Astronomy Guide with the Newbury Astronomical Society
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Welcome to the Newbury Astronomical Society’s Beginner’s monthly astronomy guide to the night sky.
The chart above shows the night sky looking south at about 19:00 BST on 15th April. West is to the right and east to the left. The point in the sky directly overhead is known as the Zenith and is shown (in red) at the upper centre of the chart. The curved brown line across the sky at the bottom is the Ecliptic or Zodiac. This is the imaginary line along which the Sun, Moon and planets appear to move across the sky. The brightest stars often appear to form a group or recognisable pattern; we call these ‘Constellations’. Shown (in yellow) are the ‘Deep Sky’ Messier Objects [Galaxies, Clusters and Nebulae].
Constellations through which the ecliptic passes this month are: Aries (the Ram) just moving over the western horizon, Taurus (the Bull), Gemini (the Twins), Cancer (the Crab), Leo (the Lion), Virgo (the Virgin) and Libra (the Scales) rising over the eastern horizon.
Still prominent in the south west is the constellation of Taurus (the Bull). It sits on the Ecliptic and looks like a squashed cross ‘X’. The most obvious star in Taurus is the lovely Red Giant Star called Aldebaran. It appears slightly orange to the ‘naked eye’ but it is very obviously orange when seen using binoculars or a telescope. Aldebaran is located at the centre of the ‘flattened’ X shape formed by the brightest stars in Taurus.
At the end of the top right (upper west) arm of the ‘X’ is the beautiful ‘naked eye’ Open Star Cluster Messier 45 (M45) known as the Pleiades (or the Seven Sisters). It really does look magnificent using binoculars. Venus is shining very brightly in the constellation of Taurus this month. Venus will pass through the bright and ‘naked eye’ open star cluster Messier 45 the Pleiades (Seven Sisters) on 3rd April. This will be a special event to see and for those interested in astro-imaging to possibly take a picture. See the monthly ‘What’s Up’ on the Beginners website.
Following Taurus along the Ecliptic is the constellation of Gemini (the Twins). The two brightest stars in Gemini are Castor and Pollux that are named after mythological twins and they are so alike they do look like twins. There are lines of fainter stars linked to Pollux and Castor and extending to the south west (down to the right). There is a lovely Open Cluster called Messier 35 (M35) just off the end and above the upper line of stars emanating from the star Castor. M35 can be seen using binoculars but will need a telescope to see well.
Following Gemini along the Ecliptic is the rather faint constellation of Cancer (the Crab). It does need a dark and unpolluted sky to see with the naked eye. In a good sky the faint stars can be seen with a nice Open Cluster of stars at its centre. The cluster is called Messier 44 (M44) or ‘the Beehive Cluster’ because of its resemblance to an old straw built beehive with a swarm of stars looking like bees around it. It looks best using binoculars.
Following Cancer along the Ecliptic is the constellation of Leo (the Lion). It does actually look a little like a resting male African lion but perhaps more like the Sphinx in Egypt. Below Leo are some relatively bright galaxies M65, M66, M95 and M96, see page 8 but they do need a telescope to see them. The sky around Leo and particularly between Leo and Virgo hosts a cluster of nearby galaxies. Our Galaxy (the Milky Way) is actually a member of a small ‘Local Group’ of galaxies that forms part of this larger cluster of galaxies.
To the south of Taurus and Gemini is the spectacular constellation of Orion (the Hunter). Orion dominates the southern sky and is one of the best known constellations. It also hosts some of the most interesting objects for us to seek out. See the January Magazine.
Planets observable: Uranus and Venus in the early evening with Mars, Saturn and Jupiter early morning.
Follow this link to see the full ‘Monthly What’s Up’ guide to the night sky:
To see a full version of this article and a guide to the night sky with charts, read the Newbury Astronomical Society (NAS) – Monthly Magazines for Beginners on the Beginners website at: www.naasbeginners.co.uk.
All future meetings of the Newbury Astronomical Society have been cancelled due to the Coronavirus.