The Night Sky for June 2018


New moon; 13th June. Full moon; 28th June.

Summer Solstice; 21st June. Summertime begins.

Longest day of the year in the northern hemisphere, and the shortest day in the southern hemisphere.

Mercury appears as an evening object mid-month. Around the 15th   it is visible low in the west for an hour after sunset. By the month’s end it sets around 11pm. It is elusive, luckily it lies below the winter star Pollux in the constellation Gemini. Do not try looking for it until the sun has fully disappeared below the horizon.

Even in the light summer sky Venus makes is a splendid object visible until around midnight this month. It shines at a magnificent magnitude of -4.0. on the 8th it p[asses just below Pollux and on the 16th crescent moon passes nearby, making a lovely photographic object.

Jupiter makes for a lovely night-time sight and is visible from sunset until about 3h30 early in the month and by the end of the month setting at just after 2am. Jupiter is the brightest object in the feint constellation of Libra. The crescent moon passes by on the 23rd to help locate it.

Also visible most of the night is Saturn. It rises around 11pm at the start of the month and sets around 06h30. Towards the end of June it rises earlier at 21h30 and sets earlier at around 5am. It is low in the sky in the constellation of Scorpius. It reaches magnitude 0.0 by the end of the month. On the 28th the Full Moon will be just above the ringed world.

If you want a telescopic challenge try finding Uranus. It is difficult to find, it cannot be seen with the naked eye (it is at magnitude +5.8) and it lies close to the horizon in the morning twilight. Luckily to help you find this remote world the Moon will be just below it on the 10th.

Published in: on June 5, 2018 at 14:19  Leave a Comment  

The April Night Sky.

April sky18

New Moon: 16th April, Full Moon: 30th April.

This month Mercury is a morning object; it rises a little before dawn and will be difficult to see as it is low to the horizon. On the 14th the waning crescent moon is to the south of the planet.

Venus is a lovely object in the evening sky; it shines at a brilliant magnitude of -3.8 and is well placed for observing not setting until after 22h. The day old moon passes Venus on the 17th.

The red planet Mars rises just before 03h mid-month and is fairly low down in the sky in Sagittarius. The ringed planet Saturn and Mars make a lovely close pairing on the 2nd Mars will be to the south in a sight visible to the naked eye. On the 7th the moon passes close by both planets and should also make for a lovely sight.

Jupiter rises before 22h and is visible all night long. Although not terribly high in the sky it will make for an excellent object to look at. It shines at magnitude -2.4 in the feint constellation of Libra. The moon passes by twice this month on the 3rd. and the 30th.

First magnitude Saturn, like Mars, is to be found in Sagittarius as an early morning object. On the second these two planets can be found very close to each other. On the 7th. Saturn is below the moon, so will help find the ringed planet. It becomes easier to see as the month progresses as it rises earlier and earlier than the Sun. An interesting bit of celestial mechanics occurs on the 17th, when Saturn reaches aphelion; this is the furthest point in a planet’s orbit from the sun. Unlike the Earth which reaches aphelion once a year (in the northern hemisphere winter) Saturn only reaches aphelion every 29 and a half years.

Published in: on April 2, 2018 at 12:02  Leave a Comment  

The March Night Sky.


Full Moon: 2nd. and 31st. March. New Moon: 17th.

20th. March is the Vernal (Spring) Equinox. 25th. March Clocks go forward one hour.

This will be the best month of the year to see Mercury. The elusive world is an evening object shining at magnitude -1.0. On the 4th it is just 1.1° north of the much brighter Venus, later on in the month, the 19th, Mercury again passes by Venus although not as closely as the first time. By the end of the month Mercury will begin to disappear into the twilight.

At magnitude -3.9 Venus shines brightly in the evening sky. It starts the month close to Mercury. On the 18th just to the north of the day old moon which could make for a lovely sight and photograph. On the 29th Venus passes 0.1° south of Uranus. You will need a telescope or binoculars to see Uranus (which is just beyond naked eye visibility at magnitude +5.9.) The pair will be low in the sky and will be a challenge to see.

Mars, the red planet, rises just before 03h mid-month and lies close to the waning moon on the 10th. It will be low in the morning sky as it moves from Ophiuchus into Sagittarius. It brightens over the month from magnitude +0.8 to +0.3.

Jupiter rises around midnight but is low in the sky and outshines (at magnitude -2.1) all the stars in the feint constellation of Libra. The moon passes to its north on the 7th.

Another low in the sky object this month is Saturn. It rises before 03h30 mid-month and shines at magnitude +0.5 and is to be found in Sagittarius.


On This Day…

55 years ago – March 21st 1963: USSR lost contact with Mars 1 when it was 66 million miles from earth. Mars 1 would become the first spacecraft of any nation to fly past Mars.

March 28th: Saturn/Apollo 4 was launched by Saturn 1 from Cape Canaveral. It was a Suborbital test flight of the first stage of the Saturn rocket.

50 Years Ago – March 2nd 1968: Zond 4 was launched by Proton K rocket from Baikonur, USSR. It was an unmanned test flight of the Soviet circumlunar spacecraft.

March 27th: Yuri Gagarin, the first human in space, died in a MIG-15 crash northwest of Moscow.

40 Years Ago – March 2nd 1978: Soyuz 28 crew were launched aboard a Soyuz rocket from Baikonur to the Salyut-6 space station. The crew was: Alexei A.Gubarev and Vladimir Remek (Czech), who was the first non-Soviet, non-American. space explorer making this the first international space crew.

10 Years Ago – March 9th 2008: Jules Verne, also known as ATV 1, was launched by an Ariane 5 rocket. ATV-1 was ESA’s first automatic transfer vehicle, and the first non-US and non-Russian vehicle to successfully dock with the ISS.

5 Years Ago – March 1st 2013: SpaceX Dragon CRS-2 automated ISS cargo vehicle was launched from Cape Canaveral. This second operational Dragon cargo vehicle was the first commercial vehicle to carry externally mounted cargo to the ISS.

February Night Sky


New Moon: 15th. February.

February is an unusual month as it contains a ‘black moon.’ The moon isn’t really black there is no Full moon at all this month, instead there are two full moons in January and March. This phenomenon happens once every twenty years, so enjoy!

Mars lies low in the south east this month moving from Scorpius into Ophiuchus at the start of the month. On the 9th it will be found below the crescent moon and on the 11th. the red planet will be near to the red star Antares. Mars will be slightly feinter than the star but should make for an interesting sight.

Jupiter rises after midnight and shines at a bright -2.0. it lies in the very feint constellation of Libra so will be quite noticeable. On the 7th. the crescent moon passes of the king of the planets.

Saturn rises before dawn but is very low down in Sagittarius. The moon passes to the north of the ringed world on the 11th.

For more of a challenge get your binoculars and see if you can find Uranus. The planet remains in Pisces setting by midnight by month’s end. The crescent moon passes very close by on the 20th.

On This Day:

65 Years Ago – February 21st. 1953: First powered flight of Bell X-1A.

55 Years Ago – February 14th. 1963: Syncom 1 was launched by Thor Delta, from Cape Canaveral. It was the first communications satellite placed in geosynchronous orbit. Unfortunately communications with the satellite was lost shortly after it achieved orbit.

50 Years Ago – February 19th. 1968: Goddard Space Flight Centre launched its 1,000th sounding rocket, an Aerobee 150 carrying X-ray detection instruments it was launched from White Sands Missile Range (WSMR).

45 Years Ago – February 6th. 1973: Marshall Space Flight Centre forms the Large Space Telescope Task Force to plan for and create a preliminary design of a Large Space Telescope (LST). It would be launched by the Space Shuttle in 1990 as the Hubble Space Telescope (HST).

February 15th.: Pioneer 10 crosses the asteroid belt without damage and becomes the world’s farthest travelling spacecraft of the time.

15 Years Ago – February 1st. 2003: After a 16-day mission, STS 107, the Space Shuttle Columbia began its re-entry but broke apart over western Texas at 9:00 a.m. EST when the shuttle was at an altitude of 60 km with a speed of 20,100 km/hr.

The crew did not survive. It was Columbia’s 28th mission. Following an extensive investigation, the Columbia Accident Investigation Board identified the primary reason for the accident: damage caused by foam insulation falling off the External Tank (ET) and striking the leading edge of Columbia’s left wing.

The agency successfully returned the Shuttle to flight on July 26, 2005 with the launch of STS-114, and retired the Shuttle in 2011 with no further accidents.

sts107 patch


Published in: on February 3, 2018 at 16:41  Leave a Comment  

January Night Sky


Night sky at 00h on the 15th. January 2018.

New Moon; 17th. January. Full Moon 2nd. and 31st. January.

There are lots of planets to observe this month, unfortunately you will have to get up early in the morning to see them! There is also a ‘blue moon’ this month; that happens when there are two Full Moons in the same month.

Mercury the closest planet to the Sun rises almost two hours before the Sun at the start of the month (06:39 GMT). The first half of January will be the best time to see this very elusive world as by the month’s end it rises just quarter of an hour before the sun. It will be the brightest object in the feint constellation of Ophiuchus. The moon is north of Mercury on the 15th and Saturn is to Mercury’s upper right on the 13th.

Mars is a also a morning object and like Mercury is also quite low in the sky in Libra. On the 7th the red planet (which shines at magnitude +1.5) will be very close to the much brighter Jupiter. On the 11th the crescent moon will be nearby to the two planets and form a lovely sight.

Jupiter is to be found in the feint constellation of Libra. The king of the planets outshines, at magnitude -1.8, everything nearby.

Saturn is very difficult to see at the start of the month, although by the end of January it may be possible to catch a glimpse of it low in the southwest before sunrise. It lies in the summer constellation of Sagittarius. The moon passes just north of the ringed planet on the 15th.

The first meteor shower of the year peaks this month; the Quadrantids began on the 28th. December, peak on the 3rd. and then come to an end around the 12th. This can be an impressive shower with short sharp meteors. This year the moon will be a problem and will drown out all but the brightest of meteors.

On This Day…

60 Years Ago – January 4th. 1958: Sputnik 1 re-enters Earth’s atmosphere.

50 Years Ago – January 7th. 1968: Surveyor 7 was launched by Atlas Centaur from Cape Canaveral. It Landed on the Moon on the 9TH. of January.

January 22nd.: Apollo 5 was launched by Saturn 1B, from Kennedy Space Centre. It was the first unmanned Earth orbital test of the Apollo spacecraft’s Lunar Module (LM).

45 Years Ago – January 8th. 1973: Luna 21 was launched by Proton K, from Baikonur, USSR. January 16th: Lunokhod 2 drives onto lunar surface, leaving behind the Luna 21 lander.

35 Years Ago – January 26th. 1983: IRAS was launched It was the first of a series of infrared astronomical satellites used to conduct an all-sky survey for objects emitting infrared radiation and to provide a catalogue of infrared sky maps.

15 Years Ago – January 16th 2003: STS-107 (Space Shuttle Columbia) launched at 10:39 a.m. from Kennedy Space Centre (KSC). Crew: Rick D.Husband, William C. McCool, Michael P. Anderson, Kalpana Chawla, David M. Brown, Laurel B. S.Clark, and Ilan Ramon (Israel). As a research mission, the crew was kept busy 24 hours a day performing various science experiments. A landing back at the launch site was planned for February 1st. after a 16-day mission but Columbia and crew were lost during re-entry over East Texas at about 9 a.m. Eastern Time, 16 minutes prior to the scheduled touchdown at KSC. Mission Duration: 15 days, 22 hours, 20 minutes, 22 seconds. Ilan Ramon, an Israeli Air Force pilot, was the first Israeli to fly in space.

January 22nd.: Pioneer 10 spacecraft sends its last signal to Earth, after more than 30 years of operations.

Published in: on December 30, 2017 at 13:07  Leave a Comment  

The December Night Sky.




Full Moon; 3rd. December. New Moon: 18th. December.

Venus is low in the dawn sky, it shines at a magnificently bright magnitude of -3.9 but will be lost in the dawn by the 7th. You will need to be quick to see it.

Mars starts the month close to the bright star Spica in Virgo. Mars is slightly feinter than Spica at magnitude +1.7 compared with Spica at +1.0. The red planet is moving eastwards into Libra brightening as it does so and by the months end lies next to the fantastically named star Zubenelgenubi (also known as α Librae.). Libra is a feint constellation and even though this star is the brightest one in Libra (magnitude +2.8) it is much feinter than Mars at magnitude +1.5. Luckily the moon passes to the left of Mars on the 13th. and 14th. so will help you in finding the planet.

Jupiter also lies close to Zubenelgenubi this month (to the star’s left) and shines at a lovely -1.7 (it fades slightly over the month to -1.8.) By the end of the month both Mars and Jupiter will be close by each other lying either side of the star. Use the planets to find the star with binoculars and you won’t be disappointed; α Librae is a double star. It’s companion takes 200,000 years to orbit α Librae. Zubenelgenubi lies almost on the ecliptic which is the path across the sky the planets appear to take. This is why mars and Jupiter are so close to it this month.


On This Day…

100 Years Ago – December 16 1917: Science fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke born. “2001: A Space Odyssey” is one of his best known works. He was also the first person to propose the concept of geostationary satellites.

55 Years Ago – December 14th. 1962: Mariner 2 flew past Venus. It was the first successful planetary flyby.

45 Years Ago – December 7th. 1972: Apollo 17 launched aboard a Saturn V rocket from Cape Canaveral. It Landed on Moon on December 1th.1 in the Taurus-Littrow region. Crew: Eugene A. Cernan, Ronald E. Evans, and Harrison H. Schmitt. It was the last Apollo moon mission.

December 7th.: The “Blue Marble” photograph was taken by the Apollo 17 crew.

15 Years Ago – December 29th. 2002: Shenzhou 4 (meaning Divine Vessel), a Chinese unmanned test satellite was launched from Jiuquan Satellite Launch Centre in north-western China by a Long March 2F rocket. It carried a retrievable crew module with all furnishings, test equipment, and dummy astronauts to assess its viability for a manned launch.

5 Years Ago – December 2012: The Messenger spacecraft discovers water ice in Mercury’s polar regions.


Published in: on December 19, 2017 at 13:03  Leave a Comment  


The earliest writers dreamt of life on the planets in our solar system; the Aborigines have stories dating thousands of years about the Dreamtime and how we came from the stars. The satirist Lucian (120 – c185 AD) claims in “A True Story” to have visited the moon after his ship was caught in a whirlwind which sends them to the Moon: a place inhabited by beings at war with the people of the Sun over the colonisation of the Morning Star, Venus. The title of first science fiction writer is most likely his!

Lucian.                                                       H.G. Wells.

In more recent times we had HG Wells’ ‘War of the Worlds’ (1897) followed a few years later by the astronomer Percival Lowell’s canals on Mars (1906) – where he believed he saw artificial canals, going so far as to draw them – to the idea that Venus might contain dinosaurs we have always been desperate to find life “out there”.

Looking for life beyond Earth is one of the most fascinating, exciting and difficult things to do. Every time we think we might have found a clue a discovery comes along to challenge us.

Modern research looks for ‘bio-markers’; these are chemicals that could only be present as a result of life. Nothing has been found (so far!!) in the solar system so the search has broadened into he universe to the exo-planets, the worlds around distant stars.

How do you find which gasses are present in a world in another solar system? It seems that the size (diameter) of the planet plays a role in whether we can detect atmospheres; a recent report in the Astrophysical Journal ( goes into more detail. According to Angelos Tsiaras, the lead author, “More than 3,000 exoplanets have been discovered but, so far, we’ve studied their atmospheres largely on an individual, case-by-case basis.”


Using the Hubble Space telescope researchers looked at the spectral profiles of 30 exoplanets and analysed them for the characteristic fingerprints of gases that might be present. About half had strongly detectable atmospheres. Most of the atmospheres detected show evidence for clouds. The two hottest planets, where temperatures exceed 1,700 degrees Celsius, appear to have clear skies, at least at high altitudes. Results for these two planets indicate that titanium oxide and vanadium oxide are present in addition to the water vapour features found in all 16 of the atmospheres analysed successfully.

It is not only ‘Hot Jupiters’ that have had their atmospheres analysed: in April 2017 it was announced that Gliese 1132b, a super-earth, (that is a planet with a diameter upto 40% greater than the Earth’s) atmosphere had been detected. This is a major step in detecting signs of life in more earth like planets. (

gliese 1132b

How do astronomers detect the atmospheres? Well as a planet passes in front (transits) its host star the light from the star dims slightly; the planet blocks some of the light and the atmosphere absorbs some of the star light. If the composition of the star’s atmosphere is already known, when the planet transits the star, the planet’s atmosphere absorbs some of the starlight and changes what chemicals we can see from the starlight. It Is then possible to work out the composition of the planet’s atmosphere by the effect it had on the starlight.

The chemicals that astronomers look for when seeking life are called ‘bio-markers.’ They include Oxygen and Methane, which tend to be the product of organic processes and a chemical known as Freon-40. This latter was hoped to be a good indicator but, like Lucian’s moon people or Lowell’s canals things are not what they seem.

ALMA and Rosetta Detect Freon-40 in Space

Organohalogen methyl chloride (Freon-40) discovered by ALMA around the infant stars in IRAS 16293-2422

Freon-40 (CH3Cl), also known as methyl chloride. is known as an organohalogen; these are compounds which on Earth are formed by organic processes. Organohalogens consist of halogens (the inert gasses of the periodic table), such as chlorine and fluorine, bonded with carbon and sometimes other elements. On Earth, these compounds are created by some biological processes — in organisms ranging from humans to fungi —  as well as by industrial processes such as the production of dyes and medical drugs.

The idea was if Freon-40 is formed naturally on or earth or through artificial means then its detection in an exo-planet’s atmosphere would be a very good indicator of life, however that hoped has been dashed as Observations made with the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) and ESA’s Rosetta mission, have revealed the presence of Freon-40 in gas around both an infant star and a comet. The star lies 400 light years way, the comet is the famous 61/P Churyamov-Gerasimenko; this is the comet that saw the European Rosetta probe orbit it and send the little lander Philae to its surface.

This is the first ever detection of them in interstellar space.

IRAS 16293-2422 in the constellation of Ophiuchus

This chart shows the location of the Rho Ophiuchi star formation region in the constellation of Ophiuchus. The star Rho Ophiuchi, which gives the region its name, is marked with the Greek letter rho (ρ). The position of IRAS 16293-2422, a young binary star with similar mass to the Sun, is marked in red.

This may mean that astronomers have understood things the wrong way round; rather than being a marker for life perhaps it is a necessary constituent of the ‘primordial soup’ from which life arises:

“ALMA’s discovery of organohalogens in the interstellar medium also tells us something about the starting conditions for organic chemistry on planets. Such chemistry is an important step toward the origins of life,” adds Karin Öberg, a co-author on the study.

This isn’t the only chemical that ALMA has detected, other molecules of astrobiological interest found around young stars on scales where planets may be forming have precursors to sugars and amino acids.

The discovery of Freon-40 around Comet 67P strengthens the idea that what we see in the pre-biological chemistry of distant protostars may have been what we would have seen in our own Solar System. It would seem that young solar systems inherit some of their chemical characteristics from their parent star forming cloud and then from cometary impacts.


  ALMA the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimetrer Array.

It just shows, that when you think you may be onto a clue the Universe has different ideas!

September Night Sky.

sept17 sky

The sky at 00h on the 17th. September.

Full Moon: 6th. September. New Moon: 20th. September.

Autumnal Equinox: 22nd. September.

Mercury reaches greatest Western elongation on the 12th. meaning it rises shortly before the Sun. It is a reasonably bright magnitude -0.4. It will be low down at sunrise so you will need a clear Eastern horizon to see this elusive body. The thin crescent of the waning moon passes nearby on the 19th.

Above Mercury lie two other planets; Venus is a bright -3.9; the moon passes just south on the 18th. The moon also passes very close to the brightest star in Leo, Regulus, the same night. Mars lies between Mercury and Venus and is the faintest of the planets at magnitude 1.8.

Of the giant planets Saturn is the most easily visible; shining between magnitude +0.4 and +0.5 in Ophiuchus. The moon will pass just above it on the 26th and 27th. Saturn remains low in the sky and sets around 9:45 pm.

For more of a challenge why not try to find the distant planets nicknamed the ‘Ice Giants’? Uranus lies in Pisces and is just below naked eye visibility, at magnitude +5.7, but a pair of binoculars should show it as a round object. It is visible most of the night – rising at 7.20 pm by the end of the month.

Neptune will be visible for a week or so after the 6th. It is much feinter at magnitude +7.8 so will be more of a challenge. It is low in the sky in Aquarius. The ‘N’ on the map marks the approximate area in the sky to look next to the star λ Aquarii. The full moon is nearby on the 6th but is so bright it washes out the planet.


On This Day…


165 Years Ago – September 5th. 1857: Konstantin E. Tsiolkovsky, the father of rocketry was born in village of Izhevsk, in the USSR.

55 Years Ago – September 12th. 1962: President John F. Kennedy gives his famous address at Rice University on the nation’s space effort. In this well-known speech, Kennedy stated that we explore space not because it is easy but because it is difficult. This was the beginning of the journey to land men on the moon.

40 Years Ago – September 5th. 1977: Voyager 1was launched from Cape Canaveral on a Titan IIIE-Centaur launch vehicle. This was the beginning of the ‘Grand Tour’ of the planets.

September 29th. 1977: The USSR launched the Salyut-6 space station aboard Proton K rocket from Baikonur.

Tsiolkovsky                                     John F, Kennedy

Published in: on September 14, 2017 at 15:58  Leave a Comment  

Night Sky, August 2017

august sky


The night sky at 23h on the 14th. August.

Full Moon: 7th. August. New Moon: 21st. August.

August is a poor month for planets; Venus lies close to the star Pollux in Gemini and shines at a bright -3.9 in the early morning sky. As the month progresses though Venus begins to move towards the Sun making it harder to observe. The moon passes near Venus over the mornings of the 18th to the 20th.

Jupiter sets now a few hours after sunset and can be found low to the south-west near to the bright star Spica. The moon passes just above Jupiter on the 25th.

Saturn remains in the unremarkable constellation of Ophiuchus this month. It is to be found low in the west and is the brightest object in this part of the sky. The moon passes near to Saturn twice this month, on the 2nd and 30th of the month making a handy marker to the planet.

August sees the Perseid meteor shower, one of the best of the year. It lasts from July 17th until the 24th August and the peak display is usually around the 13th August. Unfortunately the moon is going to get in the way of seeing feinter meteors. To maximise your chances of seeing some meteors try and block street and house lights using walls and trees as shades. Look towards the north – after midnight is best but the moon will be in the way so may make things a bit trickier. The Perseids are made from the debris of comet Swift-Tuttle which was also known as the Great comet of 1862.

This month also sees a total eclipse of the Sun on the 21st. sadly this is only visible from the USA.

One of the most noticeable features in the Summer sky is the ‘Summer Triangle.’ This shape is not a constellation but is made from stars from three different constellations; Deneb in Cygnus, Vega in Lyra and Altair in Aquila. The term was first used by Patrick Moore. It can be found high overhead through out the month and is a handy way of finding three different constellations in one go!


On this Day…


55 years ago, 12th. August 1966 — In the first double flight (occurring at the same time as Vostok 3 with cosmonaut Nicolayev), the Soviet Union launched Vostok 4, with cosmonaut Papel Popovich.

11 years ago, 24th. August 2006 – The International Astronomical Union votes to approve a new definition of “planet” that excludes Pluto, leading to much upset and disagreement in the subsequent years! Pluto was re-classified as a dwarf planet.

5 years ago, 6th. August 2012 – The Mars rover Curiosity lands on the Red Planet as part of NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory mission.

pluto new horizons                                                                                         dwarf planets

Pluto seen by New Horizons.               Artist’s impression of two other dwarf planets.

Published in: on August 19, 2017 at 11:49  Leave a Comment  

Astronomy for All.

Easter Monday (5th. April 2010) turned out to be a fascinating day – and night! Working during the day I became more and more excited at the prospect of taking part in my very first Messier Marathon. A what you say?

Charles Messier (b. 1730 – d. 1817) began his astronomical life at the age of fourteen when he saw the six tailed comet of 1744 and a few years later when he saw an annular Solar eclipse which was visible from his hometown on July 25, 1748. (An annular eclipse is one in which the moon does not completely cover the sun but leaves a circle of the sun visible it looks like a ring or annulus.)

A NASA image of an Annular Eclipse.
Messier eventually started working at an observatory for the ‘Astronomer of the Navy’ one M. Delisle. In 1757 Messier started looking for the expected return of Halley’s Comet, but as he hunted he came across nebulous objects that might be confused as comets. Objects like the great Spiral in Andromeda and its companion fuzzy object. As he looked for Halley’s comet Messier discovered a comet of his own; as he observed it he came across another comet-like object this time in Taurus (the Crab Nebula) and realised that a catalogue of these comet llike objects was needed.
So began the Messier catalogue with the Crab Nebula being the first entry and so became known as M1 or Messier 1. The great Spiral became known as M31 and its companion M32. As he scanned the skies Messier discovered new objects (M3 and M41) as well as new comets.
What is this Messier marathon? Well around the end of March when the moon is well under way waining or is at new moon phase a happy chance of celestial mechanics allows for observers to try and see all the 110 objects is Messiers’ catalogue in one night. It needs careful planning to see all objects and to ensure that the observer is not looking back and forth across the sky and so wasting time moving the telescope great distances. The first marathons may have begun in the late 1970s so are a recent idea.
Unfortunately for me it was cloudy here in Southport, happily all was not lost. A chap named Gianluca Masi from a town 90 km from Rome decided to use his observatory to do an online marathon. His observatory – the Ballatrix Observatory – can be remotely controlled by users around the world but for Monday night Mr. Masi ran the show.
And what a show! His commentary was fascinating: he talked about how he was taking the images and where we were in the imaging process. Within what seemed like a few seconds an image would appear on the computer screen of one of the Messier objects. Quite amazing.
There were fellow observers from Italy, the USA, Turkey, Argentina and many other countries, all of whom could communicate with Gianluca and each other as the images came in. Not only that but we were treated to the view of the observatory as the marathon was ongoing. Simply fantastic.
Mr. Masi did this under the aupices of Global Astronomy Month a spinoff from the International Year Of Astronomy which occured in 2009. Under the tag-line ‘One World One Sky’ it is an attempt to bring people together through astronomy and to further our understanding of the universe and each other.
Here is the address for the observatory;
I couldn’t stay up all night observing even though I was in the comfort of my home and poor Gianluca was outside in a chilly 5C night. What I saw was fantastic, the speed of the camera in taking images was incredible as was the idea that there were hundreds of people all tuned in to gaze at some spectacular sights!

M3, a globular cluster in the constellation of Canes Venatici (the Hunting Dogs.)

Published in: on April 6, 2010 at 19:32  Leave a Comment