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Night SkyAstronomy Session Introduction

Astronomy Session Introduction

Mississippi Valley Night Sky Conservation – Astronomy Sessions

Program developed by:

  • Mississippi Valley Conservation Authority in partnership with:
    • Royal Astronomical Society of Canada
    • Ottawa Astronomy Friends
    • Instructor: Pat Browne and …Night Sky Conservation Team members.

Resources we will be using:

  • Terrence Dickinson, NightWatch, A Practical Guide to Viewing the Universe


  • Sky and Telescope’s Pocket Sky Atlas

psaRASC Observing Aids –  and Moon Guide

StarFinder Guide


Moon Guide






Additional References

  • Jeremy Cook,The Hatfield Lunar Atlas
  • Guy Consolmagno, Dan M. Davis, Turn Left at Orion
  • Sue French, Celestial Sampler
  • RASC Observer’s Handbook 2017
  • see also References

Observing Sessions will focus on what we can see in a given week based on the lunar cycle

 Lunar Calendar – April 2018New Moon is April 16 means Deep Sky Observing

First Quarter is April 22 means Lunar Observing



Night Sky Overhead Constellation Markers, Introducing the Milky Way
Star Clusters – Stars within our Milky Way galaxy and Clusters within the Milky Way
Galaxies and Galaxy Clusters – Beyond our own Galaxy
Reprise: – Our Galaxy we see in the Night Sky”The Milky Way”

Learning the Night Sky by Visual Observing

Observing Session Do’s and Don’ts

Do observing at the Mill of Kintail only when Night Sky Team members are on-site.

Tools and Equipment

  • Before you buy, observe with a group! Try things out first!
  • Use sufficiently sturdy mounts for your telescope. (See NightWatch on the subject of suitable telescopes – avoid ‘Trash Telescopes’.)
Example of Costco type telescope – Click to read story



Nice sturdy mount – easy to use!
How to Plan and Understand your Astronomical Observations

Astronomy observing etiquette

          • Do help someone who is trying to find something if you know how to find it.
          • Don’t use bright white lights – try to use red flashlights
          • Don’t confuse the term astrology with the science of astronomy (“There is no ‘l’ in astro-no-my” ) . Astrology is a pseudo-science that claims to obey the rules of scientific reasoning and methods but does not. The scientific method that builds a model by repeatable experimental results does not work when applied to a theory proposing that the position of the sun and planets somehow affects human behaviour.

Observing Session Tips

          • Don’t expect to see colour or a bright image in the eyepiece. You may be staring at it and not registering what you are seeing
          • Prepare for a temperature drop during the night – bring extra sweater, water-proof foot-ware, possibly hat and gloves
          • Prepare for the dew point to trigger high moisture and dewing on surfaces. As the temperature drops, relative humidity rises until water vapor condenses out of the air unto your exposed eyepieces and mirrors. We will try to keep a hair dryer available – having spare eyepieces will help

Night Sky Conservation:

The model for these Night Sky Sessions is to become acquainted with the Night Sky by “learning by doing”. This is a hands-on approach, and we encourage you to share your knowledge once you have mastered the basics of visual observing.
The incentive for conducting these sessions is to actively support our Dark Sky bylaw by teaching you to be ambassadors of the Night Sky in Mississippi Mills. By learning the sky and how to shield it from light pollution, you become a Night Sky Conservationist.

Night Sky Bylaw created in partnership with Mississippi Valley Conservation and the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada (RASC);

Dark skies in Mississippi Mills preserved by implementing our Light Pollution Abatement Bylaw. Bylaw implements program of Mississippi Mills Good Neighbour Lighting Program Shield Outdoor Light fixtures to protect the ‘extinction’ of the Milky Way

                  • Sky as a Natural Resource: Celestial objects in outer space remain visible on clear night – comets, distant suns, clusters of stars, and galaxies
                  • Health: Humans need darkness as well as light. We cannot sleep well with constant artificial light around us – Light pollution causes physical and psychological discomfort
                  • Night vision (scotopic) is different from day vision (photopic). Humans suffer from bright light glare finding it hard to adjust to the night sky – See Good Neighbour Lighting – How to Choose Healthy LED Lights
                  • Educate people (like your neighbours with bad yard lights) about the night sky environment
                  • Encourage astronomical discovery such as cometary discovery made possible only by curbing light pollution. Amateurs collaborate with professionals!

The Fred Lossing Observatory  A Long History of ‘Looking Up’ –
Ottawa RASC members , ‘comet hunters’ spent many hours doing visual observations through the telescope. Doug George and Rolf Meier discovered 5 comets, making FLO the only observatory in Canada with this distinction.

Comet Meier 1978f Photo by Rolf Meier. – courtesy

cometOrbit-700x561Night Sky Awareness – The sky in different times of year:nscLec1_aboveHorizonDVDCourtesy R. Dick, The Celestial Sphere, Starlight Theatre

Time of Year = Location of the Earth in its Orbit

What we see in our Night Sky is located in the area of sky away from the Sun.

YearOnEarth2 Constellations

Groups of bright stars that may or may not be gravitationally bound that serve as markers for locations of celestial objects. Examples: Ursa Major (The Big Dipper), Orion, Cancer… Constellations are recognized as fixed star patterns on the celestial sphere.

Constellations lying along the path of the planets (and the Sun) are zodiacal constellations

The Sun will appear to move through the  zodiacal constellations, making one complete circuit of the sky in 365 days.Here is a link describing what happens to our sky as we travel in our yearly orbit: A Year on Earth.

Typical objects to view if the night sky is clear:

Our Nearest Neighbours – Solar System:

          • Stellarium shows what Planets are above the horizon after dusk
          • Only Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn are visible naked eye. The Planets and Cometary objects in our Solar System are visible to us when their orbit takes them away from the glare of the sun into our night sky: Read more here Planets and their Path around the Sun In different years, we will see planets at different times. Their position is not fixed on our celestial sphere. They are wanderers, and may become morning or evening stars depending on their proximity to the Sun.

What to observe in the sky tonight?

You can always check SkyNews – What’s in the Sky this week

We use Explore The Universe list with NightWatch to guide our observation of …
Distant Suns – Stars and Constellations mapped on the Starfinder

Planisphere “Plan your Sphere!”

This will get you started on learning what the sky looks like for time of year and time of night. In the Northern Hemisphere we face the Southern Horizon to see the planets and star clusters transit our N-S meridian at the highest point.  Note that if you wish to find something along the Northern horizon you need to flip the chart upside down. capellaRisingSince we live in the Northern Hemisphere, we aim our telescopes to the southern Meridian line because stars, planets and galaxies ‘culminate’, that is, reach their highest elevation along our meridian (N-S) line looking South.

Image courtesy H.A. Ray, The Stars

See: Locating stars in the Night Sky

From Solar System to the Stars and then to distant Galaxies

With just a 5″ reflector telescope we can explore stars, clusters of stars, interstellar gas and dust containing supernovae remnants and star nurseries. We can even explore galaxy systems outside of our own Milky Way galaxy.Skywatcher_Heritage_130P

beehiveImageWe can observe systems of stars, star clusters that are found within constellation boundaries.(See Observing Star Clusters in and Around the Milky Way)

              • We use constellations as a set of featured patterns that guide us to finding our star clusters in binoculars or telescopes. . A set of 88 officially recognized constellations completely covers the sky.. The brightest stars help delineate their form.
              • Objects such as a star cluster (thousands of light years away)
              • Everything seen in the stars of a constellation, or star clusters is found within our own Milky Way galaxy (100,000 light years).


Here’s a roadmap for learning how to do Night Sky Observations Observing the Night Sky – How Tos…

Educational Resources

Tools to Help You Plan your Observations

  • Observing Planisphere and Planetarium Software – Stellarium
  • Moon charts and Virtual Moon Software – Explore the moon with Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Imagery
  • Earth Centered Universe RASC SuperNova Scotia Software
  • Certificates to build up your Astronomical Knowledge
  • RASC Beginner’s Program: Explore the Universe exploretheuniverse
  • Guides
    • Observer’s Handbook – RASC
    • Isabel Williamson Lunar Observing
    • *YOUR* Logbook (Without a logbook you’ll always be a beginner)





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