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Village Sky At Night with Brian Watkiss

Jupiter’s moons on view

Posted on September 30 2010 at 10:16:41 0 comments

Amateur astronomer Brian Watkiss peers into the Village night sky.

October and at the start of the month, it’s dark at about half past eight but by the end, it’s dark by half past six! Yes, I know this is half due to the clocks going back in the early hours of the 31st but it also shows how quickly the nights draw in at this time of year.

As soon as it gets dark, Jupiter dominates the scene. I’m thinking of asking for a small donation to charity to answer the question: “What’s that big bright star we can see in the evenings?” Jupiter would raise a lot of cash.

It is impressive though, and very obvious even though it is still quite low in the southeast. If you have a good pair of binoculars, this is an excellent subject. You will need to steady them by resting them (or your elbows) on something but it is worth the effort as it should enable you to see the four large moons and their changing positions on a daily basis. Look carefully for four tiny dots close to the planet.

Looking up from Jupiter, there are four bright stars forming a large, slightly tilted square in the sky. This is the main body of Pegasus, the Flying Horse.

Higher still, and to the left above Pegasus, is the wonky W that is Cassiopeia.

Just below the right hand ‘V’ is where comet 103P Hartley has been brightening. It will continue to move up and left during the month. It probably won’t be visible to the naked eye, especially as this is where the lights of Solihull illuminate our sky, but you never know – comets are very unpredictable. Try looking for a ‘fuzzy blob’ through binoculars.

Turning to face south and still looking high overhead, the two bright stars Vega and Deneb can be seen. Lower down, and making the third point of the Summer Triangle with them is Altair. If you look closely at Altair you can see a fainter star quite close and below them a similar star making a very thin triangle.

Now look to either side and you should spot two more stars, helping to make a diamond shape in the sky. This is Aquila the Eagle, although I think Altair and its companion make this constellation look more like a bat or a Manta ray – see what you think.

The star on the right hand wing tip is Deneb al Okab (meaning Tail of the Eagle). This is an interesting little star. It is 83 light years away and a little over twice as big as our Sun but it is one of the fasting spinning stars we know. Our Sun, big as it is, rotates once every 25 days (at its equator that is; 31 days near the poles. Well, it is just a big ball of hot gas!). Deneb al Okab rotates once every 16 hours at its equator, so you can see, it must be a dizzy little star!

Finally, some sad news. The launch of the very last Space Shuttle flight is due on the 1st of November. This may be delayed, of course, but I’m sure it will be well covered by the press. There is a rumour of another launch sometime next year, possibly June, but this is pure speculation. So keep your eye on heavens-above.com for what will probably be your last ever chance to see a space shuttle in flight.


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