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Astronomy Know How
Helping you See the Night Sky - Newsletter No. 63 January 2012

Happy New Year!

And 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.

Apologies for the flagrant 'plug', but I really wanted you to know about it. It would make a good post Christmas read. As you can tell, I'm quite excited about it and I just want to tell everybody! The rest of the newsletter will definitely be about astronomy...

The only other thing I particularly would like to draw to your attention this month is that I've been booked along with my friend and colleague Pete Lawrence of the BBC Sky at NIght TV programme fame, to give a presentation as part of the BBC Star Gazing Live extravaganza, at the Intech Planetarium and Science Centre in Winchester on the evening of 18th. We're giving a tour of the night sky under the impressive projection dome of the Planetarium. I'm told that tickets are selling fast... If you are in Hampshire in the middle of January and would like to come along, then you can find out more information and book here...

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

There's lots happening in the skies this month. Here are just a few of the notable, or 'must see' events...

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

I mentioned it last month and it is still the case that 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.

January sees the peak of the Quadrantid meteors, but more if this later...

The middle of the month sees a conjunction of the planets Venus and Neptune. This is where both planets can be found in the same region of the night sky. You will need a telescope to spot Neptune, but Venus is very bright! So this is a meeting of the solar system's brightest and dimmest planets. You can observe this conjunction over three evenings after sunset, starting on the 12th of the month. Neptune lies just over 1.5 degrees to the north of Venus. On the following evening, the two have their closest approach and Neptune will now lay just 65 arc-minutes to the north-west of Venus. On the 14th the pair start to separate and Neptune will then be 1.5 degrees to the west of Venus.

There are a couple of comets visible this month, although you will need binoculars at least to spot them. C/2009 P1 Garradd is still gracing our skies at the moment in the constellation of Hercules in the east before dawn. If you are an early riser, then the best time to look for it is around 5:00UT (same as GMT). The other brighter comet available to those of us with small telescopes or binoculars is comet P/2006 T1 Levy. This best time to see this one will be from the 17th of January when it should be about as bright as Comet Garradd. You'll be able to find it just south of the star Alpha Piscium or Alrescha in the early evening. It gets harder to find after this, as it will track southward into the fainter constellation of Cetus and then into Eridanus.

A nice easy event to observe with the naked eye occurs on 26th of the month when bright Venus will encounter a thin crescent Moon in the early evening sky. This would make a lovely photo-opportunity for all those budding astro-photographers.

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The Moon This Month

A waxing Gibbous Moon lies to the north of the planet Jupiter on the 2nd January. This will make a lovely sight and a nice photo-opportunity.

New Year's Day gives us a first quarter Moon. This is when the Moon has travelled a quarter of its orbit around the Earth from its 'New Moon' position. Confusingly, this is when we see a 'half' phase Moon.

Full Moon is on the 9th this month and will be rising in the east as the Sun set in the west.

On the 19th of the month just before dawn low down in the south-eastern sky, a waning crescent Moon will occult (passes in front of) a globular star cluster in the constellation of Scorpius known as Messier 80 (M80). This event starts at 05:10UT and the cluster reappears an hour later at 06:10UT. You will need binoculars at least to see the cluster and a clear horizon of course!

New Moon occurs on January 23rd and, unusually, we have a second, first-quarter Moon this month on the 31st at 04:10UT. A first (or last) quarter Moon is always a good time to explore the Lunar surface with binoculars or a small telescope as the shadows cast by mountains and valleys on the Moon, are at their longest and so to have a more three-dimensional appearance.

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 Quadrantid Meteors

The Quadrantids take their name from a now defunct constellation which laid around the region of Bootes The Herdsman where the radiant point, that is the point from which all the meteors in the shower appear to emanate.

The peak of the shower occurs during the early hours of 4th January. This is when you can expect to see the most meteors. This particular meteors shower is known to put on a reasonably good display and has a Zenithal Hourly Rate (ZHR) of 120 meteors per hour. I hasten to add that this is not the number of events that you will see. It is a measure of how many you MIGHT see if the shower were directly overhead and in completely dark skies.

This year, the Moon sets before the expected peak of the shower and so we should, given clear skies, have a reasonable chance of seeing some good shooting stars. The shower tends to be fairly short lived, so you'll need to be out under the stars from around 3:00UT to see the maximum number of meteors possible.
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The planet Mars is now rising earlier and earlier. The best time to see this enigmatic planet is in the early hours, but you won't need to stay up so late as we head towards Spring.

You can find the Red Planet in the constellation of Leo the Lion until the 15th when it slips into the neighbouring constellation of Virgo the Virgin It slowly increases in brightness as the month progresses. It is also increasing in apparent size from 9 arc-seconds at the beginning of January to 11 arc-seconds at the end. So if you own a telescope you should start to see a little detail on the planet's surface. The north polar cap is currently tilted towards us and appears fairly bright.

Mars' path across the sky appears to 'retrograde' as our planet Earth catches up with and then overtakes it in its orbit around the Sun. This is seen as Mars comes to a halt in its track across the sky on the 25th and then heads back towards the Virgo-Leo border. This is a fascinating thing to watch although the whole process takes 72 days. Its motion is obvious if you plot the position of Mars on a star chart over the period of three months.
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Deep Sky Highlights of January

This month we have some lovely star clusters to explore...

Laying above and attached to the constellation of Taurus the Bull, which we looked at last month, is the less well known constellation of Auriga The Charioteer. It looks a little like a misshapen pentagon and contains some lovely deep-sky objects, namely three clusters of star that will reward the observer even if you only have binoculars, but especially if you possess a small telescope.

Just to the south of the middle of the constellation is Messier 38 (M38). This is a lovely loose cluster of stars which lies some 4200 light years distant. It is said to resemble the shape of the Greek letter 'Pi'. Just to the south east of this cluster lies another open cluster of stars called Messier 36 (M36). This too is over 4000 light years away and is a looser cluster than its neighbour M38. There are at least 60 stars in this group.

Lying just outside of the pentagon of the constellation is the final star cluster in this trio, Messier 37 (M37). This is the brightest of these three open clusters and shows up well in binoculars. It is thought to be closer to us at a mere 3600 light years distance!

If you keep heading south east from the Auriga trio of clusters you will come to yet another such group of stars. This is Messier 35 (M35) which lies in the constellation of Gemini The Twins. Here you'll find another bright cluster of stars that rewards a view through binoculars or a small telescope. This one lies 2800 light years from Earth.

The constellation of Orion is now starting to dominate the evening sky. There are so may wonderful objects here to look at, but there isn't room here to describe them all. So I've created a YouTube video that you can watch which describes the best objects that the constellation has to offer for small telescopes and how to find them. Please go to Orion Tour

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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 website.

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 ninianboyle at 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...

It's a Christmas wreath... 1,000 light years away:
Nasa scientists were in a very festive mood when they recently released an amazing image of a nebula they nicknamed the 'wreath nebula.'

11 Most Amazing Astronomy Stories of 2011
From the discoveries of potentially habitable alien planets to the detection of a tiny new moon around Pluto and jaw-dropping lunar and solar eclipses, astronomical research in 2011 has not only made extraordinary strides but also raised new and tantalizing questions for the future. more...

First Earth-sized Planet Identified, Astronomers Announce
... the planet, named Kepler-20F, with a radius only 3 percent larger than the Earth, was found in a five-planet solar system that challenges models of how planets form. more...

Hubble Telescope Spots Complex Organic Molecules on Surface of Pluto
The Hubble Space Telescope has spotted new evidence of complex organic molecules "the carbon-containing building blocks of life as we know it" on the frigid surface of Pluto, a new study finds. more...

NASA completes cryogenic testing of Webb Telescope mirrors
An accomplishment that may strengthen the case of those who say the program must go on despite budgetary overruns, the milestone represents the successful culmination of a process that took years and broke new ground in manufacturing and testing of large mirrors. 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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