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Astronomy Know How
Helping you See the Night Sky - Newsletter No. 18 April 2008
In this issue:
  1. April's Highlights
  2. Thin Moon
  3. Lyrid Meteors
  4. The Deep Sky in April
  5. Tip of the Month
  6. News Links
  7. Gain Help Starting In Astronomy
  8. Contact Us
April's Highlights

April brings longer days and shorter nights, but also the chance of better weather for observing.

Firstly, don't forget that our clocks moved forward from Greenwich Mean Time to British Summer Time on 30th March, so if you have a'goto' telescope, you will need to change the 'Daylight Saving Time' question response to 'Yes'!

We have some excellent observing opportunities this month, some easier than others, including a thin crescent Moon (see below) and the chance of viewing the elusive planet Mercury. As far as the rest of the planets go, Mars is now too small for any meaningful observing as we are moving rapidly away from the planet now, but Saturn is still well placed in the constellation of Leo and presents a lovely view still although the famous rings are beginning to 'close up' from our point of view. In fact now is a good time to see if you can spot the shadow of the planet on the ring system.

Jupiter is on show in the early hours of the morning but is not well placed for observers in mid-northern latitudes as it is low down and near to the horizon, so we are viewing it through the thickest (and often polluted) part of the atmosphere.

Mercury puts in an appearance in the evening sky after the 16th of the month, but you will need a clear and cloud free horizon if you have a chance of finding it. Do make sure that the Sun has fully set BEFORE attempting to sweep for it in binoculars. THe planet should be getting brighter and higher in the sky as the month progresses and will continue to brighten into May.

Uranus and Neptune are poorly placed for observing this month, both being lost in the morning twilight.

Saturn, the Moon and the star Regulus in Leo will form a pleasing trio on the evening of 15th April at around 9:30pm BST (20:30UT) Saturn will be 2.5 degrees from Regulus at the base of the 'Sickle' asterism in Leo and the Moon will be 4 degrees to the south of them.

Thin Moon

Shortly after sunset on the 6th April we will have a chance to see a 'nascent' Moon. That is an extremely thin crescent on the Moon that is just 17 hours after 'new'.

As the sky will still be very bright just after sunset, you will need optical aid in the form of a pair of binoculars in order to have a hope of seeing it. DO NOT attempt to look for this before the Sun has completely set, as there is a serious danger that you might catch the sun's light with dire consequences for your eyesight!

This is not an easy phenomena to observe as everything has to be working for you, including the weather and clarity of the horizon and of course the timing. Relatively few people have ever managed to view the Moon this 'young' and so you may be able to join an elite club! Fortunately, many things have fallen into place as far as the timing of the new Moon and its angular diameter and its apparent distance from the Sun to make this a rare but worthwhile opportunity to view. So, given good weather, have a go!!

Lyrid Meteors

The Moon isn't working with us however to enable us to get a good view of the Lyrid meteor shower this month, but don't let that put you off attempting to observe these lovely meteors. They are on view between the 15th and the 2th April with this years peak occurring on the 22nd, which is unfortunately close to the full Moon on the 20th. However, it is still worth trying to observe these. Their radiant point, that is the point in the sky from where they appear to emanate, is in the summer constellation of Lyra the Lyre. This meteor shower has been observed for 2600 years and is the longest lived and recorded shower in history.

The Deep Sky in April

There are some interesting double stars on view this month as well as the 'Realm of the Galaxies' and some lovely globular clusters.

There isn't enough space here to list all the wonderful sights available to you if you are the possessor of binoculars or a telescope, so I would recommend that you get out your star chart and try to locate the ones that I will mention here as being particular worth a look.

If you are interested in double stars, then Iota Bootis has to be one of the most beautiful. There is also Nu Draconis the faintest star in the head of Draco the Dragon. There is also 17 Coma Berenices which have magnitudes of +5.3 and +6.6 and are separated by 2.5 arc-minutes. While you are in this region of sky, go and find Melotte 111, which is a lovely star cluster about 5-degrees across but quite faint.

This area of sky is also the 'Realm of the Galaxies'. Spring is a great time to go galaxy hunting and the area around Leo, Virgo and Coma Berenices will provide you with a rich hunting ground.

While you are there, don't miss M87 in Virgo, the most prominent galaxy in the constellation. Head just over 1-degree north-east and you'll come across M86, a lenticular galaxy that appears as an elongated fuzzy patch in a small telescope. Again, it is worth while making a list of targets on your star chart to try and find. DOn't forget that the magnitudes given for galaxies are aggregate, which means that they are given as if they were a single point (a star!) and so appear usually much fainter than you might expect.

Finally, rising in the east is the constellation of Hercules and so do take a look at the well know globular cluster of M13. This is the brightest object of its kind in the northern hemisphere and in a telescope will reward you with a view of a tight 'ball' of stars, which in a larger telescope can be resolved into what looks like a sparkling cluster of diamonds set against the black velvet of the night sky.

While your at it, go and look for M13's fainter sibling M92 to the north of the constellation. Although fainter, this is still wonderful globular cluster and makes a good contrast to its brighter companion.

Tip of the Month

The colour of the stars...

Tip: Most people think of the stars and being small white points of light in the night sky, but many of them exhibit quite strong colours if you take the time to look. Betelgeuse in Orion is an red super giant star that has an obvious strong orange colour to the observer. But there are many fainters star that also exhibit good colours and these can be more easily seen if you de-focus your telescope slightly to spread the light from the star across your retina. This will hopefully more easily trigger the colour receptors at the back of your eye. Give it a go and see if it works for you.
  Here are some links to some other recent news stories that I thought you would find interesting...

Conserve the moon for radio astronomy
As potential conservation areas go, it has to be the bleakest. But this hasn't stopped one astronomer from suggesting that a protected area be set up on the far side of the moon.

Extrasolar Gas Discovered
Astronomers thrilled at sighting of methane on distant planet more...

Australia sets out its case for hosting next generation telescope
'Australia offers some very unusual, perhaps unique characteristics,' said Australia's new Science Minister

Author joins Jodrell battle
WRITER Alan Garner is leading a campaign to save the landmark Lovell Telescope at Jodrell Bank.
WRITER Alan Garner is leading a campaign to save the landmark Lovell Telescope at Jodrell Bank.

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

'Basic Astronomy With A Telescope' gives you all the essential information you need 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
'Basic Astronomy with a Telescope'. It's what Sir Patrick wished he'd had when he started out in astronomy!

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