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Village Sky At Night with Brian Watkiss

The beautiful planet

Posted on May 27 2014 at 1:26:17 0 comments

Looking south

Amateur astronomer Brian Watkiss peers into the Village night sky.

Another month, another planet. this one being the most beautiful of all. First, though, look north-west into the sunset, which is now so late that it doesn’t get dark till after some pubs have shut.

Here, low on the horizon, we get our last glimpse of Jupiter before it disappears behind the Sun. It should just about be visible all month together with Castor and Pollux, the two bright stars of Gemini which have kept it company for the last few months. Farewell to the king of the planets.

Next in line comes Mars, that most socialist member of our Solar System, easily visible in the south west, although never very high at this time of year.

We have just overtaken it as we orbit the Sun, and our movement will make Mars appear to shift to the left and approach the bright star Spica in Virgo. You can watch it on a daily basis, wandering across the sky. This is parallax.

Look out especially on the 7th, when the Moon is very close, and compare the colours. It’s quite amazing to think that Mars is just about twice the size of the Moon.

Full Moon is on the 13th and this is always worth looking at in June because it never rises very high and always appears huge compared to normal.

Now we come to the star of the show. To the left of Mars we have seen Spica and further left still another “star” of similar brightness. This is the planet Saturn, shining with a distinctive yellowy silvery light, with a nearly full Moon close by on the 10th.

If you received a telescope for Christmas (or, indeed, since) you simply have to point it at this heavenly body. It will take your breath away. Also visible in a telescope is Saturn’s largest moon, Titan.

So, for a short time each evening, three planets are visible and if you are out and about at this time, you can impress your friends by pointing them out (although they may not remain friends for very long!)

It is interesting to note, though, that Jupiter is just over three times further away than Mars, and Saturn is nearly twice as far as Jupiter.

For the first week or so of the month, you may be able to glimpse another planet just after sunset. This is Mercury, that diminutive little body that is always very close to the Sun and is best seen with the aid of binoculars but only when the Sun has completely gone from the sky.

June, with its longer, warmer (?) evenings, is a good month for satellite spotting. The biggest and best of these is, of course, the International Space Station. Go to heavens-above.com to find when it is visible.

The Orbital 2 supply craft, which has been scheduled to launch to the space station several times already, has once more been postponed and is now due on the 10th.

Fingers (and a few other things) crossed. . .


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