BA News

March Night Sky

The recent dearth of bright planets in the evening sky is coming to an end as Jupiter reaches opposition on 8 March. It is then at its closest, biggest (44"), and brightest (-2.5), though with Jupiter the more important thing is how well placed it is in the sky; if you can see it at all you always get a good size disc. You won't need a star map to find it. Jupiter is the brightest object (apart from the moon)  in the evening sky at the moment, and it rises steadily in the east as the evening progresses, before it culminates due south around midnight, some 40 degrees above the horizon. It shines...

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February Night Sky

February is a good month to see two very different nebulae, the Eskimo and the Rosette. The Eskimo Nebula, NGC 2392 is a planetary nebula in Gemini. It was discovered by Herschel, though after he had moved to Slough. Planetary nebulae have nothing to do with planets , but tend to be circular and quite bright (hence the name), and may be quite small. The Eskimo nebula certainly fits the bill, as it is about 45" across (about the same angular size as Jupiter), and has a very distinct, complex central bright area, surrounded by a fainter halo (once seen as an Eskimo face and hood). It is in fact...

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January Night Sky

The strange winter we have been having this year so far has been hopeless for observing. There is so much moisture around that the rare gaps between spells of wind and rain have been murky rather than clear, with the brighter stars showing faintly through. We can hope for clearer skies in the new month and year. Since they have been so absent, I thought I would focus on the major sights that can be enjoyed with binoculars in January, just to get re-acquainted with the winter sky. The map below shows a broad aspect of the view south at about 9pm mid month. I have ringed in red the main items...

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December Night Sky

December is a time of transition for the night sky, with even Cygnus, that last element of the summer sky, disappearing in the West during the evening, as Orion, the core of the winter sky, rises in the East. This endless cycle of comings and goings over the year is, for me, one of the great pleasures of astronomy. Two particular things I'll be watching out for this month. The Geminid meteor shower has been increasingly bright in recent years, as the earth's orbit and the denser parts of the meteor stream have moved closer together. Geminids tend to be bright, but slow by meteor standards. The maximum...

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November Night Sky

Early morning continues to be the best time for observing the bright planets, with Jupiter, Venus and Mars (currently distant and relatively faint) dancing around each other in the pre - dawn sky. In the evening sky we still have Uranus and Neptune. The good news about these more difficult planets is, once you have found them at a given apparition, they won't have moved far the next time you look a couple of weeks later. Or even next year! This is also a good month for looking at our biggest galactic neighbours. The nearest ones of any significance are the two Magellanic Clouds, but they are quite...

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Night Sky in October

If you managed to find Neptune last month, then Uranus this month should be easy. It is bigger, brighter, further north, and has more reasonably bright stars nearby to help the star hopping. Uranus has for some years been making its way along the tail of Pisces, the constellation below the square of Pegasus. The map below shows  - with a blue dot - where it has got to this year. You should be able to identify it by position in binoculars or with a finder scope. Any reasonable size telescope should confirm the find by revealing the blue colour and small disc.     You may have...

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Eclipse of the Moon Monday 28 September

On (very!) early Monday morning we  have a good chance to see a total eclipse of the moon. These take place when the earth gets exactly in between the sun and moon in the sky. Once a month, at full moon, the moon, earth and sun are approximately lined up in this way, but because the moon's orbit of the earth is not quite in the same plane as the earth's orbit around the sun, on most months the moon misses the earth's shadow. But this month the moon will go straight through it, and, if our skies are clear, we will see it looking very different. When seen from the earth, the moon and sun have...

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September Night Sky

September is the month when I make my annual attempt to have a good look at Neptune. It is not an easy target. It comes to opposition on the 1st of the month, at magnitude 7.8 it is a reasonable binocular object if you know where to look, but that is part of the problem. It is right in the middle of Aquarius, one of the fainter constellations, and will be at its highest at around 11pm mid month at about 30 degrees above the horizon, due south. The general direction is south following the line of the 2 right hand stars of the Square of Pegasus, about twice as far as that side of the square; then...

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August Night Sky

As we enter August dark skies are again available, and the Milky Way is at its best running south from Cygnus overhead through Aquila to Sagittarius near the southern horizon at about 9.30. The Milky Way can be enjoyed in many ways - under clear skies away from city lights, and when your eyes are fully dark adapted (be patient, it takes about 20 minutes ) it is a wonderful sight with the naked eye. Scan it with a pair of binoculars, and you will see thousands of stars of varying colours and groupings. You can do the same with a telescope - rather than look for particular objects, I sometimes just...

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July Night Sky

July is another bright sky month, so not so good for nebulae and galaxies, but not a problem for the brighter planets, and sometimes it seems to be easier to pick up detail on them in these conditions. This is probably the best time this year to see Saturn. It can be seen very low in the south as darkness falls after 10pm - I provided a map in my May posting, but it should not be hard to find as it is the brightest object in that part of the sky. Saturn has something to offer at all levels of optical equipment. Try looking at it with the naked eye. Like all planets, it shines with a steady...

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