Astronomy Know How
Helping you See the Night Sky - Newsletter No. 24 October 2008
In this issue:
The summer constellations are still on view, but early in the evening and the 'watery' constellations of the Autumn are now more prominent.
The 'summer triangle' of Deneb, Altair and Vega is now moving steadily westwards while the constellations of Pisces the Fishes and Cetus the Whale and Aquarius the water carrier are noticeable low down in the southern skies while the winter constellation of Taurus is just beginning to rear his head low in the east.
The planet Jupiter is still visible this month, but is not well placed, being that bright yellowish star low down in the south west after sunset. If you haven't seen it through binoculars or a telescope yet, the next few weeks will be your last chance for some time.
Mercury and Venus are good to observe this month (see below) and Saturn makes a welcome return to dark skies. Uranus and Neptune are also well placed for observations in October, but you'll will need binoculars at least if you hope to spot Neptune.
Later this month, Saturn makes a return to dark skies and can be found in the constellation of Leo the Lion. Our angle of view of the planet is changing so that the famous rings appear to be closing up. By September next year, they will have all but disappeared from our point of view for a short while. At the moment they look pretty thin! Jupiter is still visible low in the south after sunset at the beginning of the month and is not well placed for observing. However, you might want to take this last opportunity to have a look at the king of the planets.
The Moon and the Beehive
In the early hours of the 22nd of this month, The Moon will pass just to the south of the famous 'Beehive' cluster M44 in Messier catalogue.
The 'last quarter' Moon occurs on the 21st, so the Moon will appear to be just under half illuminated the next day when it meets M44. This cluster, which is in the constellation of Cancer the crab, is reminiscent of a swarm of bees, hence its popular name. To see this encounter well, use a pair of 7x or 10x50 binoculars and you will be struck by how small the Moon seems in comparison to the star cluster, which is over three time the size of the full Moon!
If you are prepared to stay up into the early hours, you will be treated to an occultation by the Moon of the star delta Cancri or Asellus Australis that has the common name of the Southern Donkey! This magnitude 4 star will seem to 'wink' out of sight as the Moon's bright edge passes in front of it at around 4:45 UT (Same as GMT) and it will reappear shortly after 06:00 UT in a bright pre-dawn sky.
Up until now, I haven't mentioned in any precious 'newsletter' about a more challenging, but equally rewarding aspect of amateur astronomy that is asteroid hunting.
However, at the end of October there is a chance to whet your appetite for the absorbing hobby of asteroid spotting. Vesta reaches a magnitude of 6.4, which brings it easily into range of 7x or 10x50 binoculars. You can find it tracking steadily westwards against the somewhat barren area of sky a couple of degrees north of the star gamma Ceti in Cetus the Whale.This is the uppermost star in a triangle of stars that represents the head of the Sea Monster.
You will need a star chart to pin down this object, as you will need to mark its position night by night to show its movement against the background stars. This will prove that it is indeed the asteroid that you are observing and not just a star! Vesta's motion will be around 13 arc-minutes over a 24 hour period, which is about half the diameter of the full Moon, so it should be quite noticeable.
THis month there is one of my favourite objects well placed in the sky for easy observing and I'd like to share it with you... It is the Dumbbell nebula.
This nebula is M27 in the Messier catalogue and is a planetary nebula. This is a complete misnomer as it has nothing whatever to do with a planet. Planetary nebula got their name from the first discovery of them. They seemed to look like faint glowing planets, having a round appearance and the name stuck.
Planetary nebula are in fact the gaseous remnants of a shell surrounding a star much like our Sun, that has been 'puffed' off as the core of the star collapses into a white dwarf. They can look a little like smoke rings in space. This is especially noticeable with the most famous example of them all, the Ring Nebula in Lyra the Lyre.
The Dumbbell nebula is a little fainter than the Ring Nebula but is every bit as interesting. An OIII filter will increase the contrast and show off this lovely object to full advantage. You can find it in the constellation of Vulpecula and I suggest that you use a star chart to help you locate it.
Photographing the Night Sky with a Digital Camera
Well I mentioned last month about the eBook that I am writing with my colleague Jon Walton about starting out taking pictures of the night sky using a digital SLR camera.
Well it's nearly ready! I can't believe how long that it has taken to get it to this stage but I am pleased to say that we are now only a few days away from its 'official' publication.
It tells you everything that you need to know to get started in this fascinating subject. You will be able to download it from the internet. It's written in a friendly and accessible style (even though I say so myself!) and answers many of the questions that beginners to the subject usually ask.
As I mentioned, it is co-authored with my friend and talented astro-imager John Walton and will come with some superb bonuses that I think will frankly amaze you.
So if you would are interested in this eBook, keep checking your emails, as we will be notifying all our 'newsletter' readers first so that you can take advantage of the introductory discount!
Here are some links to some other recent news stories that I thought you would find interesting...
Dr. Eshel Ofir of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem struck an unusual find in one of the university basements recently - he found Albert Einstein's telescope. more...
Rare Dark Skies
The night sky above Scotland could become as important to tourism as its landscape by day, according to experts on space and tourism. more...
Laser precision puts universe within reach
Scientists are using new laser technology to improve the precision of telescopes, bringing the dream of watching the expansion of the universe in real time within reach. more...
Helping the Stars Take Back the Night
It can be done and the advantages benefit not only astronomers.... 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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