Whilst walking the dog at a barmy 05:00 I took the chance to stop and look at the sky. We are so lucky to have such an incredibly clear and relatively unpolluted sky to frame our view. It is so easy to get into astronomy – it’s not some snobby scientific past time that demands a PhD in astrophysics. Yes, to understand all the elements involved and try to explain them is definitely complicated, but to appreciate them is the first step on the road to beginning the journey into physics and astrophysics. It also requires nothing apart from a bit of luck and our eyes!
Winter is the astronomer’s best friend. As soon as the clocks go back, the sky becomes so much more accessible! I like to sit waiting for the dog while it sniffs another bit of the track and make my own constellations out of the groups of the brightest stars, just like someone did thousands of years ago to make the constellations that we now find more familiar in deciphering our fortunes!
There is also the Pleiades, or the seven sisters, an open cluster of stars that looks a bit like a smudge. If you look east at about 20:00 and about a third of the way up from the horizon you’ll find this beaut to a group of stars. The seven brightest stars give the cluster its name, but it’s actually made up of around 3000!!
A couple of hours after Pleiades has risen the most iconic constellation will appear: the great hunter Orion, with its characteristic belt of three stars, is easy to spot. If you spot him earlier he’ll be having a little lie down!
Mars is nice and easy to find too! East East South you’ll see a nice orangey star, our rusty neighbour. It’s begun to move away from us as our orbits carry us away from each other, so now is a nice time to see it. Unfortunately for our lifetime its only going to be getting smaller and darker, so get out there and see it now!!
The other star that is incredible at the moment is our next neighbour and planetary sister, Venus, better known as the morning star. At about 06:00 in the East it will appear as an incredibly bright star! I find it a bit unnerving sometimes, as its brightness is something not a lot of people expect. But get up early and you can’t miss it. You may also see a fainter orange object just to the right. This will be Saturn, following Venus across the sky.
There’s plenty to see out there, so tonight and tomorrow morning get up and get out!