Stargazing: Good time to see space station

THE CLOCKS have moved back to Greenwich Mean Time and Shetland’s astronomy season has started. Last year November brought us Comet Holmes. There are no bright comets forecast at present, but then you never know.

Sun Rise – Set : Moon Rise – Set

1st 7.28am – 4.07pm : 12.45pm – 4.22pm
15th 8.04am – 3.34pm : 4.06pm – 12.12pm
30th 8.39am – 3.07pm : 11.58am – 4.27pm

New moon is on the 27th and full moon is on the 13th.

If you want to see the International Space Station then there are several good passes in the last week of the month. Go to the Heavens Above website to get timings for early evening passes at the end of the month.


The Moon will be out of the way from the 17th to 30th.

If you look southwest after the Sun sets you may catch Jupiter setting. The air is a bit too turbulent to get good telescopic views but binoculars will show the Galilean moons and their ever-changing posi­tions. The early evening, looking to the south, is the time to get your map out and look for Uranus and Neptune. Uranus should be easy to find in binoculars but Neptune will be a bigger challenge.


The Moon will be out of the way from the 1st to the 7th and the 21st to the 30th.

On a clear moonless night there will be no major planets to view, only minor ones. The brightest is Vesta and it will be easily seen in binoculars with the aid of a map.

As I have suggested in the past, you may want to plot the passage of this lump of rock across the skies against the background stars. It is a fun exercise and I recommend you do it at least once in your life.

There are several meteor showers this month. Most will have inter­ference from the brightness of the Moon making them difficult to see.

The two main showers are the Taurids in the first two weeks of the month. This shower is known to produce bright fireballs so we may have celestial fireworks as well as Earth-bound ones.

The second major meteor shower of the month is the Leonids. Famed for massive showers in the past, again this year it is liable to disappoint, but do spend the night of the 17th over to the 18th looking for them. There may not be many but they can look quite spectacular. 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.


The Moon will be out of the way from the 1st to the 13th and the 27th to the 31st.

Morning is the time for planet hunters. Find a good easterly horizon and at around 3am Saturn will rise over the horizon to be easily visible in the morning sky about three hours later.

The good showing of Mercury in the morning last month is still not quite over. Find a southeasterly horizon and you may catch it very low in the sky at around 6am.

The credit crunch may be starting to bite but if you already have a digital camera and a computer then you can easily take images like the one of Cassiopeia with this month’s article without having to spend any more money.

This image is taken with an ordinary digital SLR on a tripod with no fancy drives. Several images of up to 15 seconds long were combined using the free software, DeepSkyStacker, before being tidied up with normal image processing software.

The image easily shows stars that you can see in your binoculars so you can make your own star maps to look at before you go outside observ­ing, or if it stays cloudy you have something to look at besides the TV.

In this image you can easily see the classic W shape of the constel­lation and down at 4 o’clock is the Andromeda Galaxy, M31, and down towards the lower left corner is the Double Cluster in Perseus.

If you are not into astro­photo­graphy then you may be thinking of what gifts to purchase this Christmas. As I advise each year, binoculars are the first instrument you should pur­chase, either for yourself or others.

Two numbers, for example 8×40, usually denote binoculars size. The first number is the magnification and for handholding should not be larger than 10x. From 10x and upwards a tripod is recommended.

The second number is the aperture of the binocular lenses. The larger this number the more light enters the instrument and the fainter the objects you can see. So to see fainter, messier objects buy the 20×80 binoculars and a good tripod and for general observing a pair of 8×40 binoculars are good enough.

I have seen a full range of binoculars in Lerwick recently so you should be able to try the different sizes to see which fits your needs (sorry, that should be fits the needs of the person you are buying the binoculars for).

Lets hope for clear skies this month …

Chris Brown


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