Starry skies in the Claerwen Valley
1 year 2 months ago


Welcome to May’s edition of Eyes on the Night Sky. As we are nearly halfway through the year, the nights become brighter due to the approaching Summer Solstice in June. This month, we will make the most of those dark skies for viewing faint fuzzies for those few hours of night up around the middle of May/early June, where skies won’t get truly dark. However, there are still plenty of interesting objects to be studied, such as Lunar features, planets, open star clusters and double stars and more.

The Great Cluster in Hercules (M13)

M13 and M92 in Hercules

The Great Cluster in Hercules (M13) is one of the Northern Hemisphere’s finest objects. Discovered by Edmond Halley in 1714, it was later catalogued by Charles Messier later that century. Located 22,000 light years away, this globular cluster contains around 300,000 stars! Look for Arcturus, a bright star in the south-eastern sky and look eastwards for the curve of the Corona Borealis constellation. To the left of that, sight the Keystone – M13 sits on the south-eastern side of the Keystone. Some people can see M13 with the unaided eye but only under extremely dark skies. Through binoculars and small telescopes, M13 has comet-like qualities but through telescopes of 8 inches’ aperture and above, this cluster starts to look incredible, with pinpoints of stars visible right to the core. The stars in this cluster are so densely packed they often merge with each other to form new stars.

Whilst in the constellation of Hercules, see if you can find another globular cluster:  M92. It’s often overlooked due to its brighter neighbour and despite its relative closeness to M13, it was discovered in 1777 by Johann Elert Bode. It is further away from us than M13 at nearly 27,000 light years and contains 330,000 densely packed stars! It can be seen with 10 x 50 binoculars as a blurry star with a brighter core. Through telescopes of greater sizes, individual stars can be seen.

M101 in Ursa Major

M101 can be a challenge for those with light polluted skies and is a distant object at 20.9 million light years. It is commonly known as the Pinwheel Galaxy and is 70% larger than our Milky Way. Due to its distance, it is staggering to think that this can be spotted with modest astronomical equipment. It can be spotted through binoculars under very dark skies. This face-on galaxy starts to reveal its spiral structure through telescopes of 8 inches’ aperture and upwards.

Jupiter will be in opposition to the Sun on 9th May, which means it’s on its closest approach to Earth and will be well place to study finer details on the planet’s surface. May is a good month for observing Jupiter as it is in the sky for most of the night, rising at around 9:20pm. With binoculars mounted on a tripod, Jupiter’s planets can be spotted.

Mars rises later at 1am at the start of May.

Saturn rises around midnight during this month at midnight.

The New Moon falls on 15th May and Full Moon on 29th May.

Garnet star / Mu Cephei

For a taster of what can be studied during the lighter months, there is a gem of a star to be found! The Garnet Star, or Mu Cephei lies at the base of the constellation of Cepheus which resembles a house. It is also named after the man who discovered Uranus: William Herschel. Upon studying the star, he said it was a, "… very fine deep garnet colour… and a most beautiful object."  Through small telescopes, the garnet colour stands out in contrast to its neighbouring stars. This Red Supergiant is 38,000 times brighter than our own Sun and is one of the most largest in our galaxy.