Total lunar eclipse
3 years 7 months ago

A Happy New Year to all stargazers! We hope you have an exciting Year of Discovery as the Elan Valley Dark Skies Team takes you on a monthly tour of what’s in the night sky throughout 2019. January’s edition of Eyes on the Night Sky contains some fascinating objects to study this month, such as a total lunar eclipse, a beautiful line of stars and a constellation that looks like a bear.

Lunar Eclipse

Total Lunar Eclipse

If you are willing to get up early, you can see a blood red Moon on 21st January, where the Sun, Earth and Moon are aligned perfectly (called syzygy) and the Moon passes behind the Earth’s shadow.

At 2.30am, the Earth’s outer part of its shadow (penumbra) falls on the Moon’s surface. The red part of this total Lunar eclipse starts around 3.30am, where the Moon passes into the Earth’s darkest shadow (umbra). The moon will become enveloped in shadow at 4.42am, when it will look red. It will emerge from the earth’s shadow at 5.46am and the celestial show will be over by 6.51am.

You will not need any optical equipment for this spectacle; all you need is warm clothing, hot drinks and your eyes! As the Full Moon falls on 21st January, the New Moon falls on 6th January.

Kemble’s Cascade

Kemble's Cascade

This small asterism is a real binocular treat. However, its location is in the hard-to-find constellation Camelopardalis - the best way to find it is using other stars and constellations. Imagine a line between the star Capella and the W-shaped constellation called Cassiopeia. Kemble’s cascade is halfway between the line and lightly westwards. Patience and perseverance will reward you with an unusual string of stars.


Sky map for Kemble's Cascade

This fine asterism was discovered as recently as 1980 by Canadian amateur astronomer Lucian J. Kemble, using small binoculars. Walter Scott Houston, author of ‘Deep Sky Wonders’, gave it the name ‘Kemble’s Cascade’ and published an article about in Sky & Telescope. Mr Kemble provides the most eloquent description of this asterism as being “a beautiful cascade of faint stars tumbling from the northwest down to the open cluster NGC 1502”.

Ursa Major Constellation

Ursa Major constellation over Craig Goch Dam


(Image by Duncan Fenwick)
One of the most recognisable constellations in the sky, this has been given many names: The Great Bear, which is the English translation from the Latin Ursa Major, the Big Dipper and the Plough, are a few of them. Look for the saucepan-shaped asterism that forms part of this constellation.


Ursa Major Constellation

In darker skies, the constellation takes the form of a bear prowling the skies as the dimmer stars can be seen when there is no little light pollution. The mythology predates recorded history.  The Romans tell a story of a beautiful maiden, Callisto, whom the god Jupiter noticed as she hunted in the forest. They had a son named Arcas but Jupiter’s wife, Juno, turned Callisto into a bear because of her jealousy and estranged her from her son.  Arcas grew up to be a fine hunter and whilst out in the forest, saw a great bear rushing up to him.  Frightened for his life, he shot an arrow at her, not realising that the bear was his mother who was overjoyed and rushed up to embrace him.  Fortunately, Jupiter stopped the arrow from piercing Callisto’s heart and desired to prevent more harm by turning her and her son into bears and flinging them into the heavens so they could live in peace among the stars. Juno became furious and forbade the two bears (Ursa Major and Ursa Minor) from wading in streams and hence began their eternal journey around the pole star.