December 2018 Night Sky – December is a fantastic month for stargazing, especially in 2018. The nights are long and dark. With darkness falling late afternoon/ early evening and sunrise later in the mornings. December has cold dark nights heralding fantastically clear night skies. As long as the clouds stay away and the skies are clear!
There are some fantastic sights to see in December 2018’s night sky. So read on and lets see what you can see…
Stargazing LIVE (co-produced by The Open University) returns for a second three-night series on BBC Two set to encourage everyone – from the complete beginner to the enthusiastic amateur – to make the most of the night sky.
On the 16th 17th and 18th of January Professor Brian Cox and Dara O Briain will broadcast live from the control room of the Jodrell Bank Observatory, interacting live with the audience and calling on a starry collection of the country’s finest astronomical minds to explore the majestic wonders of the skies above Britain.
In their own unique style, the pair will tackle some of the most intriguing questions in astronomy, such as Why Does The Moon Cause The Tides?, How Do We Know Where Black Holes Are When They Are Impossible To See? and What Will We Actually Say If We Ever Make Contact With An Alien Race?
Closer to home, there will also be hints and tips for getting started in Stargazing and advice on navigating your way around the skies.
Watch the first Soyuz launch from Guiana Space Center (CSG) in French Guiana
A new countdown for Soyuz’ first flight from the Spaceport
October 20, 2011 10:30:26 a.m. UT – Soyuz Flight VS01
The countdown to Soyuz’ maiden flight from French Guiana will resume for a liftoff tomorrow morning after work on the launch pad resolved a ground support system anomaly that postponed the historic mission for 24 hours.
This anomaly was identified as a leak in a launch pad pneumatic system responsible for the programmed disconnection of Soyuz’ third stage fueling lines before the vehicle lifts off.
With the issue resolved, the liftoff is now set for October 21 at 7:30:26 a.m. local time in French Guiana – a precise moment that enables the payload of two Galileo satellites to be injected into their proper orbital plane.
Soyuz’ 3-hr. 49-min. flight from the Spaceport will inject the In-Orbit Validation (IOV) spacecraft for Europe’s Galileo satellite navigation system into a 23,222-km. circular medium-Earth orbit, inclined 54.7 degrees.
Weighing approximately 700 kg. each, these satellites – along with two others to be lofted by Soyuz in 2012 – will form the operational nucleus of Europe’s full 30-satellite Galileo navigation constellation, which is being developed in a collaborative program involving the European Space Agency and European Union
With the Soyuz launcher operating out of the Guiana Space Center (CSG) in French Guiana, Arianespace is the only launch services provider in the world capable of launching all types of payloads to all orbits.
The “Soyuz in French Guiana” project covers three main aspects:
– Construction of launch facilities, including a launch pad identical to those used in Kazakhstan and Russia.
– Launcher modifications needed for operation from the Guiana Space Center (CSG), primarily ensuring compliance with the range safety rules at CSG and adaptation to the requirements of the launcher tracking network.
– Verification of compatibility of the Soyuz launcher with the environmental conditions in French Guiana (in particular the weather and wind conditions).
The Soyuz at CSG launch system, combining the new launch pad with a launcher that has been slightly modified in relation to the version launched from Baikonur, will be validated during the inaugural flight :
– The final countdown and actual flight through the end of the mission will enable validating the operation of all ground and launcher systems and equipment.
– This flight will also enable identifying any improvements that may be needed for the commercial operation of this new launch system.
Out there somewhere in our solar system is a 26 kilometre wide comet, a chunk of dirty ice on a 130 year orbit of the Sun. This giant cosmic snowball was thought to have been born in the Oort Cloud, a vast spherical region of icy objects nearly 6 trillion miles from the Sun, almost a light year. With a total mass of roughly 40 times that of Earth, the Oort Cloud is so far out that the Sun’s gravity is weak but the gravity of nearby stars can have an effect, nudging these remote icy chunks out of position and sending them on a long journey towards the inner solar system. One of these mysterious icy travellers is called Comet Swift-Tuttle, much larger than the object thought to have spoiled the party for the dinosaurs, and the largest known chunk of space stuff to make repeated passes near the Earth. Although you can breath a sigh of relief, as it poses no degree of threat for at least a few thousand years, so we get to see its associated meteor shower without that bothersome mass extinction. Comet Swift-Tuttle, which last made its closest approach to Earth in 1992, is the particular comet in question that we’re interested in for August as it produces the Perseid meteor shower.
As this comet makes its way around the solar system it leaves a trail of dusty material in its wake. Every August as the Earth passes through this debris stream we get to see probably the most reliable and best meteor showers of the year. The fine grains zip through the atmosphere at 130,000 miles per hour, at a rate of up to 90 to 100 an hour. As with anything in astronomy it’s always best to view a meteor shower from a darker location, and hopefully with the bright Moon out of the way.
OK, so here’s where your view of the August 2011 Perseids may be taken down a slight notch as compared to other years. The Moon normally gives cracking views in your binoculars or telescope, but our old friend Lunar is nobody’s friend when it comes to meteor showers as its light can wash out all but the brighter of those spectacular shooting stars. This year we have a full Moon unfortunately on the two nights of the shower’s peak. This peak time is during the pre dawn hours of Friday the 12th and Saturday the 13th of August…so that’ll be the 11th beyond midnight, and the 12th beyond midnight. You have more chance of seeing meteors in the small hours as Earth faces into the shower during this time, resulting in the chance of seeing more and faster meteors. The Perseid meteor shower actually starts from the end of July and goes up until late August, but peaks on the mornings of the 12th and 13th of August. So keep your eyes peeled for Perseids in the weeks either side of the peak too. You’ll see the the Perseids seeming to radiate from, you’ve guessed it…the constellation Perseus. Although you can actually catch them streaking across any part of the sky, they’ll just seem to be coming from the direction of that constellation. Look to the north-east after dark and you’ll see Perseus rising, it then moves higher to the east before dawn. Even though the Moon will be in the sky during the peak, don’t let that dissuade you as it’s still well worth getting outside…don’t miss it.
The great thing about meteor showers is that the only equipment needed is your eyeballs, so everyone can join in. Get some friends and make a night of it, and the best thing about the Perseids is they conveniently come at the best time of the year when it’s nice and warm (hopefully). Meteor watching requires a lot of patience, but if you sit back, relax and put some time in you should be rewarded. There’s actually another night sky attraction to admire while you’re waiting for shooting stars, and that’s the solar system’s heavyweight Jupiter. The gas giant starts rising from the east shortly before midnight on the dates of the meteor shower peak. Check it out naked eye, but if you happen to have some binoculars with you grab a quick peek at the stormy planet blazing brightly at magnitude -2.36, and get a look at those moons. Don’t get too distracted though as you’ll want to keep an eye out for Comet Swift- Tuttle’s fireworks.
Don’t forget to get involved with Meteorwatch on Twitter…tweet your location and how many meteors you observe, and see your results on the Meteormap. Good luck !
A full Moon is set to disrupt the spectacular Perseids meteor shower when the annual display peaks on the 12 and 13 August.
The full Moon introduces natural light pollution that can be as bad the man-made glare in a city center and for the best views, star gazers are advised to escape the city lights and head out to the big open and dark skies of the countryside where the stars and meteors will be at their brightest.
Credit: Graham Bowes
The National Trust has produced a handy online guide to star gazing and listed some of its best ‘dark skies’ locations to catch a glimpse of this special and natural light show.
Dr Marek Kukula, Public Astronomer at the Royal Observatory Greenwich, said: “The Perseids are always an exciting meteor shower to watch out for. Even in large cities it’s often possible to catch site of some of the brighter Perseid meteors streaking across the sky, but from a really dark site you can sometimes see dozens per hour.
“But despite this year’s Perseid shower coinciding with the full Moon it’s still well worth going out for a look. The meteors can appear anywhere in the sky so try looking away from the bright Moon to maximise your chances of seeing one.
It always amazes me to think that what you’re seeing are tiny specks of dust from the tail of Comet Swift-Tuttle burning up high in our atmosphere. The comet left the dust behind hundreds of years ago and every August the Earth ploughs through it as it moves around the Sun. So each meteor is a little piece of evidence of the Earth’s motion through space.”
Some of the locations highlighted in the National Trust guide include the dramatic landscape around the world famous Stonehenge in Wiltshire and Mam Tor in the Peak District, high above Sheffield and only a short distance from the city of steel.
Philip Broadbent, National Trust Outdoors Programme Manager, said: “Its worth spending the time to find the perfect spot to gaze up at the stars; as once you’re there looking into the night sky it will take your breath away.
“And the best thing is that it won’t cost you a penny and this star time will always stay with you as one of those experiences that money can’t buy.”
This year the National Trust will be working with the team at meterowatch.org (twitter.com/virtualastro)to track the meteors from the Perseid shower as they appear. Tweeting the hashtag #meteorwatch on twitter, with the first part of a postcode and how many meteors seen will build an interactive map of the UK. As well as the map, meteorwatch.org is where you can find all the tips you need for observing the Perseids and lots more info.
August isn’t the only time for star gazing; its great all year round and the Trust website offers a basic introduction to astronomy, including monthly constellation guides, useful facts about the universe and where to find local astronomy groups and events.
More information can be found at http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/darkskies or www.meteorwatch.org.
For further information please contact Steve Field, Acting Press Officer, on 01793 817740, 07767 006167 or [email protected].
Black Down in Sussex – Get closer to the stars on the highest point in the South Downs, just over a mile from the town of Haslemere.
Teign Valley in Devon – Discover the stars at this Trust property within Dartmoor National Park and close to Castle Drogo.
Penbryn Beach in Wales – Beautiful, unspoilt mile-long beach on the Ceredigion coast in west Wales, great for a bit of star gazing and a late night paddle.
Stonehenge Landscape in Wiltshire – Step back in time and discover the ancient skies of Salisbury Plain’s chalk downlands, home to the impressive prehistoric stone monument.
Wicken Fen National Nature Reserve in Cambridgeshire – Close to historic Ely, the wild landscape of the National Trust’s oldest nature reserve offers dark skies and a wealth of nocturnal wildlife to listen out for.
Mam Tor in Derbyshire – Escape the bright city lights of Sheffield and experience the peace and tranquillity of Mam Tor’s dark skies in the Peak District.
Friar’s Crag in Cumbria – Surrounded by the breathtakingly beautiful scenery of the Lake District, Friar’s Crag in Keswick juts out into the spectacular lake of Derwentwater; a restful place to contemplate the world above us.
More information about all of these sites is available by visiting: http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/darkskies
Other great sites include: Flatford and the Dedham Vale on the Essex/Suffolk border, Leith Hill in Surrey, Clent Hills in Worcestershire, Buckstones in Yorkshire, Golden Cap in West Dorset, Slindon on the south Downs, South Milton Sands in south Devon, Winchelsea in East Sussex, Goldolphin Hill and Rinsey Cliff in West Cornwall, the Quantocks in Somerset, Divis Mountain above Belfast, Knole Park in Kent and Trelissick in Cornwall.
Dr Marek Kukula is the Public Astronomer at the Royal Observatory Greenwich, which is part of the National Maritime Museum. He has 15 years’ experience of astronomy research, specialising in the study of distant galaxies and supermassive black holes. Designed by Christopher Wren, the Royal Observatory, Greenwich is home of Greenwich Mean Time and the Prime Meridian and one of the most important historic scientific sites in the world. Today the galleries describe the achievements of the early astronomers, explain the history of the search for longitude at sea and tell the story of precision timekeeping, as well exploring modern astronomy. The Royal Observatory also is home to the state-of-the-art Peter Harrison Planetarium (PHP), London’s only public planetarium which has a regularly updated programme of shows.
The National Trust is Europe’s biggest conservation organisation and looks after special places across England, Wales and Northern Ireland for ever, for everyone. People and places are at the heart of everything it does. Over 3.8 million members and 61,000 volunteers help the Trust look after 300 historic houses and gardens, 1,100 kilometres of coastline and 250,000 hectares of open countryside. Find out more at: http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/