Earlier this week we told you about Galaxy Zoo, where ordinary web users help astronomers by classifying the galaxies they capture in their telescopes. But Londoners are an exploratory bunch, and after sorting a few dozen of the Milky Way’s neighbours you might ask what you could see if you went outside and looked up at the sky yourself.
We’ve got good news and bad news for you on that front. The bad news is that our fair capital outshines a lot of the stars that folk in the countryside get to look at. But despite the light pollution we give off, the good news is that there’s still stuff to see just by tilting your head up at night, especially if you can get to a place away from streetlights, like Hampstead Heath. According to Doug Daniels of the Hampstead Observatory, if you look almost due south at midnight this time of year, you’ll see Jupiter low in the sky, and later on Mars rises up in the east to follow it. Meanwhile the bright summer star Vega will dangle almost directly above your head. Hey presto — now you can get the feeling of being an astronomer on your post-pub walk home.
If you’ve got wishes to make this summer and you fancy planning ahead, you can expect to see 60 to 80 shooting stars every hour on the night of August 12th, when the annual Perseid meteor shower hits its most active. Doug advises you to "lie in a deck chair looking up and be prepared for a long session". We think you should bring a person to put your arm around, too.
The Hampstead Observatory is open to the public for free from October to April each year (the sun doesn't set low enough in the summer to open). For more information, and to keep track of what’s happening in the sky over London all year long, visit their website.
Image taken from kentsmudger's Flickr photostream.