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Skylights:Summer 2017

Here we are again - once more IT'S SUMMER! I can't think why I'am getting so gleeful as Summer is not the best time for sky watching, due to the fact that we have to suffer from ASTRONOMICAL TWILIGHT for a couple of months. In other words - it just doesn't get really dark at all as the Sun at midnight is not far below the northern horizon. If that's not bad enough we the denizons of a major city, have to endure the aweful effects of raging light pollution as well. All this is going to limit what we can see of the night sky.

At this time of year, the Milky Way arches high above us on the Zenith, but we can see no trace of it. We can see the bright first magnitude star Deneb which is the main star in Cygnus - the swan. Deneb marks the swan's tail, its beak is marked by beta Cygni which is one of the best coloured double stars in the sky. Even a small telescope will reveal the bright orange beta and its deep blue companion. Almost on the zenith is the bright blue first mag. star Vega the main star in the diminutive constellation of Lyra the Lyre. Lyra may be small but it contains a wealth of interesting objects - M57 the Ring Nebula for example. Situated almost midway between beta and gamma Lyrae, through the telescope, M57 looks like a tiny greenish smoke ring. It Is the remnant of a star that exhausted its fuel, collapsed under gravity throwing off a bubble of dust and gas in the process and leaving behind what we can see as a ring. Looking towards the south we will discover the first mag. star Altair the main star in Aquila the Eagle. Aquila is also in the Milky Way but of course we will not see any trace of it. Vega, Deneb and Altair mark out a huge triangle in the sky - the Summer Triangle and from our light polluted sky, we will be lucky to see much more until the end of August when Astronomical Twilight ends.

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 passes through superior conjunction on June 21 and consequently not observable Venus is a morning object still close to the horizon, rising to 20 degs. by mid June. Mars is now too close to the Sun for observation. Jupiter is an early evening object in Virgo, just above Spica. Saturn is an evening object on the borders of Scorpio/Sagittarius - just about as low in the south as it gets. You will need a very low unobstructed south horizon to see it, worth the effort to view it with rings fully open. Uranus is situated low in the pre-dawn sky and Neptune rises about an hour before the Sun at the beginning of June.

Meteor showers to note: Not much at this time of year. The Perseids - max. August 12th, usually the best show of the Summer, but this year we have a last quarter moon to contend with which will spoil things.

[The night sky from
Hampstead: summer 2017]

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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 09/06 17/06 24/06 01/06
Date 09/07 16/07 23/07 30/07
Date 07/08 15/08 21/08 29/08

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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.

There are couple of faint comets currently gracing our skies that might be glimpsed with a dark sky and a bit of luck. Comet Johnson is the best at mag. about +7. It will pass 5 degs. to SE of Arcturus on 5th of June. Comet Tuttle/Giacobini/Kresak faint at mag. +11 passes from Hercules into Ophiuchus also on 5th of June but at 11th magnitude it will not be an easy object.

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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: June 1 2017 DGD