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Astronomy Know How
Helping you See the Night Sky - Newsletter No. 52 February 2011

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

Don't miss the 700th edition of the BBC Sky at Night programme with the indefatigable Sir Patrick Moore that will be broadcast in early March. I'll remind you again in the next 'Newsletter'. Also, if you are in need of a speaker for your event, I am available for bookings. Please take a look at the website for details.

There's lots of interest in the sky this month, whether you have binoculars, a telescope or just your naked eyes, please read on...

I wish you clear skies,


In this issue:
  1. February's Highlights
  2. Jupiter Still Looking Good
  3. Saturn
  4. A Favourable Libration of the Moon
  5. Deep Sky Highlights of February
  6. Other News
  7. News Links
  8. The Secrets of Astronomy
  9. Are you interested in Imaging?
  10. Contact Us
February's Highlights

There's loads to see in the night skies this month. One of the major highlights is the constellation of Orion. More on this below...

Jupiter is an easy target in the early evening skies this month, but you need to make the most of it, as it is sinking quickly into the west. More on this later too...

The planet Venus and the asteroid Vesta are in conjunction (close together in the sky) on the 9th in the early hours of the morning at around 06:00GMT. Venus is very bright, you can't miss it, but you will need binoculars to spot faint Vesta just to the north of the planet. Venus in fact, passes near to several 'deep sky' objects of interest in the early part of the month, so if you are an early riser, keep an eye on this lovely planet .

The Moon as it tracks across the sky, encounters many interesting stars and objects and this month is no exception. Watch out for a very thin crescent Moon low down in the west south-west just after sunset on the 4th February. Very thin crescents look superb in the evening twilight.

The Moon will pass close to Jupiter on the evening of the 6th and these will make a lovely pair at around 18:30GMT.

The Pleiades star cluster is still well placed in the evening sky. To find it easily, in your minds eye, draw a line up from the three stars of Orion's belt and keep on going past the bright orange star Aldebaran (the red 'eye' of Taurus the Bull) and keep going. you'll came to a tight knot of stars and that is the Pleiades or Seven Sisters star cluster. If you have sharp eyes and a dark sky, you should be able to make out six or seven stars in the group. There are possibly as many as 200 altogether though and binoculars should show upwards of 20 of these.

Jupiter Still Looking Good

Soon after twilight in the early evening you will almost certainly notice a bright 'star' in the south west. This is the planet Jupiter and is still a lovely sight through both binoculars and a telescope.

In spite of Jupiter now heading lower into the south west, it is still a great sight in binoculars and telescopes. But you had better be quick, because it will only be visible for a few weeks now, before it disappears into the glare of the Sun by the end of March.

If the sky is clear around 18:30 on 6th of the month and you have a telescope, see if you can make out the Great Red Spot. I think that it is a lot harder to see that many people think as you need a good clear sky and steady atmosphere (seeing) to get a good view. A light yellow coloured filter can help too...

Also, keep checking the South Equatorial Belt. It disappeared for a while (please see last month's 'Highlights'), but the indications are that it is on its way back. It has done this in the past so its not very unusual, but it is 'slightly' unusual for this type of event. So there is always something to keep us coming back to the king of the planets.

The ringed planet Saturn is back to grace our skies, although you still need to stay up quite late to see it well.

The planet has had a huge storm blowing in its cloud system that has been imaged beautifully by an amateur astronomer in Australia. It looks like a bright white streak across the face of the disc. This is many thousands of miles long and must have huge amounts of energy. It is one of the brightest storms to be seen on the planet in decades.

We are now looking at the north pole of the so that the rings are tilted about 10-degrees towards us, which allows us to see them quite well. With a small telescope and a moderate power (say 60x) you should be able to make out the Cassini division in the rings as a dark line against the bright curve of the rings. The planet is best seen at the end of the month as it is rising earlier and earlier each evening and you can see it with the naked eye as a bright yellowish 'star' among the real stars of Virgo The Virgin A little to the north of the brightest star in the constellation, Spica.

A Favourable Libration of the Moon

Although the Moon tends to keep the same face towards us as it orbits around our planet, it does wobble slightly, allowing us to see around the 'edges'.

This wobble is called Libration and means that instead of us seeing just 50% of the lunar surface, we can in fact see around 59% altogether.

If you have a telescope and have a clear view of the Moon on the night of the 17th, you might be able to spot a crater frequently hidden from our view called 'Einstein' after the famous physicist. It can be seen peaking around the north western edge of the lunar limb. A good Moon map will help you locate it. If you don't have one then you can get a good one from Amazon... here for UK readers and here for non UK readers

There is also another crater that is worth attempting to view over a few nights around this time and that is the one called 'Hermite'. This you can find up near the 'top' of the Moon. The light and shadows at this time will give favourable contrast to help you see it.
Deep Sky Highlights of February

February is a great month for viewing deep sky objects. Dust off those binoculars or your telescope and see what's on view...

The Constellation of Gemini the Twins is riding high in the south by late evening during February and it plays host to a lovely open star cluster. This is M35 and you can find it using binoculars or a low power (20 - 30x) on a small telescope just off the end of the 'foot' of the northern most of the twins, Castor. If you take an imaginary line from the star at the lower left of Orion the Hunter, called Saiph and extend that through the bright orange star Betelgeuse, the top left star of the same constellation about the same distance again, this should put you very close to M35. It had a much smaller and fainter cluster quite nearby that can be seen in larger telescope quite well, this is NGC 2158. see if you can make it out.

If you like looking at pretty star clusters, then have a go for the 'Christmas Tree Cluster' in the nearby constellation of Monoceros the Unicorn. If you drop an imaginary line down or southward from M35 just past the 'foot' of the twin 'Pollux', you should be able to pick this lovely cluster out. From northern latitudes the 'Christmas Tree', the triangular pattern of stars that it is meant to represent is standing on its head! Right next to this is a faint nebula that is difficult to spot, known as the 'Cone' nebula.

Moving south-east from Gemini's bright star Pollux towards the brightest star in Leo, called Regulus, you will come to yet another bright open cluster of stars, this time in the rather dim constellation of Caner the Crab. This is M44 otherwise known as the 'Beehive' cluster. The stars certainly look like a swarm of bees around a hive. The cluster also has another name - Praesepe, which is a Latin word meaning 'Manger'.

Finally, while you are in the constellation of Cancer, once again, draw a line in your 'mind's eye' southward for around 8-degrees and you should be in the right area to spot the last open cluster of stars on this tour and that is M67. The cluster is made up of at least 100 stars roughly the same age or perhaps a little younger than our Sun. This cluster looks good in binoculars but even better through a small telescope with a moderate power (50 - 60x).

Other News

Although we are well into my course 'Discover the Night Sky' aimed at beginners in the subject, it is not too late to book your place for Part 2!

The second part of the course is all about telescopes; how they work, how to set them up and how to get the best out of them. So if you got a scope for Christmas and are somewhat puzzled as to how to use it, then this is for you.

The aim is to make it as practical as possible and we'll be doing some 'hands-on' type workshops, including how to polar align an equatorial mount, how to work out magnification and what is best to use on which object and how to keep you scope in good order, among several other things. It's held on Monday evenings at the South Downs Planetarium in Chichester starting on the 28th February and at the Intech Planetarium in Winchester on Thursday evenings starting on the 3rd March. To find out more please go to the website....

Another reminder is for the 'course in a box', called 'Imaging the Sun', which is now available through the website. If you always wanted to know how to take photographs of our nearest star to look like those that you see in the magazines and on the Internet, then this DVD will show you how. Pete Lawrence of the BBC Sky at Night programme fame and one of the worlds most renown Solar imagers and myself give you DETAILED instructions on how to do it. Like to know more? Then go here..

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...

Light pollution disrupting sleep and wildlife, says rural body
This week, Britons are being asked to take part in a nationwide survey that involves counting stars to see if light pollution is getting worse.

Asteroids Ahoy! Jupiter Scar Likely from Rocky Body
A hurtling asteroid about the size of the Titanic caused the scar that appeared in Jupiter's atmosphere on July 19, 2009, according to two papers published recently in the journal Icarus. more...

Probing a centuries-old mystery in the stars
Atop Mt. Wilson, an astronomer hopes to find the key to Epsilon Aurigae, which for nearly two centuries has baffled astronomers with its fluctuations of light every 27.1 years. more...

Planet Data to Fuel Hunt for Life
New Information from NASA Could Offer Evidence of a Habitable World Beyond Our Solar System more...

New array of telescopes could help search for E.T.
A new telescope array could bring us closer to better understanding the universe and perhaps even answer an age-old question: are we alone? 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

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

or contact me by email

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