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Campden skies, June 2007

This month the nights are short but are getting warm enough to look out at the sky. On 21st June at 7 pm (BST) is the moment of the summer solstice. After that the days shorten and the nights lengthen again. The planet Venus is still brightening and should be a splendid sight after sunset in the west. Mercury too will be bright low down in the western evening sky at the beginning of the month.

Last month I mentioned that I had visited the William Herschel telescope on La Palma. I hadn't realised that it is the largest telescope in Europe - the Canary Islands are counted geographically as part of Europe. I have just read an article that lists all its most important discoveries since it began its work in 1989 when it recorded the very first feature on the surface of a distant star. It has been known for a long time that our Sun has spots but until a vast hot spot was found on the surface of giant Betelgeuse no one could be quite certain that other stars had such features too.

The day I visited it was snowing and no astronomical work could be done. Nevertheless most of the time it has clear night skies and a variety of instruments can be used with it. It is able to look into the depths of space nearly is well as the Hubble Space Telescope. After all it is more easily accessible and so it can be maintained and its instrumentation updated without the necessity of a space walk.

People have asked whether it is worthwhile looking at he sky with binoculars and small telescopes from our own back gardens. Surprisingly perhaps a great deal of good work is done by amateurs. The giant professional telescopes have a very small field of view and are booked up sometimes for years ahead to examine a very distant but minute area of the sky. This means that there are immense areas of the sky not being watched by the professional astronomers. As a result most novas (unexpectedly exploding stars) and comets are found by dedicated amateurs. They watch on every possible occasion and know their favourite local sky in extreme detail.

I am not one of them; my eyesight has never been good and I seem to have an adverse effect on the weather. Nevertheless I enjoy looking through binoculars or a small telescope. So many things can be seen. Double or even triple stars, nebulae - those inside our own galaxy are the shells of gas thrown off by some past stellar explosion and those further way are themselves galaxies, some larger than our own. The multitudinous stars of the Milky Way show the plane of our very own Galaxy. The stars are coloured; blue are the young brilliant stars, the old swollen ones are red; I have seen yellow too. Sirius (not visible in the summer) seems to flash all colours of the rainbow. And then there is the Moon. Starting at New Moon and watching every clear night you can see the line of dawn move across the disc until Full Moon and then the sunset line travels across the waning Moon.

There is much more than this to see, whether with the naked eye or with optical help. Why not look for yourself one night?

Jill Wilson
(From the Chipping Campden Bulletin. Included with kind permission of Jeremy Green)

Dear Friends, I wish I was

Dear Friends,

I wish I was among you now. It is currently 115 Fahrenheit here in the Sonoran desert,
in Phoenix, Arizona, in your former renegade colony.

I remember the Cotswolds with great fondness.

My Best To ALL

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