Distinguished Guests & Distinguished Night Skies

Is the Yukon the best place for amateur astronomers? And how can I experience and discover the vast night sky?

Let’s take these questions and sort them out for our distinguished visitors to the Conference of Science Writers.

First of all, astronomy in the Yukon is unique. Most people that I chat with across the country spend an enormous amount of time, effort and expense locating clear dark skies. For us in the Yukon, we are very fortunate because this is a simple task. In a matter of 10 minutes you can choose your preferred observing site and be guaranteed that it will be very dark and well isolated.

Even observing in your own backyard presents views that are as dramatic as they are surprising. With little or no air or light pollution in our wonderful clear night skies, you will find much greater detail in what you are observing, whether it be planets, nebula, star clusters or galaxies.

I can see celestial objects like the Orion Nebula, the Andromeda Galaxy and the great Hercules globular star cluster, all with the unaided eye, right from my front porch. That may not seem too impressive until you realize that I live in a trailer court.

Stars are bright pinpoints with dazzling colour and the planets show a great wealth of detail and definition.

Upon greater scrutiny, you will find that galaxies reveal more spiral structure in the arms and the dust lanes are much more prominent.

When observing nebula, you will easily see the many layers of gas clouds that make up these stellar nurseries, not just a fuzzy patch of light in the night sky.

The Yukon is an excellent place for amateur astronomers to practise their hobby, whether they are enthusiastic beginners or avid professionals. Besides having nice clear night skies, the air is also very dry. This is important because moisture is every amateur astronomer’s enemy.

“What is in the great Yukon Night Sky to see?” you ask.

Let’s start with the planets: As darkness falls, Mars is found in the western evening sky, Saturn to the southwest and Mercury in the northwest.

Mercury is very close to the horizon and does not offer any detail except that it has phases like our Moon and the planet Venus.

A much better time to view Saturn and Mars is at the midnight hour. Mars is still in the west, but is much more prominent in the darker sky. Though the God of War shows little or no surface detail, it is still an impressive sight.

Now Saturn, on the other hand, offers anyone with a small telescope an endless bounty of cool things to see. The rings alone consume many an hour, as discovery and exploration take place at the eyepiece. The shadow of the rings on the surface never seem to lose their thrill and the bands of cloud just add to make the view more surreal.

In the morning hours, Jupiter is the main attraction. Found in the southern sky, this king of planets always presents an awesome view. In binoculars, Jupiter and its four moons — Io, Europa, Ganymede and Callisto — are easily seen.

In a spotting scope or small refractor the northern and southern equatorial belts are now visible. By months end, Jupiter will be climbing higher and higher off of the horizon, offering a much better view, full of detail and definition.

If your interest is more toward the deep sky, then hold on for the ride of your life. In the early evening you can see Orion and the rest of the winter’s constellations drop off the horizon.

Around midnight, the spring constellations Leo, Virgo and Ursa Major are nicely placed high in the Yukon Night Sky for easy viewing.

A few hours later, in the eastern sky, you will see the summer constellations of Lyra and Cygnus start to climb into the night sky.

The Yukon Night Skies offer some of the finest viewing and photography opportunities that you may ever encounter, so take some time and head outside with a current issue of Sky News Magazine and enjoy those amazing celestial treasures.

If you are fortunate enough, the Northern Lights will make an appearance and impress you with their awesome colours and ever-changing patterns.

Clear Skies from James “Deep Sky” Cackette.

High Lights

May 19 Full Moon.

May 20 The Moon is only 252,527 miles distant.

May 24 The moon and Jupiter pass very close in the morning hours only two degrees apart. An excellent photo opportunity.

May 27 Last Quarter Moon.

May 29 The moon and Uranus make a nice pairing in the morning sky. An excellent photo opportunity.

James “Deep Sky” Cackette can be reached at [email protected]. See his photo adventures on Facebook at Yukon Night Skies.

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