Cos­mic Fire­works

Dorset - - Astronomy -

Jan­uary of­fers a glimpse of Comet Wir­ta­nen and the

shoot­ing starts of the Quad­ran­tid me­teor stream

As 2019 be­gins, Orion has re­turned to dom­i­nate the south­ern night sky. Mid-month, he is due south at 10pm. Fol­low Orion’s three-star Belt, 1200 light years dis­tant, down­wards to find the bright­est star of the night, Sir­ius. Its con­stel­la­tion, Ca­nis Ma­jor the Great Dog, may not be far above British hori­zons but it is well worth sweep­ing with binoc­u­lars. Orion’s Belt points up­wards to Taurus the

Bull, de­picted with its stars in the Las­caux Cave in south-west France by a Stone Age artist 17,000 years ago. Taurus’ sky marks are its two clus­ters of stars: the ex­ten­sive Hyades star clus­ter is the Bull’s head, and its eye is the red giant Alde­baran; the Pleiades, a dainty tri­an­gle of seven blue-white stars, is quite breath­tak­ing when seen through binoc­u­lars.

Look north-east with binoc­u­lars at the be­gin­ning of Jan­uary at the patch of sky be­tween yel­low Capella, bright­est star of Auriga the Char­i­o­teer, and the Plough in Ursa Ma­jor. There is cur­rently a pass­ing comet in this area, and if it lives up to pre­dic­tions it may be vis­i­ble if light pol­lu­tion doesn’t spoil the view. This is Comet Wir­ta­nen, dis­cov­ered in 1948. It or­bits the Sun ev­ery 5.4 years and is mak­ing a favourable ap­proach to Earth this time round. Capella is 42 light years dis­tant so the light we see left the star in 1976. The comet how­ever is a mere 7 mil­lion miles away, its light takes just over half a minute to travel to our eyes.

The saucepan-shaped Plough is our unerring guide to the po­si­tion of Po­laris the Pole Star. Two of the Plough’s stars, Merak and Dubhe, are known as the ‘Point­ers’.

Dorset’s Dark Skies Bid

Help Cran­borne Chase AONB in their bid to cre­ate Dorset’s first

Dark Sky Re­serve by sign­ing up to the ‘Dark Skies Pledge’ at ccww­daonb.org.uk. Stay up to date with their bid at chas­ingstars.org.uk.

If you spot a shoot­ing star flash­ing across the north­ern sky early in Jan­uary, it will prob­a­bly be a mem­ber of the Quad­ran­tid me­teor stream, named af­ter the de­funct con­stel­la­tion of Quad­rans the Quad­rant.

The cres­cent Moon will be­come no­tice­able in the west around Jan­uary 9th, wax­ing grad­u­ally in the south­ern sky un­til it is full on the 20th. No­tice how high the Moon can be in mid­win­ter. When the Moon is high in the sky the Sun will be low in the day­time, and vice versa through­out the year. In the dawn sky bril­liant Venus and, below it, Jupiter has a spec­tac­u­lar en­counter with the Moon very early in the month. 8 Jan­uary: Mem­bers’ Short Talks at Wes­sex As­tro­nom­i­cal So­ci­ety, 7.30pm Al­len­dale Cen­tre, Wim­borne wes­sex-astro.org.uk

11 Jan­uary: Wey­mouth Astronomy Club kicks-off its 2019 pro­gramme with an even­ing of Mem­bers Short Talks, top­ics can range from ‘Test­ing Space Rock­ets’ to ‘How Stars Form’. 7.30pm, St Ald­helm’s Church Cen­tre, Spa Road wey­mouthas­tron­omy.co.uk

29 Jan­uary: Stargaz­ing at Cran­borne Chase AONB with Bob Mi­zon of Wes­sex Astronomy So­ci­ety. Amanda Scott also re­veals the lat­est news on AONB’s In­ter­na­tional Dark Sky Re­serve ap­pli­ca­tion. 7- 9.30pm, 1st Wood­cutts Scout Group HQ, Six­penny Han­d­ley, SP5

5NW. Book­ing es­sen­tial via email [email protected] cran­bornechase.org.uk or call 01725 517417

Bob Mi­zon MBE

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