Night Sky

August Night Sky

August brings one of the year's major meteor showers - the Perseids. The term shower is rather is misnomer, as it implies a constant stream for its duration. What you get is a steady trickle, typically of one every few minutes. The maximum is due on the night of 11 Aug. There will be a first quarter moon, but very low in the south, so it should not provide much visual interference. All you need do is to get a comfortable seat looking skywards, ideally roughly facing east, but the direction doesn't matter much. And then just watch for as long as you feel comfortable. If it suits you to stay up late,...

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July Night Sky

Midsummer is our one chance to look at the night sky in the direction of the galactic centre. This is in Sagittarius, which never rises far above the southern horizon. (Our compensation is that we in the northern hemisphere are better placed to look at nearby galaxy clusters in Virgo and Coma Berenices!). We can't see all the way to the galactic centre in visible light, as dark clouds of interstellar dust  get in the way, but if we look in that general direction there are many interesting nebulae  near enough to be seen in binoculars, and offering very good views in a good size telescope....

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June Night Sky

June has the shortest, and least dark, nights, and therefore is generally not a good time for observing. This June, however,we have two planets at or near opposition. Mars came to opposition late in May, and Saturn reaches it in early June. This is good, and bad, news. The good news is that planets, or at least the brighter ones, are easy to see in twilight, and can be seen better than in a fully dark sky when they are almost blinding through a telescope. The bad news is that if they are at opposition at this time of year they will be very low in the sky - they are opposite the sun, and therefore...

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May Sky

A slight change of title this month, as I will concentrate on the transit of Mercury on May 9. A transit is the term used when a celestial object passes in front of a bigger one from the relevant view point, and can therefore at least in theory be seen against the bigger object's disc. In the solar system, the most commonly observed transits are those of Jupiter's four Gallilean moons, which frequently pass in front of Jupiter from our viewpoint -  though  spotting them is another matter, even when you know they are there! (If the object passing in front is comparable in apparent size to the object...

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April Night Sky

April is your best opportunity this year to see Mercury (or, at least, it is if you, like me, are an evening, rather than morning, person!) Mercury is never very far from the Sun, but on April 18 it reaches its maximum at this apparition of 20 degrees east of it. This means that Mercury will be roughly where the sun will be in the sky in May -i.e further north, and therefore further above the horizon after sunset , and hence easier to spot. The best time to look is about 1/2 hour after sunset, and it is worth trying on any day in the 2nd half of April . You will need a good view of the horizon...

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