Astronomy For Beginners
with the Newbury Astronomical Society
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The chart above shows the night sky looking south at about 22:00 BST on 15th October. West is to the right and east to the left. The point in the sky directly overhead is known as the Zenith or Nadir and is shown at the centre of the chart. The curved brown line across the sky at the bottom is the Ecliptic or Zodiac. This is the imaginary line along which the Sun, Moon and planets appear to move across the sky. The brightest stars often appear to form a group or recognisable pattern; we call these ‘Constellations’.
Constellations through which the ecliptic passes this month are Sagittarius (the Archer), Capricornus (the Goat), Aquarius (the Water Carrier), Pisces (the Fishes), Aries (the Ram), Taurus (the Bull) and Gemini (the Twins just off the chart to the west (left)).
Just disappearing over the south western horizon is the constellation of Sagittarius (the Archer). It is really a southern constellation but we can see the upper part creep along the horizon during the summer. The central bulge of our galaxy is located in Sagittarius so the richest star fields can be found in the constellation along with many of the beautiful and interesting deep sky objects that we seek out (labelled in yellow print).
The summer constellations are still prominent in the night sky lead by Hercules (the Hunter). Following Hercules is the Summer Triangle with its three corners marked by the bright stars: Deneb in the constellation of Cygnus, Vega in Lyra, and Altair in Aquila. The Summer Triangle is very prominent and can be used as the starting point to find our way around the night sky. The Milky Way (our Galaxy) flows through the Summer Triangle passing through Cygnus, down to the horizon in Sagittarius. The Milky Way flows north from the Summer Triangle through the rather indistinct constellation of Lacerta (the Lizard), past the pentagon shape of Cepheus and on through the ‘W’ shape of Cassiopeia (a Queen).
All the Superior Planets (those orbiting the Sun outside Earth’s orbit) are visible in the south during the night. Jupiter and Saturn are most prominent as Jupiter is very bright in the south with Saturn very close by. The Gas Giant Planets are followed across the sky by Neptune the most distant planet then the distinctly orange and bright Mars and completing the parade of planets is Uranus. The outermost planets Uranus and Neptune do really need a good pair of binoculars to find and a telescope to see as small blue discs.
Mars rises over the eastern horizon at about 20:30 BST (8:30 pm). It is bright at the moment and getting brighter until on 13th October it will be at Opposition (in the south at midnight GMT) and at its brightest this year.
Planets observable: Jupiter, Saturn, Neptune, Mars, Uranus (in the evening) and Venus (in the early morning).
Follow this link to see the full ‘Monthly What’s Up’ guide to the night sky:
To see a full version of this article and a guide to the night sky with charts, read the Newbury Astronomical Society (NAS) – Monthly Magazines for Beginners are available on the Beginners website at: www.naasbeginners.co.uk.
All meetings of the Newbury Astronomical Society have been cancelled due to the Coronavirus. However virtual meetings will continue on-line using Zoom. Please go to the NAS website to find how to join our Zoom meetings. Next Zoom Meeting: Wednesday 21st October 2020.