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Village Sky At Night with Brian Watkiss

Dark side’s 50 years

Posted on September 18 2009 at 2:55:04 0 comments

Amateur astronomer Brian Watkiss peers into the Village night sky.

October, the dark nights are with us again, making observing possible by eight in the evening and even earlier after the clocks go back on the 25th.

This month marks 50 years since anyone ever saw the far side of the Moon, after the Russian Lunik 3 passed round the back of the Moon and then transmitted 20 or so rather poor quality images back to Earth, these being released by the Russians on the 26th. To celebrate, NASA is going to crash its LCROSS spacecraft into the Moon on the 9th.

Here in Alvechurch, Jupiter is still dominating the evening sky, looking even brighter in the crisp air of autumn. Of the other planets, Mars rises after midnight so is only visible in the wee small hours. Venus is very bright in the mornings, just before sunrise and on the morning of the 6th, Venus, Mercury and Saturn will be very close together, low in the sky, a little before six thirty. This should be a grand sight for early risers or people returning from an exceptional Monday night!

There is a meteor shower called the Orionids, which peaks on the 21st but it is worth looking a few days either side of this. This shower is caused by the Earth passing through the trail of debris left by possibly the most famous of comets, Halley’s, although the comet itself won’t be back for another 50 years or so. The Moon will be just a crescent at this time, setting soon after the Sun. Full Moon is on the 4th and this one is known as a Hunters’ Moon.

Just above and to the left of Jupiter is the constellation of Aquarius but although there are two bright stars visible in this area, Sadal Suud and Sadal Melik, it is tricky to make out a pattern resembling anything like the water carrier.

Looking further up, not quite as far as Deneb and Cygnus, and left (or east) a little, you should be able to make out a large square of stars quite easily. This is the great square of Pegasus, the largest of the autumn constellations.

The top left hand star, which is also the brightest, is technically in the adjacent constellation of Andromeda but most astronomers look upon it as being in both. This star is Alpheratz, about five times the size of our sun and 97 light years away.

The top right hand star is Scheat, a red giant, 500 times the size of our sun and 200 light years away. Two lines of stars stretch out from Scheat, the top one towards Cygnus, representing Pegasus’s front legs, and another line stretches out from the lower right hand star (Markab), to represent the horse’s head (yes, he’s upside down).

These complete the constellation but they aren’t very distinct and the great square is the recognisable bit. The number of stars visible within the great square is a good measure of how light polluted our skies are.

You won’t count many around here but get to know this constellation and then try counting the stars when you are somewhere with good visibility.
You’ll be amazed!


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