The 2012 Quadrantid Meteor Shower

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The first of the 2012 meteor showers – The Quadrantids – peaks on the night of the 3rd and 4th of January.

The Quadrantid meteor shower is one of the major annual meteor showers and often performs well under ideal observing conditions.

The Quadrantids can be quite impressive with a Zenithal Hourly Rate (ZHR) of up to 120 meteors per hour at their peak (under perfect conditions) and can sometimes produce rates of 60 to 200 meteors per hour. The peak is quite narrow lasting only a few hours, with activity either side of the peak sometimes being weak, but well worth observing.

Due to a waxing gibbous Moon, the best time to look is after midnight and through the early hours, plenty of time for us to see the peak build up to 07:20 UT on the 4th, but the Quadrantids are active from December 28th through January 12th so we should have plenty of chances to spot some shooting stars.

The radiant of the Quadrantids (where the meteors radiate from) is in the constellation of Boötes, however many people are misled in thinking they need to look at the radiant to see the meteors – this is not true. Meteors will come from the radiant, but will appear anywhere in the whole sky at random. You can trace the meteors (shooting stars) path back to the radiant to confirm if it is a meteor from the meteor shower.

You don’t need a telescope or binoculars to watch meteor showers, just your eyes. To enjoy a meteor shower and spot as many meteors as possible, you need to try and place yourself away from bright lights and make yourself comfortable. Meteor showers are best observed if you use a reclining garden chair or something similar so you can keep your gaze on the sky as long as possible. This will give you the best results.

For more information on how to observe and enjoy the Quadrantid meteor shower, visit meteorwatch.org

Quadrantid Meteor Credit: nasa.gov

Night Sky Guide: January 2012

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January brings us striking views of the night skies! You’ll be able to see well known constellations during the long hours of darkness in the Northern hemisphere, with crisp cold skies. This is an ideal time to get out and look at the wonders of the night sky as there is so much to see for the beginner and seasoned astronomer alike.

You will only need your eyes to see most of the things in this simple guide, but some objects are best seen through binoculars or a small telescope.

So what sights are there in the January night sky and when and where can we see them?

Meteor Showers

Quadrantid Meteor Credit: nasa.gov

As soon as the month starts we receive a welcome treat in the form of the Quadrantid meteor shower on the evening of the 3rd/ morning of the 4th of January.

The Quadrantids can be quite an impressive shower with rates (ZHR) of up to 120 meteors per hour at the showers peak (under perfect conditions) and can sometimes produce rates of up to 200 meteors per hour. The peak is quite narrow lasting only a few hours, with activity either side of the peak being quite weak.

Due to a waxing gibbous moon, the best time to look is after midnight and through the early hours when the moon sets in time for us to see the peak which is 07:20 UT.

The radiant of the Quadrantids (where the meteors radiate from) is in the constellation of Boötes, however many people are mislead in thinking they need to look at the radiant to see the meteors – this is not true. Meteors will come from the radiant, but will appear anywhere in the whole sky at random. You can trace the shooting stars path back to the radiant to confirm if it is a meteor from the meteor shower.

For more information on how to observe and enjoy the Quadrantid meteor shower, visit meteorwatch.org

Planets

Mercury is low down in the southeast before sunrise in the first week of January.

Venus will be shining brightly in the southwest until May and will pass within 1° of Neptune the furthest planet on the 12th and 13th of January. You can see this through binoculars or a small telescope. On the 26th Venus and the Moon can be seen together after sunset.

Venus

On the 5th of January, Earth will be at “Perihelion” its closest point to the Sun.

Mars brightens slightly to -0.5 during January and can be found in the tail of Leo; it can be easily spotted with the naked eye. The red Planet is close to the Moon on the night of the 13th/ 14th January.

Mars

On January 2nd Jupiter and the Moon will be very close to each other with a separation of only 5° with Jupiter just below the Moon. Jupiter will continue to be one of the brightest objects in the sky this month.
Jupiter

Saturn now lies in the constellation of Virgo and follows after just after Mars in Leo.
Saturn

Uranus is just barely visible to the naked eye in the constellation of Pisces and can be easily spotted in binoculars or small telescopes throughout the month. The Moon will pass very close to Uranus on the 27th and will be just 5.5° to the left of the planet.
Uranus

Moon phases

  • First Quarter – 1st and 31st January
  • Full Moon – 9th January
  • Last Quarter – 16th January
  • New Moon – 23rd January

Constellations

Credit: Adrian West

In January the most dominant and one of the best known constellations proudly sits in the south of the sky – Orion the hunter.

Easily distinguishable as a torso of a man with a belt of three stars, a sword, club and shield, Orion acts as the centre piece of the surrounding winter constellations. Orion is viewed upside down in the Northern sky as seen from the Southern hemisphere.

Orion contains some exciting objects and its most famous are the Great Nebula in Orion(M42), which makes up the sword and is easily seen in binoculars or a telescope and bright Betelgeuse, Orion’s bright alpha star (α Orionis). Betelgeuse is a red supergiant many times larger than our Sun; it would engulf everything in our solar system out to the orbit of Jupiter, if the two stars swapped places. Betelgeuse will eventually end its life in a Supernova explosion and some people believe that it may have already exploded and the light hasn’t reached us yet. It would make for a fantastic sight!

The Great Orion Nebula by Patrick Cullis
The Great Orion Nebula. Image Credit: Patrick Cullis

If you draw an imaginary line through the three belt stars of Orion and keep going up and to the right, you will come to a bright orange coloured star – Aldebaran (α Tauri) in the constellation of Taurus.
Pleiades Cluster/ Seven Sisters

Taurus depicts a head of a bull with Aldebaran as its eye with a V shape that creates long horns starting from what we call the Hyades cluster, a V shaped open cluster of stars. If you continue to draw a line through the belt stars of Orion, through Aldebaran and keep going, you will eventually get to one of the gems in Taurus – The Pleiades cluster or Seven Sisters (M45) a stunning cluster of blue and extremely luminous stars and from our vantage point on Earth, the most recognisable cluster with the naked eye. A great object to scan with binoculars. A great object to hunt for with a small telescope is the Crab Nebula (M1) near the end of the lower horn of Taurus.
The Crab Nebula
The Crab Nebula

If you go back to our imaginary line drawn through the belt stars of Orion and draw it in the other direction, to left and below, you will come to the very bright star Sirius (α CMa) – The Dog Star in Canis Major. Sirius is the brightest star in the sky and is only 8.6 light years away, it is the closest star visible to the naked eye after the Sun.

Sirius along with Betelgeuse and Procyon (α CMi) in Canis Minor, form an asterism known as the Winter Triangle.

Directly above Orion and the Winter Triangle are the constellations of Gemini (The Twins), with the two bright stars of Castor and Pollux marking their heads and Auriga the charioteer, with its bright alpha star Capella (α Aur). Auriga is host to M36, M37 and M38 which are globular clusters and easily seen through binoculars or small telescope and Gemini plays host to M35.

M37

Only a few of the objects available to see have been mentioned, so get yourself a good map, Planisphere or star atlas and see what other objects you can track down!

Top Astronomy Events Coming Up in 2012

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As 2011 is drawing to a close, the festive season is here and many of us are winding down and looking forward to the holidays. But this is a great time to look ahead to 2012 and pencil into our calendar and diaries the top astronomical events we don’t want to miss next year.

2012 is going to be a great year for astronomy observing, with some rare and exciting things taking place and a good outlook with some of the regular annual events.

So what top wonders should we expect to see and what will 2012 bring?

Conjunction of Venus and Jupiter

Venus & Jupiter Conjunction Credit: Anthony Arrigo UtahSkies.org

On March 15th the Planets Venus and Jupiter will be within 3 degrees and very close to each other in the early evening sky. This will be quite a spectacle as both planets are very bright (Venus being the brightest) and the pair will burn brightly together like a pair of alien eyes watching us after the Sun sets.

This conjunction (where planets group close together as seen from Earth) will be a fantastic visual and photographic opportunity, as it’s not often you get the brightest Planets in our Solar System so close together.

Transit of Venus

Transit of Venus Credit: Australian Space Alliance

For many, the transit of Venus is the year’s most anticipated astronomical event and it takes place on June 5th – 6th. The Planet Venus will pass between the Earth and the Sun and you will see Venus (a small black circle) slowly move across, or “transit” the disc of the Sun.

Transits of Venus are very rare and only a few have been witnessed since the dawn of the telescope. Be sure not to miss this very rare event as the next one isn’t visible for over another 100 years from now in 2117 and the next after that is in 2125.

The full transit of Venus in 2012 will be visible in North America, the northwest part of South America, Western Pacific, North East Asia, Japan, Australia and New Zealand. Other parts of the world will see a partial transit such as observers in the UK, who will only be able to see the last part of the transit as the Sun rises.

First contact will be at 22:09 UT and final contact will be at 04:49 UT

Take note! You have to use the right equipment for viewing the Sun, such as eclipse glasses, solar filters, or projection through a telescope. Never ever look directly at the Sun and never look at it through a normal telescope or binoculars – You will be permanently blinded! The transit of Venus will be a very popular event, so contact your local astronomy group and see if they are holding an event to celebrate this rare occasion.

Meteor Showers

Don't Miss the Major 2012 Meteor Showers Credit: Shooting Star Wallpapers

2011 was a poor year for meteor showers due to the presence of a largely illuminated Moon on all of the major showers; this prevented all but the brightest meteors being seen.

In contrast 2012 brings a welcome respite from the glare of the Moon as it gives little or no interference with this year’s major showers. The only other issue left to contend with is the weather, but if you have clear skies on the evenings of these celestial fireworks, you are in for a treat.

  • The Quadrantid Meteor Shower peak is narrow and just before dawn on January 4th this shower is expected to have a peak rate (ZHR) of around 80 meteors per hour.
  • The Perseid Meteor Shower peak is fairly broad with activity increasing on the evenings of the August 9th and 10th with the showers peak on the morning of the 12th. Perseids are the most popular meteor shower of the year as it tends to be warm and the shower has very bright meteors and fireballs, with rates of 100+ an hour at its peak.
  • The Geminid Meteor Shower is probably the best meteor shower of the year with high rates of slow bright meteors. The peak is very broad and rates of 100+ meteors per hour can be seen. The best time to look out for Geminids is on the evenings of the 12th to 14th December, but they can be seen much earlier or later than the peak.

If you want to find out more and enjoy the meteor showers of 2012, why not join in with a meteorwatch and visit meteorwatch.org

Jupiter and the Moon

Occultation of Jupiter by the Moon on July 15th as seen from Southern England Credit: Adrian West

European observers are in for a very rare treat as the Moon briefly hides the planet Jupiter on the morning of July 15th. This “lunar occultation” can be seen from southern England and parts of Europe at approximately 1:50am UT (dependant on location) and the planet re-emerges from the dark lunar limb at approximately 3:10am UT.

This is a great chance to watch this rare and bright event, and it will also be a fantastic imaging opportunity.

Annular Eclipse

Annular Eclipse Credit: Kitt Peak Observatory

American observers will have treat on May 20th with an annular eclipse of the Sun. The eclipse will be visible from many western US states and a partial eclipse visible from most of North America.

Because the Moon’s orbit is not a perfect circle and is slightly elliptical, it moves closer and further away from us slightly in its orbit by 13% and on July 15th it is at its furthest point away from the Earth as it passes in front of the Sun.

Normally the Moon covers the entire disc of the Sun and creates a total solar eclipse, but because the Moon is at its furthest point in its orbit on the 15th, we get an annular eclipse, where we can still see a ring of bright light around the Sun, but we don’t get totality.

The eclipse starts roughly at 6:20pm local time for the Western US states and lasts for four and a half minutes.

As mentioned earlier; never, ever look at the Sun without proper protection such as eclipse glasses or filters for equipment! This can damage your eyes and permanently blind you. This is the same for cameras; the sensitive chips inside can be damaged.

The World Not Ending

End Of The World

Finally we get to December 21st, in which astronomy-minded folks will celebrate the solstice. But in case you haven’t heard, some have prophesied the end of the world, saying the Mayan calendar ends. This has been the subject of much discussion, comedy and media coverage, and it has even been made into films.

Will the Antichrist press the red button and will there be the Rapture? Will the Earth reverse its magnetic poles, or will we get wiped out by a solar flare, rogue comet or asteroid?

Nope, probably not. You can read our entire series which explains why this whole 2012 end-of-the-world craze is complete hokum.

All I know is 2012 is going to be a great year for astronomy with some very interesting, rare events taking place, with many more regular events to see, as well.

I’m sure it’s not going to end.

 

Winter Solstice – The Shortest day of the Year

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Depending on how the calendar falls, the December solstice occurs annually on a day between December 20 and 23. This year, the December solstice will occur at 05:30 UTC (12:30 a.m. EST) on December 22, 2011. While the southern hemisphere is experiencing the long days of summer, the northern hemisphere will have the “winter solstice” – often called the shortest day of the year.

Conversely, six months ago the northern hemisphere experienced the longest day with the summer solstice, with the southern hemisphere having their winter solstice. This is part of a never ending cycle and is at the heart of our seasons.

So, why do we call it the shortest day of the year for the winter solstice and longest day for the solstice in the summer? Do we lose some time off the clock in winter, and in summer do we miraculously gain time on the clock in a bizarre cycle that is imposed by old men in charge of calendars and times around the world? (I used to think this as a small boy…)

The fact is we don’t lose or gain any time; what we actually gain or lose is hours of sunlight. During the winter solstice we receive the least amount of sunlight of the year on that day.

To understand the winter and summer solstices we need to recognize a fundamental fact about the Earth. Earth’s axis of rotation is tilted approximately 23.5° from a vertical axis. This means that as the tilted Earth orbits the Sun during the year, the different hemispheres receive varying amounts of sunlight, as this tilt causes sunlight to strike the surface of Earth at different angles at different times of year.

In the summer, we see the Sun for longer periods of time and it appears high in the sky; the Sun’s rays are more direct and the heat energy is more abundant. In the winter, when the Sun is low in the sky and appears for less amount of time; there is less energy and the Sun therefore heats less efficiently.

If you live near the equator, you won’t notice much difference in the amount of sunlight you receive throughout the year. The biggest noticeable difference is at the poles, where each solstice brings an extreme in the hours of sunlight you receive; in summer the Sun never properly sets for weeks, and in winter it never rises, creating some of the most inhospitable environments on Earth.

I always find the solstices to be magical times of year and look forward to either the longest or shortest days as they are the bringers of seasons, darkness and light.

New Plans for ESA’s Experimental Re-entry Vehicle

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ESA and Arianespace have signed a contract planning the launch of ESA’s new IXV (Intermediate eXperimental Vehicle) on Europe’s new Vega Rocket in 2014. Vega is Europe’s new small launch system and it is designed to complement the heavy Ariane 5 and medium Soyuz Rocket systems launched from French Guiana.

The small rocket is capable of a wide range of payloads up to 1.5 tonnes, compared to Ariane 5 which can lift 20 tonnes, making it especially suitable for the commercial space market. The Vega Rocket will launch the IXV into a suborbital trajectory from Europe’s Spaceport in French Guiana, IXV will then return to Earth as if from a low-orbit mission, to test and qualify new critical technologies for future re-entry vehicles.

Vega Rocket Credit: Arianespace

The IXV will reach a velocity of 7.5km/s at an altitude of around 450km and then re-enter the Earth’s atmosphere gathering data about its flight. The vehicle will encounter hypersonic and supersonic speeds and will be controlled with complex avionics, thrusters and flaps.

Once the vehicle’s speed has been reduced enough, it will deploy a parachute, descend and land safely in the Pacific Ocean.

This flight will record data for the next five VERTA missions (Vega Research and Technology Accompaniment – Programme), which will demonstrate the systems re-usable versatility.

Two launches a year are planned for the new programme and construction of infrastructure including mission control and communications networks is currently underway.

Development and completion of the design, manufacturing and assembly is now underway for a flight window between January and September 2014.

VERTA (Vega Research and Technology Accompaniment – Programme) Credit: Arianespace

Source: ESA

Wonderful Ice Halos

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Have you ever seen a large ghostly disc around the Moon on a cool, calm, hazy night? If so, you have likely seen what is called an “Ice Halo” or “22° Halo.” Not only can the Moon display these ghostly rings of light, but the Sun does so in the day time too.

22° halos are visible all over the world and throughout the year; look for them whenever the sky is wispy or hazy with thin cirrus clouds – even in the hottest countries.

So what are they and why do they appear?

Ice halos or 22° radius Halos are in fact an optical illusion caused by 3 to 5 mile high, cold and very tenuous cirrostratus cloud, containing millions of tiny ice crystals.

The tiny ice crystals in the atmosphere create halos by refracting and reflecting light from the Moon. The halo is always the same diameter regardless of its position in the sky, though sometimes only parts of the circle are visible.

The much smaller coloured rings directly around the Moon or Sun are a corona produced by water droplets rather than ice crystals. They often form a rainbow effect or Moonbow.

Some people even believe they herald the onset of wet weather, but this has yet to be proved.

Moon Halo Imaged December '03 in Ontario, Canada by Lauri Kangas

Coming Attraction: Geminid Meteor Shower 2011

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It’s the finale of this year’s meteor showers: The Geminids will start appearing on Dec. 7 and should reach peak activity around the 13th and 14th. This shower could put on a display of up to 100+ meteors (shooting stars) per hour under good viewing conditions.

However, conditions this year are not ideal with the presence of a waning gibbous Moon (which will be up from mid-evening until morning). But seeing meteors every few minutes is quite possible. Geminid meteors are often slow and bright with persistent coloured trails which can linger for a while after the meteor has burned up.

There is something unusual about the Geminid meteor shower, as normally meteor showers are caused by the Earth ploughing through the debris streams created by comets and their tails. But the object that created the specific stream of debris associated with the Geminids is not a dusty icy comet, but a rocky asteroid called Phaethon 3200.

Phaethon 3200 belongs to a group of asteroids whose orbit cross the Earth’s. It turns out to be an unusual member of that group: Not only does it pass closer to the Sun than the others but it also has a different colour, suggesting a different composition to most asteroids.

Credit: Adrian West

One of the curious things about the Geminid particles is that they are more solid than meteoroids known to come from comets. This is good for meteor watchers; giving us brighter meteors.

Observations by astronomers over decades have shown that meteor rates have increased as we reach denser parts of the stream.

It is not known exactly when the asteroid was deflected into its current orbit, but if it was originally a comet it would have taken a long time for all the ices to have been lost. However, it is possible that it may have been a stony asteroid with pockets of ice.

We are unsure of the origins and appearance of Phaethon 3200, but its orbit has left us with a unique legacy every December, with little steaks of light known as the Geminid meteor shower.

You will only need your eyes to watch the meteor shower, you do not need telescopes binoculars etc, but you will need to be patient and comfortable. See this handy guide on how to observe meteors

During a meteor shower, meteors originate from a point in the sky called the radiant and this gives rise to the showers name e.g. The Geminids radiant is in Gemini, Perseids radiant is in Perseus etc.

Don’t be mislead by thinking you have to look in a particular part of or direction of the sky, as meteors will appear anywhere and will do so at random. You will notice that if you trace back their path or trajectory it will bring you to the meteor showers radiant. The exception to this rule is when you see a sporadic or rogue meteor.

Tell your friends, tell your familly and tell everyone to look up and join in with the Geminid meteorwatch on the 12th to the 14th December 2011. Use the #meteorwatch hashtag on twitter and visit meteorwatch.org for tips and guides on how to see and enjoy the Geminids and other meteor showers.

Credit: Wally Pacholka

Beginner’s Guide To Binoculars

Before you consider buying expensive equipment for viewing the wonders of the night sky, binoculars are one piece of equipment every amateur astronomer should have.

Many beginners to astronomy (especially around the holiday period) are sometimes dead-set on getting a telescope, but many aren’t aware that a good pair of binoculars can outperform many entry level telescopes for a similar cost, or much less.

Binoculars are simplicity in themselves — maintenance free, instantly available for use and very versatile, as they can be used for daytime, or “terrestrial viewing” just as well. It is difficult to say the same for with most telescopes.

Go into any photographic store, or website that sells binoculars and you will be met with literally hundreds of different makes, types and sizes – confusing for the beginner, but with a few pointers it can be easy to choose.

Credit: astronomybinoculars.com

So how do you choose a pair of binoculars that will give good results with astronomy?

When choosing binoculars for astronomy, the only variables you need to think about are size of the optics and weight.

Too small and they won’t be powerful enough or let enough light in; too big and heavy means they are almost impossible to use without a support or tripod. Beginners need to find a pair of binoculars which are just right.

The key is to get as much light into the binoculars as possible without making them too heavy. This will give sharp views and comfort when used.

Size and weight come hand in hand, the more light gathered, the heavier the binoculars will be.

All binoculars are measured or rated by two numbers, for example: 10 X 25 or 15 X 70. The first number is the magnification and the second number is the “objective diameter” which is the diameter of the objective lens and this determines how much light can be gathered to form an image.

Credit: Halfblue Wikipedia

The second number or objective diameter is the most important one to consider when buying binoculars for astronomy, as you need to gather as much light as possible.

As a rule of thumb, binoculars with an objective diameter of 50mm or more are more suited to astronomy than smaller “terrestrial” binoculars. In many cases a larger objective also gives better eye relief (larger exit pupil) making the binoculars much more comfortable to use.

For the beginner or general user, don’t go too big with the objective diameter as you are also making the binoculars physically larger and heavier. Large binoculars are fantastic, but — again — almost impossible to keep steady without a support or tripod.

Celestron Skymaster 15 X 70 Binoculars

Good sizes of binoculars for astronomy start at around or just under 10 X 50 and can go up to 20 X 80, but any larger and they will need to be supported when using them. Some very good supported binoculars have objective diameters of more than 100mm. Theses are fantastic, but not as portable as their smaller counterparts.

Binoculars are one of the most important items a new or seasoned astronomer can buy. They are inexpensive, easy to choose, use and will last a very long time.

Enjoy your new binoculars!

The Holidays Are Coming! A Beginner’s Guide to Telescopes

The holidays are fast approaching, and you may be looking for gift ideas for your friends, loved ones and even yourself. Are you considering buying a telescope this year?

There are many different types of astronomical telescope available on the market and for the beginner, selecting one can be a bewildering experience. Before buying a telescope it is important to ask yourself: What objects do you want to see through your new telescope and how much can the person buying it afford to pay?

Not all telescopes are the same nor do they give the same results. Many amateur astronomers have two or more different telescopes for different types of observing, but there are some which offer a good compromise and most objects can be seen through them.

Once you have decided on the telescope’s main purpose and what you want to see through it, choosing one can become much easier. With the exception of the Moon, planets and close star clusters, interesting night sky objects are faint; in fact most will appear as just points of light. As a new observer you may be mainly interested in viewing the Moon and planets, and if this is the case, a telescope with a small objective (primary mirror or lens) may be sufficient.

Most observers quickly graduate to galaxies, nebulae, globular clusters, open clusters etc. To view these objects you will require a telescope with the largest aperture that is possible for your circumstances, which includes things like cost, weight, portability, etc.

Below are the 3 main types of telescope worth considering as a beginner:

Newtonian reflector telescopes are a popular choice for astronomical use because they have the lowest cost per inch of aperture. Observations of faint deep sky objects, such as Galaxies and Nebulae, can be achieved at a relatively reasonable cost by reflectors with mirror diameters of 150 to 200mm (6 to 8 inches).

Celestron Astromaster 130

Refractor telescopes are good for achieving high power and contrast when viewing the planets and the moon. They have a reputation of providing crisp, sharp-quality images. Since they are virtually maintenance free, they are easy to operate, but due to high costs for the large aperture scopes, most beginners will choose a Newtonian reflector as a first scope for all round astronomy. Short-tube refractors are now another low cost option for beginners. Their smaller size makes them an excellent choice for a portable telescope and the beautiful wide-field star vistas which they provide are great for learning your way around the night sky.
Bresser Refractor Telescope

Dobsonian Telescopes are one of the best choices for a general telescope and have many advantages including simplicity, economy and large light gathering ability. Dobsonians are actually large Newtonian telescopes on a simple manual Alt/ Az (Up, down, side to side) mount. Due to the mount and optical tube assembly being so simple, Dobsonian telescopes are the most economical on a cost per inch basis. This enables massive apertures being made affordable, bringing fainter objects within the grasp of the amateur and usually well within budget with mirror diameters from 150mm to 400mm (6 to 16 inches) or much larger.
Dobsonian Telescope
The Meade 16" LightBridge

Another consideration when choosing a telescope is the mount – the part the optical tube assembly sits on. Usually a tripod with a head containing manual or motorised controls, which point the telescope and track an object observed.

The three main types are:

Equatorial – Usually found paired with all telescopes apart from Dobsonians. Equatorial mounts enable the telescope to follow the rotation of the sky with on axis parallel to the Earth’s axis of rotation. They can also be used in a basic manual mode which can be manually moved by hand in the Altitude (up/down) and Azimuth (left/right) axis. Many higher end mounts have computers and GoTo systems incorporated which are almost essential for astrophotography.

Hand operated Manual Alt/ Az (Altitude/ Azimuth) – Usually found on very cheap or small telescopes, Dobsonian telescopes, binocular mounts and photographic tripods. Simple and easy to use, however they do not track objects across the sky.

GoTo or Computerised – Found on many mid to high range telescopes of all sizes and extremely popular with astrophotographers and imagers. Unfortunately many beginners are drawn to the sexy marketing of scopes that are computerised and this can be an expensive mistake. Personally I believe it to be better to use manually guided telescopes when starting out instead of jumping in straight away with computerised ones. It is much better to concentrate on good optics and a solid mount rather than waste lots of money on often complicated and unnecessary electronics. For more info on mounts and GoTo Systems see the Beginners Guide to GoTo

Hopefully this guide has given you more insight into the complicated world of telescopes, and enable you to make a better decision when buying your new telescope. Your new purchase should be one that you can enjoy and get the most out of for many years.

Faulkes Team Images Trojan Jupiter Comet

Jupiter Comet

Based on an observation posted on the Near Earth Object confirmation page from an image taken by A. D. Grauer using the mount Lemmon observatory, Faulkes telescope team members Nick Howes, Giovanni Sostero and Ernesto Guido along with University of Glamorgan student Antos Kasprzyk and amateur astronomer Iain Melville, imaged what is potentially some of the first direct evidence for a Trojan Jupiter Comet

Comet P/2010 TO20 (LINEAR-GRAUER) was immediately recognised by the team from looking at the orbit to be a highly unusual object, but it was only when the images came through from the faulkes observations that the true nature of the object became clear

The observations showed a distinct cometary appearance, with a sharp central condensation, compact coma and a wide, fan-shaped tail.

This is no ordinary comet, and supports the theory and initial spectral observation work by a team using the keck telescope in Hawaii. Closer analysis of their object (part of a binary known as the Patroclus pair) showed that it was made of water ice and a thin layer of dust, but at the time of writing, no direct images of a Jupiter Trojan showing evidence of a coma and tail had been taken.

The Faulkes teams above image, combined with the original observations by Grauer clearly show a cometary object, thus confirming the Keck team’s hypothesis.

According to the CBET released today “After two nights of observations of Grauer’s comet had been received at the Minor Planet Center.
Spahr realized that this object was identical with an object discovered a year ago by the LINEAR project (discovery observation tabulated below; cf. MPS 351583) that appeared to be a Jupiter Trojan minor planet.”

The observations have now proved it is not a minor planet, but a comet.

This discovery could provide new clues about the evolution of the Solar System, suggesting that the Gas Giants formed closer to the Sun and as they moved further away, they caused massive perturbations with Kuiper Belt objects, trapping some in their own orbits.

Nick Howes on the Faulkes team said “When we first saw the preliminary orbit, we knew it was a quite remarkable object” Howes also added “To have a University Student also involved is terrific for the degree program at Glamorgan and also for the Faulkes project. We’d like to extend our congratulations to Al Grauer” for his detection of this groundbreaking new comet” and we’re immensely proud to be part of the CBET released by the IAU confirming its nature

References:
Space Is Ace
Spacedaily.com
Remanzacco Observatory