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

Canal Boat - - This Month - WORDS AND PIC­TURES BY SEB JAY/ MAIN PIC­TURE NASA

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

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