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December 2011

EAAE Webpage EAAE Official Blog EAAE Monthly Newsletter Archive


This month the highlight news is the announcement of the winners of "Catch a Star".

"Find a Sundial and,... send it to us" is still open. Don't forget to "Find a Sundial" near to your home and tell us all about it. "Space Art" project is also receiving "art" made by students to publish it on its webpage.

On this month's issue you can also find as usual links to astronomy news the that were published on our EAAE News site in the "It happened last month" section.

On the "First Astronomical Observations" section we invite you to try the observation of the Pegasus constellation and in the "Advanced Astronomical "section you are challenged to observe M31, the Andromeda Galaxy.

On the " Software and Internet Astronomy" section we will present you "JHelioviewer" a software tool created by ESA.

We have selected a beautiful "Butterfly Cluster" on this months "Picture Gallery".

We wish you all clear skies during the next month.

The EAAE Webteam

Catch a Star winners announced


The juri of "Catch a Star" has announced the winners of the contest. To improve child participation the juri decided to create a special award for young children. The prizes that were awarded this year are the following:

SPECIAL GRAND PRIZE: One observational session on 2m Faulkes telescopes
The Faulkes Telescope Project is the education arm of Las Cumbres Observatory Global Telescope Network (LCOGTN).
The aim is to provide free access to robotic telescopes and a fully supported education programme to encourage teachers and students to engage in research-based science education.
LCOGTN operates a network of research class robotic telescopes. Currently there are two telescopes, one in Hawaii and the other in Australia. These telescopes are available to teachers for them to use as part of their curricular or extra-curricular activities and are fully supported by a range of educational materials and a team of educators and professional astronomers.

First place: 60 min remote observations with the 2m RCC Telescope by National astronomical observatory "Rozhen", Bulgaria  (TWO)

Second place: 60 min remote observations with the 50/70 Schmidt telescope by National astronomical observatory "Rozhen", Bulgaria

Third place: 60 min remote observations with the Cassegrain-telescope"Zeiss-600" by National astronomical observatory "Rozhen", Bulgaria

Fourth place:Hubble - Cosmic Collisions - The Hubble Atlas of Merging Galaxies, European Southern Observatory
Written by Lars Lindberg Christensen, Raquel Yumi Shida and Davide De Martin

Fifth place: 15 Years of Discovery book, European Southern Observatory
Written by Lars Lindberg Christensen and Bob Fosbury. Illustrations & Layout: Martin Kornmesser

Sixth placeHidden Universe, European Southern Observatory
Written by Lars Lindberg Christensen, Robert Fosbury and Robert Hurt

Additional prizes: 10 DVDs - Eyes on the Skies, European Southern Observatory

New :  Special prize for young children: Star maps and ESO Posters

This year the EAAE juri of the contest decided to award two first prizes. And the winners are...








Determination and Modeling of the shape of an asteroid by analysis of its light curve

Special Grand Prize


High-school Léonard De Vinci, MONTAIGU

Mr Jean-Jacques RIVES

LIVET Florian, PASQUIER Corentin and COISLIER Titouan


The sizes of the Moon



"Santo Domingo Savio" UBEDA (Jaén)

Francisco Trillo Poveda

Elvira Díaz de la Torre, Manuel Martínez Jurado y Marina Sánchez Valera





Vaptsarov Language School , Shumen

Aneta Marinova

Valentina Stancheva, Vladislava Jordanova


Astronomy in Navalcarnero



IES Carmen Martín Gaite

José Luis García Herrero

Rubén Iglesias Buendía, Marina Álvarez Alamillo, Miriam González Fernández


Astronomical examination of Be-Stars with spectral methods



Lore-Lorentz Schule

Heinrich Kuypers

Benedikt Gröver


Sun and Refraction



Astronomical Observatory by Youth Center, Haskovo

Yoanna Kokotanekova

Yovelina Zinkova, Radostina Velevska, Ivana Yankova


Solar modulation of galactic cosmic radiation and VLF …



XV. Gimnazija, Zagreb

Ljiljana Neme

Julio Car


The Draconides 2011 and comets!



Alssundgymnasiet Sønderborg

Michael Lentfer Jensen

Rune Lassen, Morten B. Ochelka, Anders Goosmann og Nivethan Shanmugaratnam


Betelgeuse, the mysterious star

Special Prize for young  team


CEIP "Salvador de Madariaga". Daganzo (Madrid)

Elena Alcacera Pérez

Luis Fernandez Codeseda (9 years), Fidel Martínez García (9 years), Elia Sufuentes Arija (9 years).








DVD prizes were also awarded to the following projects: 

  • Project 3 My EX Hydrae observations, Młodzieżowe Obserwatorium Astronomiczne im. Kazimierza Kordylewskiego w Niepołomicach, Poland.
  • Project 4 The Sun-a Binary Star, Kaunas Jesuit Gymnasium, Lithuania
  • Project 7 The Universes Zoo, "Ştefan cel Mare" High School , Romania
  • Project 8 Using sky quality meter to measure sky Brightness, SOU,,Orde Copela,, - Prilep , Macedonia
  • Project 10 Drinking with Einstein: gravitational lenses, Colegio San Gabriel (Madrid) , Spain
  • Project 18 Star clusters, Astronomical Observatory by Youth Center Khaskovo , Bulgaria
  • Project 19 The Spectroscope, School no 14 "Ion Ţuculescu", Craiova, Romania
  • Project 27 Cassiopeia: a queen, a pirate and a journey "relative" the fourth dimension, Colegio El Carmelo de Granada, Spain
  • Project 28 The Milky Way and Andromeda collision, Skrundas Secondary School, Latvia
  • Project 32 Moon project, Escola Salesiana "Mare de Déu dels Dolors, Sant Boi, Barcelona, Spain

Catch a Star project

"Space Art" and "Find a Sundial" projects are receiving registrations and works

"Space Art" has been receiving some works from school's students and children from all over Europe.

"Space Art" is a project that tries to promote Science The challenge is for students, up to 18 years old, to represent through drawings or photographs their favorite astronomical object. They just have to look for it in the sky, books or the internet and then draw it or take a picture of it.

Send us the students' art and we will publish it. This project will be open until June 2012.

"Find Sundial" contest is also open.

If you have an historical sundial or an unusual sundial in your vicinity just tell us all about it.

The registration for participation in “Find a sundial and, … show it to us competition can be made until March 30th, 2012 and the deadline to send your works is March 30th, 2012.

The work should be mailed to both the project webmaster and project chairperson within the period specified.
Project webmaster: Antonio Pérez Verde.
            Email: [email protected]
Chairperson: Ederlinda Viñuales Gavín.
            Email: [email protected]

Last Month's highlights from EAAE News


Pchelka and Mushka
December 1st: Day 335 of the Gregorian calendar.
History: In 1960, the space dogs Pchelka (little bee) and Mushka (little fly) were launched on board Korabl-Sputnik-3, a.k.a. Sputnik 6.

Minimum of the Variable Star δ Cephei (19h 06m U.T.) Magnitude = 4,4;   Maximum magnitude = 3,5; Period = 5,4days.


  December 2nd: Day 336 of the Gregorian calendar.
History: In 1971, Mars Orbit Insertion of the Mars 3 probe.
In 1993, the mission STS-61of Space Shuttle Endeavour, made the first Hubble maintenance mission. Observations: First Quarter Moon (09h 52m U.T.) The Moon, high in the south at dusk, shines below the western side of the Great Square of Pegasus.

Mars Polar Lander
December 3rd: Day 337 of the Gregorian calendar.
History: In 1958, JPL was transferred from the Army's control to NASA.
In 1971, the soviet probe Mars 3 becomes the first to successfully land on Mars
In 1973, Pioneer 10 sent to Earth the first images of Jupiter.
In 1974, Pioneer 11's flyby to Jupiter.
In 1999, NASA lost contact with Mars Polar Lander, minutes before its entry in Mars' atmosphere

Maximum of the Variable Star δ Cephei (03h 08m U.T.) Magnitude = 3,5 ; Minimum magnitude = 4,4; Period = 5,4days.

 Mars Pathfinder.
December 4th: Day 338 of the Gregorian calendar.
History: In 1965, Gemini 7 mission was launched. The mission had a goal to test the results of long lasting space flights and make a "rendezvous" with Gemini 6.
In 1978, the American probe Pioneer/Venus becomes the first to orbit Venus.
In 1996, Mars Pathfinder was launched.

Observations: Mercury in its inferior conjunction, separated only 1.3° from center of Sun. Distance to earth: 0,678 AU. Magnitude: 5,3 , diameter: 9,91". Uranus is about 7º at South of the Moon.

Eridanus galaxy NGC 1232.
December 5th: Day 339 of the Gregorian calendar.
History: In 1990, the first image taken with Keck telescope (Eridanus galaxy NGC 1232) was published on the Los Angeles Times.
In 2001, mission Expedition 4, was launched towards the ISS.

Mercury in its Perihelion (distance to Sun: 0,3075 AU).

The Crab Nebula
December 6th: Day 340 of the Gregorian calendar.
History: In 1771, John Bevis, dies, four days before completing 76 years old. In 1731, John Bevis saw the Crab nebula which was forgotten since 1064, when a star exploded leaving an incredibly bright area in the sky for almost a month.

Observations: The Moon is at its Apogee, moment of farthest distance from the Earth  (distance Moon center to Earth center: 405.445 km; apparent diameter: 29'56"). Jupiter is about 5º below the Moon.

Apollo17 rover tour.
December 7th: Day 341 of the Gregorian calendar.
In 1905,  Gerard Kuiper was born. He discovered the moons of Uranus and Neptune, Titan's atmosphere and he studied the origin of the solar system Solar System.
In 1972 Apollo 17 was launched. It was the last mission of Project Apollo. It also marked the last time a human being landed on the Moon. The mission lasted 301 hours, 51 minutes and 59 seconds, and recovered most of the lunar samples that have been brought back to Earth. The mission commander was Eugene A. Cernan. Ronald E. Evans was the pilot of the control module and Harrison H. Schmitt was the pilot of the lunar module. Schmitt was the only professional geologist professional to ever go to the Moon.
In 1990, the Galileo approaches Earth on its way from Venus to Jupiter.
In 1995, the Galileo probe  successfully falls into Jupiter's atmosphere and takes direct measurements of a planet's atmosphere for the first time.

Observations: Minimum of the Variable Star δ Cephei (04h 04m U.T.) Magnitude = 4.4;   Maximum magnitude = 3.5; Period = 5.4 days.

Galileo probe and Earth.
December 8th: Day 342 of the Gregorian calendar.
History: In 1990, flyby to Earth of the Galileo Probe.
Observations: Earliest Sunset of the Year. The Moon shines at about 4º below the Pleiades. The 2011 winter solstice comes on December 21st, but the earliest sunsets for the northern hemisphere are always around this night. It seems paradoxical. Throughout the northern hemisphere the earliest sunsets of the year come about two weeks before the solstice and the shortest day of the year. Why isn’t the earliest sunset on the year’s shortest day? It’s because the clock ticks off exactly 24 hours from one noon to the next. But the actual days – as measured by the spin of the Earth, from what is called one “solar noon” to the next – rarely has exactly 24 hours (try to learn about this researching about the equation of time).

December 9th: Day 343 of the Gregorian calendar.
History: In 1571, Metius was born. He wrote books about astronomy and his brother invented a telescope with 3-4 tines magnification in 1608.

Observations:Look for Aldebaran (α Tauri) shining about 5º below the Moon. Nearby, try to see Orion late in the evening and the Winter's Milky Way which is glimpsed when we look to the outer side of the galaxy disk near Orion and Taurus.

Roentgen's X-ray of his wife's hand.

December 10th: Day 344 of the Gregorian calendar.
History: In 1901 Nobel Prizes were awarded for the first time. Roentgen would win the Physics for the discovery of X-rays. Today X-ray astronomy is a very important source information about high energy emissions.

Observations: Full Moon (14h 36m U.T.) Diameter 30’08”. Uranus Stationary: Getting Prograde.

Annie Jump Canon.
December 11th: Day 345 of the Gregorian calendar.
History: In 1863,  Annie Jump Cannon, the pioneer American in spectral classification, was born.
In 1901, Marconi send his first transatlantic signal.
In 1972,  Apollo 17 lands on the Moon.

Observations: Maximum of Ursae Minorids Radiant ZHR (Zenital Hourly Rate) = 10 - 50. Velocity = 35km/s (medium speed) white and yellow meteors. Stream active until 17 of December.


Guglielmo Marconi. December 12th: Day 346 of the Gregorian calendar.
In 1901, Guglielmo Marconi receives the first transatlantic radio signal at Signal Hill in St John's, Newfoundland. This marks the beginning of human use of electromagnetic receivers, a fundamental tool on modern astronomy.

The Moon passes about 12º at South of Pollux (β Gem) and a few degrees at North of Procyon (α Canis Minoris).

Betelgeuse size and other stars.
December 13th: Day 347 of the Gregorian calendar.
In 1920, the first measurement of a stellar diameter (Betelgeuse) was done by Francis Pease using an interferometer at Mt. Wilson.

Maximum of Geminids Radiant ZHR (Zenital Hourly Rate) = 88. Velocity = 36 km/s (medium speed) yellowish, bright meteors. Stream active from 7 to 17 of December.

Artist's impression of Mariner 2.
December 14th: Day 348 of the Gregorian calendar.
In 1546, Tycho Brahe was born. He gave Kepler his first observational job at Uraniborg. Brahe's very precise measurements of Mars' apparent motion would allow Kepler to infer the Laws that have his name.
In 1962, the American probe Mariner 2 reaches Venus and becomes the first successful interplanetary mission.

The Moon very low in the horizon eclipses the star Acubens α Cancri (Multiple star system), 4,3mag, a few minutes after rising. The data for Barcelona are: Occultation 21h 06m U.T. Position Angle=148° (bright limb). Altitude over the horizon h = 5°. Appearance 21h 49m U.T. Position Angle=242°, (dark limb). Altitude over the horizon h = 13°. The data for Berlin are: Occultation 21h 11m Position Angle=115°, (bright limb). Altitude over the horizon h = 15°. Appearance 22h 13m U.T. Position Angle=280°, (dark limb). Altitude over the horizon h = 24°.

Midnight Sun.
December 15th: Day 349 of the Gregorian calendar.
In 1911, Roald Amundsen describes on his diary the  strange behavior of the Sun at the South Pole.
In 1965, Gemini 6 and 7 make their first rendezvous between two ships orbiting Earth.
In 1966, Audouin Dollfus discovered Saturn's moon Janus.
In 1970, the soviet probe Venera 7 lands on Venus and becomes the first probe to make transmissions on the planet's surface. This transmission lasted only  23 minutes but it's data transmission showed that pressure at the surface was 90 times bigger than on Earth and that surface temperature was about  475 ºC.
In 1984 the mission  Vega 1  was launched.

Regulus (α Leo) about 6º of the Moon. Use the night to learn about the Orion constellation.

December 16th: Day 350 of the Gregorian calendar.
History: In 1826, Giovanni Donati was born
Birthday, in 1857, of Edward Emerson Barnard, the discoverer of the Barnard star.
In 1965 the probe Pioneer 6 was launched into a solar orbit between Earth and Venus.
In 2000, using the science data recovered from the Galileo probe, on May 20, a scientist from JPL announced evidence of a salty ocean 200km under the surface of  Ganymede, the biggest moon of the  Solar System.

Observations: Mars shines about 9º about the Moon.

December 17th: Day 351 of the Gregorian calendar.
Observations: Minimum of the Variable Star δ Cephei (22h00) with Magnitude=4.4, a Maximum Magnitude of 3.5 and a Period of 5.4 days.

December 18th: Day 352 of the Gregorian calendar.
In 1966, Saturn's moon Epimetheus was discovered by  Richard L. Walker, and afterwards lost for almost  12 years.

Observations: Last Quarter Moon (00h 48m U.T). Mercury Dichotomy/Half phase.

Apollo 17 crew.
December 19th: Day 353 of the Gregorian calendar.
In 1972, the last crewed lunar mission,  Apollo 17, returned back to Earth.

Minimum of Variable Star β Persei (Algol) at 16h 01m, Magnitude = 3.4 Maximum magnitude = 2.1  Period= 2.9days. Eclipse begins at about 11h20m and ends at 20h58m.

December 20th: Day 354 of the Gregorian calendar.
In 1904,  Mt. Wilson's Solar Observatory started to work.
In 1996, Carl Sagan died. He was considered by many the greatest all time Astronomy promoter.

Dawn: Saturn about 10º of the Moon.

Apollo 8 crew.
December 21st: Day 355 of the Gregorian calendar.
History: In 1966, Luna 13 (USSR Moon Lander) was launched.
In 1968, mission Apollo 8 was launched and  William A. Anders, James A. Lovell Jr. and Frank Borman became the first human beings to not feel Earth's gravity as major gravitational force.
This missions  goal was the close observation of the Moon and of it's "Dark Side".
In 1984 the soviet probe Vega 2 was launched.

Observations: Dawn: Spica (α Virginis) is about 3º of the Moon.


December 22nd: Day 356 of the Gregorian calendar.
Winter Solstice (05h 30m U.T.), Winter begins. The Moon in the Perigee, closest approach to Earth in its orbit around the Earth. (distance Moon center to Earth center: 364.778 km; apparent diameter: 33'20")

December 23rd: Day 357 of the Gregorian calendar.
History:In 1672, Giovanni Cassini discovers Saturn's moon Rea.

Observations: Dawn: Mercury in its greatest elongation (22° West, magnitude: -0,3).
Orion is reaching its highest stage. You can see it at East-Southeast after dusk and at its biggest height at South at about 23h (local time).


December 24th: Day 358 of the Gregorian calendar.
History: In 1761 Jean-Louis Pons was born.
In 1968, the crew of Apollo 8 enters into orbit around the Moon, becoming the first humans to do so. They performed 10 lunar orbits and broadcast live TV pictures that became the famous Christmas Eve Broadcast, one of the most watched programs in history.

Observations: New Moon (18h 06m U.T.) with Moon's diameter: 32’35”.
Christmas evening and night mark a special confluence between paganism and Christianity. This was a night for celebration because after de bad felling of days getting smaller and smaller, finally it became clear that the days were growing again.

Artist's impression of Isaac Newton
December 25th: Day 359 of the Gregorian calendar.
History: In 1642 (old style calendar), Isaac Newton was born.

Observations: Jupiter Stationary: Getting Prograde. If you have a really clear west horizon, try 30-50 minutes after the sunset to catch the extremely thin Lunar Crescent visible, only 23 hours after new moon. Elongation: 12.2°, 1.3% illuminated, Width of the crescent: 0.41', Moon sets 65 minutes after the Sun.

Comet Kohoutek.
December 26th: Day 360 of the Gregorian calendar.
History: In 1973, comet Kohoutek reached its perihelion.
On the same day Soyuz 13 returned to Earth.
In 1974  Salyut 4 was launched.

Observations: Dusk: Venus is about 9º upper left of the thin crescent Moon.

Artist's impression of Kepler.
December 27th: Day 361 of the Gregorian calendar.
History:In 1571, Johannes Kepler was born.

Observations: Dusk: Venus is today slightly closer to the Moon than yesterday (about 7-8º) but below the Moon..

Einstein and Eddington.
December 28th: Day 362 of the Gregorian calendar.
History: In 1882, Arthur Eddington was born. He would confirm Einstein prediction of space-time deformation by mass in the 1919 eclipse observe in Principe Island .
He developed Cepheid pulsation model and worked with Einstein on the attempt to unify the fundamental forces.

Minimum of Variable Star β Persei (Algol) at 06h 06m, Magnitude = 3,4 Maximum magnitude =2,1  Period= 2,9days. Eclipse begins at about 01h48m and ends at 11h26m.

December 29th: Day 363 of the Gregorian calendar.
Observations: The Moon, high in the south at dusk, shines below the western side of the Great Square of Pegasus. Neptune (magnitude 8) shines about 10º below the Moon.

Cassini-Huygens probe.
December 30th: Day 364 of the Gregorian calendar.
History: In 2000, the coupled probes Cassini-Huygens pass by Jupiter.
They pass 9,721,846 km above Jupiter's clouds before suffering a gravitational slingshot towards Saturn.

The Moon is passing below the Great Square of Pegasus. Uranus (magnitude 6) is shinning about 10º at left of the Moon.

December 31st: Day 365 of the Gregorian calendar.
History: In 1799 an Italian monk called Giuseppe Piazzi, discovers Ceres, the first asteroid observed between Mars and Jupiter.

Observations: Uranus (magnitude 6) is shinning about 6º below the Moon.


The constellation of Pegasus
by Jordi Delpeix

Pegasus, the magical winged horse of ancient Greek mythology, was the offspring of Poseidon and Medusa. He helped Perseus in its race through the sky (riding on Pegasus) to save the beautiful Andromeda from the giant sea monster Cetus (the whale).

Pegasus is the most prominent autumn constellation seen from the northern latitudes.

Mythological representation of the Pegasus constellation.

How to find it:

You can use any of these three ways to locate Pegasus:

Following the line α-β Ursa Majoris and extending their distance 5 steps more, you reach Polaris or α Ursa Minor (the celestial north pole). Following this line 12 times more from Polaris, you reach the line β-α Pegasi. See the yellow line below.

The crossbar of Cygnus formed by the stars δ-γ- ε Cygni (see Newsletter 18 October 2011), points in a slight curve to Enif, ε Pegasi.

Make the opposite triangle (see the pink triangle below) of the “Summer triangle” (see the red triangle below), sharing the side Deneb-Altair, but changing Vega for Enif. This triangle is an easy way to identify Enif and then to move from Altair through Enif in a mild curve to the square of Pegasus.

Finding Pegasus constellation. Click on image for a larger view.

The constellation

Pegasus is dominated by an asterism in the shape of a rough square, α Peg (Markab), β Peg, and γ Peg, together with α Andromedae (Alpheratz or Sirrah) form the large asterism known as the Great Square of Pegasus. Although one of the stars, Delta Pegasi (can still be found under this name in some tables and in older charts) or Sirrah, is now officially considered to be part of Andromeda (α Andromedae), and is more usually called "Alpheratz". α Andromedae is the brightest star in the square. This square of approximately 15x15 degrees cannot be overlooked in the autumn sky.

The upper-right (NW) corner is β Pegasi, exactly 13º south of it you could find α Pegasi, the SW corner. The SE corner is γ Pegasi, a blue star. And the NE corner is α Andromedae.

Following the line γ- β towards NE you could find 4º degrees from β, the star η Pegasi. And following the line γ-α one step more, you could find ε Pegasi.

The horse appears upside-down in relation to the constellations around it and the way to connect the stars into the shape of a winged horse is:  the body of the horse consists of the quadrilateral formed by the stars α Peg, β Peg, γ Peg, and α And. The front legs of the winged horse are formed by two crooked lines of stars, one leading from η Peg to κ Peg and the other from μ Peg to 1 Pegasi. Another crooked line of stars from α Peg via θ Peg to ε Peg forms the neck and head; ε is the snout.

The meridian of the autumn sky for an observer in the northern hemisphere is largely dominated by the great square of Pegasus, wide, 13-15 degrees side, well marked by four stars of second magnitude. Its perfect geometric shape, extended to the ENE by the straight tail and no less bright of Andromeda, is the most distinctive asterism of the autumn evening sky. Pegasus in fact is a remarkable group for its bright stars and the regularity of their disposition. But it lies in a poor area of the sky. There is a great contrast between the large square and its surroundings and especially its inner part which appears virtually empty of stars. You could only distinguish some faint star inside its 180 square degrees: celestial desert!

Finding Pegasus constellation. Click on image for a larger view.

The brightest stars in the constellation are ε (mag. 2,4), β or Scheat (variable mag. 2,1–3,0), α or Markab (mag. 2,5), γ (mag. 2,8), and η (mag. 3).

The orange ε or Enif is the brightest star in the constellation. This Arabic name means “nose”. It is the 82nd brightest star in the sky. It lies far from the Square, in the vicinity of the constellation Equuleus. Epsilon is 670 light years from us and is a red giant, (spectral type K) more than 3.500 times as bright as the Sun. If the star was closer to us, it would be one of the brightest stars in our sky.

The orange β or Scheat (“the leg” in Arabic), represents the northwestern corner of the Square. It is the 62nd brightest star in the sky (at maximum brightness), a semi-regular variable with changes in magnitude that range between 2.1 and 3.0. The period is not constant; it has an average value of 35 days. The star is 200 light years from us, it is similar to Betelgeuse, except it is smaller and less luminous. It has a surface temperature of 3.100º K, a mass of 5 solar masses, and a diameter that is about 160 times bigger than that of the Sun. Its luminosity oscillates between 240 and 500 times that of the Sun.

α Pegasi or Markab (“the saddle of the horse” in Arabic) represents the southwestern corner of the Square. It is the 92nd brightest star in the sky, 140 light years from us. Its luminosity surpasses our Sun by 140 times.

γ or Algenib (“the flank” in Arabic) is the 137th brightest star in the sky. It lies in the southeastern corner of the Square and is 334 light years from us. It is a giant, with a luminosity of 590 times that of the Sun.

The IK Pegasi system, is the nearest supernova candidate to Earth.

Close to the western side of the Square, in about the middle of α and β, lies a magnitude 5 star with the designation 51 Pegasi. This star is approximately 40 light years away and is similar to our Sun. In 1995 the astronomers discovered that the star is encircled by at least one planet the size of Jupiter. This was the first discovery of an extrasolar planet, so 51 Pegasi is the first Sun-like star known to have an extrasolar planet. So far, we know of the existence of at least 500 alien planets! Spectroscopic analysis of HD 209458 b, an extrasolar planet in this constellation has provided the first evidence of atmospheric water vapor beyond the solar system, while extrasolar planets orbiting the star HR 8799 also in Pegasus are the first to be directly imaged.

The Andromeda Galaxy (M-31 or NGC- 224) A spiral galaxy in Andromeda
by Jordi Delpeix

For this month we have selected the famous Andromeda Galaxy or M31. It is the brightest and nearest of all the larger galaxies and the only galaxy that can be clearly seen with the naked eye.

When we read about the Andromeda Galaxy, its description is always full of adjectives such as brightest, biggest, nearest, magnificent, spectacular, and so on…

M31-The Andromeda Galaxy
(Click on the image to see a bigger version.)

What You Will Look At:

The Andromeda Galaxy is visible to the naked eye on a dark night; it is the most distant object the human eye can see without a telescope. It appeared on star charts a long time before the first telescopes were invented. It was known as far back as at least the X century when the Persian astronomer Abd-al-Rahman Al Sufi described it as a "small cloud" in his “Book of Fixed Stars”.

The Andromeda Galaxy is the largest of 30 or so galaxies (including our own Milky Way galaxy, the spiral galaxy M 33 in Triangulum as well as numerous other elliptical or spherical dwarf galaxies) which make up the “Local Group”. The modern measurements have shown that the galaxy’s diameter is about 180.000 light years, which places it among the largest known spiral galaxies! Our galaxy has a diameter of approximately 100.000 light years. M-31 may contain up to 500.000 million stars, at least twice more than the number of stars in our own galaxy. Andromeda Galaxy is classified as a SBb galaxy is actually a barred spiral galaxy like the Milky Way, with the Andromeda Galaxy's bar viewed almost directly along its long axis. The central bulk is dominated by old stars, in it we can find numerous red and yellow giants, but not a lot of interstellar dust and gases. Similar to our galaxy the spiral arms include a lot of dust and gas as well as blue, hot, young stars like our Rigel or Deneb, nebulae like our Orion Nebula, planetary nebulae, as well as globular and open clusters.

Edwin Hubble recognized that some of these stars seemed to be pulsating variable stars called “Cepheid” variables and measured their changes in brightness over a longer period of time. He knew that the rate of pulsation was related to the intrinsic brightness of such a star, so he could calculate how bright such stars should be for a given distance from us. By measuring their apparent magnitude he could derive their distances and therefore the distance to the Andromeda galaxy; he was the first to measure the enormous distance to this galaxy. The first results seemed so unlikely that Hubble checked his calculations over and over again. The result was always the same – the Andromeda galaxy was 900.000 light years away! In comparison to the stars this was an incredibly large number. Hubble must have felt similar to Bessel a hundred years before him when he discovered how unimaginably far the closest stars were. Space became even vaster and emptier. But the astronomers soon discovered that the Andromeda Galaxy, is one of the nearest galaxies, and it lies in our “space backyard” in cosmic terms, other galaxies are much further away.

Today we know that Hubble’s estimation of the distance to the Andromeda Galaxy fell way short. Improved measurements show that the galaxy is 2,2 million light years away from us. This is the number found in most twentieth-century books on astronomy. But even this number is not correct. The latest value, derived from the analyses of the measurements by the Hipparcos astrometry satellite is 2,93 million light years.

The Andromeda Galaxy has at least 14 companions, gravitationally bound to it that circle around the common center of mass and form a subgroup of the Local Group. Its close companion galaxy, M32, is roughly 2.000 light years across, and lies about 20.000 light years south of its much larger neighbor. M110, the other companion easily visible with small telescopes, is more than twice as large as M32. These companions are elliptical galaxies.

Andromeda VIII (a satellite galaxy) is of special interest to astronomers, for it is currently going through a really hard time. The Andromeda Galaxy captured it into its gravitational field, and in the next few million years the small galaxy will be torn to pieces, with its stars dispersed across the main galaxy. M31 is moving in the direction to us, approaching the Milky Way making it one of the few blueshifted galaxies, the astronomers believe the Andromeda Galaxy and our home Milky Way are thus expected to collide and merge in about 3.000 or 4.000 million years. The final result of this cosmic collision may be the formation of a monstrous elliptical galaxy that takes the place of our two graceful spirals. Such events are frequent among the galaxies in galaxy groups. The fate of the Earth and the Solar System in the event of a collision are currently unknown. If the galaxies do not merge, there is a small chance that the Solar System could be ejected from the Milky Way or join Andromeda...

How to Find it:             Coordinates    RA: 0h42m   DEC: +41º 16’

You could easily observe this object from September to January. Locating M31 is simplicity itself, since it is very large and bright: Locate the Great Square of Pegasus (see First Astronomical Observations in this Newsletter), from the northeast corner (α Andromedae), find three bright stars in a long line, arcing across the sky west to east, just south of Cassiopeia. From the middle of these three stars (β Andromedae) go about 3º perpendicular to the line α - β - γ Andromedae north towards Cassiopeia – Cepheus; past one star, µ Andromedae (mag 3,9), to a second star about 2º further, ν (Nu) Andromedae (mag 4,5), in a slightly curving line. The galaxy is just barely visible to the naked eye on a good dark night, just 1º to the west of Nu Andromedae.

The Andromeda constellation.
(Click on the image to see a bigger version)

In the Finderscope:

Aim at ν (Nu) Andromedae, and the galaxy should be easily visible in the finderscope. When you see the elongated fuzzy of M31 in your finderscope, put it in the cross hairs, insert your lowest power eyepiece into the main scope, and take a look.

Through the Telescope:

M-31 is a prominent object with an apparent size of 178’x 63’ it appears more than six times as wide as the full Moon when photographed through a larger telescope, but only the brighter central region is visible to the naked eye or when viewed using a binoculars or a small telescope. It has magnitude 4 but due to its large size this means that its magnitude 4 light is very spread out, but it’s still bright enough to see it with the naked eye from the suburbs, where it appears as a strange nebulous “star.” In the city it will be invisible without optical aid, but in binoculars or your finder, it will be easy, and will assume an obviously elongated form. Through binoculars: From the city you could see only the brightest part of its nucleus. However on a really dark sky moonless night, it can be seen as a small, oval or elongated cloud of faint light: its bright core shines into a nearly symmetrical dim ellipse that spans half of the binocular field!

The galaxy appears to be elongated because we see it more or less from its side. It is inclined an estimated 15 degrees over its equatorial plane toward Earth, where an angle of 0° would be viewed directly from the side.  Due to we’re seeing it nearly “on edge” we don’t have a good perspective on the arms. No matter what you do or how large a scope you use, M31 will not show spiral structure to the extent that a face-on galaxy like M51 will. It’s hard to trace the arms even in photos. We can try to imagine what an outstanding celestial object this would prove to be if we could see it in all its glory, face-on. It would be almost circular, with spiral arms that coil around its bright, denser core. Of course, in our sky it would be much bigger and much brighter.

How M31 looks at first glance depends on the focal length of your scope more than on its aperture. In a wide-field scope like a short tube 8 cm, you’ll see a bright, elongated glow with a slightly brighter center. There won’t be much, if any detail visible at first, but M31 will definitely looks like a galaxy. With a narrow field scope like a 20 cm SCT, what you’ll see is a round glowing ball that represents the nucleus and inner regions of M31. This will be embedded in a fainter haze of nebulosity extending northwest–southeast. You’ll have to slew the scope at least one low-power field in each direction to see the full extent of the galaxy visible in the city.

But this oval spot of light with a well-seen brighter central condensation is a view that undoubtedly disappoints any observer who sees the galaxy for the very first time. The reason lies in its disreputableness. The blob that you could see through your amateur telescope looked nothing like the pictures. The telescope sight is a round, fuzzy ball surrounded by a little tenuous haze.  Even though it is the nearest, it is still very, very far, too far to be seen as much more than a speck of light in our amateur telescope! On the edge of the galaxy we cannot separate individual stars even with the largest telescopes and excellent observing conditions.

On many nights in the city, for example, the center of the galaxy is just a round, featureless ball, but on above average evenings at 100× in 15cm and larger scopes, you may occasionally see M31’s “true” nucleus, a tiny star-like point close to the center of the fuzz ball. Away from the central region, you’ll see the extensive haze that represents the disk and spiral arms of the galaxy. Use a variety of magnifications to scan the whole galaxy, and use high powers to pull details out of light pollution.  The center of M31 is very bright and has a star like nucleus. Even on poor nights, the bright nucleus of M31 will be visible as an oval spot of light with an apparent size of about 20’ x 15’ and a slightly golden colour. The darker the night, the more of the surrounding galaxy you will see. The bright nucleus seems to sit a bit off from the center of the dimmer streak of light. This dimmer light seems barely visible at first; but the longer you look, the more it seems to just go on and on, extending far beyond the field of view of even the lowest power eyepiece. Most novice observers just give this object a quick once-over before moving on. Seeing details in any deep sky object requires more than a 10 second glance.

M-31 through small telescope at low power(picture and sketch).
Image credits: Michael Vlasov.
(Click on the image to see a bigger version.)

Only when your eye is completely adapted to the darkness, you could guess the long arms extended in NW-SE direction. They are faint and bluish, with about 1 degree long (1’5 degrees on a really dark night) per 20’ wide, fading slowly in the darkness of the night.  Only with telescopes of 20 cm or more is possible to see a size of about 2,5º x 0,6º.

The contrast between the powerful center white-yellowish and the faint bluish arms responds to a well known physical reality: the central zone of M-31 is very densely populated of stars and mainly old Red Giant stars (population II); we could not see gas clouds or dark spots. The arms are incomparably more diffuse due to its less populated vast outlying zone which is populated mainly by young hot blue-white population I stars.

Observe that the SW wing looks visually an extension double than the NE one. So, the nucleus seems to be not in the center of the ellipse. Even though more difficult to see due to its higher diffusion, the NE wing is more interesting for its complex structure of wires and dark lanes. With small telescopes we could only guess the main lines of force along the main axis where the coils are bent violently. We would need at least a 20 cm telescope to see the complicated structure of M-31 clearly.

With larger amateur telescopes some dark lines of dust and cold gases can be seen in the outer regions. A dust lane just south of the nucleus can be seen. Under a clear, dark sky, you could observe that the Northwest edge of the galaxy appears a little more sharply delineated than the galaxy’s southeast border. You’re seeing the evidence of one of the dust lanes that outline M31’s spiral arms. This is not an easy observation to make in the city, but it is possible with a 15cm reflector when M31 was high in the sky, especially on transparent late autumn nights after a cold front has passed through.

Also with larger amateur telescopes some of the brightest globular clusters and maybe one or two bright emission nebulae might be visible. Other features of Andromeda Galaxy show up only on long-exposure images. By observing it ‘‘live’’ the Andromeda Galaxy charms us only if we know what we are looking at! After the central fuzzy-ball inner regions of M31, satellite galaxies M32 and M110 lie in the vicinity of the main galaxy and are rather bright can be seen through binoculars, are in the same low-power field. Both of these satellites appear in all photographs of the Andromeda Galaxy and are therefore well known by amateur astronomers. Both can be seen well separated from the big main ellipse but in long exposure pictures M32 appears adjacent to the south eastern edge of M31. The main galaxy is so large and its limits vary so much depending on the darkness of the night and the quality of our telescope that is really difficult to give exact distances. But is not so easy to locate these galaxies (which without the presence of its giant neighbor would be very remarkable) due to the lack of benchmarks. The satellite galaxy M32 or NGC 221 is found approximately 22 arcmin south of the center of  M31, it’s about magnitude 8,5 and has an apparent size of approximately (depending on the darkness of the night and the diameter of your telescope) 8’ × 6’ .It looks like an oversized star making a right triangle with two faint stars. Increasing magnification, you can see it is an egg-shaped cloud of light. It is bright, round, and easily mistaken for a star at low power. This is a small satellite galaxy orbiting the center of M31, it is Andromeda’s equivalent of our own galaxy’s Magellanic Clouds. Is an elliptical galaxy, like all its kind, doesn’t reveal much in the way of details in any telescope. In a low power eyepiece it looks like a globular cluster a white ball, but with its edges perfectly defined. In fact M32 is an awesome case of concentration, its apparent surface is 1.100 times smaller than that of M31 however is only 60 times fainter than M31. A higher power eyepiece should at least show that M32’s center is brighter than its outlying regions, though. Like most small elliptical, it looks perfectly round in reality it’s a somewhat elongated Hubble Type E2. M31 possesses another relatively easy-to-observe satellite galaxy, M110 or NGC 205, which is another elliptical (classified as an E6). With M31 in the center of your low power field, M110 is just outside the field of view, to the northwest. It’s on the opposite side of M31 from the other little companion, M32, it is relatively separated from the main galaxy, it lies approximately 35 arcmin northwest from the center of M 31. At about magnitude 9 and approximately 17’x 10’, its light is more spread out than that of M32, making it surprisingly hard to see from urban observing sites. Compared with M32, this galaxy is only slightly fainter but its diffuse character makes it more difficult to see it and requires a dark sky. To see it through binoculars, the observing conditions have to be excellent.

M110 looks like a little fuzzy blob to the right of the main galaxy. It has an oval shape, elongated north to south, its axis is almost perpendicular to the main galaxy. You could not see irregularities and its slightly elongated shape is really diffuse on its edges. It lies in a field rich in faint stars. It could be detected its ghostly glow with an 11cm reflector, but only on truly exceptional nights, and it wasn’t easy then. The other two brighter companions (NGC 147 in NGC 185), which are too faint to be seen through binoculars, lie far from the main galaxy, some 7 degrees north in the constellation Cassiopeia. If the observing conditions are excellent, both can be seen in a telescope with a 10 cm objective lens. Satellite galaxies with designations Andromeda I, II, III ... X are so dim that they can be captured only with large professional telescopes. Even on the worst city nights, though, there is always plenty to see in “Andromeda”. Through a little 11cm scope for example, a large, round nuclear area is visible embedded in very faint haze. M32 is bright and obvious, but M110 is not seen. The view could be bad, but it can help feeling a sense of wonder. You are looking across nearly three million light years to the home of 500.000 million suns! When we admire the galaxy in the night sky, we are not merely watching the furthest object in space still visible with the naked eye but the furthest back into the past. The light that is collected in our eyes at that moment left the galaxy 2,93 million years ago, at the time when Earth was inhabited by the first apes! And throughout the entire history of humankind, from the Stone Age to modern times, the photons that were produced in the photospheres of alien stars in an alien galaxy have travelled through space only to end their long journey in our eyes!
JHelioviewer - A software to view the Sun
An astronomy software developed by ESA makes available online to everyone, everywhere at anytime, the entire library of images from the SOHO solar and heliospheric observatory. Just download the viewer and begin exploring the Sun.

A screenshot from the program JHelioviewer, developed by ESA.
Image credits: ESA JHelioviewer Team

Helioviewer is new visualization software that enables everyone to explore the Sun. Developed as part of the ESA/NASA Helioviewer Project, it provides a desktop program that enables users to call up images of the Sun from the past 15 years. More than a million images from SOHO can already be accessed, and new images from NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory are being added every day. The downloadable JHelioviewer is complemented by the website, a web-based image browser.

Helioviewer is new visualization software that enables everyone to explore the Sun. Developed as part of the ESA/NASA Helioviewer Project, it provides a desktop program that enables users to call up images of the Sun from the past 15 years.

More than a million images from SOHO can already be accessed, and new images from NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory are being added every day.

The downloadable JHelioviewer is complemented by the website, a web-based image browser.

Another  screenshot from the program JHelioviewer, developed by ESA.
Image credits: ESA JHelioviewer Team

JHelioviewer is written in the Java programming language, hence the ‘J’ at the beginning of its name. It is open-source software, meaning that all its components are freely available so others can help to improve the program.

The code can even be reused for other purposes; it is already being used for Mars data and in medical research. This is because JHelioviewer does not need to download entire data sets, which can often be huge – it can just choose enough data to stream smoothly over the Internet. 

Helioviewer download page: webpage:


M6: The Butterfly Cluster . Image credit and copyright: Sergio Eguivar, Buenos Aires Skies
(click on the image to see a bigger version)

This is a fantastic false-color composition of beautiful M6, the Butterfly Cluster. To many astronomers the outline of the open cluster of stars M6 resembles a bit the form of a butterfly. M6, also known as NGC 6405, spans about 20 light-years and lies about 2,000 light years away from the solar system. M6 is an easy object that can be seen in summer with a dark sky simply pointing binoculars towards the constellation of Scorpius, coving about as much of the sky as the full moon. Like other open clusters, M6 is composed predominantly of young blue stars, although the brightest star is nearly orange. M6 is estimated to be about 100 million years old. Determining the distance to clusters like M6 helps astronomers calibrate the distance scale of the universe.

European Association for Astronomy Education