Stargazing: It will be New Year in an (extra) second

By Chris Brown

AS WE stand on the eve of 2009, hold your breath just a little as a “Leap Second” is being added to 2008. This is to help synchronise the slowing down of the earth’s rotation with the clocks. The winter solstice has passed and the days are getting longer while the nights are getting shorter. The year 2008 was relatively quiet in the skies with August and December being the highlights. Will we have fewer nights with cloud this year – especially on those that a celestial event is occurring?

In August we had two eclipses, a partial solar one on the first that was well observed and a lunar one on the 16th that was challenging being so close to dusk.

In December we had reports of auroras with a promise that there may be more to come. On Christmas Eve morning a rare sight of a nacreous cloud greeted those out before sunrise and on the 1st and 23rd I managed to photograph Uranus and show that it does move!

The New Year starts with the earth at perihelion, its closest point to the Sun, on the 4th.

New moon is on the 26th and full moon is on the 11th.

Sunset to 10pm

The Moon is out of the way from the 13th to 29th.

Literally just after the Sun sets on the 11th look very low down in the south west with binoculars and you may see the planet Mercury.

Looking south west after the Sun sets the shining brightness of the planet Venus is easy to see. Venus on this showing as the Evening Star is going to be a good signpost to the planet Uranus. Both planets will be in the same binocular field from the 7th to the 27th with the closest approach to each other in the sky on the 22nd.

Just after the Sun sets on the 7th, look east to find the Moon. It is going to spend the next few hours occulting the Pleiades or Seven Sisters. Binoculars are best to view this as you get a real feeling that the Moon is actually moving.

10pm to 2am

The Moon is out of the way from the 1st to 3rd and 17th to 31st.

This is the time to use the map from December and continue to look for Messier objects and get a feel for the winter constellations. Saturn rises around 11pm.

2am to sunrise

The Moon is out of the way from the 1st to 6th and 21st to 31st.

For those early risers the planet Saturn is prominent. The ring system is almost edge on as seen from earth so binocular viewers of the planet may not see “spikes” on either side.

Just before sunrise at the end of the month Mercury may be visible very low down in the south east.

January’s meteor shower is the Quadrantids and should best be seen on the night of the 3rd to 4th of the month. There are lots of predictions as to when maximum will occur; from around 1pm on Saturday to 7 o’ clock Sunday morning. The Moon is out of the way for this shower from around midnight so all we need now is a clear sky. The peak of this shower is short but said to be worthwhile staying up for – I still have to see a good Quadrantids showing.

From previous columns you will be aware that I am interested in light pollution and have exhorted individuals and our council to do something about it. Well I wonder if we all could consider doing something. Galloway has set up the UKs first Dark Sky park – could we do that in Shetland?

Here’s wishing for clear skies in 2009. Happy New Year.


Get Latest News in Your Inbox

Join the The Shetland Times mailing list to get one daily email update at midday on what's happening in Shetland.