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Village Sky At Night with Brian Watkiss

See two full moons for the price of one!

Posted on December 28 2016 at 2:04:56 0 comments

Moon and Venus

Amateur astronomer Brian Watkiss peers into the Village night sky.

Happy New Year, and 2017 gets off to a great start because right from the beginning, that brightest of planets, Venus, is visible as soon as the Sun sets – which ranges from five past four at the beginning of the month to ten to five at the end.

As soon as the sky starts to darken, look to the left of the sunset, which should be in the southwest unless you’re in the wrong hemisphere.

Higher in the sky now, compared to last month, Venus is very easy to spot as it is dazzlingly bright and it shines like a beacon for three hours or so before it gets too low to see.

Add to this the fact that a thin crescent Moon is close by for the first two days of the year, and you can see why I’ll be out and about in the late afternoon on New Year’s Day.

Between the 2nd and the 3rd, the Moon passes close to the other planet visible at this time, Mars, which is now looking like a slightly pink star, above and to the left of Venus.

Of course, the Moon isn’t really passing close because Mars is around six hundred times further away, but you can’t gauge distance when looking at the night sky.

The 3rd is also the peak of a decent meteor shower, the Quadrantids, which should put on a good display with so little moonlight to get in the way. The Moon steps across the sky day by day, lying near Aldebaran in Taurus on the 9th, reaching perigee on the tenth to become full on the 12th.

Whoa, what-igee? Perigee – it’s the technical term for when the Moon, or any satellite, makes its closest approach to Earth. On the 10th, the Moon is twenty six thousand miles closer than it will be on the 22nd, when it will be at apogee (aren’t some scientific terms fun-sounding?).

Now here’s a thing. The Moon is actually full just before midday on the 12th so it will really appear as full on the evening of the 11th, as it will on the 12th. Have a look, it’s like having two full Moons.

Later in the month, on the 19th, the Moon lies very close to another planet, Jupiter. This time though, you will need to be observing in the morning at around seven o’clock.

Regular early starters will have noticed this planet all month, shining in the south-east as a morning star, very close to a real star, Spica, the brightest of the constellation of Virgo. It is worth getting up early to take a look at this pairing any day of the month.

As January draws to a close, we find the Moon back where it started, very close to Venus and Mars. A beautiful demonstration of the Solar System in action and an un-needed reminder of the swiftness with which time marches on.

The nights will soon be drawing in!

Above: The Moon and Venus.


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