Western Morning News

Plenty of reasons to look skywards

- CHARLIE ELDER charles.elder@reachplc.com

THE sky has been worth watching this month.

By day the blue canvas above my west Dartmoor home has provided the backdrop to newly-arrived swallows and house martins, and the sight of buzzards soaring on thermals.

By night the black dome has been criss-crossed by satellites and shooting stars, and pin-pricked by a blizzard of constellat­ions and planets shining brightly in the darkness.

I have written on this page earlier this month about the rather startling sight of satellite trains passing overhead. These lines of satellites have rightly mystified people, leaving them wondering whether they are witnessing military aeroplanes in formation or a mass gathering of UFOs.

This quite extraordin­ary and relatively new spectacle is the result of Starlink formations of satellites launched by engineer and entreprene­ur Elon Musk’s SpaceX organisati­on with the aim of boosting internet coverage.

Given they are sent skyward in batches, the small satellites orbit in lines, and on a clear night one can witness several in a row. Very different to the solo satellites one normally sees.

I have counted up to 15, passing one after another along the same trajectory, and on Tuesday this week at about 10pm I spotted two close together moving from west to northeast. They flashed brightly as they scored a line through the darkness, presumably the reflection of sunlight from below the horizon causing them to ‘wink’ as they spun around.

I also got up before dawn midmonth to witness the alignment of three planets next to the moon: Mars, Saturn and Jupiter in a row. Through a cheap birdwatchi­ng telescope I could actually make out the moons of Jupiter and the hint of a ring around Saturn.

Finally, this week I stayed up late to watch the Lyrid meteor shower. The term ‘shower’ sounds a bit grand, given there can be long pauses between the shooting stars, a bit like an extremely low budget firework show, but it did produce some excellent sightings.

I wrapped up warm, got comfortabl­e leaning back in a chair and stared upwards in a northerly direction. You need to be patient, as they are easy to miss if you look away.

This year’s Lyrid meteor shower, which is caused by debris from a passing comet, is expected to last until April 25, normally producing around 10 to 15 visible meteors an hour. Sightings are brief, leaving a fleeting impression on the retina, like the fading glow of a filament after a bulb is switched off. But still good free entertainm­ent.

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