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Village Sky At Night with Brian Watkiss

High-speed village

Posted on August 22 2011 at 1:31:48 0 comments

Amateur astronomer Brian Watkiss peers into the Village night sky.

Well, the very last flight of a Space Shuttle to the ISS came and went but it wasn’t visible from Alvechurch.

So, why can we sometimes see the Space Station easily and other times not at all?

Well, it is only visible when it is in a “Goldilocks” zone where the Sun has set for the observer but is still shining on the Space Station.

So it may pass right over Alvechurch in the middle of this zone but when it returns about 95 minutes later, the World has rotated and we have moved more than 1,000 a thousand miles eastwards and can no longer see it. (Alvechurch is moving at more than 800 miles an hour– better hold on!)

Twenty-two hours and 25 minutes later, we are back in the same place but the ISS is now somewhere else. The station orbit also varies as it is boosted now and again to compensate for atmospheric drag and it is due to be boosted even higher now that Shuttles will no longer be visiting.

So thank heavens-above.com for working out when it is visible.

Also unpredictable but for a different reason are comets. Two have been making news recently, Elenin and Garradd. Elenin is below the horizon for us at the moment but could be very exciting early next month.

Garradd is really well placed but you will probably need binoculars to see it. As soon as it gets dark at about 9pm, looking south, high overhead is the brightest star in the sky, Vega. To the left, at the tail of Cygnus the swan, is Deneb and below them, forming a giant triangle is Altair.

This is, incidentally, one of the best places to spot the Milky Way as it flows down through Cygnus towards Altair. Garradd starts the month about two thirds of the way down the line joining Vega and Altair, moving to the right and slightly downwards each day.

It will be a faint, fuzzy disc, in a slightly different position and, hopefully, brightening each day. Unfortunately, the full Moon on the 12th will spoil things for a few days but keep a look out for Garradd, it should be good.

That rotten old Moon does have some redeeming qualities though. Apart from possibly helping to get life started on Earth, on the evening of the 16th, it will be very close to the planet Jupiter.

Although low down in the east, they should make a beautiful sight and help to locate this grandest of all the planets which will come to dominate the evening sky over the next few months.

Finally, note that this year, the equinox is on the 23rd – at 10:04 to be precise. This because our calendar drifts by about a quarter of a day each year until it is reset by the extra day we insert each Leap Year.

So, next year, it will return to being on the 22nd. And of course, that full Moon is, this month, the Harvest moon. Shine on.


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