Article as first published in The Shetland Times September 2000


If you haven't yet noticed the night sky is getting dark again! Over this month it is obvious to see the Sun is setting earlier and earlier

Sun Moon

Rise Set Rise Set

1 0600 2008 0954 2124

15 0633 1925 0822 2007

30 0708 1839 1017 1953

The Moon is full on the 13th and the equinox is on the 22nd so this Full Moon is known as a Harvest Moon. If it wasn't cloudy its light could help in bringing in the harvest.

The planets to watch out for this month are Jupiter and Saturn. They can be seen in the Northeast quite close to each other and Jupiter will be the brightest object in that part of the sky. If you use binoculars you will be able to see some of the moons of Jupiter. Saturn you will recognise in binoculars because you do not see a disk but an ellipse due to is ring system.

With the return of the dark skies there is so much to see that you will soon have neck ache but one of the real wonders is realising how far you can see.




Galaxies near Pegasus

The map left has several M and NGC objects on it. The letters denote which historic catalogue they are collected in. M is for Messier and NGC is for New General Catalogue. They are objects that appear fuzzy in binoculars and small telescopes. To me one of the most mind boggling of these is M 31. (No it is not on the map it is behind the 'o' in Andromeda). Messier 31 is the Andromeda Galaxy. The stars you see in the sky and most of the other fuzzy objects are part of the Milky Way Galaxy, our galaxy. However, M31 is a separate galaxy altogether. It is 2.2 million light years away - light travels 186,000 miles in a second. In a dark sky without binoculars or telescopes you can see this small fuzzy patch of light which in reality is bigger than our own galaxy.

So how do you find it?

If you look East when the sky gets dark you will see a large square of stars. This is the Square of Pegasus. The upper left-hand star of this square is called Sirrah (tilt your head slightly to the left to see the square shape). Out to the left from Sirrah is a string of stars. The second one along is called Mirach and has an orange-red colour. If you now go up from Mirach there are a couple of fainter stars. Move your eyes up to the second one. At about 2 o' clock from this star you will see a fuzzy patch. This is the Andromeda Galaxy. The light hitting your eyes is 2.2 million years old.

So may be Winter is on its way but when you get the chance and the sky is clear you can glance up. Find the Square of Pegasus. Then move your eyes quickly to look at another galaxy.


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