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Astronomy Know How
Helping you See the Night Sky - Newsletter No. 13 November 2007
In this issue:
  1. November's Highlights
  2. Comet P/Holmes 17P
  3. November Meteor Showers
  4. Mars!
  5. Tip of the Month
  6. News Links
  7. Become a confident Astronomer
  8. Contact Us
November's Highlights

STOP PRESS! As I write this, I have been receiving news that a previously unremarkable comet has become easily visible with the naked eye! Please see below for more details about this comet and where you can find it for yourself.

On display this month we have not one but two meteor showers worth looking out for. The regular Leonid and Taurid meteors are well worth going outside for. You'll find more information about these below as well...

The planets Uranus and Neptune are still quite well placed for viewing this month, so if you haven't seen these two distant neighbours of our solar system, have a go now. You should be able to spot them using a pair of 7x or 10x50 binoculars. Uranus is the easier of the two to spot lying in the constellation of Aquarius (the Water Bearer) between the stars phi and lambda Aquarii. It stays at magnitude 5.8 throughout the month and might just be visible with the naked eye from a dark sky site. Through binoculars, it will look like a small greenish disc, definitely not a star, its colour tending to give it away.

Neptune is much harder to pin down as it is the considerably more distant of the two planets. It can be found in the constellation of Capricornus (the Sea Goat) so west of Uranus and can be found in the south for northern hemisphere observers straight after dark. At magnitude 7.9 you will definitely need binoculars or a small telescope to see it and a good star chart will help you hunt it down. You can find it around RA 21h 27m Dec -15degrees 17mins

Comet P/Holmes 17P

A spectacular event has taken place involving the periodic comet P/Holmes (17P). Its predicted brightness was about magnitude 17, however on Oct 24 it was discovered by the Spanish amateur, Juan Antonio Henríquez Santana to have undergone a tremendous outburst having attained magnitude 10 at that time (Oct 24 0h UT). It was a similar outburst in 1892 that led to its discovery. It is now reported to be of 3rd Magnitude in brightness. This means that it is almost 1 MILLION times as bright as expected!

Fortunately for observers in Northern Europe and the USA it is well placed for observations in the night sky and should be visible throughout the night. At the moment it is 'stellar' or star like in appearance but moving against the background stars at a rate of approximately 10 arc-minutes a day. It is currently 245 million kilometers from Earth.

You can find it in the constellation of Perseus where it will be located near alpha Perseii (Mirfak) around mid-month.

November Meteor Showers

The Leonids are active between the 15th to 20th November with their peak on the 18th of the month at 05:00 UT This well know shower can give us the occasional 'storms', but this year we are only expecting a normal rate of activity, a ZHR or Zenithal Hourly Rate of around 20 meteors per hour. But this shower can give unexpected results, so it's definitely one to watch. The radiant can be found in the 'head' of Leo, hence the name of the shower.

The Taurids are a somewhat more subdued shower, but can produce the occasional 'fireball'. The Taurids are the result of two meteor streams derived from Comet 2P/Encke. Both rune from the 25th September to the 25th November with peaks on the 5th November for the Southern Taurids and the 12th November for the Northern Taurids. The meteors tend to be bright and slow moving so should be easy to spot and make good photographic targets.


THe planetary highlight of this month is without doubt, Mars. It is now climbing higher in the sky for northern hemisphere observers in the early hours of the morning and is increasing in angular size, from 12 to 14 arc seconds. Not very big, but still big enough to show some features in a small telescope, providing that is, that the planet isn't covered by dust storms!

This month Mars performs a 'retrograde loop', that is it appears to reverse its direction of travel in the sky moving westward instead of the usual easterly course. It will seem to halt in the sky on the night of the 15th among the stars of Gemini the Twins and start to move towards the west until January 30th 2008 when it will once again return to its usual trajectory.

This loop is caused by the Earth 'catching up' Mars in its orbit and then seeming to overtake it, which from our perspective here causes Mars to perform this celestial circus trick.

If you have a small telescope, try to take a look at some of the surface features on the planet, such as the triangular shaped 'Syrtis Major' and the bright 'Hellas Basin' and the two 'prongs' in Sinus Meridiani. A Wratten 21 orange filter will help improve the contrast when viewing through a telescope and should make some of these features stand out well. If you would like to see the polar cap(s), a light blue Wratten 82A will help considerably.

Tip of the Month

Filters are your friends...

Tip: Coloured filters really help to increase the contrast of planetary detail. But, did you know that you can also press them into service on other objects. If you are using a PROPERLY filtered telescope for white light viewing of the Sun, with special filter material made specifically for this purpose such as Baader solar safety film or a glass solar filter, you can ALSO use a coloured eyepiece filter such as a yellow filter to make the view more aesthetically pleasing.
  Here are some links to some other recent news stories that I thought you would find interesting...

Giant balloon to loft world's largest solar telescope
A balloon designed to loft the world's largest solar ultraviolet telescope high into the atmosphere has performed a successful 10-hour test flight

Astronomers Simulate Life And Death In The Universe
Stars always evolve in the universe in large groups, known as clusters. Astronomers distinguish these formations by their age and size. The question of how star clusters are created from interstellar gas clouds and why they then develop in different ways has now been answered by researchers...

Souped-Up Telescope
For taking super sharp pictures of space, the go-to telescope is the Hubble, in orbit above the earth. But astronomers can't just use the space telescope whenever they feel like it; they have to bid for time on the badly oversubscribed instrument .. but now they can use the Lucky Camera...

Life on the New Planet?
On Tuesday, a team of European astronomers announced that they had not only found a new planet circling a comparatively nearby star in the constellation Libra, but that that planet is unexpectedly Earth-like

  Do you want to learn more about the night sky and how to use telescopes and binoculars to see it better?..

My online course gives you all the essential information to be a good astronomer, without lots of jargon or difficult maths. You'll get loads of free bonuses and it also has videos and animations to help make the explanations clear and concise. 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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