Article as first published in The Shetland Times November 2000

Photo Caption: The Seven Sisters (top), Mars (middle), Jupiter (bottom) March 1989

The sSeven Sisters



The clocks have gone back. The time on our watches and clocks is now Greenwich Mean Time. Astronomical events are measured against this time.

Sun Moon

Rise Set Rise Set

1 8:28am 5:07pm 2:06pm 8:08pm

15 9:04am 4:34pm 7:30pm 1:20pm

30 9:39am 4:07pm 1:27pm 7:53pm

The Moon is Full on the 11th and is New on the 25th so for several days after that it will be low in the sky at the time of sunset.

The planets, Jupiter and Saturn are going to remain visible over the winter. They are in the constellation of Taurus. Jupiter is the brighter planet on the left with Saturn not as bright on the right. In the same field of view is the Pleiades star cluster. Known as the Seven Sisters. If you like taking photographs of the stars then any planets near the Pleiades always looks good. If your camera has a B setting then an 8 second exposure with a 50mm lens and a fast film is a good start.

The 'Summer Triangle' of Deneb, Vega and Altair is still visible as is the Square of Pegasus leading off to the Andromeda Galaxy.




If you look straight up at most times of the year you will see the W shape of Cassiopeia. The Milky Way runs through the constellation and off to the left is a tighter knot of stars known as the Double Cluster, in the constellation of Perseus. Have a look through binoculars.

If anything the next few months should be rather good for seeing the 'Merrie Dancers', the Northern Lights. Whether we see the aurora is all due to the Sun that has an 11-year cycle of activity, which is coming to a peak. The particles thrown off the Sun cause the upper atmosphere to glow like a green fluorescent light! Sometimes we will see curtains or searchlight beams. Occasionally the sky dances with swirls of green, flashing off and on. A wondrous sight.

Other astronomical phenomena can cause the sky to glow green - meteors.

The October Orionid meteor shower produced some fine, delicate white meteors but there were not many of them. This month could well be different. November sees the Leonid meteor shower. Normally this would have no more meteors than the Orionids but approximately every 33 years the Earth goes through a thicker part of the dust that makes up this shower.

Two years ago we were treated to bright meteor after bright meteor coming in from the northeast. Their bright white heads, sometimes with a hint of orange streaked across the sky leaving long green trains of fluorescing oxygen.

The best time to see this spectacle is on the night of the 17th. Go out after 8-o clock, or later if you can. Get comfortable in your deck chair and lie back and relax. Will we have a meteor storm or just a few meteors? Will they be startlingly bright or just fine wisps. Sky watching is like the weather - a bit unpredictable.

And remember, do wrap up warm.


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