What a glorious relief to have been out for a couple of really good observing and photography sessions last month, with full darkness available before 9pm!
I cannot recommend too highly the wonderful opportunity presented at this time of year. From mid-evening, some of the most complex and beautiful parts of the night sky are directly overhead. On the north eastern horizon, the constellation of Perseus starts a line that follows the Milky Way through Cassiopeia, Cepheus, Cygnus, Lyra and Aquila all the way down to the south western horizon. Just sit back in a deck chair with naked eye or a pair of binoculars, and feast your eyes! It is the most amazing time of year for stargazers.
By the end of the month, that evening vista will start to include Orion and Gemini, promising much for the winter months. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves – what’s coming along this month?
At magnitude 5.7 this giant planet is never going to be easy, but it comes to opposition on the 7th. That means it will be “full” in the same way as a full Moon. Opposition coincides with the full Moon, which will make the observation even more challenging, but it will be visible throughout the month in the constellation of Pisces. Here is the view south west at 10pm on the 7th:
Saturn behind the Moon
In the late afternoon of the 25th., from 16.47 to 18.03, the Moon will pass in front of Saturn. What a glorious sight that will be in a telescope, to see the ringed planet gradually disappear behind the Moon’s horizon and then reappear on the other side about an hour later.
Okay, here are the complications.
- The Sun will still be above the horizon when this event starts, and will only just have set by the time it finishes. Yes, you can find the Moon and planets in daylight, but it’s not easy.
- The Moon will only be about 20º from the Sun, so searching for it with binoculars will be especially dangerous. One slip and you’ll be staring at the Sun through your binoculars, and that will be the last thing you ever see.
- The Moon will be only 3% illuminated, which is a very narrow crescent Moon indeed.
It can be done, probably, with a lot of patience and planning. Ideally, the trick would be to set up your computerised telescope the night before, aligning it according to the stars, then leave it until the right time in the afternoon and use the computerised handset to point at the Moon. Providing, of course, you have a safe location to leave your telescope set up all day with a clear view down to the south west horizon. Hmmmm…… not in my back yard.
Not the best meteor shower of the year, although certainly worth a look as there will be no moonlight in the sky on the peak nights of 20th to 22nd. Look east after midnight, but don’t expect more than about ten per hour.