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Astronomy Know How
Helping you See the Night Sky - Newsletter No. 43 May 2010
In this issue:
  1. May's Highlights
  2. Spectacular Venus
  3. Delightful Moon
  4. Four Asteroids
  5. Deep Sky Highlights of May
  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,

May's Highlights

The nights are getting noticeably shorter now, but there is still plenty to see during the hours of darkness

The Moon is performing well for us this month, but more of that later and there are four planets now on show for us...

The Eta Aquarid meteors are due to reach their peak on the 5th May. Potentially they can produce 40 meteors per hour, the radiant is quite low for observers in mid northern latitudes, which will have the effect of reducing the number that you are likely to see. It is still worth 'keeping an eye out' for them though.

Saturn is still well on display for us this month. Even in modest telescopes you should be able to see the famous rings and a few of the brighter moons. You will need a telescope and a magnification of at least 40 times to see this well and of course a larger scope and higher power will give better results. Saturn still lies in the 'bowl' of the constellation of Virgo and is now to be seen in the south west an hour or two after sunset.

Mars is now sinking westward but heading eastward(!) into the constellation of Leo the Lion from its neigbouring constellation of Cancer the Crab. The planet is also moving away from us quite rapidly, so its disc appears smaller and smaller from our point of view. In any sizes telescope Mars is now very small and by the end of the month you will be unlikely to see anything other than a 'gibbous' phase.

Venus is a splendid sight this month and frankly you can't miss it as it is a bright beacon in the west after dark. But more on this particular planet shortly...

Finally, if you are an early riser or have been up most of the night looking at the stars, then Jupiter will be well worth a look around the middle of the month. You should be able to find it low down in the east before sunrise and you will be helped to find it on the morning of the 9th and 10th when it will be joined by a lovely crescent Moon. This would make a great picture for all you budding astro-imagers!
Spectacular Venus

As I have already mentioned, Venus will look glorious this month. A small telescope will show its gibbous phase and it will be bright even through the most modest of telescope! I would suggest the use of a filter to help improve the comfort of viewing it. Either a 'Moon' filter (yes, really) as this will reduce its glare considerably, or a coloured filter such a blue or violet one.

The planets apparent size will increase slightly from 11 to 12 arc seconds over the course of the month but its phase will recede from 88% on the 1st May to 80% by the 31st.

Look out for it on the 21st May when you'll find it just 42 arc minutes above the star cluster Messier (M)35 in the constellation of Gemini the Twins. This again should be a spectacular sight and will look best through binoculars or a very low power eyepiece in a small telescope.

Delightful Moon

At this time of year the Moon keeps lower to the horizon than at others. Oddly enough this tends to make it more noticeable.

At the end of May in particular it will appear to hover over the southern horizon and this is when a phenomenon know as the 'Moon illusion' is most noticeable. The Moon seems bigger when it is near the horizon. I say 'seems' because there is in fact no change in its measurable size in the sky. It is thought that this is due to us humans having objects that we can compare it to when it is near the horizon, such as trees and buildings. When it is high in the sky our minds do not have these comparisons and so it just seems smaller. See if you notice this yourself.

On the 1st of the month the Moon will be very near the bright orange star Antares in Scorpius the Scorpion. The pair will be due south at around 02:00UT (same as GMT) or 3:00am BST. ALso see if you can spot the Moon and Venus in the daylight on the morning of the 16th at 09:00UT (10:00am BST) when the Moon will be only 1/4 of a degree south of Venus. Later, after sunset the star cluster M35 will be 1-degree above the crescent Moon.

If you have a telescope of at least 6-inches or 150mm in aperture on the 26th May take a look at the lunar valley 'Vallis Schroteri' near the crater Aristarchus. You may need a Moon map to help you find it. It will be well illuminated with the shadows helping to show up this interesting lunar feature.

Four Asteroids

'The Big Four' are the collective term used for the first four asteroids to be discovered. They are Ceres. Pallas, Vesta and Juno and all of them are available to view this month.

Ceres is the biggest and brightest and you can find it in to constellation of Sagittarius the Archer. In the south-southeast before sunrise you'll find Sagittarius and Ceres is to be found between the stars Lambda Sagittarii and Mu Sagittarii on the 1st and it will track towards the famous Lagoon Nebula M8 and reach it by the 31st. You'll need binoculars though to see it as it won't get brighter then magnitude 7.5

Asteroid 2 Pallas lies in the constellation of Corona Borealis the Northern Crown between the 'Keystone' asterism of Hercules and the star Arcturus. 2 Pallas tracks to the south of Corona Borealis and appears to be around magnitude 9, so slightly fainter than Ceres.

Next see if you can find asteroid 4 Vesta. This is probably the easiest of the four to spot close to the head of Leo the Lion. You should be able to pick it up from around 22:00UT (23:00pm BST) as it passes between the stars Mu Leonis and Gamma Leonis on the 23rd and it brightness dims slightly from Magnitude 7.3 to 7.7 through the month.

FInally asteroid 3 Juno will be the hardest to find as it is disappearing into the evening twilight. The first week of May is probably the best time to try and spot it just after the star 'come out' low down in the west under the Hyades star cluster and near the red star Aldebaran. The best way to know if you have spotted you target is to draw their position on a star chart or photograph the field over several nights and if it appears to move against the background stars, you know you've bagged your asteroid!
Deep Sky Highlights of May

There's plenty to keep you busy in the night skies of May...

The region of sky around the constellation of Coma Berenices or Berenices Hair is, like it's neigbouring constellations of Leo and Virgo, full of galaxies and other deep sky wonders.

Coma Berenices in itself is a delightful constellation with double stars, clusters and galaxies. 24 Comae Berenices is a lovely double star of superb colour contrast, with the primary star an glorious orange colour offset by the beautiful blue secondary. THey are both of similar brightness too at magnitude 6.7 and is an easy target in small telescopes.

Check out the 'Whale' galaxy if you have a 4-inch aperture telescope and a low power eyepiece. You can find this about a third of the way from gamma Comae Berenices heading north to the star alpha Canum Venaticorum (the Hunting Dog). A good star atlas should help here. Norton's star atlas is good! click here for UK readers or here for non UK readers . The galaxy's official title is NGC4631 and its long faint profile is definitely reminiscent of a large whale floating in the sea. Another galaxy well worth a look is 'The Black Eye Galaxy' or M64 in Messier famous catalogue. It will look like an elliptical haze with a dark patch (its black eye!) a little off centre. You will need at least a 6-inch telescope to see it well and with a magnification of around 100x.

Finally, point your binoculars at the cluster Melotte 111. This is a fairly faint region of the constellation but is filled with a triangular shaped open cluster just below the star gamma Comae Berenices. Visually it is said that this area of sky appears to 'shimmer', due to the fact that the stars are on the limit of naked eye visibility. Enjoy!

Other News

At last, we have loaded the new up to date web site! If you haven't seen it yet, please take a look at and let us know what you think. Sue has been working really hard on this and I think it has paid off. We plan to expand it further of course, so if there is anything that you would like to see on it, please let me know. Sue is particularly proud of the new section on the moon and I have to acknowledge the help given by our mathematician son who came to her rescue with some of the maths - but that's between you and me, so don't tell Sue I told you!

Those of you that have bought our DSLR astro-imaging eBook will know that we have been planning an image gallery on the site for you all to show off your astro pictures - well it's here now and I have kicked off by loading an image of the sun I took recently, so please take a look and start adding your images for us all to see. You can find it here

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

I'm planning some talks and short courses starting in the summer and will let you know more about these later. This is just to whet your appetite!

I am very sad to report the sudden and unexpected death of my friend and a founder of the Griffon Educational Observatory in Spain, Dr John Griffiths. John had a massive heart attack while at the observatory and his loss will be felt by his family, friends and colleagues for a long time to come. I am pleased to say though, that his wife has insisted that the project carries on as a fitting memorial to his great humanity and his desire to bring the night skies closer to all of us. I'll let you know more as the site develops over this year, as it is a wonderful facility from which to see really dark skies and areas of the sky that most people in higher latitudes seldom get to view.
  Here are some links to some other recent news stories that I thought you would find interesting...

Calls to reduce light pollution 'backed by CPRE survey'
Most people feel their view of the night sky is spoiled by artificial light, a survey suggests.

New method could image Earth-like planets
Device can search for alien worlds using just a small portion of a telescope more...

Distributed EU Telescope to Search for Aliens
A massive new telescope, with 44 stations spread across Europe, will soon kick the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) into high gear. more...

Astronomers solve enigma of eclipsing star
Astronomers on Wednesday said they may have explained the riddle of a dimming star that has perplexed skygazers for nearly two centuries. more...

Top 10 places to sky watch
"Lonely Planet's Best in Travel 2009" guide lists the best places to eye the heavens. more...

  Do you want to learn more about the night sky and how to use telescopes and binoculars to see it better?..

You can find all the information that you really need in my online course. It 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 Moore 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

You can write to:
Ninian Boyle c/o B2 The Wren Centre, Westbourne Road Emsworth, Hants, England PO10 7SU

or Telephone me on +44(0)208-144-1091

or contact me by email

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