Monday 27th December 2021 to Sunday 2nd January 2022
On Tuesday 28th just after sunset, if you look close to the south west horizon it is possible to see Venus, with Mercury below it and slightly to the left.  Above Venus and further to the left are the gas giant planets Saturn and Jupiter. 

Four planets in one go isn't bad, but that's not all..........


If you have your telescope or binoculars out to view Venus and Mercury, you could also have a go at spotting Uranus and Neptune from 6pm which is when true darkness occurs that evening.  Uranus at magnitude +5.7 will be towards the south east, to the right of the Pleiades cluster of stars, above the constellation of Cetus.  Neptune, magnitude +7.9, is harder to locate.  It will be slightly west of due south and the easiest way to find it will be to draw an imaginary line from Saturn to Jupiter and then extend the line about the same distance past Jupiter - Neptune will be sat above the constellation of Aquarius.


I've missed Mars off the list of planets, but you can even spot that one next week if you are up early, around 7am, on Friday 31st.  It will be close to the horizon towards the south east, with the red supergiant star Antares to the right of it and also an 8%-lit waning crescent Moon.


Well that's covered all the major bodies in our Solar System - not a bad end to 2021 and let's hope it's a good omen for better times in the New Year!



Monday 20th to Sunday 26th December 2021

On Tuesday 21st at 3.59pm in the afternoon, the centre of the Sun's disc will reach its lowest position in the sky relative to the stars - this is called the Winter Solstice in the Northern Hemisphere, or in simple terms, the shortest day of the year - every evening after that it will stay progressively lighter a bit longer by almost four minutes.  This is because the Earth actually takes 23 hours 56 minutes and 4 seconds to rotate, but we round it up to 24 hours to make it easier to read a clock!


The late evening of Wednesday 22nd sees the peak of the Ursids meteor shower, so named because the radiant point where the shooting stars appear to originate from is in the constellation of Ursa Minor, near the star Kochab.  Around 11pm, you'll need to be looking towards the north.

The meteors are debris from comet 8P/Tuttle and they are travelling at around 70 kilometers per second when they hit our atmosphere and vaporise!  The Ursids is not one of the largest meteor showers and only produces typically 10 per hour.

Talking about things that are going really fast, I have received a tip-off that Father Christmas will be doing a secret test run of his sleigh with the reindeer on the early morning of Thursday 23rd.  Because he is travelling so fast, the sleigh will look like a moving bright light.  It is due to be appearing in the south west at 6.47am and will take about seven minutes to pass overhead, before disappearing to the east.  If all goes well, then he will be ready to deliver presents on Christmas Day.


On that note, it just remains for me to wish everyone a Happy Christmas and clear skies in 2022.



Monday 13th to Sunday 19th December 2021

The main astronomical event is the peak of the Geminid meteor shower with the best opportunity being the early hours of Tuesday morning 14th.  There is a 78%-lit Gibbous Moon creating some light pollution, but it sets around 3am, giving you a few hours of dark sky before sunrise.


The Geminids is so named because the radiant point where the meteors appear to originate from is in the same area of the sky as the constellation of Gemini, "The Twins".  The radiant point is near the bright star Castor which marks the head of the right hand twin.  If you get up early, around 4 - 5am, Gemini will be located towards the south west.


The debris that is creating the shooting stars is from an asteroid, which is unusual as most meteor showers are caused by debris from comets.  As a result, the debris contains traces of metals and this can create different colours as it burns up in the atmosphere.  We use the same principle to make fireworks colourful.


At the beginning of the year, a new comet was discovered.  C/2021 A1 is also called "Leonard" after the astronomer who first found it.  The comet is currently to the lower right of Venus which sets below the south west horizon shortly after sunset.  Telescope users should be able to see the comet's tail and it is hoped that it may even be visible to the naked eye.


Below is a diagram showing the comet's location through the rest of December, courtesy of Sky at Night Magazine, along with a photograph of the comet taken by astronomer Jose Chambo.




Monday 6th to Sunday 12th December 2021

At the moment, the early evening sky presents a great view of the planets Venus, Saturn and Jupiter when you look towards the south.  If you do this around 5pm on Tuesday 7th, a 16%-lit Crescent Moon is also added into the equation.

It's a brilliant time to get youngsters out in the garden with a telescope as potentially you can see the Galilean Moons of Jupiter, the rings of Saturn, Venus as a crescent and the Moon all in one hit without even having to stay up late and get too cold!

A few weeks ago I mentioned a series of visual effects on the Lunar surface known as "clair-obscur".  Later next week there is the opportunity to see two of them..........

Firstly, around 8.30pm on Saturday 11th, it is possible to observe the effect known as "The Face of Albategnius" which looks like the profile of a face in the crater with the same name. 
Then, around 10.20pm on Sunday 12th, "The Eyes of Clavius" can be seen as the Lunar dawn breaks over the crater Clavius.
While you are looking at the Moon, I thought it might be fun to spot where the Apollo missions landed over fifty years ago.



Monday 29th November to Sunday 5th December 2021

Venus was the Roman goddess of love.  It is also the name of the second planet in our Solar System.  Venus is sometimes described as our "sister planet" because it has a similar size and mass to the Earth.


Venus is certainly beautiful to observe - it is the brightest object in the night sky next to our Moon and a telescope will reveal that it has different phases, just like the Moon.


However, that's where any connection between Venus and love stops!  Venus has a thick toxic atmosphere of Carbon Dioxide with clouds of Sulphuric acid.  The clouds trap heat and the surface temperature is around 475 degrees Celsius.  This results in very high atmospheric pressure - about 90 times that of the Earth or the equivalent to being a mile under the ocean!  So if you travelled to Venus in your spaceship, you would be eaten by acid, cooked and crushed to death, but not necessarily in that order!  Lovely!!


Next week you can observe Venus from the safety of your back garden though as the planet is currently at its brightest.  Look towards the south west just as it's getting dark and the planet will be setting in a line with Saturn and Jupiter above and to the left of it.  Using a telescope will reveal a wonderful crescent shape, but if you're doing that, please make sure that your telescope is not pointing anywhere near the setting Sun - please wait until the Sun has completely disappeared below the horizon!