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Astronomy Know How
Helping you See the Night Sky - Newsletter No. 62 December 2011

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

Important news this month: It's finally out! My new book that is.

This Newsletter is now available 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. Put it on your iPod and take a tour of the skies in real time! So give it a go here... Thanks to all those who have already done this before and for the favourable comments.

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. December's Highlights
  2. The Moon This Month
  3. Prospects for the Geminids
  4. Venus Returns
  5. Deep Sky Highlights of December
  6. Other News
  7. News Links
  8. The Secrets of Astronomy
  9. Are you interested in Imaging?
  10. Contact Us
December's Highlights

Winter is always a favourable time of year for astronomers. The nights are long (and cold!) and we have some glorious constellations to delight us...

This month we have a lunar eclipse and one of the best meteor showers of the year on show.

Jupiter is still the most dominant object in the night sky at the moment. You can't fail to miss this bright beacon of a planet in the south after dark. If you have a telescope or even binoculars, I would encourage you to go and take a look at it.

December sees the peak of the Geminid meteor shower. This is a regular and one of the very best showers of the year. I'll give you more of the prospects for it and some tips on good ways to observe it a little later in this Newsletter.

If you are prepared to stay up late, the planet Mars is rising in the east by midnight. It shows as a orange coloured 'star'. Telescopically though, it is disappointing as it is still quite far from us. It really won't be in a good position until the spring of next year.

We have a lunar eclipse to enjoy this month too, but more of this coming up...

The winter solstice occurs on the 22nd of the month at 5:06UT. This is where the Sun reaches its southernmost point in the sky and appears to stand still (solstice means 'motionless Sun') for a short while. Its will then commence its journey north and the days will slowly get longer.

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The Moon This Month

We have a 'First Quarter' Moon on 2nd of the month. This is when, as the name suggests, the Moon has moved a quarter of its orbit around the Earth. It then shows us, as the name doesn't suggest(!) a half phase. It is just a matter of terminology. If you're new to it, it does get easier as you become more familiar with it.

Full Moon is on the 10th this month. This is when the Moon rises in the east directly opposite the Sun in the west (as the Sun is setting). On this occasion, there will be a Lunar Eclipse, however... It will not be well placed for people in the UK or Western Europe to see well, as the totality of the Eclipse occurs at 14:06:16UT (same as GMT) and so the Moon will be below our horizon at this time. It will rise in the east in at 16:14 or thereabout for the UK and so will be in a state of partial eclipse at this point. The whole eclipse ends at 17:30UT and so unless you have a very clear eastern horizon you won't be able to see much. Unless, that is, you are travelling to Eastern Europe or preferably Asia or Australia, where here in particular you will see the whole event.

The Last Quarter Moon is on the 18th December. This is where the Moon has completed three quarters of its orbit around the Earth. Again the Moon shows a half phase, but this time it is the left hand side of the Moon from our point of view that is illuminated, rather than the right hand side as it was at the first quarter Moon. The 'Quarter Moon phases are always the best times to look at our nearest neighbour in space through a telescope as the shadows of the craters and mountains are at their longest and so give a more three dimensional look to the surface features.

New Moon is on the 24th December at 18:05. This is when the Moon is positioned in line of sight with the Sun and so isn't visible to us. The whole lunar cycle lasts just over 29 days.

If you would like to know more about the Moon, then there is loads of information on my website here.
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Prospects for the Geminids

The Geminid meteors are a seasonal favourite, due to the usually dark conditions and the fact that you can see up to 60 meteors per hour!.

The peak of the shower occurs on the nights of 13th and 14th of December. This is when you are likely to see the most meteors, although you may well spot a few for up to a week before and a few days after this. The issue this year will be a bright Moon which will drown out the fainter events. However, the brighter meteors should still be clearly visible. The constellation will be low down on the eastern horizon in mid-evening, so the streaks of light that are the meteors will seem to originate from there.

The best way to see them is to put your back to the Moon and look up to the zenith, that's the point above you head and scan around the rest of the sky from there. The Geminids are known to produce multi-coloured meteors and so are well worth spending an hour or two observing. You are much more likely to see meteors by spending a little time looking up, than if you just take a casual glance and head back indoors. So wrap up warm and if it's not cloudy, go take a look.
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Venus Returns

December sees the return to our sky of the planet Venus as the 'Evening Star'.

Venus is now reappearing from the glare of the Sun to grace our skies during the month of December in the early evening.

As the month progresses, Venus will set later and later after the Sun. It will be seen as the very bright 'star' low down in the west soon after sunset. If you turn binoculars or a small telescope onto it, first making sure that the Sun has fully set(!), you should be able to make it out as a crescent, somewhat like a tiny copy of a waxing Moon. Venus is shrouded in thick cloud, so you won't be able to make out any features on the planet surface, but nonetheless, it is still a beautiful sight. It is known as an 'inferior' planet not because of its size but because it orbit lies inside the orbit of the Earth around the Sun. All the other planets whose orbit lay outside of that of the Earth are called 'superior' planets.
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Deep Sky Highlights of December

The skies are now resplendent with the winter constellations beloved of astronomers everywhere...

If you look to the east (that's left) of Jupiter you will come to the constellation of Taurus the Bull. This is an area of sky packed full of interesting object for binoculars and small telescopes.

Start with the Pleiades or 'Seven Sisters. This is brightest and most beautiful of star clusters visible from the northern hemisphere. With the naked eye you can usually make out six or seven stars. In binoculars this will double or even triple. This cluster is approximately 400 light years distant and so the light left this group of stars that you are seeing about the time that Galileo first turned his telescope towards the heavens...

One of the favourite objects to try and find in Taurus is Messier 1 (M1) known as the Crab Nebula. It's quite faint but can be detected in small telescopes. This is a Supernova remnant, in other words, what has been left after a massive star bigger than our Sun has blown itself to pieces. The original explosion was seen an recorded by Chinese astronomers in 1054. It was bright enough to be visible in daylight for several weeks. You can find it just north of the star theta Tuarii, the southernmost star in the 'horns' of the Bull.

Last month I said I would explain how to find the famous 'double cluster' in Perseus, so here it goes...

Perseus is a constellation which looks a bit like an upside down letter 'Y'. You can find it above Taurus the Bull. If you draw an imaginary line through the eastern or left hand arm of the constellation and keep going towards the constellation of Cassiopeia recognisable from its 'W' shape, you'll find the 'double cluster' about half way between the two constellation along this line. You can just make it out as a faint smudge of light with the naked eye from a dark sky site, but it shows up best in binoculars. This pair of star clusters each has their own designations, which are NGC869 and NGC 884. They look superb. Enjoy!

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Other News

This is it! Available in Kindle format from Amazon UK and Amazon USA and if you (like so many) prefer to hold the book in your hand and turn the pages, you can get the print version here

To find out more about the book if you want you can visit the In the Lion's Paw webiste.

Amazon readers have said:
"I read it in two sittings and couldn't put it down."
"If you only read 1 book this year make it this one."
"Once you start reading this story you will be swept along through a tumultuous week in these characters' lives... "

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 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 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
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  Here are some links to some other recent news stories that I thought you would find interesting...

In First, Hubble Telescope ‘Profiles’ Black Hole Disc
No Earth or space-based telescope has ever observed a black hole directly.

Calls for Stonehenge to be lit up at night are being resisted by stargazers
Why on earth would we illuminate an astronomical observatory so it is no longer of use? more...

Mauna Kea observatories face budgetary pressures; Netherlands withdraws from Maxwell telescope
HILO, Hawaii - James Clerk Maxwell Telescope managers are studying their options after the Netherlands announced it would withdraw its 20 percent partnership in the Mauna Kea facility in early 2013. more...

Telescopes Find Galactic Recyclers
The secret of longevity is recycling, at least for galaxies, say astronomers who have used a trio of the world's best telescopes to study the uncharted space around vibrant star-birthing galaxies and their not-so-vibrant siblings. more...

Amateur astronomer glimpses an alien solar system
An amateur astronomer ... has for the first time actually been able to get a direct photograph of the disk of swirling material forming a planet around a nearby star! more...

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  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!

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  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...

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To contact us

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

or contact me by email

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