Alan Willison, President of the Hertford Astronomy Group, continues his Getting Started in Astronomy column series.
One of the strange things about news reports is that they frequently talk about things that happened which, as far as astronomy is concerned, is okay at times but more often than not people want to know what’s going to happen.
Recently, the Hertford Astronomy Group put on a public demonstration in Welwyn Garden City to show a partial solar eclipse and it was great to meet so many of you, especially those who said they learned about it from reading Welwyn Hatfield Times.
We were also fortunate to get an interview on Radio 3 Districts in the afternoon, which is after the event was over. The interviewer declared that he knew nothing about her until he heard her on the news.
Part of writing these articles for WHT Is to tell you things that will happen and hopefully be visible from our part of Hertfordshire so you can go out and have a look and take part in real astronomy often from the comfort of your own home – takes very little effort.
Now that the nights are getting darker earlier, it’s very easy to see some amazing phenomena earlier in the evening.
We’ve covered the moon in many of these articles, and of course, the moon is a great spotting target for people of all ages.
It’s easy to find something beautiful and observe it through any size telescope or binoculars – those craters and maria (seas) will take your breath away.
Looking south in the early evening, anytime before 10 p.m., you will see a very bright object, the planet Jupiter.
Which telescope will show its four Galilean moons? They don’t have to be very expensive, in fact, those which discount supermarkets sell for around £70-80 will do remarkably well.
Look to the east (left) of Jupiter and you’ll find a bright star called Aldebaran. This represents the eye of the bull, which is famous for its appearance in astrology lists.
In addition to these things that will definitely be visible as long as clouds don’t make things difficult, we can look forward to the next launch date of the Artemis 1 mission to the moon.
This is scheduled for November 14 at 05:07 GMT. NASA has delayed launches twice before – once because of a technical problem and the other because of Hurricane Ian, which hit Florida. This time there is a 69-minute release window, so let’s hope everything goes well.
If you want to feel the action of this, log onto NASA YouTube and watch it live. In case of any issues, November 16th and 19th will be held back up.
So much for things that are fairly easy to see, how about something a little more challenging? Stars have a limited life. They are born, live and die.
They do not all last the same amount of time and they are not all born at the same time.
New stars are being born now and others are now dying. Stars also die in different ways – some get away quietly while others go with a bang!
Often, a star grows larger in its death throes because it no longer has the gravity to hold it together. Eventually, everything becomes a bit much for the forces acting on each other and the star explodes, leaving behind a large cloud of gas and a small white star.
The gas cloud could be illuminated by this small star as we observe it on Earth. These objects are called planetary nebulae, which is a very imprecise name as they have nothing to do with planets and are nowhere near the size of star-forming nebulae.
However, they make a very interesting study and are hard to find because they get quite dim (although they can be very bright at the time of the eruption but they don’t last). If you can find one in your telescope, it will appear as a faint fuzzy bubble.
However, if you can attach a camera to your telescope’s long exposure attachment and train your telescope to track the object against the Earth’s rotation, you can take pictures of these amazing objects.
To tell us how this can be achieved, the Hertford Astronomy Group has asked Peter Goodhue to come to our next meeting on November 9th at 8:30 p.m.
You are welcome to join us either for a face-to-face meeting at the University of Hertfordshire, College Road site, or as in a Zoom simulcast. Details can be found at hertsastro.org.uk
Image of the month – the Dumbbell Nebula
This is one of the planetary nebulae described above and was taken by one of the club’s members, Martin Weston, from his garden in Withampstead.
The Dumbbell Nebula (also known as the Apple Core Nebula, Messier 27, NGC 6853) is a planetary nebula (haze surrounding a white dwarf) in the constellation Vulpecula (The Fox), at a distance of about 1,360 light-years from us.
The first such nebula was discovered by Charles Messier in 1764, who was a comet hunter but noticed that as comets change their position in the sky over time, these similar objects (to the eye) do not change.
Then he made a list of other fuzzy objects that didn’t change their locations so he wouldn’t waste his time thinking, Is this a comet or not?
In doing so, Messier has compiled an extensive catalog of objects that are still in frequent use today.