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Astronomy Know How
Helping you See the Night Sky - Newsletter No. 74 December 2012
©Astronomy Know How 2012

Happy Stargazing!

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

Important news this month:

At last! My new online course in astronomy has arrived!!

I'm REALLY excited to tell you that 'Discover the Night Sky' my new course for budding astronomers everywhere is now available! It takes the complete beginner in the subject, or even those who know a little, on to the next level. Find out more about it at here

If you haven't seen my 'blog' yet, please take a look at I'm putting up useful bits of astronomical information and other items of interest there too.

Well, in less than a month we will have reached the end of the cycle of the Mayan calendar! If you would like a good story along these lines you can find it all in my novel 'In The Lion's Paw', set at the end of this year, or should that be the end of the world?. It's been getting rave reviews on Amazon. If you haven't got your copy yet, please take a look at Amazon UK. You can have it as a Kindle eBook as well, both here and in America or in fact all over the world... Amazon USA

As well as all this, I am pleased to tell you that this Newsletter in not only available as a podcast from us here... But also from my friends at 'Astronomy FM' Internet Radio on Under British Skies

If you would like to keep up to date on a more immediate basis than just the monthly Newsletter, or the blog, 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!

So it's nearly ready. 'Discover the Night Sky' will be the definitive online introduction to astronomy that there is.

I wish you clear skies,



In this issue:
  1. December's Highlights
  2. The Moon This Month
  3. The Planets This Month
  4. The Geminid Meteors
  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

December is traditionally always a good month to gaze at the night sky. This year is no exception...

The winter Solstice, when the Sun reaches its lowest position in northern hemisphere skies for this year, occurs on the 21st of this month. The precise moment of this event is at 11:12UT (same as GMT). As it is also the end of the Mayan calendar cycle, this will be accompanied by earthquakes, tsunamis and volcanic eruptions. Only kidding! What is does mean is the days will start to become increasingly longer until we arrive at the summer Solstice next June, so make the most of the long dark nights for observing.

On the 2nd of the month in the early morning, Saturn, Venus and Mercury form a line low down in the south-eastern sky from around 6:00UT until Sunrise. If you've never seen Mercury before, the planets Saturn and Venus will act as a guide. Mercury will be around the same distance from Venus as Saturn, but it will be the object nearest to the horizon.

On 3rd December a waning gibbous Moon will occult, that is pass in front of the lovely star cluster known as M67 in the constellation of Cancer the Crab. When this happens you will be able to see the stars in the cluster wink out as they disappear behind the Moon and a little later, wink back on again as they pop out from the unlit portion. The show will start around 23:00UT and ends around 01:25UT.

A less well known meteor shower reaches its peak this month. The Ursid meteors are a fairly low yield shower, but they can sometimes surprise us, so do look out on the 22nd December after midnight.

There isn't much to report on the Sun at the moment. So far activity on our nearest star has been quite low considering we are coming to the peak of the current Sunspot cycle in 2013. There have been a few flares recently though, which are the trigger for Auroral activity in our atmosphere, so keep an eye out on the northern horizon away from artificial lights, after dark. A greenish glow is the giveaway for this type of activity.

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The Moon This Month

A bright waning gibbous Moon greets us on the 1st December, just three days after the last Full Moon.

Last quarter Moon is on the 6th. Sadly, not many people get to see the last quarter and waning phases of the Moon as they are best seen in the small hours of the morning.

New Moon, when the Moon is in the same line of sight as the Sun to us, is on the 13th.

First quarter Moon, oddly named as it appears as a half lit disc to us, is on the 20th December. It's called 'First Quarter' because it has moved one quarter of its way in its orbit around the Earth since it was 'New'.

Full Moon occurs on the 28th. We can actually time when the disc of the Moon is fully illuminated so full Moon for December occurs at 03:22:40UT, so this is when it will be 100% lit.

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

Mercury is a morning object in the early part of the month. It will reach its greatest western elongation, which is when it is furthest from the Sun in our skies on December 4th. You'll need a clear horizon the south-east to see it from about 6:30UT. Be careful not to sweep for the planet with binoculars after Sunrise.

Venus is still a magnificent sight in the early morning sky. It's moving closer to the Sun now, but still shows us a gibbous phase, easily seen through binoculars or a small telescope.

Mars is still just visible in the evening twilight, but is a long way from us and is quite dim and very small even in a telescope. You might find it just after sunset low down near the south-western horizon.

Jupiter reaches opposition this month, which means that it will be directly opposite the Sun in our sky. It is therefore on show throughout the night and is very bright. It is well placed in the sky for observing, being quite high up around midnight and is a splendid sight in binoculars and especially a small telescope, which will show the disc including several of the cloud belts. Jupiter is always a fascinating object to observe through a telescope as you will be able to make out the famous 'great red spot' and the Galilean moons orbiting around the planet, transiting the disc and also being occulted as the pass behind it.

Saturn is a morning object and can be found to the north-west of bright Venus during the month of December in the pre-dawn sky. The rings are still nicely open to our view and with a small telescope; you'll be able to make out these and some of the planet's moons.

Uranus is visible due south in the early evening in the constellation of Pisces. Binoculars will show it as a tiny greenish disc, which will show better in a small telescope.

Neptune is also on show after dark in the constellation of Aquarius. You will definitely need a telescope to see it though. It will appear as a very small bluish disc at moderate magnification. Like Uranus, it is too far away for amateur telescopes to discern any features.
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The Geminid Meteors

Next to the summer Perseid meteors, the Geminids are the most popular shower of the year...

Fortunately this year, the Moon is well out of the way and so won't be drowning out the fainter shooting stars from this lovely shower.

The shower peaks on the nights of the 12th to 13th and also the 13th to 14th of the month. They are often moderately bright and can be quite photogenic as they move at a moderate pace across the sky.

Interestingly, unlike most meteor showers which are known to come from the tails of comets, the Geminid meteors come from a debris field strewn along the orbital path of an asteroid with the rather strange name of 3200 Phaethon. This particular asteroid can come quite close to the Sun not unlike a comet and the Earth passes through this debris during December.

To see the Geminids at their best, look towards the constellation of Orion then move your gaze towards that of Leo in the early hours, if you're still up!

Above is an image of how the sky might look at 00:00BST on 17th November.
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Deep Sky Highlights of December

December sees the impressive and ancient constellation of Taurus the Bull sitting due south in mid-evening.

Taurus was a constellation known to the ancient Greeks and Egyptians and has its roots in antiquity. The open star cluster of the Hyades marks the Bull's head in an easily recognisable 'V' shape lying on its side. Making it even more distinctive is the red eye of the Bull as marked by the bright red super giant star Aldebaran. This star is not a member of the Hyades cluster; it just lies on the same line of sight.

Taurus plays host to a wealth of deep-sky objects for those of us lucky enough to have access to a small telescope. The most obvious of these is the lovely naked eye cluster of the Pleiades or 'seven sisters', which look fabulous in binoculars. A small telescope will reveal dozens more stars that can't be seen with just the naked eye. Unusually, some of the brightest stars in the Pleiades are named.

The most famous deep-sky object in Taurus is probably the 'Crab Nebula' or Messier 1 (M1). This is a supernova remnant, the remains of a star which blew itself to pieces in the year 1054. It was recorded by Chinese astronomers and was bright enough to be seen in broad daylight for a couple of weeks! Such supernova stars are quite rare in our own galaxy. The star itself shrank down to a 'pulsar', a small highly compact star only 25km in diameter but with the Mass of several 'Suns'! It rotates at high speed sending out radio waves a little like a lighthouse. These radio waves sweep past us at 30 times a second. In a small telescope it now looks like a small faint fuzzy patch of light. You can find the Crab Nebula near the southern-most star in the horns of the Bull known as zeta Taurii.

Attached to Taurus on the tip of the northern horn, is the constellation of Auriga the Charioteer. The brightest star in this constellation is called Capella and is the third brightest star in the northern hemisphere. In fact it is not a single star, but a multiple star system in two binary pairs residing around 42 light years from us.

There are three well known and reasonably bright open star clusters in Auriga, M36, M37 and M38 in a row, running along the southern part of the constellation. They show up well in binoculars, but look even better in a small telescope. It's helpful to have a star chart to find these objects and if you don't have one, do take a look at the suggestions on my website, available at Amazon.

Next month we shall take a close look at a Hunter...

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Other News

A new 'online' course - an introduction to astronomy called 'Discover the Night Sky'. It's be a long time in the making. I have taken my time in writing it because I wanted it to have the best and clearest information of any course of its kind, because as the advert says, 'you're worth it'.

It contains stunning pictures, animations, video and clear text in plain English to help take you from a novice to a seasoned astronomer in six modules. It even has interactive quizzes to help you learn. I have distilled decades of my knowledge of the night skies into this to help you the budding astronomer get the best out of you hobby as quickly as possible and without the 'pain' of trying to understand complicated jargon and mathematics. I showed a final draft to someone who said it looked 'fabulous!'.

As a special bonus for you, it comes with a FREE guide to Choosing a Telescope. You might find this useful at this time of year? I'm also giving you a very special introductory price to run through the month of December. On 1st January, it will jump back up to where it should be! So don't delay, read all about it at here


"I read it in two sittings and couldn't put it down."

The person concerned said this about my book 'In the Lion's Paw', 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.

Other Amazon readers have said:

"I have to say I was not dissapointed with Ninian's first novel. I found the book to be a good story, very cleverly written jumping through various timezones and with ggod characters throughout. I read the book in 2 sittings (much to the annoyance of my wife!) The story and structure were well crafted and gripping, with a good amount of relevent astronomical information which served to enhance the story rather than make it geeky. A good blend of fact and fiction with well balanced story telling. I can honestly say that this is a book worth reading and I look forward to the next one!"

"A truly excellent work.
The format that Ninian has chosen, with events taking place in different timezones, really adds to the pace and sense of urgency of the plot. Because of this, I ended up reading much more than I intended when I started reading the book, as I found it difficult to put down.
Don't be put off if you are not of an astronomical bent as you do not have to be an astronomer or scientist to enjoy this book. It really is a jolly good ripping yarn."

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 a '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...

Stare Into The Eye Of Saturnís Terrifying Polar Vortex
If you think the weather can get pretty rough where you live, think yourself lucky youíre not caught up in Saturnís polar vortex.

Giant Magellan Telescope will discover, surprise
We are excited about both what we expect to see and what will surprise us when the next generation of giant telescopes looks upward. more...

Hubble telescope finds furthest galaxy ever seen
The galaxy, MACS0647-JD, is believed to be 13.3 billion light years from Earth with every light year representing 5,878,625 million miles - pretty far away. more...

Light Pollution: Our Vanishing Night Skies
An excellent aricle on the subject.... more...

Cosmic Dawn: Astronomy's Ancient Quest to Find the Universe's First Stars
" only care about the red ones," he said. "Everything else is foreground." 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...

My online course 'Basic Astronomy with a Telescope' is still available. 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. Sir Patrick Moore himself told me he wished he'd had access to it when he started out in astronomy!...

...please take a look at my eCourse called
'Basic Astronomy with a Telescope'.

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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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