Adrian Dening's Stars Over Somerset

    Monday 28th November to Sunday 4th December 2022

    It really is the best time to aim your telescope towards Mars as the planet is only one week away from opposition, when it will be at its very brightest. Next week, it will be shining at a magnitude of around -1.8 and if you are outside around 9pm, the planet will be located towards the east, a little above the constellation of Orion and below the Pleiades open cluster of stars.

    Also Mars reaches an altitude of 60 degrees in the sky which provides better viewing as the light reflecting from the planet's surface is entering our atmosphere at a sharper angle and so travels through less of it to reach your eyes. When an object is lower in the sky, the light travels through a thicker layer of atmosphere and this distorts everything. It's the same reason why stars twinkle - they don't really, but the faint light coming from them gets scattered as it travels through our air.

    Some stars do vary in brightness though. Look to the left of the Pleiades and find the constellation of Perseus. Then identify the star Algol, also known as the "Demon Star". It is actually an eclipsing binary star system where two stars orbit around each other. The pair normally has a steady magnitude of +2.2, but every 2.86 days it drops to +3.4 as one star appears to pass in front of the other over a period of ten hours.

    An ancient Egyptian calendar of lucky and unlucky days, composed 3200 years ago, is the earliest known documentation of Algol's discovery and they associated it with a demon-like creature.

    Screenshots courtesy of Stellarium
    Copyright Adrian Dening and Radio Ninesprings 2022

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