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Page last updated at 13:39 GMT, Monday, 1 February 2010
Look at the skies over SW Wales
This image of Saturn is a view from NASA's Hubble Space Telescope showing the planet's rings at its maximum tilt towards earth
By the end of February Saturn's rings should be visible through a small telescope

Brian Spinks
chairman of the Swansea Astronomical Society tells us what's happening in the night skies over sw Wales during February

Hopefully spring is on its way and perhaps we can expect some better weather in February so that we can get out and look up at the sky.

Mars is prominent in the sky looking south this month.

It's brighter than any star and slightly pink but recent information from the NASA Mars Rovers failed to find any signs of life on Mars.

By the end of the month, the planet Saturn will start rising higher in the east.

Its' magnificent rings are now beginning to tilt into view again - they will be visible through a small telescope.

Life cycle

Did you know that stars are born, live out their shining lives and then die?

One of the best groups of stars to see this phenomena is to look south at the constellation of Orion.

The central area of nebula Orion is clearly seen in this picture taken by the worlds largest telescope named Subaru, set at the top of Mount Mauna Kea on the island of Hawaii.
In the middle of Orion you can see the three stars of the "belt"

Here is the typical story of the life cycle of stars. Orion looks like a cross leaning to the left with 3 bright stars across the middle.

Above the cross of three main stars is the bad tempered, bloated old geriatric star Betelgeuse.

This is a star preparing to die - but not necessarily peacefully - it may yet explode in a supernova blast in the next few 100 years.

In the middle of Orion you can see the three stars of the "belt" and just below these there is a glowing gas cloud where new bright blue stars are being born - truly a stellar crèche - again a small telescope will show these clearly.

Of course our nearest star is the sun - a second generation steady working star.

You must never look directly at the sun otherwise you will be permanently blinded - but I have my own special (and rather expensive) solar telescope to view the sun.

Ice fairs

Last year, the new 11 year cycle of sunspots failed to restart, but since the New Year normal sun spots have reappeared on the sun's surface, so we are now back into normal sun spot activity.

In the seventeenth century there were no sun spots for 60 years and Europe was plunged into a mini ice age, with ice fairs on the Thames and mass crop failure as sunspot activity and climate variations are linked - but it is still a very difficult topic to unravel.

Marina Towers, Swansea
The observatory may be closed, but Swansea Astronomical Society lives on

As you may have seen in the press last October, the Marina Towers Public Observatory in Swansea, which was run by Swansea Astronomical Society, closed, however the Society is still alive and well.

We have our own members' observatory which is currently being upgraded on Gower.

We hold twice monthly lecture meetings at Swansea University and we are still visiting other venues, such as the National Botanic Gardens, clubs, organisations and schools to spread the word on the wonders up there in the universe.

Next month I'll have something to tell you about light pollution and dark skies, but in the meantime, the next time it's a clear night go outside and look at the stars in the sky.




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