Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Starry Splendour over Prince Albert

- Hans Daehne -

In October of this year, like every year, it will be the ideal time to admire our Spring Constellation, the huge Pegasus, the flying horse of Greek mythology that gave poets the possibility for their flights of thought.

The Square of Pegasus, also known as the Spring Rectangle analogue to the Summer Triangle and Winter Triangle, can hardly be missed as it culminates over our Meridian. That means you have to look in a northerly direction parallel with Church Street and like the constellations of Orion or Scorpius, Pegasus can be recognized right away because it is in an upright position for us in the southern hemisphere.

At the lower right corner of the square of Pegasus there is a string of four stars, the hind legs of Pegasus so to speak ,but they belong to Andromeda already and it is under the middle of this line that you will find the Andromeda Nebula with the naked eye but a pair of binoculars will help.

Also known as M31 this is the closest spiral galaxy to our Milky Way galaxy in other words our neighbour galaxy at a distance of two and a half million light years and its size is one and a half times that of our home galaxy. It is the furthest celestial object that can be seen with the unaided eye but there is good news for the short-sighted because it is coming closer to us at a tremendous speed to reach us in three billion years when the two galaxies will merge.

The Moon will be fully lit on the 4th of October and new on the 18th October. Full Moon is moving closer and closer to the beginning of the month so that December will be able to accommodate two full moons.

Mercury, the fast planet , as it spins around the Sun in only 88 days, was a beautiful evening sight in August and September but is now a morning object again until November when it can be observed in the evening again.
Venus is still very bright early in the morning before sunrise.

Mars is rising earlier in the morning to become a late evening object by the end of the year.

Jupiter at a magnitude of -2.7 (brighter than any star) will be visible for the first half of the night until the end of the month.

Space shuttle Discovery has just delivered more building material to the International Space Station which is now the size of a rugby field and should become quite a sight when next seen as a satellite in the early evening. To obtain information when a visible pass of the ISS will occur at a favourable time over Prince Albert visit the web site , feed in Prince Albert as your observation site and it will supply the time and direction of visible passes for ten days in advance.

Building on the ISS must be completed by 2010 when the last three space shuttles Atlantis, Discovery and Endeavour will be scrapped to make way for more advanced space vehicles. All very exciting and the best of it all is that the Hubble Space Telescope, fitted with a new set of optics and other equipment earlier in the year should go into full operation soon. In the meantime building on the new 6,5m diameter space telescope, the James Webb, has started already.

Keep the stars, the ISS and HST in your eyes!

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