In Transit – June 2016

RASC Vancouver President, Suzanna Nagy, revived the “In Transit” presentation at the June 2016 member’ monthly meeting.  “In Transit” is a short presentation of interesting astronomical events that are visible in the current sky.

Three Bright Planets

Three planets – Jupiter, Mars, and Saturn – are bright in the evening sky throughout June 2016.




TROTTIER OBSERVATORY – NEW PLANETARY CAMERA May 27 – Oleg Mazurenko and Howard Trottier


Mikhail Chubaret in the Ukraine made this chart. It shows the view of Mars through a telescope in 2016. We pass between Mars and the Sun on May 22. We won’t see Mars as a disk like this with the eye alone. But between the start of 2016 and May, the dot of light that is Mars grows dramatically brighter and redder in our night sky. Watch for it.

The Sun is Getting Less Active



Spotless Days
Current Stretch: 4 days
2016 total: 4 days (1%)
2015 total: 0 days (0%)
2014 total: 1 day (<1%)
2013 total: 0 days (0%)
2012 total: 0 days (0%)
2011 total: 2 days (<1%)
2010 total: 51 days (14%)
2009 total: 260 days (71%)
Updated 10 Jun 2016




Open Star Cluster NGC 457

The open star cluster NGC457 is located in Casseopia and has an interesting shape.




An owl …


or ET!


Mars Close to Opposition

Mars will be well placed for observing this long weekend as it will be at opposition on Sunday, May 22 at 04:10 PDT.   Opposition occurs when the Sun and Mars are on exact opposites sides of the Earth.  Mars is fully illuminated by the sun during an opposition and briefly rivals Jupiter in brightness during this year’s opposition.  Mars reaches opposition every 26 months so the next one is not until 2018. Mars will be relatively large during this opposition, with an apparent diameter of 18.6 arc-seconds, because it is making its closest approach to Earth in 11 years a few days later on May 30th.

Mars is the only planet that reveals much of its surface features. Even a small 100mm telescope will show features such as dark shadings and the bright polar caps.   Look towards the south around midnight – Mars will be the bright star-like object in the sky.    But observing from Vancouver poses some challenges: Mars will appear no higher than 20 degrees above the horizon so the views may be blurred by turbulence in the atmosphere, and the weather forecast is predicting cloudy skies for the next few nights. Nevertheless,  Mars will remain well positioned for observing for a few weeks after opposition so there is time to wait and hope for nights with clear skies and steady seeing.

Mars Close To Opposition

Image from May 13th, 2016 using a Skywatcher ED100 Pro refractor, a ZWO ASI 224 camera and Antares 3X Barlow.

NASA released a beautiful hi-res view of Mars taken by the Hubble Telescope.

Check out the the Guide to Observing Mars  from SkyNews magazine.


Lunar Eclipse December 10, 2011

These pictures were taken from inside my office through a double-paned window. All, except the first two were taken through breaks in the clouds. The second picture shows the incoming clouds. The last picture was obtained just before the clouds covered everything for the remainder of the eclipse. The 5th and the 7th (last) pictures show the star iota Tauri below the Moon. The detailed description of the pictures can be seen here:

Spring is Galaxy Season!

Spring is when the galaxies in Leo and Virgo are at their best.

I bought a 15″ scope in 2008, partly so I could see more objects through the city skyglow, but also to give me better views of things like the galaxies in the Virgo cluster.  Yet somehow, weather and events had conspired to keep me from seeing them in 2009 and 2010.  This spring, I was bound and determined to finally hunt down Markarian’s Chain, the Leo triplet, etc with my no longer quite so new scope.  Until last night, I thought I might be stymied for another season.

I had my scope out on the front lawn on the one clearish night we got in mid-March, but between the haze, the city lights and the rising just past full moon, I could just barely make out M66.  After poring over charts to make sure I was in the right area, I eventually managed to convince myself that I could see the smudge of M65 where it was supposed to be.  It felt like an accomplishment to have found them, but wasn’t very satisfying viewing.

So I was quite excited when the clear sky clock promised decent viewing for yesterday evening.  I decided to drag my scope out to Boundary Bay to take advantage of the darker skies.  The drive there was a bit daunting.  I could see two rainstorms over Vancouver Island, a giant cumulus cloud over toward Maple Ridge and a wall of high haze well up the southern sky.  I feared a repeat of my mid-March near washout, but decided I would set up anyway.  I’m glad that I did.

I set up at the south end of 72nd Street.  The last strollers on the dike startled a heron, a small raptor and a few ducks as they returned to their car and drove away.  I nervously watched the rainstorms over Vancouver Island as I set up and collimated my scope, but they didn’t seem to be coming nearer.  The haze to the south started to clear.

While waiting for full dark, I turned my scope on the crescent moon.  The edges of the sunlit craters were highlighted in sharp relief by the slanting light of the lunar dawn.  The earthshine was bright enough that I could make out Tycho, Copernicus, Aristarchus, their rays and all of the lunar maria.  It was worth setting up the scope just for that.

Next up was Orion.  I used the middle star of his belt to align my telrad, then shifted my view to the nebula.  Even though it was not yet full dark, I could see lots of detail in the dark filaments that give the nebula such a rich texture.  I took a quick peek at Sirius, but the seeing down low wasn’t good enough to let me glimpse its companion.

Finally, it was time to start my galaxy hunt.  I began by returning to M65 and M66, since my March hunt had taught me where to find them near Chertan in Leo’s hind leg.  This time it took me less than a minute to get them in the scope.  Both M65 and M66 were clearly visible, with NGC3628 also easy to spot nearby.  A quick hunt also brought me to NGC3593, a nice edge-on spiral.

I was so excited by how quickly I found these little treasures that I didn’t take time to enjoy them.  I wanted more!  The hunt slowed down as I started looking for things I hadn’t found before.  With the glow and haze of Vancouver skies, there aren’t too many naked-eye landmarks near M95, M96 and M105.  After some poking around and three or four consultations of my Collins Atlas of the Night Sky, I decided that although I love my 13mm Ethos eyepiece, it might not be the right tool for the job.  I switched to the wider field 24mm Panoptic and almost immediately stumbled on M105.  One of the nearby NGCs, 3384 or 3389, I’m not sure which, was quite obvious while the other was invisible.  That had me wondering whether I was in the right place, but once I spotted M95 and M96 there wasn’t much doubt.  From there it was a short hop up to the star 52 Leonis which makes a nice triangle with galaxies NGC3367 and 3377.  Still, I was on a hunt, so once I found them, I didn’t linger.  It was now full dark and Virgo had risen a bit higher above the murk, so I set off for the wonders of the Virgo galaxy cluster.

I seem to be a bit slow at learning the sky and I often get confused about how the charts map to what I’m looking at.  I spent about half an hour trying to find M84 and M86, which are supposed to be bright and easy to locate halfway between bright Denebola in Leo’s tail and fainter Vindemiatrix in Virgo.  There are so many galaxies nearby, it should have been almost impossible not to stumble across at least one of them as I pushed the scope back and forth.  Eventually I realized that the star which I had thought was Vindemiatrix was actually Omicron Virginis.  Oops.  I had been searching one of the few patches of sky in the area that didn’t contain any bright galaxies.

Looking at the right patch of sky brought immediate rewards.  M84 and M86 were visible as fuzzy patches almost immediately.  I could just make out the “Eyes”, NGCs 4435 and 4438 which are the next link in Markarian’s Chain of galaxies.  I spent the next hour or so making my way through the neighbourhood, spotting lots of galaxies and trying to identify them.  Truth be told, there were often big differences between what I could see through my scope and what I expected based on the charts.  Many of the dozen or so galaxies I found were probably different objects than what I was trying to find.  Still, the stars around M87 are distinctive enough that I can be confident I saw it.

I hope to go out again tonight if it’s clear.  Maybe I’ll be able to tear myself away from the galaxies long enough to look at Saturn this time.

Clear skies!


Frost Pillar

This is a photo of a frost pillar taken above Grouse Mt. It is caused by ice crystal of a flat hexagonal form acting like an array of tiny mirrors above the light. There was one shown on the Weather Channel, but their explanation left something to be desired.

Ongoing Event: SFU Astronomy Workshops for Grade-School Students

Simon Fraser University (SFU) will host astronomy workshops for grade-school students, to be held at SFU
and at schools throughout the BC Lower Mainland. Schools which attend these workshops will receive (at no-charge) a set of basic but high-quality refractor telescopes, and SFU staff will provide students and teachers with the training that is crucial to ensuring a positive first experience with a personal telescope. (First-come, first-served,
while supplies last! See below for details on the telescope to be donated.) At our daytime workshops, to be held during school hours, students will learn how to point and focus these telescopes using terrestrial objects, and will be engaged in an interactive multi-media presentation on the stars, planets, and other celestial objects currently in the
night sky. Students will receive and learn how to use a star wheel and “Sidewalk Astronomy” booklet provided by the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada (RASC). In addition, we will host evening “star parties” at SFU and at various community locations, in collaboration with volunteers from the Vancouver Centre of the RASC. Students
who attend our daytime workshops will be invited to these star parties with their teachers and families, where they can use their school’s new telescopes under the guidance of our experienced staff. Our star parties will also be open to the general public, and our guests will get to look through high-end amateur telescopes that will be operated by
staff from SFU and the Vancouver RASC. SFU and its funding partners will donate 10-15 telescopes to each school that attends a workshop (first-come, first-served, while supplies last!). These are basic but high-quality telescopes with a 50mm objective lens, and which come with a finderscope, tripod, and two eyepieces. Teachers will be asked
to be responsible for loaning the telescopes that are donated to their schools to their students, after they complete our workshop, for use either on their own, or at one of our evening star parties.

For more information, please visit

NOVA Newsletter: Mount Kobau 2008 Star Party Report, etc.

NOVA is the RASC Vancouver Centre bimonthly newsletter.

From the  current edition:

Mt. Kobau Star Party Report 2008

“…. Tuesday night was a wonderful night with the Milky Way bright and visible from horizon to horizon. Pomponia’s 12-inch dob and Ron Jerome’s 16-inch were having a great time finding faint fuzzies with M82 being especially entertaining. ….”

Previous editions are available in the archives.