I caught The Sky at Night this month on one of its first runs – I am terrible at missing it. Another interesting programme, with plenty to see in the sky this month. Venus, Mercury and a crescent moon all making some alignments just before dawn – a time I should be up and about at this time of year! The Geminid meteor shower mid-month. The Moore winter marathon with things to see through binoculars. I failed miserably in the spring and vowed to try harder this time.
During the programme Chris leant forward to ask Sir Patrick Moore something and I thought he was looking unwell; very much like my father looked in his last days. It was a canny observation, since Sir Patrick was indeed seeing out his last days at home as he wished, and the news came through on Saturday that he had died. To say this man was a pioneer of astronomy is an understatement. He inspired hundreds of professionals to take up the subject at an early age, and enabled countless amateurs of all types, from the deeply involved experts to the dilettantes like me, whose interest waxes and wanes more on a sunspot cycle than the moon’s. He truly was a legend in his own lifetime.
I determined to see at least some of this month’s sights as my own tribute to him. It was really icy when I went out at eleven last night, but the stars were great, Jupiter, Taurus and Orion showing off in the south, lovely view through the binoculars of the nebula in his belt. I checked out the Andromeda Galaxy M31 but yet again failed to find M33, even though it is said to be so easy once you’ve located Andromeda. I spent hours on this with the telescope last year. Should I get my own telescope? Waxing and waning enthusiasm suggests binoculars do me just fine. I also managed to locate Kemble’s Cascade, thanks to the lovely Sky at Night diagramto locate it by following the line from the top of the W of Cassiopeia. It’s a lovely object – even in binoculars on a freezing night! I was delighted to see two meteors as well, a couple of days before the peak of the Geminids later this week.
Having overslept the last few mornings I was delighted to wake up in time to see Mercury below Venus before the bank of low cloud obscured it for me. Only a few minutes later it was gone for the rest of the morning, but I woke up a little more and got some reasonable pictures of Venus with the crescent moon. As both were taken through glass, they aren’t brilliant, but I’m pleased enough!