Spring is a good time to indulge in a little star gazing. We still have the bold Winter constellations in the early evening and as the evening progresses, the new Spring stars come in to view. Also, the ecliptic is at its best position, high overhead, afording excellent views of the Moon. All this is available in more comfortable temperatures so we no longer have to suffer freezing toes!
High overhgead we encounter the seven stars of the Plough with its distinctive sauce pan with a bent handle formation. Look carefully at Mizar and you will see its close companion Alcor easily visible with the naked eye. Look at them through a modest telescope and you will discover that Mizar is also a telescopic double. Follow the sweep of the Bear's tail towards the north east horizon and we encounter the bright gold coloured first magnitude star Arcturus. It is classified as a Red Giant, size about 28 Solar radii. Looking south, straddling the meridian is the easily recognized constellation of Leo the Lion, its main star Regulus is situated just on the ecliptic. To the west of Leo we find Cancer the Crab I say 'find' because it consists of a patch of dim 6th magnitude stars in no way resembling a crab. However, a pair of binoculars will reveal the star cluster M44 Presepe the Beehive at the centre. The tail of Leo is marked by the star Denebola and to the west of this lies the field of galaxies, extending to Coma. Berenices and down towards Spica in Virgo. Quite a few of these galaxies would be visible in a moderate sized telescope but a clear unpolluted sky is required – sadly we have the telescope but not the sky...
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 is visible at the beginning of Feb. if you have a good low western horizon. Venus is a magnificent sight high up in the south western sky and setting 4 hours after sunset. Mars is a morning object but is close to the Sun in the pre-dawn sky, small and low down in Ophiuchus – difficult to observe at present. Jupiter is also heading towards the Sun visible low in the pre-dawn sky. Saturn is very low in the south in the stars of Sagittarius and difficult to see. This is not a good year for our favourite planets – just Neptune and Uranus if you can find them.
The Moon is one of the most impressive sights through a telescope. Even in a pair of binoculars much detail can be seen. The best times to view the moon is about three days before and after first quarter when the Moon is in the evening sky. At this time the shadow line or 'terminator' throws up high contrast along its length, revealing craters, mountains, vast lava flows and cracks and valleys. At full Moon, the light is coming from directly above and without the shadows the Moon looks quite flat.
New Moon February 23, March 24, April 23.
First Quarter February 2, March 2, April 1, 30.
Full Moon February 9, March 9, April 8.
Last Quarter February 15, March 16, April 14.
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.
None visible at the moment.
Meteor showers to note
APRIL LYRIDs April 14-30 Very Favourable.
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.