Night Sky March 2017
This is the start of a new blog series about what you can see in the night sky next month.
Astronomy is a big interest of mine and hopefully, this series will give me more knowledge and be informative to a wider audience at the same time.
Do I need a telescope?
I’ll write what events will happen in the month ahead regarding the Moon and planets. The Moon is very easy to see day or night if the weather is clear, so you won’t need a telescope. Other astronomical events involving the planets and the Sun you will need a telescope. If you don’t have one, do not be discouraged. I call myself an amateur astronomer and even I do not have a telescope yet. It is something I am building towards once I figure out what things I really want to see and which type of telescope I would prefer to buy. The star constellations are the most accessible things to see in the night sky and you will not need a telescope, just your eyes.
North and South
I will write about what you can see in the sky if you look north and south. Hopefully, the weather will be kind when you choose to look. Winter offers the best opportunity to see the stars because it is darker much earlier in the evening. In spring and summer, you’d have to look at the night sky a lot later in the evening, less convenient time but better weather.
I find it rewarding to be able to look at the stars and know what the constellations are. By rewarding I mean more that there is something romantic about it and in a small way starts to answer one of life’s most puzzling questions, why are we here? There is so much history to how each star was discovered and even more to learn about what type of star it is. With this is mind I will either provide more information about a certain constellation or give you some interesting astronomical facts.
My first Astronomy talk
At the beginning of January, I presented a short sky this month talk for the astronomy society I am a member of (Flamsteed Astronomy Society). We have monthly lectures at the National Maritime Museum and members are asked to volunteer to present this short sky this month talk before the guest lecturer does there talk. It was a fun experience and it taught me a lot about what we can all see in the night sky. So continuing to write about this I think is the perfect way to introduce astronomy posts to my blog. I hope you enjoy.
The constellation of Cepheus can be seen almost straight above north, with Cassiopeia to the left. Cepheus has been described as a church tower and steeple, what would your interpretation be?
One star part of Cepheus is Mu (μ), also known as the Garnet Star. It has a deep red colour and is a red supergiant. This is one of the largest known stars, 2400 times the diameter of the Sun. Betelgeuse in Orion is also a red supergiant but is only around 500 times the diameter of the Sun. If μ were in our solar system it would extend beyond the orbit of Saturn.
Along the horizon to the east is the star Deneb that is a part of Cygnus. Continue looking to the north east and you can see Vega.
Remember now that you are looking south, east and west have now flipped around.
The constellation of Leo is prominent in March. Regulus is the brightest star in Leo and can be spotted above south.
Between Leo in the east and Gemini in the west is the constellation of Cancer. At its centre is the open cluster, M44 or Prasepe. This will appear as a hazy spot to the naked eye through binoculars it will look like a group of dozens of individual stars.
Orion is the most recognisable constellation during the winter months and can still be seen during March if you look west.
- 5th 11:32 Moon at perigee
- 12th 14:54 Full Moon
- 18th Moon at apogee
- 20th Moon last quarter
- 26th British summer time begins
- 28th New Moon
- 30th Moon at perigee
What are perigee and apogee? Perigee is when the Moon’s orbit is closest to the Earth. Apogee is when the Moon’s orbit is furthest away.
This month’s focus – Orion
Orion is my favourite constellation, for one simple reason. It was the first constellation I was able to identify in the night sky. During an online course last year I was asked to look for Orion. Expecting to not see a thing in the sky due to bad weather and light pollution I was incredibly surprised to look up and immediately recognise Orion. It was a beautiful personal moment and Orion continues to fill me with wonder every time I see it.
Except for the super giant Betelgeuse, all main stars in Orion are young blue supergiants. These stars are Rigel, Bellatrix, Saiph, Alnitak, Alnilam and Mintaka. Betelgeuse and Rigel are two of the brightest stars in the night sky. Rigel shines 40,000 times brighter than our Sun. Betelgeuse is 100,000 times brighter.
Orion’s belt is comprised of the stars Alnilam, Mintaka and Alnitak. Gradually Orion’s stars are moving apart. We will not notice much difference in the appearance of the constellation because of the distance from Earth.
In the next million years, Betelgeuse is predicted to turn into a supernova that will cause a dramatic change to Orion. The supernova will cause the star to shine as bright as a full moon.
I hope you have found this first post interesting and will intrigue you to look at all the stars in the night sky.
Information referenced from 2017 Guide to the Night Sky, in association with Royal Museums Greenwich.
Do you have an interest in Astronomy?
Do you have a telescope to look at the night sky?
What is your favourite constellation?
No need for postcards, feel free to leave a comment…