What's That Star Called?

That's no star. That bright object low in the south-west just after sunset is the planet Venus. 

Looking to the west this month, you’ll see a bright object that looks like a star, but isn’t. It has been mistaken for a star, a UFO and has even been given permission to land. It’s Venus, currently taking a turn as the evening star.

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Venus is by far the brightest object in the night sky after the moon. Look towards the direction of sunset and you’ll see it there gleaming in the twilight. It currently sets about 2 hours after the Sun.

You may have heard Venus called “the evening star” or “the morning star”. It can appear in after sunset or before sunrise, depending on where the planet lies in its orbit around the Sun.

Like all planets, Venus shines by reflected light, like a giant mirror. And Venus is particularly reflective, covered with a blanket of cloud that bounces a lot of the light that hits it back into space. We say it has a high “albedo” or reflectivity.

Unfortunately for Venus, not all of the light that hits it bounces off. Some of it gets through the dense cloud and heats up the surface. Early surface temperature measurements on Venus surprised astronomers by being much hotter than expected, even though the planet is closer to the Sun.

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Scientists eventually realised that the same clouds that make Venus so beautiful and bright also create a deadly heat at its surface. The cloud layer forms a greenhouse-like blanket that keeps Venus at a steady 400 Celsius or about 900 Fahrenheit, warmer than most ovens will go.

Aphrodite, Ishtar and others are other names for this planet, evidence that many cultures associated beautiful Venus with love and fertility. The Mayans are famous for using Venus to mark time periods. When Venus appeared in the morning sky, it was associated with war.

     Kukulcan: A deity associated with the planet Venus in Mayan texts

Kukulcan: A deity associated with the planet Venus in Mayan texts

Venus is part of our modern storytelling too – as the place where scientists first honed the theory of greenhouse gases being able to warm a planet. When they are in balance, it can be a benefit. But too many greenhouse gases can create a “runaway” effect that can destroy a planet’s chances of harbouring life.

 

 

Partial Solar Eclipse observed at sunrise from Mississauga

Amateur astronomers in Mississauga and all along eastern North America were treated to a partial solar eclipse at sunrise on Sunday November 3, 2013.  The Sun rose partially eclipsed for observers at Jack Darling Park - within 13 minutes, the eclipse was over. The eclipse was total along a narrow line which crossed the Atlantic Ocean and Africa. The next total eclipse visible from North America crosses the continental USA on August 21, 2017 A total eclipse of the Sun will pass just south of Mississauga on April 8, 2024.

 Waiting for sunrise at Jack Darling Park, Mississauga. Photo by Liz Malicki

Waiting for sunrise at Jack Darling Park, Mississauga. Photo by Liz Malicki

 Sunrise Sunday November 3, 2013 - morning of the partial solar eclipse. Photo by Liz Malicki

Sunrise Sunday November 3, 2013 - morning of the partial solar eclipse. Photo by Liz Malicki

 The Moon takes a small bite out of the Sun Sunday morning at sunrise as seen from Jack Darling Park in Mississauga. Photo by Randy Attwood using a Questar 3.5" telescope with solar filter, Canon Camera.

The Moon takes a small bite out of the Sun Sunday morning at sunrise as seen from Jack Darling Park in Mississauga. Photo by Randy Attwood using a Questar 3.5" telescope with solar filter, Canon Camera.

 Partial eclipse just about over - 7:08 am Photo by Randy Attwood

Partial eclipse just about over - 7:08 am Photo by Randy Attwood

 Eclipse success! Members of the Mississauga Centre of the Royal Astronomical Society after observing the partial solar eclipse. Photo by Liz Malicki

Eclipse success! Members of the Mississauga Centre of the Royal Astronomical Society after observing the partial solar eclipse. Photo by Liz Malicki

 The instant of total eclipse taken in a jet aircraft over the Atlantic Ocean by Ben Cooper

The instant of total eclipse taken in a jet aircraft over the Atlantic Ocean by Ben Cooper

What's That Star Called?

Deneb in the constellation Cygnus, the Swan

Right overhead at 7 pm there’s a relatively bright star. Its name is Deneb, derived from an Arabic word meaning, “the tail.” This is the tail of the swan Cygnus.

 Courtesy Starry Night

Courtesy Starry Night

Deneb, together with two other bright stars which lie slightly to the west at this time, forms a large triangle. It’s known as the Summer Triangle because of its prominence in the summer sky.

Deneb is a remarkable star. At a distance of roughly 1600 light years from earth, the light that we’re seeing here left the star 1600 years ago, around the time of the fall of Rome.

For us even to see this star, it must be incredibly bright, much brighter than our Sun. No planets could likely survive in orbit around it.

 Courtesy Starry Night

Courtesy Starry Night

This is a famous star in Chinese mythology as it marks one side of the bridge of magpies that crosses the Milky Way river to allow two lovers, the Cow Heard and the Weaver Maid, to meet on the seventh day of the seventh month. In the Chinese lunar calendar, this is usually celebrated in August. The Cow Heard and the Weaver Maid are the stars Altair and Vega, the two other stars in the Summer Triangle.

Earthshine is running an fundraising campaign to purchase a planetarium. It is called "What is That Star Called?"  Please help us reach our goal. Thanks! 

 

Halloween marks the start of the dark season - astronomically

Premature Christmas decorations aren’t the only sign of the upcoming shortest day of the year! Hallowe’en is the harbinger of our year’s darkest days.

You’ve probably noticed that its getting dark earlier each evening. Tonight, the sun sets just after 6:00 (remember, we’re still on daylight time, so that’s really just after 5 pm). And it’s probably still dim outside when you get out of bed in the morning. That’s because each day the Sun spends more than half it its time below the horizon than above. This is one sign that we’re rapidly approaching the shortest day of the year.

 Comet ISON pumpkin - courtesy Will Gater

Comet ISON pumpkin - courtesy Will Gater

Hallowe’en traditionally marked the start of that dark season. It lies right between the Autumn Equinox and the Winter Solstice. There are 3 similar days, 2 of which still have associated celebrations. In February, we celebrate Groundhog Day, anticipating spring. May Day brings the hint of summer. The 3rd day would be August 1, which was celebrated as a harvest festival in the British Isles (Lammas or Lugnasa). Hallowe’en is really the only one of these old days that we still celebrate in North America.

We celebrate Hallowe’en in hopes of chasing away the dark. Lighting jack-o-laterns and wearing scary costumes. But the dark still comes and as it does, watch for more light-based celebrations -- Diwali, Hannukah, Kwanzaa and Christmas to name a few. Have a safe and happy night!

Why have a planetarium in Mississauga?

The Earthshine Astronomy and Space Science Organization is raising funds to bring a planetarium to Mississauga. This will be a place for families to explore the universe together.

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A planetarium is a theatre that recreates the night sky. In it, you can see the sky from any place on Earth, at any time—in the past and in the future—and accurately chart the positions of the stars, Sun, Moon, and planets. It is a powerful teaching tool and a place to celebrate our heritage. After all, every culture has a tradition of star stories! A planetarium is an indoor theatre, so it can be used day or night, no matter what the weather conditions.

Earthshine’s immediate goal is to buy a portable planetarium but house it in a permanent location, a location that is easily accessible for school groups and families alike. Once we have demonstrated the need for such a facility, we will start plans to build a permanent facility with a larger dome, increased seating capacity, and generally more room.

Planetarium technology has changed in the past 20 years. Planetariums used to be limited to showing just a representation of the night sky. Today, modern planetariums can take us on virtual trips to the different planets, out of the solar system to interstellar space, and even out of the Milky Way galaxy. Modern digital computer technology allows the planetarium operator to present live shows, customized shows, and shows created by production companies. And the shows are not limited to astronomy; planetariums can present any kind of programming on various topics. Imagine exploring a DNA molecule or a human cell.

Here are some of the shows that we plan for the Mississauga Planetarium:

Topical

  • the Sun's effect on climate change
  • what is visible in the Mississauga sky at various times of the year
  • current topics of astronomy in the news; for example, Comet ISON, which could be a rather bright comet, will be visible from Mississauga in early December
  • astronomical events such as eclipses and meteor showers, as well as new discoveries and events—planets discovered around other stars, water on Mars, and the spacecraft New Horizons, which will reach Pluto in 2015
  • UFO's - fact or fiction
  • does Astrology really work
  • is there Life on Mars or elsewhere in the solar system?
  • —when will the next big asteroid hit the Earth?

Cultural

  • see how Persia and Arabia gave us the science of Astronomy
  • see how China preserved incredibly accurate observations of the stars to give us our historic perspectives on space
  • see the 10 astronomical observations that change the way we see the Universe

Educational

  • programs covering all aspects of the Ontario Science & Technology curriculum for school groups
  • programs covering astronomy and space exploration badge requirements for Girl Guides, Scouts, Cubs, Brownies, and Pathfinder groups
  • programs on the history of astronomy and space exploration in Canada
  • family astronomy evenings, including a planetarium program and observing the night sky with telescopes
  • weekend science and astronomy clubs for young people
  • science day camps featuring science experiments
  • high school science sessions for students pursuing science and technology careers
  • introductory astronomy study groups for young people interested in learning about astronomy and space exploration
  • introductory courses on astrophotography

There is another important role for a science education facility in Mississauga: inspiring young people to enter careers in science and technology. Fewer students are taking science courses in high school. The education organization Let’s Talk Science released a report on October 8 that stated that fewer students are leaving secondary schools with a balance of science, technology, engineering and mathematics courses. The result is that, once they enter the workforce, they are unable to follow their desired career path.

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The report states that, “Science and technology are increasingly important to Canada’s economic well-being and quality of life. A critical element for our long-term success—as individuals and as a country—is learning in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).”

Whatever the cause, there is a need to stimulate the interest in these subjects in young people. One way is providing a local science education and public outreach facility such as the one we propose.

As the sixth largest city in Canada, Mississauga is part of an area of over 2 million people (Peel, Halton, western Toronto). Travel to Toronto science facilities (the Royal Ontario Museum and the new aquarium downtown, and the Science Centre in the east end) requires long drives in heavy traffic. We need a local public science facility here in Mississauga.

Help bring a planetarium to Mississauga by donating to Earthshine! To donate go to this website.

Thank you! 

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Partial Solar Eclipse Visible in Mississauga Sunday Morning

Early risers Sunday November 3 will need a clear sky and a low eastern horizon to witness a brief partial solar eclipse.  The Moon will take a very small bite out of the Sun. The partial eclipse will be in progress at sunrise (6:58 AM EST) and will only last 13 minutes, ending at 7:11 am EST. 

**Note - observers from the RASC will be at Jack Darling Park on the waterfront at 6:50 am. Bring coffee! 

 Partial eclipse as seen from Mississauga at sunrise (Courtesy: Starry Night)

Partial eclipse as seen from Mississauga at sunrise (Courtesy: Starry Night)

The partial eclipse is visible because a Total Eclipse of the Sun will be visible in Africa later in the day. The eclipse path starts over the mid-Atlantic and crosses over the entire African continent.  

More info available at the Sky and Telescope website

Note: Precautions should be made whenever the Sun is observed. Improper observation of the Sun can cause eye damage. See Sky and Telescope's recommendations on viewing the Sun safely