There is no richer reward than spotting planets in what is sometimes considered a ‘slow month’ for star and planet gazing, says Rob Nolan
On the evening of the 17th January, we witnessed the first full moon of 2022, the aptly named ‘Wolf Moon’. Named as such because wolves were more likely to be heard howling at this time. Traditionally believed that wolves howled due to hunger during winter, we know today that wolves howl for different reasons.
Therefore it seemed right to start the year off with our closest neighbour at an average distance from the Earth of 238,855 miles. The rhythm of the phases of the moon has guided humanity for millennia; our calendar months are roughly equal to the time it takes to go from one full moon to the next.
The moon is a bit more than a quarter (27%) the size of Earth, a much larger ratio than any other moons to their planets in our solar system. This means the Moon has a great effect on our planet, including the tides, and may even have been a major factor in making life on Earth possible.
This type of Lunar image (opposite) is known as a Mineral Moon. By enhancing the colours usually unobserved, we can reveal the mineral deposits on the surface. The blue tones reveal areas rich in ilmenite, which contains iron, titanium and oxygen, mainly titanium, while the orange and purple colours show regions relatively poor in titanium and iron.
This image was taken using my 1000mm Skywatcher 200 PDS Newtonian Reflector Telescope, and a Nikon D850 DSLR camera. Zooming in on the surface you can easily make out the Sea of Tranquillity (the large blue patch towards the North East face of the Moon).
The two most prominent craters Tycho (South) and Copernicus (toward the East) are easily identifiable as are many of the other features.
To find out more about the Lunar surface, visit NASA’s site. We often take the Moon for granted, always there, always influencing our planet and our daily lives, so why not make this year the year to get to know it a bit more!
Grab your binoculars or a telescope and take a tour along its stunningly beautiful and dramatic surface! It was also Buzz Aldrin’s Birthday on the 20th January, who is now 92 years old, and was the second person to set foot on the Lunar surface during the Apollo 11 space flight, Happy Birthday Buzz!
The Night Sky, February 2022 – amazing things you can see this month:
This month is generally considered ‘quiet’ for planetary observing. However, exciting observations can still be made.
The Orion Constellation continues to dominate the sky, along with Taurus and Gemini. These great constellations appear weaved in the night sky by the Milky Way galaxy band. As these star patterns drift to the west, they make way to new constellations rising in the east: Leo (the Lion) and Boötes (the Herdsman). New constellations constantly come into view because our relative position constantly changes as we orbit the Sun. Sirius dominates the night sky this month, at the head of Canis Major (the Great Dog). Sirius boasts a temperature of almost 10,000 ̊C and is twice as heavy as our own Sun.
As Sirius rises you’ll notice it twinkling a multitude of different colours. This is partly exacerbated by its low position in the sky and Earth’s atmosphere. These colours also act as a cosmic thermometer, allowing us to tell how hot or cool the star is. Stars are not just ‘white’: using binoculars, take a look at Betelgeuse, the second star on Orion’s shoulder and you’ll see it shines red. Capella in the constellation Auriga shines yellow, while Rigel, also in Orion, is a blue supergiant star.
On the 7th February, it may be a good evening to try and spot the faint planet Uranus. Grab a pair of binoculars and follow the terminator on the Moon. This is where the line is drawn between the bright and dark regions of the surface. Track up and to the right for three Moon-diameters, and you should happen across the faint speck of light that is the seventh planet in our solar system.
Towards the end of the month, look towards the south-west after sunset to find Jupiter. Once Jupiter sets in the twilight, the only two visible planets throughout most of the night are the two outermost planets, Neptune and Uranus.
Mars is visible in the early morning after 5:30am, in Sagittarius, with Venus also visible above it. Mercury is only visible in the deep dawn twilight, to the lower left of Venus in the south-east.
by Rob Nolan – Find RPN Photography on Facebook here