Sunday, December 3, 2023

Space Is The Place: The Night Sky Over Belper, January 2023

In January’s Night Sky: Space Missions 2023, Occultation of Mars and Geminids observation notes, Star Count, Venus, Jupiter and Mars.


Space Missions in 2023

9th January – Delayed from Mid-November, Virgin Orbit will be launching the Start Me Up mission from the Newquay Spaceport in Cornwall.  The mission contains a payload of small satellites.  It is of historical note that these will be the first ever satellites launched into space from a site in the UK.

Early 2023 – NASA intends to send a series of lander missions to the Moon.  These will be carrying payloads of scientific and explorer instruments to the Lunar surface.

April 2023 – The European Space Agency will launch its JUICE mission to explore Jupiter’s moons.  JUICE standing for Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer.  The mission will reach Jupiter sometime in 2031.

April 2023 also includes a lunar landing attempt by the Japanese company Ispace.  The mission includes a lunar rover built by the United Arab Emirates and a robot built by the Japanese space agency JAXA.

India may also be attempting Lunar landings this year (the Chandrayaan-3 mission delayed from 2022) and Russia’s Luna 25 (also delayed in 2022) may also make an attempt in 2023.

China continues to extend its space exploration programme and plans to launch its Xuntian space telescope, described as a more sophisticated version of Hubble, this year.


CPRE Star Count 2023

CPRE, The Countryside Charity, will be inviting people to join in their annual Star Count, taking place between the 17th and 26th of February.

By signing up you can help the CPRE to identify where light pollution is a problem and where the darkest skies across the country are.

It is easy to take part – you can do a Star Count from your garden, balcony, doorstep or even bedroom window! All you have to do is count the stars you can see in the constellation of Orion.

The CPRE will use the evidence you collect to advocate for better-controlled lighting and to offer advice about what can be done to reduce local light pollution.

You can sign up here: CPRE star count 2023


The Occultation Of Mars (Observation Notes)

There was an occultation of Mars in the early hours of the 8th of December 2022.  The Moon started to obscure Mars at around 4.50am and Mars reappeared at around 5.50am.  This was a rare event and, because of the early morning start, not one I intended to observe. However,  I stirred at the right time and thought why not?!

From 4.40am, I witnessed the Moon slowly and steadily moving towards Mars.  Just before the actual occultation, Mars balances like a small red bead on the edge of the Moon for a while – and then it is gone, obscured by the Moon.  I needed binoculars to see Mars through the Moon’s halo – so not a naked eye observation.  I would have seen more through a telescope – maybe the edge of the Moon, passing over the disc of Mars (something to bear in mind for future occultations) but a pleasing sight nonetheless.  It was lucky that I woke up just in time to see the occultation – as this was an unplanned observation.  As it was very cold this early in the morning I returned to bed and, as such, did not see Mars reappear an hour later.


Geminids Meteor Shower (Observation notes)

Clouds obscured the Geminids Meteor Shower on the peak night of 13 / 14th December. The night after (14th / 15th) the sky was clear enough for observation.  Between 23.28pm and 23.40pm and looking south, I saw 7 meteors, some meteors following quickly after each other.  By a rough and ready classification these included: 5 “streaky”, and 2 “falling stars” one bright and the other less so.  Further viewing to midnight showed 3 more meteors, streaky and bright.  Quite good viewing despite a bright half Moon.


The  Moon

23rd January: A crescent Moon appears to be close to Venus and Saturn (about half an hour after sunset).

25th of January: The Moon appears just below Jupiter

30th of January: Moon appears near to Mars


The Planets

Mars is currently visible in the evening sky, starting to rise just after 8.00pm in the east.  It is worth looking at the planet through binoculars – which will reveal the redness of its disc.  At the moment, if you have a telescope capable of resolving objects at 100x magnification or more, it is also possible to see some surface markings.  Observations will become more difficult throughout the month as the distance between Mars and Earth is now increasing.

Jupiter shines brightly in the southern part of the sky.  Binoculars will show its moons, and a telescope will show a disc and some detail (e.g. banding).

Saturn is to the right of Jupiter and in the same area of sky.  A telescope will show its rings.  Catch it in the early evening.

Venus shines  as the “Evening Star” in the south-west in the early evening,  just after sunset.  It is low down, but bright and unmistakable. (Headline image of Venus – courtesy of NASA).

A crescent Moon appears to be near Venus and Saturn on the 23rd of January (look around 6.00pm).


The International Space Station

The International Space Station is one of the brightest objects in the night sky.  It is not hard to spot and flies-past periodically throughout the year.  Fly-pasts tend to swing from PM to AM.  Typically it will be in the sky for up to four minutes at a time – slowly moving across the sky, at first bright and then fading as it moves away from us and over the horizon.

ISS is tracked by NASA’s spot the station website.  Spot the Station gives the time, duration and direction of sightings.  It is very accurate and the space station always arrives on time.  It is best to be in position around 5 minutes before the predicted sighting – otherwise you may miss it.  In addition to the Spot the Station site you can also sign up to the Alerts Site – which gives advance warning of the most prominent sightings.