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Astronomy Know How
Helping you See the Night Sky - Newsletter No. 33 July 2009
In this issue:
  1. July's Highlights
  2. The Moon
  3. Apollo Remembered
  4. July's Total Solar Eclipse
  5. Summer Constellations Continued
  6. News Links
  7. Become a confident Astronomer
  8. Are you interested in Imaging?
  9. Contact Us
July's Highlights

July's nights are still short, but now that we are past the summer solstice, the days will slowly start to grow shorter again..

July this year is notable for two major events, one celestial and one historical!

If you are willing to travel to China in July and if it's not too late to book, you might be able to catch this year's total solar eclipse. This is going to be one of the longest eclipses in a while and I'll give you more details below...

This month also marks the 40th anniversary of the Apollo Moon Landings. It was this amazing project that more than anything else got me personally seriously interested in astronomy. Oh, dear I'm showing my age, but nevertheless it was a major achievement and I will reminisce on this a little later too...

July also brings us the best views of the Milky Way that we are likely to get over the course of the year. This band of light that stretches across the night sky is always best seen from a dark sky site and is a part of a spiral arm of our Galaxy the Milky Way. It harbours some of the most stunning deep sky wonders for the casual and more serious observer alike. The ancient Egyptians saw it as an analogue of the river Nile in the heavens, which is easy to understand as it can look very much like a river of stars flowing across the firmament. Take the time to scan it with a humble pair of binoculars and be prepared to be impressed!

The Moon

The moon is always a great target for binoculars and small telescopes and July is a good time to have a good look and our nearest neighbour in space and remember the Apollo landings...

Apollo 11's astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed in the 'Sea of Tranquility' on 20th July 1969 and were the first humans ever to set foot on the Moon. It is impossible to see the flag that they planted or even the remaining part of the lunar lander from any ground based telescope or even from the Hubble Space Telescope, they are just too small and the Moon is 250,00 miles away! However, you can see the sea of Tranquility quite easily with the naked eye and better using binoculars or a telescope.

You can find Mare Tranquilitatis to the right of the centre of the disc of the Moon and about half way towards the edge. It is bordered by the Sea of Serenity and between the two 'seas' is the crater Plinius. It is worth investing in a Moon map and having a good wander around with your scope this entire area, where you can pick up some lovely craters that stand out starkly against the dark plain of the 'Mare'. You can pick up a good moon map here if you live in the UK or here if you live in the USA.

In all, there were six Moon landings between 1969 and 1973 and sadly none since. However, there are moves afoot the send men back to our nearest celestial neighbour under the guise of NASA's 'Constellation' programme. I look forward to seeing us back there.

Last April I was privileged to be part of the Lunar World Record Imaging attempt that has since been ratified by the Guinness Book of Records.

The event took place for the most part in Sir Patrick Moore's back garden in honour of his detailed drawings of the Moon that were used by NASA to determine the landing sites of the Apollo Missions.

You can read all about it and see the amazingly detailed image that resulted by visiting Lunar World Record Web Site and you can contribute to Sir Patrick's chosen charity (Cystic Fibrosis Trust) when you buy a print or poster!
Apollo Remembered

The Apollo programme was very ambitious but had the added incentive of the 'cold war' to get the Americans not just into space but to be the first to the Moon.

I remember as a young boy being totally caught up in the whole thing. I couldn't get enough information about the rockets, the astronauts and of course the Moon itself. I watched all the launches of the Saturn 5 rockets and the special launch of Apollo 11, to take men to the Moon and I feel very privileged that it happened in my life time. I also recall being got out of bed by my parents to watch Neil Armstrong leave the Lunar Module and set foot on another world. A moment to be remembered for the rest of my life! I so wanted to be there with him. Unfortunately, I never made it into space, but it did give me a life long love affair with the night sky.

Of course the really interesting thing about the moon is that is ever changing. The best time to view it, is when it is less than 'full'. This is because the full Moon seems rather featureless due to there being no shadows to give depth to the mountains and craters. A half phase, or as it should more correctly be termed 'first or last quarter' are probably the best times to observe it. So, go out and observe the Moon and if you are old enough, see if you too can recall your memories of that truly historic event.

Discover a wonderful way to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the first Apollo Moon Landing. Click here to find more...
July's Total Solar Eclipse

The 22nd of July is a day in the calendar of every Solar Eclipse chaser, as it will bring the longest Total Solar Eclipse in living memory, but you'll have to travel to China to see it. Some have dubbed it the 'Eclipse of the Century'.

It path takes it across Shanghai, but it in fact starts in the Arabian Gulf, then crosses India, Bhutan, Bangladesh and Burma before crossing the Chinese border. The longest point of totality lasting for six minutes and 39 seconds will be found just off the Japanese island of Iwo Jima renowned for the fierce battle between American and Japanese forces during World War II. After this, it can only be seen by a few island dwellers and passengers on cruise ships.

So if you haven't already booked, this may be your last chance to see a long solar eclipse, as the next long one won't be seen until 2132. I don't intend to be there!! Unfortunately, observers in Europe will not see any of the eclipse, not even partial phases. You will have to be in South East Asia for this too.

What will make this eclipse particularly interesting, apart from the fact that it is a long one, is that it is taking place during a solar 'minimum'. The sun in still in its 'quiet' phase, with little or no sunspot activity and this can have a dramatic effect on the appearance of the solar corona or outer atmosphere of the sun ,that can only be seen here on Earth during totality. Of course, exactly what this will do to the look of it remains to be seen...

So if you are one of the lucky ones to be going on this great adventure, I wish you clear skies.

Summer Constellations Continued

Now that we are past the summer solstice the nights are getting longer and so you may not have to stay up so late to get a good look at the wonderful objects visible in the summer skies. A star chart is an invaluable companion for your explorations, 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.

Last month I mentioned the constellation of Hercules visible 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. But don't miss M92. This too is a globular cluster, often overlooked due to its brighter neighbour. You can find it in the northern part of the constellation above the left hand side of the 'keystone' asterism.

This month you simply can't miss Cygnus the Swan. This ancient constellation lies in a rich part of the Milky Way, the spiral arm of our galaxy and so is full of superb objects for your delight. If you are interested in double stars, then take a look through a telescope at the star Albireo that marks the head of the swan. This is an easy to split double star of differing colours. Sometimes described as gold and green and sometimes as yellow and blue. You decide! See if you can also spot the North American Nebula. This is a 'dark' nebula that can be found next to the star Deneb in the swan's tail.It is probably easiest to make out with the naked eye or binoculars from a dark sky site and looks like a dark patch against a star filled area of the sky. Don't worry if you can't see it at first as it can be a challenge and a dark sky site is quite important to see it well.

Follow the Milky Way towards the southern horizon and you should come to a brighter patch in the constellation of Scutum, The Shield. This is the Scutum star cloud and is an intense patch of the Milky Way spiral arm. Again, if you have a pair of binoculars, sweep through this region for some breath taking views. The summer gives us some spectacular objects to observe and the nights are often warm(ish). So make the most of these lovely skies and enjoy your summer.
  Here are some links to some other recent news stories that I thought you would find interesting...

After 40 years' reflection, laser moon mirror project is axed
US research that began with the first Apollo landing - and helped to prove that the moon is moving away from Earth - is to be axed

Planet discovery stuns top astronomer
The first ever discovery of a planet outside our galaxy has left a local astronomy expert stunned. more...

Skywatchers trip the light fantastic, but fail to see stars
Leung believes continued air pollution will prevent generations to come from seeing stars. more...

Caroline Moore Supernova: 14 year old’s Supernova
Scientists say Caroline Moore, age fourteen, is the youngest person to discover a supernova in a nearby galaxy. They also say it appears to be an extremely rare supernova. more...

Telescope heads for clearer night skies
A telescope is being moved to a new home because light pollution has made it useless in Cambridge. The £500000 Schmidt Telescope is being moved ....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

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