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Skylights: Spring 2018

Well-here we are again, the nights are getting longer but I fear not much DARKER due to the ever increasing light pollution. Where once the Winter sky was ablaze with bright stars we now see just a pale version with just a handful of the brightest stars that manage to penetrate the all suffocating sky glow which overlays our polluted city. Go 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 Winter constellations gradually sinking towards the western horizon. To the south-west, the Great Square of Pegasus is still visible and can be used to find Andromeda and thence to the Great Galaxy M31 just below the familiar "W" shape of Cassiopeia. M31 is huge and is roughly the same angular diameter as the full moon, but with binoculars or a small telescope, all we can see is the very central condensation - looking like an out of focus star.

On the zenith at this time we see the the severn stars that nake up the Plough,which is a part of Ursa Major the Great Bear. It resembles a saucepan with a bent handle.Look at the star nearest the bend. This is Mizar and if you look carefully, you will see a faint star - Alcor, this is a naked-eye double, but look at Mizar with a small telescope, and you will see that it is a double star as well.

Following the sweep of the Bear's tail towards the north-east, we encounter the first magnitude golden yellow star Arcturus , the principal star in Bootes- the Herdsman.

Turning our attention to the southern sky, the meridian is dominated by the three Zodiacal constellations Gemini, Cancer and Leo. The twin stars Castor and Pollux are the main stars in Gemini. If we take our binoculars and sweep downwards and to the east, we will encounter the lovely open star cluster Praesepe The Beehive Cluster, beautiful seen in a dark sky.Praesepe is situated in Cancer - the Crab, the rest of the constellation consists of very faint stars.

Stradling 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).


Of the planets, Mercury is too close to the Sun to be visible. Venus is in a similar position and close to Mars which is also not visible. Jupiter is now too close to the Sun for observation. 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 Leonids max. Nov.21-18 favourable. The Geminids December 14. also favourable this year. [The night sky from
Hampstead:] spring 2018



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 04/11 10/11 18/11 26/11
Date 03/12 10/12 18/12 26/12
Date 02/01 29/01 07/01 15/01



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: Nov. 02 2017 DGD