Welcome to Mary’s Astronomy Page
I have had a passion for astronomy my entire life and I hope I can share that passion with you through this page. I am a passionate astrophotographer and my photos have appeared in local press and on local and national television. I am also a writer of astronomy articles and blogs and recently started writing for Sky at Night magazine. In addition, I am a co-
Noctilucent Cloud Season is Here!
June and July are difficult months for astronomy because we only get a couple of hours of darkness. However, all is not lost because it is during these summer months that we get to observe one of my favourite things; noctilucent clouds. Noctilucent translates as “night shining” and that is exactly what these mysterious clouds look like! Noctilucent cloud (NLC) is ten times higher than ordinary clouds which means they are located right up on the edge of space. The ice crystals they are made from are microscopically tiny.
NLCs form during the summer months, when the upper layers of the atmosphere are cooler. They are very tenuous and wispy which means they can’t be seen during the day. However when the Sun dips below the horizon and the lower levels of the atmosphere are in shadow, NLCs are so high that they remain illuminated by the Sun. This gives them their characteristic eerie blue/white glow. NLCs usually become visible around an hour after sunset, very low in the north west, or a couple of hours before sunrise in the north east. Sometimes you can get a display that remains visible all night, with new regions of cloud appearing along the horizon as the Sun moves. I caught my first sighting of NLCs from Tackley on 16 June (see picture below) so the season is well and truly underway. These clouds are very antisocial, but they are worth staying up late/getting up early for! If you want to find out more, click here to read my article about Noctilucent Clouds.
Monthly Things to See
Every month I collate information from various sources and write a summary of all the interesting things you can see in the night sky during the coming month. It includes planetary data, information about interesting conjunctions (when 2 or more objects are visible in the same part of the sky), meteor showers, etc.
NB: The terminology used when describing the positions of the planets or how bright at object is can be confusing at first, so you may find it helpful to read this article which explains things. Understanding Astronomy Terminology Article
Monthly Star Charts
The constellations that you can see in the sky change slightly every month. Astronomy Now have produced an excellent interactive, online star chart. You can select the month and time of night, and it will show what you can see across the entire sky. To find out what you can see this month, click here
International Space Station (ISS) and Iridium Flare Times
If you have never seen the ISS or an Iridium flare then you may not know what to look for.
The information listed in the link above shows you where to look and how bright the event will be. The height is given in degrees. The distance from the horizon to the point directly above your head is 90 degrees, so if the Iridium flare is at a height of 45 degrees, you know to look roughly half way between the two. Azimuth is now far away from North the event is happening. This is given by a number between 1 and 360, but the information also gives you an indication about whether to look in the North, South, East or West. The brightness of the event is measured in magnitude. There is more information about magnitude in the Understanding Astronomy Terminology article, but the important thing to remember is that the lower the number, the brighter it is. Most Iridium flares and bright ISS passes are bright enough to have a negative number.
ISS and Double Iridium Flare visible from Tackley on 30th May 2017
Other articles which may be of interest:
Finding Your Way Around The Night Sky -
What are Iridium Flares? -
Understanding Moon Phases -
Lunar Features -
Astronomical Distances -
Noctilucent Clouds -
Sundogs: The Fact and the Fiction -
Observing Meteor Showers -
Understanding Eclipses -
Observatory Building -
SOLAR ECLIPSE 2015: On the 20th of March, the people of Tackley watched as about 85% of the Sun’s surface was obscured by the Moon. There were lots of clouds at first, but we were able to catch lots of glimpses of the Sun “smiling” during the eclipse. Around 40 people joined myself and Mark for an eclipse breakfast where people had the chance to watch the eclipse safely through properly filtered telescopes, by projection methods and through eclipse glasses. Mark managed to create a fantastic timelapse video of the whole event. If you would like to see the video, please click here
We have collated everybody’s photos from the eclipse breakfast event and the album can be viewed here
I am passionate about astronomy outreach, and am available to come and speak to your local group about anything astronomy related. For further information about bookings or if there is anything more you would like to see added to this pages, please contact Mary via the email address:
Orion Nebula © Mary Spicer