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Village Sky At Night with Brian Watkiss

Enjoy a battle of the planets

Posted on January 20 2012 at 2:22:22 0 comments

Amateur astronomer Brian Watkiss peers into the Village night sky.

Jupiter has been the centre of attention for the past few months, being high in the sky and by far the brightest object.

February sees a challenger though, in the form of Venus. It will be fascinating to watch these two battle it out over the course of the month, although I think I know who will be the victor.

In the slightly yellowish corner is Jupiter, the giant of the planets, so large in fact that all the other planets would fit inside it. It is a slow mover though, trundling along at a mere 29,000 miles per hour, taking over 11 years to travel round the Sun.

In the slightly bluish corner is the lightweight contender, Venus. Slightly smaller than the Earth, it is a rebel of a planet that actually rotates slowly backwards, so that a day on Venus is longer than its year.

It is covered in a dense layer of clouds, reflecting most of the sunlight which is why it is so bright, although those same clouds make the surface hot enough to melt lead and they rain battery acid. Venus is whizzing along at nearly 80,000 miles per hour, completing an orbit of the Sun in 224 days.

You can watch these two in action during the whole month. For the first week or so, Venus is visible as soon as it gets dark, in the glow from the setting Sun and disappearing soon after but as the days go by, it will be getting higher and brighter while Jupiter sinks slowly towards it.

Watch for the Moon intervening on the 25th and 26th, making a wonderful sight. Mars will be watching from a safe distance, over in the south eastern sky, cowering under the constellation of Leo. Look for it later in the month, after about 8pm.

The brightest star in our sky, Sirius, is usually putting on a spectacular show this month. Slightly bluish and a mere pinpoint of light, this year it’s maintaining a low profile, low in the south. Above Sirius is Orion, the mighty hunter, one of the largest constellations, with his belt full of gaseous clouds (too much Christmas pud?), he seems to aiming his bow at our duelling pair.

With full Moon being on the seventh, we start the month with very bright skies but just look at how many objects are still visible against the glare. The two bright planets, obviously, but also all of Orion and Sirius below it.

To the left is Procyon, one of the two stars making up the constellation of Canis Minor, one of Orion’s hunting dogs. Above that are Castor and Pollux, a very well known pair and over to the right Aldebaran, the red eye of Taurus, is visible and to the right of that is the beautiful little cluster of stars known as the Pleiades.

February is certainly a very exciting month to view the skies but early next month is almost magical. Watch this Space!


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