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Astronomy Know How
Helping you See the Night Sky - Newsletter No. 46 August 2010

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

This is a last call for my half day imaging course on Sunday 8th August. If you haven't heard yet, I'm running a course on 'How to Image the Sun' I should add 'Like a Professional', as I have Pete Lawrence from the BBC Sky at Night TV programme and my colleague on the magazine of the same name joining us. I have persuaded Pete to divulge some of his professional secrets as to how he gets his superb solar images. We have a few seats left, but they are selling fast as you can imagine. This really is not to be missed! To find out more and enrol please click here.

I wish you clear skies,


In this issue:
  1. August's Highlights
  2. Venus Mars and Saturn.
  3. Jupiter
  4. The Perseids
  5. Deep Sky Highlights of August
  6. Other News
  7. News Links
  8. The Secrets of Astronomy
  9. Are you interested in Imaging?
  10. Contact Us
August's Highlights

The days are still warm and the nights are now noticeable becoming longer after the long days of June and July.

The highlight of this month has got to be the Perseid meteors. More on this below...

The planets put on a interesting display for us early this month. Again see below for more detail...

Mercury is visible at the beginning of this month but it is very low down so is not well placed for viewing unless you happen to have a very clear horizon. Look to the west AFTER and where the Sun has gone down and you might spot it.

The planet Uranus can be found just to the west of Jupiter on the 31st of the month at around 02:30BST (01:30UT) when it will be crossing the meridian (due south). You need binoculars or a small telescope to be sure of distinguishing it from the background stars though. I should look like a small pale greenish coloured disc.

The planet Neptune is also well on display this month when it reaches opposition (opposite the Sun in the sky from our point of view) on the 20th. You are definitely going to need a telescope for this one. You can find it just north-east of the star Mu Capricornus or north-west of Iota Aquarii. It should appear as a very small bluish disc.

Full Moon is on the 24th this Month. However at the beginning of the month on the 1st you can find a lovely waning crescent Moon to the east of Jupiter in the early hours of the morning and three days later you'll find a thinner crescent laying to the west of the Pleiades star cluster at around 02:00BST (01:00UT). This may make a nice photo opportunity!
Venus, Mars and Saturn

Take a look out for these three planets forming a lovely triangle low down in the west after sunset.

Venus will be the easiest to spot of the three and lies to the west most of the group. Mars is the most northern of the three and the trio make a what can best be described as an Isosceles triangle.

Although these planets are really too close to the sun and certainly in the instances of Mars and Saturn they are now too far away to been seen well through a telescope. Venus however, will show just over a 'half' phase if you view it through binoculars or a small telescope. Again the three planets may make a good photograph if you have a clear horizon and are willing to experiment with exposures.

August is your chance to see Jupiter in all its glory.

It will be rising earlier as the month progresses and will rise at 20:30 BST (19:30UT) on the 31st. It reaches its highest point in the sky (due south) on the 19th at 03:25BST (02:25UT) and this is also a good time to see if you can make out the famous Great Red Spot as it will be crossing the planet's meridian (central line) at the time. Even is you don't have a telescope, brush off the binoculars and see if you can spot the Galilean Moons of Jupiter. They change their position night by night and it is fascinating to follow these.

If you do own a telescope on the other hand, see if you can observe the South Equatorial Belt of the planet. You may have a hard job though, as it has seemingly disappeared! We don't know why this has happened, but it may well re-appear at any time, so it is worth monitoring the planet to see if and when this might happen. You'll need at least a 4-inch aperture telescope to see the planet well, but this will show up the Equatorial Belts (if the haven't disappeared that is) and the Great Red Spot. I think this really looks a dirty brown colour personally. See what you think.

You have a few chances this month to see the Great Red Spot well, apart from the 19th that is. You can try in the early hours of the 12th, around 02:40BST (01:40UT) and again on the 31st at 03:17BST (02:17). So have a go and let me know what colour you think it is.


The prospects for the Perseid meteors are looking good this year.

The peak of the shower takes place on the night of the 12th to the 13th of August, although it is always worth taking time to observe the skies for a couple of nights either side of this expected peak. The Moon will be well out of the way this year, so the fainter shooting stars from this shower shouldn't be 'drowned out'.

The rates for this shower are good. That is the expected number of meteors that you might see can be quite high. If the seeing conditions were perfect and if the radiant point (where the meteors seem to streak from) of the shower were directly overhead, the Zenithal Hourly Rate (ZHR) as it is known would be 100 meteors per hour. Now this is really a big wish as no meteor shower is ever like this, but it is still used as a way of indicating the number of events that you might see. A more realistic suggestion is that you may see 10% to 20% of this number if you are in a dark sky site.

Rates do tend to improve after midnight (01:00BST) as the rotation of the Earth means that we are turning into the cloud of particles of dust that create the shower.

So get out that deck chair or sun bed, wrap up warm and look skywards. It often best to concentrate you viewing on one part of the sky to maximise your chances of seeing these meteors and do not look directly towards the radiant point in Perseus as the meteors will be coming towards you and not leaving very long trails. If you look towards the constellation of Cygnus the Swan, this is often a good part of the sky to improve your chances of catching these fast moving events.
Deep Sky Highlights of August

There are some beautiful objects for those possessing binoculars and telescope available in the August night skies. Below are just a few of my favourites.

Find the constellation of Cygnus the Swan, sometimes known as the northern cross. It's riding high in the south through the month and is marked by the bright star Deneb in the Swan's tail. If you go to the opposite end of the long axis of the cross, you will find the star Albireo marking the head of the Swan. Through a telescope this is a lovely sight as it is a double star of two very contrasting colours. It is often described as a gold primary star with a blue secondary. See if you agree.

While you are in the area of Albireo, move a few degrees south and west into the constellation of Vulpecula the Fox. Here you will find an amusing (if that's the right word?) cluster of stars known as the 'Coathanger'. It's proper designation is Collinder 399 or Brocchi's cluster. It looks best through binoculars, but can be made out with the naked eye from a dark sky site. It is thought that this isn't a true star cluster but merely a chance alignment of stars.

Head back into Cygnus to find M29 from Messier's famous catalogue. It lies just south of the long axis of the 'cross' and roughly in the middle. It is a coarse open cluster easily visible in binoculars. Another such open cluster is M39, which lies east of the star Deneb and roughly the same distance as M29 lies to its west. This cluster is some 800 light years distant and it too is easily visible in binoculars. It is nearly overhead during August.

Finally, if you haven't seen it before, take a look at the Dumbbell Nebula or M27. It lies to the east of the Coathanger Cluster and is in the constellation of Vulpecula the Fox and just a little to the north of the star Gamma Sagittae. It is a planetary nebula not unlike the Ring Nebula in Lyra that I mentioned last month. This one does look quite like a 'dumbbell' with two distinct lobes of gas. like the Ring Nebula it has formed from a white dwarf star that has blown off its outer shell of gas and is one of the finest examples of this type of nebulae in the sky. It is visible in binoculars but looks better in a telescope of around four inches aperture or larger.

Other News

At the risk of getting boring, have you signed up for the Solar Imaging Course yet? It is going to be packed full of never before revealed information from Pete Lawrence and we'll give you everything you need to become a great solar imager. Check it out here

I've added a new video to YouTube, a personal guide to the constellation of Hercules. You can download it to your iPod or Smart Phone if you like and let me show you around this wonderful constellation. It is a taster for a series that I'm planning of personal guides to the constellations. They take many hours to make so this will be the only free one, so please let me know what you think.

Oh and did I mention that the seats for the Solar Imaging Course are selling quickly? It's on Sunday 8th August and starts at 1pm at Intech Planetarium and Science Centre in Winchester. I'd hate for you to miss out as it is going to be fantastic. Pete has already let me in on one of his imaging secrets that he is willing to share ( I was amazed) and tells me there will be more. You really must come along!

If you are on Facebook, please come and be 'fan' of my new page 'Astronomy Know How with Ninian Boyle'. I'm planning to use it for lots of free information and tips on how to observe the night sky and also post up interesting events as they are set up. It will mean that you'll be the first to know about really useful things connected to your hobby, so join me on facebook

Oh! and you can follow me on Twitter too

Please take a look at and put you pictures up on our new image gallery here - and if you have any difficulties please contact us so we know about it and can either help you or sort out any problems. Thanks.

If there is a course or talk that you would like me to cover, I would invite you to please let me know. I'm keen to provide you with the information that YOU want, rather than that which I think you might like. So please tell me
  Here are some links to some other recent news stories that I thought you would find interesting...

'Meteorite' lands on cricket pitch during county match
When two spectators standing on the boundary at a cricket match saw an object hurtling down from the sky, their first instinct might have been to applaud.

The star that's ten million times brighter than the Sun
The heaviest and brightest star known to exist - with a mass some 300 times as big as our own Sun - has been discovered by British astronomers who said yesterday that its existence defies current views on the maximum size of stellar objects. more...

Bengaluru loses its stars to light pollution
While a decade ago Bengaluru could boast of a sky studded with around 400 stars, today barely four or five stars are visible from anywhere in the heart of the city, say members of amateur astronomy associations, who now need to travel further and further in pursuit of their hobby. more...

Spitzer 'scope spots Buckyballs in Space
Carbon-60 confirmed in distant nebula more...

Strange star tossed out of galaxy
The black hole at the center of our Milky Way galaxy likes to play peculiar games. more...

  Discover everything that you REALLY need to know about telescopes and how to find interesting things to look at in the night sky...

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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