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Preview: The Westmorland Gazette | Sky Watch

The Westmorland Gazette | Sky Watch

The Westmorland Gazette /opinion/skywatch/

Published: Wed, 21 Feb 2018 14:51:09 +0000

Last Build Date: Wed, 21 Feb 2018 14:51:09 +0000


SKYWATCH: Jupiter shines high in southern sky

Mon, 19 Feb 2018 19:54:02 +0000

THE south-eastern sky before dawn is still where all the action is for anyone who likes looking at planets, writes STUART ATKINSON. Go out at around 5am on any clear morning over the next week and you'll see Jupiter shining high in the south, looking like a bright blue-white star. To its lower left, looking quite a lot fainter but glowing with a more orange hue, you'll see Mars. In the summer Mars will be a striking sight in the evening sky, but at the moment it looks just like a reasonably bright star.

SKYWATCH: plenty planetary action in the eastern sky

Mon, 05 Feb 2018 21:03:04 +0000

VENUS will be returning to our evening sky soon, and in a couple of months will be spectacularly bright, writes STUART ATKINSON.

SKYWATCH: space station is back - sky high and inspiring

Tue, 30 Jan 2018 19:52:03 +0000

THERE was quite a lot of fuss among astronomers and skywatchers last week when a new rocket company, based in New Zealand, announced they had sneaked a satellite into space onboard their first rocket, writes STUART ATKINSON. Their Humanity Star is basically a huge disco glitter ball which will flash as it crosses the sky, and is meant to 'inspire' and 'unite' people by making them gaze towards the heavens.

SKYWATCH: winter constellations slowly slide out of view

Mon, 22 Jan 2018 14:07:06 +0000

AS JANUARY drifts into February, the main winter constellations are slowly sliding out of view now too, writes STUART ATKINSON. Look to the south mid-evening and you'll see the familiar hourglass shape of Orion, The Hunter, standing above the rooftops and trees. You can't really miss Orion - just look for a short line of three blue stars, all the same brightness, angled down on the left, and that's Orion's Belt, the most prominent feature in the constellation. To the lower right of the belt you'll see a bright blue-white star - this is Rigel. To the top left of the belt you'll see a bright orange star - Betelgeuse, one of the most famous stars in the whole sky.

SKYWATCH: by the light of a silvery crescent Moon

Mon, 15 Jan 2018 20:35:04 +0000

OVER the coming weekend there will be what many Westmorland Gazette readers will call a New Moon shining low in the south-western sky after sunset, writes STUART ATKINSON. In fact, in astronomical terms a proper New Moon is invisible, because that's the name we give the phase of the Moon when there is no sunlight illuminating any part if the disc, so what we'll be seeing is a lovely 'young crescent Moon.'

SKYWATCH: easy to see rare triple conjunction

Mon, 08 Jan 2018 20:25:00 +0000

DESPITE the poor weather, I hope some of you managed to at least catch a glimpse of the celestial 'close encounter' between Jupiter and Mars last week, writes STUART ATKINSON. On Sunday morning the two planets were less than half the width of the Full Moon apart, and looked beautiful before sunrise. They've moved apart now, but the show isn't quite over yet.

SKYWATCH: meteor shower ready to peak

Mon, 01 Jan 2018 20:53:00 +0000

ALTHOUGH they're long and often bitterly cold, the nights of early January are perfect for amateur astronomy, writes STUART ATKINSON. Because the Sun sets early we don't have to wait long for it to get dark enough to see things 'up there,' and if you're really dedicated you can enjoy many hours of stargazing before finally crawling under the duvet and thawing out.

SKYWATCH: close encounter of the celestial kind

Tue, 26 Dec 2017 18:30:00 +0000

IF YOU are up and about before dawn breaks on New Year's Day you can see something very striking low in the south eastern sky - a pair of bright, naked eye planets having a close encounter of the celestial kind, writes STUART ATKINSON.

SKYWATCH: Earthshine is visible to the naked eye

Tue, 19 Dec 2017 20:30:00 +0000

IF YOU are a user of social media and someone posts an 'alert' on your Facebook timeline or Twitter feed telling you to look out for a bright pass of the space station on Christmas Eve, which you can tell your kids is Santa setting off on his rounds, please ignore it. It's old and out of date information, from 2015 actually. Sadly, there's no opportunity to see the space station in our sky on Christmas Eve this year, so please don't drag your poor little ones outside into the bitter cold and wait for Santa to fly over because they'll see absolutely nothing and you might very possibly ruin Christmas for them.

SKYWATCH: Sirius looks like a finely cut diamond

Tue, 12 Dec 2017 19:04:00 +0000

THESE clear, frosty nights are absolutely perfect for stargazing, writes STUART ATKINSON. With no mist or cloud in the sky during the day, when darkness falls the sky is a spectacular sight, strewn with jewel-like stars, all twinkling and flashing through the night. And none of them look more beautiful than Sirius, the brightest star in the whole sky.

SKYWATCH: Geminid shower promises to be one of the best

Wed, 06 Dec 2017 19:00:00 +0000

GOOD news - we have a meteor shower coming up that will actually be worth going out and watching, writes STUART ATKINSON. Most of the meteor showers during 2017 have been ruined by bright moonlight, but next week's Geminids shower will be wonderfully Moon-free, so weather permitting we should be able to see lots of shooting stars.

SKYWATCH: best time to see the sky's most famous star pattern

Mon, 27 Nov 2017 20:20:00 +0000

THIS is one of the best times of the year to see the most famous star pattern in the whole of the night sky - The Big Dipper, writes STUART ATKINSON.

SKYWATCH: plenty of planetary action is taking place in the east before dawn

Tue, 21 Nov 2017 18:20:00 +0000

THE Leonid meteor shower last weekend was very poor to be honest, one of its most inactive displays for years, although a few bright shooting stars were seen, writes STUART ATKINSON.

SKYWATCH: the longer you stay out the more you will see

Wed, 15 Nov 2017 18:41:00 +0000

CROSS your fingers for clear skies this coming weekend because we're approaching the peak of one of the year's best meteor showers, writes STUART ATKINSON.

SKYWATCH: glowing arcs and columns of silver and gold

Mon, 06 Nov 2017 19:41:00 +0000

NOW the weather has turned 'nippy' after what seems like months and months of cloud and rain, stargazers and sky-watchers are desperately hoping for some clear, frosty nights in the weeks and months ahead, writes STUART ATKINSON. But you don't have to wait for darkness to fall to see amazing and beautiful things in the sky.

SKYWATCH: broad and beautiful misty band that cuts sky in two

Tue, 31 Oct 2017 18:58:00 +0000

IT SOUNDS like we might have some frosty nights and chilly mornings coming up, if the weather forecasters are to be believed (ha!) so what's visible 'up there' at the moment? writes STUART ATKINSON.

SKYWATCH: on a chilly autumn night the Seven Sisters are a beautiful sight

Tue, 24 Oct 2017 18:58:00 +0100

LOOK to the east as darkness falls on any clear night this week and you'll see what looks like a little 'knot' of stars shining above the horizon, writes STUART ATKINSON. This is a star cluster called the Pleiades, but most people know it by its unofficial name - The Seven Sisters.

SKYWATCH: comet's dusty debris set to shower night sky

Tue, 17 Oct 2017 18:51:00 +0100

A LOT of fuss was made on the TV news and online a couple of weeks ago about a meteor shower called the Draconids, writes STUART ATKINSON. Wild predictions were made for dozens, hundreds or even thousands of shooting stars lighting up the sky when it peaked. Unfortunately, this was all nonsense. The Draconids is usually a very poor shower. That's why I didn't mention it in this column.

SKYWATCH: stars of winter are rising in the east

Tue, 10 Oct 2017 19:11:00 +0100

WE ARE now officially 'in autumn,' and after summer's long, bright nights it is finally getting dark at a respectable time again. But if you're up late in the evening you can already see the main stars of winter rising in the east.

SKYWATCH: back and shining bright - weather permitting!

Tue, 03 Oct 2017 21:08:00 +0100

THE Cumbrian weather really seems to have it in for us at the moment, writes STUART ATKINSON. Since I wrote the last Skywatch we have missed two more displays of the northern lights and have seen nothing of the beautiful meeting, or 'conjunction,' of the planets Venus and Mars in the eastern sky before dawn. It's very disheartening.

SKYWATCH: a real celestial treat in store

Tue, 26 Sep 2017 21:01:00 +0100

THERE is a real celestial treat in store for anyone who is up and about at around 5.30am on any clear morning over the next week - a close encounter of the planetary kind, writes STUART ATKINSON.

SKYWATCH: Earthshine is striking and beautiful - catch it while you can

Tue, 19 Sep 2017 21:10:00 +0100

IF YOU don't mind getting up early - or are still up at 5am after a good night out - you can enjoy seeing Venus blazing in the east before dawn, writes STUART ATKINSON. It looks like a very bright silvery-white star to the naked eye, so bright you can see why it was sometimes known as the Morning Star in years gone by.

SKYWATCH: grand gathering of planetary worlds

Tue, 12 Sep 2017 18:23:00 +0100

THERE is good news and bad news this week. The good news is, there's a very impressive gathering of planets on view in the sky this coming weekend. The bad news? You'll have to be up in the wee small hours before dawn to see it.

SKYWATCH: a striking sight before sunrise

Tue, 05 Sep 2017 19:34:00 +0100

IF YOU'VE been up early - or stayed out very late - recently you'll have seen a very bright 'star' blazing low in the east before dawn, writes STUART ATKINSON. This star is actually a planet - the planet Venus. It's currently a morning star but is more commonly known as The Evening Star because it is sometimes visible in the west after sunset. Many more people see it then because they're already up and see it on their way home from work, or on their way out shopping or going to the pub. But right now it is a very striking sight for a few hours before sunrise.

SKYWATCH: back to basics and the big saucepan in the sky

Mon, 28 Aug 2017 19:54:00 +0100

WELL, the ever-reliable Cumbrian weather conspired to prevent us from seeing any of last week's solar eclipse, writes STUART ATKINSON. Across the US the eclipse was total, with the Moon totally blocking out the Sun. It was a spectacular sight, and you probably saw it on the TV. Here in the UK we would have been able to see a tiny bite out of the bottom of the Sun just before sunset, but with Cumbria under 100 per cent cloud there was no chance. Hopefully, we'll have better luck during the next partial solar eclipse visible from Cumbria - on June 10, 2021.

SKYWATCH: blazing in the east as a beautiful morning star

Tue, 22 Aug 2017 20:37:00 +0100

THE 2017 NLC (noctilucent cloud) season is now well and truly over, writes STUART ATKINSON. And it was so bad we'll speak no more of it, agreed? Typically, although the sky was almost perfectly clear for last weekend's Perseid meteor shower, it was rather spoiled by the big bright Moon. From a dark sky site outside of Kendal we saw quite a few before Moonrise, then next to nothing as the sky was bleached by the Moon's brilliant light.

SKYWATCH: get somewhere dark and look for a faint misty band

Tue, 15 Aug 2017 19:25:00 +0100

AS PREDICTED last weekend's Perseid meteor shower was rather washed out by the Moon, which rose on Saturday night just as activity was building up to its peak, writes STUART ATKINSON. That meant that instead of seeing many dozens of shooting stars through the night, one every minute or so, only the very brightest shooting stars could be seen, and they were several minutes apart. Fingers crossed for better weather for the year's remaining major showers, in October, November and December, none of which will be murdered by the Moon.

SKYWATCH: eyes on the skies for shooting star show

Mon, 07 Aug 2017 19:48:00 +0100

CONTRARY to popular opinion, shooting stars aren't actually that rare. They're zipping across the sky every night, but you'll only see them if you're looking in the right direction at the right time. But half a dozen or so times every year, when Earth ploughs through one of the many streams of dust left behind by a comet orbiting the Sun, we can guarantee seeing more than usual for a short period - an event astronomers call a meteor shower.

SKYWATCH: take a seat for Perseid peak performance

Mon, 31 Jul 2017 19:47:00 +0100

THE 2017 Noctilucent Cloud season is effectively over now, although there's always a chance a very late show might creep up on us, writes STUART ATKINSON. Again it as been very frustrating and disappointing; there were less than half a dozen good displays of these beautiful electric blue clouds occurring after midnight, and the Cumbrian weather stopped us seeing those, while other parts of the UK enjoyed them in all their glory. Fingers crossed next year is better - I've said that the past three years running though.

Space station is shining bright once again

Wed, 26 Jul 2017 18:30:00 +0100

THERE have been a couple of minor noctilucent cloud displays in the past week, both missed from Cumbria because of cloud and rain. The 2017 NLC season is now dragging itself to a close, and it's been both disappointing and frustrating. Again. Oh well, better luck next year - as we seem to say every year!

SKYWATCH: noctilucent clouds observing season has finally kicked off

Mon, 03 Jul 2017 19:57:00 +0100

FINALLY, the 2017 noctilucent clouds observing season has kicked off, writes STUART ATKINSON. As I write this there has been a good displays the past three nights in a row, and one of them, on Saturday night into Sunday morning, was the brightest and most impressive display since the so-called Great Storm of 2014. Of course, I missed it because the sky where I was ('down south' for an astronomy festival) was cloudy - and of course it was clear in Cumbria while I was away! Never mind. I hope some of you saw it.

SKYWATCH: dark sunspots can dapple its bright face

Tue, 27 Jun 2017 18:41:00 +0100

SUMMER is a bit of a challenging and frustrating time for astronomers, writes STUART ATKINSON. The sky never gets truly dark - certainly not dark enough to allow us to see the 'faint fuzzies' we enjoy in winter, things like galaxies and nebulae. Instead, after sunset we look at any planets that are in the sky, cross our fingers for displays of noctilucent clouds and watch the space station cross the sky. And weather permitting, during the day we look at the Sun.

SKYWATCH: major display can paint the whole sky

Mon, 19 Jun 2017 18:55:12 +0100

THE Cumbrian 2017 NLC Season has started very late but it has started, writes STUART ATKINSON.

SKYWATCH: really impressive displays are getting rarer

Mon, 12 Jun 2017 21:11:10 +0100

AS I WRITE this we're almost two weeks into the 2017 Noctilucent Cloud season. By now we would have expected to see one, maybe even two curtain-raising displays of these eerily beautiful clouds. However, the season has got off to an unusually slow and boring start: there has yet to be a single noteworthy display. This is very disappointing, and troubling too; we're all crossing our fingers it's not a bad omen for the rest of the summer.

SKYWATCH: very high, icy and only form in the summer

Mon, 05 Jun 2017 18:49:20 +0100

THE 2017 Noctilucent Cloud Season has officially begun. Late last week the first clouds of the summer were observed - by someone in the south of England, not from up here in cloudy Cumbria of course - so on every clear night between now and the end of July, please keep an eye on the northern sky after midnight; you might see something beautiful and rare.

SKYWATCH: for those who haven't managed to see it before - now is the perfect time

Mon, 29 May 2017 12:59:15 +0100

THE International Space Station (ISS) is back in the late evening/post-midnight sky again, and is strikingly bright too, writes STUART ATKINSON. If you haven't managed to see it before, now is the perfect time. All you have to do is go out on the following dates, at the times given, face the west (if you're not sure which way is west, just remember roughly where the Sun set earlier in the evening and look in that direction) then wait for a bright 'star' to start climbing up from the horizon and that's it, that's the ISS.

SKYWATCH: swirls, curls and electric blue whirls

Mon, 22 May 2017 19:16:23 +0100

THE Sun isn't setting until almost 10pm now, so astronomers and sky watchers have to stay up really late - until around 1 or 2am - if we want to see a dark, starry sky and look at all the fascinating 'faint fuzzies' through our telescopes. But if that doesn't appeal to you there's still a lot to see in the darkening twilight sky before you tuck yourself up in bed.

SKYWATCH: high in the atmosphere almost at the edge of space

Mon, 15 May 2017 18:46:25 +0100

ALTHOUGH the so-called Noctilucent Cloud Season doesn't officially begin until the start of June, these beautiful electric blue clouds have been seen from mid-May in some years, STUART ATKINSON.

SKYWATCH: a planet so huge it could hold more than a thousand Earths - with room to spare

Mon, 08 May 2017 19:55:35 +0100

SATURN now rises in the south east before midnight, but we'll see it better in a month or so, writes STUART ATKINSON. This is a great time to be looking at Jupiter. It is already quite high in the south as the sky begins to darken, and the darker the sky gets the brighter Jupiter appears. It looks like a very bright blue-white 'star' in the sky, pretty much blazing away in its own with very few stars close to it.

SKYWATCH: eyes on the skies this weekend for lunar fly-past

Tue, 02 May 2017 19:40:32 +0100

CROSS your fingers for clear skies this coming weekend because there will be a meeting of worlds for us to enjoy, writes STUART ATKINSON.

SKYWATCH: zoom in on New Moon in the Old Moon's arms

Mon, 24 Apr 2017 20:13:40 +0100

I HOPE some of you managed to catch a glimpse of the northern lights last week, writes STUART ATKINSON. They were visible faintly from our part of the world on both Friday and Saturday night. There were none of the vivid greens and red seen on TV or in photos used in magazines and books - you really need a camera to record those - but we could see the faint grey-white hues of a typical UK auroral display.

SKYWATCH: Europa is the most promising candidate

Mon, 17 Apr 2017 19:31:20 +0100

THE two 'gas giant' planets Jupiter and Saturn are in the news at the moment because of some very exciting discoveries, writes STUART ATKINSON. Studies by space probes and the Hubble Space Telescope have revealed moons of both giant worlds have most of, if not all, the things needed for life to exist beneath their icy crusts. Saturn's moon Enceladus is getting all the attention, but it's actually Jupiter's moon Europa which is the most promising candidate - and you can see it on the next clear night with just a pair of binoculars.

SKYWATCH: space probe is approaching the end of its mission

Tue, 11 Apr 2017 19:40:26 +0100

THE planet Saturn is in the news a lot at the moment, because a robotic space probe called Cassini, which has been orbiting that distant world since the summer of 2004, is approaching the end of its mission. In September the space probe will be deliberately sent plummeting into the planet's atmosphere, where it will burn up like a shooting star. This is to prevent it from crashing on any of Saturn's moons which might have life, and contaminating them.

SKYWATCH: as twilight deepens the three M's form a diagonal line

Mon, 27 Mar 2017 21:07:13 +0100

VENUS might have deserted us for now, but there are still planets to see in the evening sky, writes STUART ATKINSON. Mercury is now quite high in the west after sunset, and although it isn't anywhere near as bright as 'The Evening Star' was through the winter months, it is actually quite obvious to the naked eye once you've spotted it. Sweeping the western sky with a pair of binoculars half an hour after sunset will help you find it, then you will be able to see it more easily as the sky darkens.

SKYWATCH: last year it painted the sky as far south as Norfolk

Tue, 21 Mar 2017 19:17:21 +0000

I HOPE you all enjoyed seeing Venus blazing in the evening sky over the past few months because the show is over, writes STUART ATKINSON.

SKYWATCH: Jupiter and Spica make a striking and attractive pair

Mon, 13 Mar 2017 19:24:16 +0000

IF YOU manage to catch a break in the clouds on any evening this coming week you absolutely must try to see Venus, writes STUART ATKINSON. It is quite low after sunset now, well past its best, and sets around 8pm. Soon it will be gone from our evening sky altogether, but for this next week it will remain a strikingly bright blue white 'star' low in the west during twilight, and if you have a pair of binoculars please, please take a look at Venus through them; they might be powerful enough to show the beautiful Evening Star as a tiny, slender crescent.

SKYWATCH: four different planets in one night

Tue, 07 Mar 2017 19:51:32 +0000

VENUS is still dominating the evening sky, blazing in the west after sunset like a piece of burning magnesium, writes STUART ATKINSON.

SKYWATCH: telescopes at the ready - here comes Moon Watch

Mon, 27 Feb 2017 20:13:16 +0000

CROSS your fingers for clear skies this coming Friday night (March 3) because we are having another of our hugely popular Moon Watch nights at Kendal's Brewery Arts Centre, writes STUART ATKINSON.

SKYWATCH: it's been a while since we saw it so high and bright

Mon, 06 Feb 2017 19:26:08 +0000

IF THESE pesky clouds clear at all this coming week we'll have some gorgeous view of the International Space Station (ISS) drifting through the sky. It's been a while since we saw it so high and bright, so fingers crossed some gaps form in the murk and allow us to see this fascinating and beautiful sight.

SKYWATCH: look at Venus and Mars through binoculars and their colour differences will really stand out

Mon, 30 Jan 2017 19:22:08 +0000

VENUS is an absolutely beautiful sight after sunset now, a startlingly-bright evening star shining above the trees and roofs all through the evening, writes STUART ATKINSON. You simply can't miss Venus: just look to the south west as soon as darkness starts to fall, around 5.30pm, and you will see a silvery-white spark of light high up in the sky. As the sky darkens and the stars start to come out Venus will just get brighter and brighter, until it looks like a lantern in the sky, shining with such an intense silvery light that it demands you look at it and ignore everything else in the sky.