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Skylights: Summer 2018

Now the Winter is just a memory and we can look forward to some star gazing in more comfortable conditions. The Sun moving towards higher declination means more daylight and shorter nights. Coupled with the ever present light pollution, makes things even more difficult for sky watchers.

Outside on a clear night and you ought to see the Milky Way looking like a pale river of light arching above us and the rest of the sky studded with bright stars, but to see that you will have to travel a good few miles from our Observatory site.

In the early evening, we still have the Spring constellations gradually sinking towards the western horizon. To the south-west, Arcturus shines with a golden glow and to the south Spica in Virgo is seen. The rest of Virgo is large sprawling and faint but contains a huge collection of distant galaxies but too faint to be seen from our location - in a large city.

On the zenith at this time we see the bright first magnitude star Vega the main star in the small constellation Lyra the Harp. Vega is one of the three bright stars that form the 'Summer Triangle', the other two being Deneb alpha Cygni the Swan and lower down Altair alpha Aquila the Eagle.

Now west of the meridian the Meridian, is the unmistakable crouching form of Leo the Lion. Leo's main star is Regulus and above it the distinctive sickle shaped asterism. This group contains Gamma Leonis - a fine double star. Above the tail end of Leo is the totally insignificant constellation of Coma Berenices. This area is the Coma group of galaxies, this part of the sky is riddled with them, but they are mostly too faint to see with our modest equipment. The proliferation of galaxies continues as we sweep towards the south-east and into the Virgo cluster of galaxies.

The sky map below shows the general appearance of the night sky and beneath it are sections giving more detail about planets, the Moon, comets and others.

If you fancy a more detailed view of the objects and events described on this page our observatory will be open to the public at the appropriate times and weathers (consult the local listings).

Overview

Of the planets, Mercury is too close to the Sun to be visible. Venus is brilliant in the western sky after sunset Mars is very low in the south as is Jupiter is back to an evening sky but is still very low in the south. Saturn is an evening object just about as low in the south as it gets and is now too close to the Sun. Uranus is at opposition and well placed for observation in Pisces, and Neptune is well placed for observation in Aquarius. Not a good season for planetary observation.

Meteor showers to note: the Perseids max. August 13very favourable. [The night sky from
Hampstead:] summer 2018

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Moon

The Moon is one of the most impressive sights through a telescope. Even in a pair of binoculars it can amaze. The best times to view the Moon is about 3 days before and after first quarter, when the Moon is in the evening sky. Also there's the added bonus that the terminator (line between light and dark) is visible and we get some spectacular views of the lunar surface seen in high relief.

  [Full Moon] [Last quarter] [New Moon] [First quarter]
Phase Full Moon Last quarter New Moon First quarter
Date 28/06 06/06 13/06 20/06
Date 27/07 06/07 13/07 19/07
Date 26/08 04/08 11/08 18/08

 

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Comets

Comets are also sometimes visible and can produce incredible public interest, like Comets Halley (1985-86) and Hale-Bopp (1997). In 2005 Comet Machholz was visible and Comet McNaught scudded through the northern sky in January 2007 and was easily accessable to the naked eye. Most recently, Comet Lovejoy graced our skies but is now too distant and feint. Normally none can be seen with the unaided eye at any given time but this can change. To stay abreast of this sign up for our news service.

To prove this point Comet Holmes suddenly brightened in October 2007 by about one million times to be visible to the naked eye in Perseus. Admittedly this is unusual, as comets give more notice with this level of change. Comet Holmes has now faded and lost to sight.

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Other animals

Most of the phenomena above are reasonably periodic. But there are also sporadic events which we can see through the Cooke telescope like eclipses or even novae and supernovae (Please). So keep your eyes on the skies or let us do it for you and you might get to look at some rare, beautiful and profound phenomena.

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Last modified: May 2018 DGD