Astronomy Know How
Helping you See the Night Sky - Newsletter No. 27 January 2009
In this issue:
January plenty of interesting objects and events to view.
The first week of January will show us the Quadrantid Meteors, but you'll have to stay up late or get up early. More on this below...
Orion is still well on display for us, but don't miss the delights of other constellations such as Taurus, Auriga and Perseus. For example with the naked eye it is easy to see the Hyades and Pleiades in Taurus and with binoculars you should be able to pick up the open clusters of M36, M37 and M38 in Auriga just to the north east of Taurus.
Gemini is another constellation worthy of your attention. Draw an imaginary line from the bright star Rigel at the lower right of Orion and through the bright orange coloured star Betelgeuse at the top left of the constellation and extend it for twice the distance again and you will arrive at two very similar looking stars, Castor and Pollux the 'twins' of Gemini. A famous deep sky object in Gemini is M35 a beautiful globular cluster at the opposite end of the constellation to Castor and Pollux and due north of Betelgeuse. You will be able to pick this up in binoculars as a faint 'fuzzy' patch of light. It will look better through a small telescope and you should be able to resolve many of the stars in the cluster.
I mentioned last month that we might see a comet in December, Comet 85P/Boethin. However, this has yet to be spotted, so it is possible that it has not yet become active, or maybe it has even broken up or even changed its orbit.
If Comet Boethin doesn't show up, we still have another couple of potential comets that may perform. Comet 2007 N3 Lulin that is currently in the constellation of Libra should brighten by the end of the month and be visible in the pre-dawn sky through binoculars at magnitude 7.5. It will look like a fuzzy star, all the other stars should be pin points! If you need a star chart (I would recommend this...) then please take a look at some of my recommendations on our Amazon store where I have pulled together some good star charts to make it easy for you to buy one (or maybe more?), so you can go straight there and have a star chart shipped to you directly so that you can get familiar with the sky right away. If you live in or near the UK then click here or if it's easier for you to get your delivery from the USA then click here instead.
Finally, I would like to take this opportunity to wish you all a very Happy New Year and clear skies for 2009!
Venus at Half Phases
On the 14th of January Venus reaches its greatest Eastern Elongation. This means that is the furthest from the Sun that it can get from our point of view in the evening sky.
The planets position also means that we see it approximately 50% illuminated. We can never see it as a full disc as the only time that this would be possible is when it is behind the Sun from our point of view. The 50% phases is known as 'dichotomy' and although we can predict accurately when this should occur, due to a strange phenomena known as the 'Schroeter Effect' this actually happens a few days earlier. The phase should be easily visible in a small telescope.
In fact Venus will have the largest portion of its disc illuminated at 57% on the 1st January. This will rapidly decrease through the month to 42% by the 31st of January. At this time the disc will appear larger at 29 arc seconds diameter than it was on the 1st, when it appears to be 21 arc seconds. The planet also gets brighter through the month from magnitude -4.2 at the beginning of January to magnitude -4.4 at the end when it will be a truly spectacular object in the western sky after sunset.
Lunar Occultation of the Pleiades
The Moon will occult the Pleiades on the 7th January. From our point of view here on planet Earth we will see Moon gradually pass in front of the stars in the cluster.
The Moon will be a 'waxing gibbous' phase which will help reduce the glare of the Moon and make it a very pleasing spectacle. One thing that should be noticed is that because the Moons is not perfectly round and has mountains and craters is that some of the stars of the cluster will seem to wink on and off as they skin the edge of the Moon's disc. In fact there are three notable 'grazing occultations' as they are known, visible from the UK. The stars involved are Merope, Alcyone and Pleione. More information about times and positions are available from magazines such as the BBC Sky at Night Magazine and Astronomy Now.
Perseus Double Cluster
I wanted to bring a particularly spectacular star cluster to your attention this month as it will reward you with a breath-taking sight.
Perseus passes overhead from mid-northern latitudes this month and describes a shape a little like an upside down letter 'Y' and has a famous variable star 'Algol' the 'winking demon' in the right hand fork of the 'Y'. If you follow the 'stem' of the constellation upwards towards Cassiopeia you will come to a faint misty patch of light visible to the naked eye. This is the double cluster know as the 'sword handle' of Perseus.
Now turn a pair of binoculars on to this region and you will be rewarded with a splendid sight. The double cluster looks like a concentration of diamonds that have been spilled on to black velvet and I think is one of the most spectacular sights in the heavens easily visible with simple binoculars. Enjoy!
DSLR Astro-Imaging: A Beginner's Guide - it's still here!
At the risk of labouring a topic and If any of you missed the announcement in the last two newsletters, 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.
You can find out all about it here
Here are some links to some other recent news stories that I thought you would find interesting...
However, Sue usually collects these stories over the month and then picks out the ones in the newsletter, but sadly her computer has just died so she can't access the collected stories from round the world, but here are a few from the BBC!
SNP calls for spaceport in Moray
The Scottish National Party is calling for an RAF airbase in Moray to become the UK's first commercial spaceport. more...
Happy Birthday Earthrise
The Apollo historian and film-maker Dr Christopher Riley gives his perspective on the mission and how that Christmas Eve of 1968 changed the world. more...
Tiny clues to collision in space
Evidence that a massive meteorite shower had an impact on Earth on a global scale 470 million years ago have been found on a Highlands beach. more...
Moon's magic still shining bright
The magic of the Moon has once again captured the imagination of politicians and scientists around the world. 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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