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Village Features

Launch of a dragon

Posted on November 27 2017 at 11:55:18

SpaceDragon

Amateur astronomer Brian Watkiss peers into the Village night sky.

December, the darkest of all the months.

The Winter Solstice is on the 21st, though the earliest sunset is from the 9th to the 16th when it occurs at seven minutes to four in the afternoon and the latest rise is a few days after the solstice, at 18 minutes past eight in the morning.

This is due to the Earth wobbling around its elliptical orbit, giving us shifting Solar Noons and the Equation of Time (?) but the shortest day is still the 21st.

Speaking of elliptical orbits, the Moon is closest to Earth (perigee) on the 4th, which is very close to the Full Moon on the 3rd. Will this make it look different, I wonder? The only way to find out is to get out and have a look.

This early full Moon means it will have quietened down by the 13th – which is the peak of the Geminid meteor shower, so keep an eye out for shooting stars around this time.

There is a second meteor shower this month too: the Ursid meteors peak on the 22nd although you may spot meteors at any time. The trick is to look.

Whenever you step outside on these dark winter nights, take a few moments to examine the sky – it may surprise you.

The late sunrise is handy if you want to find planets. From six in the morning till the Sun takes them away, Mars can be seen to the left of the bright star Spica, low in the south-east. A little further away, towards the horizon, you can find Jupiter, which should be very obvious.

During the course of the month, Mars will sink lower and Jupiter will climb a little higher each day. On the 14th, a thin crescent Moon is close by, guiding you to them as well as adding to the spectacle.

The 14th is also the 45th anniversary of the last time men walked on the Moon. Gene Cernan, the commander of Apollo 17, left the surface with the words: ”We came in peace for all mankind”. This mission was also the last launch of a manned Saturn 5, the largest rocket ever built by the USA.

As it happens, late December should see the launch of a new large space transport system when SpaceX straps three of its Falcon rockets together for a demonstration flight.

We won’t be able to see this from Alvechurch, but a single Falcon is due to launch a Dragon resupply spacecraft to the ISS on the 4th, so visit www.heavens-above.com to see whether this is visible, especially as it approaches the Space Station.

Actually the ISS is always a great spectacle whether or not a spacecraft is approaching, although sometime before the 17th, expedition 53 should leave to make way for the launch on that day of a Russian Soyuz carrying expedition 54 to the station.

A busy time up there – but then everywhere is busy at Christmas.

Have a happy one!

Above: SpaceX Dragon resupply vehicle 2017 (Picture courtesy of NASA)


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