When you’re lucky enough to be able to buy a house, a flat or an apartment there are a few things you’re encouraged think about. Is it structurally sound? What’s the roof like? Plumbing and electrics OK? What’s the area like? And the neighbours? And make sure you go back a few times so you get a feel for the property under different conditions.
What nobody thinks about is the night sky you’re going to have a view of. However many times you revisit a property you’re probably not going to check it out at night-time. If you’ve got a house with a garden or you’re some way up a high rise the odds are you’ll have a fair bit of night sky to look up at and you'll most likely take the view for granted. But if not, then the first time you think about the stars and planets above your flat will be the night after you’ve handed over your money and moved in.
So I’ve struck lucky. It’s mid-May so I can only talk about the stars we’ve got above us in our patch of sky at about 10 in the evening at this time of year. But it could be less interesting. A lot less interesting.
Right overhead is Ursa Major, the Great Bear, with its four stars in a rough rectangle, and three more curving away eastwards. The light pollution of the city stops me from seeing the naked eye double star - Mizar and Alcor - in the middle of the pan handle, but I know it’s there and that’s good enough for me.
Follow the curve and there’s Arcturus, the fourth brightest star in the night sky, a red giant in the last stages of its life. It’s 36.7 light years away which means that the light from it striking our patio last night set off in late 1984 when in the UK the miners’ strike was being broken and British Telecom was privatised. In Spain, Felipe González was in his second year as Prime Minister and Neanderthal bones nearly half a million years old were found in a cave at Atapuerca.
On the other side of our patch of sky, to the west, are the Heavenly Twins (Gemini), Castor and Pollux, and across to the right and a little way down there’s Capella, the sixth brightest star in the sky, 42.9 light years away, and one of the strongest X-ray sources in our galaxy.
And right now there’s an extra treat on view because Mars is visible just below Gemini, an unmistakeable red counterpoint to Arcturus.
All in all not a bad haul for what’s in effect just a sliver of sky above us. If or when we come to sell this apartment I’ll be sure to include the May night sky among its unlikely attractions.