The first weekend of May gave us the best run of clear skies for months, so we arranged an observation session for Tuesday 8th May at our new observation site in Bobbington. This time we moved to a slightly different area of the site, which gave us a better all-round view of the night sky. The usual ‘It’s on!’ text message was sent out at 5:00 pm, giving details of the session, and when I arrived at the site at 9:30 pm, I was pleased to see people were already there assembling scopes and chatting.
Jupiter was rising in the south-east, and from the area of hard-standing where we were setting up, most of the sky was accessible. It was a pleasant, clear, moonless, slightly balmy evening. The sky was still relatively bright at 10:00 pm. Would this impair our search for celestial objects, I wondered.
With our Tuesday Trysull observing sessions clouded out for much of the winter, we’ve tried to find an alternative observation site that’s available on other nights of the week. To this end, we visited a new site in Bobbington on Friday 20th April, and I’m pleased to report it was a most successful evening.
Members started assembling at 8pm, (picture 1), just as the sky was darkening and Venus began shining in the west. There was a five day old Moon also quite high in the west, which made an excellent target for us to align our finder-scopes.
After what seemed like years of cloudy skies, we were finally able to hold another society observing session at Trysull on the 13th March. Despite a slight misty haze in the sky, we were lucky enough to see some true celestial wonders once again.
The society’s Tom Collier 12-inch reflecting telescope had been collimated by society member Dave Wilson at a recent Monday Highfields meeting, so we were looking forward to putting the newly aligned optics to the test. This was the telescope’s second trip to the observing site, although its first visit was scuppered by clouds, (on that occasion, two weeks previously, society members Cath, Linda, Dave, John, Doug and I were forced to abandon thoughts of observing and abscond to the nearby pub).
It was a case of ‘third time lucky’ for our new Trysull Observation Sessions. Two consecutive Tuesdays were postponed due to 100% cloud cover, but at last, the forecast was promising on Tuesday 28th November, and at 11am that morning, the text notification system informed everyone ‘it’s on!’
People started arriving at the Village Hall at 8pm. It was very encouraging to see such a good turnout. Around twenty astronomers of all ages and experience braved the crisp November night, and soon there was a row of telescopes set up, scanning the near-cloudless Trysull sky. Not everyone bought a telescope, but they didn’t need to. The telescopes there were used by everyone, and people drifted from scope to scope, looking at various cosmic sights, chatting about what they were looking at. It was a very friendly, convivial evening. At one point, as many as eight different telescopes of various sizes were in use on the large expanse of hard-standing behind the village hall.
Simon has produced some amazingly detailed and thorough sky guides for us over the years, but sadly this will be his last one. We are incredibly grateful for all his hard work, and I hope that many of you have found them useful during your observing.
This PDF guide, produced by Simon, gives details of what’s visible in the Wolverhampton night sky this summer, along with details of the moon, the planets, and full details of the upcoming solar eclipse!
If you want more information on what is visible, or you want it for an observing location other than Wolverhampton, why not look at our Links page which has details of useful resources, such as Stellarium, the free planetarium software.
After a very cloudy 2016 winter, we’ve at last been afforded a handful of clear skies for the first few months of 2017. For some reason, Wednesdays seem to be the night we’ve had the most clear skies, with the weekends typically clouded over. This is most irritating for those for astronomers with 9-5 weekday jobs, it seems we’re always at the whims of nature!
Venus has been putting on a superb show in the early evening sky, rising very high through February, and presently, (I’m writing this on 17th March), is heading lower in the Western sky. When it’s so visible, most amateur astronomers often get friends asking “what was that bright star I saw last night?” I’ve been asked several times over the past couple of months.
I took some photos of Venus through my 8” Skywatcher in January and February, and was pleased to be able to capture the both the changes in the apparent size and phases of the planet, as it gets nearer to us on its journey round the sun, (photo 1). On the 5th January it was approx 111,000,000 km away from the Earth, and on 26th February approx 54,000,000km away. It always fascinates me that Mercury and the Venus are the only planets that show Moon-like ‘phases’, being closer to the Sun than us.
Deep sky observing in the summer can be quite a challenge. When we talk about ‘deep sky objects’, we’re generally referring to things like Nebula, star clusters, galaxies etc, pretty much everything that’s not a single star or a planet. The astronomer Charles Messier made up a list of the most interesting deep sky objects and we still use his listings and his ‘M’ numbers today. These objects can sometimes be quite faint, and when the sky is bright they can prove elusive, but it’s worth the hunt. Messier objects are some of the most fascinating things in the night sky.
The constellation photographs I’m using to illustrate this article were all taken by me this year using a Fuji XF1 (which is a small compact camera, not an SLR) on a small tripod. Most shots were between 20-30 second exposures at f1.8 and 100ISO, using a two second timer to eliminate camera shake, (picture 1) shows the area of sky looking west after sunset, towards Corona Borealis and Bootes). To locate the deep sky objects in this article, I’d recommend a sky-atlas. My favourite is ‘Turn Left at Orion’, published by Cambridge press.
Amongst the first stars you see in the summer, as the sun sets and the sky darkens, are the stars of the ‘Summer Triangle’. Deneb, Vega and Altair, in constellations of Cygnus, Lyra and Aquila respectively. Vega shines right overhead in Summer, a bright beacon, and it’s always a welcome sight. Four stars near it form a ‘squashed box’ shape that makes up the constellation of Lyra, and in between two of these stars is M57 – the famous Ring Nebula.
It is well known that only two planets, Mercury and Venus, transit the Sun, as viewed from Earth because they are the two whose orbits around the Sun lie inside that of the Earth. This is clearly shown in the diagram (Image credit to Sky & Telescope) which shows the orbits of the planets and each of their movements during May 2016. The positions of the outer planets do not change significantly on this scale.
This was the second transit of Mercury that I have observed and attempted to photograph. My first attempt was on 2003 May 7th and was previously reported in Lyra. The transit of 2006 November 8th was not visible from the U.K.