Wednesday 7 January 2015

The Night Skies

This week I started another Future Learn course - "In the Night Sky: Orion" (the following 2 pix are from the course material). Future Learn offers free online non-credited interest courses hosted by various universities. I have already taken three courses and highly recommend them for fun, interest and educational value! This astronomy course is hosted by the Open University and runs for 4 weeks. I have always enjoyed stargazing but there is an extra dimension added through learning something!

Seeing a picture of the sky so full of stars, reminds me of the amazng night sky that is visible in rural areas that are free from light pollution. I lived rurally in South West Kerry for 3 years in the 1990s and remember well the amazing skies on cold clear nights in winter. In the first house we lived at we would take a star map and a red cellophane covered flashlight out to the humpback bridge beside our house and stare in awe: there were way more stars than the star map showed. One of my brothers visited once and we were looking at the rings of Saturn through my telescope until he pointed out that we could see the shape with the naked eye just as easily. 

Living in urban areas most of my life, this is closer to how I view the night sky. I can still pick out constellations easily enough and can boast that I have seen 4 of Jupiter's moons with the planet from the roof of a Dublin apartment!

An email from my Orion course alerted me to the fact that Comet Lovejoy is visible in the skies near Orion through January, weather permitting. I went out last night to have a look and though I spotted part of Orion, clouds quickly came in from two directions and put the kibosh on any sightings. It is raining today and the sky looks relentlessly covered, but I have hopes as I have a few weeks left to view. When I was looking up information on the comet I came across Terry Lovejoy's computer drawing of Comet Hyakutake; it reminded me that I was incorrect in an earlier posting (from 2013) when I named the comet from my painting "Knockeen Comet" as Hale-Bopp. Although I saw comet Hale-Bopp, it was not until December 1997, by which time I had already moved back to urban Bray. This painting is based on my sighting of Comet Hyakutake in the spring of 1996 when I still lived in South West Kerry, outside Portmagee. I remember that night my husband and I dragged the couch into the field outside the house and, along with a blanket to keep warm, we sat for ages staring at the wonders of the universe -- including the comet hanging in the sky, a brilliant beacon among the jewels of stars.

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