Wednesday 18 February 2015

An Astronomical Change of Pace

I'm not able to run at the moment, thanks to being stuffed with the achey legs, hot flushes and headaches that indicate the start of a heavy cold. The days have been lovely, but the nights cold and crisp, and even feeling less than a hundred percent as I do, I figured it was time to take advantage of clear skies last night.

As I wrote the other day, the constellations of spring are now beginning to make their presence known in our skies. At midnight, the southern aspect is dominated by Leo, with Jupiter sad shining creamy white by his tail - yes, his tail, I always envisage the celestial lion the other way round from most people - with two moons in binocular view to the west of the planet. Slightly further west, and south, the head of the Hydra is poised to strike.

Hydra is the largest constellation in the sky and fills up the entirety of the southern view as far as below Virgo, but its stars are mainly faint with the exception of the orange second magnitude star Alphard, which can be seen in an otherwise blank area of sky below Leo.

Still high, but beginning to drop down into the west, is Cancer, and I was able to view both of the crab's open clusters in my 10x50s. Messier 67 is dim but faintly resolvable, while Messier 44, "The Beehive" is of course one of the best binocular objects in the sky.

Going back the other way to the east, Arcturus is rising, golden and bright. Join a line to Alpha Canum Venaticorum, sweep half way along it with the binoculars, and there was my first view of Messier 3 for the year, one of the four great Spring globular clusters, Messiers 5, 13 and 92 being the others. It was glowing softly, a fuzzy unresolved circular patch, a faint star sat forever next to it.

Spring of course means the Great Bear and its companion the Hunting Dog are rising high into the sky, and this means its the start of the "La Superba" season. I found it very easily last night so I'm guessing it's near maximum, but as ever, its colour is a soft pink to my eyes and no match for the Garnet Star, Mu Cepheii.

Of course, you don't need any optical aid to enjoy the night sky! Just try and get away from streetlights, and look up.


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