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Astronomy Know How
Helping you See the Night Sky - Newsletter No. 48 October 2010

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

I am planning a new course. It will be in two parts and is to be called 'Understanding The Night Sky'. The first part will be an introduction to astronomy, covering such things as 'getting to know the constellations' and finding your way around the night sky', as well as information on the stars and planets. The second part will be more practical still, being about setting up and using telescopes. The course(s) will be 6 sessions each, (probably evening classes) and initially to be presented in the south of England at the Southdowns and Intech Planetariums, probably during the early part of next year.

If you are interested in either or both of these, please let me know and let me know what you would like to see covered in them. Your feedback will help me help you!

I wish you clear skies,


In this issue:
  1. October's Highlights
  2. The Moon
  3. The Outer Planets
  4. Comet Hartley (again!)
  5. Deep Sky Highlights of October
  6. Other News
  7. News Links
  8. The Secrets of Astronomy
  9. Are you interested in Imaging?
  10. Contact Us
October's Highlights

This October sees a bright comet and good positions of three of the outer planets for us to get a good view...

Jupiter, Uranus and Neptune are all well positioned this month for observing with telescopes and binoculars. I'll give you some tips and information on how you can find them and what you can see below...

The 'must see' object this month has to be Comet Hartley. Again, for more on this, please read on...

If you would like to make a start observing 'variable' stars, then you have a good one on which to 'cut your deserving teeth', in the form of the star Mira. The name of this star means 'wonderful' and this star regularly changes in brightness over a period of 332 days. It 'pulsates' due to processes going on deep within the star itself and can cause it to vary in brightness by a factor of an astonishing 6 magnitudes. At its faintest, it is magnitude +9.3 and you'll need at least binoculars to see it. At its brightest, it can be as bright as magnitude +3.4 and therefore an easy naked eye object. It reaches its maximum brightness on 16th October.

You can find Mira by locating the 'Square' of Pegasus and underneath that you should see a line of stars running east/west. Follow this line eastward (that's left in the northern hemisphere) and you'll come to a 'V' shape triangle of stars; this is the knot of the rope binding the two fish of Pisces together. This 'V' pattern points south-eastward to the star Omicron Ceti, otherwise known as Mira. Enjoy!

British Summer Time ends on the 31st of the month when we again rejoin Greenwich Mean Time, which is the same as Universal Time (UT). So don't forget to put your clocks back.
The Moon

Can you see the Moon in the daytime? Well, yes you can. What's more you can sometimes see the planet Venus as well...

If you have a clear sky on the afternoon of the 9th October, then see if you can spot a thin crescent Moon due south at 14:15BST or 13:15GMT. You will need to keep the Sun out of you eyes, so stand in the shadow of a building. Just south-east of the crescent Moon about 3-degrees below and to the left you might be able to make out the planet Venus as a point of light.

The Moon moves in front of the background stars, it is only infrequently that this happens to bright stars though. This is known as an occultation and on the 28th of the month the Moon will appear to glide over the star Mu Geminorum. Depending where you are in the UK, you will see the star disappear at different places behind the Lunar disc. You'll have to get up early to watch this one however, as it doesn't start until 05:30 BST. The star should reappear a couple of hours later from behind the opposite side of the Moon from where it disappeared, although this will be in a twilight sky so you may need binoculars to see it. The Moon will be in a waning gibbous phase, about 74% illuminated. It amazing to see a star suddenly 'wink out' behind the Moon. Take a look if you can.
The Outer Planets

The Gas Giant planets, except for Saturn are putting on a good show for us this month, Jupiter, Uranus and Neptune are all well positioned in the evening sky to observe with relative ease.

Jupiter is with out doubt the greatest spectacle and you can't miss it! It is shining like a beacon due south and having just passed 'opposition' last month, it is still fairly close to us and so the disc will seem about as large as it can do when viewed through a telescope. It will be joined by a close by Moon on the night of the 19th/20th. If you haven't yet had a look a Jupiter through binoculars or a telescope, take the opportunity to see if you can spot the equatorial belts and the Great Red Spot, as well as the Galilean moons orbiting around this the largest of all the planets in the solar system.

Lying just a couple of degrees to the north-east of Jupiter, you can find the planet Uranus. You should be able to pick this up in binoculars quite easily and a telescope will show that it has a small greenish coloured disc. Unfortunately, Uranus seems pretty featureless in all but the very largest ground based telescopes, but it is nonetheless fascinating to be able to see this cold planet for ourselves. It was first discovered by WIlliam Herschel from his garden in the beautiful city of Bath back in 1781.

Neptune will need a small telescope or binoculars to spot as it too faint to be detected by naked eye alone. It lies further west than Jupiter near the eastern edge of the constellation of Capricorn. It will appear even smaller than Uranus although you should be able to tell that it is definitely not a star. It is remarkable just to be able to see the remote, frozen world. On the 23rd of the month, you will have a helpful star to guide you to it. This is the star Mu Capricorni and on the 23rd it will just 12 arc minutes to the south east of the planet. A good star chart will help you locate this and if you don't have one, then I suggest that you go here (UK) or here (USA)

Comet Hartley (again!)

We are lucky enough to have Comet 103P/Hartley gracing our skies all month. This should be a naked eye comet, but do bear in mind that comets are notoriously unreliable and can vary in brightness considerably, sometimes in our favour!

Comet 103P/Hartley is a short period comet that orbits the Sun every 6.4 years. Binoculars should show it clearly and you can find it on the evening of 1st October just south of the star Schedar or Alpha Cassiopeia. It will slowly track eastward during the month and should steadily brighten until it reaches it maximum brightness on the 21st, which is expected to be magnitude +4.4.

A lovely sight should be seen on the nights of the 7/8th and the 8/9th, when the comet passes close to the famous Perseus Double Cluster. A good photo opportunity perhaps? 103P/Hartley will continue to track across the top of Perseus and on into the constellation of Auriga the Charioteer and will be at its brightest when it is in the middle of this constellation and not far from the lovely star clusters of M36 and M38. It is now best seen in the early hours before dawn.So there is plenty of opportunity fro you to go and see a bright comet for yourself.

Through binoculars it will look distinctly 'fuzzy' and may even have a tail. A telescope should show a bright nucleus and perhaps any tail quite well.

Comets are icy wanderers about the solar system and although there are often comets to be seen in the sky, they usually require moderately large telescopes to be able to see them. Just occasionally we are lucky enough to have a bright one to view.
Deep Sky Highlights of October

Comet 103/P Hartley acts as a wonderful guide to some great deep sky objects this month. So when you are out looking at the comet do take time to visit some of these other wonderful sights of the night sky.

I've already mentioned the Perseus Double Cluster. These closely paired clusters have the designations of NGC 869 and 884. They are best viewed with binoculars or a low power eyepiece on your telescope and are a truly wonderful sight. I'm always surprised that they never made it into Messier's catalogue.

To the west of the Perseus Double Cluster and near the star Alpha Cassiopeia (Shedar) lies the 'Pacman' Nebula or NGC 281. The star cluster associated with the nebula is in fact the easiest part of this object to see. The nebulosity is quite faint and is best seen photographs, but larger scopes may show it reasonably well to the eye. Again, the comet will be close to this in early OCtober.

There are a couple of other pretty star clusters that 103/P Hartley will indicate to you around the middle of the month, these are NGC1528 and NGC1545. These lay in the constellation of Perseus and the comet will be very close to these on the 15th and 16th. Again, if you have the equipment, this could represent a good photo opportunity. The clusters are best seen through binoculars or a small telescope and a start chart should help you locate them easily.

When you are looking at the comet on the 21st (clear skies permitting!), then take a few minutes to move south with your binoculars and revel in the delights of M36 and M38. These are two superb open clusters lying in the middle of the constellation of Auriga the Charioteer. They look good in binoculars and even better in a small telescope a low to medium powers. So there its lots to see this month and Comet 103P/Hartley will act as your guide. How cool is that!

Other News

As mentioned earlier, I'm planning a new course, this time in two parts, aimed at beginners or novices in astronomy. The plan is to hold the course(s) and my two nearest planetariums in Chichester in West Sussex and Intech in Hampshire in the early part of 2011. I would really like to hear what you might like to find out on such a course and by letting me know, you can have a big influence on what material I present. So, please don't be shy, let me know what you would like to learn about and I will be happy to accommodate if I possible can.

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.

I'll be going out to the Griffin Educational Observatory in southern Spain in the middle of the month. The skies are among the darkest I have ever seen in this part of the world and it is a great location for a holiday. I'm hoping to plan some trips through 2011 out there and if you are interested in joining me, please let me know. I'll tell you more about it as the year progresses and let you know of opportunities to visit as soon as I can.

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...

Telescope goes after first stars
Lofar (Low Frequency Array) is a European project that incorporates new digital techniques to survey wide areas of the sky all at once.

NASA telescope spots space "ghosts" hiding planets, stars
NASA said astronomers have spotted a new, cosmic phenomenon they call "coreshine," which could help scientists determine the age and make up of distant stars and planets. more...

Russia's unique underwater 'cosmic eye'
The Baikal underwater telescope NT-200 in Russia has been set up to capture elusive neutrino particles in a bid to unravel the secrets of the formation of the Universe. more...

Water on Moon is bad news for China's lunar telescope
The discovery of water on the Moon could affect a telescope that will be installed on China's first lunar lander, scheduled in 2013, a Chinese astronomer was quoted as saying on Tuesday. more...

The world's first astronomers might have been Australian Aborigines
The ancient world was home to many accomplished astronomers, included the Greeks, Mayans, Polynesians, and maybe Stonehenge's mysterious builders. But perhaps more than 10,000 years before these cultures looked to the sky, Australian Aborigines were the world's first stargazers. 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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