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Village Sky At Night with Brian Watkiss

Get to know the sky

Posted on July 21 2011 at 2:48:18 0 comments

Amateur astronomer Brian Watkiss peers into the Village night sky.

July 2011 is due to be one of the most momentous months in the history of space travel! Why? Well, the 8th should see the very last launch of a Space Shuttle.

Atlantis will launch on STS 135 to deliver crew, parts and supplies to the International Space Station for the last time. It will also, incidentally, return about two tons of rubbish from the station to Earth.

As Shuttle launches can be subject to delays – it has about two million moving parts – and the editor makes me hand in my homework a couple of weeks before you read this, you will have to go to heavens-above.com to see if the shuttle and/or the ISS is visible.

July and August are a great time for sitting out watching the skies for satellites because both months have significant meteor showers. Unfortunately, the biggest of these, the Perseids, peaks on August 12 with full Moon on the 13th.

The good news is that this shower gives a good show for a week or more either side of the peak so it is still worth observing. There are several minor showers from mid July to the end of August anyway so the sky is always busy.

When you have spotted an interesting item/event in the sky, it is very useful to be able to describe exactly where it is without having to resort to the pointing/spilling the drink comedy routine. To this end (and to avoid wasting whatever beverage you may be holding), I suggest you get to know a few easily identifiable bits of sky.

High overhead is Vega, a bright, bluish star at the top of the little parallelogram of stars forming Lyra. To the left of this is a cross of stars, the brightest being Deneb at the top. Actually Deneb forms the tail of Cygnus, the swan, flying along the Milky Way, downwards below Lyra.

Vega and Deneb form the base of an upside down triangle, with another bright star, Altair, below them at the apex. This marks the tail of Aquila, the Eagle. Way over to the right, close to the western horizon is Arcturus, very bright and slightly orange, sitting at the base of a “kite” shape of stars that is Bootes.

If there is a bit of Moon on show, it will be close to the horizon between south east and south west. Saturn will be very low in the south west but there are no other planets visible during the late evening. You should now be able to direct anyone to where a satellite is drifting across the sky or where you just saw a shooting star (it will have gone before you can speak).

It’s also handy when used with heavens-above because clicking on the date of a visible pass brings up a little star chart showing the track of a satellite.

My family and I have spent many hours, on holiday with friends, sitting outside tents, watching the spectacular light show that is the Summer meteor showers. It was always amusing to hear the ooohs and aaahs from around the campsite, indicating that lots of other people were doing the same.


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