Updated: Oct 26, 2021
Enjoy the night sky? Not sure what you are looking at? Going forward I'll be publishing blogs to help you find your way around and maybe even find a new way to avoid screentime....
Welcome, my name is Robert Ince and I'm a lifelong lover of the night sky. I'm lucky enough to share my passion for stargazing and astrophotography with lots of people who visit my stargazing and astrophotography events under dark, light pollution free skies. Some people call it a job but I call it my life....
Do you know that only 1% of people have ever seen the Milky Way?
Some of us call ourselves astronomers, but at one time or another we all look up at the night time sky. Astronomy is formally known as the study of the bodies in the solar system and beyond – i.e. our own sun and her orbiting planets, their moons and the other celestial bodies that orbit around her, the stars in our own home galaxy and the more distant galaxies, the dust and stars that they are made from.
England is an increasingly light polluted country. Not only does this cost us a great of money in terms of wasted energy – an estimated £1 billion a year according to the Campaign for Dark Skies (CfDS) – but it robs us of our view of the stars.
Whilst much more needs to be done, successes have been achieved. Not the least of which is the inclusion of light pollution as a statutory nuisance in the Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Act 2005. If a neighbour has an external light shinning into your house which causes you problems – such as disrupted sleep – you now have recourse in law through your local council. However, merely blocking your view of the stars does not count as a nuisance and some other major users of exterior lighting (transport facilities, freight depots, defence premises and prisons) are excluded.
To put the astronomical effects of light pollution into perspective remember this: from the city or large town you will be lucky if you see a handful of the brightest stars on a clear night and may just be able to make out constellations such as Cassiopeia and Ursa Major. But come to rural parts of the country and this soars up to more than 2,000 at any one time. Typically, naked eye objects can be glimpsed 15 times dimmer than from urban areas. The Milky Way is also prominent and on the best nights appears as a shimmering river of stars, stretching from horizon to horizon.
When we gaze upwards at night, we see stationary things that are at the same time in motion; we also tend to see the points of light as patterns representing other objects. These patterns we group in to constellations and their movement across the night sky during the night and through the seasons has long been studied and appeared to be related to the changing weather patterns and so became useful to plan crops. In reality, the earliest astronomers were farmers who simply wanted to know when it was best to plant or reap their crops – all well before the advent of modern calendars and clocks.
These days we know that the stars are incredibly far away from each other and the patterns are meaningless (different cultures even "join the dots" in different ways) but it still makes sense to break the night sky into chunks to make it easier to navigate around. There are actually 88 internationally recognised constellations but we only see a bit less than half of them at any time and some may never rise below your local horizon, depending on your latitude.
Here's a picture of what the night sky looks like at this time of year - based on Yorkshire in late October 2021. the first is looking South
The bright thing low down in the South is Jupiter and off to its right, Saturn. The converging lines are the overhead point (Zenith) and the nearest thing is the star Deneb - the tail of the Swan (Cygnus) and also sometimes known as the head of the Northern Cross shape.
So, lets turn around and look North
The saucepan shape low in the North West is the well known Plough - sometimes called the big dipper but its really part of the constellation of the Great Bear (Ursa Major) and the stars to the right of the plough blade point up to the north star - Polaris. you can now find your way home in the dark!
That's enough for now - come back soon and I'll publish lots of cool information about the night sky....