This article originally appeared in Scilly Now & Then magazine's June edition.
Stargazing aside, it's been a momentous time for astronomy on St Martins. We are utterly delighted to have been offered major funding from the Government's Rural Development Programme for England (RDPE) towards the construction of our Observatory. Our application has been ongoing for the best part of 2 years, so we are thrilled that all our efforts have finally borne fruit (or rather, domes). We still have a good way to go to reach our target, so we can't rest on our laurels just yet, though this is a very exciting start to our Summer. If you would like to help us in any part towards our fundraising, please do get in touch.
There's not much in the way of dark sky time this month, as we pass through our summer solstice. While it may never get properly black, with Scilly's naturally darker skies, it's still worth seizing a clear night.
Saturn is at its brightest for the year from 22 June, with the best chances of viewing this spectacular ringed planet in the very early hours, say 1am onwards. If you can get your hands on a small telescope (or a good pair of binoculars), I highly recommend trying to view Saturn yourself. Seeing it clearly for the first time remains one of my top astronomy 'wow' moments. You'll find Saturn South in the sky, above the Teapot asterism in Sagittarius. On 27 June it will appear tantalisingly close to the full moon – just 2 degrees (or 2 finger spaces with an outstretched arm) away.
June and July are also your best months for observing noctilucent clouds. These atmospheric phenomena appear as whisps of light-coloured clouds that are noticeably bright against the darkening sky. Look out for them shortly after sunset, low above the Northwest horizon. Again, make the most of Scilly's exceptionally dark, low horizons – if you're here you'll have a very good chance of spotting some.
If you've visiting Scilly this summer, do look out for our interesting Astronomy Talks and Events – this year there will be boats from the islands over to St Martins for these, subject to demand. We'd love to meet you there.