In contrast to popular belief, they do not streak across the sky. Comets can take months to move across the heavens. Meteors streak across the sky lasting a brief moment to a few seconds.
Similarly, comets and meteors contain dust and rock. Comets are much larger than meteoroids comprising of ice as well as dust and rock. Regularly referred to as Dirty Snowballs.
Because of the dust and ice contained within, comets sublimate and release gas and dust forming diffuse tails.
Their tails usually point away from the sun due to the direction of the solar wind. The trails of dust left behind create some of our annual meteor showers like the Geminids.
You can read more about the different kinds of “Space Rocks” in a new article coming soon.
Discovered by Carl Wirtanen at the Lick Observatory in California in 1948. It’s a short period comet with an orbital period of 5.4 years.
46P/Wirtanen is relatively small, being just over a kilometre in size.
It is very active and releases more water vapour than other comets similar in size. This should hopefully provide quite a show as it gets closer to the sun (perihelion) mid December.
On December 16 it will be at Cometary Perihelion – its closest point to the sun. At the same time 46P/Wirtanen will also be at its closest point to earth just over 7 million miles away!
Therefore, if we keep our fingers crossed and combine it’s perihelion, proximity to Earth and volatile nature. We should be in for quite a show!
How and When to See it
Comet 46P/Wirtanen will reach naked eye visibility in December 2018. Maximum brightness expected on the evening of December 16.
The approximate brightness of the nucleus is expected to be magnitude 3. With a coma over an area the size of the full Moon. Because of this, it will be on the edge of naked eye visibility. However, it will be a stunning object in binoculars or a telescope.
Where to see 46P/Wirtanen
Pleiades and 46P/Wirtanen December 16 2018 Illustration by @VirtualAstro and Stellarium
At the start of December 2018 46P/Wirtanen will be in the southern sky in the constellation of Cetus the Sea Monster.
It will then get higher in the sky moving into the constellation of Taurus the Bull.
At Perihelion on December 16, it will be very close to the Pleiades and expected brightest at this time.
The comet will then travel northeastwards to the constellation of Auriga the Charioteer and lessen in brightness as the month moves on. It will finally make its way into Ursa Major in January and no longer be easily spotted.
Approximate Path of 46P/Wirtanen Illustration by @VirtualAstro and Stellarium
Long Exposure Image of ISS pass. Credit: VirtualAstro
Beginners Guide to Seeing the International Space Station (ISS)
The International Space Station (ISS) is a huge space station orbiting Earth that serves as an orbital laboratory, factory, testing ground and home; Crew members conduct experiments from biology to astronomy. Including experiments for prolonged exposure to life in space for future missions to the Moon and beyond.
The ISS is major accomplishment for NASA (US), ESA (Europe), JAXA (Japan) CSA (Canada) and all the countries involved (16 in all). The space station is just over 72 m long by 108 m wide and 20 m high. Maintained at an orbital altitude between 330 km (205 mi) and 410 km (255 mi). It travels at an average speed of 27,724 kilometres (17,227 mi) per hour. Completing 15.7 orbits per day.
How to Look for The International Space Station (ISS)
One of the best things about the ISS is that you can see it with your own eyes from Earth! Therefore, it’s very easy to watch the International Space Station pass over your own backyard!
All you need to do is understand when the ISS will be passing over your location and where to look for it in the sky. Check this by using an ISS pass predictor app/website or follow VirtualAstro on twitter for updates.
Once you have found out when the ISS will pass over your location. All you need to do a few minutes before the pass, is go outside and start looking in the right direction of the sky.
Starting from a westerly part of the sky
The International Space Station always passes over starting from a westerly part of the sky. But not always from the same point. It can be low on the horizon for some passes and very high others. Most of the apps or websites will tell you what direction in the sky the pass will start and end.
How many degrees above the horizon the starting and ending points are. Also included are the highest altitude the ISS will be. For example, if the maximum elevation is listed between 74-90 degrees above the horizon.
The ISS will pass straight overhead (Just like you learned in geometry, 90 degrees would be straight up). If you aren’t sure about where to look, a good rule of thumb is a fist outstretched at arm’s length is 10 degrees.
If the ISS will be first be seen 40 degrees above the horizon, look four fist-lengths above the horizon. Check apps and websites for where and what track the ISS will take on each individual pass.
Duration of a Pass
When the station passes over it will travel from a westerly direction, heading in an easterly direction. An average good pass can last about 5 minutes.
The ISS looks like an incredibly bright, fast-moving star and can be mistaken for an aircraft. However, the ISS has no flashing lights and it can be much brighter. It seemingly just glides across the sky.
Short passes can last a few seconds to a few minutes and you can see the international space station slowly move into the Earth’s shadow. Good bright passes will show the ISS moving across the sky from horizon to horizon.
ISS long exposure photograph over Donnington Castle UK Credit: www.Perfexion.com
The International Space Station usually takes around 90 minutes to orbit our planet. So, if you’re really lucky you can get two, or maybe even three or four passes in an evening or morning.
Not only can you see the ISS in the evening but you can also see it in the mornings. Both the ISS and Sun are in the ideal position to illuminate the spacecraft at this time. The light we see from the ISS is reflected sunlight.
You can’t watch the ISS pass over during the middle of the day. This is because in the daytime the sky is too bright (although some people with specialised equipment have seen it). You cannot see the space station in the middle of the night. It is in the Earth’s shadow and no light is being reflected from it.
Always Changing Position
The position that the ISS will be in the sky changes every night. The space station does not take the same track or orbital path for each orbit. This change provides good visible passes roughly every 6 weeks in each location on Earth.
Occasionally if a spacecraft such as a Soyuz crew capsule, ATV, or a Progress resupply vehicle have been sent to the ISS. You will see objects preceding or trailing the station as it moves across the sky. These can either be very close to the station or the distance between the objects can be measured in minutes. To check if there are any other spacecraft with the international space station during a pass, use the pass prediction app, or the Heaven’s Above Site.
Seeing the ISS is an incredible sight! Just remember there are people on board that fast moving point of light!
Black Image = International Space Station (ISS) is on the night side of the Earth.
Gray Image = Switching between cameras, or communications with the ISS is not available.
No Audio = Normal. There is no audio on purpose. Add your own soundtrack.
ISS Current location
ISS Live Video
No, this ISS live video isn’t CGI for all those out there who believe the world is flat! No, it isn’t filmed in a studio or any other trickery! This is real! These images are beamed live to relay stations all over the planet. They are then piped to your device via NASA and in this case this website. The ISS live video runs 24 hours a day 365 days of the year. Occasionally, the screen will be blank or black. This is due to the onboard cameras being set up for daytime imagery. Therefore, the cameras only operate when there is enough light. If you watch at the right time, you will almost certainly see a sunrise or sunset. They can be breath taking.
Why can’t we see stars in the ISS Live Video? It’s in Space right?
The reason for stars not being visible in the ISS live video is purely down to the light from the earth and sensitivity of the camera. You will notice some time lapse videos created by astronauts who do have stars and night time imagery. This is because they are using handheld DSLR cameras and can adjust the settings accordingly to the light conditions. The ISS live video cannot be adjusted as its outside of the station and is set.
See more after watching the ISS Live Video
You can watch the Space Station pass over your location. All you need to do is know when and how. There are many apps and websites out there and this site currently provides pass times and info for the UK
Info about the ISS Live Video from NASA
The High Definition Earth Viewing (HDEV) experiment aboard the ISS was activated April 30, 2014. It is mounted on the External Payload Facility of the European Space Agency’s Columbus module. This experiment includes several commercial HD video cameras aimed at the earth. These are enclosed in a pressurised and temperature controlled housings. Video from these cameras is transmitted back to earth and also streamed live on this channel. While the experiment is operational, views will typically sequence though the different cameras. Between camera switches, a gray and then black color slate will briefly appear. Since the ISS is in darkness during part of each orbit, the images will be dark at those times. During periods of loss of signal with the ground or when HDEV is not operating, a gray color slate or previously recorded video may be seen. Analysis of this experiment will be conducted to assess the effects of the space environment on the equipment and video quality. This may help decisions about cameras for future missions. High school students helped with the design of some of the HDEV components. Via the High Schools United with NASA to Create Hardware (HUNCH) program. Student teams will also help operate the experiment. To learn more about the HDEV experiment, visit here: http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/research/experiments/917.html – Credit NASA
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…
In the evenings early on in the month, you can just glimpse Ringed Planet Saturn. Saturn will be briefly visible just after sunset low in the west. It will be lost completely in the light of sunset the rest of the month.
Mars is still quite prominent in the south. However, it’s lost a lot of its brightness compared to when it was at its best in the summer. The Red Planet will start December 2018 in the constellation of Aquarius. It will slowly move eastwards into Pisces during December. The planet will continue to lose brightness throughout the month.
Uranus and Neptune are visible in December 2018 to those with good binoculars or a telescope. Uranus can be found in the constellation of Aries and Neptune can be found in Aquarius. Detailed star charts will pinpoint their positions.
On December 7 Mars and Neptune will have a very close encounter. This encounter will only be visible in a telescope or high power binoculars. The two planets will both be visible in the same telescope field of view due to their apparent close proximity to each other.
Venus is at its best in December 2018 before sunrise! At the beginning of the month, Venus will shine at a very impressive mag -4.9. Venus will be the brightest thing in the sky bar the Sun and the Moon. Venus will dim slightly to mag -4.7 toward the end of December- still incredibly bright. The planet is visible from approximately 4am to 8am in the UK during the month. You can find out more about Venus and what to expect to see for the next few months here.
Mercury is visible just before sunrise early in December 2018. The tiny Planet reaches greatest elongation (furthest point to the west of the sun) on December 15. Mercury and Jupiter have a close encounter later in the month – See below.
King of the Planets Jupiter pops out from behind the sun mid month. It travels west in the mornings of December 2018 with a close encounter with Mercury on the mornings of December21/ 22. A good photo opportunity.
Mercury and Jupiter close encounter with Venus top right December 21. Credit Stellarium
The Moon in December 2018
New Moon occurs on the 7th at 07:20 GMT.
First Quarter occurs on the 15th at 11:49 GMT.
Full Moon is on November 22nd at 17:48 GMT.
Last Quarter occurs on the 29th at 09:34 GMT
A Full Cold Moon
The name given to December’s Full Moon in folklore is the “Full Cold Moon”. It is also known as the Moon Before Yule if you follow Old English/ Saxon traditions. Unlike some other Moon names, the Full Cold Moon is fairly self explanatory as it occurs in the cold of December night sky. Occasionally you may also hear it referred to as the “Long Night’s Moon”. This is because this Full Moon falls in the month with the most hours of darkness. In December 2018 the Full Moon occurs a day after winter solstice – the longest night of the year.
Lunar Encounters – Events worth getting the camera out for
In the morning of December 3, the 12% illuminated Crescent moon forms a triangle with Venus and bright star Spica.
The Crescent Moon, Venus and Spica in the night sky December 3 before sunrise. Credit Stellarium
Early in the evening on December 8, the thin crescent moon comes roughly within 1° of Saturn before sunset.
December 14, close approach of the 1st quarter moon and Mars – Very close to the peak of the Geminid Meteor Shower. Look out for meteors!
On the evening of the 24th – Christmas Eve, the near Full Moon will pass close to the Beehive Cluster or Praesepe in Cancer. This may be a tricky encounter to resolve due to the near Full Moon washing out the December night sky.
The mighty winged horse denoted by the asterism of the Square of Pegasus is making its way toward the western horizon and sets around 1:00am. The zodiacal constellations of Pisces, Aries, Taurus, Gemini and Cancer are prominent mid month. Mighty Perseus stands guard directly overhead.
Taurus in the night sky Credit Stellarium
The most noteworthy and prominent constellation this month is Taurus the bull. Taurus is quite a striking constellation with its V shaped head and burning eye of the bull – The bright orange giant star Aldebaran. There are two of the best open clusters in the December night sky in Taurus. The Hyades which form the head of the bull and above all the Pleiades or Seven Sisters. You can find out more about the strikingly beautiful Pleiades here. The Pleiades are high in the sky and due south in December 2018.
The constellation of Orion the Hunter, is probably the most striking and recognisable constellation. Orion rises early in the evening and will be due south in January. Taurus stands in the way of Orion as he pursues the Pleiades through the night sky in Greek mythology. Forever chasing them but forever blocked by Taurus (Zeus) eternally in the night sky.
The second most recognisable constellation is Ursa Major. Also known as the Big Dipper or the Plough. Ursa Major is a northern constellation and is also a circumpolar constellation that never sets. It’s visible all year round.
In December 2018 it can be seen with its handle (Imagine a sauce pan) upended mid evening. Line up the two stars at the opposite of the handle known as the pointers. Then draw an imaginary line in the sky. Continue this imaginary line to a faint boring looking star. You have found the North Star – Polaris! In contrast to what many have been told, it’s not the brightest star in the sky. That title goes to Sirius which we will discuss next month.
Ursa Major and Minor. Use the pointers of the big dipper – Saucepan asterism to draw an imaginary line to the North Star – Polaris in Ursa Majors tail
With its brightness expected to peak on December 16. Comet 46P/Wirtanen maybe just visible to the naked eye. The comet will build in brightness early December 2018. It will easily be spotted in binoculars or a telescope.
On December 16 Comet 46P/Wirtanen can be found near the Pleiades cluster in Taurus. Look for the comets bright nucleus and cloudy tail of dust and ice. Scan the area to find it or pinpoint it more using a star chart.
Pleiades and 46P/Wirtanen December 16 2018 Illustration by @VirtualAstro
There are two meteor showers in December 2018. The Geminids and the Ursids. The Ursid Meteor Shower is a rather minor meteor shower and occurs on a Full Moon. Therefore, it won’t be a shower of note this year.
In contrast, the Geminid Meteor Shower is the most prolific and reliable meteor shower of the year. The grand finale of the annual meteor showers with up to 100 meteors per hour.
The Geminids peak on the evening of the 13/ 14 December 2018. They have a rather broad period of activity and many slow moving bright meteors can be seen a few days before their peak.
For observers elsewhere, there are a number of apps and sites that will list pass times for your location.
A new website with worldwide times and alerts is coming soon.
This year Winter Solstice occurs at 22:23 GMT on 21 December 2018. Winter solstice or Midwinter is for those in the northern hemisphere the day with the longest period of darkness and shortest period of daylight of the year. In contrast, it is the opposite for the southern hemisphere.
Summer Solstice will be exactly 6 months away where the hours of night and day are reversed.
Aurora Photography: Photograph the Northern Lights on your iPhone with NightCap
Aurora Photography: The aurora is an amazing sight, and if you’re lucky enough to see the Lights you’ll want a photo or video to remember the occasion. With NightCap it’s easy! There’s just one important rule:
Use a tripod, or find some way to keep your device perfectly still.
Photographing the night sky means keeping the lens open long enough for the camera to absorb enough light, so it’s important to keep your iPhone or iPad still to prevent blurring.
Read on to learn how to take a great photo or a stunning time lapse video!
The easiest way to capture the Aurora well is to use NightCap’s Stars Mode. First, open the camera options by tapping the star icon:
Turn on Stars mode (a green icon means it’s turned on). You’re now ready to take a photo – just tap the shutter and wait about 15 seconds.
If the lights are faint, try turning on Light Boost too, it can really help bring out them out. The “sun icon” button turns Light Boost on. You can adjust the Light Boost strength in the settings screen.
The Northern (or Southern) Lights can look stunning in motion, but because they can move slowly and are very faint at times they’re difficult to capture well in a standard video. Time Lapse solves both of these problems, by producing a video that’s much faster than real life, and also allowing the camera to use long exposures to make the picture brighter.
Recording Time Lapse with NightCap is very easy, you just need a little patience. Here’s how.
First, switch to Time Lapse mode by tapping the camera icon at the top of the screen. The icon will show a camera with TL for time lapse when you’re in Time Lapse mode.
Next, open the camera options (by tapping the star button) to set the time lapse up.
There are three settings you need to set here:
1. Time lapse speed. The best setting depends on how fast or slow the lights are moving, but 120x (4 seconds exposure time) gives good results in most cases. For slow moving lights use a higher setting, for fast moving lights use a slower setting.
2. Turn on Long Exposure mode. This produces far better quality in very low light and reduces noise (image grain) a lot.
3. You also need to turn on Night Mode (the moon icon). When you record video or time lapse, this puts the camera into a special mode that produces much better results that are much brighter at night.
You can also change the quality if you wish. 4K is best quality but uses a lot more storage.
Finally, if the lights are faint, turn on Light Boost (the sun icon). This boosts image brightness. You can adjust the strength of the light booster in the settings.
Now you’re all set. Just tap the shutter button to start recording, and again to finish.
Please note that time lapse video records much more slowly than normal, so it’s important to leave the camera running a while. At 120x, it takes 20 minutes of recording to produce 10 seconds of video. If you plan to record for a long time, it’s best to connect your device to a power source such as an external battery.
You can use a remote shutter control. Turn on the volume shutter control in the in-app settings (it’s the last option in the list). This lets you use the volume buttons to trigger the shutter. You can also use any headphones with a volume control (including the ones that came with your iPhone) or any bluetooth shutter release that’s compatible with iPhone.
Batteries drain much faster in very cold conditions and iPhones can turn themselves off for protection if they get too cold. So if it’s extremely cold, try to wrap your device up to protect it from the cold. It’s best to set everything up first so you don’t need to touch the screen then use a remote shutter control.
Night Mode is only available for video and time lapse mode, as photo mode uses AI technology to give you the best possible results.
Please note that results will depend on many factors, including which iPhone or iPad model you use, sky / weather conditions, and how bright the lights are.
NightCap Camera includes 4 special camera modes designed to make photographing the night sky easy, in addition to Long Exposure and Light Trails modes:
To access the special modes make sure you’re in photo mode and not video or time lapse, and tap the Star button: This will open the Photo Camera Options panel.
2 Stars ( )
To photograph the stars, simply turn on Stars Mode. Stars Mode sets the camera up for you with the best settings for stars, so all you need to do is put your device in a tripod or a firm position pointing at the part of the sky you wish to photograph and tap the shutter.
After pressing the shutter the app will start a 3 second timer (to avoid blurring if you move the device slightly when tapping the button), then it’ll take a 10 second exposure. Wait until you hear the shutter sound or see the shutter button go from red (capturing) to white (ready).
Here’s an example of what’s possible:
3 Star Trails ( )
Capturing star trails is easy, all you need to do is turn on Star Trails Mode, tap the shutter button once to start capturing, then wait at least 15 minutes before tapping the shutter again to save the photo.
The longer you wait, the longer the trails will be – you can see them forming on screen. This is a 90 minute photo, pointing north (the star in the centre of the circles is Polaris, the Pole Star):
Star trail photo by Andy Stones (Twitter: @andy_stones)
Meteors (or shooting stars) are also easy to photograph, especially during a meteor shower. There’s plenty of information on viewing meteors and an excellent timetable of meteor showers at Meteorwatch.
To photograph meteors, just turn on Meteor Mode, point your device at a clear patch of sky, and tap the shutter button. The app will take a photo every 5 seconds until you tap the shutter again to finish.
While it’s capturing, the app will automatically scan every photo for potential meteors. It rejects any that are ’empty’ and saves the rest to the camera roll. You can then review the photos to see what it caught.
Please note that Meteor Mode will save quite a lot of photos (typically between 30 and 150 per hour, depending on sky conditions). A clear, dark, starry sky will give best results, while trees and planes will result in more photos being saved.
Here are some meteors captured with Meteor Mode:
Left: A large, bright fireball. Center: A common shooting star, long but not very bright. Right: A short, bright meteor.
6 ISS / Satellite Flares ( )
Many satellites orbit the Earth and can be seen easily at night – they look like a moving star, and don’t flash like a plane. The biggest, brightest and best known is the ISS (International Space Station).
There are some good sites and apps that will show ISS (and other satellite) viewing times for your location:
Satellites look great if you capture their trail as they pass across the sky. To do so, turn on ISS Mode, point your device in the direction the ISS or satellite is expected to pass, and be tap the shutter to start the photo (be sure to start before the pass is due to begin!) Once the ISS or satellite has passed, tap the shutter again to finish.
ISS by James Parker, Twitter: @JP_Astronomy (ISS mode)
7 Galaxies, nebulae ( )
It’s possible to photograph nebulae, galaxies and other deep space objects with an iPhone and NightCap Camera, but these objects are small and very, very faint so to capture them you’ll need a reasonably big telescope (ideally with a motorised mount that tracks the movement of the stars automatically) and an adaptor to attach your iPhone to it.
Stargazing for Dummies – One of the best books to buy!
Stargazing For Dummies. If you have a passing interest in the night sky. Are just starting out in astronomy, or are already a seasoned astronomer. Then this is the book for you.
Read on to find out even more about this brilliant guide book. For sky watchers of all levels.
Written by Steve Owens. A very successful UK-based freelance science communicator, astronomer, and furthermore good friend of mine. Stargazing for Dummies will guide you through the basics. It will also make your evenings looking up at the night sky more fun, interesting and productive.
Not just a guide book
This isn’t just a book for beginners. It is also a comprehensive reference book for all aspects of stargazing and amateur astronomy. From summaries of main astronomical objects, subjects and events. Through to constellation guides for both Northern and Southern hemispheres. Furthermore, to make sure they are accurate, the constellations were drawn by Steve himself. Consequently to make sure they represent the heavens correctly.
Not only does Stargazing for Dummies tell you about celestial objects and events. It gives no-nonsense information on when and how to find them. Above all, helping the reader familiarise themselves easily with the night sky. Perfect for beginners and seasoned astronomers alike.
The book also includes a huge variety of excellently drawn graphics and tips. Making the information very easy to absorb. Even by someone new to, or with just a passing interest in stargazing.
Many other stargazing books can overwhelm the reader with technical information. I think there is just enough information in this book for anyone to get to grips with. It’s plain and simple. As it says on the cover; “Making Everything Easier!”
In my opinion, Stargazing for Dummies should be treated as an essential handbook by anyone interested in the night sky. It should be kept very close to your window, binoculars or telescope. You will find it to be very handy.
The Orion Constellation – Mighty Guardian of Winter Skies
Out of all the constellations in the night sky, one of the most well known and obvious is Orion. Anyone just looking up at the winter sky can’t help but notice this celestial wonder. Orion is probably the most striking of all the constellations. Let’s explore it some more.
Orion The Hunter
Orion the Hunter Credit: Stellarium
Orion: In Greek Mythology, Orion is a mighty hunter. The son of a Gorgon and Poseidon. Legend has it, Orion offended the goddess Gaia when he said he could kill all the animals on Earth. Because of this, the angry goddess tried to kill Orion with a scorpion, but Ophiuchus intervened and saved Orion. Consequently, this is why Orion and Scorpius – the scorpion, are at opposite sides of the sky with Ophiuchus midway between them.
Orion is on the celestial equator, therefore it’s pretty much visible from most of the planet. The constellation sits between and below Taurus in the West and Gemini in the east. In addition Monoceros, Canis Major, Lepus and Eridanus are on its borders. At first glance, the constellation consists of 7 bright stars forming Orion’s shoulders, waist and lower body- An hour glass asterism. Furthermore, fainter stars mark out his club above his head and outstretched arm holding a lion. In the northern hemisphere, Orion is a winter constellation.
7 Brightest Stars. Credit: Stellarium
The 7 brightest stars consist of:
Betelgeuse – (Alpha Orionis) Represents Orion’s right shoulder. A red supergiant star near the end of its life. When it explodes it will be visible in the daytime for several months. Betelgeuse is over 600 light years away so it may have exploded already. The light from the explosion may not have reached us yet.
Rigel – (Beta Orionis) Is found at the bottom right of the 7 stars, the left foot and is a blue supergiant. Rigel is the 6th brightest star in the sky and will either end in a spectacular supernova or diminish to a white dwarf.
Bellatrix – “The Amazon Star” A blue giant star found on the right shoulder.
Saiph – A fainter star than the others forming the shape of the constellation and found at the right foot of Orion.
The Three Belt Stars
Orions Belt. Credit: Stellarium
The three central stars form the “Orions Belt” asterism and are the easiest way of identifying the constellation. Orion’s belt has featured heavily in history, from the Egyptians placing the great pyramids so they reflect the positions of the belt stars, to the films “Blade Runner” and “Men in Black”.
Alnitak – Also known as “The Girdle”, is the easternmost star out of the trio. It is a blue supergiant approximately 800 light years away. It is the brightest O class star in the sky.
Alnilam – Arabic meaning “String of pearls” Is the central star out of the trio. It is also a blue supergiant 1975 light years away.
Mintaka – Also known as “The Belt”, is the westernmost star out of the three. It is a double star system approximately 900 light years away.
Head, Club and Shield Stars
In addition to the brighter stars, there are also stars that make up the rest of the constellation. Three stars form a triangle consequently marking out Orions head and stretching up from Betelgeuse are five fainter stars forming the club. The shield/ lion is comprised of 6 stars to the west of Bellatrix.
The Orionid Meteor Shower is the only meteor shower associated with the constellation. It peaks around the 20th of October every year with around 10 to 20 meteors per hour at its peak. The meteor showers origins are due to Halley’s Comet.
Deep Sky Objects
GreatOrion Nebula – Credit: NASA
In addition to the asterisms and bright stars, Orion is a fantastic constellation for spotting deep sky objects. It is host to the most noteworthy, prominent and famous of them all: The Great Orion Nebula – M42. Easily identified with the naked eye, as a result it’s true splendour comes to life in binoculars and telescopes. A stellar nursery of gas, dust, and infant stars (as a result of being illuminated by the Trapezium) is found below the belt stars in what appears to be Orion’s sword.
Furthermore, if you have a large telescope a wealth of different objects can be found consequently, there are too many to include here. Therefore here are the more famous: Beneath the star Alnitak is “The Horsehead nebula” A massive cloud of dust in the shape of a horses head blocking light from the nebulae behind. To the left of Alnitak can be found the “Flame Nebula” NGC 2024 Lying to the north-east opposite the belt and a similar distance as the belt is long, is the much fainter M78. Similar in composition and distance to M42 but much fainter. If you have a very large telescope and take long exposure images you can pick out Barnard’s Loop, weaving its way around the constellation.
M78 Credit: NASA
Horsehead and Flame nebula Credit: NASA
In conclusion, there is much more to explore with binoculars or a telescope in this favourite of many constellations. Explore it and see what you can see…
Geminid Meteor Shower Eye Of the Needle Credit: David Kingham Photography – @davidkingham
Geminid Meteor Shower 2018
The Geminid meteor shower is the grand finale of astronomical events in 2018. It’s also the most reliable and prolific meteor shower of the year.
This year, the Moon won’t be present on the evening of the Geminids peak. Therefore, the sky will be dark which will reveal even more of the fainter meteors.
The Geminids are well known for having plenty to see with the brighter meteors/ fireballs being spectacular! Read on to find out when, how, and more.
When to Watch
The Geminids begin on the 4th of December and peak on the evenings of the 13th/ 14th December. The shower finally ends on December 16th. (Dates are approximate)
Numerous bright Geminid meteors
Geminid rates can be in excess of 80 -120 shooting stars per hour at peak for those with clear dark skies.
Geminid meteors are also well known for being very bright and can leave long persistent trains.
If observing opportunities aren’t possible on the evenings of December 13th/ 14th, observers can usually see high meteor activity a day or so either side of the peak. It may be possible to spot numerous Geminids a few days either side of peak.
How To Watch
The first thing I’m usually asked is: “What direction do we need to look?”
The simple answer is, there is no particular direction.
The reason for this is because the meteors appear randomly in any part of the sky.
Many sources make the mistake of pointing observers in the direction of the meteor showers radiant. This is because the radiant is the point of the showers origin – They radiate from there. All you have to do is get comfortable, look up and fill your gaze with sky.
As well as being the grand finale of 2018, the Geminids are special in another way. Unlike most meteor showers the Geminids originate from an object known as 3200 Phaethon. Thought to be an asteroid, not a comet.
Geminid Meteor Shower 2018 – Meteorwatch
To celebrate this highly enjoyable event there will be the Geminid Meteorwatch. Anyone with an interest in the night sky can join in on twitter, facebook.
The event will be an excellent opportunity to learn, share information, pictures and more whatever your level of interest and will run for a few days. All you need to do is follow along using the #Geminids, #meteorwatch#Geminid or #geminidmeteorshower hashtags.
As well as the wealth of information shared on twitter and facebook etc, there are helpful guides available on meteorwatch.org so you can get the most out of your meteorwatch.
You don’t need a telescope or anything, just your eyes and a little bit of patience to see Geminid shooting stars.
Kids Books – Astronomy, Space and A Whole Lot More…
Kids Books For Christmas: Tis the season to be jolly and Christmas Presents are foremost on our minds. Kids Books have always been the perfect Christmas gift and a gift for all seasons.
For Christmas this year, the Meteorwatch team have put together a fine collection of kids books which are out of this world. There are books to please stargazers and books to impress wannabe astronauts and more! It can be hard work thinking about what Christmas presents to buy friends and loved ones. So we made this kiss book list to help you.
“No matter how many times you’ve orbited the Sun, Astronomy for Kids is really for kids of all ages. Dr. Betts shows you how to become an astronomer–an observer of the stars. With this book, you can know the cosmos and your place within it. Read on, walk out, and look up!”–Bill Nye, science educator, author, and CEO of The Planetary Society
One of the coolest things about outer space is that anyone can explore it. All you have to do is go outside and look up! Using plain sight, binoculars, or a small telescope, Astronomy for Kids shows stargazers how easy it is to explore space, just by stepping outside.
With this book as their guide to the northern hemisphere, kids will learn to find and name amazing objects in the night sky. Fully illustrated with fun facts throughout, kids can point out sights to friends and family, saying things like, “that’s Jupiter,” and, “those stars are the constellation Cygnus the Swan,” and maybe even, “that group of stars doesn’t have a name but I think it looks like my dog getting belly rubs.”
From the Milky Way Galaxy to Mars to the Moon’s craters and mountains–Astronomy for Kids helps young astronomers discover important parts of our solar system, with:
30 sights for the naked eye (yes, 30!) objects to see without any equipment, including Orion’s Belt, the Big Dipper, Mars, and even the International Space Station.
25 sights magnified with binoculars or a basic telescope to make objects in the sky easier to find and explore. Plus, buying tips and usage tricks to get the most out of astronomy equipment.
Clear illustrations that show kids where to look and what they can expect to see.
Like all big things, outer space is something you have to see to believe. Astronomy for Kids teaches kids that planets, shooting stars, constellations, and meteor showers are not only in books–but right above them.
What is life like on the International Space Station? Can we survive on Mars? Why is Pluto no longer a planet? Just how big is the universe anyway? Space Atlas answers all these questions and more while exploring the far reaches of space, from our own planet to neutron stars, thousands of light years away.
Following the format of an atlas, Space Atlas showcases significant locations in space which are explored in-depth with stunning illustrations, interesting fact files, diagrams and information on scientific achievements.
This book will help readers of all ages find out. Featuring 100 real astronaut tests and exercises from the European Space Agency’s rigorous selection process, ranging from easy to fiendishly hard, The Astronaut Selection Test Book goes where no puzzle book has gone before.
Including puzzles and tests on:
· visual perception and logic · mental arithmetic and concentration · psychological readiness · teamwork and leadership · survival, physical and medical skills · foreign languages (every astronaut has to know Russian!)
and much more, this richly illustrated book draws on Tim Peake’s first-hand experience of applying to be an astronaut in 2008, when he and five others were chosen – out of over 8,000 applications!
We’ve all dreamed of being an astronaut, though of the estimated 100 billion people who have ever lived, only 557 people have travelled to space. But with this unprecedented look into real astronaut selection, you might just find out your dreams can become reality… _________________________ HOUSTON, WE HAVE A PROBLEM SOLVER… _________________________ Tim Peake and the ESA will receive no royalties from this book; instead, they will be donated to the Prince’s Trust charity.
This beautiful book is the latest addition to the National Geographic Little Kids First Big Book series. These colourful pages will introduce young children to the wonders of space, with colourful illustrations by David Aguilar and simple text that is perfect for beginning readers or for reading aloud.
The book will explain basic concepts of space, beginning with what is most familiar to kids and expanding out into the universe.
Chapters include: • Chapter 1 focuses on the Earth, moon, and sun. • Chapter 2 introduces kids to the other planets in our solar system. • Chapter 3 explains other objects in our solar system, such as dwarf planets, comets, and asteroid belts. • Chapter 4 voyages even farther afield, touching on concepts such as the universe, the Milky Way, stars, galaxies, and black holes. • The last chapter delves into space exploration: humans on the moon, spaceships, the International Space Station, etc.
Amazing answers to more than 200 awesome space questions! Do You Know About Space? takes the reader on a galactic journey to answer all the probing questions children ask about space. What is a shooting star? Why is Jupiter stripy? Is anyone else out there?
Featuring the most amazing space pictures from NASA, as well as the latest space news, this is a book perfect for young space fans as well as children new to the subject. Do You Know About Space? covers the Solar System, stars, galaxies, space exploration, and much more! The book has clear and simple text, so information is easily accessible and utterly fascinating for children aged 6 to 8 years old.
Featuring answers to more than 200 questions, Do You Know About Space? is the ideal book for kids who want to learn about the Universe.
Before the Big Bang there was NOTHING AT ALL. No galaxies, no space, no light and no sound. Then suddenly, 13.8 billion years ago, IT ALL BEGAN…
This beautiful follow-up to The Story of Life brings to life the story of our universe for younger children. Travel back in time to the Big Bang, see galaxies and stars form, watch the birth of our planet and how life begins, join the first man on the moon, and wonder what mysteries are still waiting to be discovered
Blast into space to explore our solar system and beyond. This out-of-this-world atlas takes readers through maps of the solar system, the Milky Way, and deep space, giving them a close look at and locations of planets, supernovas, and other universes
Sky maps will help kids spot these objects in the night sky and maps of planets and our solar system give the kind of incredible detail that National Geographic is known for. It’s the perfect book for space fans and budding astronauts.
This interesting and kind story is about Space and Mars. Mars is one of the planets in our Solar System, who thought there was nothing special about him. He considered that all planets had something unique in their nature and they were all beautiful except him. However, as all other planets along with the Sun were friendly and loved Mars, they pointed out to Mars’s uniqueness. This book about Solar System will not only become your kid’s beloved one among all other kids’ books he/she has but will also teach him/her the names of the planets and their peculiarities.
Exploring more than 80 of the world’s most scientific theories and big ideas across the fields of physics, chemistry, biology, astronomy, geology, and maths, this book offers a fascinating look at the history of science.
Discover how Galileo worked out his scientific theories of motion and inertia, why Isaac Newton gets the credit for them, and what the discovery of DNA meant.
All the big scientific ideas are brought to life with quirky graphics, pithy quotes and step-by-step “mind maps” – from evolution and continental drift to black holes and genetic engineering – using eye-catching artworks to show how the ideas of famous scientists have affected our understanding of the world.
Whether you are a science student, a historian, or just have an interest in scientific ideas, The Science Book is a perfect way to explore this fascinating subject.
What is the Sun made of? How did astronauts get to the Moon and what did they find there? For children beginning to read on their own, books like this are an exciting introduction to space. Includes vivid, full colour illustrations and photographs on every page, and easy-to-read text specially written with the help of a reading expert.
With over 100,000 copies sold since first publication, this is one of the most popular astronomy books of all time. It is a unique guide book to the night sky, providing all the information you need to observe a whole host of celestial objects. With a new spiral binding, this edition is even easier to use outdoors at the telescope and is the ideal beginner’s book. Keeping its distinct one-object-per-spread format, this edition is also designed for Dobsonian telescopes, as well as for smaller reflectors and refractors, and covers Southern hemisphere objects in more detail. Large-format eyepiece views, positioned side-by-side, show objects exactly as they are seen through a telescope, and with improved directions, updated tables of astronomical information and an expanded night-by-night Moon section, it has never been easier to explore the night sky on your own. Many additional resources are available on the accompanying website, www.cambridge.org/turnleft.
Search for over 140 sights in the night sky with this i-SPY guide. This fun activity book encourages kids to look above them, from stars and constellations to the moon and eclipses, in search of i-SPY points. A fun, interactive way to encourage curious children to learn about the world around them
What can you spot? Get i-SPYing with these features:
• Vibrant colour coded photographs • Tips for budding astrologers on constellations and how eclipses happen • Points to score from common constellations like The Plough (10 points) to top spots such as comet (50 points)
Children love these fun and fascinating i-SPY activity books – discover over 30 other i-SPY guides in the series!
In a convenient folded format, Philip’s Moon Map is a superbly detailed, large-format map of the near (visible) side of the Moon. Specially drawn for Philip’s by Dr John Murray, an expert on the lunar surface, the map is not only a highly accurate and clear representation of the Moon but is also a practical guide for lunar observers.
More than 500 physical features – craters, seas, mountain ranges, peaks, valleys and rilles (elongated depressions) – are named and indexed, and the landing sites of unmanned and manned spacecraft are also marked. The observer can thus readily identify objects seen through binoculars or a telescope, or pick targets for a programme of observation.
The accompanying text is a practical guide to Moonwatching, which explains how to use the map and highlights the most interesting lunar features. Close-up images of some of these objects show what the observer can expect to see. Also included are photographs of the Moon at each daily stage and a smaller map of the far side, as revealed by satellites. Guidelines on drawing or photographing the Moon are also included.
The International Space Station races through space at 17,500 miles per hour. How do people live there? What may they discover? Find out the story of the twenty-first century’s great scientific adventure. Outstanding Science Trade Books for Children 2001–selected by Natn’l Science Tchrs Assoc. & Child. Bk Cncl. and Booklist “Top 10 Science Books for Children” 2000
Philip’s Month-by-Month Stargazing 2019 is the guide for Stargazers in Britain and Ireland. The new 2019 edition has been completely revised to make it even more essential for exploring the night skies.
Essential reading for astronomers at all levels – and the perfect gift for every stargazer.
Discover how you become an astronaut, the training you must undertake, how you travel into space and what you do when you’re up there. With a foreword from ESA astronaut Tim Peake, the first British astronaut to embark on a mission to the International Space Station. Published in association with the UK Space Agency.
From the sun’s super-hot core to the many moons of Neptune, we’re traveling to the far reaches of our solar system and beyond! Astronomer Dean Regas presents Facts from Space!–an exciting education on everything outside our atmosphere. Inside, you’ll discover space facts and celestial trivia, including:
A day on Venus is longer than its year.
Early space missions ejected human waste into space, where it froze into intricate crystals that still float in space today.
After being in space, some astronauts returned to Earth up to 2 inches taller than when they left.
The stars in the Big Dipper are shifting among themselves and will look like a “Big Spatula” by the year 75,000.
Packed with fascinating information, it’s a stellar read for sci-fi fans and at-home astronomers alike!
Children can explore the wonders of space in these incredible picture books with giant fold-out pages full of fascinating facts to satisfy the curiosity of every young space enthusiast. From the Sun and the planets in our Solar System to massive stars and vast galaxies and lots, lots more, there’s a whole universe to discover.
Open the giant fold-out pages of this books to discover the powerful rockets and spacecraft that explore outer space. From early rockets and Moon missions to space stations and probes, learn what it takes to blast off from Earth and even live in space. The oversized pages show magnificent spacecraft and rockets to scale, up-close and in detail.
This classic star atlas is ideal for both beginning astronomers and more experienced observers worldwide. The clear, full-color maps show stars, clusters and galaxies visible with binoculars or a small telescope. The atlas also features constellation boundaries and the Milky Way, and lists objects that are interesting to observe. This new edition features a clearer map of the Moon’s surface, showing craters and features; a second Moon map, mirror reversed for users of telescopes with star diagonals; enhanced index charts showing the constellations more clearly; and a new data table listing stars hosting planetary systems. It is now spiral bound, making it ideal for use at the telescope.
Have fun solving crazy conundrums and amazing activities that are out of this world with Wally and friends! Play tangle line teasers, find your way out of a space race maze, unscramble muddled up words, crack alien codes, match and spot the differences in busy picture puzzles, get creative by colouring in, complete a planet hop game and much, much more! Can you also find Wally’s super special star? There are over 100 crazy cosmic stickers and lots of extra things to find and do!
Professor Astro Cat is the smartest cat in the alley. He’s got a degree in just about every discipline under the sun!
Speaking of the sun, he happens to be specialist on that too, and Professor Astro Cat’s Frontiers of Space will tell you everything that there could be to know about our star, our planet, our solar system, our galaxy, and our universe. The professor’s made sure of that; he’s a fastidious little feline!
Professor Astro Cat’s Frontiers of Space also explores topics such as gravity, extraterrestrial life, time, and many other fascinating subjects that will take you and your children on a journey to the very frontiers of space!
A new edition of the exciting Philip’s Astronomy Starter Pack, suitable for use in the Northern Hemisphere, containing three essential items to introduce the beginner to the fascinating hobby of astronomy: a ‘glow-in-the-dark’ planisphere, an 80-page paperback book about the stars and planets, and a colourful wall poster of the Solar System.
Philip’s Glow-in-the-Dark Planisphere: This planisphere has been specially made so that, after being held under a bright light, the stars and the names and shapes of the constellations will glow in the dark for a period. It is both a fun and practical starfinder for identifying the stars and constellations visible on any night of the year from the UK, Northern Europe, Northern USA and Canada (51.5 degrees North); the star map is drawn by the well-known celestial cartographer Wil Tirion. A sheet explaining how to use the planisphere is included in the pack.
Philip’s Exploring Stars and Planets: A colourful and entertaining introduction to the exciting world of astronomy, this 80-page paperback is illustrated with more than 200 colour photographs, artworks and maps, as the author Ian Ridpath describes the latest developments in the fast-moving fields of space exploration and astronomy. Concise chapters introduce the Sun, the Earth and all the other planets in our Solar System. Then, moving further into space, the author examines the stars and galaxies, and explores the origin of the Universe.
Philip’s Solar System Poster: A large attractive folded wall chart (580 x 870mm) illustrating the planets and other bodies in the Solar System, with informative text and tables by Ian Ridpath.
Invaluable for both beginners and advanced observers, Philip’s Planisphere (Latitude 51.5 North) is a practical hour-by-hour tracker of the stars and constellations, designed for use anywhere in Britain and Ireland, Northern Europe, Northern USA and Canada. Turn the oval panel to the required date and time to reveal the whole sky visible from your location.The map, by the well-known celestial cartographer Wil Tirion, shows stars down to magnitude 5, plus several deep-sky objects, such as the Pleiades, the Andromeda Galaxy (M31) and the Orion Nebula (M42). Because the planets move round the Sun, their positions in the sky are constantly changing and they cannot be marked permanently on the map; however, the back of the planisphere has tables giving the positions of Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn for every month until 2020.The planisphere is supplied in a full-colour wallet that contains illustrated step-by-step instructions for how to use the planisphere, how to locate planets, and how to work out the time of sunrise or sunset for any day of the year. It explains all the details that can be seen on the map – the magnitudes of stars, the ecliptic and the celestial coordinates. In addition, the section ‘Exploring the skies, season by season’ introduces the novice astronomer to the principal celestial objects visible at different times of the year. Major constellations are used as signposts to navigate the night sky, locating hard-to-find stars and some fascinating deep-sky objects. The movement of the stars is also explained
Santas ISS Passes – Watch Santa (The International Space Station) on his Practice Runs.
Santas ISS: For the past few years, we’ve had some great festive fun in the UK with International Space Station passes in December.
Many Parents, grandparents and guardians have told their little ones that the ISS is actually Santa on his practice runs. This sounds silly to some, but many small children with playful adults found it magical and really thought they could see Santa!
Will your children see Santa on his practice runs this year? Perhaps they are too old now and know it’s the Space Station. Regardless, the ISS is an amazing sight to behold and we can use it to spread some extra magic and inspire them to find out more about Space this Christmas. Read on to find out more.
Is this for you?
If fooling small children into thinking the ISS is Santa isn’t your thing, and you are all Bah Humbug about it. No problem! You can still watch the station for the wonder that it is.
There are so many more things you can do to light up their faces this Christmas.
Will Santa (the ISS) be Visible Christmas Eve?
This is probably one of the most frequently asked questions I get on twitter throughout the year!
The Space Station (Santa for the festive ones) will have passes in December. But unfortunately not on Christmas Eve in 2018.
The next Christmas Eve pass will probably be in 2023 unless the stations orbit changes a lot. We can’t really predict it accurately yet, as so much can change.
Don’t let this put you off though!
See Santa On His Practice Runs in 2018
You can see Santa passing over the UK early December through to mid December in the evenings. You can if you wish spread some early seasonal magic with these pass times. But if not, I’m sure seeing the station will be just as magical and inspiring for kids.
Most of all! I hope you have a great deal of fun and interest with your children during the passes, whatever you tell them it is.
When to Watch
The table below gives approximate pass times and basic information. This will help you spot Santa as he passes over.
Only bright passes which can be seen from the UK are listed and the information is approximate. Therefore, timings may differ by a few seconds, dependent on observer’s location. Times may change at short notice if the Station performs an orbital boost and changes its orbit. All Timings are local time.
Give yourself plenty of time, get your cameras ready and enjoy Santa as he passes over. Keep your eyes peeled for meteors, satellites and other objects too, they will be visible most nights!
Have a very Merry Christmas.
Times may differ slightly to other sources and can change at short notice, so please check this page daily for accurate timings.
Morningstar Venus – This Winters Brilliant Morning Object
Morningstar Venus: If you’re up early before sunrise this winter, you will notice the unmissable Morningstar Venus. Venus will be shining brightly in the eastern sky before the sun rises. It will also be visible for a short time after sunrise due to being so bright!
Venus became the “Morningstar” early in November and will become more and more spectacular. Read on to find out more.
The first thing we need to get out of the way is, Venus isn’t a star. It’s a planet! It’s the closest out of all the planets in the solar system to Earth. Roughly 41000km at its closest approach.
The Planet is roughly the same size as Earth, but it’s much different. During the Victorian era and early twentieth century, it was thought the planet was a rich tropical world covered in rainforests and exotic jungles. However, in reality that couldn’t be any further from the truth.
What’s it like There
Venus is Earth’s evil twin! Nothing lives there due to a runaway greenhouse effect caused through extreme volcanic activity and the lack of a magnetic field. Most of the water has evaporated and blown away by the solar wind and replaced by greenhouse gasses.
Temperatures on the surface are hotter than an oven at over 450°C/ 860°F. Not only is it hot, the pressure on the surface is extreme at around 90 times that of the Earth. The equivalent pressure you would encounter at a depth of 3000ft in the ocean. To add to this crushing and roasting environment, there are clouds of sulphuric acid and acid rain. Due to the heat and pressure on the surface the acid rain evaporates before it hits the ground.
To add to this even more, a day on Venus is equal to 116 days on earth. And to top it all off the average wind speed is around 220mph. It really is Earth’s evil twin and not very pleasant at all!
In the late 60’s and early 70’s, a small number of Russian Venera Spacecraft visited the planet. The conditions were so harsh the spacecraft only lasted an average of 60 minutes before they were overcome by pressure and heat.
Credit: NASA/ JPL
What To Expect this Winter
Venus will be the or morning star from November 2018 through to March 2019. It will achieve maximum brightness on the 1st of December 2018 with a brightness of magnitude -4.9. This will make the planet the third brightest object in the sky behind the Sun and Moon. It will appear much brighter than the International Space Station and Sirius, the brightest star in the night sky. One of the reasons Venus is so bright is because of its thick dense and very reflective cloud cover.
The Morning Star will be the most striking object in the sky to the naked eye. In large binoculars the crescent of the planet can be seen, and even can be seen even closer in a telescope. Due to the thick cloud cover that shrouds its surface, no detail is visible.
Venus will rise approximately 3 minutes earlier each morning. By mid December it will rise at approximately 4:00am before rising later each morning until March. In mid December the planet will be visible in the pitch dark of night a couple of hours before the light of dawn.
Seen through telescope
When Will Venus become the Evening Star again?
Venus will not be visible through the summer of 2019 and will be visible in the evenings late November 2019 through to June 2020.