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Astronomy Know How
Helping you See the Night Sky - Newsletter No. 30 April 2009
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In this issue:
  1. April's Highlights
  2. More Spring Moon Watch
  3. Spring Constellations
  4. Saturn Rings
  5. Trip to Spain
  6. News Links
  7. Become a confident Astronomer
  8. Are you interested in Imaging?
  9. Contact Us
April's Highlights

Spring is definitely here and the nights will now get shorter, but don't let that put you off going out and doing some observing as the skies are full of interesting things to look at.

Comet Lulin is now past its best, but is not too difficult to find in the constellation of Gemini the Twins. You will need binoculars or a small telescope to find it now, less than half a degree south of the star Mebsuta or Epsilon Geminorum, which is the fourth star along on the northernmost arm of Gemini from the star Castor, heading towards the constellation of Orion.

The April Lyrid meteor shower reaches peak activity between the 16th and the 25th of the month with the most activity predicted for 11:00UT (universal time) on the 22nd. Although this is during daylight hours from viewpoints in Europe all meteor showers can be unpredictable and so the peak can vary. The Lyrids tend to appear as short, bright streaks across the heavens with the occasional fireball.

There are a couple of Lunar conjunctions this month. The first is with Jupiter on the 19th at 11:00UT. Again this is during daylight hours but the Moon should still be visible with the naked eye. Jupiter however, will need binoculars to pick up. If you place the crescent Moon at the extreme right hand edge of your binoculars field of view you should be able to spot Jupiter as a bright star at the far left. The Moon also seems to close in on Venus on the 21st and 22nd of the month low in the east just before sunrise. On the 21st it will be 18 degrees away from Venus and on the 22nd, less than 5 degrees.

The most visually exciting conjunction this month however, is with the Moon and Mercury on the 26th April. Mercury is often difficult to find, but this month the Moon will be your guide! Sunset occurs at 19:15UT on this day. Don't forget to add an hour for BST. A slender crescent Moon should be visible around 30 minutes after sunset and Mercury will be found about 2 degrees or four Moon diameters below the Moon. The planet will look like a small brightish star and through a small telescope you should be able see Mercury as a 36% crescent. You should also be able to see the effect of 'Earthshine, the dark part of the Moon faintly illuminated by reflected light from the Earth. To complete the spectacle the Pleiades star cluster can be found just 1 degree to the north-east of the Moon.
More Spring Moon Watch

The International Year of Astronomy is all about bringing the fascination and wonder of astronomy to a wider public. The Spring Moon Watch is already under way running from the 28th March to the 5th April. The isn't anything special about the Moon this month except for the fact that the spring should give us good enough weather to get a look at our nearest neighbour in space and the Moon Watch has dedicated a week to view it!

So hopefully not only astronomical societies will be encouraging people who perhaps don't have much interest, to take a look at the Moon through a telescope, I would also encourage you (if you have a telescope) to do the same for your friends and neighbours and see if you too can win people over the looking at the night sky in a new way. 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!

So let us celebrate 400 years of telescopic astronomy. I too will be involved in an interesting project connected with the Moon on the weekend of the 4th April, but more of that next month...

Spring Constellations

The spring constellations of Leo the Lion, Virgo the Virgin and Coma Berenices or Berenices Hair are well on view this month and I described in the last newsletter about how this area of sky is rich in galaxies for the all of the 'deep sky' enthusiasts among you.

However, there are several other interesting constellations becoming more prominent now and with them, other objects of interest to discover. Bootes the Heardsman is now rising higher in the south-east and can be recognised by its shape like that of a kite. This constellation does not contain many deep sky objects that can easily be seen with a small telescope, but does boast several attractive double stars. Bootes brightest star is Arcturus the 'follower of the bear' and as the name suggests, you can find it by dropping an imaginary line down from the end of the Plough in the Great Bear. It is a luminous red giant star and this red-orange colour is clearly detectable even with the naked eye.

Rising in the east is the constellation of Hercules. This constellation marks the rising of the summer stars and Hercules is well worth scanning with binoculars and small telescopes. It plays host to the brightest globular clusters of stars in the northern hemisphere Messier (M)13. I go into more detail about this and the other wonders to be found in this constellation in a forthcoming newsletter.

Saturn's Rings

You can find Saturn near to the rear 'paw' of Leo the Lion as a yellowish 2nd magnitude 'star'.
Last month the rings all but disappeared from our point of view and were only visible in quite a large telescope. Well the good news is that, due to the orientation that we now have with respect to the rings this month they are now re-opening from our vantage point by about 4 degrees. So this means that you will be able to see them once again with even a small telescope. However, they won't be very wide and features such as the Cassini division will still be hidden from us.

It takes approximately 15 years between successive ring plane crossings, as they are known and so it will be another 7 to 8 years before the rings will seem to open up to us again in all their glory and give us a spectacular view. But don't be too disappointed, as when the rings are edge on to us as they are now, it is easier to spot the moons of Saturn which now appear to move around the planet much more akin to Jupiter's Galilean moons. With a small telescope it should be possible to spot 6 or even 7 of the Saturnian moons. It is best to use a chart such as that can be found in astronomy magazines or astronomical software to identify these objects.

Trip to Spain

I'm not trying to make you jealous, but I'm off to Spain for a week in mid April! So why am I telling you this? Well, in fact I going to help set up a fantastic new observatory in Andalucia.

The purpose of this observatory is to provide a 'hands-on' site for the use of students and staff at Glamorgan University who have been finding it difficult to get access to telescopes and clear skies for their observing projects. The good news is that, it is likely that it will also be available to the general public in the not too far distant future. I will of course let you know as and when this happens, because I'm sure that some of you might be interested in a visit... With approximately 200 clear nights a year and very dark skies, it should provide breath-taking views and an unforgettable experience for anyone remotely interested in the night sky and of course the amazing scenery and wonderful attractions of this lovely part of the country.

And as an added bonus there are new laws coming into force to curb light pollution in the region and you can read more about this in the news section below.
  Here are some links to some other recent news stories that I thought you would find interesting...

Hubble Uncovers an Unusual Stellar Progenitor to a Supernova
NASA's Hubble Space Telescope has identified a star that was one million times brighter than the sun before it exploded as a supernova in 2005.

Spitzer Space Telescope Finds Outer Planet
NASA's Spitzer space telescope has detected hot temperatures on an outer planet. Astronomers used infrared technologies to measure heat. The planet is approximately 190 light years from Earth. more...

Andalucía turning off the lights at night
New legislation intends to cut down light pollution in the region at night - perhaps we could follow suit and not only see more of the night sky but cut down on our energy consunption and bills as well! more...

S. America launch of telescope, spacecraft delayed
Officials say they have delayed next month's scheduled launch of a rocket carrying a space telescope and a spacecraft that is to gather information about the Big Bang cosmic explosion. 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!

  Are you interested in Imaging?

You can learn how to take stunning images of the night sky with your digital slr camera that will amaze your friends and family with the eBook
DSLR Astrophotography - A Beginners Guide which I co-wrote with my friend Jon Walton...

To contact us

Telephone me on +44(0)208 144 1091

or contact me by email