Just before my first birthday the first man made artificial satellite was launched into space – Sputnik 1. This heralded in the start of the Space Age, a phrenetic time when the race was on between the USSR and USA to get the first man in space and the first man on the moon.
This was an exciting time for a youngster to grow up in. The comics were full of stories of space travel with Dan Dare and there were plenty of magazines on the new and exciting rockets being developed. It was, however, also a time for me to look beyond the rockets and into space itself.
I would probably have been about 10 years old when I bought a copy of the Observers Book of Astronomy by Patrick Moore. This opened the amazing world of the stars, planets and the night sky.
Now, whilst my main interests moved toward radio communication, I have always kept a keen interest in astronomy and love nothing more than to spend an evening just looking up at the night sky. Now that the winter is approaching, we have longer nights to get outside and look up at the stars (weather permitting!)
However, the vast majority of UK live in areas that prohibit them from seeing the night sky. They suffer from light pollution, the effect of modern society. Yes, they will be able to see the moon and maybe some of the brighter stars and planets. But they will not be able to see the billions of stars that make up our Galaxy – the Milky Way.
Fortunately, for a large proportion of society, we can get away from illuminated conurbation, by car or public transport, and find areas with reduced light pollution. These areas may not allow a full view of the night sky as there will always be an element of light pollution.
However, for those able to get out into some of our more remote areas of the UK, there are the Dark Sky Sites. There are designated sites where there none, or very little light pollution. Full details HERE.
So, if I can get outside to an area of negligible light pollution, what can I expect to see?
A clear night sky offers the opportunity to see stars, constellations, bright planets, the moon, and occasional events like meteor showers. You do not need any specialist equipment to observe the night sky, although a map of the stars would be helpful.
You may wish to invest in a good pair of binoculars or a beginner’s astronomical telescope. They will enhance the views of the moon and some of the closer or larger planets such as Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn with its rings. They will also bring into view some of the invisible objects such as Nebula and the closer Galaxies.
There are numerous astronomical apps and software programmes that can be downloaded that will help you identify what you are looking at. You can also access online satellite tracking pages and programmes that will allow you to see the International Space Station and other satellites.
So, next time the skies are clear, and you have the opportunity to drive out into the countryside. Put on your coat, take a flask, your star maps and binoculars and lose yourself in the majestic wonder that is the night sky. Take the kids with you and you never know, you may produce the next Sir Patrick Moore.