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Astronomy Know How
Helping you See the Night Sky - Newsletter No. 32 June 2009
In this issue:
  1. June's Highlights
  2. Noctilucent Clouds
  3. Comet Kopff
  4. The Return of Mars and Jupiter
  5. Summer Constellations
  6. News Links
  7. Become a confident Astronomer
  8. Are you interested in Imaging?
  9. Contact Us
June's Highlights

June sees the nights short, but there is still plenty to see if you are willing to stay up.

The Summer Soltice occurs on 05:45UT (same as GMT) on 21st. This is when the Sun reaches its highest declination on its annual path against the background stars. After this, the nights will slowly get longer again!

This month sees a conjunction between the planets Neptune and Jupiter. This will be visible low down in the southeast shortly before sunrise and will be visible throughout the month. Both of these giant planets and to be found near to the eastern border of Capricorn the Sea Goat and close to the stars Delta and gamma Capricorni. If you have a small telescope and have never seen Neptune before you can use Jupiter as a useful guide as it is considerably brighter and can be found with the naked eye, whereas Neptune is of course too faint to be seen without optical aid.

If you would like to try and find the planet Uranus, you can use the Moon as a guide on Tuesday 16th June, as the Moon will be just over 4-degrees to the north of the planet at around 1:00UT (2:00 BST). So if you've never seen the pale greenish dish of this remote planet then now is your chance.

The June Bootid meteor shower should peak in the early hours of the 27th. Although this is unlikely to be a dramatic diplay of shooting stars, it is still worth keeping an eye on, as they have had an unexpected rise in the number of meteors seen of this shower in recent years and the Moon will only be 5 days old so won't wash out the sky. The radiant point, that is where the meteors appear to emerge from in the sky is just to the north of the 'Kite' asterism in Bootes the Herdsman, so is well placed throughout the night.

Noctilucent Clouds

June is the best time of year to observe this strange atmospheric phenomena

If you look to the north western skies about an hour or so after sunset and you have a good clear horizon, you may see a some very faint high clounds that have a pearlescent appearance and often take the form of bands or waves glowing against a dark sky.

These are Noctilucent Clouds and are formed very high in our atmosphere, much higher than any clouds that you might see in daylight at some 80 -100 kilometres up.. When the sun is well below the horizon, its light illuminates these very high clouds that are impossible to detect at any other time. Nobody is quite sure what causes these clouds to form so high, but it is thought that they may be linked to climate change and global warming, but this is open to conjecture. You can find out more from NASA but why not have a go at photographing them? Just point a camera at the northern sky just after sunset and take a shot. You never know...

Comet Kopff

If you manage to find Jupiter and Neptune on the 1st June then you can find Comet 22P/Kopff around 2.5-degrees to the north of these two planets. It's predicted magnitude is +8.1 so you will need at least binoculars to see it and it may resemble a faint fuzzy star cluster. It will be slightly fainter than Neptune. A 6-inch aperture telescope should show this comet well. Comets are of course notorious for behaving unexpectedly, so keep watching it throughout the month if you can as flare ups and other interesting things can always happen.

You'll find that Kopff moves eastward as the month progresses, away from Jupiter and Neptune but this trio can still make a good target if you interested in astro-imaging. If you get a good shot, please send it to me as I'd love to see it.

The Return of Mars and Jupiter

I mentioned earlier the conjunction of Jupiter and Neptune, but of course this means that Jupiter is now visible again from our vantage point in the solar system. And I should have mentioned Venus as well!
Low down in the southeast before dawn you should be able to catch Jupiter as a yellowish disc. Once you have found Jupiter, then Neptune can be found just a half a degree to the north. They are close companions throughout June and the best time to see them is at the end of the month.

Mars is best seen at mid-month on the 19th in the east-northeast in the dawn twilight. It is not well placed and is very small because it is almost on the opposite side of the sun from us, but at least it will improve through the coming months. Venus acts a a convenient marker to find Mars which will be just to the north east of the brillain Venus and these two will be joined by a crescent Moon on 21st. A lovely photo-opportunity perhaps?

Summer Constellations

If you are willing to stay up late, then there are some constellations that will reward your gaze. Down in the south are the superb constellations of Ophiuchus the Serpent Bearer, Serpens the Serpent and Scutum the shield and Sagittarius the Archer skirting the horizon. These constellations contain wonderful deep sky objects such as nebulae, star clusters and globular clusters, too numerous to mention here. So if you don't already have one, get hold of a good star chart such as Norton's star atlas or Turn Left at Orion to name but two, to guide you through these wonders. You can find these books and several others that I recommend here if you live in the UK or here if you live in the USA.

The constellation of Hercules hangs in the southern sky around midnight and contains the famous globular cluster M13. You can find this in binoculars as a misty blob of light a little below the top right hand star of the'Keystone' asterism. This is the brightest globular cluster in the northern hemisphere and will reward a look through even a small telescope.
To the east of Hercules you can find Lyra the Lyre, representing an ancient Greek musical instrument, this constellation is recognisable by its bright white star Vega. This star is one of three bright stars known as the Summer Triangle, the other two stars being Deneb in Cygnus the Swan and Altair in Aquila the Eagle. Again there are a wealth of deep sky objects to be seen in this region of the sky and if there is space (no pun intended), I'll point out one or two of the best ones next month...
  Here are some links to some other recent news stories that I thought you would find interesting...

Large solar telescope planned for Maui, HI
A decision is expected by the end of the year on whether to go ahead with construction of the world's largest optical solar telescope near the summit of Haleakala on Maui.

World's Largest Telescope Captures Sun's Magnetic Field Better
The development of this technology will be essential for figuring the next generation of even-larger night time telescopes. more...

Why Was There No Chinese Newton?
Could something like the Principia have been produced in China? more...

Lessons From Hubble Servicing Will Shape Future Exploration
Astronauts and engineers here are building on 19 years of experience servicing the Hubble Space Telescope in orbit as they ponder what it will take to maintain outposts on the Moon and ships en route to Mars. more...

Astronomers unfold mystery behind MSP
Astronomers have succeeded in unravelling a mystery that has boggled the human mind for long, but not any more. They have solved the puzzle about millisecond pulsars, which are the fastest spinning stars known to science 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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