Sky Matters: We don't need fancy equipment to enjoy the sky's beauty

Sky Matters: We don't need fancy equipment to enjoy the sky's beauty

Fake news appears to be all the rage these days. Can we really believe what we see, what we hear? It’s so hard to know, it can make your head hurt.

But if you live in Munster and you poke your head outdoors on a clear night, or travel just a short distance, the chances are excellent that you will see something that is not fake — real stars, and lots of them (and yes, I’m ignoring those times when it’s rainy or cloudy!).

Unlike so many of the world’s population, we live in a region in which the natural beauty of the skies above us remains within the reach of our eyes. We don’t need fancy equipment, virtual reality, or expensive travel to enjoy the heavens much as our ancestors did, and that is something we should all probably take more advantage of.

Happily, we are treated to a number of fine celestial events this November that people who live in mega-cities will be prevented from viewing due to the largely unnecessary light pollution that they generate 24/7.

On the evening of November 5 ,and the following morning, there is the Taurids Meteor Shower. Although not the most active shower of the year, Taurids can be bright and they will appear to radiate from the constellation Taurus, just next door to spectacular Orion (easily recognisable by its belt of three bright stars in a row).

Meteors generally last for only a second or two, unlike satellites which usually take a few minutes to travel leisurely across the sky, so the possibility of confusing the two phenomena is very low. If you miss the Taurids, you can try again on the evening of November 17 when the Leonids Meteor Shower will grace our skies.

In both cases the meteors are caused by the destruction of dust particles previously spewed out by comets as the Earth crashes into them. These meteors are completely harmless.

Sky Matters: We don't need fancy equipment to enjoy the sky's beauty

The best way to view them, by far, is with your eyes alone. As they can appear anywhere in the sky, there’s almost nothing you need to do to prepare to see them (except, perhaps, wrap up warmly at this time of the year and give your eyes a few minutes to adapt to the dark when you go outside).

No subscriptions, no wi-fi, nomobile devices needed! Just your eyes, and the kind of dark skies we can easily reach in this part of the world.

On November 24, Jupiter and Venus will be separated by about three moon diameters in the western evening sky — that means they’ll look pretty close and because of their brightness you can hardly fail to notice them or confuse them with anything else.

If you keep an eye on these two planets in the weeks before and after the 24th, you will see how they move slowly with respect to each other. From the vantage point of our home planet, these two celestial wanderers may appear similar, but a closer look with a telescope reveals their massive differences. Jupiter is a huge, cold, gas planet; Venus is an Earth-sized, super-hot, rocky planet. Neither are hospitable.

Earlier in the month, on November 11, the tiny planet Mercury will pass across the face of the Sun, starting at 12:35pm and finishing at 4:47pm. This “transit” event is very rare, the next one taking place in 2039, but don’t be tempted to look at directly the Sun or, worse, a telescope or binoculars — otherwise permanent damage will occur.

It is possible to safely view the transit by using a telescope or binoculars to project the image of the Sun onto a piece of card.

To see how to do this, visit our Blackrock Castle Observatory website at www.bco.ie.

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