Category Archives: Astronomy for beginners

Astronomy for beginners

Astronomy for Beginners posts with tips, news, pictures, equipment and celestial events like the Harvest moon, eclipses, meteors, comets etc.

Nearby Jupiter – Astronomy for Beginners
Total eclipse of the Moon
Harvest Moon
Meteor shower over Wales
Astronomy for beginners – the Perseid Meteor Shower

Astronomy for Beginners posts with tips, news, pictures, equipment and celestial events like the Harvest moon, eclipses, meteors, comets etc.

Nearby Jupiter – Astronomy for Beginners

Astronomy for Beginners Alert

I looked up last night at the nearly full moon and saw a very bright star nearby which must be a planet. It was Jupiter, which is currently the closest it ever gets to our own planet Earth, an event which happens around every 12 years or so. The spectacle last night was something I’ve never seen before as an amateur astronomer. Unlike a bright star, with the naked eye it was possible to make out Jupiter as a white disc in the sky, like a tiny version of the moon, rather than a twinkling point of light which is how stars appear to me. With an ordinary pair of bird watching binoculars the effect is magnified. The surface of the full moon can be seen in much greater detail, and the planet Jupiter, nearby in the southern sky is very clearly a planet. There’s a slight possibility that an uneven shape caused by rings or even one of Jupiter’s moons may have been perceived but really I think you need a more powerful binoculars or telescope for that.



Jupiter and the other large planets make excellent subjects for astronomy for beginners because they can be seen even with the naked eye, and do not need a particular clear out of town sky in order to be clearly visible. They are also interesting to track because the movement of the planets across the night sky follows a different path to that of the star constellations, in a way which brings special rare events into the picture on an irregular basis. The proximity of Jupiter can be observed over the next few nights by looking out to the South East as the full moon rises after about 10.00pm. Jupiter is brighter than any star in the sky so if it isn’t cloudy you can’t really miss it.

* Astronomy for beginners Fact:

September 21st was the date on which the day and night are exactly equally long all over the world.

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Total eclipse of the Moon

There’s a total eclipse of the moon tonight, well tomorrow morning really, the last until December 2010. So if you’re feeling a little insomniac at 3.00am, get up make a cup of hot rooibos tea and look out of the window or go out onto the balcony or garden. The last few nights have been very clear so there’s a good chance of great views of the total lunar eclipse.

Lunar eclipse moon times

Lunar Eclipse
Originally uploaded by leppre

The previous lunar eclipse visible from the UK was on March 3rd 2007, at a more civilised time in the evening.

Posted in Astronomy for beginners, UK | 18 Comments

Harvest Moon

What are you trying to find out about Harvest Moon Time?

harvest moon

Last night I looked up and noticed what looked to me like a full moon, but apparently it’s actually the Harvest Moon tonight, Wednesday September 26th. Harvest Moon is not just a fancy name for the full moon at around harvest time, it behaves in a special way. Throughout the year the Moon rises, on average, about 50 minutes later each day. So when you get a near full moon close to sunset, that only lasts for a day or two. Then you’re back to waiting until later in the evening before moonlight appears. This used to be very important for farmers at harvest time in the days before electric lighting, Mercedes Benz tractors and bright halogen spotlights added to the rack of headlamps. That’s because near to the autumn equinox, which came this year on Sunday Sept. 23rd, the daily difference in the time when the moon rises is only by 30 minutes each day. So you get several moonlit early evenings in a row which is just perfect for getting the harvest in. The Moon rises at about sunset tonight, and then not long afterwards for the next few evenings, as indeed did the one I noticed yesterday and the day before when it was noticeably less than full.

Now then, if you happen to be reading this in southern hemisphere, then it’s currently springtime and your full Moon behaves in exactly the opposite way. There will be an extra long time between moonrises from one evening to the next, which isn’t a particularly useful phenomenon, nor does it have a special name as far as I can gather, but no doubt you will get your autumnal Harvest Moon in March next year when we in the north are having our vernal equinox (March 20th 2008).

harvest moon photo by dubh

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Meteor shower over Wales

I know this is a bit off-topic for DARnet but it is August after all, and during this month I’ve been doing some research about astronomy for beginners. The perseids watching was a genuine interst and now after the main part of the event I read a newsreport from South Wales, one of my favourite places, which taught me two new facts.

1) The Perseid meteor shower is caused by remnants of a comet, I knew that already, but the name of the comet is not usually quoted. It is Comet Swift Tuttle

2) The Leonids are another annual meteor show which takes place in November, but this year the most spectacular will be the the Geminids in December

News Wales > Environment > Meteor shower over Wales
Meteor shower over Wales


University of Glamorgan astronomers recorded a total of 123 meteors during this year’s annual Perseid meteor shower on the night of August 12 and 13.

This was a good total despite cloud cover ruining the latter part of the viewing session.

“The evening was very clear with the Milky Way clearly visible as a shining ribbon of broken light extending right from the northern to southern horizon. Most city dwellers will have never seen our home galaxy due to the ever pervasive glow of street lights, but the Brecon Beacons is one of the best areas in the UK to view this elusive wonder. The dark lanes of the Cygnus rift were clearly visible and the knotty condensations of star clouds were clearly etched, almost like real clouds on the sky.”

The Perseids are one of the year’s best showers. It has a regular meteor count of between 30 to 50 per hours, the meteors having bright, yellow trains, many ending with a brief flash of light as the dust grain explodes on our upper atmosphere.

These dusty remnants are all that is left after comet Swift Tuttle visits the inner solar system every 120 years, its last visit being in the late 1990s. Cometary dust makes up the vast majority of micro-meteoritic particles which rain down upon the Earth totalling some 40,000 tonnes of material per year.

Glamorgan astronomers anticipate the next meteor shower; the Geminids in December, to provide an enjoyable display.

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Astronomy for beginners – the Perseid Meteor Shower

Astronomy for Beginners

It’s not that I intend giving out lessons on amateur astronomy for beginners, and I don’t own a telescope or anything, but I do like to notice interesting phenomena in the natural world, and that includes the heavens. The phases of the moon, Venus the evening star, the basic star constellations like the Plough and Casseopeia (the “W”). So contrary to popular belief, beginners can get a lot out of amateur astronomy without buying any expensive equipment at all.

Perseid Meteor Shower

And around about now, approaching the 12th August is the time when you have the best chance of observing a meteorite shower in the summer night sky above the UK and the northern hemisphere. That’s because it the peak of the time of year when the the Perseid meteor shower is set to light up the skies this weekend, making it easy to spot up to 15 shooting stars per hour. The astronomical phenomenon is caused by comet dust entering the earth’s atmosphere.

With no moon in sight to interfere with the view, amateur astronomy enthusiasts can expect to spot streaking fireballs from late on Sunday evening right up until dawn on Monday, regardless of which time zone you may be in. Astronomers estimate as many as 60 meteors per hour could splash across the sky at the shower’s peak and this year’s Perseid event comes with an added spectacle, Mars will be visible as a bright red dot in the northeastern sky.

How to watch shooting stars

Firstly you do need some luck with the local weather. You’re not going to see any stars if there is cloud cover. We’ve already arranged for the moon not to be visible, so you don’t need to worry about that.

The main problem is patience. If you stand outdoors looking up at the sky and nothing happens for several minutes then it’s only human nature to feel the pain in your neck, give up and go find something else to do. So you need to lie down on your back, somewhere comfortable where you won’t get a crick in your neck, damp in your clothes, sand in your hair or anything else which will put you off. A bit of company will help too, as a conversation in the dark will help to pass the time pleasantly without taking your eyes off the sky. The dying embers of a nice wood fire is best of all, with a belly full of outdoor food, a glass of cider or wine and nothing else to worry about you’ll be in exactly the right state of mind for meteorite watching. Once the first person from your party has gasped “OOH! I saw one I saw one” then the disbelief will be banished and everyone returns attention to the night sky.
Not being happily ensconced in a field this year, I’m not sure how far I’ll be able to adopt my own advice, and the sky is overcast at present. I may be walking around the large open space that is Wanstead Flats instead, late in the evening, I think that might be our best chance here.

Wherever you are, do let me know how you get on with the Perseids.

How many shooting stars did you spot?

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Thanks for reading Andy Roberts articles about Astronomy for beginners on the DARnet Blog