How to see Pleiades, Orionids and Draconids in the autumn night sky

Pleiades as seen by NASA orbiting telescopeES 19.9.12

Pleiades as seen by NASA orbiting telescope ES 19.9.12 - Credit: NASA

Jupiter and Saturn are still bright in the sky this month and can be seen to the southwest near the horizon just after sunset.

The Pleiades will also be viewable around 9.30pm towards the east. Known as the Seven Sisters, the Pleiades isn't seven stars but a cluster of over 1,000 stars!

If you can locate Casseopia, just look below the W towards the horizon and you should be able to spot the cluster. A pair of binoculars can give a fantastic view of both the two largest planets in our solar system and the star cluster.

The astronomical conjunction of Saturn, Jupiter and the Moon

The astronomical conjunction of Saturn, Jupiter and the Moon. - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

If you want something a little more active, there will be two different meteor showers this month. The Draconids will be visible from October 6-10, peaking on October 7. You can expect to see 10 meteors an hour towards the constellation Draco.

The Orionids will be active for most of the month from the start of October until November 7. Peak intensity occurs around October 21, and you can expect roughly 20 meteors an hour. For the best chance at seeing either meteor shower, find a dark sky site near you.

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What does it mean to observe at a dark sky? Outdoor lights, signs, and cars produce light that scatter’s back up into the night sky. This causes the sky to appear brighter, drowning out the light from fainter objects in the sky.

This is known as light pollution and can make things like the Milky Way and meteor showers impossible to see from cities. Websites like National Parks UK and Dark Sky Discovery can help you find the best locations to go observing and connect you with dark sky events.

If you want to learn more about light pollution and its effects on our skies and health a recent article from the Royal Astronomical Society takes a dive into its wide-reaching effects.

Astronomy at the University of Hertfordshire

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The saying it takes a village doesn’t just apply to raising children. Large collaborations are common in the astronomical community, where international groups come together to push the limits of what we can find on space.

The University of Hertfordshire is part of such a collaboration, known as the Low Frequency Array (LOFAR). The group seeks to find the most distant galaxies in radio frequencies and study them.

Linking together over 70,000 radio antennae, astronomers have been able to create an effective telescope network that span’s the width of Europe.

Radio telescopes take advantage of a technique known as interferometry, where multiple telescopes looking at the same object can effectively act as a single, large radio dish.

The virtual dishes size is equivalent to the distance between the telescopes used. With this, they can see the faintest, most distant galaxies. LOFAR’s recent data release has given us spectacularly detailed images of these far-off galaxies. We can use these images to explore things like the structure of galaxies, and even indirectly study the supermassive black holes at their centres!

Latest astronomy news around the world

On earth, anything from poor weather to a stray satellite streaking across the sky can disrupt astronomy observations. That is why space telescopes are so important to astronomers.

NASA is planning on launching a new space telescope in the mid-2020’s. Named after Nancy Grace Roman, a pioneer in stellar classification and the first female executive at NASA, the new Roman telescope will try to answer questions about how galaxies form and evolve.

The telescope will study how fast galaxies are creating stars and which galaxies are producing the most. Astronomers are also hoping to use the telescope’s capabilities to map the structure of clusters of galaxies in high detail these maps will give us a better understanding of the 3-D structure of the universe.

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