Northern

Northern backyard stargazers can get a good monthly guide to the heavens with this relaxing and easy on the ear Night Sky video. “Tonight’s Sky” is produced by HubbleSite.org, online home of the Hubble Space Telescope.

 Constellations, Deep-Sky Objects This Month

On This Day

1st 1958, the powerful Van Allen radiation belts (concentrations of electrically charged particles that surround Earth) are discovered.

4th 1989, Magellan the first planetary mission launched from the Space Shuttle, is sent to study Venus.

5th 1961, Alan Shephard Jr (Mercury 3) became the first American to be launched into space.

7th 1992, the Space Shuttle Endeavour blasts off on its maiden voyage. It was the 47th shuttle mission.

8th 1963, the first transatlantic colour TV pictures were sent via Telstar 2 (USA).

9th 1962, a laser beam was bounced off the Moon from Earth by MIT scientists.

11th 1916, Albert Einstein’s ‘General Theory of Relativity’ was first presented.

14th 1973, Skylab 1, the USA’s first space station was launched.

16th 2011, the Space Shuttle Endeavour was launched on its 25th and final mission.

18th 1991, Helen Sharman, the first Briton in space, blasts off on board a Soyuz spacecraft.

18th 1969, Apollo 10 was launched. It was a full dress rehearsal for the Apollo 11 mission without actually landing on the Moon.

19th 1919, Sir Eddington (UK) observes a total solar eclipse and validates Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity.

20th 1990, The Hubble Space Telescope sent its first photograph from space, an image of a double star 1,260 light years away.

25th 1961, President John F. Kennedy launches the USA’s race to the Moon.

28th 1959, Rhesus monkey Abel and squirrel monkey Baker were launched for a brief suborbital space flight in the nose cone of Jupiter Missile AM-18.

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Want to become a better astronomer? Learn your way around the constellations! They’re the key to locating everything fainter and deeper to hunt with binoculars or a telescope.

This is an outdoor nature hobby. For an easy-to-use constellation guide covering the whole evening sky, use the big monthly map in the center of each issue of Sky & Telescope, the essential guide to astronomy.

Pocket Sky Atlas, jumbo edition

The Pocket Sky Atlas

Once you get a telescope, to put it to good use you’ll need a detailed, large-scale sky atlas (set of charts). The basic standard is the Pocket Sky Atlas (in either the original or Jumbo Edition), which shows stars to magnitude 7.6.

Next up is the larger and deeper Sky Atlas 2000.0, plotting stars to magnitude 8.5; nearly three times as many. The next up, once you know your way around, is the even larger Uranometria 2000.0 (stars to magnitude 9.75). And read how to use sky charts with a telescope.

You’ll also want a good deep-sky guidebook, such as Sue French’s Deep-Sky Wonders collection (which includes its own charts), Sky Atlas 2000.0 Companion by Strong and Sinnott, or the bigger Night Sky Observer’s Guide by Kepple and Sanner.

Can a computerized telescope replace charts? Not for beginners, I don’t think, and not on mounts and tripods that are less than top-quality mechanically (meaning heavy and expensive).

And as Terence Dickinson and Alan Dyer say in their Backyard Astronomer’s Guide, “A full appreciation of the universe cannot come without developing the skills to find things in the sky and understanding how the sky works. This knowledge comes only by spending time under the stars with star maps in hand.”

The Pocket Sky Atlas plots 30,796 stars to magnitude 7.6 — which may sound like a lot, but it’s less than one per square degree on the sky. Also plotted are many hundreds of telescopic galaxies, star clusters, and nebulae. Shown above is the new Jumbo Edition for easier reading in the night. Click image for larger view.

 Skywatching Terms

  • Asterism: A noteworthy or striking pattern of stars within a larger constellation.
  • Degrees (measuring the sky): The sky is 360 degrees all the way around, which means roughly 180 degrees from horizon to horizon. It’s easy to measure distances between objects: Your fist on an outstretched arm covers about 10 degrees of sky.
  • Visual Magnitude: This is the astronomer’s scale for measuring the brightness of objects in the sky. The dimmest object visible in the night sky under perfectly dark conditions is about magnitude 6.5. Brighter stars are magnitude 2 or 1. The brightest objects get negative numbers. Venus can be as bright as magnitude minus 4.9. The full moon is minus 12.7 and the sun is minus 26.8.
  • Terminator: The boundary on the moon between sunlight and shadow.
  • Zenith: The point in the sky directly overhead.

Night Sky Observing Tips

  • Adjust to the dark: If you wish to observe faint objects, such as meteors or dim stars, give your eyes at least 15 minutes to adjust to the darkness.
  • Light Pollution: Even from a big city, one can see the moon, a handful of bright stars and sometimes the brightest planets. But to fully enjoy the heavens — especially a meteor shower, the constellations, or to see the amazing swath across the sky that represents our view toward the center of the Milky Way Galaxy — rural areas are best for night sky viewing.
  • If you’re stuck in a city or suburban area, a building can be used to block ambient light (or moonlight) to help reveal fainter objects. If you’re in the suburbs, simply turning off outdoor lights can help.
  • Prepare for skywatching: If you plan to be out for more than a few minutes, and it’s not a warm summer evening, dress warmer than you think necessary. An hour of observing a winter meteor shower can chill you to the bone. A blanket or lounge chair will prove much more comfortable than standing or sitting in a chair and craning your neck to see overhead.
  • Daytime skywatching: When Venus is visible (that is, not in front of or behind the sun) it can often be spotted during the day. But you’ll need to know where to look. A sky map is helpful. When the sun has large sunspots, they can be seen without a telescope. However, it’s unsafe to look at the sun without protective eyewear. See our video on how to safely observe the sun, or our safe sunwatching infographic.
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