Winter quietness has descended on St Martin’s, but our pristine night skies have a lot to offer. Lovely, dark evenings mean for more sociable stargazing, and it’s the chance over winter for our island members to come together to explore the night sky at a leisurely pace.
Whether we’re looking at a specific constellation, deep sky object, Moon or planet, we’ll reconnect with what brought us together as a collective in the first place: a shared appreciation wonder of Scilly’s night skies and a desire to learn more together.
The super-stunning Gemenid meteor shower reaches its peak activity overnight on 13-15 December. Often seen as the king of meteor showers, and an annual highlight for family observing, you can expect up to 150 bright streaks of light per hour. The one downside this year is a bright Moon which will affect seeing. Your best bet to catch a falling Geminid this year is to get an early night and set your alarm for 2am, when you’ll still have several hours of December darkness. A deckchair or sun-lounger (and something warm in a flask) will be your friends here.
Our solar system’s planets are beautifully placed to observe this month, with the chance to see several (up to 7 – as you’ll be standing on one!) together at once. Towards the end of the month, close to our expansive flat SW horizon, inner planets Mercury and Venus appear close. On 28 December, cast your gaze upwards and you’ll also be able to see Saturn and Jupiter with the naked eye, and with a telescope Neptune and Uranus! If you want to spot Mars, you’ll have to wait till the morning; it’s tantalisingly close to its similar-looking red giant Antares.
Once again ‘tis the season to be thinking of gifting for New Year hobbies. We’re frequently asked advice on buying telescopes. Dusting off the annual advice: it’s a bit like buying a car; depends how much you’ll use it and how far you need to go. Probably the very first question you should ask yourself is (if it’s not ‘where’s my nearest observatory and how do I get involved?’): ‘could I get more out of a good book or a pair of binoculars first?’ Several years down the line, the advice to join up with others rings more true than ever. While there is a price tag on astronomical equipment, lots of tools for astronomy are available for free, that includes the knowledge of others! Join – help build – a team and learn together, it’s more rewarding than spending a lot and going it alone.
Wishing you a happy, clear-skied Christmas and New Year, and we look forward to seeing you on St Martin’s soon.