January night skies are a spectacle worth braving the cold for and in between the frontal systems the rain-cleansed atmosphere affords a dazzling view of the universe. A crescent moon on the evening of 13th motivated the curator to don several insulating layers and observe the lunar spectacle, especially a series of fine craters in the south east. These include Langrenus, a prominent bowl 132 kilometres across with a central peak and terraced walls, rising above the Sea of Fecundity – a contrastingly dark smooth lowland feature. To the south lies Petavius, an even wider crater with a curious rille traversing its floor which again rises to a complex central peak. Slowly scanning the lunar landscape with a telescope is the next best thing to doing a fly by in a moon probe – the view is awe inspiring as you peer up to a whole new world.
And of course there were space probes in action in January, one of which, Huygens was about to touch down on the second largest moon in the solar system, Saturn’s major satellite, Titan. The following evening I turned my telescope to Saturn, clearly disposed for a while, its rings so well displayed, and then focused on the bright speck to the south east of the planet. Incredible to think that that speck, a deep freeze version of Earth perhaps, was welcoming its first organized visit from our planet as I watched, over one thousand million kilometres away.
Daffodils flowering before the end of January were just one of the garden features that suggested that plant growth might be as much as 3 weeks in advance of “normal”. Strong dawn chorus from as many as 6 territorial Song Thrush provided a welcome start each day from the third week of January. Ravens making final repairs to their Strait-side nest during the first few days of February announced the beginning of a new breeding season. By the end of February Blackbird and Chaffinch were contributing song to the dawn chorus. February can be an extreme month but this year it proved rather dull and uneventful with only two light air frosts and two days with some snow apparent but hardly settling.
March by contrast provided some meteorological miracles! The sun shone far more for a start and then mid month there was something rather special. The morning of the 19th began in misty, chilly fashion, the thermometer registering a meagre 6.75 degrees centigrade at 0900. But within an hour the mist had dissipated allowing a strong spring angled sun to fuel the lower atmosphere with warmth. The temperature rose to 16.25 in the shade and suddenly there were insects on the wing throughout the Garden – the first Comma butterfly of the year joined Small Tortoiseshell and bumble bees. That evening the Garden pond was alive with the courtship frenzy of at least 15 Common Toad and scores of Palmate Newts. A temperature of 14 degrees centigrade at