By Gerard Keyzer

As we go to press I can confidently state there has not been one clear night this year, well not clear enough to get a scope out anyway. While it hasn’t been raining every day it’s certainly been cloudy most evenings so the observing log is just about empty.
I have been doing a bit of solar observing but even that has been on hold during early February. The Sun is very active with multiple and large sunspots as well as high solar flare activity. Has this got something to do with the big wet events or the big snows in Europe? Who knows? If the weather gives a chance to observe later this month try observing Jupiter very early in the evening, in the west. The seeing will be poor for detail but as I explained at the January meeting there are quite a few Jupiter Moon events occurring at decent hours throughout February. Most of these can be seen in twilight so check the times on pp 112-113 of Astronomy 2012. The New Moon occurs on 22nd February so maybe it will coincide with better viewing conditions. Jupiter is setting around 930pm toward the end of February and by the end of March Jupiter will be only visible in twilight as it heads behind the Sun. Jupiter is not the brightest “star” in the west in the evening, that mantle belonging to Venus, shining at magnitude -4.2 ! Next month I will write a brief article on the Transit of Venus occurring in June and give a small presentation at the March Club Meeting.
Saturn, in Virgo this year, is rising at about the time Jupiter is setting (around 930pm mid February) and will become the planetary target of choice by March. As with most objects you need to wait about an hour after they rise to get decent viewing. The sky moves 15° every hour and 15° is about the minimum clearance from the horizon before the seeing becomes passable.

This is mainly due to the extra atmosphere we need to penetrate close to the horizon. The ring plane is gradually opening and will be at the greatest tilt by December but Saturn, if it is available, is the “go to” object for any observing session. At every public viewing I’ve ever attended I’ve always heard people say, “It doesn’t look real”. Hard to believe it is 1.4 billion kilometres from the Sun.

 

Saturn as it appears in a small telescope

As Autumn approaches the Milky Way has wheeled right over and deep sky observers begin to look out into the great void above our galaxy. Without countless billions of stars obscuring our vision we can search for all those faint galaxies in the rich constellations of Leo, Virgo and Coma Berenices, to name a few. I suggest that if you are a new observer or have a telescope with aperture around
200mm or 8- inch that you start off with the Messier objects. These are marked on any star map with a capital M followed by a number. Messier was a comet hunter who plotted these objects so that he could avoid them and not mistake them for comets in his nightly sweeps. As his equipment was of inferior quality to that which is used today he was unable to see enough detail to guess at their true nature.

His favorite telescope was a 7-1/2 inch Gregorian reflector. They are good targets because they are generally brighter than most deep sky objects. While the All Sky maps in your almanac display the M objects it would be better to use a basic star atlas like the Pocket Sky Atlas. Some of the more famous are M1 – the Crab Nebula, M42 – the Orion Nebula, M104 – the Sombrero Galaxy, M57 – the Ring Nebula. Messier has an impressive resume and there is a good biographical sketch of Messier at the following link: http://messier.seds.org/xtra/history/biograph.html

M99 in Coma Berenices