Sunday October 25 2020




Village Sky At Night with Brian Watkiss

It’s a happy new year for planet spotters. . .

Posted on December 30 2014 at 2:19:02 0 comments

Planetary positions

Amateur astronomer Brian Watkiss peers into the Village night sky.

January, and it’s a very happy new year for planet spotters because there’s some great spotting to be done. It all begins as soon as the Sun sets, which ranges from five past four to ten to five during the course of the month.

As soon as the sky starts to darken, look towards the sunset, which should be in the southwest unless you’re in the wrong hemisphere. Close to the horizon, you should spot the brightest planet of all, Venus.

At the start of the month, you will need a good clear view of the horizon but as the days go by, Venus will rise higher and higher and be visible for longer before it sets, becoming dazzlingly bright as it does so.

Then, from about the 4th, the tiny planet Mercury starts to become visible. It is tricky to find but, using Venus as a guide, you should be able to find it, especially with binoculars.

It climbs higher each day and on the 10th, it will be very close to Venus. From the 14th, it starts to peel away from Venus and sink lower in the sky as it travels round in front of the Sun. On the 21st, a very thin crescent Moon is close by.

Venus, meanwhile, climbs higher and higher to get closer to the other member of the “Inner Rocky Planets Club”, Mars. Because it is so far away from us at the moment, the red planet would be tricky to identify except that its colour gives it away.

It does look quite a vivid pink. Look for it below the right hand side of the square of Pegasus.

Now, it is marvellous to watch our planetary neighbours wandering about the sky but have you ever considered them as real worlds? Planets that you could stand on, perhaps.

Well, starting with the smallest (a very good place to start), Mercury is only a little larger than our Moon at about one third of the diameter of the Earth.

It resembles the Moon in appearance too but is much more dense – so, although weighing a little over ten stone here on Earth, I could bounce around like a child on Mercury, at a mere three stone.

The snag is, being so close to the Sun, temperatures can reach over 400 C in the sunlight but fall to minus 170 in the shade as it has no discernible atmosphere. Could be a little uncomfortable.

Mars is about half the diameter of the Earth but has the same gravity as Mercury, so similar bouncing around is to be had.

The surface shows signs of erosion by water and a thin atmosphere, which helps to restrict the temperature to between plus 20 and minus 125, not as bad as on our Moon.

Venus is so bright in our sky because it has a dense atmosphere of mostly carbon dioxide with clouds of sulphuric acid.

So, although it is nearly the same size as the Earth with the same gravity, the atmospheric pressure is 92 times higher, which is similar to being about a mile underwater here on Earth.

Thanks to the greenhouse effect, it’s hot too; about 470 degrees C.

So as you watch these dots of light roam around our sky, imagine what they’re really like and maybe be glad you’re not there.

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