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Night Sky III

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Next to the moon Venus is our most familiar night sky friend through its eye catching brilliance. Stars twinkle as point sources but planets appearing like disks twinkle less. Using a telescope you can spot the planet has phases like the moon from crescent to full. Christians will be familiar with the term ‘morning star’ linked to Venus’s visibility just before dawn. In Revelation 22:16 Christ describes himself as such giving way to God. Orthodoxy sees St John the Baptist as such and the Roman Catholic Litany of Loreto sees the Blessed Virgin Mary as such, both giving way to Christ new dawn of humanity.
It’s unsurprising that Scorpion constellation broods over the equator! Over my years in tropical and equatorial Guyana, South America I had quite a few encounters with these beasts. I even shook my shoes out every morning before putting them on for work at our Anglican seminary in Yupukari. Looking to the skies at night we easily recognised it with its unmistakable coiled tail, a sight …

Night Sky II

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Once spotted in the UK autumn night sky, never forgotten - after all squares don’t have a natural feel to them! Four stars - Markab, Scheat, Algenib and Alpheratz - make up the  Great Square of Pegasus as useful as the belt of Orion for getting your bearings on the night sky. The give away is the black emptiness of the square. It’s actually not a constellation in itself but belongs partly to Andromeda and partly to Pegasus. Two stars on the square are on a straight line drawn from the Pole star to the edge of Cassiopeia constellation.
Here’s the most distant spot the human eye can see unaided. Andromeda galaxy (M31) has some hundred billion suns and is 2.2 million light years away. How can you find it? By finding the dark square of Pegasus and skipping two stars from one of the corners straining your eye to find an elliptical blur. Binoculars show it more obviously but don’t bring out the beautiful spiral shape evident in this telescope picture. It’s called the Andromeda nebula on acco…

Night Sky I

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Look right above your head after dark tonight in the UK and in the absence of clouds you’ll see three prominent stars Patrick Moore once named our ‘summer triangle’. On his map Deneb is rather to the north and Altair and Vega rather to the south. I find these a reassuring sight last thing on a clear night, evidence the summer season’s here, in Britain at least. With binoculars you can trace the star family shape or constellation of each bright star: Deneb in the Swan (Cygnus), Altair in the Eagle (Aquila) and Vega in the Lyre (Lyra). 
50 years on from Apollo 11 the Moon is as big a draw as ever to amateur astronomers such as myself. Full moon isn’t the best time to take out the binoculars, there’s more contrast and ridges visible in earlier quarters as it waxes and wanes. Best viewing is near the ‘terminator’, the line dividing lit and unlit portions. Since the Apollo missions we’re aware of the dark grey colour of lunar rocks. This makes the moon’s brightness the more remarkable since…