Leonids meteors

If the weather ever clears up, there’s a chance to see the peak of the Leonid meteor shower in the pre dawn skies of the 18th November. The radiant appears to be in the constellation of Leo (hence the name). The moon should be out of the way giving you a good chance to see between 10 and 20 meteors per hour. The map shows you where to look at around 5am on the 18th November.

leonids 2015

These meteors come from dust off of Comet 55P/Temple-Tuttle. The tiny dust grains move very fast at speeds of up to 71km/s. We’re not expecting a major shower this year.

Clear Skies,

Tonight’s observing session (2/11)

We will not be observing tonight.

At one point this afternoon, I had a modest hope that the break through may give some relief in the mist / fog / low stratus over us and give us a window into the evening. Benson’s visibility increased to a nice 5 km, but it’s now back to 1500 metres so we will have to wait to tomorrow, though with no change in airmass, I don’t hold out too much hope.


Venus and Jupiter conjuction

Early tomorrow morning (before dawn on the 26th October) Jupiter and Venus are approximately 1 degree apart. Venus will also be at its greatest westerly elongation (furthest apparent distance from the Sun in our skies).

venus and jupiter conjuction

The picture above is for about 6:00AM GMT. On the 3rd November, Venus is within 1 degree of Mars, which is to the south and east of Jupiter and Venus.

Clear skies,

Mercury at greatest western elongation

On the morning of October 16th, Mercury will be at its greatest western elongation, 18.1 degrees from the Sun. Mercury rises at 5:46AM BST and sunrise is at 7:32AM BST so you have plenty of time to spot the little planet. It will be quite low, so a good clear eastern horizon will be good. The map below shows you where it will be at sunrise on the 16th October.

Mercurys greatest western elongation

I would suggest you look a bit before sunrise to make it easier. It will also be easy to see Venus and Jupiter. More challenging will be Mars, which is much fainter than the others. It will be just above Jupiter which rises about 3:50am BST. Again, looking before sunrise will help.

Clear skies.

Uranus at opposition

The planet Uranus is at opposition tonight. This means it is in the opposite side of the sky to the Sun. So Uranus rises as the Sun sets and sets as the Sun rises. You’ll need binoculars to see the planet and a telescope if you want to see anything other than a point of light. Be aware though, that the planet appears very small in the field of view due to its great distance from us. It will be at its highest in the sky at 1.00AM BST. The map below shows it about an hour before.

Uranus at opposition

Clear skies.

Septembers Talk: Dark Matter

Samuel Henry is a researcher on the Universe’s matter and he is based at Oxford University

He started by asking why are we sure that dark matter actually exists?

That was done by looking at the speed of rotation of spiral galaxy arms.  Their speed suggests they would reach escape velocity but some mass was holding them together.  There were also instances of gravitational lensing, where galaxies are in front of more distant galaxies but are so massive that the light of the galaxy behind is bent round.  The matter that is visible is in no way capable of bending light to such a degree.

Dr Henry then described various fantastic dark matter detectors, LUX, CRESST and ATLAS – look them up!  Sad to say they have not detected anything.  They have to be situated away from cosmic ray bombardment, so most are underground.  Most interesting is the detector situated in a cul-de-sac in a tunnel 10k in length, going through a mountain in Gran Sasso, Abruzzo. Italy.

There are also some attempts to detect it, using an underground lab in Boulby, Yorkshire.

No luck.  There were a few false alarms.  There is also the theory that dark matter may lose its energy by interacting with matter and may therefore be pulled into the centre of the Earth.

Dr Henry hopes that we will be able to detect it in five years but he said the same, 15 years ago.

Total Lunar Eclipse on 28th September

In the early morning hours of the 28th September the Moon will pass completely into the Earth’s shadow. The entire event is visible from the UK (weather permitting!). The picture below gives you all the details. We are still in BST so don’t forget to add 1 hour to the times given below.


Clear skies,