Sights to enjoy in the dark skies
A new newsletter for St Thomas community is an exciting prospect and I am excited to be contributing a small piece. Some of you will have seen me at St Thomas Library either giving a talk or listening to one. A talk later this year will be a follow up one about the Moon. The Moon Part 2. In the immediate future though my next talk will be a private one to a group of local Beavers. I love sharing my enthusiasm for the night sky and the world around us with practical demonstrations and models to bring the subject to life. Look out for a solar cooker making session during the summer.
The object of my contribution here is to entice you outside to observe some easy to find stars. I am a volunteer at the Norman Lockyer Observatory where I have the privilege of being a trained Telescope Presenter for one of the historic telescopes. Come and see me there on Saturday 7 March during the Open Day for Science Week.
I write this as a storm rages outside…cloud, rain, wind, none of which are good for observing. However, February is generally a good time to start as the atmosphere is more stable which enables stars to been seen more easily. You do not have to stay out late as it is still dark in the early evening and don’t forget the dark mornings! The highlight for many people, both seasoned astronomers and those new to astronomy is the splendid nebula in Orion. It can just about been seen with the naked eye. This is what makes astronomy so accessible; no special equipment is needed to witness something special. Once you have the interest, then a good pair of 10 x 50 binoculars will show you an increasing number of visible stars as you gaze more deeply. Telescopes will show you the nebula in all its glory with the formation known as the Trapezium visible. The nebula is located just below the belt – see diagram below:
Once you have discovered the delights of seeing the great red star of Betelgeuse…this is heading towards the supernova, or end of life, stage in its life so well worth catching…, it is nice to ponder on the distances involved in this formation or constellation of stars. That nebula, which looks so clear, is actually 1344 light years away, while Betelgeuse is 640 light years away. A light year is just 6 trillion miles. 6000000000000 miles.
And, following the mighty Orion, are the harbingers of Spring: Leo and Virgo, the latter with the main star of Spica, or wheat sheaf. I’ll take a deeper look at those next time.