Looking Forward – And Up – For 2017!

There are a lot of exciting things happening in 2017. Many are covered in detail on large astronomy web sites like Sea and Sky: http://www.seasky.org/astronomy/astronomy-calendar-2017.html

Here are just a few highlights to consider.

11 February 2017 – Lunar Eclipse

Following on from the full moon earlier on the same day, the moon will pass into the edge of the Earth’s shadow for a “penumbral lunar eclipse.” We should be in a great position to see the moon darkening in Ontario.  Here’s a link to a NASA PDF on the event: https://eclipse.gsfc.nasa.gov/LEplot/LEplot2001/LE2017Feb11N.pdf

1 April 2017 – Mercury at Greatest Eastern Elongation

The tiny planet Mercury will be visible in the evening sky in early spring; on 1 April it reaches its greatest eastern elongation, and will be visible in the evening sky at sunset.

7 April 2017 – Jupiter at Opposition

On 7 April the Earth will pass directly between Jupiter and the sun. The planet will be very bright in the night sky, rising at sunset. Even a small telescope should reveal the four Galilean moons of our solar system’s largest planet.

15 June 2017 – Saturn at Opposition

In mid-June Saturn and its magnificent rings will be as bright as possible this year. Like Jupiter in April, at opposition the Earth lies directly between Saturn and the sun. Rising at sunset, the planet will appear as a fully-illuminated disk through a modest telescope, nestled within its amazing rings.


Saturn will be worth watching in 2017 on another front. The Cassini mission is drawing to a close. Throughout the year, NASA mission controllers are swinging the wonderful car-sized spacecraft through Saturn’s rings for the first time, willing to take risks at the tail end of the voyage. Launched 20 years ago (1997), Cassini reached Saturn in 2004 and has been performing nearly flawlessly ever since. Later in 2017 the mission will be brought to an end and the spacecraft will be plunged into Saturn itself, a fiery demise to ensure that the environments of Titan and the other moons of Saturn are not contaminated. The feature image on this post is an artist’s rendering of Cassini and its attached Huygens probe undergoing the orbital insertion maneuver over Saturn in 2004 (Public Domain image; source NASA: http://photojournal.jpl.nasa.gov/catalog/PIA03883).

21 August 2017 – The Great Eclipse

Perhaps one of the big events in 2017 will be the “Great Eclipse” – a total solar eclipse that will cross the continental United States from west to east coasts. On Monday 21 August 2017 the moon will pass directly between the Earth and the Sun, casting a vast circular shadow and giving millions of people a chance to see a true natural spectacle. Totality will pass through states like Kentucky and Tennessee, but from Ontario we will still see a great partial eclipse in the afternoon. Here’s NASA’s posting for eclipse information: http://eclipse.gsfc.nasa.gov/SEplot/SEplot2001/SE2017Aug21T.GIF

13 November 2017 – Close Conjunction of Venus and Jupiter

Just before sunrise Venus and Jupiter will be very close to each other in the sky – just 0.3 degrees apart, or less than the diameter of the full moon.

I hope you can get out and enjoy these and other exciting sky events in 2017! As we get closer to each I will post additional information on viewing – and when possible taking pictures of – these events.


A New Year, a New Night-Time Photography Class!

I’m happy to report that Royal Botanical Gardens has asked me to lead another Night-Time Photography class! If we get sufficient response, we’ll start at 7 PM on the evening of Thursday 26 January 2017, at RBG’s Nature Interpretive Centre. The class will run for a total of four sessions, weekly.

The class will be a hands-on opportunity to take photos at night, with an emphasis on capturing beautiful images of the sky. We’ll cover equipment, celestial objects, post-photography processing, and more. This isn’t an astronomy class per se, but we will talk a bit about astronomy. By the end of the course I am hoping everyone will feel confident going out at night with their cameras and experimenting with capturing beautiful images.

We’ll try to end each two hour classroom experience with a quick dash outside to see be seen. Guidance will also be given on photo opportunities taking place between classes.

RBG’s public program calendar is available on-line at: http://www.rbg.ca/files/pdf/education/publicPrograms/RBGexperiences1116.pdf

You can register on-line for any of the RBG programs at: https://tickets.rbg.ca/PEO/

To find the Night-Time Photography course, just click 26 January 2017 on the calendar on the web site. Registration is limited to 20.

If you are planning to take the course, please contact me ahead of time for more information. It’s recommended that participants bring their digital cameras and tripods to the first class. Digital cameras should be able to be operated completely manually. A wide-angle lens is best for this sort of photography. Tripods should be very sturdy. I can make recommendations if anyone has any questions.



Working On The Details

The perigee moon of November 2016 once again found me out with a camera. I took frames to make this image at Spencer Smith Park in Burlington, Ontario. 

I was very pleased that SkyNews Magazine selected this as their Image of the Week coming out of the Perigee Moon event. 

In the coming days I intend to post a detailed “how this was done” column. 

Hail and Farewell Geoff Gaherty

Astronomy in Canada has lost one of its most interesting voices. Dr. Geoff Gaherty, of Coldwater, Ontario, passed away on Thursday 7 July 2016 of complications following surgery.

I’d known Geoff since about 1992. During my post-doctoral work at the University of Kent at Canterbury, England, I was invited to come to Canada and consider taking up the post of Executive Director and Curator of the Centre for Endangered Reptiles. This was a non-profit conservation breeding and research centre founded by Geoff. He was a many of many interests. In my time with the CER from 1993 to 1995, he was always helpful, interested, and a lot of fun to talk to. A true gentleman with a lot of interests and skills.

As an amateur astronomer Geoff was extremely active in the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada. He wrote for the highly-regarded RASC Observer’s Handbook, and he maintained his own blog and social media outlets for information for astronomers.

I’m very saddened by Geoff’s passing and wish the very best to his wife Louise and son David. Ad Astra, my friend.

Spotting Pluto From Down Here

As NASA’s New Horizons speeds through the Pluto system this July, it’s tempting to take a look into the sky from earth and think of what’s unfolding billions of kilometers away. The question is, where can you turn your gaze from earth and at least be pointing in the approximate direction?

Pluto is so far from earth that it does not change its position in the sky very quickly. At the present time (writing on 13 July 2015), Pluto is in the general area of the constellation Sagittarius. It’s not far from a famous asterism, the Teapot, that lies just off of the main band of the Milky Way.

Pluto highest altaz cropped labelled

The attached image was created by making a screen capture from Stellarium, set for the location of Hamilton, Ontaro, Canada, at the time when Pluto is highest above the horizon on the day following the close encounter on the 14th of July. This turns out to be at about 1 PM DST on the morning of Tuesday 15 July 2015. At that moment Pluto will be about due south and 25 degrees above the horizon.

From Hamilton, Ontario, on the day of the close encounter, Pluto will be rising at about 8 PM and will set the next day (the 15th) at about 5 AM. It’s extremely faint, of course. It will be extincted to a magnitude of about 14.5 on the 15th at its highest elevation.

The weather forecast for the 14th for the Hamilton area is for cloud and rain. In order to try to get a memento image, I have programmed one of the Sierra Stars Observatory Network telescopes to try to photograph the dwarf planet.

Happy Birthday Carl Sagan

Carl Sagan was a towering figure in science. He was born on November 9, 1934, in Brooklyn, New York, and died following a long battle with cancer on December 20, 1996, in Seattle, Washington. In between, in just 62 years, he reshaped public understanding of physics, astronomy, and space exploration. More than this, he was a leader in exploration and discovery, involved in many of the scientific teams behind truly ground-breaking space missions in the 1960s and 1970s, including the Apollo moon landings and the Viking missions to Mars.

I first started to encounter Carl Sagan as a popularizer of science while an undergraduate at University of Guelph, and wrote a couple of columns mentioning him for The Ontarion, the university’s newspaper, in the early 1980s. I briefly thought of pursuing grad work on exobiology but ended up continuing along with evolutionary ecology instead, at Guelph for a few more years. His influences are still all around us.

Visit the Carl Sagan Portal to experience a little of this amazing gentleman’s life and contributions: http://www.carlsagan.com/

Planning my 2015 Calendar

It’s still just in the concept stage, but I’m thinking of producing a calendar form 2015 of photos of the moon that I’ve taken over the past several years. Other things would be in there too. I’ve done my own calendars of other photographic subjects in 2012 and 2013, and in 2014 two of my photos were selected for inclusion in the Hamilton Amateur Astronomer’s calendar. I think I have enough material for an interesting moon calendar this year! Here’s a concept for the cover.



Copyright © 2014 David Allan Galbraith