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.


2016 Astronomy Day @ SFU – May 7

If last year was any indication, the upcoming Astronomy Day and Science Rendezvous should be a busy one!

Things get underway at 11am and run until 3pm, with a list of activities that include:

  • Apollo rockets and Moon display
  • Jim Bernath and his hands-on science displays
  • Solar system displays, walk, and bean-bag toss
  • Three craft tables for children (alien figures, alien masks, and phases of the Moon with Oreo cookies)
  • Astronomy bingo
  • Solar telescopes (outside the Trottier Observatory, weather-permitting)
  • Planetary Society display
  • Vancouver Telescope display

Our featured lecture will be Hubble’s 25 Years Odyssey, presented by Ray Villard of the Space Telescope Science Institute. There will be a 2pm talk for kids and a 7:30pm talk for the general public. Registration is required. Please follow this link for details.

We will also have a series of talks throughout the day. The talks will be in room 3150 on the East Concourse of the Academic Quadrangle.

11:30 Stanley Greenspoon What’s New in the Search for Exoplanets and Extraterrestrial Life
12:30 Kenneth Lui What’s up in the Global Space Community
1:30 Ted Stroman The Creation and Formation of the Moon
2:30 Scott McGillivray It’s 2016 – Astronomy is More than Telescopes

The Trottier Observatory will also be open for tours throughout the afternoon.

Space Talk with Scott: November 8, 2015

Scott McGillivray from the Royal Astronomical Society talks about the latest discoveries in space. This week: NASA’s report on the loss of Mars’ atmosphere, Earth’s Aurora Borealis, SETI’s search for ‘Alien Mega Structures’.

Europe and Russia’s cooperation on a Lunar mission.

Additionally – a look at images submitted by viewers, and Howard Trottier’s first image from the SFU’s Trottier Observatory.

Space Talk with Scott: Asteroid headed for Earth

Scott McGillivray from the Royal Astronomical Society talks about the latest discoveries in space, including an asteroid named ‘Spooky’ that is flying right past the earth.

Extreme Tide September 28

For those of us who tend to be fascinated watching the tide flow in and then flow out again, Monday, September 28 holds a treat for us.  This September 28, one day after a full lunar eclipse, the Earth will experience the lowest and highest tides in 18.6 years.  We will not experience tides this extreme again until 2034.

The astronomical events that cause the tides work in various periodic cycles.  The Moon has the greatest influence on the tides, but it is not the only one.  The Sun also plays a role and when the two bodies work together it is called a spring tide (nothing to do with seasons) and when they work at 90 degrees to each other it is called a neap tide.  Let’s examine these cycles.

  • Spring tides are linked to the full and new Moons when the solar and lunar tides are aligned, on average every 14.77 days or half the synodic cycle.
  • The Sun’s influence on the Earth-Moon system results in an especially small lunar perigee when the major axis of the lunar orbit aligns with the Sun. This happens every 206 days.
  • Perigean Spring tides occur near the time of an equinox at 4.43 year intervals, half of the 8.85 year period of the turning of the major axis of the lunar orbit.
  • The plane of the lunar orbit is tilted 5 degrees to the ecliptic plane. The Sun’s gravity acting on the Moon causes the lunar orbit to wobble like a child’s top.  The period of the resulting retrograde precession of the lunar nodes relative to the equinox is 18.61 years.

All of these above mentioned mechanisms come to be on September 28 which will result in the extreme tide I mentioned at the beginning.  The best place to observe this is the Bay of Fundy where the tide will rise over 55 feet or 16.8 metres.  Our local tides will be noticeably higher than usual for observers like myself who like to watch the water come in and go out.  Others who might notice are dock workers.  Some of the older wharfs in the area might actually be submerged at the peak of the tide.

The tide charts for Vancouver predict the lowest tide is at aproximately 12:30 pm and the highest tide of the day will be at aproximately 6:40 pm.  Please check tide charts on the day as well as tide charts for your local spot as the geography of our coastline influences the timing of the tides.  For those of you stuck in office buildings on the 28th, take your binoculars and have a peek at the water front from time to time to watch the tide.

For lots more detailed information about the tides please refer to the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada’s Observer’s Handbook 2015.  Almost all the information above was taken from this book.

Leigh Cummings