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Skylights: Autumn 2017

It's September, it's raining and now astronomical twilight has ended, given a clear night though we ought to be able to look in wonder at the Milky Way arching overhead, reminding us that we live in a Galaxy of stars, gas and dust, and literally thousands or more likely millions of planets and their satellites orbiting their primaries. But we can't because the industrial activities of mankind have produced in our cities a sky so badly light polluted that we can just about make out stars of the second magnitude. And to make matters worse there are no bright planets to look at in the night sky. Saturn is just about as low as it can get, just scraping the southern horizon followed by Jupiter - not much higher. I fear that it will be several years before these beautiful and interesting objects will once again attain sufficient altitude for the telescope to do them justice.

So - we will try to find some objects of interest despite the light pollution.

Straddling the meridian is the familiar constellation of Pegasus - the Winged Horse No good asking how many stars you can see inside the square, you will be lucky to find the Gt. Square itself. If you can, remember that the top left star is actually Alpha Andromedae and sweeping up below the "W" of Cassiopeia,would under a dark sky, offer a glimpse of our giant neighbouring Galaxy - M31 the Great Andromeda Galaxy. M31 is a very large object, as big as the full moon- half a degree across, but we can only see the brighter central part. Easily seen in binoculars but needs a very dark sky.

Below Cassiopeia we can find Perseus.The main star Mirfak lies in a very rich star field well worth a look with binoculars, and sweeping up under Cassiopeia will reveal The Double Cluster in Perseus. Two rich star clusters set against the Milky Way but as ever you need a dark sky to really see them at their best.

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).


Of the planets, Mercury passes through inferior conjunction at the end of August and consequently is becomming visible in the pre-dawn sky. Close to Mars at mid September. Venus is a morning object close to a waning creacent Moon on 18th Sept. Mars is now drawing away from the Sun and just visible in the dawn sky by mid Sept, but small and distant. Jupiter By mid September it will be too close to the Sun for observation. Saturn is an evening object just about as low in the south as it gets and will be lost to view by end of Sept. You will need a very low unobstructed south horizon to see it, worth the effort to view it with rings fully open. Uranus is well placed for observation in Pisces and Neptune comes to opposition on Sept. 5th in Aquarius.

Meteor showers to note: the Orionids max. Oct.21-23 very favourable. The Taurids November 3-12. the Leonids November 17th - very favourable this year. [The night sky from
Hampstead: autumn 2017]



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 06/09 13/09 20/09 28/09
Date 05/10 12/10 19/10 27/10
Date 04/11 10/11 18/11 26/11



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.


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: Sept. 02 2017 DGD