Saturday January 16 2021




Village Sky At Night with Brian Watkiss

Start of winter brings great constellations

Posted on October 30 2018 at 1:33:54 0 comments


Amateur astronomer Brian Watkiss peers into the Village night sky.

November, the month of fireworks and fun and looking forward to Christmas. We still have the Red Planet in the south as soon as the sky has got dark.

Mars seems to have been with us for ever but it is now nowhere near as bright as it was in the summer.

The reason it seems to be hanging around is because we have got so far ahead of it that we are now curving around the Sun and the planet appears to be moving across the sky away from the western horizon and will leave the constellation of Capricorn, where it has been since June.

It is still as bright as the brightest stars but is less obviously a disc. On the 26th, NASA is due to land another craft here, Insight, designed to probe the planet’s interior and check for “Marsquakes” (sounds like some sort of confectionery).

Back here on Earth, if you’re quick, you might just catch Saturn low in the glow from the setting Sun. Look for it on the 11th when a thin crescent Moon is very close by. Incidentally, on the following day, the Moon passes in front of Pluto.

Unfortunately, this planet is too small and far away to be seen but it’s nice to know where it is, isn’t it?

As the sky darkens, you should just be able to see a star very close to Mars. This is Deneb Algedi, the brightest star in Capricorn and possibly the only one you can see. Look for the rest of an inverted triangle of stars to the right.

Higher in the sky the great constellations and asterisms of winter are starting to appear. Above Mars to the right is another inverted triangle but this one is huge.

Almost overhead is Deneb in one corner, then to the right is Vega in another and finally, lower down, is Altair in the third.

These are the brightest stars in this region of the sky so are unmistakable, and they each sit in their own constellations. Deneb can be seen to be at the head of a cross which is Cygnus the swan.

Vega is at the top of a parallelogram of stars forming Lyra, which is a sort of a harp (not a ukulele, thank goodness). This little constellation is tricky to make out but, being fairly high in the sky, can be seen with a little patience.

Even trickier to discern is Aquila the eagle, which is yet another triangle, this time with Altair at its head. High above Mars to the left is a large square of stars.

This is Pegasus and the number of stars you can see contained within is an indication of levels of light pollution. How many can you see?

Despite last month’s Soyuz failure, on the 15th a Cygnus supply ship is due to be launched to the Space Station so look out for that on – and towards the end of the month, comet 46P/Wirtanen might start making the news, but I think that’s more for next month.

As for the fun I mentioned at the beginning of this item, that starts on the 28th in Alvechurch Village Hall. See you there!

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