The nights are getting longer an at least there will be some short period to see the complete darkness, the Milky Way and the beauty of the night sky. At least if you are in rural parts of the country side. The constellation Sagitarius, Scorpius, and the planet Saturn with the ring are visible in the South. Scan the Milky Way with binoculars from midnight to around 2.30 am and you will see star clusters and nebulae. Once you use a bigger telescope you would be able to see Ceres and Pluto. Both currently be visited of passed by artificial satellites. Dawn is orbiting Ceres, while New Horizons has a flyby to Pluto.
Mercury is best seen from 4.20 am to 4.40 am in the early morning and in the constellation Gemini. By next week Mercury is in conjunction (superior) and 1.6° separated from the center of Sun. Venus is best seen from 9.20 pm to 10.30 pm in the constellation Leo. Mars is visible, though hardly, and best seen at 4.20. am in the constellation Gemini. By next week, Mars will be longer and longer visible in the mornings. Jupiter is best seen from 9.40 pm to 10.40 pm in the constellation Leo. Saturn is best seen from 10.20 pm to 1.40 am in the constellation Libra. If you use a small telescope or binocular you will be able to see the planet Uranus. Best seen at 1.40 am low in the East in the constellation Pisces. Uranus will be longer visible by next week.
The Moon is close to Venus and Jupiter near 18 July. New Moon on Wednesday 15 July. Ideal to have dark and moonless skies to see the Milky Way. The Sun rises at 4.58 am and sets at 9.27 pm. In a week’s time Sunrise is 11 minutes later and sets 11 minutes earlier. The days are getting shorter.
Wednesday 15 July
After Sun rise, at 5 am the Moon is close to Mercury. Not visible as it is daylight. The limb separation is 6° or 12 lunar diameters. Look for Mercury in the early mornings.
A daytime flare appears at 9.11 pm in the North North West at an altitude of 29° in the constellation Camelopardalis. A nice challenge to try! A bright flare visible at 11.30 pm West at altitude 36° in the constellation Bootes.
New Moon after midnight at 2.24 am. A very good time to admire the night sky as there will be no light disturbance. Go to rural places to observe the stars and the Milky Way!
The International Space Station (ISS) is back visible and appears at twilight at 4 am in the South at 4°, culmination or highest point is at 4.03 am in the South East at only 11°. ISS disappears at 4.07 am in the Eastern horizon.
Thursday 16 July
Today 1990, it is the 25th anniversary of Badr-A launch the first Pakistan satellite.
A daytime flare at 9.05 pm in the North North West at an altitude of 31° in the constellation of Camelopardalis.
ISS appears at 4.41 am in the South West. Culmination at 4.46 am in the South South East at 26°. ISS disappears at 4.51 am in the East horizon.
Friday 17 July
Today in 1850 it is the 165th anniversary when Harvard Observatory takes the first photograph of a star (Vega). It is also the 40th anniversary (1975) of the famous Apollo-Soyuz handshake in space.
ISS appears at 3.50 am in the South South West. Culmination at 3.53 am South South East at 18°. ISS disappears at 3.58 am in the East.
Saturday 18 July
Today in 1980 it is the 35th Anniversary of Rohini 1 launch, India's first satellite.
After Sunset, Venus and Jupiter and a waxing crescent Moon are close to the bright star Regulus in the constellation Leo. Venus is only 5 Lunar diameters distance from the Moon. Jupiter is 10 Lunar diameters distance. The Moon is visible as a tiny Lunar Crescent, only 67 hours after New Moon and is 8% illuminated. Worth watching!
At 11.21 pm a very bright Iridium flare appears in the West at an altitude of 33° in the constellation of Coma Berenices. Another flare after midnight at 2.23 am in the South South East at altitude 54° in the constellation Pegasus.
ISS appears at 2.59 am in the South South East at 11°. Culmination at 3.00 am in the South East at only 12°. ISS disappears 3.04 am in the East. Another flare appears at 3.51 am in the West North West at altitude of 56° in the constellation Draco. And the morning is finishing with a better appearance of ISS at 4.32 am in the South West. Culmination at 4.36 am in the South South East at 39°. ISS disappears in the East at 4.41 am.
Sunday 19 July
Not visible, but the comet PAN-STARRS or C/2014 Q1 is closest to Earth. The distance to the Sun center is 0.494 AU and the distance to the Earth 1.183 AU (1 AU, Astronomical Unit, is the distance Sun – Earth). Take a telescope or strong binocular and look for the comet in the evening skies.
At 0.41 am, after midnight one of the brightest Iridium flares appears in the South West at an altitude of 51° in the constellation of Hercules.
ISS appears at 3.40 am in the South South West at 13°. Culmination at 3.43 am in the South South East at 29°. ISS disappears at 3.48 am in the East. At dawn a bright flare appears in the South West at altitude 80° in the constellation of Andromeda.
Monday 20 July
Today in 1969 Apollo 11 astronauts Neil Armstrong and Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin became the first men to walk on the Moon. And today in 1976 the "Viking I Lander" spacecraft made its successful first-ever landing on Mars at Chryse Planitia and began transmitting pictures.
After midnight, on Tuesday morning, ISS appears twice. First at 2.49 am in the South South East at 19°. Culmination at 2.50 am in the South South East at 20° and disappears at 2.55 am in the East. The second appearance is 90 minutes later at 4.22 am in the West South West. Culmination at 4.26 am in the South South East at 54°. ISS disappears at 4.31 am in the East.
Tuesday 21 July
The Moon in apogee at 12.07 pm. The distance of the Moon center to the Earth center is 253043 miles or 404869.9 km.
After midnight a very short ISS appearance is at 1.58 am in the South East at 13°, and disappears already after 4 minutes at 2.02 am in the Eastern horizon. After 90 minutes ISS appears again at 3.31 am in the South West at 15°. Culmination at 3.33 am in the South South East at 42°. ISS disappears at 3.38 am in the Eastern horizon. Worth trying to observe the next pass after 90 minutes when the Sun rises at 5.04 am in the West. Culmination at 5.09 am, very bright in the South at 68° and disappears at 5.15 am in the Sunrise brightness in the Eastern horizon.
Wednesday 22 July
Today in 2381? The maximum theoretical length for a British total eclipse is 5.5 minutes. The eclipse of June 16, 885 lasted for almost 5 minutes and the same will be true for the Scottish total eclipse of 22 July 2381. None of us will witness … unless you freeze yourself in …
The Moon is visible with Earthshine for a few evenings. Look at about 10 pm before it sets in the West. After midnight the bright International Space Station (ISS) will cross right above in the skies from 4.13 am in the West South West and disappears at 4.23 am.
ISS appears at 2.39 am in the South at 28°. Culmination at 2.40 am in the South South East at 31°. ISS disappears at 2.45 am in the Eastern horizon. ISS appears again at 4.12 am in the West South West. Culmination at 4.16 am in the South at 65° and disappears at 4.21 am.
Get in touch with me via www.patrickpoitevin.weebly.com if you need more information.
Although the nights are shorter in Summer, due to the favorable temperatures, most of us prefer stargazing in Summer instead of the colder Winter. What to look for in the Summer night sky? Let’s start with Polaris also called the North Star or the Pole Star. Polaris is visible for us all year long, always in the same position, always in the same spot, when clear, from your home or observation spot. When on holidays, it will be different as you will move along the globe and your latitude position changes. Find it with a compass, right North and for our regions approximately 54 degrees altitude. Polaris stays still in the night sky as the Earth rotates beneath it and the stars appear to rotate around it. As a result it has been used for navigation for centuries.
It is easy to spot Polaris as two stars in the Plough, officially the constellation called Ursa Major, point directly towards it. Just extend the distance of the two end stars, five times and you will end up in Polaris. If you drop a vertical line from Polaris to the horizon, this is the North. If you are looking North, East is to your right, West is to your left and South is directly behind you. The Plough is made up from seven bright stars. The Plough is part of a larger constellation called Ursa Major, the Latin name for Great Bear, some call it the Big Dipper or Saucepan. Polaris, North Star or Pole Star marks the end of the tail of the constellation Ursa Minor or the Little Bear. The two stars at the other end of Ursa Minor, Kochab and Pherkad, are known as the Guardians of the Pole. Can you spot the two stars in the Plough “Dubhe” and “Merak” which line up with the Polaris? The second “star” in the handle of the Saucepan is what we call a double star. Some can see Mizar and Alcor form a naked eye double star in the handle of the Big Dipper asterism. Use a small telescope or binocular to spot both stars Alcor and Mizar. With normal eyesight one can make out a faint companion just to the east, about 12 minutes of arc from Mizar, named Alcor or 80 Ursae Majoris.
What else to look for in Summer? Our nearest large galaxy Andromeda can be seen in the Andromeda constellation, next to the big square or the constellation Pegasus. Andromeda galaxy appears to us as an elongated fuzzy object. Use a small telescope or binocular to spot. The Andromeda galaxy is so far away that its light takes two million years to reach us. Use the great square of Pegasus to find the Andromeda galaxy. A line between Mirach and Mu Andromedae points to the galaxy. Many people use the “M” or “W” shaped constellation Cassiopeia to find the Andromeda galaxy. The number of stars you can see inside the great square of Pegasus is an indication of how dark your sky is. Anywhere between four and 13 stars is good while more than 13 indicates excellent skies.
In August we have the Perseids meteor shower. Meteor showers are named after the constellation their meteors appear to come from when the shower is at its peak. So Perseids appear to come from the constellation Perseus. You should look for the constellation of Cassiopeia, which resembles the letter “W”. As it rises, the constellation moves to the North East section of the sky. Look in this section of the sky. Once you have found it look to the bottom left of it and you will see a group of stars that form somewhat of a crooked, upside down triangle. This is the constellation Perseus. More on the Perseids next month.
The Summer Triangle is a triangular shaped constellation made from three stars: Deneb, Vega and Altair. Deneb is the brightest star in the constellation, it is 60000 times brighter than the Sun. The light we see from this star has taken 1550 light years to reach us. Vega is the fifth brightest star in the sky and is 26 light years away. Altair is a bright star with two pale stars on either side. It is one of the nearest stars to Earth at only 17 light years away! These stars form part of three other constellations: Deneb in The Swan, Vega in The Lyre and Altair in The Eagle. Deneb is in The Swan or Cygnus is the constellation shows like a Swan flying down the Milky Way. The bright star Deneb forms part of this constellation. Find the other two bright stars, Vega and Altair to form the triangle. The triangle is also called The Northern Cross because if its shape.
Some facts or myths …
Ursa Major: This area of sky has been depicted as a bear in many cultures across the globe prompting certain ethnologists to think that one Siberian tribe migrated down into North America, Europe and China carrying their story with them. According to the Greeks it represents Callisto, a beautiful nymph seduced by Zeus. She gave birth to a son, Arcas, a great hunter. When Hera found out she turned Callisto into a bear and later on Arcas was about to shoot her in ignorance. Out of pity, Zeus turned Arcas into a bear before he could kill his mother and threw both animals into the sky by their tails, thus stretching them out. Various native American tribes have bear stories, notably the Algonquin and Iroquois, where the bear is being pursued by hunters represented by the bright stars we know as the handle of the Plough and Boötes. The seven brightest stars of the bear are known in the UK as The Plough or the Saucepan, in France as le Casserole, the Big Dipper in USA and in Reformation Britain as Charle's Wain or wagon (carried by him to his execution). Older Wiltshire folk still refer to it as Jack's Wain, where Jack is the star Alcor. King Arthur was named from Arth meaning "bear" and Uther meaning "luminous" - a direct link to this constellation in Celtic times.
Ursa Minor: Ursa Minor represents the hunter Arcas, son of Callisto who was about to kill his mother after she had been turned into a bear by Hera. Out of pity, Zeus turned Arcas into a bear just as he was about to let fly an arrow and flung both he and his mother into the sky by their tails, stretching them out to the size you can see today. Many people refer to this asterism as the Little Dipper, a smaller version of the Big Dipper, also known as the Plough.
Andromeda: Andromeda was the beautiful daughter of King Cepheus and Queen Cassiopeia. One day Cassiopeia boasted that she was more beautiful than the sea-nymphs or nereids. When Poseidon heard this he was enraged and sent huge waves crashing down on their city. After consulting an oracle Cepheus reluctantly chained his daughter to a rock on the edge of the sea as a sacrifice to Cetus, Poseidon's fearsome sea monster. Just as she was about to be devoured, she had a stroke of luck. Flying overhead was Perseus the hero, on his way back from a mission to kill Medusa. Quick as a flash he dived down and stabbed the monster through the heart. Not only was Andromeda saved, but the handsome Perseus went on to marry her.
Pegasus: Pegasus was born from the neck of Medusa after Perseus had decapitated her. This beautiful flying horse was eventually tamed by Bellerophon using a magic bridle given to him by Athene. One of Bellerophon's tasks was to slay the Chimæra, an unpleasant beast with the head of a lion, body of a goat and the tail of a serpent. This he duly did with the help of Pegasus. Legend names Pegasus as having brought forth the fountain of Hippocrene on Mount Helicon with the kick of his hooves.
Cygnus: The Eqyptians and Arabs both see this as a hen and not a swan. The Greeks had several myths involving swans. The most famous one has Zeus disguised as a swan to seduce Leda. The ploy was successful and she laid two eggs. Out of the first popped Castor and Helen, out of the second popped Polydeukes and Klytemnestra. Ovid describes the story of Cygnus, brother of Phaëthon, who roamed the land in search of his brother's body when he died following his fall to Earth from the chariot of the sun. Phaëthon's tortured body had fallen into the River Eridanus. Cygnus threw himself into the water and repeatedly dove beneath the surface in search of his brother. In mercy, the gods transformed him into a swan. This asterism is often called the Northern Cross and has Christian connotations.
Lyra: Lyra represents the very first musical instrument fabricated by Apollo from the empty shell of a tortoise and some cow gut. He later gave this to Orpheus who became renowned for his skill as a musician. He had a beautiful wife, Eurydice, who was bitten by a snake while being chased by a rapacious beekeeper. Orpheus went into the underworld to find her and after charming Persephone with his musical talent she agreed to let Eurydice back on the condition that Orpheus never looks back at her until the pair had left Hades. Unfortunately he did so, just before leaving and Eurydice was lost forever. The gods raised his lyre into the heavens as a tribute.
Aquila: In many cultures this constellation foretold the coming of the summer monsoon season. In Greek mythology Aquila was the bird that brought rain and the keeper of Zeus' thunderbolts. It was also the eagle sent daily to tear out the liver of Prometheus as punishment for giving men the knowledge of fire. In one version of the story, Heracles kills this eagle with an arrow and rescues Prometheus.
And some basic tricks for estimating distances in the sky. Stretch your arm, and …
• Spread your little finger and thumb and the distance in the sky is 25 degrees.
• Make a fist and the width of your fist gives the distance in the sky is 10 degrees.
• Spread your little finder and pointer and the distance in the sky is 15 degrees.
• Keep your 3 fingers next to your pointer together and the distance in the sky is 5 degrees.
• The width of one little finger in the sky is 1 degree.