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Village Sky At Night with Brian Watkiss

Strawberry moon

Posted on May 22 2011 at 1:19:39 0 comments

Amateur astronomer Brian Watkiss peers into the Village night sky.

The Full Moon in June (sounds like the start of a song!) is known as a Strawberry Moon and this year, when the Moon rises on the 15th, it will be full and strawberry-coloured! This is, of course, nothing to do with the month but because it will be a total Lunar eclipse.

This occurs when the moon passes into the shadow of the earth. You would expect the Moon to be totally dark but the Earth’s atmosphere bends some of the sunlight so that it illuminates the Moon. Only the red end of the spectrum bends sufficiently to do this so an eclipsed Moon always looks some shade of red.

Unfortunately, the peak of totality is just before the Moon rises at about 21.20 and totality finishes just after 10pm. You will need a good view of the south east horizon, with the setting Sun right behind you, and because the full Moon is always very low at this time of year, the infamous ‘Moon Illusion’ will make it look very big.

The Sun, on the other hand, is always higher in the sky (at noon), peaking on the day of the Summer Solstice, the 21st. It also means it doesn’t get dark till after ten o’clock at night.

Away from the full Moon, Saturn is still visible in the south west, now very close to the second brightest star in Virgo, Porrima. If you have been observing Saturn regularly, you will have seen it appearing to get closer to this star over the past couple of months but from the 15th onwards, it will seem to turn round and head back in the direction it came from.

This is because we have “overtaken” it and are now seeing its true motion against the stars. All the other planets are hiding round the other side of the Sun but Jupiter is visible just before sunrise from about 02.30 all month, low in the north east.

Just to the left of Saturn is the brightest star in Virgo, Spica. It is actually two very hot stars, in fact so hot that they radiate huge amounts of ultra violet as well as X-rays. They are about seven times as big as our Sun and very close together, about one-eighth of the distance between the Earth and the Sun.

At this separation, they orbit each other every four days and this causes each star to flatten out to a sort of rugby ball shape. I’m sure a close-up picture of this system would look beautiful but if our Earth orbited this pair, life as we know it (Jim) could not exist. Thank heavens for our nice, warm, friendly Sun.

Of course, June, with its long, warm evenings, is a great month for observing satellites. The biggest and best of these is the International Space Station which is easily visible, and by visiting heavens-above.com you can find out when and where to look.

The very last Space Shuttle flight of all is due early next month and I’m sure there will be a lot of publicity so keep an eye out for it.


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