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Astronomy Know How
Helping you See the Night Sky - Newsletter No. 28 February 2009
In this issue:
  1. February's Highlights
  2. The Stars of Spring
  3. Ceres at Opposition
  4. Comet Lulin
  5. Have You Seen the Setting Circles Video?
  6. News Links
  7. Become a confident Astronomer
  8. Tell Your Friends
  9. Contact Us
February's Highlights

February sees the first glimpse of early spring in the night sky.

The constellation of Orion the Hunter is still well placed in the southern sky and you can use it as a signpost to other stars and constellations that perhaps are harder to recognise... More on this later.

You can't miss the bright planet Venus hanging in the western skies after sunset. With a telescope, you'll see a beautiful thin crescent phase making it look like a tiny version of our Moon.

Venus isn't the only planet on view as we now have Saturn rising in the south-east. You'll have to wait until the early hours to see it at its best though. We are now seeing an increasingly thin ring system on the planet as we pass through the plane of the rings this year. I'll give you more about this in the next few months...

There are a couple of lunar occultations available to view this month from some parts of the UK. Unfortunately there isn't room here to describe the exact paths of these two events, so I recommend that you check out the details either on the web or in magazines such as the BBC Sky at Night Magazine or Astronomy Now if you live in the UK.

If you would like to have a go a spotting Mercury, you will need to get up early (or stay up late!). The best time to see it is just before sunrise on the morning of 13th very low in the south-east. if you are getting up early, then you can also have the chance to see Mars, although it is poorly placed for viewing this month low down in the south-southeast. Jupiter too can be glimpsed near to Mars. The moon will help mark it on the 23rd.
The Stars of Spring

Orion makes a useful signpost to find your way around. Extend an imaginary line from the star Rigel at the lower right of Orion through Betelgeuse, the bright Orange at the upper left of the constellation that marks the Hunter's shoulder. Continue this line for twice the original distance and you'll come to a pair of similar looking stars. These are Castor and Pollux in Gemini the Twins. These represents the twins heads with their bodies being two thin lines of stars heading back towards Orion.

If you have binoculars then it is worth hunting down the lovely star cluster known as M35. You can find it near the 'toe' of the twin Castor; the curving line towards the 'Orion' end of the constellation.

A constellation perhaps easily missed because it is not very bright is that of Cancer the Crab. This fainter grouping of stars plays host to a gem of the night sky - the star cluster M44 known as the Beehive cluster. Cancer lies below and to the east of Gemini and due east of Orion. Slightly fuzzy patch glimpsed with the naked eye from semi-rural locations will reward the observer with binoculars. This loose cluster does indeed look like a swarm of bees!
Ceres at Opposition

On the 25th February the Asteroid Ceres will reach opposition. That is, it is directly opposite the sun in the sky and therefore the best time to see it. you can find it in the constellation of Leo the Lion, but you will need to use binoculars or a small telescope to see it. The best way to be sure that you are seeing it is to use a low power eyepiece and draw the field where you believe Ceres to be. Do the same thing again for the following night or the next clear night and if you see a 'star' that has seemingly moved you have certainly spotted the asteroid.

Ceres has now been reclassified as a 'dwarf' planet, so it can be refereed to as either this or as an asteroid.
Comet Lulin

Comet 2007 N3 Lulin will pass us at 61 million miles distance, close by astronomical standards, on the 24th. It is expected to reach its peak brightness between 21st-25th February of around magnitude 6 - just about naked eye visibility - certainly visible in binoculars.

The easiest way of finding it will be when it passes just 2-degrees to the south of Saturn on the 23rd or only 40 arc minutes south of Alpha Leonis (Regulus) on the evening of the 27th. Do keep an eye on this object if you can, because comets are notorious for springing surprises.

Have You Seen the Setting Circles Video?

I was pleased to write an article for the BBC SKy at Night Magazine on 'How to Use Setting Circles' for the February issue. Perhaps you've already seen it?

Well, I've also produced a video to help back up what I said in the article. If you are interested in getting to grips with those peculiar devices adorning your equatorial mount then please take a look at the video which can be found on the Astronomy Know How website.

Finally, if you are in London on the 6th and/or 7th February, come to the AstroFest exhibition at the Kensington and Chelsea Town Hall in Horton street (just off Kensington High Street). Sue and I will be there, so do come and say 'hello'.
  Here are some links to some other recent news stories that I thought you would find interesting...

Big Isle telescope details 'hot Jupiter'
Astronomers say the planet's temperatures exceed 3,100 degrees

Glitch as Mars rover phones home
Whatever the cause, the problem appears to have corrected itself more...

Dim view of street lights' eco-upgrade
Professor Roger Griffin, emeritus professor of astronomy at Cambridge University, who has campaigned against light pollution in the city, said: "Astronomers believe we should appreciate darkness and appreciate the sky, but it appears to be a lost cause because politicians of every party are falling over each other to have brighter street lighting. more...

Astronomy students discover galaxy behind Milky Way disk
A group of UW-Madison astronomers used the largest radio telescope in the world this semester to discover a small galaxy behind the disk of the Milky Way. more...

China Building the Largest Radio Telescope in the World
14 years of research and planning 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!

Tell Your Friends

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