Village Sky At Night with Brian Watkiss

Stars out in force as Tim touches down

Posted on May 30 2016 at 10:54:51 0 comments

June skies

Amateur astronomer Brian Watkiss peers into the Village night sky.

Ah, flaming June. It never really gets dark and it’ll be gone ten o’clock before you can start to see stars. However, it’s an interesting sky once it does appear.

If you look south after sunset, the first star to become visible is Arcturus, fairly high in the sky.

This is actually a Red Giant although it doesn’t look very red. It is quite close, being just thirty-six light years away (which is about eleven parsecs) and it is the brightest star in the constellation of Bootes.

Because of this, it is often referred to as “Alpha Bootes”, which my planetarium program shortens to Alp Boo, which always makes me jump!

Over to the right and lower is the planet Jupiter. This is the brightest object in the sky and is very obvious, visible all night for the whole month. Look for it especially on the 11th when a beautiful crescent Moon is close by.

Now, if we track back to below Arcturus, following the line of the ecliptic, there is Spica, the brightest star in Virgo.

This is actually a pair of stars, about two hundred and fifty light years away, each bigger than our Sun but so close together that they orbit each other every four days. Because Spica sits close to the ecliptic, the Moon gets very near on the 14th.

Now, moving further left, following the line of the ecliptic, we come, first, to the brightest star in Libra.

Unfortunately, it’s not very bright and, being low down, it may be difficult to see against the not-very-dark sky but it is worth looking for because it goes by the delightful name of Zuben Elgenubi (after a George Lucas character?).

Moving left again and down a little more we find two planets. The first of these is the red planet, Mars. We are just about as close as we will get to Mars this year, so it is quite bright but low in the sky. Its distinctive orange hue makes it quite obvious.

A little further to the left is the less-bright Saturn. We‘re getting near to the horizon now but you should still be able to find it even though it‘s not the brightest planet in the sky (why does that phrase sound familiar?).

Look especially on the 18th, when the Moon is close by and the brightest star in Scorpius, Antares, is just below.

Now, the big space news of the month will be the return to earth of Tim Peake. This is also due to happen on the 18th but, sadly, will never be visible here in Alvechurch because it takes just four hours for his spacecraft to touch down in Kazakhstan after separation.

Tim has done a great job in generating interest in science in general and manned spaceflight in particular, so Godspeed, Tim – as American astronauts are wont to say.

There is a launch to the space station scheduled for the 24th, so that may be worth looking out for in the heavens above.

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