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Astronomy Know How
Helping you See the Night Sky - Newsletter No. 11 September 2007
In this issue:
  1. September's Highlights
  2. The Andromeda Galaxy
  3. Uranus at Opposition
  4. Tip of the Month
  5. News Links
  6. Become a confident Astronomer
  7. Contact Us
September's Highlights

September brings the return of the Autumn Skies and longer and cooler evenings, just the thing to get you going into the 'new' observing season.

The 'Summer Triangle' of Deneb Altair and Vega are now to be found in the South Western skies by mid evening as sure sign that we are now towards the end of the summer. Other notable asterisms that are easy to pick out are the Northern Cross marking the body and wings of Cygnus the Swan, the tail of which is denoted by Deneb, one of the stars of the summer triangle as previously mentioned.

This month see a wealth of interesting objects to observe with both the naked eye and optical aids. If you are up early, you will catch Venus in the East just pre-dawn. If there is a clear sky on the 10th of the month, then see if you can spot a thin crescent Moon further East and lower down than Venus. Just above this thin crescent of the Moon can be found the planet Satrun making its re-appearance in the morning skies after it has been lost in the glare of the Sun. The brigth star Regulus in the constellation of Leo the Lion will be jsut due west of the planet. If you sweeping the area with binoculars, take the utmost care, as it is easy to catch the rising Sun, which as I'm sure that you know, can seriously damage your eyes.

If you are fortunate enough to have reasonably clear dark skies from where you normally observe, then have a go a spotting the Andromeda Galaxy. This is our nearest large galaxy at 2.7 light years distance (and it's getting closer all the time!) and is thought to resemble our own Milky Way galaxy is size and structure. I'll give you more details below on how to find this object in the night sky... The Andromeda Galaxy or M31 as it is known will show up well in a pair of 7x or 10x50 binoculars as it covers a large area of sky almost 6-degree across, or about 3x the diameter of the full Moon! The reason that it is so hard to find is that it is relatively faint and considerably fainter that the Moon of course.

If you like observing planets, then have a go at trying to find the distant planet Uranus. This planet reaches oppostion this month, that is it can be found in the opposite part of the sky to the Sun and so should be visible all night and this year will be reasonable high in the sky from mid-northern lattitudes. It can be diffcult to find with the naked eye, as you will need a dark sky and a steady night and a good star chart to find it. In fact even in a telescope it can be a little disappointing as it will only show up as a pale greenish and small disc, but remember that it is a long way away!
The Andromeda Galaxy

Without doubt, the Andromeda Galaxy or M31 to give it its Messier catalogue number is one of the favourite deep-sky objects for novice and experienced observers alike. Being large and relatively bright for a deep-sky object, it is a good object to 'cut your observing teeth' on and although it is considered to be quite bright, it can prove a challenge.

So how do you find it?

This is best done on a clear night when there is no Moon. Firstly, you need to be able to locate the Great Square of Pegasus. To get an idea of the size and position in the sky of this, I would suggest that you use a star chart or planisphere. During September it will be riding high in the sky and due south from mid-northern latitudes by the middle of the month. In your minds eye, draw an imaginary line between the star at the top right of the square (beta Pegusii) and the star at the top left of the square (known as Alpheratz). This is in fact Alpha Andromeda and is our jumping off point for locating the galaxy.

Continue your imaginary line past Alpha Andromeda for about half the distance between the two stars and you should find another moderately bright star. This is delta Andromedae. Contine your line but this time tilt is upward slightly and you should find beta Andromedae, which is the same brigthness as alpha.

Now make your line go upwards at 90-degrees from the direction that you have been travelling in so far. The next brightish star that you arrive at is mu Andromedae (almost there!) and continuing on at about the same distance that you went from the star delta, you shoulkd now notice a faint misty patch which is the centre of the galaxy M31. Congratulations! You've arrived.
Uranus at Opposition

The planet Uranus is well poisitoned this month for observers in mid-northern latitudes. At magnitude +5.7 is should just be visible from a dark sky site with the naked eye and should be quite noticeable in binoculars. On the 1st of the month it is 20 arc minutes northwest of the star phi Aquarii. The star is brighter than the planeta at magnitude +4.2. It will be moving quite rapidly though, in the direction of lambda Aquarii as the month progresses.

Telescopically it is not a particularly interesting planet, showing a small greenish disc which is featureless, however, the fun is more in tracking down and seeing this one of our most distant neighbours in the Solar System. One interesting phenomena though is that the planet currently appears 'side on' to us. This means that its moons, five of which are visible in backyard telescopes although you will need at least a 10" aperture to see them sucessfully, are lined up either side of Uranus from our viewpoint here on Earth.
Tip of the Month

If you are having trouble holding your binoculars steady...

Tip: Binoculars make superb instruments for a quick scan of the skies, or even for more serious observing, however, they can be difficult to hold steady. If you are finding this a problem, try one or two, or even all of these ideas to keep them stable... Rather than holding the binoculars in the conventional way with your hands near you eyes, move your hands towards the far end (the front) of them. You'll find that this will help to reduce the effect of your hand shake. Also try bracing your elbows against your chest. Finally, if you have a garden table to rest you elbows on, this will help considerably; even a wall to lean against can help to minimise the effects of tired and unsteady hands!
  Here are some links to some other recent news stories that I thought you would find interesting...

Korean Sky Gazers Discover New Star Systems
Chosun Ilbo - Seoul,South Korea
After ten years of research, Korean astronomers have discovered scores of new densely packed collections of stars, called globular clusters, in the Andromeda galaxy, which is referred to as a sibling of our own galaxy.

Galaxies clash in four-way merger
BBC News - UK
The Spitzer Space Telescope spotted an unusually large fan-shaped plume of light emerging from a gathering of four elliptical galaxies in the cluster ...

India to set up Asia's largest telescope in Himalayas in 2012
RIA Novosti - Moscow,Russia
NEW DELHI, August 6 (RIA Novosti) - A vast telescope to be made by Russian and Belgian firms will be installed in India's Himalayas in 2012

20m British-built camera will see further than ever
Guardian Unlimited - UK
Miri will be the centrepiece for the 6.5-tonne James Webb space telescope, the next in the series of great observatories - which has so far included the ...

  What Sir Patrick Moore wished now even better!

I have made some improvements to the online course that gives you all the essential information to be a good astronomer, without lots of jargon or difficult maths. I've added another free bonus and an extra video and animations to help make the explanations even clearer. So if you want to know what Sir Patrick wished for...

...please take a look at my eCourse called
'Basic Astronomy with a Telescope'. It's what Sir Patrick wished he'd had when he started out in astronomy!

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