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Astronomy Know How
Helping you See the Night Sky - Newsletter No. 29 March 2009
In this issue:
  1. March's Highlights
  2. Spring Moon Watch
  3. Spring Constellations
  4. Comet Lulin - Update
  5. Have You Seen the Setting Circles Video?
  6. News Links
  7. Become a confident Astronomer
  8. Contact Us
March's Highlights

Spring officially starts on the 20th March at 11:44am. This is when the Sun crosses the celestial equator.

This point now lies in the constellation of Pisces and is known as the Vernal Equinox. The word equinox means equal day and night, so we get an (approximately) 12 hour day and 12 hour night.

Spring also means the start of the season for galaxy hunters. Because of the orientation of the Earth at this time of the year, we can now look out from the plane of our own Milky Way galaxy into deep space and the other galaxies out there. So dust off your binoculars or your telescope and go join the hunt!

If you haven't yet seen Comet Lulin, you can find it on the 5th and 6th March just a couple of degrees south of the Beehive Cluster M44 in Cancer the Crab. However, it is fading by now to magnitude 6.9 and so will only be visible in binoculars or a small telescope.

Spring is also a good time to observe thin Lunar crescents. On the 27th of March about 40 minutes after sunset you might be able to spot a thin crescent Moon low down in the west about 6.5 degrees above where the Sun disappeared.

Venus is still bright in the western sky although becoming lower in the sky as it moves towards conjunction with the Sun. Through a telescope at the beginning of the month, you will see a beautiful 18 per cent crescent and by the 15th March this will narrow to a 5 per cent very thin crescent. Inferior conjunction occurs on the 27th, when the planet will move between us and the Sun. It will reappear again as a 'morning' star just before sunrise on the 31st.
Spring Moon Watch

As you probably already know, 2009 is the International Year of Astronomy! TO celebrate this, clubs and societies throughout the land will be organising events for the Spring Moon Watch. These will be taking place from the 28th of March and going on to 5th April. This will give observers the chance to give some attention to firstly a two day old Moon that will show the phenomena of 'Earthshine', a beautiful sight in the western evening sky. It will 'wax' to a first quarter and by the 5th April will be 10 days old and well placed for some good views sky and (hopefully) we'll get some good weather to see it.

The idea is the astronomical societies will encourage people who perhaps don't have much interest, to take a look at the Moon through a telescope. It is 400 years since Galileo turned his new telescope onto the Moon and drew what he saw. Less well know is that he was beaten to this by several weeks by an English astronomer called Thomas Harriot!

An added bonus will be available to view through the Spring Moon Watch week, so you will have a chance to observe the moons of another world. Saturn's rings are rapidly 'closing' from our point of view here on Earth now, so our attention is drawn toward the disc of the planet itself as well as its moons such as Titan and Enceladus to name but two.
Spring Constellations

The Constellations of winter such as Orion and Taurus are sinking in the west and are now giving way to the spring patterns such as Cancer, Leo and Virgo.
You will find Saturn under the rear legs of Leo at this time and by drawing an imaginary line from Saturn up through the star Denebola in the tail of Leo and extending this the same distance again, you will come to the lovely group of stars know as Melotte 111 in the constellation of Coma Berenices or Berenices Hair.

Below Coma Berenices you will find the constellation of Virgo. This area of sky puts you firmly in the realm of the galaxies. Here we are looking away from the plane of our own Milky Way galaxy and out into deep space. You will need a star chart and some time to go galaxy hunting in this region. You can find galaxies that are binocular objects such as M64 in Coma Berenices, not far from Melotte 111, to objects that are just faint smudges of light even in a large telescope. Good hunting!
Comet Lulin - Update

Comet Lulin is now moving past Leo and on the night of 1st March you can find it by using the two stars in the 'sickle' asterism of Leo above the star Regulus. Draw an imaginary line through these two stars and with the aid of binoculars sweep down past Regulus and you should find the fuzzy blob (technical term!) of the comet.

It is by now also passing just below a much fainter comet known as 116P/Wild. This will need a large telescope to spot however. It will now be starting to fade to around magnitude 6.9 and on the night of the 5/6th March it can be found a couple of degrees to the south of the 'Beehive' cluster in Cancer the Crab, otherwise known as M44. A further difficulty here will be a bright Gibbous Moon, that will drown out the fainter comet.

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.

You can see the video by clicking here

  Here are some links to some other recent news stories that I thought you would find interesting...

Kepler Telescope Ready to Launch
Lift-off will take place on March 5th and the hunt for Earth Like Plants is on...

You're in Control
400 years after Galileo looke up at the night sky with his telescope, your vote will help make the momentous decision of where to point modern astronomy's most famous telescope. more...

Astronomers unveiling life's cosmic origins
"We know that complex chemicals exist in interstellar space before stars and planets form. With the new research tools coming in the next few years, we're on the verge of learning how the chemistry of the interstellar clouds, the young stars and their environments, and the disks from which planets are formed is all linked together to provide the chemical basis for life on those planets..." more...

New telescope needs darker skies
The University of Tasmania has been given a $1.6 million optical telescope from an anonymous UK benefactor. more...

New signs of life detected at Jodrell Bank as telescope enters future of space exploration
Revolutionary project ready to launch just months after site escaped closure 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!

To contact us

Telephone me on +44(0)208 144 1091

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