If there’s been one constant over the uncertain last few months, then it’s our beautiful night sky. There’s something timelessly reassuring – and vast – about astronomy that makes it a perfect lockdown tonic. Our Sun’s nearest star – Proxima Centauri – is just over 4 light years away. Nothing travels faster than light. 4 years travelling at the speed of light equates to a mere 24 trillion miles or so (St Martin’s, in comparison, is a dinky 1.5 miles long… or so).
We’ve been lucky to have enjoyed some stunningly clear Scilly nights here over the last few months. We’ve all been following government guidance about avoiding public gatherings, so there have been no observatory meetings. Astronomy – in our community – is a friendly and collaborative pursuit. There’s something special about joining with others to wonder at our night sky together. It’s worth remembering that without this shared joy, and collective effort, we wouldn’t have an observatory to begin with!
At this time of year, Scilly stargazing is for certified night owls. We’re in the lightest part of the year so you need to be up pretty (very) late to get a good look-in. That said, pre-dawn skies are particularly rewarding. My teething 9-month-old must be a born sky-watcher! We’ve witnessed several beautiful conjunctions of Jupiter and Saturn due south east.
In the late night sky, from darkness onwards, try to locate the Summer Triangle – three bright stars – Altair, Deneb and Vega, each of which is the brightest star of its constellation (Aquila, Cygnus and Lyra, respectively). Tilt your head back and look straight up for that one – 11pm onwards.
We’re glad that visitors are able to return and appreciate these wonderful skies with us. However, the St Martin’s Observatory won’t be open to the public for the 2020 season. Our Tuesday evening and Friday afternoon sessions will resume in 2021.
Using a telescope under guidance is a close-proximity activity. It's not possible to maintain physical distance within the warm room or domes, and therefore we're not currently able to guarantee a safe experience for our visitors or our volunteer team.
The good news is that our Scilly skies are still just as pristine and the nights - if shorter - are still wondrously dark! We'll endeavour to post regular updates about what you can see in the Scilly night sky – please join our Facebook page (type in ‘COSMOS Scilly’ and we’ll be there).
We can't wait to welcome you back to the Observatory soon. Keep well, and keep looking up. And as challenging as 2020 has been so far, don’t forget - without the dark, we’d never see the stars.