2 years 9 months ago

Welcome to this month’s edition of Eyes on the Night Sky. There are plenty of interesting astronomical events happening this month, from meteor showers, planetary conjunctions, to a planet moving across the face of the Sun. With the clocks going back, there are plenty of opportunities to spend time under the stars, whether it’s just sitting back and enjoying the view or getting up close to those wonderful celestial objects with binoculars and telescopes. To help you make sense of what’s up there, read the latest update, wrap up warm and get outside!

The Full Moon is on 12th November and the New Moon is on 26th November.


Transit of Mercury

Transit of Mercury.

On 11th November, you will be able to witness a solar system planet moving across the face of the Sun. Called the Transit of Mercury, this is a rare event and the next transit will not occur until 2032 and 2039. It is astonishing to see how small the closest planet to the Sun looks in the solar disk. From the UK’s perspective, the Transit begins at 12:30pm and will continue after sunset, so we will only get to see a partial Transit. If you have approved solar glasses, you might be able to spot Mercury and you will be able to spot it using a telescope with the correct solar filters. It is important that you do not look at the Sun directly with the unprotected, unaided eye (Sunglasses do not protect your eyes from directly staring at the Sun) or use telescopes without the proper Solar filters, as permanent sight damage can occur.


Leonid Meteor Shower

In the late night of November 17th and early hours of November 18th, the Leonid meteor shower reaches its peak. The Earth passes through the debris of the comet Tempel-Tuttle and every 33 years, there is a cyclical peak where hundreds of meteors can be seen per hour. Unfortunately, this won’t happen until 2034 and at the moment, we should expect up to 15 meteors per hour at its peak. The waning gibbous Moon’s light will obscure the meteors in the early hours of 18th November but there will be opportunities to watch out for ‘shooting stars’ leading up to and after the peak. The meteors radiate from the constellation of Leo – so when you look up at the sky between November 6th – 30th and see a meteor, at least you’ll know what it is!


Conjunction of Venus and Jupiter

Conjunction of Venus and Jupiter

On 24th November, Venus will have a close encounter with Jupiter. The two planets will be bright and will look lovely in the early evening. Look towards the West, just after sunset – the planets will be 1.4 degrees apart, which is slightly wider than the width of your little finger. Saturn will trail after the two planets; watch out for this as the evening darkens.


A Stunning Nebula that Looks Like a Rosette

Rosette Nebula

Credit: Rosette Nebula by Andreas Fink CC BY-SA 3.0

The Rosette Nebula is a fascinating object with many parts that have separate designations: NGC 2237 is an open star cluster, whilst NGC 2244 is an open star cluster associated with nebulosity, situated in the heart of the nebula. and NGC 2237, 2238, 2239 and NGC 2246 are all parts of the nebulous region. Situated in the constellation of Monoceros, it lies 5000 light years away from us and the nebula was formed from the radiation emanating from hot, young stars, exciting the nebula to emit radiation itself. It makes a stunning astrophotography target.

Rosette nebula

This object is a great challenge for observers and the smallest optical equipment it can be viewed with is 10x50 binoculars, where the central star cluster NGC 2244 can be seen in a dark sky. In fact, you will need dark skies to see the nebulaic part as it has low surface brightness. Because of its large size of 130 light years in diameter, you might be able to see it using an ‘unaided eye’ telescope using a cardboard tube and a narrowband filter such as OIII or UHC.

Use a telescope from around 8 inches aperture and a low power eyepiece to see the open cluster NGC2244 in more detail and use a OIII or UHC filter to study the detail in the nebula.


M35 Open Star Cluster (NGC 2168)

Messier 35

Image of M35 Credit: University of Massachusetts and the Infrared Processing and Analysis Center/California Institute of Technology.

M35 is a magnificent cluster situated in the constellation of Gemini. Containing around 300 stars, 15 of them will be visible in 10x50 binoculars. It can be located just above the left foot of Castor, one of the twins of Gemini and its location gives it the informal name of ‘the Shoe Buckle Cluster’.

Messier 35

Use your eyes to locate the left foot of Castor and raise the binoculars to your eyes; a far easier way to find targets. Whilst you are in the region, scan very slightly to the 3 o' clock position to find a challenging object NGC2158, using averted vision, a technique where you don’t look directly at the object. You will notice that the target brightens; the centre of the retina contains cones, which require a lot of light to provide high resolution colour vision. The rest of the retina contains rods, which are not colour sensitive but are more receptive to light.


And finally...

Pont ar Elan

Pont ar Elan by Sam Price

We are very pleased to announce that Pont are Elan on the Elan Valley Estate has been designated a Dark Sky Discovery Site, one of six new sites to have the nationally recognised designation and forms part of a stunning Cambrian Mountains-wide astro-tourism trail which covers a driving distance of 50 miles. Not only is it located within an IDA International Dark Sky Park, it also has the Dark Sky Discovery Site 'Milky Way' designation, which means the Milky Way is clearly visible.

The new Dark Sky Discovery Sites are located at Coed Y Bont; Pontrhydfendigaid and the Arch near Devil’s Bridge; Llyn Brianne car park, Rhandirmwyn and Llanllwni Mountain; Pont ar Elan at the Elan Valley and the aptly named Star Inn Pub in Dylife. The new sites have been added to the Cambrian Mountains’ three previous established night sky locations of the Dolgoch and Ty’n Cornel Hostels and at the National Trust’s Llanerchaeron property.

In celebration of this news, a Cambrian Mountains and Elan Valley Dark Sky Guide has been published, providing information about the Dark Sky Discovery Site locations, which constellations can be seen, handy apps to assist you in getting to know the night sky and handy tips to get you started in stargazing. It can be downloaded  here and a print version will be available very soon.

For more information visit www.thecambrianmountains.co.uk