Whats coming up in the skies this month?

Taken from the blog of Toni Mccoy @ www.tonimccoy.com, with permission might I add!  We are hoping to get a monthly insight into the skies and what we might see/whats happening each month.

The first day of the month greets us with a supermoon! It’s not going to be quite as good as the one we seen on May 5th, where it was only a distance of 356,953 kilometers away – It also happened to be our wedding day so it was a spectacular backdrop, making the day even more special!

This time, the moon will be at a distance of 362,361 kilometers away, which is still one of the closest we will see this year. According to my sources the moon should rise at about 7.30pm and set around 2.20am, which is perfect timing for viewing. You should be able to see about 82% of the moon’s surface.

As you probably have guessed, the word supermoon is a general term for a moon that is at its perigee (closest to earth during it’s monthly orbit). When the moon is furthest from earth it is known as a lunar apogee. The moon generally looks about 15% larger and 30% brighter when it is at its perigee compared to its apogee. The moon also looks larger when it is rising and setting, however this is just an optical illusion and appears larger because it is lower down in the sky and we have surrounding objects – such a houses – in comparison. Therefore, with the right atmospheric conditions, when a full moon occurs during a lunar perigee, the moon will look spectacular as it rises or sets.

On July 3rd we’ll see a full moon. The moons surface is only 100% visible for about 3 or 4 minutes, but because of how far away the moon is from us it will appear to be a full moon for around three days.

On the 5th, the earth will reach aphelion*. This occurs yearly in July when the Earth and the sun are at their furthest distance away from each other. Converse to this, the sun will be closest to Earth in January. This is called perihelion . The sun will rise at roughly 4.35am and will set around 9.45pm.

*If you don’t know much about aphelion and perihelion, and are most likely wondering why it’s so cold in the winter when we’re closer to the sun, read on to the notes at the bottom of this blog entry.

On July 10th, we will see Venus at it’s brightest. Unfortunately, it will be a sight for the nocturnal as it rises at 2.38am and will set at 6.19pm. Although with Venus being so close to us and so bright, many people mistake it for the first ‘star’ we see in the sky at night so we may catch it at some point during the day. Keep your eyes peeled!

July 11, the moon will be in the last quarter of its monthly cycle. This means you will be able to see about 50% of the moon’s surface. This is especially good if you are wanting to view the moon through a telescope or binoculars. You will be able to see far more detail of the moon rather than if it were a full moon. This is because when the moon appears full, from earth, the sun is shining directly on it, thus washing out the shadows of craters and hills. When the sun is highlighting the left or right side of the moon, shadows from deep craters will appear darker and have more depth. The moon will be visible from around 12.10am until 2.30pm, so we more than likely won’t be able to reap the full benefits of the moon in this position.

Contrary to the above regarding the supermoon, on July 15, we will see a lunar apogee, where the moon will be at a distance of 404,782 kilometers away. Okay, okay, this isn’t as exciting as a nice big bright moon, but it’s still nice to know what’s going on up there to gives us a better mental image of the moon’s orbit.

In late July through to early August, we will hopefully get to see a spectacular meteor shower! The last shower, Eta Aquarid, was on May 5, but was unfortunately fully washed out by the massive supermoon. Most astronomers consider these forthcoming showers, known as the Delta Aquarid and Perseid meteor showers, to be the best and most reliable meteor display for northern hemisphere observers. It will be best to see these showers around midnight, although some minor showers will be visible from earlier on. The moons surface should be at around 75% visibility, and will rise at 7.10pm and set at around 2am, so I doubt it will affect visibility, although the weather might!! If you are in the North East of England please see below for weather links.**

Throughout the month, Saturn and Mars are our most reliably visible planets. They generally rise in the afternoon which positions them in a perfect viewing range for an evening viewing. I personally have only just viewed Saturn for the first time through my telescope and seeing its rings is spectacular. Take advantage of it being around this month and get searching. Talking from experience, standing still outside for hours can be rather chilly work, so make sure you’ve got a bulky coat or a few jumpers to throw on.

I hope this entry was useful to some of you, if you manage to get any good pictures or manage to see anything during the month please pass them on. The best picture or story will be shown in next month’s entry. Also, I hope you remembered to put your clock forward by one second at midnight last night, yep, one second! It has been discovered that the earth has decreased in its speed of rotation because of tidal forces between the Earth and the moon. This isn’t just a recent thing, so don’t panic. In fact, when the dinosaurs were around the earth completed a full rotation in 23 hours. The 2012 leap second is the 35th leap second to be added and the first since 2008.

Unfortunately we have no upcoming International Space Station passes coming up, but next month we’re in for a mass amount! Make sure to check back for ISS passing times and dates, you can even subscribe to this blog via email over there on the left so you don’t miss an entry.

Thanks for reading :)


Additional Notes: Aphelion and Perihelion.

As mentioned before, aphelion and perihelion is the days in which the Earth and sun are at the furthest or closest distance from each other respectively. At first, I kept getting them muddled up with each other, it can be hard to remember which one means closest and which means furthest. When I was younger, when referring to the time, I struggled to remember my AM’s and PM’s, when my trusty Dad taught me to remember AM as being “After Midnight”. Perfect, it clicked! Similarly, I remember aphelion, as being “away”, as they both begin with the letter A, and I remember perihelion as the earth “per-sisting” to get closer to the earth so we can get some sunny days! Silly, I know, but it does work.

On this year’s Aphelion Day, the sun will be a massive 152,000,000 kilometers away. This is 3 million miles further away from the sun than when the Earth was at perihelion on January 4 this year. The reason we get closer and further away from the sun is because our orbit of the sun isn’t a perfect circle – we are a slightly stretched out circle called an ellipse.

So, wait a minute, why is the temperature not much hotter when we’re closer to the sun? Good question, well it is…in Australia! Let me explain…

Earth, as it rotates is on a tilt. If you think back to school and seeing a globe in a geography class, the model of the globe is tilted. Unfortunately, because we live in the northern hemisphere, we are tilted away from the sun, and the southern hemisphere is tilted towards the sun. Therefore we get fewer direct rays from the sun, and therefore less heat. Just before you get massively jealous of Australians, in turn, their winters are much, much colder than ours as they have their winter when we are at aphelion. Hopefully this poorly constructed visual aid I made on “paint” earlier will assist. :)


** I check what the visibility for a night’s viewing is going to be like by logging onto www.southtyneweather.co.uk

The information I have provided in this blog regarding the specific times of the rising of the moon, sun and planets was obtained with the Star Walk Application available on most app stores. There is a small fee included when downloading this application but it is essential for viewing the skies. It also includes real-time data based on your GPS location making it easier to find what you’re looking for.

Special thanks to my new editor Vicki “Bicki” Newman @shieldsgazvicki

Summer – come out, come out wherever you are…..

Well yesterday was the first day of July, and the run of miserable autumnal weather continues.  Below average temperatures, higher than average rainfall and unseasonable winds are making summer so far feel more like October.  This entire year has been topsy-turvy weatherwise.  In fact you could say that about the past few years, the seasons aren’t particularly defined anymore.  Month on month records have been broken, most rainfall, highest temperatures…..As a nation we appear to have more of an interest in the weather than ever, and I think this must have a lot to do in which way the weather is portrayed in the media.  Week after week there seems to be some story about the weather.   “Arctic weather heads for Britain” erm yes its winter, it typically does get cold….”Snowmageddon” was a particular headline I liked after we had a few flurries.  Whether it be stories on the heat, the cold, the rain, wind etc etc, it always generates an interest when the media put their own brand of spin on it, and in turn this seems to whip us up into a frenzy.  So many so-called “experts” give their take on what the weather is going to do, and when it doesn’t turn out how they have said most people seem to say “hmm, the Met Office got it wrong” when in fact they were right, or had nothing to do with the forecast!

Anyway, back to the original point of our missing summer, I’m afraid there is no immediate signs of any let up in this miserable spell we are currently experiencing.  Several of the models are in agreement that for the next week at least the weather will be pretty samey, wet and a bit pants!  The weather will always do what it wants, especially here in Britain.  People think it always rains here and we have miserable weather, they aren’t far wrong at the moment!  The blame for this bad spell lies firmly at the feet of the jet stream, where it is currently positioned is doing NOTHING for sunshine, it is currently positioned well to the south of the Uk, meaning an area of low pressure will become almost stationary over us, bringing heavy rain and thunder to our shores.  Perhaps if we all blow hard enough we can push the jet stream into a better position??  Maybe not, but in the meantime we can all hope that it does shift position so that summer can begin.

Tornado in Oxfordshire

Monday the 8th May saw a large storm pass through Wiltshire and Oxfordshire, with a tornado reported in Witney, Eynsham.  The winds tore tiles from houses and damaged trees and fences, while hail fell the size of peas.  There were some suggestions that this storm was a “supercell” storm, very rare to this country, but a Met Office spokesperson said they did not think the storm was big enough to be classed as a supercell.  Helen Chivers said: “Looking at our satellite and radar images, we believe it  was simply a very large thunderstorm with a number of funnel clouds extending from the base.

“Supercells cover hundreds of miles and last for hours. But this does seem to have definitely been a tornado.”

Tornadoes are columns of spinning air that form from thunderstorm clouds and touch the ground, we rarely get them powerful enough to cause damage in the UK, but they are more common here in the UK than you would think, find more information on tornadoes here: http://southtyneweather.co.uk/articles/article.php?id=00006

Awful April continues into Miserable May

So after a record breaking April ends we have continued with the wet weather into May.  After a few days respite for South Tyneside the rain has returned, with over 22mm recorded in the past couple of days.  Mind you, that amount is nothing compared to some places, the highest rainfall yesterday (10/05/12) as confirmed by the Met Office, was at Shap in Cumbria where a staggering 62.8mm fell.  Many people would expect May to be a lot warmer and drier than what it has been, but as I said recently in my interview with the Shields Gazette the weather will do whatever it wants, it’s one of the things we have no control over.  Saying that, our weather has been pretty dreadful lately, and one of the reasons behind this is the position of the northern hemisphere jet stream.  The jet stream, as explained in the “weather explained” section of this website, is a narrow band of extremely fast westerly winds very high up in the atmosphere.  These winds can and do change position, and can go from quite a straight line to something more resembling a snake, or a twisting river.  During the past few months we have experienced what is known as a blocking pattern, where instead of its usual eastwards direction it goes more north and south.  Regardless of this March was one of the warmest and driest on record, while April has been one of the wettest on record.  The position of the blocking feature is what has caused these differences, in March it was positioned north of the UK, pulling in high pressure, which increased the temperatures and prevented the more usual march weather from the Atlantic reaching us.  As April began the pattern headed west, the more northerly part moved over the North Atlantic ocean, while the southern end passed south of the UK into France and Spain.  This brought an area of low pressure to the UK, with cloud, low temperatures and rainfall.  As the pattern is still “blocked” the usual west – east jet stream that pushes weather systems through us was absent, and this meant the low pressure was trapped over the UK, which resulted in the extreme rainfall we have had.  The following video from the Met Office explains more about the jet stream:


British Cimate

British weather is divided into 4 seasons – Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter.


Climatologically The Met Office classes the first day of spring as the 1st day of March, but because of the variation in the days on which the equinox and solstice falls, it is more convenient to use whole months. The Met Office therefore classifies the spring months as being March, April and May.  Traditionally the first day of spring is Astronomically derived, and is March 20th.  At the time of the equinox the Sun will cross directly over the Earth’s equator. This moment is known as the vernal equinox in the Northern Hemisphere. For the Southern Hemisphere, this is the moment of the autumnal equinox.  Traditionally spring is thought to be about new beginnings, the weather gets warmer, the days get longer…..In spring, the axis of the Earth is increasing its tilt toward the Sun and the length of daylight rapidly increases for the relevant hemisphere. The hemisphere begins to warm significantly causing new plant growth to “spring forth,” giving the season its name.  Spring is generally a calm, cool and dry season, particularly because the Atlantic has lost much of its heat throughout the autumn and winter. However, as the sun rises higher in the sky and the days get longer, temperatures can rise relatively high, but often tend to drop off again at night due to the cool oceans and the warm weather dependent solely on the sun.  Thunderstorms and heavy showers can develop occasionally particularly towards the end of the season.

There is a fair chance of snow earlier in the season when temperatures are colder. Some of the country’s heaviest snowfalls of recent years have happened in the first half of March and snow showers can occur infrequently until mid-April.

Mean temperatures in Spring are markedly influenced by latitude. Most of Scotland and the mountains of Wales and northern England are the coolest areas of the UK, with average temperatures ranging from -0.6 to 5.8 °C (30.9 to 42.4 °F).  The southern half of England experiences the warmest spring temperatures of between 8.8 and 10.3 °C (47.8 and 50.5 °F)



Summer lasts from June to September and is the warmest season.  Rainfall totals can have a wide local variation due to localised thunderstorms. These thunderstorms mainly occur in southern, eastern, and central England and are less frequent and severe in the north and west. North Atlantic depressions are not as severe in summer but increase both in severity and frequency towards the end of the season. Summer can see high pressure systems from the Azores High.

Climatic differences at this time of year are more influenced by latitude and temperatures are highest in southern and central areas and lowest in the north. Generally, summer temperatures seldom go above 30 °C (86 °F), which happens more frequently in London and the South East than other parts of the country. Scotland and northern England have the coolest summers, while Wales and the south-west of England have warmer summers, and the south and south-east of England have the warmest summers.


Autumn in the United Kingdom lasts from October to November. The season is notorious for being unsettled—as cool polar air moves southwards following the sun, it meets the warm air of the tropics and produces an area of great disturbance along which the country lies. This combined with the warm ocean due to heating throughout the spring and summer, produces the unsettled weather of autumn. In addition, when the air is particularly cold temperatures on land may be colder than the ocean, resulting in significant amounts of condensation and clouds which bring rain to the country.

Atlantic depressions during this time can become intense and winds of hurricane force (greater than 74 mph) can be recorded. Western areas, being closest to the Atlantic, experience these severe conditions to a significantly greater extent than eastern areas. As such, autumn, particularly the latter part, is often the stormiest time of the year. One particularly intense depression was the Great Storm of 1987.

However, the United Kingdom sometimes experiences an ‘Indian Summer’, where temperatures particularly by night can be very mild and rarely fall below 10 °C (50 °F). Such events are aided by the surrounding Atlantic Ocean and seas being at their warmest, keeping the country in warm air, despite the relatively weak sun.


Winter in the UK lasts from December to February. The season is generally cool, wet and windy.  Precipitation is plentiful throughout the season, though snow is relatively infrequent despite the country’s high latitude: The only areas with significant snowfall are the Scottish Highlands and the Pennines.  Towards the later part of the season the weather usually stabilises with less wind, less precipitation and lower temperatures. This change is particularly pronounced near the coasts mainly because the Atlantic Ocean is often at its coldest during this time after being cooled throughout the autumn and the winter. The early part of winter however is often unsettled and stormy; often the wettest and windiest time of the year.  Mean winter temperatures in the UK are most influenced by proximity to the sea. The coldest areas are the mountains of Wales and northern England, and inland areas of Scotland.  In the 1990s and 2000s, most of the winters were milder and usually wetter than average with daytime temperatures going below freezing a rare occurrence. In fact, the winter of 1995/1996 was the only one which was defined as below average in terms of the UK as a whole. The winters of 2008/09, 2009/10 and 2010/11 have however seen a different pattern with these three winters being defined as below or well below average with large snowfall amounts widespread and very low temperatures; this was the first time three consecutive cold winters in the UK have occurred since the 1960s.

The climate of the United Kingdom has not always been the way it is today. During some periods it was much warmer and in others it was much colder. The last glacial period was a period of extreme cold weather that lasted for tens of thousands of years and ended about 10,000 years ago. During this period the temperature was so low that much of the surrounding ocean froze and a great ice sheet extended over all of the United Kingdom except the south of England.  We think we are cold when temperatures reach 0, imagine being around back then!

The cold period from the 16th to the mid-19th centuries is known as the Little Ice Age.