Saturday January 16 2021




Village Sky At Night with Brian Watkiss

Red moon on Monday

Posted on December 28 2018 at 12:26:14 0 comments


Amateur astronomer Brian Watkiss peers into the Village night sky.

Welcome to another year here on planet Earth. Actually, this year marks a special anniversary. It was in the late afternoon of January the 1st 2009 that I was lured into writing these notes. There’s a moral there somewhere.

Anyway, what’s going on in the sky? Well, Mars is still with us, having been visible in the evening sky for the last six months.

It seems to hang around for so long because it’s travelling around the Sun at about half the speed that we do, so we don’t just pass it by like the outer planets but it keeps up with us for a while like a stray dog on a country walk.

It’s high in the south as soon as the sky is properly dark still with its orange hue. A substantial Moon is just below it on the 12th. It disappears in the west just after ten o’clock.

The big Solar System event of the month is the total eclipse of the Moon in the morning of the 21st. This is when the Moon passes through the shadow of the Earth and this time, it is at perigee.

This just means it is at or very near its closest to the Earth in its elliptical orbit, so will appear slightly larger than normal anyway.

Unlike a Solar eclipse, the Moon doesn’t disappear completely; it turns a deep red colour because our atmosphere bends red light round our planet which then reaches the Moon. Think of how red the sky can be after sunset.

Unfortunately, not much light makes it, so it is very dark – but your clever eyes compensate for this and make you wonder why you can’t take a decent photo of the event.

It all starts at half three in the morning when the red shadow starts creeping across the face of the Moon, from the right, covering it completely from twenty to five for about an hour.

It’s a shame it’s a Monday morning, unless you happen to be one of those lucky so-and-sos who don’t work on Mondays and Fridays, but do try to at least take a peek during maximum.

Something everyone can see are the meteors of the Quadrantid meteor shower, which peaks on the 4th but shooting stars may be seen a few days before and after this date.

The Moon is out of the way at this time so any time you are out at night, keep half an eye on the sky ‘cos they always take you unawares!

Now, what could be one of the most significant events in manned space flight might take place in January. This will be the launch of an American space vehicle capable of carrying crew into space.

It’s a test flight of the SpaceX Crew Dragon, so no-one will be on board, but it is scheduled for the 7th.

This could be delayed because NASA has safety concerns about the project, seemingly due to the behaviour of the SpaceX’s founder, Elon Musk. I can’t think what they mean.

Above, left: Moon at maximum eclipse. Above, right: Partially eclipsed, showing difference in brightness.

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