14th June: Supermoon

On 14th June the moon will not only be in its full phase, it will also be a Supermoon. On this date the moon will be near its closest approach to the Earth so it will look larger and brighter than usual, which is why it is called a Supermoon. The best time to get the effect of the supermoon is at moon rise or at moon set as it will be low on the horizon accentuating its size. 

This super moon was known by early Native American tribes as the Strawberry Moon because it signalled the time of year to gather ripening fruit. It also coincides with the strawberry harvesting season. This moon has also been known as the Rose Moon and the Honey Moon.

Second half of June and The Planets Align

All five planets will be visible to the naked eye simultaneously. They will be arrayed in a line, in their correct order out from the sun: Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn.

The moon, waning from a gibbous to a crescent, will visit each planet on specific mornings: Saturn on June 18; Jupiter on June 21; Mars on June 22; Venus on June 26 and finally Mercury on June 27.

21st June: Summer solstice

21st June will be the longest day of 2022 in the northern hemisphere, midsummer day. This is the day when the Earth’s axis of rotation is aligned directly towards the Sun, and consequently the Sun will be at its highest altitude of the year. Astronomers count this to be the first day of summer in the northern hemisphere. 

The Earth orbits the Sun once every 365.242 days, and this is the time period over which the cycle of solstices and equinoxes, and consequently all the Earth's seasons, repeat from one year to the next.

In any year which is not a leap year, the solstices occur roughly 5 hours and 48 minutes, just under a quarter of a day, later from one year to the next. This is why the seasons would drift later in the year if it was not for an additional day being inserted into every fourth year on 29 February.



Meteor shower and a Lunar Eclipse for the Month of May

The Eta Aquariid Meteor shower originating in the constellation of Aquarius will be at its best after midnight on 6th May. This  meteor shower occurs because the earth is moving through the debris left by Halley's Comet. This debris causes two meteor showers per year. The Aquariid and the Orionids in October. The Aquariid is a medium rate shower with up to 30 meteors per hour.

Full moon this month is on 16th May (this full moon is sometimes called the Flower Moon because it's when the spring flowers are at their best). The moon will be in the constellation of Libra in the early hours 16th. It is also when there will be a full lunar eclipse.  We are not well placed to see it in the UK and less so in Herefordshire as you really need a clear, flat horizon for this one.  However, for those of you who want to give it a try, it should begin around 2:30 am on 16th and be in full lunar eclipse around 4:30am,  turning the moon to a beautifully red. Unfortunately this is also when the moon is setting (hence the need for a flat, uninterrupted horizon)!


Spring Equinox 20th March

The Spring Equinox occurs this year on 20th March. In the northern hemisphere this heralds the first day of spring (in the southern hemisphere it is the first day of autumn). 

The word equinox comes from latin meaning ‘equal night’. So on the day of the equinox the length of day and night is approximately equal. This happens because the Earth’s axis is perpendicular to the rays of the sun.

This diagram shows the arc of the sun every hour during the equinox, as seen on the dome, from the equator. It also shows ‘twilight suns’ in red down to -18° altitude. The sun rises due east and sets due west and is at it’s highest at noon. At this time the sun is directly over the tree, casting shadows straight down so that it stands in the centre of it’s own shadow.

The Moon & the Stars

Late in the evening of the March Equinox watch for the oddly shaped waning gibbous moon rise in the east. It will be near the beautiful bright star Spica which is in Virgo. Although it looks like one star, Spica is actually two stars very close together whirling around each other (which takes about  4 days).

By the morning of the 23rd March the moon will have waned to its last Quarter. It will rise in the middle of the night and be at its highest at dawn. Look for the red star Antares just below the moon. For all you Scorpios out there this is your star. It is considered the heart of the Scorpion. A bright red superstar in the last throws of its life.

Watch South East around the 27th and 28th as the waning crescent moon passes by the planets Venus, Saturn and Mars clustered together in the pre-dawn sky.


The International Space Station

The Space Station in November 2000 (Credit: NASA)

As I’m sure everyone knows, the International Space Station is a large spacecraft in orbit around Earth. It is made of parts assembled in space by astronauts from many different nations and serves as a home to crews of men and women.

The space station is also a unique science laboratory. It orbits Earth at an average altitude of approximately 250 miles, travelling at 17,500 mph which means it orbits Earth every 90 minutes.

The space station has the volume of a five-bedroom house or two Boeing 747s and can support a crew of six/seven, as well as visitors.

The Space Station in March 2022 (Credit: NASA)

If it were on Earth, the space station would weigh almost 453,593 kilos (or 1 million pounds!). Measured from the edges of its solar arrays, it covers the area  the size of an American football field. It includes laboratory modules from the United States, Russia, Japan and Europe.

The station will not last forever though. NASA anticipate being able to keep it functioning safely until around 2030.

On Saturday 19th March at 7.45pm watch for the space station travelling across the sky from 10º above SW to 27º above SE. Don’t be late, as it will only be visible for 4 minutes!


The moon is back in play and Sirus brings in the New Year

New Moon 4th December

The new moon arrives on 4th December and by the evening of 6th December the new waxing crescent moon will be back in the evening sky. From then through to 9th December (cloudless skies permitting) you can see beautiful scenes after dark as the moon moves away from the sun and first passes Venus, then Saturn, then Jupiter. Two of these (Venus and Jupiter) are the brightest planets. They will be very noticeable with the moon. The moon itself, should be showing some mysterious markings!

Full Moon 19th December

Full moon is due on 19th December. This will be the last full moon of the Northern Hemisphere’s autumn and the Southern Hemisphere’s springtime. It is also the last full moon of 2021 and it’s the closest full moon to the December solstice.

This full moon happens one day after the moon reaches the farthest point in its orbit around Earth. It is 400,000km away and as a result is measurably smaller in the sky than usual. Although you probably won’t notice any difference December’s full moon is the opposite of a Super Moon.

Winter Solstice 21st December

At the winter solstice, the sun reaches its most southerly point in the sky for this year. So the Northern Hemisphere has its shortest day and longest night of the year and the Southern Hemisphere has its longest day and shortest night. It’s a milestone in Earth’s orbit and a marker of seasonal change.

The moment of the solstice will occur at 15.59 on 21st December in the UK. The shortest day will last around 7hrs 49 mins which makes it around 8hrs 48mins shorter than at Summer Solstice.

Today, people visit the ancient site of Stonehenge to celebrate the winter and summer solstice. One reason why this is a popular site to visit is that you can glimpse the sun’s rays through the stones which are lined up with the path of the sun. While both solstices are celebrated the ancient civilisation that first built the monument most likely did so primarily for the winter solstice, perhaps to request a good growing season in the year to come. (Source: National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London)

Sirius New Year's Eve

The star Sirius is the brightest star in the sky. The three Belt stars in the easily recognisable constellation of Orion, the Hunter point to it. Sirius also has the nickname the Dog Star because it’s part of the constellation Canis Major the Greater Dog. On New Year’s Eve you can entertain your guests with a glass of bubbly and see in the New Year with a Sirius reaching its highest point around midnight.