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Astronomy Know How
Helping you See the Night Sky - Newsletter No. 36 October 2009
In this issue:
  1. October's Highlights
  2. Impact Moon!
  3. Autumn Moonwatch
  4. The Andromeda Galaxy
  5. Other Deep Sky Delights in October
  6. News Links
  7. Become a confident Astronomer
  8. Are you interested in Imaging?
  9. Contact Us
October's Highlights

October marks the 'new season' for observers, bringing cooler nights and of course longer darker nights too!

We see the stars of the summer now slowing sinking into the west earlier and earlier in the evening this month, but conversely, the stars of autumn and winter rise earlier in the East. We are now past the equinox and so our nights are longer that our days and will continue in the way until mid-winter around the 21st December.

There are lots of interesting things to view this month including the Orionid meteor shower, which peaks on 20th October and is active from the 15th through to the 27th of the month. The Moon will be a thin waxing crescent on the peak night and so shouldn't be troublesome and there is the possibility of higher than usual activity.

On 1st October there will be a spectacular planetary alignment in the dawn sky at 05:15UT (same as GMT) when Mercury Venus and Saturn. This will be best seen with the naked eye low down in the east. What's more is that you'll get a chance to see them shuffle their positions over the course of the month, when for example on the 8th when Mercury and Saturn will be separated by just 19 arc minutes. On the 13th it's Venus and Saturn that are close together with Mercury very near the horizon. So if you are an early riser, be sure and take a look at the interplay between these members of our solar system.

Jupiter is still gracing our evening skies. It's very bright at the moment at magnitude -2.5 in the constellation of Capricorn the Sea Goat (whatever that is?) and it lies not too far distant from the distant planet Neptune. Through binoculars or a small telescope, you should see the 4 moons of the giant planet shift position night by night and with a telescope you can increase the magnification to view the cloud belts. If you have a larger scope, you should be able to detect the Great Red Spot and more detail in the cloud structure of this majestic planet.

Impact Moon!

It sounds like a title of a 'Tin Tin' story, but on 9th October, NASA will crash two spacecraft on the Moon.

Why are they doing this? Well, it is a mission to find water, although it seems now, that the Indians have beaten them to it. No really!! (See the news story below). The idea is that the first spacecraft will smash into the Lunar surface followed by the second about four minutes later. This second one will sample the dust plume left by the first and send back data on its composition.

All this will happen around 11:30 UT or 12:30 BST so will be in daylight for observers in the UK and Europe, however the Moon will be visible low down near the north-western horizon, so if you have any hope of seeing anything, you will need a clear view of that horizon. The impactors will hit the lunar surface at a speed of about 5600mph and is expected to throw up a plume of debris up to 20 miles above the surface.

If you have a telescope over 10-inches aperture you might stand a chance of seeing something. This is a very rare opportunity, so have a go if you can. The mission is called LCROSS - Lunar CRater and Sensing Satellite and you can find exact position and timing information on its website by clicking here
Autumn Moonwatch

Still on the theme of the Moon, this month sees the Society for Popular Astronomy and the International Year of Astronomy's Autumn Moonwatch.

Similar to its forerunner the 'Spring Moonwatch' back in April, the idea is to get people all over the world paying some attention to the Moon. It starts on Saturday 24th and runs to the end of the month to give everyone the opportunity to have a good look at least once at our nearest neighbour in space. If you are already an seasoned observer, it is a chance to renew your acquaintance with an old friend. There will be lots of societies running public open evenings during this week to show the public the wonder of the Moon when viewed through a telescope.

If you yourself are a proud owner of a scope, then why not invite your friends and neighbours around for a 'Moon Party'? You may win some converts to the hobby and it is a chance to show off your knowledge. Enjoy!

The Andromeda Galaxy

Of all the deep sky objects that there are to look at, the Andromeda Galaxy has to be the one that causes the most fascination and the most number of requests for me to show people where it is.

The constellation and its galaxy are now moving high in the south by mid-month and are well placed for observations. If you are lucky enough to live in a dark rural location you may just be able to spot it with the naked eye as a faint elongated misty patch north east of the Great Square of Pegasus. However, it is most easily detectable using binoculars, even from moderately light polluted skies. In fact binoculars are arguably the best way to appreciate it anyway as it is over four time the diameter of the full Moon!

THe Andromeda Galaxy or Messier (M)31 as it is know is the nearest large galaxy to us and is rushing towards us at colossal speed; however it is still over 2.5 million light years distant, so it will take a long time to get here. So how can you see it?

The constellation of Andromeda is a little like a distorted letter 'V' lying on its side that has its point at the top left star of the Square of Pegasus. This is in fact the star alpha Andromedae also known as Alpheratz. If you take the left hand 'fork' of the 'V' of the constellation and move up two stars, you will come to a reasonably bright star that is beta Andromedae and is the second brightest star in the constellation. Now head right or westwards and you should see another bright(ish) star. If you then draw an imaginary line between these two stars and keep heading westward you should pick up a fainter but still noticeable star and next to it a faint fuzzy patch. You've found it! It is the furthest object that can be seen (from a dark site) with the naked eye.

Other Deep Sky Delights in October

The Autumn is a great time to go hunting for all kinds of deep sky objects and below I'll mention a few of the best ones..

While still looking at M31 you might notice two other smaller and fainter patches of light very near to the bright centre of the Andromeda Galaxy. These are M32 (the nearest one) and M110. These are also separate galaxies that are satellites of the much larger M31. M110 also has the designation of NGC205 as Messier's original catalogue only went up to 108 objects. The last two were added much later.

One of my personal favourite objects is the Perseus Double Cluster or NGC 884 and 852 otherwise known as the 'Sword Handle'. They look like two adjacent clumps of diamonds in the sky and you can find them by following an imaginary line down from the middle star in the 'w' of Cassiopeia through the next lowest left hand star in the constellation and down towards the constellation of Perseus itself. Again, you might be able to detect a misty patch of light here with the naked eye, but the best tool to use is definitely a pair of 7x or 10x50 binoculars. Some of the stars in the clusters are quite noticeably orange in colour.

Off the top of the right hand star in Cassiopeia you can find another of Messier's clusters, M52 otherwise known as the Salt and Pepper cluster. One look and you'll see why! M52 lays just over half way from the rightmost star of Cassiopeia or Beta Cass. towards the constellation of Cepheus. Now that you've found M52, move just to the south a little and you'll find NGC7635. This is the 'Bubble Nebula'. You will need a large telescope to see the bubble shape, but smaller ones should make out a fuzzy patch of light. Long exposure photographs show up the shape of this as well as lots of other gas and dust in the region.

Last month I mentioned M33 the Triangulum Galaxy. This is a 'face on' spiral to be found due south of M31 and the other side of the constellation of Andromeda and in the constellation of Triangulum. This is difficult to see due to its low surface brightness but should show up from a dark sky sight in binoculars. You will need a large telescope to make out any structure in the spiral arms, but again in long exposure imaging this galaxy can look almost as impressive as the one in Andromeda.
  Here are some links to some other recent news stories that I thought you would find interesting...

Black holes may precede galaxies, astronomers say
The findings could change the understanding of how galaxies first formed, and what role black holes play in the universe.

You Are Invited to Go Back 400 Years With Galileo To Witness a Phenomenon
In October the International Year of Astronomy (IYA 2009) Galilean Nights, will see thousands of public observing events around the world replicating Galileo’s observations and bringing what he saw 400 years ago to the public of today. From October 22 to 24, amateur and professional astronomers, science centers, schools and all interested groups are invited to be part of the Galilean Nights project. more...

Astronomers search for habitable moons
Moons capable of supporting life like those portrayed in the popular Star Wars films could be scattered all over our galaxy, according to astronomers. more...

Fixed-up Hubble telescope spots distant stardust
The freshly repaired and outfitted Hubble Space Telescope has spotted a new butterfly-shaped galaxy and wisps of stardust containing the elements of life being recycled into new galaxies, NASA said .... more...

India hails Moon mission 'find'
...a spacecraft probe found more water on the Moon "than was expected." 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...

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