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Village Sky At Night with Brian Watkiss

Magical sights in the skies

Posted on February 21 2012 at 11:07:55 0 comments

Changing planet alignment

Amateur astronomer Brian Watkiss peers into the Village night sky.

I’ve been writing these little bits of nonsense for just over three years now, but I have to say that this month is the most exciting in all that time. In particular, the evenings from the beginning of the month to the 14th will be more magic than Bob himself.

This is the first time that all five bright planets can be seen in one evening, although not all at the same time. Starting after the Sun has set, say about 6.30pm, begin by looking for Mercury, very low in the west. It is not bright but with good eyesight or preferably a pair of binoculars, you should be able to spot it in the twilight.

It will help to have a good view of the western horizon, which is not easy in Alvechurch due to the ridge from Cobley Hill to Coopers Hill. Incidentally, Uranus is just to the left of Mercury but you would need a telescope to see that.

Up above Mercury and very easy to spot as soon as the Sun has gone are Jupiter and Venus. At the start of the month, Jupiter is to the left and higher than Venus but they get closer each day and by the 12th they are level and are said to be in conjunction (which just means close together).

A few days later and Venus is higher, giving a great demonstration of how the planets seem to wander around the sky – in fact the word “planet” is from the Greek for “wanderer”.

As an aside, it is thought by some that a similar conjunction of Saturn and Jupiter set the three magi off on their journey to find a newborn king a little over two thousand years ago. In fact, the two planets came together twice in one year which would surely have been seen as a sign by the three astrologers and could easily have given rise to the “Star in the East” story.

Anyway, back to Alvechurch in 2012 . . . By about eight in the evening Mars will have risen over on the opposite side of the sky in the east. Find the distinctive constellation of Orion in the south and then look as far again to see a bright red “star” underneath Leo. This is Mars, at its closest to us for several years.

You will now have to wait for about thee hours, but this is plenty of time to observe the rest of the sky. In particular, look for the brightest star, Sirius, just below and to the left of Orion. Usually it is a magnificent sight but this year outshone by the planets.

At about eleven in the evening, over in the east where Mars was, is our final planet, Saturn. Very bright and quite distinct, it should be easy to see, so have a go at planet-spotting – it will be the last time you will be able to do this for several years.

Near the end of the month, on the 25th and 26th, a thin crescent Moon passes between Venus and Jupiter in another wonderful conjunction.

By the way, I lied earlier. Of course, nothing is more magic than Magic Bob!


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