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A Midsummer's Night Sky

astronomy qf focus june17The middle of the year can be a lean time for amateur astronomers and star gazers, light evenings and the heat haze shimmering the air leaves many of us dreaming of the clear nights of winter. 

It needn't be all bad though, our group had a pleasant nights public viewing in May, and an equally pleasant time in the bar afterwards. So, what can an interested stargazer look at this summer? You have probably noticed a bright object halfway up from the horizon in the south east. That is Jupiter, a planet that we have covered in these pages before. In case you missed it, these are the highlights to look at.
With binoculars you will see 4 of the moons of Jupiter, the Galilean moons. No prizes for guessing who first saw them. You can see them change position over an hour or so as they orbit this massive planet. A small but good telescope with a modest magnification of about 80x will allow you to see the cloud storms as they circle the planet, these were very obvious at our public viewing recently in my little Meade telescope.
There are some very nice star clusters to look at in the summer, the best is probably in Hercules. Look due east at about midnight, use your favourite star guide, 'phone app or whatever to help find the area. Good binoculars or a telescope will show you M13, it's very beautiful, and thought to be one of the highlights of the night sky.
Do you want to show off to a non astronomer friend? Find an Iridium flare and tell them a UFO is coming for them.
An Iridium flare is a very bright flash of light from one of the Iridium series of satellites, the flash of sunlight reflected from the solar panels lasts about 1 second but is quite remarkable to someone not in the know.
To find out when these are going to happen look at a website called 'Heavens above', many interesting things are on there. Make sure you put your viewing area in as accurately as possible, a 1 kilometre difference is very noticeable. Flashes of -4 or -5 magnitude (brightness) are the best.
Space is running out so that's enough about flashing for this month, any questions will be welcomed at our monthly meetings, or by email at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..">This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..
Charles Oates
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