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Village Sky At Night with Brian Watkiss

A winter wonderland

Posted on November 28 2010 at 3:14:17 0 comments

Amateur astronomer Brian Watkiss peers into the Village night sky.

December is here again, and the first thing to notice is the strange astronomical phenomenon whereby it only seems like a fortnight since last Christmas.

Jupiter is still with us right through into January but it sets earlier each evening until we lose it in February. On December the 13th the Moon passes very close to Jupiter and again on January the 10th. I think this is always a marvellous sight; try observing a few days before and after and notice the relative movement of the Moon.

There is another planet that is easy to see, but you will have to get up early because from around 6am for most of December, Venus is on show. You should be able to see it for an hour or so before it is lost in the daylight, low in the south east. This will be your last chance to see Venus for a year as it disappears round the far side of the Sun in a wonderful demonstration of the Solar System in action.

The day of the Winter Solstice, the 21st, starts with a total lunar eclipse. This is when the shadow of the Earth covers the Moon. Unfortunately it occurs just as the Moon is setting and the Sun is rising, with the maximum occurring at 8:15 in the morning but it will still be worth looking out for, from about an hour or two beforehand.

Later that day we will see a spectacular full Moon, very high in the sky towards midnight. Away from the dazzlingly bright full Moons, to the left or east of Jupiter is the ’V’ of Pisces, albeit rather indistinct. This ‘V’ encloses the bottom left corner of the ‘Square of Pegasus’.

Further east again is the little, cloudy cluster of stars, the Pleiades and east of that we can now see the distinctly red star Aldebaran, the ’eye’ of Taurus the bull. This sits in our nearest cluster of stars, the Hyades. At a mere 150 light years away, it’s not as obvious as the Pleiades but a grand sight through binoculars. Look for another tall ‘V’ of stars forming the rest of Taurus.

As we move into January, the great constellation of Orion rises earlier, very obvious with the very red, giant star Betelgeuse in the top left corner. Lower down are the three stars of his belt and three more forming his sword hanging down. Around the middle of these is a misty patch which is a cloud of star-forming dust and gas, visible with the naked eye but another great target for binoculars.

On a crisp, clear winter’s evening, this part of the sky is absolutely jaw dropping. In fact, I am constantly having to stop to retrieve my jaw, especially when the brightest star we can see, Sirius, appears at the foot of Orion to complete a magnificent tableau across the sky from the south west to the south east.

Finally, last year on December 24, I’m sure I saw a UFO crossing the evening sky with a tiny red light on its leading edge. See if you can spot it this year.

Happy Christmas.


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