Amazing Urban Astronomy

Despite the atrocious weather last week there were two amazing opportunities to observe the skies from Bristol.

On Tuesday morning we had a conjunction of the Moon and Venus, a fantastic sight to greet us first thing in the morning as we were putting the recycling out.

Then on Friday we had the third in our schedule of Urban Astronomy sessions from the scout hut in Kewstoke Road. Mars was prominent in the southern sky, but unbeknown to many, Neptune was lurking behind it, as these two planets reached conjunction just earlier that afternoon. A conjunction is when stuff in the sky is nicely lined up from our perspective on Earth so this meant that we could see both Mars and Neptune in the same field of view in the telescope.

Mars of course cannot fail to capture the imagination. God of War in ancient times, the famous canals of Giovanni Schiaparelli in the late 19th century that were so enthusiastically observed by Sir Percival Lowell. The inspiration for H.G. Wells' (and of course, Jeff Wayne's) War of the Worlds and everybody really since the Viking landings in the 1970's. Curiosity has been exploring the surface of Mars since 2012 and just last week NASA's Insight landed safely. Insight recorded (in a rather roundabout way) the sound of the Martian wind.

Neptune is trickier to spot from Stoke Bishop. Discovered mathematically in 1846, it needs binoculars or a telescope to see it. Our astronomy app on the telephone rather optimistically pointed out the location of two of Neptunes's moons - Triton and Neried, but at 19th magnitude, too faint even for our magnificent 8 inch Schmitt Cassegrain telescope.

We had just enough time for a look at Capella and the Pleaides before the clouds rolled in.

Our next session will be on December 21st - the winter solstice. Our theme will be festive and, along with mince pies, will involve an ancient Chinese bi disc, a coin minted in 1572, a Ming Dynasty jar and a copy of Hamlet! A prize if you can work out the connection.

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