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Village Sky At Night with Brian Watkiss

Get your binoculars out

Posted on October 23 2010 at 12:12:19 0 comments

Amateur astronomer Brian Watkiss peers into the Village night sky.

Well, Comet 103P Hartley never became as spectacular as I had hoped; In fact I never really got a good view of it at all. This was because it had a tiny nucleus surrounded by a thin cloud of dust and gas which was never as bright as the sky glow from the lights of Birmingham. Oh for less light pollution. A space probe called ‘Deep Impact’ will be making a close pass to this comet soon, so look out for pictures in the press.

As you read this, the very last Space Shuttle should have launched towards the International Space Station. Please check with heavens-above.com for up-to-date information. You may, at least, have a chance to see it when it undocks. There are other vehicles that will supply and re-man the station but none will be as bright as a Shuttle.

Nearly as bright as the Space Station in our skies at the moment is Jupiter. It’s that big, bright “star” high in the south, visible all night now. The 16th will bring the wonderful sight of a waxing gibbous Moon (that is a bit more than half and getting bigger), very close the planet. Jupiter is really well placed for viewing with binoculars.

If you haven’t got a good pair of binoculars then put a request for some in your letter to Santa. If possible, they should be at least 10x50. That is, a magnification of 10 with lenses of 50mm diameter. This size is big enough to be really useful but small enough to be easily portable and comfy to use.

Ideally, you should rest your elbows on a table or any object which allows you to view comfortably. Jupiter can easily be seen to be a disc although without any detail on it. The four big moons are the main attraction though. They appear as a little row of dots, very close to the planet and can be on either side. They can be seen to shift position, even over a matter of hours, with careful and steady observation.

Try comparing their positions nightly. Another good target for binoculars is the cluster of stars called the Pleiades. Look for the big “Square of Pegasus” just above Jupiter, preferably early in the month, around the time of new Moon on the 6th.

Now follow the line of stars from the top left hand corner which form the constellation of Andromeda. As you fall off the end of this line, look a little further and down again and there is the patch of stars and gas making up the Pleiades, a little over 400 light years away. It is quite beautiful anyway but binoculars reveal a sort of mini “Plough” with a background of gas and hot young blue stars (and what gentleman could resist that combination?).

On the 21st, the full Moon passes very close to the Pleiades and can be seen to move relative to the cluster over the course of the evening.


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