Noctilucent clouds over the Elan Valley, 21st June 2019
9 months 2 weeks ago

Welcome to July edition of Eyes on the Night Sky. For the first three weeks the night sky still remains in deep twilight, so if you would like to study fainy fuzzies (galaxies, nebulae, etc.), the best time would be the last week of the month. Noctilucent cloud season is proving to be a great one so far this year, with many reports of bright clouds and complex structure. Fortunately, there is still time to see this wonderful summer phenomenon over the next few weeks.

Partial Lunar Eclipse- 16th July

Partial Lunar Eclipse

There is a partial lunar eclipse that can be observed in the UK this month – make the most of it as the next time the moon moves through the Earth’s umbral shadow will be on 16th May 2022, where there will be a total lunar eclipse. On 16th July, look towards the south east as the moon rises at around 9.15pm. For observers in the UK, the partial eclipse would have already started and the shadow will become more apparent as the moon rises higher into the sky.

Partial Lunar eclipse diagram

The southern edge of the Earth’s lighter penumbral shadow will first move across the northern face of the full Moon (at around 7.45pm), followed by its darker umbral shadow. The part we will see when the Moon rises is when it is already sweeping though the umbral shadow. At midnight, the Moon moves out of the umbral shadow. The New Moon this month occurs on 2nd July, the Full Moon on 16th July. To find out more about how lunar eclipses happen, watch the NASA video below:


A Nebula and a Star Cloud

M17Credit:ESO/INAF-VST/OmegaCAM. Acknowledgement: OmegaCen/Astro-WISE/Kapteyn Institute

It’s exciting when distant nebulae can be viewed through 10x50 binoculars. One such nebula which is pleasing in binoculars and telescopes is M17, the Swan Nebula. This object may best be sought towards the last week of the month when astronomical darkness returns for an hour from midnight, although you may be able to catch a glimpse of it in the deep twilight. This bright emission nebula is situated in towards the centre of our Milky Way Galaxy in the constellation of Sagittarius and lies 5000 light years away.

Location of M17 and Small Sagittarius Star Cloud

It will appear as a small, fuzzy patch in binoculars and if you have a telescope of 5 inches and above, the nebula will start to resolve into a ‘swan’ shape, becoming even more apparent in telescopes of larger apertures. The incredible image above was taken with the VLT Survey Telescope (2.6-metre diameter) and shows the larger part of the molecular gas region in the constellation of Sagittarius. The nebular has a star forming region; one of the brightest and massive in our galaxy.  It contains 35 hot young stars which form an open cluster within the nebula.

Whilst in the area, scan your binoculars slightly downwards towards the 5 o’ clock position to M17 and you will be in for a treat! Your field of view will fill with a multitude of stars. Named Messier 24, it isn’t officially a deep sky object but is a result of an alignment of Earth and the centre of the Milky Way. Also known as the Small Sagittarius Star Cloud, this object spans a massive 16,000 light years. It is thought that the region should be filled with interstellar dust but due to the rare alignment, we can ‘see’ a gap in the dust, revealing an abundance of distant stars, nebula and clusters. The image below shows what can be captured by specialist imaging equipment in the region.

Sagittarius Star CloudsImage: Sagittarius Star Clouds (M24) (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) Martin Heigan

Date for your diary:

On 21st July, 10am – 4pm, The Elan Valley will be celebrating the 50th Anniversary of the Apollo 11 Moon landing with fun, astronomy-themed activities for all ages. There will be activities for children with Astrocymru and talks about the Moon landing with Pete Williamson. For those who remember the Moon landing on 20th July, 1969, there will be an opportunity to share your memories and listen to others with the Elan Links history project. There will be a rare opportunity to see a special collection of Apollo 11 memorabilia and a viewing of the live coverage from 1969. For more details and to book on the children’s activities, click here.