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ALL THE LATEST NEWS, VIEWS AND STORIES FROM AROUND YOUR LOCAL AREA:AUGUST/SEPTEMBER LETTER FROM THE SOUTH...


So, who enjoyed the summer heatwave? I imagine lots of you made the most of the hot days and balmy nights to relax in pub beer gardens with a well-deserved, condensation- beaded pint in your hand, or gorge yourselves on barbecued bangers and burgers in your own gardens. We skywatchers enjoyed the heatwave for a different reason - it gave us an unexpected but very welcome long stretch of clear (or clear enough) nights, allowing us to see more displays of noctilucent clouds than usual. It also meant that we were able to enjoy watching Mars brightening in the sky as it approached Earth, to shine brighter in our sky than it has done since 2003.


Of course, the wonderful weather broke just a matter of hours before the beginning of the total lunar eclipse on the evening of July 27th, so after months and months of anticipation we missed that celestial spectacle. Typical. Oh well, we’ll just have to cross our fingers for clear skies in the early hours of 21st January, when there will be another chance to see the Moon turn orange as it passes through Earth’s shadow.


In the meantime, the nights are definitely ‘drawing in’ now (YES!) and by midnight it’s dark enough to see the Milky Way. How well you’ll see it, depends on how dark your sky is. If you live in a light-polluted town, you’ll struggle to see it at all. If you live somewhere darker, or can get to somewhere darker, then you can see the


Milky Way in all its glory. From a school playing field out in the middle of nowhere, or a lay-by out in the back of beyond, the Milky Way looks like it has been airbrushed across the sky by some cosmic graffiti artist. A broad, misty trail of light that looks like smoke to the naked eye but


is revealed through a pair of binoculars to be made of millions and millions of stars, thick as pollen grains. If your sky is really dark, you’ll be able to see the Milky Way is cut in two by a dark lane, as if some graffiti-hating celestial art critic has rubbed their finger down the chalky trail of the Milky Way, leaving a dark smudge along it.


When you look at the Milky Way, you’re actually seeing our home galaxy from within. The Milky Way galaxy is a truly enormous collection of stars and is spiral-shaped, roughly the same flattened disc-shape as a Catherine wheel but with an enormous bloated bulge in its centre. The Milky Way contains around two hundred thousand million stars and as it flies through the universe it turns, again like a Catherine wheel. But where a Catherine wheel spins around at an incredible speed, several times a second, the Milky Way is so huge it takes over 250 MILLION years just to make one turn. It is a truly majestic, humbling thing.


So, next clear night, head away from home and find somewhere truly dark out in the Cumbrian countryside, let your eyes adapt to the darkness and then drink in the beauty of the Milky Way. You won’t regret it.


Stuart Atkinson


Eddington Astronomical Society of Kendal http://cumbriansky.wordpress.com


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WWW.THECOCKERMOUTHPOST.CO.UK ISSUE 428 | 23 AUGUST 2018 | 5


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