Article as first published in The Shetland Times April 2000


The Sun has crossed the celestial equator, days are longer than nights and midnight is now at 1am BST. Here at our high latitude we are slipping inexorably to towards the 'Simmer Dim'. You have to stay up later now to catch the stars and as far as the planets are concerned they have all but disappeared close to the Sun. You may catch Saturn and Jupiter in the Northwest around 10pm.

However, less of this humbug - there is still much to see. Look towards the Southeast at about the same time and the constellation of Leo can be seen.

Leo :- The Nemean Lion , a monster killed by Hercules as his first task. Hercules then wore the pelt as a jacket, with the scalp as a hood.

His other labours (punishment for killing his family) were:

The destruction of the seven-headed Hydra, the Stymphalian birds and the monster Geryon; the capture of the Arcadian Stag, Erymanthian Boar, Poseidon's Bull in Crete, and the carnivorous mares of Diomedes; the cleaning of the Augean stables: the stealing of the Amazonian queen's girdle; the gathering of apples from the garden of Hesperides and the fetching of Cerebus from Hades.

If you look more towards the East the constellation of Boötes the herdsman can be seen. Its main star at the bottom is called Arcturus and Patrick Moore in one of his books relates -' modern instruments can measure the heat sent to us by Arcturus. It works out at about equal to the heat received from an ordinary candle five miles away'

Even further East is the constellation of Hercules. The four main stars form a squashed square known as the Keystone. Using binoculars look at the right uppermost corner star of the Keystone. Then start to move slowly to the right lowermost star. About a third of the way down you will come across a small fuzzy patch. This is actually a globular cluster known as M13. A ball of thousands of stars, these globular clusters are found in a halo around our galaxy. They are further away than galactic clusters such as the Pleiades but are so bright that they can been seen in binoculars. There is a naked eye globular cluster but that is in the constellation of Centarus and is visible to those in southern latitudes.


If you want to try and see a second globular cluster there is one where the l of Hercules is on the map. Smaller than M13 it is called M92 and looks like a fuzzyish star.

However, do not ignore the galactic clusters completely; between Leo and Gemini lies the constellation of Cancer and a faint fuzzy patch can be seen with the naked eye. With binoculars it appears as a swarm of 75 or more stars. This is M44 the Beehive cluster.

The next full Moon is on the 18th April but as the sky gets lighter it has less effect on what can and cannot be seen.



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