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Astronomy Know How
Helping you See the Night Sky - Newsletter No. 31 May 2009
In this issue:
  1. May's Highlights
  2. Comets Galore!
  3. Spring Constellations
  4. Saturn Rings
  5. Griffon Educational Observatory
  6. News Links
  7. Become a confident Astronomer
  8. Are you interested in Imaging?
  9. Contact Us
May's Highlights

The nights are growing shorter now, but there is still plenty to see if you are prepared to stay up for a little longer.

There are four, yes four comets to observe this month! But more on this later...

There are two planetary conjunctions to view this month, although you'll have to get up early or stay up late to see them. Venus and Mars will be joined by a lovely crescent Moon in the early morning of the 21st low down in the east. Venus will be diamond bright, but Mars will be much harder to see a little to the east of Venus and the thin crescent of the Moon will be found to the north of the pair. The best time to see this will be at 03:20UT (Universal Time). Don't forget to add and hour for BST.

On the mornings of the 26th to the 28th of May you can find the planet Jupiter low down in the south-east in the pre- dawn sky and then it will be just one third of a degree to the south of the much fainter planet Neptune. Jupiter will be a bright magnitude -2.2 but Neptune will be considerably fainter at magnitude 7.9. This means that you will need binoculars or a small telescope to see it and the rising Sun will quickly drown out Neptune. Jupiter will show a significant disc even through binoculars and Neptune should show a distinctly bluish colour although it will probably just look like a faint star. Jupiters moons should be fairly easy to pick up though especially through a small telescope.

The Eta Aquarid Meteors reaches its peak on the night of 5/6 May with a predicted rate of around 10 meteors per hour. The Parent comet of this meteor stream is the famous comet Halley. This year though, a bright Moon will wash out many of the fainter meteors, although once the Moon sets at around 3:00am you should see many more. Look in the area of the sky where the Moon has just set for the radiant point, that is the point where the meteors appear to emanate. To see the most meteors, look a little away from this point and any shooting stars that you see you can confirm that they are Eta Aquarids because you should be able to traces the streaks of light back to this radiant point.

Comets Galore!

May gives us four, yes four comets to observe! Two should be within the grasp of binoculars, but the other two will need a large telescope.

Comet Cardinal passes through the constellation of Gemini the Twins around the middle of the month near the Twins feet, that is the side nearest the constellation of Orion the Hunter. It will move west to east and end up near the star Beta Canis Minoris on the 31st of the month. It will look like a fuzzy star through binoculars or a small telescope and will brighten a little from magnitude +8.6 to +8.1 as the month progresses. On the 11th May it is within 2-degrees of Comet Lulin which is now quite dim and so you will need a Large telescope to pick up Lulin now.

The other faint comet that you might catch if you have a large telescope, say of 12-inches in diameter, is Comet 116P/Wild. You can find it between the 28th and 31st of May just about 2-degrees north of the bright star Regulus in Leo the Lion, but it won't be easy to detect. You'll have a better chance with Comet 22P Kopff. You should be able to find it quite near to the conjunction of Jupiter and Neptune in the last week of the month in binoculars and the best time to see it will be after midnight and into the early hours. Happy hunting!

Spring Constellations

Many of the well known constellations of Spring are now moving westward and are being chased by the groupings of early summer.

The constellations of Leo the Lion and Virgo the Virgin are still well on display and don't miss the fainter but lovely constellation of Coma Berenices or Berenices Hair. This part of the sky is in the heart of the Realm of the Galaxies and will reward the observer using binoculars or small telescopes with tantalising faint smudges that are distant galaxies. It is best to use a star chart to help you find you way around here.

Well on display at the moment is a star know as Cor Caroli or Charles's Heart named after king Charles I. It is in the constellation of Canes Venatici and if you drop an imaginary line from the double star Mizar and Alcor in Ursa Major down towards Coma Berenices, you'll come across Cor Caroli about halfway on the journey. This too is a double star and is arguably the most beautiful of all the double stars in the heavens. Take a look and see if you agree.

The constellations of Corvus the Crow and Crater the Cup are to be found low down in the south and the summer constellations of Libra and Scorpius are peeking over the south eastern horizon. Hercules and Ophiuchus are also climbing in the eastern sky, but more about these next month...

Saturn's Rings

Saturn is still to be found under the hind quarters of Leo the Lion. We've be following it's progress for the last couple of months.
Saturn is still fascinating us with its steady progress towards the ring plane crossing. This won't happen until November, but the rings appear to be getting thinner and thinner. In fact through a small telescope, Saturn looks like a planet with a pencil line either side of its disc.

Early to mid May is really the best time to see the planet, as by the end of the month it will start to drop in altitude and therefore we will be looking at it through more of our atmosphere, so it will seem more turbulent and also dimmer. The rings are still open to 4-degrees, so on a good steady night and with a larger telescope, it should still be possible to catch the Cassini division and because of our view from Earth, the moons of Saturn can be found passing in front of and behind the disc of the planet. So keep watching this most beautiful and fascinating of all the planets.

Griffon Educational Observatory

Last month I bragged about going to Spain to set up an observatory - well now I'm back and I thought that I would tell you a little more about it.

The Griffon Educational Observatory is situated in Andalucia in Southern Spain about a two hour drive from Malaga and Seville. At 36-degrees latitude stars that appear very low down near the southern horizon from latitudes that we get in Britain are seen much higher up. Not only that, you can see stars and constellations that are hard or even impossible to see, for example I could see the whole of the constellation of Scorpius quite easily. It is even possible to catch a glimpse of Alpha Centuari, although not at this time of year.

The instrumentation is impressive, the 'big' telescope there is a very fine 14-inch Maksutov-Cassegrain telescope by Intes-Micro on a very beefy Losmandy HGM200 equatorial mount. Also there are three 10-inch Dobsonian telescopes and several smaller instruments that will all be available to visitors to the observatory. There are also cameras and other imaging equipment to take those beautiful images at which we all gasp!.

The great thing is that the observatory will be open to visiting groups of observers in 2010 and if you are interested in heading south and viewing velvet black skies peppered in stars and the chance to use some top quality equipment with expert guidance then keep following the newsletters, as I will be letting you know more about this as things progress. I myself will probably be arranging the occasional trip down there for interested parties. Perhaps you might like to join us...

And why is it called the 'Griffon' Educational Observatory, well that's because you can watch in amazement as the Griffon Vultures swoop down from the surrounding mountain tops. These stunning birds have an 8 foot wing span and circle on the thermals within easy viewing of the observatory. Not to mention the Golden Eagles and other birds of prey!

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

Light Pollution reduced around the M2
Motorway lighting on a carefully selected section of the M2 in Kent will be switched off between midnight and 5am in a move to reduce carbon emissions and light pollution, the Highways Agency has announced.

Why is the sky alight?
There have been accounts of what are known as auroras - the eerie reddish and greenish flickering of light in the night sky - for the past 2000 years.more...

Astronomers Discover Local Star's Cool Companion
An international team, led by astronomers at the University of Hertfordshire in the UK, have discovered one of the coolest sub-stellar bodies ever found outside our own solar systemmore...

Solar Flares: Solar Sigmoids Explained
'Sigmoids' are S-shaped structures found in the outer atmosphere of the Sun (the corona), seen with X-ray telescopes and thought to be a crucial part of explosive events like solar flares.more...

Hubble to be replaced by Webb Space Telescope
The Hubble Space Telescope was carried into orbit by the Space Shuttle Discovery in April 1990. After 20 years of use, it will be phased out next year. It is due to be replaced in 2013, by the new and much more powerful Webb Space Telescope..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

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