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Astronomy Know How
Helping you See the Night Sky - Newsletter No. 34 August 2009
In this issue:
  1. August's Highlights
  2. This months Meteors
  3. The Moons of Jupiter
  4. Saturn's Rings Edge On
  5. Deep Sky Delights in August
  6. News Links
  7. Become a confident Astronomer
  8. Are you interested in Imaging?
  9. Contact Us
August's Highlights

August can be a pleasant time of year for observing. The nights are steadily getting longer and the evenings can be warm enough not to need too many layers of warm clothes.

There are several interesting events for observers using both the naked eye and optical aids this month.

Firstly, there is the famous annual meteor shower of the Perseids, but more of this later. We also have an interesting event to witness with the moons of Jupiter and Saturn's rings. Not to mention various 'deep sky' wonders for those armed with binoculars or small telescopes.

You can use the planet Venus as a guide to find a lovely deep sky object, that of M35 a beautiful open cluster in the constellation of Gemini on the 3rd August in the early morning sky from around 2:00am. On 6th August a penumbral eclipse of the Moon will occur. This will be quite hard to see but may show better if you attempt to photograph it. This event starts at 23:01 UT (Universal Time - same as GMT) and mid-eclipse occurs at 01:37am UT. A penumbral eclipse is where the Moon is immersed in the shadow caused by our own planet Earth, but only the outer shadow, not the darkest part of the shadow. If this happened, it would be a 'Total Lunar Eclipse'. What you might see during the penumbral eclipse is the lower third of the Moon becoming grey in colour.

Two planets reach 'opposition' this month. Jupiter's opposition occurs on the 14th and Neptune achieves opposition on 17th. Opposition means that the planet can be found directly opposite the sun in the sky, so as the sun sets the planet rises. This means that we will have a good view of these planets all night long. However, you will need a telescope in order to see Neptune as it is too faint to detect with the naked eye. You can find both of these planets in the constellation of Capricornus.

This Months Meteors

There are three meteor showers on view this month however, only one is well known, namely the Perseids, however, it is worth mentioning the others as they too can provide us with some spectacular events.

On 2nd August the Alpha Capricornid Meteor shower reaches its peak. Of course, as with most other meteor showers it is worth watching the skies either side of the peak as you are sure to see a few members of the shower and occasional unusual activity can occur. The second shower of the month is the Iota Aquarids, which reach their peak on the 6th of the month.

The Perseids are the 'big show' of each 12th to 13th August and this year should be no different. The Perseids take their name from the radiant point of the shower that can be found in the constellation of Perseus. They usually provide us with fast, bright meteors and there is the possibility of an enhanced peak this year. The down side is that the brightness of the Moon will likely drown out the fainter meteors but don't let that put you off, as the bright events will still be clearly visible. As with any meteor shower, you will need to take a little time just scanning the skies and looking about 30 degrees away from the radiant point will often pay dividends.

The Moons of Jupiter

This summer, Jupiter's equator is parallel to the Sun, which means that its moons from our point of view here on Earth will exhibit some interesting events.

The moons orbits are pretty much edge on to the Sun and so can appear to occult one another and eclipse one another. On 4th August Jupiter's moon Ganymede will cast a shadow over nearly 75 per cent of Europa's disc, which will cause Europa to dim by around three magnitudes. A small telescope should show this event well. An even more spectacular event will occur on the 12th, again Ganymede will eclipse Europa, but this time Europa will effectively disappear for 62 seconds! The 4th August event starts at 21:47:21 UT through to 21:58:48UT and the 12th August event starts at 01:46:06UT through to 02:00:34UT Be sure that you get a good view of Jupiter through your eyepiece a good 20 minutes before the event.

This 'equinox' of Jupiter occurs every six years or so, so will have to wait until 2015 before we get a chance to witness these events again.

Saturn's Rings Edge On

An event known as a 'ring plane crossing' of Saturn will occur next month, where the planet's rings will appear edge on to us, but more of that in the next newsletter.
However, on 11th August the rings go edge on to the Sun and this will have an interesting effect from our point of view. It will seems like the rings will darken and disappear into the surrounding blackness. They are in fact being illuminated from the unseen northern side. However, bearing in mind that Saturn is so close to the Sun from our point of view, it will be difficult to make any observations.
It will be very low down in the west after sunset. But it may well be worth trying to make an effort to view it as it will seem to have no rings at all! Be careful that you only make observations after the Sun has properly set, especially if you are using a telescope.

Deep sky Delights in August

August means that the skies get darker noticeably earlier than they did even just a few weeks ago, so you may not have to stay up so late to get a good look at the wonderful objects visible in the late 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.

The Milky Way is stretching across the sky from the south west to the north east and within the faint misty glow lay constellations that are packed with stunning star clusters and nebulae. One such constellation is that of Cygnus The Swan. Its brightest star Deneb is the top leftmost star of a group of three known as the 'summer triangle', with Vega in Lyra The Lyre and Altair in Aquilla The Eagle.
Lyra is quite a small constellation but contains the 'Ring Nebula' or M57 found in between the two lower stars of the constellation. This is a planetary nebula and is the best example of this type of object that can be seen from the northern hemisphere. Through a telescope it looks like a smoke ring hanging in space and is the result of the star at its centre having puffed off its outer layers. It's well worth a look. If you have binoculars, then follow an imaginary line from Vega down towards Altair and you should come to an amusing grouping of stars known as Brocchi's cluster or better known as 'the Coathanger Cluster'. Take a look at it and you'll see why!

You are now in the region of the constellations of Vulpecula the Fox and Sagitta the Arrow. These are delightful constellations to browse around with binoculars and small telescopes and are often overlooked. Don't miss the globular cluster M71 in Sagitta. It looks more like an open cluster than a globular as it is so loosely packed with stars. While you are in Vulpecula, don't miss M27 the Dumbbell Nebula. You'll need a small telescope to appreciate it properly. This is another planetary nebula like M57 but is nearer to us at a mere 975 light years. Again you'll see how its has got its name the moment you see it. I would encourage you to explore this wonderful region of sky at its best during August. There are far more things to look at than there is room to mention here.
  Here are some links to some other recent news stories that I thought you would find interesting...

Rock star's music opens for telescope
Spain's King Juan Carlos on Friday inaugurated a huge telescope on the Canary Islands

Let's turn off some lights and take back the night
The moon and the stars have become strangers to us. The Milky Way cannot cast its spell over us. We have given up the night. more...

Amateur star-gazer discovers new spot on Jupiter
All you would-be Galileos, take note. An Australian amateur used his homemade telescope to discover a new spot on Jupiter - a finding of cosmic importance. more...

Earth landing for 'space cheese'
Interstellar Cheddar lands in Cressex more...

New Science Book Web Site
Sue has just finished a web site for a publishing company that is packed with books on space travel and the Apollo missions and much more besides 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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