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Village Sky At Night with Brian Watkiss

Join the club and look for Mercury

Posted on March 31 2016 at 11:23:36 0 comments

Cancer

Amateur astronomer Brian Watkiss peers into the Village night sky.

April, and we’re really starting to see some changes now.

The weather should be getting warmer(?), the evenings are getting lighter, especially since the clocks went forward, and the winter constellations are giving way to the ones we associate with spring.

This month also presents us with just about the best chance of seeing the planet Mercury.

At the start of the month, the Sun sets just before quarter to eight (remember a couple of months ago when it set just after lunchtime?).

If you look at the western horizon at this time, in the glow of sunset, you should be able to make out a faint “star” that is the tiny planet.

It is much easier to find with binoculars but make sure that the Sun is out of sight before you start.

Once found, it is then easy to spot every day and even easier on the 8th when a thin crescent Moon will be just to the left. It is visible all month but only for an hour or so after sunset, so do make the most of this opportunity.

Very few people have seen Mercury, so this is your chance to join quite an exclusive club.

I suspect few people have seen the constellation of Cancer. This is not surprising as it’s not very distinct, but is now in the best position to spot.

Looking south as soon as it is properly dark, Orion is still dominating the sky to the right with Gemini above and to the left, headed by Castor and Pollux.

Below these is the bright star Procyon which, with the adjacent Gomeisa, forms Canis Minor. To the left, and outshining everything except the Moon, is Jupiter, the largest planet in our solar system (at least, at the time of writing!).

It is amazingly bright and if you study it, you can see that rather than just being a point of light, it does look more like a disc.

Above Jupiter sits Leo with a reversed question mark of stars making up his head. Halfway between Leo’s head and Castor and Pollux, you should be able to make out an inverted “Y” of stars.

This is our elusive constellation of Cancer, although it doesn’t look much like a crab to me.

The star in the middle is known as Asellus Australis which means the “Southern Donkey Colt”, the one above being the northern one.

I don’t know who makes up these star names but I would like to know what they drink.

The star at the top is known simply as Iota but just to the left of it is a very interesting binary system that is unfortunately just too faint to see without, at least, good binoculars.

This pair of stars has a system of planets which includes one that is thought to be like Earth. A habitable planet with twin suns? Now where have I seen that before?

Anyway, get out there and have a look for yourself – and may the force be with you!


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