Sunday October 25 2020




Village Sky At Night with Brian Watkiss

Get to know Cassiopeia

Posted on September 19 2012 at 3:00:24 0 comments

Cassiopeia and co

Amateur astronomer Brian Watkiss peers into the Village night sky.

I usually talk about what we can see in the sky from Alvechurch, and this usually involves the southern half of the sky from just south of east to just south of west.

This month I’d like to turn around and look to the north. What can you see? Well, in my case, just the back of my house.

Hang on, I’ll just walk round to the front. Right, there it is, the beautiful golden glow of… Birmingham.

However, the well-known pattern of stars called the Plough (or Big Dipper) is visible through the murk and I think everyone will be able to find it.

Most people will also know that if you draw a line upwards through the two right hand stars and carry on, the first star you will come to is the North Star or Polaris. Note that it is not the brightest star in the sky, far from it in fact, but it is high enough to be visible despite our Second City’s efforts at masking it.

If you now carry on with the line, a similar distance again, you will arrive at one end of a wonky W standing on end. This is Cassiopeia, another easily recognisable constellation and the bright star at the top or right hand end is Chaph (pronounced kaff).

It was just near here, in November 1572, that a Danish astronomer called Tycho Brahe saw what he described as a “new star” suddenly appear. It was so bright that it was visible even in daylight but it slowly faded and vanished after a couple of years.

We now know that it was really a star exploding, although we still refer to it as a Super Nova and they happen quite regularly. It is thought that a supernova in our own galaxy is overdue and could happen any time. That is really something to look out for!

Now Cassiopeia is a great little constellation to know, as it is always there in our sky and is at its highest during the winter months, just when the Plough is at its lowest, in the north. It is also handy for locating the nearest galaxy to ours.

If you look at the right hand vee of the W, you can see that it points to another bright star a little distance away. This is Mirach in the constellation of Andromeda (who was Cassiopeia‘s beautiful daughter in mythology).

Follow a line back from Mirach, at the same angle as the side of the vee, and just past another fainter star is the fuzzy blob that is the Andromeda galaxy, although it is best seen through binoculars.

Later in the evenings, from about 9.30 onwards, Jupiter rises in the north east, looking magnificent as ever. On the night of the 5th it will be very close to a nearly full Moon.

Later still, or rather early in the morning, from about 4.30, Venus is in a very similar position, visible till about 6.30. It, too, poses with a crescent Moon, on the 12th and 13th.

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