When Apollo 17 launched in 1972, one of the commentators memorably announced: “it’s lighting up the sky!” A beautiful turn of phrase, but also something that many astronomers might have heard and muttered in response: “well… what isn’t?” Light pollution has been a problem for decades now, yet it’s still one that many amateur astronomers struggle with. Unless you live in a remote region, the chances of seeing much from your own backyard seemingly diminish every year. As civilization grows, our view of the night sky is becoming more and more clouded by light. To an extent, there is not much you can do about this, unless you happen to…
Two things set the Sun apart from all other stars in the Universe: it does not belong to any constellation, and it is close enough to Earth to be observed and studied in exquisite detail with nothing more than modest amateur equipment, which equipment includes smart phones. Consider the image below; it was made from a video taken with a web cam attached to a small, dedicated solar telescope as opposed to a smart phone, and it shows almost everything that can occur on the Sun simultaneously- in a single image. The white plumes on the solar limb are solar flares silhouetted against the dark background, the black spots are…
Amateur astronomy is not for everybody, just like golf or football is not for everybody, but if you are sure that you want to take up the hobby of gazing at the Universe (or at least some of it) in your free time, you need to get the basics right. Getting it wrong, like so many other beginner amateurs have done, means that your expensive new equipment will almost certainly end up gathering dust in your garage – never to see starlight again. So how does a beginning amateur astronomer get the basics right? Quite easily in fact, and the best part is that you don’t have to spend money…
On June 3 Saturn will be at opposition, which means it will be at its closest approach to Earth and its face will be fully illuminated by the Sun. This is the best time to view and photograph Saturn and its moons because it will be brighter than any other time of the year and will be visible all night long.
Early this month on the night of May 5 and 6 the Eta Aquarids meteor shower will peak. It is an above average shower, capable of producing up to 60 meteors per hour at its peak, however most of the activity will be seen in the Southern Hemisphere. In the Northern Hemisphere, the rate can reach only about 30 meteors per hour.
On the night of April 22 and 23 the Lyrids meteor shower will peak. It is an average shower, usually producing about 20 meteors per hour at its peak, although some meteors may be seen any time from April 16 to 25. It originates from dust particles left behind by comet C/1861 G1 Thatcher, which was discovered in 1861.
This month will have a lot of astronomical events starting on March 8, when Jupiter will be at opposition. The gas giant will be at its closest approach to Earth and its face will be fully illuminated by the Sun. This means that it will be brighter than any other time of the year and will be visible all night long.
On February 7 Mercury will be at greatest western elongation of 25.6 degrees from the Sun. This makes it the best time to view Mercury since it will be at its highest point above the horizon in the morning sky. Look for the planet low in the eastern sky just before sunrise.
On the night of January 3 and 4 the Quadrantids meteor shower will peak. It is an above average shower, with up to 40 meteors per hour at peak, although some meteors can be visible between January 1 and 5. The meteors originate from dust grains left behind by an extinct comet known as 2003 EH1, which was discovered in 2003.
On the night of December 13 and 14 the Geminids meteor shower will peak. It is considered by many to be the best shower in the heavens, producing up to 120 multicolored meteors per hour at its peak. This is why it is known as the king of meteor showers. Some meteors can also be seen anytime from December 7 to 17.