Astronomy Know How
Helping you See the Night Sky - Newsletter No. 22 August 2008
In this issue:
August brings us true dark skies after the summer solstice twilight skies. It also brings us lots of great objects and events to enjoy!
Firstly, there is a partial eclipse of the Sun and mid-month you can see a partial eclipse of the Moon. And of course not to be missed is the Perseid meteors. The Summer Triangle formed by the stars of Deneb in Cyngus the Swan, Altair in Aquila the Eagle and Vega in Lyra the Lyre now rides high in the southern skies at mid evening so we know that we are now well into summer. Just to the east of the Summer Triangle can be found the Square of Pegasus and with it the constellation of Andromeda. This means that you should be able to find the famous Andromeda galaxy with binoculars and a star chart.
Jupiter is now reasonably well placed low in the south in the early evening, so if you haven't turned you binoculars or telescope on to the king of the planets yet, now's you chance. Se if you can spot the 4 Galilean moons in their nightly dance around their master. Also, if you have a small telescope, up the magnification and see if you can make out the Great Red Spot. This is a famous feature that is a huge storm like a massive hurricane here on Earth (but much, much more violent) that has been raging for the last 400 years.
You might be able to get a last glimpse of Saturn before it disappears into the evening twilight and to help you on the 20th of this month you will find it in conjunction with the planets Mercury and Venus. These planets will be very low in the west, just after sunset, so you will need a clear horizon to be able spot them. Do not attempt to go hunting them with binoculars or a telescope until after the Sun has properly set!
Finally, the outer planets Uranus and Neptune are well placed this month for observers. You can find Uranus just south of the 'circlet' asterism (group of stars) in the constellation of Pisces throughout the month. It is faint, but you may just be able to see it with the naked eye from a dark sky site. Binoculars show it up as a small greenish disc. Neptune will need at least a pair of binoculars to view. To help you find it the eclipsed Moon will lie just over 2-degrees to the east of Neptune on the night of the 16th.
Partial Solar Eclipse
The 1st August brings us a partial solar eclipse. If you happen to be heading to Russia, Mongolia or China on that day, you will be treated to a total solar eclipse. This is when the Moon appears to blot out the disk of our Sun for a few minutes. Arguably one of the most awe inspiring sights in nature. If you are staying in northern Europe, you will be able to see this event as a partial solar eclipse. This looks like something has taken a 'bite' out of the Sun's disc.
DO NOT attempt to view this event without proper protection for your eyes, such as eclipse shades or other form of safe filtration. Please consult an expert on safe materials that you can use for this. DO NOT use smoked glass or any similar 'makeshift' shading. Serious eye damage can result if you are not very careful.
Greatest coverage of about 20% for observers in southern England is around 10:15am BST with coverage increasing the further north you are. So observers in Kirkwall in Orkney in Scotland will see 43% coverage at around 10:19am
Partial Lunar Eclipse
August also brings us a partial lunar eclipse. This is where the Moon plunges into the Earth's shadow. This type of eclipse doesn't need you to be anywhere special on Earth, just as long as you can see the Moon above the horizon.
The Eclipse will start as the Moon is rising as seen from northern Europe on the evening of August 16th at 20h 36m BST and finishes at 23h 44m BST. The time of maximum coverage is 22h 10m BST so quite a sociable hour for many observers. The Moon will rise in the east south-east and as it climbs into the sky you should notice the shadow of the Earth creep across its disc from left to right. At mid eclipse about 80% of the Moon will be eclipsed and should look quite amazing.
You should also see a bright crescent at the top of the Moon which will look strange compared to how we normally see a crescent Moon. If you have a camera, it is worth having a go at trying to photograph this event. A telephoto or zoom lens will be of benefit here.
The Perseid Meteors
The Perseids as they are known, are probably the most famous and easily observable of all the regular meteor showers of the year. If the weather is warm you can stand outside in your shirtsleeves. You won't be able to do this for the Leonids in November!
This shower 'peaks' on the morning of the 12th after the Moon has set. You should also get some good view on the 13th, again often the Moon has set. The Perseids are swift meteors that streak across the sky at up to 80 meteors an hour, so if you view from a reasonably dark sky site, you should have a good chance of seeing some.
The appear to radiate from a point in the sky located in the constellation of Perseus (hence the name), so if you can trace the track of the meteor back in your mind's eye across the sky to this point, you know that you've seen a Perseid.
It is best to look a little away from this radiant point for the best views. Happy meteor watching!
Photographing the Night Sky with a Digital Camera
If you are the proud owner of a Digital SLR camera, then you can use it to taking amazing images of the night sky!
All you need is a tripod to hold the camera steady and (if you have one) a remote shutter release. If you frame a constellation using the view-finder of the camera, set the ISO speed at '400' and open the shutter for 25 to 30 seconds you should capture all the stars that you can see will the naked eye and probably many more besides.
If you would like to know more about how to do this and some more advanced techniques, then you may be pleased to know that I am soon to publish an 'eBook' on how to make a start in astro-imaging using Digital SLR cameras, co-authored with my friend and talented astro-imager John Walton. Well it is nearly finished and we are hoping to 'publish' during August!
Watch out for an email dropping in your in-box that will give you an early bird discount before the rest of the world gets to hear about it.
Here are some links to some other recent news stories that I thought you would find interesting...
Scientists gather in Silicon Valley to plot return to the moon
Thirty-nine years to the day after Neil Armstrong radioed "The Eagle has landed!" from the Sea of Tranquility, NASA on Sunday turned its eyes toward the moon, gazing both forward and backward in time. more...
Solar street light scheme
A pilot scheme to install eco-lighting in a Norfolk village will help to save money as well as the planet. more...
Hubble ready for its last ride
By the end of the year, the world's greatest telescope should be able to see deeper into space and further back in time than ever. more...
The science funding war is not yet won
More money is needed to maintain Britain's world-class astronomy facilities... the story continues... more...
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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