Saturday January 16 2021




Village Sky At Night with Brian Watkiss

Take-off to the future

Posted on March 30 2019 at 1:23:25 0 comments


Amateur astronomer Brian Watkiss peers into the Village night sky.

Now, where were we? Ah yes, space. Did you see the SpaceX Crew Dragon in action? Wasn’t that amazing?

It performed perfectly, docking itself with the Space Station and returning to land in the Atlantic Ocean with equal precision.

Its Falcon 9 launch was like something from science fiction, with the first stage landing itself on a recovery vessel while the second stage was still pushing on to orbit.

It was reminiscent of the heady days of the Apollo missions except Crew Dragon is much larger than the Apollo command module.

This month should see the launch of a Northrop Grumman Cygnus vehicle with supplies for the ISS on the 17th.

This craft has to be grabbed by the ISS crew and docked manually and, looking a bit like a dustbin carrying a pair of parasols, it just doesn’t seem so sci-fi.

Then, later in the month, we should have the launch of another spacecraft designed to carry people, Boeing’s Starliner.

This will be another unmanned test flight to the ISS, using a more conventional launch vehicle and, indeed, Starliner looks more like an updated Apollo but, again, much larger.

Unlike the days of Apollo, it is now very easy to find out if these craft are visible here in Alvechurch: just go to

On a more down-to-Earth note, as it were, would you believe Mars is still visible in our evening skies? Looking south-west as soon as it gets dark, Orion is still dominating this part of the sky, although no longer centre stage.

To his right is the bright star Aldebaran and further right still are the Pleiades, much lower now and starting to get lost in the murk near the horizon.

Between these last two, sits Mars, now looking more like an unremarkable star and not so easy to find.

During April, the southern night skies are dominated by Leo, just to the left of south as it gets properly dark, and Gemini, just above Orion.

The twins are easy to spot with Castor sitting above Pollux, these being their heads and their bodies represented by two lines of faint stars trailing away to the right and down.

Vertically below Gemini is one of the brightest stars in this part of the sky, Procyon, in Canis Minor.

Actually, this “constellation” consists of just two stars, the other sits just above and to the right and is called Gomeisa, which I thought was in the Canary Islands.

If you’re out early enough, Sirius might still be shining like a headlight further down near the horizon.

Leo is easily recognised, looking like a lion standing proudly guarding his patch of sky from Orion and Gemini, with his foot on Regulus, the brightest of his stars.

In between Leo and Gemini, with some careful observing, you should be able to make out an inverted ”Y” of stars making up the constellation of Cancer.

Unfortunately, none of its stars is very bright so you will need a clear sky but as ever, get out and have a look. You never know what you can see.

Above: The Crew Dragon, Cygnus and Starliner vehicles (Images courtesy of NASA)

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