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Cool things to see in the Sea to Sky Corridor night sky in 2022

An astronomer's advice on what to watch for, tips to get started on stargazing and space missions to follow.

Who doesn't love to stargaze? It is a free, educational, outdoors, pandemic and family-friendly activity we all have access to. 

But it can also be confusing to know what you are looking at or for. 

Thus, The Squamish Chief reached out to Marley Leacock, an astronomer from the H.R. MacMillan Space Centre for some insights. 

What follows is an edited version of that conversation.

Q: What are some things you're excited about seeing in the sky this year?
A: There's a lot of opportunities to view some planets. 

One that's coming up is on March 28. Venus is actually going to look kind of bright above the crescent moon early in the morning, at about 6:30 a.m. "The Moon cradling Venus," is what a lot of people are calling it. That'll be in the southeast. 

What is interesting all throughout March and April, is that you're going to have Venus, Saturn and Mars and then later on Jupiter all in the sky at the same time, which is pretty cool. April 28, you'll get Jupiter, Venus and Mars and Saturn in line together. About an hour before dawn in the southeast, you'll be able to see them all, especially in a place with low light pollution. I'd anticipate you able to see Mars, which is usually kind of dim. Venus will be closer to the horizon, and then Jupiter, and Saturn further up.

Overnight on April 30, or in the morning, May 1, at 5 a.m., looking east, Jupiter and Venus will be very close together in the sky. They'll look like one dot in the sky. But through a telescope, you should be able to view both of them.

In the last two weeks of June, you'll have another planetary alignment of Jupiter, Mars, Venus and Saturn. That's at around 3:50 a.m. — before the sun comes up. 

And then, of course, we have the two lunar eclipses that are happening this year. That will be fun. There's one on May 15 and another on Nov. 8. 

On May 15, the moon will rise at about 8:45 p.m., but it'll rise red because it'll already be just before the total lunar eclipse. In our location, we'll miss the beginnings of the eclipses when it first moves into the shadow. But when the moon rises above the horizon, it'll rise like a red colour because it'll be right before totality.

The eclipse on Nov. 8 is a little less exciting. It is also at 2 a.m. so maybe not one you want to wake up for. It is also a total lunar eclipse. It'll reach totality at 2:19 a.m., which is when it's fully in the earth's shadow and that deep red colour.

Tips for newbies

Q: What are some basic beginning stargazing tips: 

A: Don't go too fast, too quick, because you'll quickly get overwhelmed.

Start out with trying to identify the constellations and asterisms in the sky. For that, you don't need a telescope — that's really easily done by the naked eye. Just identify where the constellations are, what they look like, because often when you are looking for other things to observe, you have to use constellations as a jumping-off point.

 Also, a good app helps a lot. I use the free version of SkyView. That really helps with pointing where things are in the sky. Or if you see something you don't know, you can hold your phone up and it'll tell you based on your location, what that object is, which is really helpful. 

When I first started out with a telescope, I just looked at the moon, because it is amazing how much detail you can get with just even the basic telescope. It's very cool and really starts to get you into everything.

Also, in mid-August, we have the Perseid meteor shower. Those are good ones to start with as well because they're pretty consistent. You don't need a telescope for that. Actually, you wouldn't want to use a telescope because you want a full view of the sky because they kind of come from every direction.

Q: Is there a best time at night to stargaze? 

A: There's astronomical twilight, which is a very fancy term for an hour after sunset. Usually, after sunset or early dawn, like right before dawn, are both good times.

Q: With more and more development do you worry about losing dark places to view the night sky? 

A: It's just kind of sad that we're losing a lot of dark sky spaces, which is why I'm a big fan of dark sky preserves.

Fun missions to follow

Q: What are some space missions that you would like our readers to know about? 

A: My current life has kind of been all about the James Webb Space Telescope, which launched Dec. 25 and deployed successfully. 

What is exciting about it is Webb's scientific objective is to help study how galaxies formed. Because of the type of telescope it is, it is able to look through dust and gas. 

That'll help us with looking through to early on galaxies that are usually obscured by lots of dust. Being able to see through it, we can start to answer how galaxies started. What do they look like when they start? What were the stars doing then?

Q: Can people see it from Earth? 

A: No, you can't see Webb at all. Webb is actually four times further than the moon — that is where it'll live.

Q: What is another mission folks might be interested in? 

A: Then also there is a mission called DART, which is the Double Asteroid Redirection Test. And this is very cool. 

DART is going to go to an asteroid system that is far from Earth — It's not on a collision course to Earth at all. There is a main asteroid Didymos, and then orbiting that asteroid is another smaller moonlit asteroid called Dimorphos. And what DART is going to do is it's going to basically just launch itself at Dimorphos and impact it and try to knock it onto a new orbit around Didymos.

So it's very interesting. 

It is like a proof of concept mission, just to see if it'll work. Because this would be our best bet, if there's an asteroid coming towards Earth, is launching something and knocking it out of the way.

The impact date is Sept. 26, but we won't be able to see impact. 

For more interesting space information head to the MacMillan Space Centre website


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