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Starry weekend wonders and last chance to spot International Space Station in April over West Berkshire

Venus and Betelgeuse among highlights

Geraldine Gardner

Geraldine Gardner


01635 886684

Starry weekend wonders over West Berkshire

A CLEAR sky tonight means the moon looks within touching distance as NWN photographer Phil Cannings' shot, taken at 7pm this evening, shows.

A galaxy of stars will also be visible to all and Phil took a picture of one of the highlights last night, which was Venus shining brightly next to Pleiades - also known as the Seven Sisters.

The sisters were Maia, Electra, Alcyone, Taygete, Asterope, Celaeno and Merope. The Pleiades were sometimes said to be nymphs in the train of Artemis and half-sisters of the seven Hyades – the Hyades pattern is another star cluster, near the Pleiades stars.

Venus will remain prominent in the night sky until early May, so you should see it shining brightly.

Nic Fleet, from Newbury Astronomical Society, says to look out for the change in shape of the planet over the spring months: "A small telescope will show how Venus changes, form a nearly two-thirds illuminted 'D' shape to a slim crescent."

Orion is probably one of the more familiar constellations in the galaxy, but says Mrs Fleet, you may notice something odd about it, because Betelgeuse, the orange star towards the top left of the constellation, has faded noticeably.

She explains: "Betelgeuse is a red supergiant, one of the largest stars we can see. But, because it’s so huge, it has used up its hydrogen fuel much faster than our Sun and is now getting to the end of its life cycle. It’s swelled up and is losing its outer layers in a series of shells of dust and gas.

"As it swells and contracts, in semi-regular cycles, it brightens and dims – and it’s likely that two or more of these dimming periods have coincided to bring about the fade in brightness we’ve seen since the end of last year.

"Betelgeuse will end its life as a supernova sometime in the next 100,000 years – the blink of a cosmic eye. But when it does, the dust and gas it blows off, together with the heavier elements that have been cooked up in the explosion, will maybe kick start the formation of new stars, planets and perhaps even life."

Meanwhile, here on Earth we can enjoy the sight of Betelgeuse twinkling away in Orion’s shoulder this spring.

Other bright stars to look out for are Sirius, the dog star, Canopus the cat star and Alpha Centauri, our closest neighbour at just 41.3 trillion kilometres away.

And don't forget, tonight is your last change to catch the International Space Station (ISS) as it flies overhead at about 8.45pm. Your next opportunity will be in May.

Don't forget to send your photographs of the moon and stars in the night sky to so put into a cosmic gallery.

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