What can you see
There are a number of astro websites and apps for smart phones and tablets which are well worth looking at, helping you to understand the night sky and providing alerts on the latest astronomical happenings.
We recommend checking out Dark Skies UK for an current round-up of the best astronomical happenings and what to look forward to.
Look directly overhead during autumn and early winter evenings and you'll see this shimmering river of light streaming through the constellations of Cassiopeia and Cygnus. The darker the skies, the more prominent it is to the naked eye. The soft glow is actually caused by the light of millions of dim stars (visible in binoculars) and it's one of the spiral arms of our own galaxy, which we also call the Milky Way.
Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis)
The further north you are and the darker your sky, the more chance you have of seeing the magic of Aurora. The northern lights are certainly visible from the North York Moors, with some good displays seen recently on the coast. As it is difficult to predict when they'll occur, sign up for alerts, which will give you a few hour's notice:
- AuroraWatchUK – follow them on X (formerly twitter) or download an app for various smartphones
- Aurora Alert – this app predicts possible displays of the Northern Lights in your area
The displays are caused by energetic particles from the sun interacting with the earth's magnetic field. During intense storms you'll see pillars of light soaring overhead and the sky tinted red and green above the northern horizon.
Stars and planets
- Updated every Friday, the Sky Week website provides a digest of what you can see in the sky this week.
- The Pocket Universe app for iphones and ipads has plenty of features and star maps (free lite version available too).
- Google Skymap – hold up your smartphone to the sky and this app identifies the stars using GPS
Meteor showers happen at predictable times throughout the year and are best seen when the moon is absent, which will change from year to year.
- Meteor Shower Calendar iphone app – find out when the next one is due and whether the moon will spoil the show
- The Time and Date website includes information on when and where to view them from
Look out for the annual Perseids (August), Orionids (peaks in October), Leonids (November) and Geminids (December). Look for 'shooting stars' which move rapidly across the sky before burning up like a firework. Each is caused by a tiny bit of debris left behind by comets and asteroids, which hit the earth's atmosphere at terrific speeds (25,000 to 165,000mph) causing them to vaporise. At their peak you'll be able to see hundreds of meteors an hour. The darker your location, the more meteors you will see - expect to spot up to two per minute during a storm.
You'll see the darkest skies when the moon is out of the way - the new moon period - two weeks after full moon, but don't forget how great the moon is in itself, especially full moons and supermoons. The Time and Date website has details of the moon phases.
This is the furthest object you can see with your naked eye from the North York Moors - an incredible 2.5 million light years away. To the naked eye it looks like a small faint streak of light below the zigzag shaped constellation of Cassiopeia. Use binoculars and you'll see it's shaped like a rugby ball and fills the field of view. This is another spiral galaxy, similar to our own Milky Way, comprising 300 billion suns and countless planets.
International Space Station
The ISS passes overhead throughout the year. Find out when by going to the Nasa website.