For the last couple of years, this regular page has been as much about my astrophotography interests as about what’s visible in the night sky over the coming month. Put simply, if it didn’t have the potential to make a good photo, it was unlikely to be mentioned here. For members in search of a more general guide to what’s visible, I have always recommended Ian Morison’s excellent monthly summary on the Jodrell Bank website, such as this one for December 2015.
That’s all going to change with effect from next month, as we enter 2016 with the intention of including “Observing Evenings” in our regular schedule for members of the Eddington Astronomical Society.
If you are reading this, please come and talk to me at the next meeting (as many of you already do), and let me know what you would find helpful. Although we are unlikely to get the observing evenings organised until January, this month’s page should give you an idea of what I’m going to propose…
This is the mid-evening sky in the middle of December, looking south east:
The constellations of Perseus and Andromeda are high overhead, with Taurus not far behind and Orion rising in the east.
Cassiopeia is almost at the zenith, with Cepheus just below. Ursa Major, the Great Bear, is climbing in the east, with the Summer Triangle of Deneb, Vega and Altair (the brightest stars in Cygnus, Lyra and Aquila respectively) only visible for a short time before moving towards the horizon.
All these constellations can be observed simply with the naked eye, needing no specialist equipment whatsoever.
A December observing evening would begin with identifying some of the constellations and the brighter named stars within them. With binoculars, we could look at individual stars more closely, and learn how to use the constellations as a guide to locating some of the less obvious night sky objects. Viewing through a mounted telescope, we would then linger on some of the more fascinating sights to study them in more detail.
For December, the menu to the south would probably include the Pleiades star cluster – between Taurus and Perseus in the southern sky – along with two of our “near neighbour” galaxies, the Andromeda Galaxy and the Triangulum Galaxy in the constellations of – you guessed it – Andromeda and Triangulum. To the north, there are countless gems within the constellation of Cassiopeia, including the famous “Double Cluster” located between Cassiopeia and Perseus.
Organising an observing evening in Cumbria presents many challenges, which I hope we can resolve to everyone’s satisfaction. Let’s give it a try and see what develops.