Adrian Dening's
Stars Over Somerset

 

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My weekly articles about what can be seen in the night sky over Somerset are broadcast every Thursday to Sunday at various times, on Yeovil's local community radio station Radio Ninesprings.
 
 
Since 2022, Greg Perkins has been broadcasting the articles on Apple FM in Taunton.
 
 
BBC Somerset also transmits Stars Over Somerset on Luke Knight's Friday evening show.
 
 
Please click on the link below to hear the interview that I gave BBC Somerset:
 
Adrian Dening & Luke Knight Interview MP3
 

 

 

Monday 3rd to Sunday 9th June 2024
 
There will be a new Moon on Thursday 6th.  One day either side of that, if you fancy a challenge, you could try spotting what will be a 2%-lit crescent Moon; known as a waning crescent the day before the new Moon and a waxing crescent the day after the new Moon.
 

On Wednesday 5th the crescent Moon will have risen above the north east horizon by 4am, just as it's getting light.  You might be able to identify planet Mars at the same time over towards the east.  Please don't be tempted to use binoculars or a telescope though, as the Sun will be rising in the same area.

 
 
 

If evenings are more your thing, on Friday 7th the crescent Moon will be setting towards the north west just as it's getting dark, say around 10pm. One curious thing to note is that a waning crescent always appears to be on the left edge of the Moon, where a waxing crescent is always on the right.

 
 
During the hours of darkness, the Moon will be below the horizon and this is a period favoured by astronomers because the lack of light pollution from the Moon makes it much easier to observe deep sky objects - those faint fuzzy blobs like galaxies and nebulas.  Last week I mentioned the Summer Triangle which is a great area of the night sky to find different objects that are listed in the Charles Messier catalogue.
 

The coming week would be an ideal opportunity to dig that telescope out and see if you can hunt down some of them!  A star chart to help you find the Summer Triangle and identify some of the nebulas contained within it is available below, under last week's post.

 

 

Monday 27th May to Sunday 2nd June 2024
 

If you are up early on the morning of Friday 31st May, say around 4am before dawn and look towards the south east, you will be greeted by a 45%-lit waning crescent Moon with planet Saturn a little to the left of it.

 
 

During the summer months, astronomers enjoy looking at an area of the night sky known as the "Summer Triangle" which is formed between the stars Deneb in the constellation of Cygnus, Vega in Lyra and Altair in Aquila.  Currently, if you are outside around 11pm, the Summer Triangle will have risen above the horizon to the east.

 
 

Why do astronomers get so excited about it?  Well firstly, you will notice a patch of faint cloud running across the triangle - it's not really cloud, rather the centre of our Milky way galaxy and you are seeing the light from millions of stars in the distance.

 
 

The Summer Triangle is the location of many deep sky targets for your telescope, for example the Dumbbell Nebula M27 and Ring Nebula M57, so named because of their obvious shapes.  There are also objects that do not appear in the Charles Messier Catalogue; instead they are listed in the New General Catalogue.  You could try to spot NGC7000 which is known as the North America Nebula because it looks like the outline of the USA with the Pelican Nebula beside it.  See if you can make out the shape of the pelican.

 
 
 

Finally, near the middle of the triangle is the black hole Cygnus X1, but you won't see that because no light can escape from it.  You would need an X-Ray telescope to detect it!

 

 

 

Monday 20th to Sunday 26th May 2024
 

I'm going to concentrate on the early hours of Friday 24th when we have a full Moon.  By 1am, the Moon will be heading towards the south and if you are outside at that time, the bright star Antares will be located a little to the left of the Moon.

 
 

Antares is a red supergiant and it is actually classed as a "variable star".  This means that its magnitude or brightness can change between +0.6 at its brightest, down to around +1.6 and I believe that currently it is around +1.0 so very easy to spot.  Antares is part of a binary star system, but you will only be able to resolve the main red supergiant star - its smaller companion will remain invisible.  Antares is huge - up to 16 times the mass of our Sun and if it was placed at the centre of our Solar System, the star would extend all the way out to Jupiter!

 

Binary stars orbit around each other because of their mutual gravity and if you can see both stars in your telescope, they are known as "visual binaries".

 

Getting back to 1am on 24th, immediately to the left of the Moon you can find the Spider Globular Cluster of stars, also known as M4 in the Charles Messier catalogue.  It will be a real challenge to see with your telescope because of the proximity of the full Moon which is the ultimate source of light pollution.

 
 

Globular clusters are collections of up to millions of stars, kept together by their mutual gravity and the centre of the cluster is brighter where they are concentrated.  Last week I suggested looking at M44 which is an open cluster - a small group of recently-born stars who gradually drift apart from each other.

 

 

Monday 13th to Sunday 19th May 2024
 

If you are outside around 1am on the morning of Tuesday 14th, a 35%-lit waxing crescent Moon will be setting towards the western horizon.  Just below and to the left of the Moon you will find a nice target for your telescope that I have mentioned before - the Beehive open cluster of stars, also known as M44 in the Charles Messier catalogue.

 
 
 

It's also a week for spotting those curious clair-obscur visual effects on the lunar surface, starting with the "Lunar X and V" around 4pm on Wednesday 15th.  The Moon will have risen about the horizon towards the east and even though it will be daylight, the moon should be visible, with the "X and V" on the terminator, where sunlight just illuminates the lunar surface.

 
 
 

Early Friday morning 17th, around 2am, is the optimum time to observe the clair-obscur effect known as "Plato's Hook" in the crater Plato.  A slightly gibbous Moon will be setting towards the west.

 
 
The crater Plato is located towards the northern part of the Moon and is almost perfectly round with a diameter of just under 100Km.  It is estimated to be almost 4 billion years old.  I have provided an image below, courtesy of astronomer Pete Lawrence, to help you identify Plato's Hook.
 
 
 

Finally, May is the start of the noctilucent cloud season.  These night-shining clouds are caused by sunlight reflecting off water ice crystals in the upper atmosphere at twilight.  They are too faint to be observed in daylight.

 

 

 

Monday 6th to Sunday 12th May 2024
 

I am just going to concentrate on one observing opportunity this time - before dawn on Monday 6th could be a very rewarding time to make an early start!  The constellation of Aquarius will just be rising above the east south east horizon from 4am and we have the peak of the Eta Aquariid meteor shower.  Just below the radiant point of the shower, Saturn will be poking its head up above the horizon if you have an unobstructed view in that direction.

 
 

At 4.17am, if you turn your gaze towards the west, the International Space Station should appear.  It will look like a bright star that is moving silently and the ISS will pass almost directly overhead, before disappearing 7 minutes later in the vicinity of the meteor shower's radiant point.  How cool is that!

 
 

Saturn will have a magnitude of around +1.07 so should be fairly easy to spot.  The ISS at that point will have a magnitude of approximately -1.31 or in other words, you won't be able to miss it!

 

If you delay heading back indoors for breakfast, Mars will then pop up above the eastern horizon and from around 5am, a very thin crescent Moon makes an appearance in the same direction.

 
 

Although Mars will have a magnitude around +1.2 it will be much harder to spot against the dawn sky.  The Sun will be rising shortly afterwards, which prompts me to give my usual warning about not taking the risk of using your telescope or binoculars, in case you accidentally catch a glimpse of it in the eyepiece.

 

 

Monday 29th April to Sunday 5th May 2024
 

First of all, something for the early risers!  From 4.30am on the morning of Wednesday 1st May, a quarter Moon will be just rising above the south east horizon.  This is an optimum time to observe one of the lesser-known clair-obscur visual effects on the lunar surface called "The Cutlass" because of its obvious sword-like shape.

 
 
 

At 2am on the morning of Friday 3rd, the famous "Globular Cluster in Hercules" reaches its highest point in the sky - this is the best time to observe the cluster as light from its hundreds of thousands of stars will be passing through less of our atmosphere.  Remember it is distortion created by our atmosphere that makes stars appear to twinkle and so the higher the angle, the better.

 

The constellation of Hercules will be located high in the sky towards the south east and the cluster, also known as M13 in the Charles Messier Catalogue can be found roughly halfway between the bright stars Vega in Lyra and Arcturus in Bootes. It is just to the right of the asterism (or shape) referred to as "The Keystone" in Hercules.

 
 
To the naked eye, from a dark location, the cluster will appear as a fuzzy blob.  Binoculars or a small telescope will start to reveal the detail with a bright centre where the stars are most concentrated.  I have provided an image below of what you are looking for, courtesy of Wikipedia.
 
 

Finally, there are a couple of excellent opportunities to spot the International Space Station during the coming week; Tuesday 30th April at 4.24am and Friday 3rd May at 3.35am.  In both cases, the ISS will appear towards the west and pass almost directly overhead.

 

 

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Screenshots courtesy of Stellarium

 

Copyright Adrian Dening and Radio Ninesprings 2024

 

To enquire about local astronomy talks and star parties
please contact Adrian Dening
 
07545 641068
info@starsoversomerset.com

 

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