Discover the darkness

On Thursday night the Perseid meteor shower will be at its spectacular height. With this in mind Sharon Middleton runs through some of the delights you can discover when you look up into the clear rural night sky.

Our rural landscape offers an ever changing view of nature by day: life in all its beauty, characterised by vivid colour and natural sound throughout the year.  But, at night time, the view is completely flipped and a whole different landscape opens up high above, for us to admire and discover.

Escaping to a rural location on an evening with clear skies can bring a seemingly magical experience.  Even when the daytime colour and sound is temporarily lost, the twilight blue night sky is indeed full of beauty and serenity.  Stars in their millions sparkle brightly like diamonds in the sky.

We know that, for centuries, the great explorers used the stars to navigate their way through their long and arduous expeditions.  Astronavigation used sights or angular measurements that were taken between celestial bodies (either the sun, the moon, a planet or one of many navigational stars) and the horizon. But you don’t have to go far or need to be an expert astronomer to be able to spot several, easily recognisable, star constellations.   Star gazing has been simplified and made fun by TV programs, such as the BBC’s Star Gazing Live, which have given more people the inspiration and opportunity to access what has been there all along.

Probably the most conspicuous star constellation in the northern hemisphere is Orion the Hunter, but only clearly visible January through to March.  The Great Bear or Ursa Major, can be found during the summer months and so too, its smaller variation, the Little Bear or Ursa Minor.

Throughout the year, meteor showers occur with visual displays of shooting stars, sometimes with the possibility of sighting more than 100 in an hour when they peak.  The Perseids occur every year, and usually peak just before mid-August; while The Geminids can usually be observed between the start and middle of December.

The moon with it’s different phases and magnetic pull, bewitches the moon gazer’s attention.  There are rare occurrences throughout the year when the moon appears to change colour.  Sometimes it rises and drops behind the horizon before it’s even midnight and amazingly it can sometimes been seen during the day too.  The moon is always fascinating to watch, even if it is just spared a brief glance.

So keep updated and discover the darkness.

FACTBOX:
This year the Perseid meteor shower is due to be one of the most impressive in recent memory, with around double the normal rate expected on the night of 11-12 August. Overall the shower will last until 24 August.
For more information on the Perseids, visit this fact page.

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