binoculars, but even more impressive telescopically, M11 is 5,600 light-years distant — a lovely collection of stellar points, shown here as seen through an 8-inch Newtonian telescope. Sketch by John Karlsson

Situated near the Star Cloud’s northern edge lies one of the summer sky’s most striking sights: M11, the Wild Duck cluster. It’s an interesting binocular sight for sure, but the cluster really comes into its own in a telescope, which has the power to resolve M11 into individual stars. Leading the flock is a magnitude 8 star on the cluster’s southeast edge. Try different magnifications. M11 looks great at low power set in a rich star field, but it’s also pretty when you pile on the magnification and zoom in. Like many deep-sky targets, each view shows something a little different.

At SkyNews we love to read about your experiences and see your photos. You can share them with us by e-mailing dickinsonSkyNews@gmail.com.

Categories: This Week's Sky

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