Sunday October 25 2020




Village Sky At Night with Brian Watkiss

Starry treats brighten the darkest of months

Posted on November 27 2014 at 11:13:25 0 comments


Amateur astronomer Brian Watkiss peers into the Village night sky.

With just over seven and a half hours of daylight for most of it, December is the darkest of months – unless you happen to live near the railway station, where the ultra-bright illumination over the new steps throws half its light into the sky.

Is London Midland mounting a counter attack to the Campaign for Dark Skies? (see

However, this month also brings us the brightest full Moon, this year on the 6th. Just as the Sun is at its highest in the sky around the Summer Solstice, so the Moon is at its highest around the Winter Solstice.

Combined with the crystal-clear air we get on the cold nights, this means the full Moon is incredibly bright and if you give your eyes time to dark adapt, you can actually see colours by moonlight.

This is even more remarkable when you consider that the surface of the Moon is relatively dark, similar to the surface of a typical road. It will be interesting to compare its brightness with the railway’s efforts. I must visit the Scarfield Hill area to check.

If you’re an early riser, the Moon acts as a pointer to the planet Saturn, which is reappearing from behind the Sun now.

From about six thirty till seven thirty on the morning of the 19th, the Moon sits just above Saturn in the morning twilight. Look low in the south east to start the day with a planetary observation.

Following the new Moon on the 22nd, the 25th is also special as a very thin crescent Moon lies just above another planet, in this case Mars, although it is now so far away that it will just look like a slightly orange star. Look low in the south west from about five in the afternoon for a Christmas treat.

If you enjoy seeing “shooting stars”, then December brings a double treat. The 14th is the peak of the Gemini meteor shower and the 22nd is when the Ursid shower peaks, which is handy as this is the night of the new Moon.

As ever, the place to look is the darkest bit of sky you can find, which is usually overhead so no looking while you are walking along!

December the 9th should see the launch of SpaceX 5. This is a commercial craft taking supplies to the ISS and should be very bright indeed, so go to to find out if it is visible.

It is quite remarkable that forty years after landing on the Moon, the USA has no means to even put a man into orbit. All personnel are currently ferried to the space station using Russian spacecraft. Well, that may be about to change. . .

On December the 4th, NASA is hoping to launch a new spacecraft, the Orion, from Cape Canaveral.

It is scheduled to happen at about lunchtime and it will only orbit twice before re-entry so it won’t be visible here, but it is an important event in the history of space flight.

Let’s hope NASA has something to celebrate this Christmas.

Above: Image of the Orion spacecraft, courtesy of NASA

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