Starry Night® Times

If you have trouble viewing this newsletter, click here.

Welcome again to our monthly newsletter with features on exciting celestial events, product reviews, tips & tricks, and a monthly sky calendar. We hope you enjoy it!

  • Geoff Gaherty's Top Ten
    After receiving the Roasts prestigious Chant Medal, Geoff Gaherty reflect on the greatest observing experiences in his half-century as an amateur astronomer.
  • A Heavenly Choir of Angles, Part III
    Coordinate systems look complicated, but Brenda Shaw proves they're really very simple—and very important.
  • Constellation in Focus: Cygnus
    Sometimes referred as Northern Cross, this beautiful constellation carries several observing jewels across the summer nighttime sky.
  • Astrophoto of the Month
    Andrew Scheck captures the International Space Station in amazing clarity as it passes in front of the sun.


Geoff Gaherty’s Top Ten

Recently I was awarded the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada’s Chant Medal. This medal is awarded every few years to an amateur astronomer resident in Canada on the basis of the value of the work they have carried out in astronomy. It’s the greatest honor a Canadian amateur astronomer can receive; previous recipients are a who’s who of amateur astronomy.

Geoff Gaherty (on left) receiving 2008 Chant Medal from
RASC President Dave Lane (1996 Chant Medal)

Receiving this award has caused me to reflect on the greatest observing experiences I’ve had in my half century as an amateur astronomer, and I’ve put together a “top ten” list to share with you.

Since I’m primarily a visual observer, I don’t have a lot of pretty pictures of my own to show, but through the magic of Starry Night® I can relive these memories and share them that way. I’ve put together a SkyCal file which you can place on your Starry Night® Preferences folder, which is called “Imaginova Canada”. The folder in Windows is hidden, so you will have to set Windows to show hidden files and folders. The Windows path is:

  • C:/Documents and Settings/<user>/Local Settings/Application Data/Imaginova Canada/Calendars

On the Mac, the path is:

  • Users/<user>/Library/Preferences/Imaginova Canada/Calendars

Here, in chronological order, are my “top ten” observations.

1957-07-04: First view of Saturn through a telescope

I got hooked on amateur astronomy because of a newspaper report of a bright comet, Arend-Roland. On 1957-05-01 I went out on my back porch in Montréal to look for this comet. I never found it, but I became interested in a bright object high in my southern sky. With the help of a book (no Starry Night® then—no desktop computers in fact) I identified this object as the planet Jupiter. Soon I was looking at telescope ads, and ordered a “Palomar Jr.” 4.25-inch reflector from Edmund Scientific. The telescope was delivered on July 4. I put it together and, as dusk fell, pointed it first at the Moon and then at Saturn. Saturn was simply unbelievable: “It really has rings!” I said to myself.

1960-06-07: First view of Jupiter’s Great Red Spot

When I started observing Jupiter seriously in 1959, the Great Red Spot was invisible, as happens from time to time. On 1960-06-07 I was treated to my first good view of the Great Red Spot as it rolled around the limb of the planet into sight.

The Great Red Spot is an atmospheric feature, a gigantic storm system, not connected to any fixed feature on Jupiter. As a result, it drifts back and forth in longitude over time. Starry Night® can be told the current longitude of the Great Red Spot through a file in the Sky Data folder called JupiterGRS.txt. I altered the time in this image to place the Red Spot where I saw it that night. If you don’t see the Great Red Spot in this image, it may be that you have an incorrect value for the longitude of the Great Red Spot: the current value is 126.0. Some early versions of Starry Night® 6 had a problem in their Jupiter display; make sure you have updated to the current version, 6.2.3.

1961-04-09: Venus at inferior conjunction

Because Venus’ orbit is inclined slightly relative to Earth’s orbit, it almost always passes above or below the Sun when at inferior conjunction (between the Sun and Earth). With a telescope equipped with setting circles, it’s possible to observe Venus in daytime, even when it is quite close to the Sun.

This observation was made just a day away from conjunction, with Venus about 7° away from the Sun. The crescent Venus was a thin sliver, and the backlighting by the Sun was refracted by Venus’ atmosphere completely around the disk, creating a “diamond ring” effect.

Pencil sketch made with 8-inch reflector; north is at lower left.

1963-07-20: Solar eclipse

For this eclipse, the RASC’s Montreal Centre organized three expeditions to the eclipse path, which cut across the St. Lawrence valley between Québec City and Montréal. I was with the southernmost party, inside a Hydro-Québec transformer substation near Plessisville, on the south shore. The eclipse occurred late in the day amidst passing clouds and had a very short period of totality, but it was truly memorable. I photographed totality with a 2-inch refractor.

1997-03-13: Comet Hale-Bopp over Manhattan

Fast forward thirty-four years, spent getting educated, married, divorced, and remarried: little time for astronomy! I was spending March Break in New York City with my wife and son. Early one morning I looked out my hotel window on 57th Street and was amazed to see a bright comet hanging above the skyscrapers to my north. This was Comet Hale-Bopp, and once again a comet lured me into amateur astronomy.

2000-04-28/29: A Perfect Night

Although I’ve observed more than 650 deep sky objects in my observing career, one night stands out in my memory.

Bad weather and road conditions caused the RASC Toronto Centre to postpone its 2000 Messier Marathon from March until April. I joined the Marathon at the Centre’s Carr Astronomical Observatory near Thornbury, but with no intention of observing Messiers. I was working on my RASC Finest NGC list at the time, and made its spring galaxies my targets instead. By the time the night was over, I had logged 24 new NGC objects, revisited 16 Messier galaxies, and observed my very first quasar, 3C273, at 3 billion light years the farthest object I’ve ever observed.

2003-09-16: RU Pegasi in outburst

In 2002, answering a challenge made by Richard Huziak (2001 Chant Medal), I started seriously observing variable stars. I was particularly attracted to the so-called cataclysmic variables, such as U Geminorum and SS Cygni, which rise in brightness by several magnitudes at somewhat irregular intervals. In 2003 I added RU Pegasi to my observing list. The first time I observed it, on August 17, it was its normal quiescent 12.0 magnitude, matching a close-by comparison star. The next time I observed it, on September 16, it was in outburst at magnitude 10.6, completely changing the appearance of the star field.

Like many faint variable stars, RU Pegasi isn’t plotted in Starry Night®. It is one of a pair of stars located 1/5 of the way between the two 8th magnitude stars TYC1145-992-1 and HIP109716. Normally these are both around 12th magnitude, so when RU goes into outburst, it is amazingly obvious.

2004-06-08: Transit of Venus

As mentioned above, Venus usually passes above or below the Sun at inferior conjunction. But, twice every 122 years Venus actually passes in front of the Sun, the two transits occurring 8 years apart. The 2004 transit was only the seventh transit to occur since the invention of the telescope in 1609—truly a once (or maybe twice) in a lifetime observation! A large group of Toronto Centre members gathered on Cathedral Bluff in Scarborough, Ontario, before dawn to witness the Sun rising with Venus silhouetted against its disk. When the Sun first rose through the mists on the Lake Ontario horizon, we discovered that the disk of Venus was actually large enough to be easily seen with our naked eyes.

2006-03-29: Solar eclipse

Many astronomers use solar eclipses as an excuse to travel to exotic locations, and I’ll admit this was part of the appeal of the Toronto Centre’s expedition to view the 2006 solar eclipse from the Libyan Sahara Desert, south of the Jalu oasis. Unlike my first eclipse, this one had a long period of totality and was viewed high overhead in a totally cloudless sky. The combination of a perfect eclipse in a truly wonderful location made this the most memorable observing event in my life.

2008-03-02/06: Four nights in Warrumbungle

I’ve already described my four nights observing the southern sky’s splendors in detail in the April 2008 Times. However this plot of the objects observed in just four nights will show you just how rich these southern skies are.

I hope my sharing of my “top ten” observations will stimulate you to reflect on the memorable things you have seen in the sky. Some of these required travel to exotic locales, but most could be made anywhere. What are your top ten?

Geoff Gaherty
Geoff has been a life-long telescope addict, and is active in many areas of visual observation; he is a moderator of the Yahoo "Talking Telescopes" group.

[Top of Page]


A Heavenly Choir of Angles, III

Coordinate systems look complicated, but are really a very simple and very important application of angular geometry. Here's an easy one to start out with.

Stand outside in your favorite observing location, and you can probably point to each of the cardinal directions: north, south, east and west. (If you can't, fire up Starry Night® and use the sky to figure it out!) The cardinal directions cut the sky into quarters. If you see an object somewhere between north and east, you can say it's in the northeast. If it isn't exactly between north and east, you could say that it's north-northeast (if it's a little closer to north than east) or east-northeast (if it's closer to east). Beyond this it gets a little silly. I'm not sure I've ever heard someone refer to a direction like north-north-northeast. We need a less cumbersome system to tell us which direction we're facing.

Last month we divided a circle into 360 degrees. If you look at the horizon around you, you might notice something familiar—you can imagine the horizon as a circle, with you standing in the centre of it. Instead of pointing to four directions equally spaced around you, point to 360 of them! Use north as your starting point, and count upwards while turning in a clockwise direction. If north is 0º, east (being one-quarter of the way to 360º) is 90º, south is 180º, and west is 270º. Direction specified in degrees this way is called azimuth.

If you're trying to mark the location of an object in the sky, you need more information than just a direction with respect to the horizon—you also need to know how high up it is. If you think of the sky as a spherical bowl turned upside down over you, any line from the horizon to the zenith (the point directly over your head) is a quarter of a circle, or 90º. Call the horizon 0º and the zenith 90º, and you can specify the altitude, or distance above the horizon, of any object in the sky.

In this picture of the constellation Perseus, the star Mirfak is a little to the left of the 30º azimuth line, so we could estimate its azimuth to be about 29º. Its altitude is roughly halfway between 10º and 15º, so we could call it 12.5º. (Note the “meridian” line—that line starts at north, i.e. the zero point of azimuth, goes through the zenith over your head, and down to the south, separating the eastern from the western sky.)

There you have it—the altitude-azimuth (or alt-az) coordinate system, for giving the location of an object in the sky when seen from a given location at a given time. If you and I are standing outside at night and you tell me that you see something interesting at a certain azimuth and altitude, I'll know where to look.

If I'm in some other part of the world, however, your altitude and azimuth coordinates won't be very meaningful to me. Remember that if you wait a few hours the Earth will rotate, so objects will be higher or lower in the sky or in a different direction; and someone on a different part of the Earth's surface won't be seeing the same sky that you are. How do you denote a more absolute and non-observer-centric location of an object in the sky? Tune in next month!

Brenda Shaw
Brenda is an avid stargazer who enjoys guiding everyone to the stars, sharing her passion and knowledge with others.

[Top of Page]


Constellation in Focus: Cygnus

Constellation Map: Cygnus

NGC 6960 & NGC 6992, the West and East Veil Nebulas, are part of the Cygnus loop, the remains of a supernova that exploded over 100,000 years ago. Two other sections, NGC 6995 and 6979 are close by.

M29 is an unimpressive open cluster, notable only in that it was one of the original discoveries of Charles Messier.

NGC 6819 is a small open cluster with about two dozen stars from 10th to 12th magnitude within a 5' circle. Its discovery in 1784 is attributed to Caroline Herschel.

Deneb, which marks the tail of the swan, is one of the 20 brightest stars in the night sky. Just three degrees away lies NGC 7000, the North American Nebula, so-called because of its obvious shape. This is an active star forming region and quite large, though it's difficult to see without the aid of astrophotography.

M39 is an open cluster, and is a nice binocular object with 30 or so stars spread over its seven lightyear diameter. It's also "pretty close" to Earth, at "just" 800 lightyears.

Finally, NCG 6826, the Blinking Nebula, gets its name from an odd phenomenon: its central star appears to blink on and off when you look toward and away from it quickly.

Sean O'Dwyer
Starry Night® Times Editor

[Top of Page]


Astrophoto of the Month

Astrophoto of the Month

Andrew Scheck took this photo showing a solar transit of the International Space Station (ISS) over the Sun. Andrew notes “Starry Night® Pro Plus 6 predicted time to within 2 seconds and path almost exactly.”
Date: June 24, 2008 18:55:56.602 UT (from KIWI OSD in image)
Location: Scaggsville, MD
Telescope: NexStar 8 GPS @ f/6.3 & solar filter
Camera: MallinCam Hyper Plus Color @ 1/12000 sec (4th of 7 frames with ISS @ 30 fps); real time video captured with Canon Elura 100.



We would like to invite all Starry Night® users to send their quality astronomy photographs to be considered for use in our monthly newsletter.

  • Featured submissions (best of month) will receive a prize of $75 USD.

Please read the following guidelines and see the submission e-mail address below.

  • Format: Digital images in either JPG, GIF or TIFF format.
  • Size: 700 pixels wide maximum.
  • File size should be less than 2 MB.
  • Include a caption: Your full name, location where photo was taken and any interesting details regarding your photo or how you took it. Please be brief.
  • Important notes: We may edit captions for clarity and brevity. We reserve the right to not use submissions. In submitting your image or images to Imaginova®, you agree to allow us to publish them in all media—on the Web or otherwise—now and in the future. We'll credit you, of course. Most important, you'll have the satisfaction of sharing your experience with the world!
  • Send images, following the above guidelines, to (by sending an image you agree to the above terms, including Imaginova®’s right to publish your photos). Please do not send .ZIP files as they will not reach us.

[Top of Page]



SEPT 2008

Starry Night® Pro Plus 6.2
gifspacer gifspacer gifspacer
Free Download

Sun Panorama

To go along with September's Photo of the Month, we are pre-releasing a new photorealistic panorama of the Sun. Place this image and associated text file under Sky Data/Horizon Panoramas.


SN Pro 4.x and higher users: simply download this archive and extract the two files then place them in your Sky Data/Horizon Panoramas Folder.

Pedro Braganca
Content Director,
Starry Night®


Free Download
gifspacer gifspacer gifspacer
Sky Events

A guided video tour of celestial events visible this month.

  • Click Here to Download


Tips Tricks
gifspacer gifspacer gifspacer
Tips & Tricks


A little-known feature in Starry Night® 6 is that you can actually ‘hide’ a solar system object. For example, you might want to show the Earth going around the Sun but hide the other planets. Here is what you do:

1. Open the Find Pane.
2. Right click (Ctrl-click on the Mac) on one of the column headings, such as “Name”.
3. A contextual menu will appear. Select “Hide” from this list.
4. Notice how a new checkbox appears in the Find Pane.
5. Check the box to hide its associated object.

Pedro Braganca
Content Director,
Starry Night®

Tips Tricks
gifspacer gifspacer gifspacer
Sky Events

Moon Phases

Sun., Sept. 7
First Quarter Moon, 10:04 a.m.
The Moon started a new cycle a week ago, and now has progressed about 25 percent through the current cycle. Thus it has reached First Quarter phase. It appears about 90 degrees to the left of the Sun, causing it to appear in the southern sky at sunset. Shaped roughly like a capital letter "D", it sets at roughly midnight.

Mon., Sept. 15
Full Harvest Moon, 5:14 a.m.

As the Full Moon nearest to the September Equinox (Sept. 22), this is, by definition, the Harvest Moon, or "Full Harvest Moon." While this Moon is, on average, no larger or smaller than any other Full Moon, there is a false impression that this is the biggest, brightest Moon of the year. This is not true, in general, but the geometry of the Moon's orbit does cause Full Moons at this time of early to rise slightly earlier from day to day. The years average is that moonrise is about 50 minutes later each successive day. But around the time of the Harvest Moon, this delay is as short as 20 minutes at mid-North latitudes (U.S.), and even shorter for higher latitudes such as Canada.

Sun., Sept. 21
Last Quarter Moon, 1:04 a.m.

This "David Letterman's Moon," a late show unseen by sleepy heads. On the other hand, early risers can seen this Moon in the morning sky until nearly noon. It is shaped like a half circle, or roughly a backwards letter D when seen due South.

Mon., Sept. 29
New Moon, 4:12 a.m.
Invisible on this date, look for a thin Crescent Moon in the western twilight beginning on Tuesday evening.

Observing Highlights

Mon., Sept. 22
September Equinox, 11:45 a.m.
At this date, the Earth is tilted neither toward nor away from the Sun, there are 12 hours of sunlight and 12 hours of dark everywhere on the planet. This is only roughly true anywhere, as the Equinox is marked by a passing moment of time, not an entire day. Also, the Earth's atmosphere affects the apparent rising and setting times of the Sun such that in most locations, the actual date most closely approaching 12 hours of sunlight is several days later. Autumn begins in the Northern Hemisphere, Spring in the Southern.

Sat., Sept. 27
Zodiacal Light, predawn
The Observer's Handbook of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada (affectionately known as just the "OH") suggests conditions for the next two weeks may provide good chances to observe the faint and illusive "Zodiacal Light" in the eastern sky before dawn. The phenomenon, also sometimes called "False Dawn," appears as a large, cone-shaped region of light rising upward from the eastern horizon to the south. It is thought to be caused by sunlight reflecting off particles along the Ecliptic (the Earth's orbital path). A similar opportunity existed last month, and favorable conditions will occur for the evening sky in March.


Mercury reaches greatest eastern elongation East (about 27 degrees) on the 11th, but the geometry does not favor the Northern Hemisphere. The planet hovers near the western horizon for a short time after sunset. Brighter Venus and fainter Mars also appear nearby, but none are easy to view.

Venus is very low in the western sky as it gets dark, setting shortly thereafter. It is close to both Mercury and Mars in the second week of the month, but observers need sharp eyes, very clear skies and a low western horizon to see any of them.

Mars, now in Virgo, is very hard to see but near Venus and Mercury in the western evening twilight. It is heading for conjunction with the Sun in early December, but is already low in the glare of the setting Sun.

Jupiter, in Sagittarius, rules the early evening southern and southwestern sky. Not counting currently elusive Venus and the Moon, Jupiter is the significantly the brightest object and cannot be missed in the southern heavens. The Moon passes near on the evening of the 9th. Check out Jupiter with a small telescope to see as many as 4 of the Galilean Moons discovered nearly 400 years ago by who else but Galileo himself.

Saturn is in conjunction with the Sun (that is, in line with the Sun, but on the far side) on September 4 and cannot be seen, at least not in the first few weeks of the month. By month's end it , however, early risers may catch very low in the eastern sky before dawn, in Leo.


Wed., Sept. 3
Saturn/Conjunction, 9:58 p.m.

Saturn is in line with the Sun, but on the far side. This event cannot be seen, but it marks the time at which Saturn technically moves from the evening sky to the morning sky. It reappears in the morning by the end of the month.

Sat., Sept. 6
Moon passes Antares, 11:00 p.m
The nearly First Quarter Moon passes about one-third of a degree to the South of Antares in Scorpius. Although just a close approach as seen from North America, this is an occultation (an eclipse of the star) as seen from Australia and parts of the Southern Hemisphere.

Sun., Sept. 7
Jupiter ends retrograde, 10:26 p.m.

Due to the geometries of its orbit and the Earth's smaller orbit, for several months every year Jupiter appears to move backwards (westward) among the stars. (Do not confuse this with the normal apparent westward motion due to Earth's daily rotation.) It started this year's "retrograde" motion on May 9, and it ends today. From now on, it will resume its slow and stately eastward crawl among the stars of Sagittarius. Also, the Moon is approaching Jupiter from the West tonight, and by tomorrow night will have passed it receding to the East.

Tue., Sept. 9
Jupiter/Moon, 3:23 p.m.

The Moon passes much slower Jupiter by less than 3 degrees in mid-afternoon. (Of course this is only an apparent passage, as the Moon is about a quarter of a million miles from Earth, and Jupiter is about 422 million miles away, a difference of about 1800 times.) While neither will be in the sky at the time for North America, they provide a nice pairing in the southern sky after sunset.

Wed., Sept. 10
Mercury Greatest Elongation East, 11:16 p.m.

This marks the time when Mercury appears farthest to the East of the Sun, and visible (marginally) in the western evening twilight. At this point it appears about 26.9 degrees from the Sun and currently is near both Venus and Mars. Unfortunately, the geometry is not particularly good for North America as all three are very close to the western horizon as it gets dark. Over the next couple of days there are several close passages among these planets, but none are easy to see.

Fri., Sept. 19
Moon/Pleiades, 10:00 p.m.

The nearly Last Quarter Moon passes near, or even through the Pleiades as seen from Eastern North America. The Northeast is favored. In Montreal, for example, the Moon passes through the center of the cluster at about 10:15 p.m., EDT, at about 12-13 degrees high in the northeastern sky. Farther South, in Miami, the Moon does not rise until a short while later, after the central passage. Locations in between will have conditions that improve from South to North. Most of the rest of the continent will not see the passage itself, but the Moon and the Pleiades are close when they rise in local time.

Fri., Sept. 26
Moon/Regulus, 11:00 a.m.

The Moon passes a few degrees South of Regulus in Leo. While obviously not visible at the closest due to daylight, the two make a nice sight about an hour before dawn to the East. Sharp-eyed observers may also catch a glimpse of Saturn, re-emerging into the morning sky, about 15 degrees to the lower left of the Moon.

As always, there's more to explore on NightSky.

Data for this calendar has been derived from a number of sources including the Observer's Handbook 2008 of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, Starry Night® software, and others. Only events with a reasonable possibility for Northern Hemisphere observers, or those events with some other significance, are given. All times shown are U.S. Eastern Time.

Sky Events
gifspacer gifspacer gifspacer
Affiliate Program

Join the Imaginova® Affiliate Program

If you publish a space or astronomy Web site or blog, earn extra cash by promoting Starry Night® on your Web site.

Click here to learn more!

It's easy to join and it's free!

gifspacer gifspacer gifspacer

Send us your feedback

Do you have a question, comment, suggestion or article idea to pass along to Starry Night® Times?

Click here to get in touch with us.

gifspacer gifspacer gifspacer

Starry Night®
is the world's leading line of astronomy software and DVDs. Visit to see all the great products we offer for everyone from novice to experienced astronomers.

You have received this e-mail as a trial user of Starry Night® Digital Download or as a registrant at

Starry Night® is a division of Imaginova® Corp.

To unsubscribe, click here.

To subscribe, sign up here.

Imaginova® Corp.
470 Park Ave South
9th Floor
New York, NY 10016



BlueStar Adapters

© 1999-2008 Imaginova® Corp. All Rights Reserved.
You can read our privacy statement and terms of service.

You have received this e-mail as a trial user of Starry Night® Digital Download
or as a registrant at To unsubscribe, click here.