This has felt like a very long year with very little stargazing. It certainly wasn’t the second year the observatory’s team here on St Martin’s expected, but I can’t imagine we were alone in that! We made the hard but necessary decision to remain closed for the season, as we couldn’t be certain that we could ensure a safe experience. As I’ve said many times to many different people this year, telescope astronomy is a close-proximity activity. Perhaps if we were more established (and with a bigger pool of volunteers to help out running sessions), we could have managed it, somehow. Everything this year has been hard to predict. We missed not just using the observatory ourselves as a group, but also showing others around. Sharing our love of astronomy is, after all, our observatory’s raison d’etre.
To quote the great Stephen Hawking, ‘where there is life, there is hope’. As we look towards 2021, we must be hopeful that normal life will return to the observatory next April!
To the sky. December is the month of the annual Geminid meteor shower – a stunning light display of very bright shooting stars, reaching a rate of about 100 per hour at its peak over 13-14 December. As a bonus, this year’s peak coincides with a New Moon which means conditions for seeing are ideal! No equipment needed – other than possibly a blanket and a warm drink – just find somewhere dark, tilt your head back, and give it some time.
If there is one night that I’ve got everything crossed for it to be cloudless, it’s 21 December, the winter solstice. 2020’s longest night had better be a good one, because it plays host to the unrivalled planetary highlight of the whole entire year. Planetary giants Jupiter and Saturn will appear just 0.1 degrees apart – which means that you can view both, at once, through even a modest telescope! I’ve seen both, many times, through our ‘scopes at the observatory – both awe-inducing; even with binoculars on a clear night you can make out Jupiter’s stripes and Saturn’s rings. Trust me when I say that the chance to see both at once, with magnification, is simply not to be missed.
If you are still looking for a Christmas (or New Year) present for that stargazer in your life, then there’s one telescope I recommend this year! Island jeweller Fay Page has designed stunning telescope and star charms, available in silver or gold, which celebrate of the work of COSMOS. £5 from every purchase will go towards the observatory, and will hopefully help us ensure we have everything in place to open, safely, however it may be, next year.
However you choose to celebrate this year, I hope you have a fantastic time and the stars shine brightly for you! Thank you for all your support this year and we can’t wait to welcome visitors back to the observatory in 2021. Keep looking up!
Check out Fay Page’s Dark Skies collection here: https://www.faypage.co.uk/collections/dark-skies