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Astronomy Know How
Helping you See the Night Sky - Newsletter No. 26 December 2008
In this issue:
  1. December's Highlights
  2. Jupiter, Venus, Moon Conjunction
  3. Spotting Mercury
  4. Talks
  5. DSLR Astro-Imaging: A Beginner's Guide - it's here!
  6. News Links
  7. Become a confident Astronomer
  8. Contact Us
December's Highlights

This month we have plenty of interesting objects and events to view.

Last month I mentioned some of the delights of the deep sky to be found in the constellation of Orion. Well, Orion is still on show, in fact it is even better placed for viewing in the evening sky now and with cold crisp and (hopefully) steady air, they should look even better.

If you can drag you eyes away from Orion, head further south and east to the constellation of Canis Major, Orion's 'Hunting Dog'. There are some truly superb sights to be seen here, if you have a clear horizon. You can't miss Sirius, 'The Dog Star' as it is the brightest star in the sky. Use it as a marker for a trip southwards with binoculars and see if you can pick up M41, a lovely open cluster of stars.

The Geminid Meteor Shower is one of the best and occurs in mid December, but unfortunately this year it will be swamped by a bright near full Moon on the 13th. However, it is worth checking a few days either side of the peak for 'stragglers'

21st December sees the Winter Solstice. This is when the Sun reaches its lowest point in the sky and we have the least number of daylight hours in the year. Good for astronomers?

We should be treated to a comet this month. Comet 85P/Boethin is supposed to be gracing our skies in December. At magnitude 7.5 it should be visible in binoculars, passing just below the 'steering wheel' asterism in Pisces. However, it has not yet been picked up (at the time of writing this), but hopefully it won't turn out to be a 'damp squib'.

Finally, if you would like to try your hand at asteroid spotting, Ceres is visible in the constellation of Leo this month. Again this is a binocular object at magnitude 8.3. Ceres is now classed as a 'dwarf planet' as it is 1000km across.
Jupiter, Venus, Moon Conjunction

In fact, this is not just a conjunction, it's also an occultation! Not only will Jupiter and Venus appear to be in the same part of the sky, the Moon will occult Venus. This is a phenomena, where the Moon appears to pass in front of an object (in this case the planet Venus) and some time later, the object will reappear from behind the Moon's other limb.

This will be a spectacle worth witnessing and if possible photographing, however this depends (as always) on having a clear sky and the time available.

The best time to view these events is on the early evening of the 1st December. Start watching the skies low down in the south west from around 15:30 UT (same as GMT). Be careful though, if you are using binoculars or any other kind of optical aid, that you do not accidentally point them at the Sun, as the Sun will not yet have set at this time. At some point, depending on your location, Venus will seem to vanish behind the dark limb of the Moon and about an hour and a half later will reappear from the illuminated side. Don't miss it!
Spotting Mercury

On the 31st December, we will have a chance to spot that elusive planet Mercury. In fact, it is not that well placed this month, but we have a marker to help find it.

Jupiter will appear as a bright 'dot' close to the south-western horizon shortly after sunset shining at magnitude -1.8, so still quite bright. This will act as a useful signpost to the fainter Mercury, which will be found shining at magnitude 0.6 just over a degree away to the south-east. Through binoculars, you should be able to detect its 71 per cent gibbous phase on its 6-arc second disc.

It's not often that I advertise my own talks, but on this occasion I did want to bring one that I am giving this month, to your attention.

If you happen to live within striking distance of the city of Winchester in Hampshire, on the 10th of December, which is a Wednesday, starting at 6:30pm at the new Intech Planetarium and Science Park, I am giving a lecture entitled 'A Potted History Of The Telescope'. It will be a light-hearted whisk through the development of the instrument that we all know and love and I hope to answer the old question, 'who invented the telescope' (wasn't that Galileo?) and sing the praises of some of the great astronomers and pioneers who carried on improving and perfecting this most versatile pieces of scientific equipment.

Not only that, I will also be using the very impressive projection power of the planetarium's 'immersive theatre' to give you a quick guided tour of the night sky in December. If you would like to know more, then please visit the Intech web site

DSLR Astro-Imaging: A Beginner's Guide - it's here! Really!

If any of you missed the announcement in the last newsletter, I thought I would risk mentioning again that after a long gestation period and a lot of hard labour the eBook that Jon and I have written is finally here!

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.

Click here to read all about it!
  Here are some links to some other recent news stories that I thought you would find interesting...

Polish tests 'confirm Copernicus'
Researchers in Poland say they have solved a centuries-old mystery and identified the remains of astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus.

Jodrell Bank telescope 'was secret nuclear missile warning system'
The giant space telescope at Jodrell Bank was secretly modified to track incoming Soviet nuclear missiles during the Cold War, its creator has disclosed 50 years later. more...

Scots urged to see the light in campaign for 'dark sky parks'
Scotland could become the first country in Europe to have internationally recognised "dark sky parks" where visitors could go to enjoy the full spectacle of the night sky. more...

1st photos of planets outside our system
An international science team that includes an astronomer at Flagstaff's Lowell Observatory has captured the first images of planets orbiting a star outside our solar system. 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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