Monthly Archives: May 2009

The skies over Kendal in June

The nights are rapidly shortening now until the 21st, after which they lengthen once more. During the darkest hours, the Milky Way is visible overhead, and we still have planets at Dusk and Dawn. As with last month, this post is illustrated with a few sky charts showing midnight on the first, last and fifteenth day of the month. The dots represent brighter stars, green circles are star clusters, nebulae, galaxies and the like and the very brightest stars, the Moon and the planets are named when they appear. Sky charts provided using Stellarium.

The sky on June 1st at midnight

The sky on June 1st at midnight

Solar System

Noctilucant clouds have begun making appearances over northern Europe. Look to the North after sunset to see these high clouds still illuminated by the Sun.

The Moon will be closest to Saturn on the 1st of June, close to Jupiter predawn on the 12th and close to Venus and Mars also predawn on the 19th. The Moon will be occulting several bright stars this month. These include: 172 B Sagittarii (magnitude 5.6) on the 10th at around 2:20 am; Lambda Piscium (4.5) on the 16th at around 2:47 am and 69 Virginis (4.8) on the 20th at 21:37.

Two possible meteor showers this month are the June Lyrids and the June Bootes on the 16th and 27th of June, respectively. The Lyrids appear past midnight, whereas the Bootes peak before dawn. It isn’t known if there will be significant activity this year.

Ceres will be half a degree from Theta Leonis on the 19th. Juno will be half a degree above the Moon on the 16th.

The Planets

Mars is still rather dim at magnitude 1.2, but rises to higher and higher altitudes by sunrise as the month goes on, ending about 23 degrees above the horizon on the final day of June. On the 19th just before dawn, Mars will be just above Venus and a short distance below a thin waning crescent Moon.

Venus will be rising with Mars at much the same time, but will be a lot brighter at magnitude -4.2. Venus remains at a similar magnitude throughout the year as when it is farther from us, it is closer to a full Venus, whereas now, when it is close to us, it shows a crescent Venus. Venus will be 14 degrees above the horizon at Sunrise and will increase its sunrise altitude through the month.

Mercury has joined Venus and Mars in the predawn sky, reaching its greatest altitude above the rising Sun on the 13th. It will still be very low in the sky and pretty faint at magnitude 0.6 – made even fainter by the brightening of the sky at dawn.

Jupiter is improving in visibility over this month. It rises at 2am at the start of the month and 1am by the end, reaching an altitude of 24 degrees at this time. It is a good very bright star to the naked eye, increasing in magnitude from -2.5 to -2.7 during the month.

Saturn is heading into the twilight this month, still appearing just below the constellation of Leo as the Sun sets. It is an obvious bright dot below Leo by the naked eye, a yellow disc of magnitude 1 with a slender line through it through a telescope. This slender line, once the great rings of Saturn, will continue to thin and thin as Saturn approaches the point in its orbit where the rings will be edge on to the Earth. The rings, the moon Titan and some bands should be visible through even a small telescope – though a fast one like mine does wash out the bands. On June 10th, the five brightest satellites of Saturn will be lined up to the East of the planet.

Neptune rides on the coat-tails of Jupiter this month, remaining close to the star mu capricornis. On the morning of June 4th, the two planets will be separated by a mere half a degree. At a magnitude of 7.9 it won’t be visible to the naked eye (it never is) but it should be visible through binoculars or a telescope.

Uranus is in the south-western corner of Pisces and moves into darker skies this month, rising up to twenty degrees above the horizon in the southeast at the end of twilight. At magnitude 5.9, this planet is invisible to the naked eye, just, but visible in binoculars or a small telescope as it moves into the darker regions.

A few things outside the solar system

The pinwheel and whirlpool galaxies as well as the owl nebula are all available to see this month in and around the Big Dipper, which soon rises overhead after sunset.

The Ring Nebula, M57 lies in the constellation of Lyra, between the stars gamma and beta Lyra. Lyra is also notable for the bright star Vega. The constellation is pretty much overhead at sunset at the beginning of the month.

The Milky Way is a vast arch just to the East of Lyra, stretching across the sky. If you’re lucky enough to have a dark clear night, then it may be visible in the very darkest hours, looking rather like a broken thin cloud. This is our view towards the centre of our galaxy.

Lying along the Milky Way to the south is Cygnus the swan. Two nice sights can be seen topping and tailing the swan. The star representing its head, Albireo, is a well contrasting double star, with a bright yellow star besides a dimmer blue-green one. At the tail end, up and to the left of the tail star Deneb are a couple of clusters visible in binoculars – the North American Nebula and the Penguin Nebula, both named for what they appear to look like.

The sky in mid-June

The sky in mid-June

The Usual Stuff

If you want to watch satellites flaring or passing in the sky (even sometimes during the day), then go to Heavens Above to get times and directions. If you need assistance in deciding where things are in the sky, why not install the free program Stellarium, which does all the work for you? Finally, to avoid the dreaded clouds, Met Check gives a quick forecast and the Met satellites or other satellites can be used to track breaks in the cloud. For those ISS trackers amongst you, the International Space Station presently hovers above Kendal at around 5am.

Public events

Stuart Atkinson will be giving a lecture on “Visions of Mars” at the Brewery Arts Centre in Kendal on Friday the 26th of June at 7:30pm-8:30pm. Tickets cost £3 for over 16s, £1.50 for under 16s.

Events up and down the country are available from the IYA2009 events page. Plus why not pop along to the Eddington Society, which meets at Kendal Museum on the first Monday of the month? This Monday is a member’s project night, with contributions from the audience.

Don’t forget to check back here and on my twitter account for the latest astronomical events in this area.

End of June sky

End of June sky


Astronomy in 140 characters or less

Yesterday saw a very interesting and unusual experiment in social networking. MoonTweet, or the Twitter Moonwatch saw amateur astronomers put on the web as they observed to show what they were looking at, explain what they were doing and answer questions related to all of this.

Arranged by BBC Journalist Maggie Philbin and the Newbury Astronomical Society after a joint radio broadcast last week, the idea was as simple as we’ve got the tools, weather should be nice, why not do a Moonwatch and broadcast it over Twitter? Sounds a nice simple idea, and such ones are often the best. Especially with recent reports that the public have an interest in astronomy, but little knowledge of what it is that astronomers do. Why not then bring the public along for the night?

Twitter is a website that allows users to exchange messages of 140 characters or less, kind of like text message broadcasting, with each message visible for all to see. Links can also be posted as well as pictures through sites like twitpic, which hosts them and allows a link to the image to be sent back through twitter itself. Sounds interesting, but how do you relate it to astronomical observations? Pretty easily as it happens.

As any trained astronomer knows, astronomical logbooks are a long list of quick observations made – what is the target? What are the weather conditions? Who’s observing? What equipment are you using? Eyepiece and so magnification? Where in the sky is the target? What is there to see? The orientation of the target? And of course some kind of a render of what you can see – a sketch or a picture with a CCD or digital camera at the eyepiece. Each one of these and any additional thoughts and observations can be a separate tweet, each one can solicit questions and each one you can ask about others joining in the Moon watch. Comparisons of weather and instruments were rife.

On this basis, just having a few observations of the Moon would be quite a full program for the planned two hours or so of the Moonwatch. As it happens, Saturn was also near to the Moon and made an appearance part way through the evening, as did the planetary nebula M57 (The Ring Nebula), the vast arc of the Milky Way and even Jupiter for those who stayed the course until dawn started to break.

I was brought into this melee by Trea, UCL’s Undergraduate Teaching Secretary, in order to help answer the many queries that would be coming through. Adrian at the keyboard for NewburyAS would have his hands full receiving pictures from the guys in the field and posting them as well as posting info and answering questions.

An hour or so before the Moonwatch launched, I took a couple of pictures of the Moon in daylight as it played hide and seek in the wispy clouds passing over Kendal, both in terms of what could be seen with the eye and the telescope.

At 9:30pm, the Moonwatch began. NewburyAS reported the first Moon shot of the evening and also tweeted a sky chart taken off stellarium, giving the positions of the Moon and Saturn. Many people were wondering when they would first see Saturn, so I started off with a bit of Planetary Bingo, who would see the planet first? It was at this point that people started tweeting equipment and locations. The UK International Year of Astronomy, 2009 twitter account had joined in from Glasgow and for once every location from Scotland to London were reporting clear skies and a warm evening breeze.

At this point, the questions were coming in thick and fast. The Moon’s orbital dynamics – do we all see the same face? does the Moon come closer and does it affect tides? why do different locations see the Moon rising at different times? – as well as some about Saturn – Can I see Saturn’s rings with my binoculars? will I be able to see Saturn next month? what star is that near Saturn? Where is it? – and more general astronomy questions – where can I get a starter scope under £200? Keeping up with the night sky outside and the questions inside was quite exhausting at times. NewburyAS posted a picture of Saturn that soon made its way round twitter.

Once the official two hours was up, Newbury staked a claim for the rest of the night with a late breaking full colour image of the Ring Nebula. With the Milky Way arching above observers in good skies close to midnight, satellites passing overhead and eyes already on the sky, it seemed UK amateur astronomy had picked up quite some momentum for the night. As dawn began to light up the sky and fade away the band of the Milky Way, Jupiter rose in the East. Low on the horizon, the enormous disc of the giant planet seemed to boil and bubble in the disturbed atmosphere. The four Galilean moons were all on show and lined up fairly equally space with one to the left of Jupiter and three to the right through my eyepiece.

All in all, it was an enjoyable night and a good excuse to make use of the telescope. A fair few people learnt a little more about astronomy, where to look and what to look for. Today saw a few people still talking about the Twitter Moonwatch, including in the US where the action rolled onto as our night came to an end and theirs rolled in. If you want to look for related tweets? Go to twitter and use the search function on the right to look for #moonwatch – our topic string for the night – or just click here.

Expedition 20 docks with the ISS

The OasISS mission and Expedition 20 have docked their Soyuz TMA spacecraft with the International Space Station and transferred crew over. Videos of the docking and the transfer are below.

More news from Fabian

via Universe Today.

A couple of days ago, news of data gathered in studies using the XMM-Newton and Chandra X-ray space telescopes by teams led by Andrew Fabian hit the astronomical headlines. Today, the Cambridge Professor and head of the Royal Astronomical Society adds another space telescope to his pack – the Suzaku X-ray Telescope operated by JAXA, the Japanese version of NASA.

The observations of the gigantic galaxy cluster PKS 0745-191, which lies 1.3 billion light years away in the constellation of Puppis, provides the first complete view of such an object in X-rays. Galaxy clusters are the largest gravitationally bound structures in the Universe.

The view shows hot dense gas in the middle of the cluster, seemingly in equilibrium with its surroundings. Gas towards the edge of the cluster shows signs of still falling in towards the centre, suggesting the giant cluster is still in the process of growing and has achieved some kind of equilibrium close to its centre.

IYA roundups

The two weekly round-ups for the International Year of Astronomy, 2009 are in circulation. The first a round-up of IYA2009 activities, the second a round-up of mainstream press items related to IYA2009.

This week’s IYA2009 Updates contains news on such items as the IYA Status Report, a brief round-up of what has happened in the year so far. The status report includes a mention of recently joining countries including Grenada, which has merited its own report for holding an opening ceremony this week. There are updates on some projects including the mutual phenomena, The World At Night and StarPeace, which recently held an event involving Macedonia and Serbia. There is also some information on outreach and education events as well as the distribution of Galileoscopes.

In the IYA2009 news round-ups, related items hitting the mainstream media have included news on free telescopes. The author of the Bad Astronomy Blog has urged people to donate Galileoscopes (whilst also advertising an event he will be attending with a guy dressing up as Galileo teaching astronomy), and a free telescope for schools from the Society for Popular Astronomy has its story charted from the school it landed in. There is also news of a Star Party in Win Del park in Windham Centre, Canada, news of a storytelling competition taking on the theme astronomy in Cape Breton University, also Canada, and an exhibition of astronomical pictures, not in Canada, but California. Finally, there is a note about all the media exposure to do with the Hubble Servicing Mission 4, which made the occasional newspaper recently.

Nasa News

The weekly round up of news from Nasa in This Week @ Nasa, taken from their youtube account.

Packed for the journey

The Lunar Reconnaisence Orbiter, LRO, and the Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite, LCROSS have been ‘mated’ with an Atlas V rocket. Ie the diving bell like thing they have been packed in for the launch has been put on top of the launch vehicle, ready to go on June 17th. The rocket and payload were put together in the mobile tower at Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral, Florida.

For a full media archive of testing of the rockets, packing of the satellites and loading of the payload onto the Atlas V/Centaur rocket, go to the Kennedy Space Center media gallery.

UPDATE: To follow progress on the mission, there is a Nasa Blog you can read.