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SkyNews July - August 2018

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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my martian chronicles

SOME OF MY FONDEST astronomical memories are of the red planet. The Mars of Giovanni Schia parelli and Percival Lowell was the one that excited my youthful imagination. The idea that primitive plant life existed on Mars’ parched, dusty surface seemed entirely plausible—indeed, probable. And who knew what may have existed in the remote past? Perhaps there never were Martians like those described by H.G. Wells or Ray Bradbury, but still… what if? When you’re 10 years old, lots of things are possible. I have to admit, though, I grew up in a bit of a time warp. My small town’s library stocked books that weren’t always of the most recent vintage, and much of what I learned about the solar system came from volumes published in the 1950s or earlier.…

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EXTREME ASTRONOMY You probably don’t think of astronomy as an extreme sport, but a bimarathon is just that. It involves running a marathon (42.2 kilometres) and observing at least 110 deep-sky objects (like a regular Messier marathon) —all in a single sunset-to-sunrise span. The idea is to encourage some of the zillions of people who run regular marathons to give amateur astronomy a try. Even if only a tiny fraction of marathoners attempt the astro version, the result will be a significant boost in the number of stargazers. I ran my first bimarathon in Hawaii, where I observed all the Messier objects (well, 109 of them, actually, since I feel it necessary to include the aptly named Running Man Nebula in the 110-object total). I recently completed my second bimarathon in the Australian…

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sky news briefs

AN AGE-OLD RING MYSTERY SOLVED? DURING ITS 13 YEARS orbiting Saturn, the Cassini spacecraft accumulated a wealth of data that may have answered a question that has long puzzled astronomers: How old are Saturn’s rings? In their search for a solution, researchers pursued two lines of inquiry. The first relates to ring brightness. Over time, infalling micrometeorites from the edge of the solar system darken the water-ice particles in Saturn’s rings. As a result, bright rings imply youth. The second approach focuses on the mass of the rings. It was only during the birth of the solar system that a sufficient quantity of comets, planetesimals and other debris was available to create massive Saturnian rings. Therefore, greater mass implies greater age. Cassini’s Cosmic Dust Analyzer spent 12 years measuring the infall of tiny…

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a red, white and cold world

ISAAC SMITH STILL REMEMBERS THE EXCITEMENT he felt in 2008 when the Phoenix Mars Lander scraped away at the ground with a robotic scoop and revealed a hard, white floor of ice covered by mere centimetres of brick-red soil. “It was so close to the surface and so pure, you could imagine going there with a bucket and a shovel to get what you need,” says Smith, a researcher with the Planetary Science Institute in Lakewood, Colorado. A decade ago, he was just beginning graduate school and was soon put to work analyzing data from the Phoenix lander. SOLID SIGNS OF WATER While all other successful missions to the surface of Mars, including NASA’s Curiosity rover, have focused on hunting for clues about the red planet’s wetter and possibly warmer early history, Phoenix…

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martian sights on summer nights

MARS HAS A SPECIAL PLACE IN MY HEART. Thanks to our extensive robotic exploration of that cold desert world, I can picture a long-ago era when volcanoes erupted, rivers and lakes brimmed with water and possibly life itself flourished. And Mars excites me as a telescopic sight. For a few months every other year, Mars lines up opposite the Sun in our sky and its distance from Earth decreases significantly. I always look forward to these opposition years. Sadly, though, not all oppositions are created equal. Because of Mars’ eccentric orbit, the approaches vary from 55 million kilometres to 102 million kilometres over a roughly 15-year cycle. During our adult lives, the famous red planet comes really close only four or five times. This is one of them. BEACON IN THE SOUTH On…

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what’s on mars tonight?

July 1 Sinus Meridiani on meridian; Syrtis Major rotating off July 6 Syrtis Major near meridian; Sinus Meridiani rotating on July 11 Hellas near meridian; Mare Cimmerium rotating off July 16 Mare Cimmerium on meridian; Syrtis Major rotating on July 21 Mare Sirenum on meridian; Mare Cimmerium rotating on July 26 Mare Sirenum rotating on; Solis Lacus rotating off July 31 Solis Lacus on meridian; Mare Erythraeum rotating off Aug. 5 Mare Erythraeum on meridian; Solis Lacus rotating on Aug. 10 Sinus Meridiani on meridian; Syrtis Major rotating off Aug. 15 Syrtis Major near meridian; Sinus Meridiani rotating on Aug. 20 Hellas and Syrtis Major near meridian Aug. 25 Mare Cimmerium near meridian; Syrtis Major rotating on Aug. 30 Mare Cimmerium near meridian; Mare Sirenum rotating off…