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SkyNews January/February 2019

SkyNews, the magazine of astronomy and stargazing, features complete observing information, expert equipment reviews, star chart — everything beginners and intermediate amateur astronomers and astrophotographers need. Edited by astronomy author Terence Dickinson, published in Canada, writers include equipment guru Alan Dyer, comet hunter David Levy, wilderness astronomer Peter McMahon, Ken Hewitt-White, Gary Seronik, Ray Villard

Royal Astronomical Society of Canada
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desert island stargazer

AH, THE CURIOUSLY appealing prospect of being stranded on the proverbial desert island with only the necessary basics. As an avid stargazer, my list of “essentials” would naturally include a few astronomy supplies. I drifted into this topic one evening recently while thumbing through the 2019 edition of the royal astronomical society of Canada’s Observer’s Handbook. Each time i get my hands on a new edition, i marvel again at its usefulness. I thought that if i had to choose just a single reference, this would be it. And that led to my desert island daydreaming. what other astronomy goodies would rank as must-haves? The Observer’s Handbook is a first-rate compendium, but i think I’d like a couple of additional books. At the top of my list would be a star…

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sky news briefs

ROCK OF AGES THIS IS A GOLDEN AGE for asteroid exploration. in 2011, the dawn spacecraft spent more than a year orbiting Vesta, the largest member of the asteroid belt. In addition, a pair of sample-return missions are under way. The Japan aerospace exploration agency (JAXA) spacecraft Hayabusa2 is orbiting Ryugu (as reported on facing page), and NASA’S OSIRIS-REX is approaching Bennu, with orbital insertion scheduled for early December 2018. And preceding all these was the first Hayabusa mission. Despite myriad problems, Hayabusa managed to briefly touch down on the asteroid Itokawa in 2005, where it gathered 1,500 grains (yes, grains!) of material and returned them to earth in 2010. Those grains tell an interesting story. Many of the particles show signs of having slowly cooled after forming inside a rocky body…

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top 10 sky sights for 2019

EVERY YEAR features a parade of interesting and exciting sky events, and 2019 is no exception. First up is a total lunar eclipse; later, we’ll get our last opportunity for 13 years to track Mercury across the disc of the Sun. And although the year’s two big meteor showers (the Perseids and the Geminids) are hampered by moonlight, 2019 does offer a good assortment of conjunctions featuring the Moon and the brightest planets. CELESTIAL HIGHLIGHTS DATE: SUNDAY, JANUARY 20/21 TIME: EARLY TO LATE EVENING TYPE: ECLIPSE VIEW: NAKED EYE 1. TOTAL ECLIPSE OF THE MOON One of the year’s most impressive highlights comes early. On January 20, the Moon passes through the Earth’s shadow, producing a total lunar eclipse visible all across Canada. Turn to page 27 for our detailed coverage. This is the only eclipse of…

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the moon amongst moons

THEY SAY FAMILIARITY breeds contempt. Certainly, the Moon is familiar to all skywatchers, but is it also an object of contempt? I know quite a few deep-sky fanatics who’d rather not have to arrange their schedules around the Moon’s comings and goings! However, outside of a dedicated group of lunar observers, the Earth’s neighbour is generally taken for granted unless it’s involved in an eclipse of some kind, as it is on January 20 (described on pages 10 and 27). And that’s too bad—our planet’s only natural satellite is quite exceptional even when compared with other moons. A table of facts and figures found near the front of The Royal Astronomical Society of Canada’s annual Observer’s Handbook tells part of the story. Our Moon has a mean diameter of 3,475 kilometres—good…

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return to titan

IN 1847, BRITISH ASTRONOMER John Herschel decided that Saturn’s largest moon, discovered almost two centuries earlier, deserved a proper name. Herschel called it Titan, after the ancestral superbeings overthrown by the gods of Mount Olympus. When Elizabeth Turtle, a planetary scientist at the Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland, discusses Titan, she has another Greek myth in mind. It’s the story of Daedalus and Icarus, who escaped captivity on wings made of feathers and wax. Possessing one-seventh of the Earth’s gravity and four times its atmospheric density, Saturn’s monster moon is where such a scheme could actually work. “If you put big wings on a person,” says Turtle, “that person would be able to fly on Titan.” Flying on Titan is so easy that Turtle has been leading a plan to do…

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off-road in auriga

JOIN ME AS I AMBLE eastward from Auriga’s bright pentagon-shaped star pattern to a less well-known part of the constellation. My suggested star-hop, 15 degrees in length, features a couple of mini-pentagons visible in backyard telescopes. One of the five-sided asterisms boasts several double stars, while the other contains an often-overlooked cluster. Our journey begins at 2.6-magnitude Theta (θ) Aurigae, a binary star with strongly uneven, tightly spaced components. My 5-inch f/5 Newtonian reflector can’t reveal the 7.2-magnitude fleck only 4.2 arc seconds northwest of Theta, but my 10-inch f/6 Newtonian nets it at 169x. From Theta, we make a two-degree hop northeastward to fifth-magnitude 40 Aurigae, then head directly eastward for a half-dozen degrees to my first mini-pentagon, a ¾-degree-tall asterism that I’ve dubbed The House. The House’s “porchlight” is…