BIG AUTUMN SKIES
Longer nights might mean you want to huddle down inside, but they’re also a great time for some excellent star gazing
Longer nights mean more time to star-gaze, so here’s what to look out for
The shorter days of late autumn are a grand excuse for a space adventure. Choose a fine November afternoon to chug out to a spot offering open views of the countryside. Sundown is before 5pm this time of year, with darkness falling quickly thereafter. Chances are a clear night will be a cold night so wrap up warm. Once your eyes grow used to the dark, a universe of strange and wonderful sights awaits your delectation.
Look high to your south or south-east for four stars of equal brightness making up a giant square pattern of stars. This is part of the constellation of Pegasus, the giant square being a familiar sight on an autumn night. In Greek mythology Pegasus is the winged horse saddled by Perseus. He rescued the chained maiden Andromeda from the clutches of Cetus the sea monster with what might be considered these days a WMD (weapon of mass destruction) – Medusa’s head.
Andromeda is marked out in the sky by the two brighter stars immediately to the left of the square. It’s an unremarkable constellation compared to the grandeur of Pegasus, but well known nonetheless for its celestial signposting capabilities. It points to a route that wends its way out beyond the stars of our galaxy to another distant galaxy. The Andromeda Galaxy is, in fact, so far away that it takes light more than 2.5 million years to travel the deep void of space to reach our eyes here on Earth. Yet even at this great distance, we can pick it out from a rural towpath with the naked eye. All we need is a moonless night – and some directions.
From the Square of Pegasus, take the next bright star to the left. From here, cast your gaze slightly upwards to a fainter star sat above it. Move on again
Mars Valles Marineris, a vast canyon system around the Martian equator