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Astronomy Know How
Helping you See the Night Sky - Newsletter No. 54 April 2011

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

There are some interesting things going on in the night skies this month. Even though we have lighter skies since the clocks went forward it is still dark at mid-evening and the weather (hopefully) will be getting better.

If you would like to keep up to date on a more immediate basis than just the monthly Newsletter, then you can join my Facebook group Astronomy Know How with Ninian Boyle by clicking 'like' on that page, or follow me on Twitter. I put more up to date news and events on there. It would be great if you could join me!

I wish you clear skies,


In this issue:
  1. April's Highlights
  2. Saturn at Opposition
  3. Solar Activity
  4. A Massing of Planets
  5. Deep Sky Highlights of April
  6. Other News
  7. News Links
  8. The Secrets of Astronomy
  9. Are you interested in Imaging?
  10. Contact Us
April's Highlights

There are a few very interesting events promised for us this month...

We have lost Jupiter in the Sun's glare now and the little planet Mercury too...

However, we have Saturn gracing our skies and this beautiful planet will be at opposition this month. More about this later..

The Moon is always wonderful to observe through a small telescope or even binoculars. It is also fun to spot its movement among the back ground stars. On the 7th for example, it will be near the Pleiades star cluster in Taurus, on the 9th it will only 3-degrees to the west of the open star cluster M35 in Gemini and on the 17th it will be 3-degreees to the south of the bright star Spica in Virgo. Because this star is bright it should still be visible in spite of the Moon's bright glare.

The 22nd of the month brings us the peak of the April 'Lyrid' meteor shower. This can usually be a good shower to observe with some bright meteors on display. However, this year they will have to contend with a bright waning crescent Moon nearly 75% illuminated! This will inevitably wash out many of the meteor events. It is always worth trying to observe these though. I the night is still and clear you may still be able to see a few.

The other notable event this month is the 'planetary massing' that will take place in the early hours of 30th April. But more about this further on...

Saturn at Opposition

Without a doubt, this month's real celestial highlight will be the planet Saturn coming into opposition.

Opposition is where a planet is directly opposite the Sun in the sky from our view point here on Earth. This event happens of the 4th of the month and is the very best time to view the planet. This is also a time to see if you can spot the Seeliger effect.

The Seeliger effect is where the rings of the planet appear to be brighter for a few hours when at 'opposition' than at other times. It is thought that the reason for this is that the rings which are made up of particles, some larger some as small as a garden pea that will cast shadows on to other particles further behind in the ring system, but when at opposition, we do not see this and so they seem to be brighter as we are seeing these particles head on.

Saturn is also currently undergoing a major storm in its northern hemisphere. You might be able to pick this up yourself through a telescope at moderately high magnification. I would suggest here around 150x. This does of course depend on the size of your telescope.
Solar Activity

After an exceptionally long period of quiet, the Sun seems to have really woken up!

Recently, it has been experiencing a lot of activity, including flares and a lot of prominence activity. We are due for 'solar maximum', when the Sun reaches the peak of its sunspot cycle that normally occurs around every 11 years, in 2013. So if this is the way things are shaping up now, we could be in for a very active 'peak' indeed.

You can monitor this activity yourself if you possess a specialist 'solar telescope' such as the Coronado PST or similar, or if you use a 'normal' telescope fitted with specialist solar filters. Needless to say (so I'm going to anyway), you need to take great care when viewing to Sun through a telescope. If you are in the slightest bit unsure about what you are doing, please see advice from someone who does know before you risk your eyesight!
A Massing of Planets

In the early hours of the 30th April, we will be able to see a 'planetary massing'.

This is where more than two planetary bodies can be seen in the same area of sky. They do not come near to each other, it is merely a line of sight effect. This month we can see Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Uranus as well as the Moon all in the same part of the sky shortly before sunrise. You will need a clear eastern horizon to be able to see this well.

The best time to see this will be on the morning of the 30th at around 05:30BST (04:30UT). Mars should be seen very close to Jupiter and Mercury should be found between Jupiter and Venus.

In fact, the minor planet Vesta can also be found within this group as well as a couple of comets, but it will be nearly impossible to see these and even Uranus might be tricky to spot due to the brightening 'pre-dawn' sky.
Deep Sky Highlights of April

I thought it might be interesting to turn our attention to some objects in the northern sky this month.

If you can find the 'Plough' asterism in the north, then you could try looking form the lovely pair of galaxies of M81 and M82. You can find these by taking an imaginary line from the star Phad or Gamma Ursa Majoris lower left hand star in the 'bowl' of the Plough, through the upper right hand star of the bowl, the bright star Dubhe and keep on going for the same distance again. They should show up with a low power eyepiece. You should be able to notice that they look quite different from each other. M81 is a spiral galaxy, whereas M82 is an 'irregular' galaxy.

Another galaxy in this area that is notoriously difficult to find is M57 or the 'Whirlpool' galaxy. This lies in the constellation of Canes Venatici THe Hunting Dog, although it is really quite near the 'handle' of the Plough. It can be found below the star Alkaid, the last star in the handle. This star and the star Mizar, the next star along in the handle and M57 form a steep right angled triangle. M57 has quite a low surface brightness and so you'll need a dark Moonless sky to hope to find it. When you do, see if you can spot the interesting faint fuzzy glow of the core of this galaxy and the fainter glow of the core of the nearby galaxy that is connected to it.

About half way between M57 and the star 'Cor Caroli' or alpha Canes Venaticorum and just slightly to the west of this line you can find M63 or the 'Sunflower' galaxy. This is one of my personal favourites. It is a tight spiral galaxy that looks great in photographs. It looks like an oval smudge of light through a small telescope.

Head from M63 towards the star beta Canes Venaticorum and once again about half way along this line you should find our last galaxy on this tour and this is M94. It is slightly brighter than M63 at magnitude 8.2 and should show up as a soft glowing ball of light. It is thought to lie about 17 million light years distance from us. A Light Year is about 6 trillion miles!

Other News

My 12 week course called 'Discover the Night Sky' is coming to an end now for this part of the year. However, I am planning to run it again in the Autumn starting in September. It has been very well received with members saying that it is 'Inspirational', 'Awesome' and 'A Fantastic Start' in astronomy. So if you live in the south of England and would like to join me next time, please keep an eye on the website for the starting dates or if you want to receive an email to tell you about it in advance then you can sign up here

If you can't make it, then don't forget my online version of the course!

If you need advice about purchasing equipment, then you can email me on I'd be happy to give you a few tips and point you to the right dealer who I think can help you with your purchase. No-one else gets this help; only YOU as a subscriber to my Newsletter!

As the Sun is getting so active now, may I remind you again about 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...

Help Make Better Map of Global Light Pollution
You can help build the best global map of light pollution, the uniquely modern problem that has stolen starlight from most of the urbanized world.

Astronomers Find Coldest Star in the Universe
Astronomers have detected a new candidate for the coldest known star -- one whose temperature is roughly equivalent to a fresh cup of tea. more...

Star Cents
How the cost of NASA’s next big space telescope skyrocketed more...

Astronomers Get Mixed Messages - from Saturn
Data "just go to show how weird Saturn is" one expert says of radio waves more...

Fresh evidence for expanding universe
The universe really is expanding and it's not an illusion as a competing theory suggests, say astronomers using NASA's Hubble Space Telescope. 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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