By The Twig - Well Seasoned, Mar 2 2017 11:00AM
The crisp, clear nights of early spring make March a good month for star gazing. Just make sure you wrap up warm.
Because of our strict planning laws and plenty of remote locations, Britain has some of the best skies for star gazing. Galloway Forest Park in Scotland was the first place in Europe to be given the status of a "Dark Skies Park" by international astronomers and both the Brecon Beacons and Exmoor have now also been awarded International Dark Sky Reserve status. If you can make it to an official Dark Skies Park you'll see up to fifty times more stars. But don't worry if there's not one near you - there will be plenty to see wherever you are.
You will need:
• A dry, clear night, ideally when the moon isn't full
• Warm clothes (lots) including hats and gloves. If in doubt, take an extra layer
• A waterproof blanket or a deckchair
• Torch, ideally with with red filter (to help you keep your night vision)
• Star guide (you can download these for free from astronomy websites)
• A flask of hot chocolate or other warm drink and something to eat
• A compass to find your bearings (if you don't have one, get to your chosen spot before sunset and note West, where the sun goes down)
In a clear spring sky you should be able to easily see constellations including:
• Orion (the Hunter) – look for the three bright stars forming his belt.
• Ursa Major (the Great Bear, also known as the Plough) – look for a group of stars forming a shape like a saucepan.
• Ursa Minor (the Little Bear) – look for a smaller saucepan shape to the North West of Ursa Major.
• Sirius (the Dog Star) – a very bright, single star to the South East of Orion.
If you're lucky you'll also be able to spot the planet Jupiter (named after the Roman King of the Gods), a bright planet to the South East of Ursa Major and North East of Orion, as well as satellites tracking across the sky and maybe even a shooting star.
Did you know…? There are 88 recognised constellations, most of which are named after Greek or Roman gods or mythical creatures. Ancient astronomers believed all stars were stuck to the inside of a giant sphere that surrounded the earth known as the Celestial Sphere.
“Dwell on the beauty of life. Watch the stars, and see yourself running with them." Marcus Aurelius (Roman Emperor, 161-180 AD).