Sunday October 25 2020




Village Sky At Night with Brian Watkiss

Exciting time for stargazers

Posted on November 26 2011 at 2:21:01 0 comments

Amateur astronomer Brian Watkiss peers into the Village night sky.

December is always the most exciting time of the year, especially this year. Firstly there is Jupiter, high in the southern sky and visible all night long. It is the brightest object in the sky, apart from the Moon which is close to Jupiter on the 6th and full on the 10th.

The Moon will rise on this day, partially eclipsed at about 3pm, but the eclipse is all over by 4.30. December’s full Moon is the highest of the year and tends to look the brightest with the cold, clear air. See if you are being followed by a Moonshadow. Jupiter’s moons are easy to spot through good binoculars, as little dots either side of the planet and their motion is obvious if you observe on consecutive nights.

We are also starting to see the beautiful Pleiades to the left of Jupiter, as a little cluster of bluish stars sitting in a cloud of star-forming gas. As we go through December and into January, the “vee” of Taurus follows the Pleiades and is soon chased by Orion, like a mad farmer after a wild bull.

There is a plethora of man-made objects to be seen too. The easiest to spot is the ISS and this time of year it’s visible at fairly convenient times both in the evening and morning. We also have the Chinese space station, Tiangong, which has had another vehicle docked with it but that has now returned to Earth. It only ever scrapes the rooftops of Snake Lane for me, so is best observed from an upstairs window.

The curiously named Russian probe, Phobos Grunt, is stuck in earth orbit, having had insufficient grunt to propel itself to Mars. This is actually a sad loss to science (and to us all) as it was due to collect a sample of the surface of Mars’ moon Phobos (Grunt is apparently Russian for soil).

However, it is visible over Alve-church until it re-enters the atmosphere and burns up, probably in early January. The rocket that launched it is also there and has already started to rotate, making it appear to flash as it passes over. These are all on so do have a go at spotting them.

Except for the ISS, they tend to have a “brightness” of around 2.5 and as a gauge to how bright this is, look below Jupiter and there you will find a sea monster! It is actually the constellation Cetus, and just below and to the left of Jupiter is the brightest star in its head, Menkar.

To astronomers, it is a cool Red Giant (and if I was a star, I would want to be a cool Red Giant) but more importantly, it has a magnitude (or brightness) of 2.5, just like our satellites.

Something to look out for on the evening of the 24th will be a new bright star in the sky. It will be in the west rather than the east, low down near the setting Sun and, of course, it’s not a star but our old friend Venus. It will climb steadily higher during January and on the 26th will be close to a low, thin crescent Moon, always a beautiful sight.

So, lots to look out for this festive season and I’m sure I will be out most nights! Happy Christmas.

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