Saturday January 16 2021




Village Sky At Night with Brian Watkiss

Bright planets, space shuttles and meteors

Posted on July 30 2018 at 1:28:18 0 comments


Amateur astronomer Brian Watkiss peers into the Village night sky.

August, an exciting month anyway with warm weather, holidays and lovely long evenings. Oh well, two out of three isn’t bad.

This year, August is even more exciting because we have news of developments in manned spaceflight and all the bright planets to see, as well as one of the best meteor showers.

So, to the USA, and since the last flight of space shuttle Atlantis seven years ago, American astronauts have relied exclusively on Russian Soyuz vehicles to get into orbit.

This year may see that change, starting this month with a launch of an unmanned Crew Dragon spacecraft by SpaceX.

Then Boeing hope to launch their version, also unmanned, later in the month. Of course, the timescale could slip, and they are unlikely to be visible from Alvechurch, but if they are successful, it will pave the way for launches to the ISS later this year and then they could, occasionally, be seen.

Now for the plethora of planets. For the past couple of months, Venus has been clearly visible in the glow of the sunset, which is getting a little earlier, at about half past nine. Look for a very thin crescent Moon close by on the 14th.

As ever, Venus has defied the westward drift of the skies while Jupiter has complied. So, just a short distance to the left we can see the giant of our Solar System, looking brighter because it’s further from the Sun’s glare.

As the Moon trundles round Earth, it visits each of the planets in turn, getting close to Jupiter on the 17th.

Moving to the left again, the same distance as before, following the line of the Ecliptic, we find Saturn, rising at a much more reasonable time now. This planet is quite distinctive too, being as bright as Jupiter but a little more yellow in colour.

As the skies begin to properly darken and Venus sets, the two largest planets really stand out even though they are relatively low in the sky. The Moon, continuing its trundle, visits Saturn on the 20th/21st.

Now, Mars is sitting well below the Ecliptic at the moment. They do that, you know, these planets: wobble up and down above and below that mysterious line that marks the path of the Sun across our sky, and it’s the Red Planet’s turn to be a bit coy.

So we have to wait until ten thirty or so before we get chance to see it and even then it’s not very high above the horizon. The Moon helps or hinders on the 23rd, because it’s close to full, which is actually on the 26th.

The first half of the month is the time to go meteor spotting as the Perseid shower occurs while the Moon is out of the way.

So, after a hard day’s holidaying, what better way of spending the evening than sitting in a comfy chair, with, perhaps, a little something to quench the thirst, staring skywards and looking for shooting stars.

Above: SpaceX and Boeing spacecraft (Image courtesy of NASA)

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