At this time of the year many of us do not enjoy the short days and cold weather. But, these winter months can bring clear winter night skies and plenty of fascinating sights for stargazers and is an ideal time to observe the cosmos. Longer nights provide more opportunity to spot the celestial wonders overhead. Colder temperatures means that the atmosphere is a little more steady which improves visibility and provides better conditions for astronomical observations. Also, as Cornwall has many dark sky sites we should get some ideal viewing of the night sky. No matter your observing experience or equipment, this winter provides many remarkable astronomy events to marvel at by using just your eyes, or with binoculars or a telescope. Just wrap up warm, get out there and look up!

Weather permitting, these are some of the interesting objects you could see over the next two months…

On 4 December, little Mercury which is the closest planet to the Sun, can be seen hovering in the south west near where the Sun has set. It is tidally locked in its orbit so the same hemisphere is always facing the Sun which cooks at 430 deg C but the opposite side is extremely cold at -180 deg C.

The mighty gas giant planets of Jupiter with its four brightest moons and Saturn with its rings are very prominent over the next few months and these features are viewable through good power binoculars and small telescopes.

On 14 and 15 December the Geminid meteor shower is at its peak with slower moving and sometimes colourful meteors seemingly emanating from the constellation Gemini or “The Twins”. These fiery meteors are the only ones that don’t come from a comet’s dust tail but instead from an asteroid called Phaethon that strays close to the Sun causing a dust trail which the Earth ploughs through every year.

On 18 January the Moon and Jupiter and its moons seem to sit next to each other even though they are actually 391 million miles apart.

Two days later on 20 January the Moon looks close to the star cluster Pleiades or “The Seven Sisters”, so called as you can make out seven brighter stars even though there are many more. This cluster of stars are one of the closest to us but are actually nearly 6 million million miles away and the light we now see set out from them 440 years ago, i.e. 440 light years away.

On 27 January just before sunrise, look to a clear eastern horizon and you should see Mercury very close to Mars and bright Venus rising just before the Sun appears.

By Glynn Bennallick