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Village Sky At Night with Brian Watkiss

Planets dance into Spring

Posted on March 20 2012 at 3:32:17 0 comments

Amateur astronomer Brian Watkiss peers into the Village night sky.

After the excitement of March, the evening skies continue to enthral right through Spring, although by the end of the month, it won‘t get dark until nearly nine o‘clock.

April sees the last of Jupiter as it disappears around the back of the Sun. It will pop out on the other side and be visible to early risers in June but retired gentlemen will have to wait until about October to see it again.

Venus stays with us though and will dominate the early evening south western sky, wandering right through the constellation of Taurus during the month until the early sunsets of May finally obscure it. Look out for it especially from the 2nd to the 4th when it passes through the beautiful cluster of stars, the Pleiades.

The Moon passes close by on the 24th and 25th, by which time Venus is almost in the constellation of Auriga. Look for the bright star, Capella, just above. Mars becomes more conveniently viewable too, all month, high in the south.

Now, as every schoolboy knows, Mars is about half the size of the Earth in diameter but it is amazing just how bright it is; much brighter than the nearest star, Regulus, which is the brightest star in Leo. It is also the most colourful object in the sky, looking really orange due to its surface being covered in iron oxide or rust.

Compare it to the huge red giant star at the top left of Orion, Betelgeuse, visible in the south west for an hour or so after sunset. Saturn is also rising earlier in the south east, although not by much because we’ve gone and put our clocks forward haven’t we?

Now, you may have heard that the Sun is coming out of its quiet period or Solar minimum. It does this regularly every 11 years or so but this time the minimum was exceptionally quiet and long, probably because I bought a Solar filter for my telescope.

However, the Sun now seems to be making up for it by having a bit of a wild party up there. This has given rise to the spate of Solar storms which have ejected huge amounts of charged particles in our direction.

These have been making the news as they pose threats to satellites in Earth orbit and can even, very rarely, threaten electricity supplies as they generate pulses in the distribution system. They also generate one of the most wonderful sights in nature – the Aurora Borealis or Northern Lights.

Now, before you ask, NO, you can’t see them in Alvechurch. They will only ever be seen close to the horizon and in a northerly direction. What do we have to the north? You need to find somewhere with really dark skies, especially northwards, and you need to be lucky.

A north facing coast would be good or a dark part of one of the National Parks with a clear horizon. You can also receive alerts as to when aurora are likely from Aurora Watch, run by Lancaster University (http://www.aurorawatch.lancs.ac.uk.).

The Sun is working up to a maximum next year so this is the time to start looking, you just need to be in the right place at the right time. Good luck.


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