The dark skies of winter have crept in, which means there is now plenty more opportunity to catch a glimpse of some fascinating astronomy phenomena. The skies in rural North West Wales make the perfect place to gaze at the stars, with much less light pollution than further east.
Pack up a couple of blankets, a flask of hot chocolate and wrap up in your favourite winter coat. As darkness falls it gets pretty cold, especially in more exposed areas, so make sure you are kitted up appropriately. If you are new to star spotting, take along a star map (here is a link to one for the November sky) to help guide your viewing. Here is a short summary of ‘what’s on’ in the sky this month:
Leonid Meteor Shower – 18th November 2015
The Leonids peak every year on or around the 18th November, when the Earth passes through debris left by comet Temple-Tuttle. The best time to view is either just after midnight, or right before dawn. Look eastwards or straight up and it won’t be long before you see sparks of light flying across the sky.
Visible Planets – Throughout November
If you’re an early riser, you’ll be able to catch a glimpse of Venus, Mars and Jupiter as they rise before dawn. With a good set of binoculars, you may even be able to make out Jupiter’s four major moons as tiny specks of light on the same orbital plane. Take a walk from Caernarfon Castle heading south to escape the town lights, then look eastwards anytime from 2-3am to catch sight of the three planets. They are easily recognisable as all three shine bright with a steady light, unlike distant twinkling stars. Venus and Jupiter are brightest, with the fainter glow of Mars sitting between them.
Aurora Borealis – Mid October to Mid November
Increases in geomagnetic activity predicted between mid-October and mid-November will cause the ‘auroral oval’ to widen and spread further south, allowing the spectacular sight of the Aurora Borealis, or Northern Lights, to be seen from parts of the UK. Penmon Point on Anglesey’s eastern coast, is a popular spot for aurora watchers. The sound of the waves lapping the pebble beach and the eerie toll of the lighthouse bell makes the experience of being out in darkest hours of the night even more exhilarating.
The Science Bit: Coronal holes that begin the solar cycle in the Sun’s ‘polar’ regions have shifted towards the Sun’s equator during the current phase of the solar cycle. Now in alignment with Earth, rather than pointing out into the Solar System, the high speed solar winds that they generate disturb Earth’s magnetic field, creating the incredible light displays high up in the Earth’s atmosphere. This configuration, coupled with the fact that the aurora is more likely to be seen in autumn and spring, increases your chances of seeing this incredible phenomena during this month. You can sign up for aurora alerts, to save you from standing around in the cold on the off chance of them appearing.
All of this depends on clear skies of course! Not something that can be guaranteed here in Wales!
Will you be out star spotting this month? Where is your favourite spot to gaze at the night skies? Tweet us @GwestyrCelt
Photo Credit: Kris Williams
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