We’re past the summer solstice which means only one thing for us stargazers: the nights are getting longer! Slowly at first, but by August we should have some precious extra time – before we get to the wee small hours – to enjoy Scilly’s beautiful dark skies.
Summer might be a glorious time to visit Scilly during the day, but by night alas you’ll have to stay out pretty late to make the most of our unpolluted sky. That shouldn’t put you off visiting us at the observatory when we’re open – as you’ll still get a good look round and we’ll make sure you leave with some top tips for your stargazing, if, that is, you don’t manage to see anything for yourselves. However, if you’re really keen to use the telescopes for some deep sky viewing, Autumn’s where it’s at. September through to November here on Scilly offer tantalisingly dark skies at far more reasonable hours and there’s still residual warmth in our temperatures to boot.
We’ve been treated to far this summer to some stunning glimpses of king of the planets Jupiter, gracing our southern skies. From our vantage point on St Martin’s, it’s been hovering above the Eastern Isles. Even a modest telescope can make out its rings of cloud and if you’re lucky, spot the great red spot. I’m sharing a picture of Jupiter and its four Galilean moons, taken through our smaller night-time telescope.
August is a prime month for gazing upon many people’s favourite planet, Saturn – he of the majestic rings. Saturn’s best viewed low in the southern horizon from the middle of August. It’s wonderful to view through our telescopes as the feted rings become tangibly real.
Also look out for the peak of the spectacular Perseid meteor shower around 12/13 August, when we’re expecting in the up to 70 per hour, whizzing across the night sky! For best viewing, sneak out pre-dawn when there’s a short Moon-free window, before the twilight appears. If you can’t rouse yourself for that, the Perseids should still deliver you some ‘ooh’ moments if you’re lucky at any time after dark. Perseids are often bright and leave visible trails. Look to the north-eastern part of the sky – they radiate (appear to come from) the constellation of Perseus. Enjoy!