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The Sky this Month

MAS Sky this month

What's in the night sky this month ?

The 'fixed' stars will appear in the same locations year after year (note 1). Some astronomical events - such as meteor showers - also repeat from year to year (even if the 'peak' date of a meteor shower varies somewhat) whilst other astronomical objects, such as the planets and Comets, have orbital periods that don't follow Earth's annual cycle at all. So these pages focus on the main Constellations, whilst other events can be found on the Events page


Note 1. In fact, due to the precession of the Earths axis, positions of the Constellations don't repeat exactly from one year to the next. Fortunately, in the context of "What's in the sky this month ?", this 'slippage' (which is 1 degree every 71.6 years) can be ignored (it taking 25,772 years to complete one revolution). So, if this had been written down some 2,200 years ago, at the time when the 'Sun signs' were defined, everything would have 'shifted' by some 30 degrees (or one 'Zodiac' constellation) and these pages would make as much sense today as that Astrology nonsense :-)

Running the Stellarium scripts (.ssc)

Our monthly sky Stellarium 'scripts', {date}-WhatsOn.ssc, were designed to run with Stellarium V10.1 but should 'work' with almost any version. To run the scrip on your own computer, start by downloading the script = 'right click' the link and use 'Save link as'. Next drag the .ssc file to the to the '\scripts' sub-directory of the installed Stellarium program directory (i.e. C:\Program Files\Stellarium\scripts).

To run the script, launch Stellarium, open the 'Configuration' menu dialog and go to the 'Scripts' tab. A list of available scripts will be shown in the list box on the left side. You select a script by clicking on it as usual and details (about that script) will then be shown in the panel on the right side. To run the selected script, click the 'run script' button (the icon that looks like a DVD player 'Play' button). For more Stellarium scripts, visit the Stellarium.org/wiki page

Note, before running a script it's a 'good idea' to disable the on-screen 'information' (Configuration, Information tab, set 'Selected Object information' = 'none')

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(-) 02 February

Meteors this month None of note. Photo: ../Sky_this_month/photos/February.jpgThe sky (looking South at midnight) toward the end of the month (click the sky map, right, for a larger view)

Constellation of the month - Orion

Orion is very well placed for observing in the South early in the evening, only just starting to set in the West at midnight toward the end of the month. It's bright stars (the two top, three making the 'belt' and two bottom) really stand out making the prominent 'hour-glass' shape that is so easy to find - in fact Orion is the first constellation that most beginners to astronomy learn after Ursa major, the Great Bear (or Plough, aka the 'big dipper' for the Americans amongst us).

Photo: ../Sky_this_month/photos/Orion-30secs.jpg
It's main features are Betelgeuse ('beetle juice'), top left, a red super-giant (about 1,000 times larger than the Sun), which is nearing the end of it's life and is expected to go supernova within the next few 100,000 years (a single heartbeat in cosmic time). When it does, it is close enough (at about 650 LY) to be visible during daylight !

On the opposite side, bottom right, is Rigel, a blue super-giant (even brighter than Betelgeuse, despite being more than 8 times smaller than Betelgeuse), also nearing the end of it's life and expected to go supernova 'soon' in cosmic time (within a million years or so).

Photo: ../Sky_this_month/photos/Horsehead_nebula_150mm_8x6min.jpgPhoto: ../Sky_this_month/photos/2008-12-07_HORSE_FLAME_STACK_MAS.jpgMoving to the 3 belt stars, first (on the left) is Alnitak, to the left of which is the Flame nebula and stretching below are the gas clouds which include the famous 'Horsehead nebula'. Whilst the Horse-head is relatively small and hard to image, MAS members have still managed to capture it (left, by Alun H. in Hydrogen Alpha) along with the Flame nebula (right).

Note that both photos, left and right, are rotated (90 and 45) left compared to a typical 'naked eye' view.

Photo: ../Sky_this_month/photos/M42-hdr.jpgPhoto: ../Sky_this_month/photos/m42_combined_sml.jpgWe then come to Orion's 'sword', the 'line' of stars 'hanging' from the belt - and here we find the M42, the Orion Nebula, which is actually visible to the naked eye (as a fuzzy patch of light) a red emission nebula. This is a really impressive structure and a favorite amongst astro-photographers (see MAS members photos, left and right)

Even larger that the Orion Nebula is the structure known as 'Barnards loop', which curves around the entire bottom half of the 'hour-glass' shape of Orion. Whilst much fainter, and harder to image, even than the Horsehead nebula, it is still a 'target' for MAS members (photo not found) Prominent and easy to find in clear winter sky, and with it's spectacular gas clouds, red and blue super-giants, Orion can be said to have it all ! For more on Orion, see Wikipedia (Orion) here. The Stellarium script(s) presented at our meeting can be downloaded (using 'right click' and 'Save link as') :-
Feb 2015
Feb 2016
(note = built for Stellarium 10.4)

This note last modified: 25th Nov 2016 10:30.

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