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Village Sky At Night with Brian Watkiss

Venus to brighten up spring evenings

Posted on April 29 2015 at 9:52:34 0 comments

Looking west

Amateur astronomer Brian Watkiss peers into the Village night sky.

May, and it’s nearly ten-thirty before the sky is dark enough to see anything. A massive change from December when you had to put the lights on just after lunchtime!

However, Venus is visible all month, as soon as the Sun goes down, just to the north of west. It will be very bright and the subject of nearly every question I will be asked for the next few weeks.

Look for it on the 21st with a very thin crescent Moon just below and to the left.

Over the course of the month, Venus does something quite astonishing. As you may know, the Earth travels round the Sun and as it does so, the bit of sky that we see at night moves by roughly one degree each day.

You can see this if you look south at about ten-thirty at the start of the month (although the full Moon on the 4th might be a bit blinding at this time).

There is the tail of the lion, Leo. To the right is the reversed question mark of his head with the bright star, Regulus at the foot. Just to the right of Leo is that other bright planet, Jupiter, unmistakable as the brightest object apart from Venus.

Now if you look at the same time every night (or whenever the British weather allows) you will see that everything moves a little to the right, Leo giving up its place in the south to Virgo, with the bright star Spica at its base. Jupiter heads towards the sunset.

Venus, however, defies this celestial drift and stays in exactly the same spot in the sky! Of course, this is just because the movement of Venus is cancelling out the apparent movement of our sky, but it is fascinating.

Look out for it every day and watch the gap between it and Jupiter get smaller, as it traverses the constellation of Gemini.

Mercury also pops out from behind the Sun at the start of the month and should be visible for the first week or so, low in the glare of sunset. Try using binoculars to find it, but only after the Sun has gone below the horizon.

Apart from the bright planets, there is another object which is easy to see in the lighter evenings, this one man-made though. I am, of course, talking about the International Space Station.

It is impossible to predict when it will be visible as I write, because it occasionally has to boost itself a little higher to counteract the effect of drag caused by the tiny bit of atmosphere that it orbits through.

In the world of space travel, higher means slower, so the only way to find out when you might see the station is via a website which keeps up to date with its actual orbit. I suggest http://www.heavens-above.com and this will also tell you if you can see the Soyuz spacecraft due to be launched on the 26th.

This is the last vehicle to be launched to the ISS until August and this gap is quite unusual. Must be Summer Holiday time in space!


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