19th August 2018
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Stargazing: Talk about planets and stars at museum

, by , in Features

Looking back over the years I have got into the habit of bemoaning the cloudy skies of September. Well, this year September has again been cloudy but fortunately, October usually has more clear nights for us to enjoy our heavenly passion and we will need them this year.

The end of the month brings a return to Greenwich Mean Time with the clocks “moving back” an hour on the morning of the 25th.


Sun RiseSun SetMoon RiseMoon Set
1st BST 7:10am6:37pm 5:35pm3:35am
15th BST 7:44am5:55pm3:48am 4:44pm
30th GMT 7:22am 4:13pm 2:52pm 2:59am
New Moon is on the 18th and Full Moon on the 4th

Sunset to 8pm

The Moon will be out of the way from the 9th to the 23rd.

The planet Jupiter is still low in the south. The air is a bit too turbulent to get good telescopic views but binoculars will show the Galilean moons and their ever-changing positions.

8pm to 5:30am

The Moon will be out of the way from the 14th to the 27th.

The early part of the night brings Jupiter to the south and as high in the sky as it is going to get. From this gas giant you can look slightly up to the left to see the area of sky that holds the planet Neptune. Some may say they can see the planet Uranus with the naked eye but Neptune needs binoculars.

Look at the area over several weeks and map the stars you see. One of these will move and that is the planet. Others, like myself, may like to take a series of photographs of the area.

There are several small meteor showers this month. The one with the most meteors is the Orionids around the 21st but the nights of the 17th and 18th may also have quite a few meteors.

The meteors are fast and faint and come from the dust put out by Halley’s Comet. The Moon is out of the way so this is a good year to observe this shower You need to wrap up well and be prepared to lie outside for at least an hour – Meteor showers are wonderful sights but do not come easily.

Before the morning planets show arrives Mars can easily be seen. It is brick red in colour and does not look like a star. Look to the south-east. At the beginning of the month it is just below Gemini but at the end of the month it puts on a show as it glides in front of the Beehive Cluster.

5:30am to sunrise

The Moon will be out of the way from the 16th to the 30th.

This October is the time to be an early riser and find a good easterly horizon. In the first two weeks there will be a “dance of the planets”.

If you look to the east you will see the constellation of Leo the Lion. Its main star is Regulus. Using that as the centre of a clock the planets trail down to the horizon on the eight o’clock line. The month starts with Regulus, Venus, Mercury and Saturn. The inner planets get lower each morning so that by the 10th it is Regulus, Venus, Saturn and Mercury. By the 14th the inner planets are below Saturn.

The morning of the 8th sees Mercury and Saturn pass close to each other and the 13th sees Venus and Saturn pass close.

If you want to see the Space Station then the mornings in the latter half of the month are best.

If you are lucky and work hard then during this month you can see all the planets of our solar system. Early in the month you can see Mercury and Venus in the early morning. You can look about you and see the Earth. Looking up to the south you will see Mars. The evening gives you Jupiter and then its back to the early morning to see Saturn. Life then gets difficult as Uranus lies in the area between Pisces and Aquarius and you have Jupiter as the signpost to Neptune. Will you take up the challenge?

As the International Year of Astronomy enters its last few months the Shetland Astronomical Society have organised talks by visiting speakers about the Solar System as part of the Scottish Solar System project.

You can book with the museum to attend the talk at the museum on the evening of the 24th. It is hoped this talk will be about planets, in our system and around other stars. If the skies are clear you can join in the observing session at about 6pm and look though some large binoculars or a telescope.

Let’s hope for clear skies this month . . .

Chris Brown