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Village Sky At Night with Brian Watkiss

Weird world of Saturn

Posted on April 14 2011 at 12:59:11 0 comments

Amateur astronomer Brian Watkiss peers into the Village night sky.

So it’s May already. It stays light long into the evening, which is great, unless you want to observe the night sky. Still, the evenings are usually warmer, so that’s a good incentive to stay out till gone eleven o’clock.

The big constellation of Leo is high in the sky, just west of south as soon as it gets dark about ten thirty. Following a line formed by Leo’s tail and back foot, down and left, you come to a diamond of stars with the hot, blue star, Spica, at the bottom.

The diamond is the most visible part of the constellation of Virgo and this year Virgo is despoiled by the planet Saturn, right in the middle. You can easily tell that it is a planet because it doesn’t twinkle. It’s not looking so bright this year because it is quite low in the sky but it is distinctly yellow in colour.

It is a great object for viewing with binoculars because, although the rings are tricky to see, you should be able to pick out its giant moon, Titan. It orbits the planet every 16 days, so you should be able to spot a shift in position on a daily basis. This is one of the biggest moons in the Solar System, bigger than our own Moon and even bigger than the planet Mercury.

Saturn itself is a weird world, with more than 50 moons and those beautiful rings. The planet is actually mostly gas and if you could put it into a giant bath tub, it would float! It is one of the most wonderful sights through a telescope, so if you know someone with one, see if you can bribe them into showing you Saturn.

Now there will be confusion (isn’t there always) because to the left and above Saturn is a bright, orange star. It is actually brighter than Saturn but I’m hoping that you will now be able to tell that it is a star. It is the brightest star visible at the moment and here’s how to remember its name.

Look high in the sky, almost overhead, and you should find the Plough or Big Dipper. It is sort of standing on its handle and if you follow the curve of the handle down, you will “arc” down to our star, Arcturus (see, astronomers can be a little wild at times!).

It actually sits at he bottom of the constellation of Bootes, a sort of “broken kite” shape of stars, above and to the left. It is a dying star that has used up all of its hydrogen and has expanded and started to turn red. At about 36 light years away, it is relatively close but it is moving away from us at about three hundred thousand miles per hour!

The first week of the month should see some meteor activity as the Eta Aquarid meteor shower peaks on the 6th. Although not a big shower, it is interesting because it is the result of the earth passing through the debris left behind by Halley’s Comet. And it is well away from the full moon on the 15th, which is the Flower Moon.


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