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Astronomy Know How
Helping you See the Night Sky - Newsletter No. 41 March 2010
In this issue:
  1. March's Highlights
  2. Mars Now Past Its Best
  3. Comet 81P/Wild
  4. Saturn At Opposition
  5. Deep Sky Highlights of March
  6. Other News
  7. News Links
  8. Become a confident Astronomer
  9. Are you interested in Imaging?
  10. Contact Us

Thanks for subscribing to this my FREE! monthly newsletter. I hope that you enjoy it.

Here you'll find information about what you can see in the night sky over the coming month and some tips on how to observe some of the things mentioned. I hope that you find it useful and please let me know what you think and let me have any ideas as to what you might like to see in it. I would like this to be as much your newsletter as it is mine...

I wish you clear skies,

March's Highlights

This month sees a number of interesting celestial events.

Saturn is well on display this month and if you would like some help finding the planet, then on the evening of 2nd March an almost full Moon will help you pinpoint Saturn lying just to the north of it. It is a bright yellowish 'star' and if you turn a telescope on to it, you should be able to see the famous ring system. More below...

Also Mars is still well on show at the beginning of the month. See below...

Saturn's moons Rhea and Titan are in conjunction on the evening of 5th. This means that they will appear very close to one another when viewed through a telescope. Their closest approach will occur at 22:02 GMT

If you have access to a clear western horizon on 16th, then see if you can spot the very thin crescent of the Moon just after sunset. The Moon will be just over 21hrs 'old' and difficult to spot, but a bright planet Venus will help to show you the way. Venus is above and to the left of the Moon (viewing from the northern hemisphere) and you'll need to look around 18:00 GMT. You will have about 30 minutes at most to see it, so take your chance while you can.

The Spring Equinox occurs at 17:32 on 20th March. This is when the Sun crosses the celestial equator and enters the northern hemisphere, so the days will start to be longer than the nights. The clocks go forward for the UK on 28th at 01:00am to British Summer Time (BST).
Mars Now Past Its Best

Because the Earth's orbit is much smaller than that of Mars we are now rushing away from the Red Planet and so Mars appears to be shrinking from our point of view.

However, it is still quite noticeable in the night sky in the constellation of Cancer the Crab. It is the bright orange coloured interloper in this otherwise quite faint constellation.

It has reduced in size from around 14 arc-seconds in diameter when it was at opposition last month, to around 12 arc-seconds now. This doesn't perhaps sound like much of a difference, but when you consider that and arc-second is like looking at a penny from a distance of 20 miles, you can perhaps see that small angular measurements can make quite a difference to what we can see!

So take the opportunity if you can, to have a last good look at Mars. You'll need a magnification of around 150x to have a chance of making out any features and this will get increasingly harder as the month wears on. An orange or red coloured filter will help too, as this will improve the contrast and bring out some surface detail. A blue filter can also help to show up the polar cap as well.

Comet 81P/Wild

If you possess binoculars of say the 7x50 or 10x50 variety, you should be able to pick up an interesting comet this month.

Now this isn't a bright comet such as Hale Bopp or Holmes, but is should be easily detectable in binoculars at magnitude +8.5. This can vary either way of course, as we found with comet Holmes that was expected to be uninspiring but brightened over a million time quite unexpectedly!

You can find it in the constellation of Virgo near iota Virginis a few degrees to the east of the bright star Spica. It will stay in this area right through the month, so sweep around with your binoculars or a low power telescope and see if you can pick it up. It will look like a bright 'smudge' of light and is obviously not a star, which of course all appear as points. Keep going back to it, as it may develop a short 'tail' and of course it may brighten up...

Comet Wild (pronounced 'Vilt' by the way), will pass just over half way between the Earth and the Sun at it closest approach to us. If you have any photographic equipment that you can attach to your telescope, then have a go at taking an image of it. We are planning a gallery on the web site, so you can share you images with visitors, so don't forget to check back at AstronomyKnow regularly to watch developments.

Saturn at Opposition

Saturn will be at opposition on 2nd March.

This means that it is exactly opposite to the Sun in the sky from our point of view here on Earth. Opposition is always the best time to see a planet as it will be at its brightest and Saturn is no exception.

You can find the ringed planet in the constellation of Virgo the Virgin in the 'bowl' asterism. The rings are still almost edge on to us and so don't show up particularly well, but during opposition they can sometimes appear brighter than usual due to the effect of the Sun being directly behind us when we view them.

You will of course need a telescope to see Saturn's rings and you should be able to detect them even at a moderate magnification of say 40x. If you increase the power of course your view will improve, but don't go mad with magnification as you will often get a better view at a lower power, as the image will be brighter even thou it is smaller and unwanted effects such as poor seeing and drive or tracking errors in your mount will be minimised.
Deep Sky Highlights of March

The stars and constellations of Spring are starting to become more noticeable and this means that our view from Earth takes us out further into deep space.

There are some lovely star clusters on view at the moment. The first one to mention is that of M44 also known as Praesepe or the 'Beehive Cluster'. This will appear to the naked eye as a misty patch in the middle of the Constellation of Cancer the Crab (where you can find Mars this month). If you turn binoculars or a small telescope at low power on to this area of sky, you will be greeted by a swarm of stars. There are some 350 stars in this cluster. They can indeed be reminiscent of bees buzzing around a hive. Enjoy!

Another cluster not far from M44 and worth hunting down is M67. This is fainter and harder to see and will need a higher magnification to show up well. It is much further away than M44 at least five times we think and is as old as our solar system, some 4 billion years. You can find the cluster south of M44 near the star Alpha Cancri called Acubens and contains a lot of old orange and red stars.

Further out into deep space lies the galaxy NGC 2903 just to the west of the 'Sickle' asterism in Leo the Lion, representing the Lion's head and mane. This is a moderately bright galaxy at magnitude +8.9 and will show up well in a small telescope. If you have a scope of at least 8-inches in aperture, then using powers of between 200 - 300x will show you detail in the spiral arms if you take your time to study it. There is also a star cloud embedded in the galaxy that merits its own catalogue number NGC 2905. See if you can spot it!

If you move further east in Leo, just below the line connecting Regulus and Denebola in the tale of the Lion and about half way along you will find the galaxies M95, M96 and M105. At low power they appear as distinct fuzzy patches and if the air is steady and you increase the magnification you should start to pick up some structure to these distant objects. They are quite faint, but should be visible in a telescope of 6-inches aperture or more. M105 is the brightest of the trio.

Other News

We are carrying out several updates to the AstronomyKnowHow web site at the moment, which should go 'live' soon. So do check back regularly to see what's happening...

I've finally entered the 21st Century and have joined Twitter! If you would like to follow me on this particular micro-blogging site then please drop by

TV Star!

I recently appeared in a TV show for the Sky Information Channel, called 'Stargazer'. The first half of the programme is a brief biography of yours truly and later in the show you can see me explaining how to set up a small reflector telescope. I also present two other scopes that I took along to the studios, to show the type of equipment now available to modern amateur astronomers, such as yourself. The programme runs for 30 minutes and you can now view it on our web site at Astronomy Know How so do take a look if you have the time and let me know if you think I should have a series (wink!)
  Here are some links to some other recent news stories that I thought you would find interesting...

Astronomers discover 'youngest planet orbiting a solar-type star'
The youngest planet orbiting a solar-type star outside our solar system have been discovered by astronomers. more...

No Place to Hide
Missing Primitive Stars Outside Milky Way Uncovered more...

NASA's WISE telescope surveys the sky
NASA has released six sample images, including "a wispy comet, a bursting star-forming cloud, the grand Andromeda galaxy, and a faraway cluster of hundreds of galaxies." more...

Hubble telescope captures Saturn's eerie twin aurorae
A spectacular light show on Saturn has been captured in unique new photos of the ringed planet. more...

Astronomy solves puzzles posed by artists such as Hamlet and Van Gogh
A team of art sleuths has turned to astronomy and mathematical formulas to crack a string of historical conundrums posed by the works of Shakespeare, Chaucer and Van Gogh.. 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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