Stargazing with John Stapleton from Torbay Astronomical Society:
September sees the start of the new season of meetings of the Torbay Astronomical Society.
With the lifting of Covid restrictions, the society is hoping to proceed with live meetings at Torquay Boys' Grammar School.
This seems like a good time to explain a little more about the society and its role in the community.
Torbay Astronomical Society was founded in 1956 after noted Teignmouth astronomer J Hedley Robinson ran a WEA adult education course in the subject.
At the time, Mr Robinson was the director of the inner planets (Mercury and Venus) section of the British Astronomical Association and a close friend to the then lunar section director, Patrick Moore.
With these connections Mr Robinson was able to engage top quality speakers to visit the society and present lectures, principal of these was Patrick Moore himself who visited many times and was an honorary member of the society.
In more recent times the principal scientist for the European Space Agency was an alumnus of Torquay Boys' Grammar School as was the current presenter of the Sky at Night programme, Professor Chris Lintott, who was also a keen member of the society and is its current honorary president.
Nowadays every effort is made to secure speakers, both professional and amateur, who are regarded as experts in their fields and who are able to give informative and entertaining talks.
As a result of its origins, one of the founding tenets of the society was that it promoted education and learning in the subject of astronomy.
J Hedley Robinson and others, including myself, have run adult education classes ever since.
The society has also organised public displays, exhibitions and observing events on a number of occasions.
The society has members who are willing to present basic level and introductory talks to interested societies and organisations, Cubs, Scouts, Guides and Brownies towards their stargazer badges, and other youth organizations.
I am also a qualified teacher and can lead school sessions in space topics.
The autumn and spring terms are ideal for this as the darker evenings allow for evening sessions accessible to children to get a chance to look through a telescope.
Anyone who is interested in booking an outreach session for their group, school or club should contact me, John Stapleton at email@example.com with the word 'outreach' in the subject bar.
The Star Chart
The sky will look like the chart on September 8 at 9pm and again on September 23 at 8pm. And four minutes earlier on each successive night e.g. 8.56 on September 9.
To use the chart hold it above your head while facing south so that you can look directly from the chart to the sky.
Please note all times given in this article are in GMT so remember to add an hour to get the time in BST.
Sun: From the beginning to the end of the month the period of dark sky increases from 6.5 to 8.5 hours. The Autumnal Equinox, when night and day are of equal length, occurs on September 22. The longer period of darkness provides a good opportunity to view the summer constellations and the Milky Way that runs through them. The Milky Way is actually our view through the spiral arms of our Galaxy which we see as a faint band of light caused by millions of distant stars.
Mercury: Mercury sets about 20 minutes after the Sun on September 1 and is seen against the background stars of Cancer almost due west. It is getting closer to the Sun, from our point of view and will be lost in the glare by the end of the month.
Venus: Venus is an evening object throughout the month, setting about an hour after the Sun, and can be seen against the background stars of Virgo. It is higher than Mercury and much brighter. At the end of the month Venus moves into Libra and becomes even brighter.
Mars: Mars is not visible this month as it is now too close to the Sun to be observed.
Jupiter: The largest planet rises in the east around 7.30 on September 1 and another two hours earlier by the end of the month and is seen against the background stars of Capricornus. The coloured bands and zones on the surface of the planet can be distinguished with small telescopes as can the Great Red Spot, a colossal hurricane, greater in diameter than the planet Earth. The Galilean moons can be seen with a good pair of binoculars or a small (bird-spotting) telescope. DSLR images of the planet will also pick up the moons. These moons orbit Jupiter such that we sometimes see them pass between the Earth and the giant planet along our line of sight. Watch out for small black dots seen against the surface of Jupiter itself. The moons Europa and Ganymede will cast their shadows onto Jupiter on September 6 and Callisto casts it’s shadow on September 18.
Saturn: The ringed planet can also be found against the stars of Capricornus, rising in the east around 7pm on September 1 and another two hours earlier by September 31. Saturn reaches 20 degrees altitude, the span between your thumb and little finger at arm’s length, this month. The rings are beginning to open out, from our point of view and are consequently becoming brighter. Saturn’s largest moon, Titan, can be seen above and to the right of the planet with a good pair of binoculars or a small telescope.
Uranus and Neptune: Uranus is visible all night long throughout September and is seen against the background stars of Aries and close to the Pleiades star cluster. At magnitude 5.8 it is visible in binoculars. Look for a tiny greenish disc compared to the pinpoints which are the stars. Neptune is seen against the background stars of Aquarius (below the asterism known as the Square of Pegasus). At magnitude 7.8 it will require large binoculars or a small telescope to find it. Neptune displays a smaller and truly blue disc compared to that of Uranus although it will appear only as a bluish star to most small instruments. Neptune reaches opposition this month and so will be seen due south at midnight on September 14.
Meteor shower: There are no meteor showers due in September, but it is still possible to see sporadic meteors not belonging to any shower. Several such meteors have been seen in recent months and have been particularly bright examples.
Comet: There are no bright comets expected this month.
The New Moon occurs on September 7 with First Quarter on September 13, Full Moon then follows on September 20 and Last Quarter on September 29.
Data supplied by Simon Harding, Observations Secretary Torbay Astronomical Society
The next meetings of the Torbay Astronomical Society, complying with the current Covid regulations, will be held at Torquay Boys' Grammar School, Shiphay Manor Drive TQ2 7EL on September 9. An observational evening will be held in Room PL4 and the observatory (weather permitting) when members will be delighted to provide views of the objects discussed in this article. In the event of bad weather, short talks and videos will be presented alongside informal discussion and an opportunity to get to know the society. And on September 23, Mark Radice of the Basingstoke Astronomical Society will give a talk entitled “Sketching the Deep Sky” showing that you do not have to have expensive equipment to record what you see in the night sky. Talks will also be available online via Zoom. For details contact the secretary TAS on firstname.lastname@example.org - visitors and prospective members especially welcome.
Torbay Weekly Newsletter
Join the newsletter to receive the latest updates in your inbox.