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Astronomy Know How
Helping you See the Night Sky - Newsletter No. 65 March 2012

Happy Stargazing!

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

Important news this month:

To bang on about my book again...

I'm pleased to tell you that my novel, 'In The Lion's Paw' is now 'in stock' with Amazon as a paperback. So if you haven't bought it yet, please go to the Amazon website and grab your copy now! Amazon UK. You can have it as a Kindle eBook as well... Amazon USA

I can't believe that it's March already and winter should start giving way to Spring, which means that there will be plenty to look at in the night skies this month. But of course, more on that a little later.

I've been visiting the Griffon Educational Observatory in Southern Spain. It's a wonderful facility and really well stocked with equipment for visitors to use. The best thing is though, the very dark skies. I'll be telling you more about this site as the months progress as it will be open to visitors looking to improve their knowledge of the heavens, how to set up and use equipment and all under beautifully dark skies with an average of 300 clear nights a year! I'll be letting you know more about this place in subsequent 'Newsletters'.

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... It's also now to be found broadcast on 'Astronomy FM' Internet Radio Under British Skies

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. March's Highlights
  2. The Moon This Month
  3. The Planets This Month
  4. Double Star Observing
  5. Deep Sky Highlights of March
  6. Other News
  7. News Links
  8. The Secrets of Astronomy
  9. Are you interested in Imaging?
  10. Contact Us
March's Highlights

There are some wonderful sights in the night skies this month, for those who are armed with binoculars, telescopes or just eyeballs...

Comet Garradd has been visible to northern hemisphere observers for a good few weeks with some difficulty recently due to its low position, but this month it is visible all night long through binoculars. It is now starting to fade from 7th to 8th magnitude though. You can find it near the north celestial pole, it being near the star Kochab or Beta Ursa Minoris (The little Bear) on the 6th and the star Dubhe in the Plough on the 21st. Scan this region with binoculars and you should pick it up as a misty patch of light.

You simply can't miss the planet Venus in the evening sky now along with the giant planet Jupiter. There's more on these and some other planets a little later...

The stars of Spring are very much on show now, the constellations of Leo, Coma Berenices and Virgo bringing us into the 'Realm of the Galaxies'. More about this later too...

The Sun is still very active and will probably become more so as it heads towards solar maximum in 2013. If you are interested in observing our nearest star, please take extreme care and never attempt to look at it directly with any optical aid, including through a camera lens!

Because the Sun is so active, it frequently sends out large jets of matter towards us in the form of highly energetic particles that slam into our Earth's magnetic field which give rise to the Aurora. Most of the time, you can only see the Northern (or Southern) Lights from high latitudes such as Scotland, Iceland, Scandinavia and Canada and Alaska. However, sometimes we receive an extra large flare from the Sun which causes the Auroral 'Oval' around the Earth's poles to expand to lower latitudes. If you are interested in monitoring this activity you can keep up to date on the website

There are lots of interesting planetary conjunctions this month, but more on this below...

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The Moon This Month

A first quarter or 'half phase' Moon opens the month. This is arguably the best time to view the craters and mountains of the Moon through a telescope or binoculars. See if you can spot the very oval looking Mare Crisium or Sea of Crisis. It looks like a round flat grey dish with a couple of craters breaking up its uniformity. You'll find it out on the north-eastern limb.

Full Moon occurs on the 8th. Although the Moon looks bright and attractive it is not the best time to view it through any optical aid as the features are washed out by the light. Shadows help make the features stand out.

There are several conjunctions with the planets Venus and Jupiter this month. For more information on these, please see the section on the planets this month.

Last quarter occurs on the 15th at 01:25UT (same as GMT) and is a good opportunity to view some famous Lunar craters. For example the crater Copernicus about half way between the limb and the terminator, will show up well in a telescope and with a little magnification (around 50-100x), you should be able to detect the mountain peaks in the centre of the crater.

New Moon occurs on 22nd March. This is when the Moon and the Sun are in the same region of the sky, although as you might expect you do not always get a Total Solar Eclipse when this occurs due to Moon being slightly above (or sometimes below) the disc of the Sun. Over the next few days you should be able to make out a very thin crescent Moon low down in the west after the Sun has set. And so the cycle begins all over again.

If you would like to know more about the Moon, then there is loads of information on my website here.
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The Planets This Month

There are going to be some superb conjunctions this month. This is when the planets and sometimes the Moon are all in the same region of the sky...

But first at the beginning of March, keep an eye out for the tiny planet Mercury. This elusive body is notoriously difficult to see. The best time to try and catch it is on the 4th, low down near the western horizon shortly after sunset. Make sure the Sun has fully set if you plan to sweep the area with binoculars.

On the 7th the nearly full Moon lies 10-degrees to the south of the planet Mars. You'll know it's Mars by its distinct orange/pink colour.

Mars in fact reaches 'opposition' this month on the 3rd, where it is directly opposite the Sun in the sky from our point of view here on Earth. This is the best time to view the planet with a telescope. See if you can pick up any markings. It will need a steady sky and a good magnification to see these well, say 100-150x. An orange or red coloured filter will help here as well.

The highlight of the month though has to be the conjunction of Venus and Jupiter. This occurs on the 13th. Look westward and you'll see the brilliant Venus and just 3-degrees below it Jupiter. The pair will look almost like a bright double star. If you don't get to see it on the 13th the two will still look dramatically close a few days either side of this.

The Moon joins the Venus and Jupiter pairing on the 25th and 26th. The thin crescent of the Moon just renders the whole show even more stunning. Why not try and take a picture?

Saturn is now well placed in the late evening sky for observing in the constellation of Virgo. The rings are now nicely tilted towards us and the planet looks stunning right throughout the month. If you have never seen this the most beautiful of all the planets through a telescope before, you are in for a treat.

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Double Star Observing

Double stars come in three distinct types. Those that are not connected but just look close to each other through a line of sight effect, those that are gravitationally connected, in other words they orbit around their common centre of gravity and those that are so close together that we only know that there are two or more stars in the system by using an instrument called a spectroscope.

The first two types are the most interest to the amateur astronomer and there are some fine examples on display this month.

Here are a couple of pretty double stars for you to point your telescope at this month; the first is the star Castor in Gemini the Twins. You will need a star chart to find these stars unless you know the sky well. You can get a suitable at Amazon UK or Amazon US

The second double that is definitely worth a look this month is iota Cancri right at the north of the constellation of Cancer and not too far from Castor. These are a lovely colour contrasting pair and well worth the trouble of finding.
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Deep Sky Highlights of March

The early Spring brings us the constellations of Leo, Coma Berenices and Virgo into view. This is the 'Realm of the Galaxies'...

In the month of March the orbit of our Earth around the Sun means that during the night we see out from our own galaxy the 'Milky Way' into the depths of deep space. Because of this, we can see many other galaxies some similar to our own, each an 'island universe' of countless billions of stars. Although you'll need a telescope to see these objects at all it is well worth the effort, as you will be looking at light which has travelled unimaginable distances to get to your eye. Some of these faint fuzzy objects that you might struggle to see are many millions of light years distant.

A few brighter examples lie in the constellation of Leo the Lion. Have a look for Messier's 95, 96 and 105; these are not far from Mars during March. You will need a dark Moonless night to see them well.

Another trio of galaxies still in the constellation of Leo are M65, M66 and NGC 3628 otherwise known as the 'Leo Triplet' A 3-inch telescope and a low to medium power should show these objects in the same field of view.

To get among the 'Realm of the Galaxies' proper, move into the region of sky between the constellations of Leo, Coma and Virgo. This area is simply packed with objects for your delight. Some are more difficult to see as they are fainter and a larger aperture telescope will almost certainly work better, but whatever size of scope you have will be sure to show you something.

For those of you without a telescope, see if you can discern the asterism of the 'Bowl of Virgo'. This is a chain of five stars in a loose semi-circle pointing towards the 'tail' of Leo. The brightest star in the chain is Porrima a double star, although you'll need a medium to large telescope to split the pair. South of Porrima lays the brightest star in the constellation, called Spica. Saturn can be found a little to the east of this.

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Other News

'In the Lion's Paw' is, I am given to understand, now available as a paperback from a few book distributors both here and in the USA, especially from Amazon. So if you haven't got your copy yet, please go and order it now. It is also available in Kindle format from Amazon UK and Amazon USA you can also get the print version here

To find out more about the book if you would like, 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 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!

If you would like more information about anything I've mentioned in this Newsletter, please email me and I'd be happy to explain further.


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...

Nighttime sky looks new to NASA astronomer
NASA astronomer Natalie Batalha is one of the leaders of the space agency's Kepler mission, which has made headlines in recent months by finding more than 1,000 planets around other stars, including Earth-sized worlds and those orbiting binary stars.

The Smallest Known Black Hole Has 20 Million Mile Per Hour Winds
Astronomers using NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory clocked wind from the smallest known black hole moving at 20 million miles per hour. more...

NASA telescope detects massive cloud of 'buckyballs' hurtling through space
Space carbon spheres, known as buckyballs have recently been discovered by NASA astronomers. Scientists compare these tiny particle clouds to soccer balls, or oranges in a crate more...

Hubble Telescope Discovers New Type of Planet
Astronomers have discovered a new type of planet -- a "hot ice" water world with a thick, steaming atmosphere. more...

New Telescope To Make 10-Year Time Lapse Of Sky
"We want to scan the entire sky over and over again for 10 years," says Sidney Wolff, president of the LSST Corp., who is in charge of building the new telescope. "And we will get over 800 images of every patch of the sky." 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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