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Astronomy Know How
Helping you See the Night Sky - Newsletter No. 55 May 2011

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

First of all, you can now have this Newsletter as a 'Podcast'. Yes, that's right you can download an mp3 file with my dulcet tones giving you the lowdown on what can be seen in the sky this month. So give it a go here...

This month there are some fascinating objects and events going on in the night skies. The weather now seems to be improving so this should act as encouragement for you to get out under the stars and enjoy the amazing sights in our universe.

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. May's Highlights
  2. The Moon this month
  3. More Planetary Groupings
  4. Saturn and Porrima
  5. Deep Sky Highlights of May
  6. Other News
  7. News Links
  8. The Secrets of Astronomy
  9. Are you interested in Imaging?
  10. Contact Us
May's Highlights

Although the skies don't get truly dark until quite late, there is still plenty to see up there...

We are moving into the season of Noctilucent Clouds. These are clouds that form very high in our atmosphere (above 100kms) and we are still not sure quite how they form. We can see them when the Sun is just a few degrees below our horizon as it is in the 'summer' months. The Sun's light is just at the correct angle to illuminate these clouds so that they can bee seen in the north-west an hour or two after sunset and in the north-east for an hour or two before dawn. There will probably be more on this next month.

We have several bright planets on show this month, headed by the beautiful Saturn well placed in the evening sky in the constellation of Virgo the Virgin. To see the others you will have to be up before dawn, but more about this below...

There are some great 'deep-sky' objects visible through the month and a lovely one to spot is the 'Beehive Cluster'. This will be helpfully indicated by the Moon on 9th May, which will lay just 6-degrees to the south of this lovely object. The cluster is best seen in binoculars due to it covering a fairly large area of sky.

The Eta Aquarid meteor shower is best seen in the early hours of 6th May. This is not a particularly 'busy' shower, but can give a few bright events that are always worth seeing. The peak of the shower can give around 10 meteors per hour under favourable conditions and the meteors will appear to streak across the sky from the east where the constellation of Aquarius is rising.

The other notable event this month is the 'planetary massing' that will take place in the early hours of 29th May. But more about this further on...

The Moon This Month

The Moon goes through some interesting events this month...

On the 4th May, a very thin crescent Moon will be visible just a little south of the Pleiades star cluster from about 21:30BST (20:30UT). The sky will still be quite bright but both these objects should be bright enough in themselves to be clearly visible. You can find them low down in the north-west.

As mentioned earlier, on the 9th a now bright waxing gibbous Moon will lie around 6-degrees to the south of the open star cluster M44 known as the 'Beehive'. If you've never seen this lovely grouping of stars before, then the Moon will act as your guide. The best way to see them is with binoculars and while you are there, have a good look at the Moon too. The shadows formed by the angle of the Sun, will make the craters and mountains stand out really well.

The Moon is full on the 18th and will seem to be caught by the claws of the constellation of Scorpius the Scorpion. Although the Moon will be very bright and will 'drown out' all but the very brightest stars in the region, you should be able to see Alpha Scorpii or Antares (the rival of Mars!). This bright red super-giant star lays a little to the south-east of the Moon.

Finally on the 30th of the Month, a waning crescent Moon will show us the planets Jupiter and Venus as its lies between them both in the pre-dawn sky. Venus will be the brighter of the two. You should see this lovely trio best at around 04:15BST (03:15UT).
More Planetary Groupings

There are several groupings of the planets visible this month and one quite spectacular one to look forward to.

Venus and Jupiter will be around 0.75 degrees apart on the morning of 11th with faint Mercury nearby and to the south of Venus. in other words, the two brighter planets are just over one Moon's width apart. You should be able to fit all three planets into the same binocular field of view. The best time to look is around 04:50BST (03:50UT) very low down in the north east. You will also need a clear horizon especially to spot Mercury.

The next morning Venus, Jupiter and Mercury will form a right angled triangle in the dawn sky, which will be visible at around the same time of 04:50BST.

The most spectacular of this month's planetary gatherings will be on the morning of the 29th. Venus and Jupiter will be joined by Mars, Mercury and a waning crescent Moon in the dawn sky. You'll find Mars a little to the north-west of Venus, with Mercury to the south-east, Jupiter further west and the Moon hanging in the sky to the north of Jupiter. If you use binoculars be VERY careful that you do not sweep the sky to the east of Mercury as this is where the Sun will be coming up! The best time to look will be around 04:15BST (03:15UT).
Saturn and Porrima

Hopefully we have all been watching Saturn tracking through the constellations of Virgo for the past month or so.

As the planet has been moving slowly through the star of Virgo it has been heading steadily from the direction of the bright star Spica towards gamma Virginis, known as Porrima.

Just to be clear, this is a line of sight effect; Saturn is of course nowhere near the star in reality. It does however, help you to find the planet if you don't know where it is, or conversely, if you know where the planet is, it can help you find the star! Porrima is itself a 'double star', that is it consists of two separate stars orbiting their common centre of gravity. You should be able to split these two stars in a six-inch aperture telescope or larger.

On the 15th May the Moon, Spica Saturn and Porrima lie in a straight line from south-east to north-west. By the 31st Saturn and Porrima will be only 19 arc-minutes apart, although they will get even closer next month. This will make a lovely sight in binoculars.
Deep Sky Highlights of May

Last month we looked at some interesting deep sky objects in and around the constellation of Ursa Major. This month I thought we might head further south and east...

Lying just above the celestial equator and to the south and east of the bright star Arcturus in Bootes the Herdsman, lies an interesting globular star cluster known as M5, the fifth entry in Charles Messier's famous catalogue. It is in the constellation of Serpens the Serpent and is often over-looked. You may need a star chart to help you find it, but it is well worth hunting down. A small telescope with a medium power say around 70-100x magnification will show it up in all it's glory. This is thought to be one of the oldest of the globular clusters, estimated to be 13 billion years old and therefore contains dome of the oldest stars in the universe!

Keeping the theme of globular clusters, head towards the constellation of Hercules and there you will find the brightest and best known of this type of object in the northern hemisphere. This is M13 the famous 'Hercules' globular. You can find it between the two western-most stars called Eta and Zeta of the 'Keystone' asterism in the constellation, as a faint 'fuzzy' patch of light in binoculars, it is nearer to the star Eta than Zeta. In a small telescope the cluster will start to resolve into a tight ball of stars. A larger telescope (say 8-inches aperture), should be able to resolve quite a lot of the stars to make this a real 'showpiece' object. Even though it does get higher in the south next month, May is still a good time to start viewing it, as the skies are darker.

While you are in the constellation of Hercules, don't miss the companion globular cluster to M13; this is M92. It is often overlooked in favour of its brighter neighbour, it is still a lovely sight never-the-less. You can find it north of the star Pi Herculis, the top left star of the Keystone. If you would like a visual guide to this, then please visit my YOUTUBE channel. You can either type in 'Astronomy Know How - Hercules Guide' into the search box or click this link

If you would like to see more of these guides, I will be happy to create them, although I will have to make a small charge for their production as they are extremely labour intensive! Please, let me know what you think. Thank You!

Other News

I mentioned last month that my new course 'Discover the Night Sky' was coming to an end, well now it has. However, I am planning to run it again in the Autumn starting in September at the Southdowns Planetarium in Chichester West Sussex and at the Intech Planetarium and Science Centre in Winchester in Hampshire. If you are interested in joining me, then please register you interest here... I had some truly superb feedback from the people who attended last time, including such words as 'superb', 'thoroughly enjoyable and well taught' and many others in a similar vain. So thank you to all my wonderful 'students' and I hope that you carry on with your hobby and found the course has increased your enjoyment of the night sky even more. I've already had one person sign up and space (on the course!) is limited, so don't delay. If you want to be assured that you will receive and email when the details are finalised please sign up to get your email here

If you can't make it to the south of England, 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...

And on the subject of the Sun I recently read a fascinating, well written and amazing book on the subject by Stuart Clark and you can find out more about it 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...

9 Ways to Reduce Light Pollution
Here are a few easy steps that you can take to help preserve what's left of our dark skies....

NASA Celebrates Hubble's 21st Birthday with Stunning Galaxy Images
"For 21 years, Hubble has profoundly changed our view of the universe, allowing us to see deep into the past while opening our eyes to the majesty and wonders around us," more...

Telescope track space junk
The junk in space will be tracked by a telescope. The idea is to keep an eye on the debris in space to protect military and civilian satellites in space according to Physics Today. more...

Arctic site a star for astronomers
An enterprising team of astronomers is set to lug a telescope to the High Arctic, lubricate it with special lowtemperature grease and set up shop on Ellesmere Island. more...

Searching for secrets of the universe
SCIENTISTS hope a super-sized telescope being built with Australian help will answer some of the biggest questions in astronomy. 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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