THE DARK SKIES ARE BACK!!!!! What to look out for in November & December

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From November look East from about 24:00, the unmistakable shape of Orion the great Hunter will appear above the horizon, as the winter gets closer the Constellation will arrive earlier and earlier. The bright star in the top right hand corner, Betelgeuse, a red supper giant. If you draw a line from Orion's Belt down to the horizon you’ll come across the brightest star in the Northern Hemisphere, Sirius. One of the best images of Orion is the Great Nebula of Orion. Find the Belt of Orion and you;; see his sword, about half way down the sword you’ll find the Greta Nebula, using the naked eye it is just about visible, but with binoculars you will make out a grey fuzzy object that you would mistake for a cloud, using a telescope of four inches or more you will be able to make out some structure of the nebula.


Drawing a line from the belt in the other direction you’ll come across a smudge, this is M45, the Pleiades, a Star Cluster that orbits around our Milky Way. At a distance of around 444 light years away it is only the seven brightest stars that can be seen hence its name the Seven Sisters. The brightest is Alcyone.


From dark sky sites the Milky Way will be visible. We sit in the spiral arm of the Galaxy, when we look out we can see the arm, the higher density of stars give it an appearance of a smudge, or faint cloud across the sky. Look for Cassiopeia, a distinctive constellation in the shape of a ‘W’. The Milky Way runs like a line through Cassiopeia.


As the dark skies get darker and earlier from the darkest of sites you can make out Andromeda, our neighbouring Galaxy. The Milky Way is not alone in space; we have a number of galaxies near to us, called The Local Group. Andromeda is one of these. It is about 1.3 times larger than the Milky Way. Look due west and find Cassiopeia. From the middle point of Cassiopeia go down to the bottom tip of the ‘W’ heading towards the horizon, Andromeda sits on this line. A pair on binoculars will enable you to see it as a disk shaped smudge but a telescope of 4 inches or bigger will resolve the galaxy.


The star of the Winters Astronomy is in fact the planet Venus, known as the evening star. Because its so close to the sun its difficulty to see and isn’t visible at all during the night. From the end of November, look South West just after the sun has set. Venus is visible as a bright star just above the horizon.


The best Meteor shower of the season, the Geminids, begins on the 7th of December and ends on the 16th, but the peak is on the 14th of December. Meteor showers are given there name depending on where in the sky the appear to originate from. In this case the constellation Gemini. The source of the meteors is the asteroid 3200 Phaethon, making the Geminids only one of two showers not from a comet! Because of this they have trace amounts of metals causing the shooting stars to have a variety of colours!

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