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Village Features

Spot the satellite

Posted on May 30 2017 at 3:23:10

Sky and NICER

Amateur astronomer Brian Watkiss peers into the Village night sky.

June, the month when it never gets dark and the nights get warmer (remember warmer?). The Sun may not go down till after all good boys and girls have gone to bed, but we do have a couple of bright planets on view.

The Summer Solstice occurs at 05:30 on the 21st so sunset is not until nine-thirty or so this month. This is when the Sun is at its highest in the sky at solar noon (notice how short the shadows are at this time – although mine is never very long).

Conversely, the full Moon never gets very high in the sky. This gives rise to the great Moon Illusion, whereby the Moon looks larger than when it is higher in the sky.

That it is the same size there can be no doubt, as it is always roughly the same distance from us – the slight variation in distance is imperceptible to the eye.

That it looks bigger is also true; have a look yourself, as soon as it appears over the horizon just after ten on the 9th. Why this happens is the subject of great scientific debate but I’m happy just to observe the effect, especially when it is still low in the eastern sky.

The first of our bright planets, Jupiter, is with us all month, being the very first thing visible as soon as the Sun has set. Over in the south-west, it is unmistakable and dominates the night sky.

Look out for a close encounter with the Moon on the 3rd and again on the last day of the month.

Saturn is now making a reappearance, rising in the south east as the Sun sets. Like the Moon, it never gets very high in the sky, so we never see it shining with its normal silvery-white hue.

It gets better as the month goes by and will make a wonderful sight on the 9th when it is very close to the full Moon.

On the 5th, comet C/2015 V2 Johnson is at its closest to the Earth but will still only be visible with binoculars. It starts the month near Arcturus and drops down close to Spica (to the left of Jupiter) by the end of the month.

Now, I always consider June to be satellite-spotting month and the largest of them all, the International Space Station, is always a magnificent sight and easiest to see.

You need to use the interweb to find out when it is visible, one the best sites being http://www.heavens-above.com.

On the 1st, a Spacex Dragon cargo spacecraft is due to be launched, so we may be able to see this too. It will be carrying supplies of food and fuel to the space station but is also transporting a couple of new experiments.

One of these is called the Neutron star Interior Composition Explorer instrument (above, right), and I can’t think of a NICER way to end these notes.


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