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Skylights:Spring 2017

Now the days are lengthening and the temperature is slowly rising - Spring is on its way and the nights are getting shorter. The bright Winter constellations are moving rapidly westwards and will soon disappear below the western horizon and will be replaced by the Spring constellations rising in the East.

Overhead, almost on the Zenith We can see the Plough - the brighter part of Ursa Major- the Great Bear. Follow the Bear's tail to the east and you come to the first magnitude yellow star Arcturus the main star in Bootes the Herdsman. In the south straddling the meridian is the Constellation Leo the Lion. Leo's principal star Regulus is almost on the Ecliptic, the the path of Moon and Planets across the sky. To the west of Leo, is the very insignificant constellation of Cancer the Crab. Most of its stars are of the fifth or sixth magnitude but it contains a pretty star cluster M44 - Praesepe the Beehive - well seen in 7x50 binoculars or a amall telescope.

Lower down and eastwards and we encounter the first magnitude star Spica the main star in Virgo - the virgin. Spica too is quite close to the ecliptic. The rest of the constellation is a sprawl of fainter stars but the whole area between Virgo and Leo and above in the fainter Coma Berenices is populated with countless Galaxies - part of the Virgo and Coma cluster of galaxies. To see a few of the brighter ones you will need to get out of town and find a really dark sky.

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 visible in the the evening sky best seen on March 28th close to a slim crescent Moon, but you will need a low weatern horizon to get a good view. Venus has been a brilliant object in the evening sky and it will remain visible but lower down until mid March when it will be too close to the Sun for observation. Mars is just about visible in the evening twilight a little to the east of Venus but its disk size is now very small. Jupiter is an 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.Uranus is in the western twilight midway between Venus and Mars and Neptune is too close to the Sun to observe.

Meteor showers to note:. the Lyrids April 18-25 predicted as very favourable otherwise not much meteor activity at present.

[The night sky from
Hampstead: spring 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 12/03 20/03 28/03 05/03
Date 11/04 19/04 26/04 03/04
Date 10/05 19/05 25/05 03/05

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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 is at present just one comet that might be glimpsed. Comet Tuttle/Giacobini/Kresak. The 7th magniuted comet is well placed up in Ursa Major and comes close to M108 Ursa Maj. on March 22.

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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: Mar. 06 2017 DGD