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/
Everyone is welcome to join in, whether they are an astronomer, have a slight interest in the night sky or just wonder?
As well as looking up, enjoying the night sky with us and seeing meteors, maybe for the first time? You will have the opportunity to contribute for fun with images and online, or to Scienceif you wish, by tweeting and seeing your results on a map, or by submitting Observing Forms if you are a more serious observer.
This event follows on from the popular Twitter Meteorwatchheld in August and December of 2009 and 2010 “Meteorwatch 2009”
Use the hash tag: #Meteorwatch and get involved, ask questions, do some science, follow the event and enjoy the wonders of the night sky with us. Images and other information will be tweeted as it happens. Live!
The highlight of the summer meteor showers: The Perseids reach maximum around the 12th/ 13th of August and may put on a display of approximately 80 to 100 meteors per hour under ideal viewing conditions.
Conditions this year aren’t ideal due to there being a full moon, but the brighter meteors will be seen. Let’s hope the skies stay clear.
Perseid meteors are often bright with persistent trails which can linger for a while after the meteor has burned up. Further information on the Perseid meteor shower and how to view it, can be found here.
While you are looking formeteors, there will be other objects to look out for such as the Planet Jupiter late in the evening, the Milky Way, Summer Triangle, manmade Satellites and more.
The Twitter Meteorwatch will start at 21.00 BST on the 11th of August and will continue through to the evening of the 13th. Amateur and professional astronomers and stargazers from the US and other countries are invited to join in and take over from the UK, when the sun comes up here, helping make the event run continuously and be truly international.
Tonight (actually around 0130 tomorrow morning) the Full Moon will reach its highest point due south, just an hour and a half after the eclipse ends. Despite being at its highest in the sky, you’ll still struggle to see it, as it is very low down. In fact the Full Moon nearest the Summer Solstice is the lowest Full Moon of the Year
First, let’s begin with the definition of “Full Moon”. A Full Moon occurs when the Moon is diametrically opposite the Sun, as seen from the Earth. In this configuration, the entire lit hemisphere of the Moon’s surface is visible from Earth, which is what makes it “Full”. There is an actual instant of the exactly Full Moon, that is the exact instant that the Moon is directly opposite the Sun. Therefore when you see timings listed for the Full Moon they will usually include the exact time (hh:mm) that the Moon is 180° round from the Sun (we call this point opposition). Here’s a list of the times of all Full Moons between June 2011 and June 2012:
Date of Full Moon
Time of Full Moon (UT)
* UK observers should add on one hour for BST As you can see from this table, the instant of the Full Moon can occur at any time of day, even in the daytime when the Moon is below the horizon. So most often when we see a “Full Moon” in the sky it is not exactly full, it is a little bit less than full, being a few hours ahead or behind the instant of the Full Moon. I’ll refer to this with “” marks, to distinguish this from the instant of the Full Moon (they look virtually identical in the sky). The Moon rises and sets, like the Sun does, rising towards the east and setting towards the west, reaching its highest point due south around midnight (although not exactly at midnight, just like the Sun does not usually reach its highest point exactly at noon). And like with the Sun the maximum distance above the horizon of the “Full Moon” varies over the year. The Sun is at its highest due south around noon on the Summer Solstice (20 or 21 June) and at its lowest due south around noon on the Winter Solstice (21 or 22 Dec) (of course the Sun is often lower than this, as it rises and sets, but we’re talking here about the lowest high point at mid-day, i.e. the day of the year in which, when the Sun is at its highest point that day, that height is lowest…) And because Full Moons occur when the Moon is directly opposite the Sun, you can imagine the Moon and Sun as sitting on either sides of a celestial see-saw: on the day when the Sun is highest in the middle of the day (in Summer), the Moon is at its lowest high point at midnight; and on the day when the Sun is at its lowest high point in the middle of the day (in Winter), the Moon is at its highest high point at midnight. This means, in practical terms, that Summer “Full Moons” are always very low on the horizon, while Winter “Full Moons” can be very high overhead. Here’s a table of the altitude of the “Full Moon” when due south. Remember the times in this table don’t match the exact time of the Full Moon, but instead have been chosen as the closest in time to that instant, and so have be labelled “Full Moon” (in quotes).
* UK observers should add on one hour for BST ** The altitude here is based on my observing location in Glasgow, Scotland. You can find out how to work out how high these altitudes are here. As you can see from this table, the highest “Full Moon” due S this year occurs at 0030 on 11 December 2011, when the Moon will be over 56° above the southern horizon (approximately the height of the midsummer mid-day Sun which culminates at 57°34′). Compare this to the “Full Moon” this month, just after the eclipse, in the morning of 16 June, when the Moon barely grazes 10° above the horizon, and you can see just how low the midsummer Full Moon can be. In fact the closeness of summer “Full Moons” to the horizon means that this is an ideal time of year to try and observe the Moon Illusion.
Today, 13 June, is one of only four days in the year when the time as read on a sundial will be exactly correct.
Sundials usually tell the time using the shadow of the gnomon as cast by the Sun. This is possible as the Sun appears to move across the sky at an approximately constant speed, and so the shadow of the gnomon also moves at an approximately constant speed. The inconstancy of the Sun’s apparent motion in the sky – and therefore of the gnomon’s shadow on a sundial – is the subject of this article, and is calculated using the Equation of Time.
If you look at the shadow of a sundial’s gnomon it will fall onto a curve of numbers, along hour lines indicating local solar time. This is not equal to the official clock time until three important corrections are made:
The first total eclipse of the Moon of 2011 occurs this Wednesday evening, 15 June 2011, and it will be the longest lunar eclipse in over a decade. However the views from the UK (and Europe) will be constrained by the fact that the Moon will be below the horizon for much of the eclipse, and will rise fully eclipsed, or in some cases even coming out of eclipse. It’s still worth having a look though: just try to find somewhere with a very low and clear SE horizon, as this will be the direction in which the Moon will rise, and it will be in eclipse only while it is VERY low (only a few degrees above the horizon).
A lunar eclipse occurs when the Moon, in its orbit around the Earth, passes into the Earth’s shadow, as cast by the Sun. You might imagine that this would happen once every lunar orbit, or once a month. That it does not is due to the fact that the Moon’s orbit around the Earth is tilted by around 5 degrees compared with the Earth’s orbit around the Sun. So in most orbits the Moon passes above or below the Earth’s shadow.