Village Sky At Night with Brian Watkiss

Bright star is Jupiter

Posted on August 15 2009 at 1:04:15 0 comments

Amateur astronomer Brian Watkiss peers into the Village night sky.

September – the nights are drawing in and it’s the start of autumn with the Autumnal Equinox on the 22nd. There is a new, bright evening star, visible low in the south east in the evening twilight.

This is Jupiter, the largest planet in our Solar System; so large in fact that all the other planets would fit inside it with room to spare, and it has at least 39 moons. It will dominate the early evening sky until the new year, probably causing an increase in UFO sightings as people view it from moving vehicles.

Jupiter does make a good starting point for locating the constellation of Capricorn as it is sitting right on top of it. Look for a line of five stars just underneath Jupiter, with the brightest ones at each end of the line. The right hand one has a similar star just above it. This line forms the top of an inverted triangle of stars forming Capricorn but you will need good viewing conditions as it is not very distinct and very low in the sky.

Looking up from Jupiter, almost overhead now, is a very bright, white star, at the top of a cross of stars which form the constellation of Cygnus the swan. This is Deneb, a giant of a star, probably about one hundred times the size of our Sun but roughly fifteen hundred light years away and one of the most distant stars you can see. It has reached the end of its life and will probably explode sometime during the next million years or so.

It sits at the tail of Cygnus, which, I think, really looks like a swan and, in a dark location with good conditions, can be seen to be flying along a misty streak across the sky. This is the Milky Way, the cloud of stars that make up the galaxy in which we live. It is almost unbelievable that you are looking at a mass of stars, as it looks just like a thin cloud, but that is our galaxy.

Deneb and Cygnus are an excellent way of locating the Milky Way, wherever you are in the world. To the right and slightly lower than Deneb is another bright, almost blue star, which is very distinct. This is Vega, often used as the home star of alien races in science fiction, possibly because it is a mere 25 light years away. It is in fact very similar to our Sun in size, although somewhat hotter.

Lower down in the sky and to the left, is another star of similar brightness. This is Altair, which together with Deneb and Vega forms a triangle in the sky, pointing to the south. This is the Summer Triangle, an unofficial term first coined by Patrick Moore but now in common usage. Altair is very similar to our Sun and is one of the nearest stars you can see, at a mere sixteen light years away.

Do you know which star is actually the nearest to us?

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