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October 2011

EAAE Webpage EAAE Official Blog EAAE Monthly Newsletter Archive


This month the highlight news is the launch of "Space Art" project. Space art challenges students to make drawing or pictures about astronomical objects.

"Catch a Star" is getting to an end. Last opportunity to send your works until October 30th. Don't forge to "Find a Sundial" near to your home and tell us all about it.

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 Cygnus constellation (the Swan)and in the "Advanced Astronomical Observations" section you are challenged to observe M27, the Dumbbell Nebula.

On the " Software and Internet Astronomy" section we will present you "Eyes on the Solar System" a fantastic new online tool created by NASA.

As usual we also have some activities in the Students Corner and we have selected a beautiful astronomical picture of the "Bubble Nebula" on this months "Picture Gallery".

We wish you all clear skies during the next month.

The EAAE Webteam

Catch a Star submissions finish on October 30th


REMEMBER! Submission of Catch a Star's works finishes on October 30th, 2011.

The idea of the program is to encourage students to work together, to learn about astronomy and discover things for themselves by researching information. The goal of the European Astronomy Contest "Catch a Star" is to stimulate the creativity and independent work of students, to strengthen and expand their astronomical knowledge and skills, and to help spread the use of information technologies in the educational process.

All students who have studied in European countries during the current year and have a strong interest in astronomy and information technology can send works.

The students will write a report about an astronomical object, phenomenon, observation, scientific problem, or theory, etc. The students may also wish to include practical activities such as their own observations. They will create the project's report as PDF document and upload it online on the website's application form.

The student teams who prepare the best projects will receive exciting prizes like the special grand prize is one observational session on the 2-meter Faulkes telescopes or free remote 3x60 minutes observational sessions National Astronomical Observatory “Rozhen” in Bulgaria using the 2-meter RCC telescope; the 50/70 cm Schmidt telescope and the Cassegrain telescope “Zeiss-600”.

There will also be astronomical books and 10 astronomical DVD for honor mentions.

Catch a Star project

Don' t forget "Find a Sundial"

As we announced last month the sundials competition Find a Sundial is a simple competition for all students in Europe.

In many European towns and cities, walking the streets, we find sundials of various shapes and sizes. Some are old and they were built to be used as a way of measuring time. In many cases the only one available. Other more moderns are built in prominent places as pure ornament and also, we can find sundials in private houses and gardens.
Sometimes we come to small towns lost in the landscape and in the tower of the church or in any manor we find a sundial discolored and damaged by the passage of time. A broken clock but accurate enough.
In our opinion, these sundials that can be found throughout Europe and that some were built in the Middle Ages are part of the European Cultural Heritage.

Church of St. Felix in Revilla, Huesca (Spain). Image credits: Eder Viñuales.

As it is well know, one of the aims of the EAAE is the knowledge and diffusion of the common culture of a branch of science, Astronomy, which by its interdisciplinary approach allows us to manage other cultural areas where we find again common European contents as in History, Art, Philosophy and Science in general.

Therefore, this competition aims to "rescue" these sundials spread throughout Europe to be known by the public.

Vertical Sundial at St. Felix in Revilla. Image credits: Eder Viñuales.

So to participate in the competition is only necessary to find a sundial, photograph and study it in the way that it is outlined in our webpage.

The competition is open to any student who wants to participate both individually and in groups of no more than three or four students from school.


Important information

- The registration for participation in “Find a sundial and, … show it to us” competition may take place from September 1st of 2011 to March 30th, 2012.

- The deadline to send the work done to participate is the March 30th, 2012.

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

- The competition winners will be announced the second fortnight of April of 2012 by email to the winners and on our website.

EAAE launches "Space Art"

SPACE ART is a project that aims to stimulate students to discover the universe and its beauty.

Art is a perfect way to achieve this. Space Art tries to improve student's awareness about the Universe by producing drawings or make pictures of astronomical features or events.

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.
Space Art will be the site where their vision of astronomical objects' beauty can be placed and shared.

Saturn, by Paulo Tiago of Escola Flávio Resende, Cinfães, Portugal.

Learn more about it at Space Art's homepage. Artistic works can be submitted until June 30th, 2012.

Space Art's webpage


Last Month's highlights from EAAE News


NASA's logo.
October 1st: Day 274 of the Gregorian calendar.
: In 1958, NASA was created to succeed to NACA.

Observations: Predawn: Mars passes through M-44 the Beehive Cluster.Dusk: Look for Antares (α Sco) a few degrees (4º) below the crescent Moon, low in the southwest as twilight fades.
  October 2nd: Day 275 of the Gregorian calendar.
: Predawn: The zodiacal light, (From Sept. 25 To Oct. 10) is visible in the east about 120 to 80 minutes before sunrise only from dark locations at mid-northern latitudes. Don't miss Mira (Omicron Ceti) shining at its unusually bright maximum! It's shining not far from Jupiter in the evening sky, outshining even Alpha Ceti.

  V2 rocket.
October 3rd: Day 276 of the Gregorian calendar.
In 1942, Germany launched the V-2/A-4 rocket that would become the first human artifact in space.
In 1962, mission Mercúrio 8 was launched from Cape Canaveral.
In 1985, space shuttle Atlantis made its first journey in Space. 
in 2005, an annular eclipse occurred in Portugal and Spain.

Observations: Minimum of β Persei (Algol) 4h 27m U.T.

October 4th: Day 277 of the Gregorian calendar.
In 1957, Sputnik 1, the first artificial satellite, was launched. "Space Run" had began.
In 1959, Luna 3 mission a Russian mission for a lunar flyby) was launched.
In 2004, SpaceShipOne wins the  Ansari X prize as it became the first private ship in Space.

First Quarter Moon (03h 15m U.T.)

Robert Goddard.
October 5th: Day 278 of the Gregorian calendar.
In 1882 Robert Goddard the pioneer in rocket development was born.
In 1923, Edwin Hubble discovers the first Cepheid variable star in  M31, The Andromeda galaxy, establishing the the spiral "nebula" are independent e external to the Milky Way.
In 2000, Spanish and German astronomers publish on Science magazine their discovery  of isolated starless giant gaseous planets , being formed in the Orion region. These "super-jupiter" float freely within a stellar cluster, but at sufficient distance to be able to escape the gravitational pull of other stars.

Observations: Dusk: Binoculars and telescopes show  Asteroid Juno 5,6º at north of Venus.

October 6th: Day 279 of the Gregorian calendar.
In 1990,  ESA's and NASA's solar observatory Ulysses, was launched from the space shuttle Discovery. In February 1992,it used  Jupiter's gravitational pull to leave the ecliptic's plane. It completed its mission of watching both the Sun's poles, reporting unexpected results. We now know the the Sun's south pole is much more dynamic and hasn't an fixed location. The mission ended in 2007.
In 1995, 51 Pegasi was discovered by Michel Mayor and Didier Queloz. It was the first planet discovered around another main sequence star that wasn't the Sun.
Observations: Minimum of β Persei (Algol) 01h 16m U.T.

Niels Bohr.

October 7th: Day 280 of the Gregorian calendar.
In 1885, Niels Bohr, was born. Bohr gave major contributions to physics and chemistry and was the first to assume that energy inside an atom assumes only discrete values, an important step on the birth of quantum physics. The 1922 Nobel Prize in Physics was awarded to Niels Bohr "for his services in the investigation of the structure of atoms and of the radiation emanating from them".
In 1959 the TV system aboard Luna 3 obtains a series of 29 pictures in a 40 minute survey, covering 70% of the surface of the Moon.

Observations: Dusk: Binoculars and telescopes show  Saturn passing 2º at North of Mercury.

.Atlas Centaur.
October 8th: Day 281 of the Gregorian calendar.
: In 1656 Edmond Halley was born.
Halley was an English scientist that used his theory of cometary orbits to calculate that the comet of 1682 (further called Halley's Comet) was periodic and encouraged Newton to publish his famous calculations about gravity and the laws of gravity. Also discovered in 1718 that some of the "fixed" stars (Sirius, Aldebaran, Betelgeuse and Arcturus) in fact had what is called "proper motion", which means they are not stationary ("fixed"). It was thought that the stars were stationary in the sky since the compilation of the book "Almagest" of Ptolemy.
In 1984, launch of STS-51A, first flight of Space Shuttle Discovery.

Observations: Binoculars and telescopes show Neptune 6º  at South of the Moon.
The Draconid (Giacobinid) meteor shower may put on an intense burst of activity during good observing hours for Europe or possibly elsewhere. They are related with 21P/Giacobini-Zinner Comet, its activity is from 6th to 10th of October with slow meteors with a ZHR (Zenital Hourly Rate) about 10 meteors visible per hour under dark-sky conditions but in 1933 and 1946 they dazzled sky watchers with astounding meteor “storms” that briefly topped 10.000 meteors per hour! If meteor forecasters are right, this year the Draconids’ peak ZHR could top 600 meteors per hour. Various predictions put one or more outbursts between about 17:00 and 20:30 Universal Time (GMT). The shower's radiant is near the head of Draco, but the meteors themselves can flash into view anywhere in the sky. Unfortunately, the light of the Moon will obscure all but the brightest of them.

Tycho's Supernova

October 9th: Day 282of the Gregorian calendar.
A supernova event occurs in 1604, the most recent supernova observed in the Milky Way.

In 2009, the first lunar impact of the Centaur and LCROSS spacecraft as part of NASA's Lunar Robotic Program.

Countries that signed the Space Treaty.

October 10th: Day 283 of the Gregorian calendar.
In 1967 comes into action Space Treaty, signed on January 27 for more than sixty nation

Observations: Binoculars and telescopes show Uranus 6º at south of the Moon

Kathryn Sullivan.

October 11th: Day 284 of the Gregorian calendar.
In 1958, launching the probe Pioneer 1 (the probe fell to Earth and is destroyed).
In 1968, launch of Apollo 7, the first manned mission in the Apollo program.
In 1984, astronaut Kathryn D. Sullivan, STS-41G, becomes the first woman to do a spacewalk.
In 2000, launch of STS-92 Shuttle Discovery.

Observations: Mercury in its ascending node.

Voskhod 1.

October 12th: Day 285 of the Gregorian calendar.
In 1964, launch of Voskhod 1, the first mission with a crew of several people and the first flight without space suits.
In 1994, destruction of Magellan in Venus's atmosphere.
In 2005, China's second manned space flight. The Shenzhou 6 carried two astronauts for five days in orbit

Observations: Full Moon (02h 06m U.T.) The Moon is at the Apogee.
Asteroid Juno 6,5º at North of Mercury.


M51-Whirlpool Galaxy.

October 13th: Day 286 of the Gregorian calendar.
In 1773, Charles Messier discovered the Whirlpool Galaxy (M51).
In 1892, Edward Emerson Barnard discovers D/1892 T1, the first comet by photographic means.
In 1933, creation of the British Interplanetary Society

Observations: Dusk: Jupiter  5º  at South of the Moon. Jupiter is near the Moon three nights from October 12th to 14th.
Saturn in conjunction with the Sun

Broadcast from Apollo7.

October 14th: Day 287 of the Gregorian calendar.
In 1960, the Soviet probe Mars 1960B fault insertion into Earth orbit.
In 1968 takes place the first live TV from a spacecraft, Apollo 7.

Observations: Evening: Binoculars show the Pleiades a few degrees left of the Moon.

Asaph Hall.

October 15th: Day 288 of the Gregorian calendar.
In 1582, Pope Gregory XIII implemented the Gregorian calendar.
In 1608 Evangelista Torricelli the famous Italian physicist  for having invented the barometer. was born.
Asaph Hall was born in 1829. This American astronomer is  famous for discovering the moons of Mars, Phobos and Deimos. He also determined the orbits of satellites of other planets and double stars, the rotation of Saturn and the mass of Mars.
In 1997, the Cassini spacecraft was launched to Saturn from Cape Canaveral.
In 2003, China launches Shenzhou 5, its first manned space mission.

Observations: Evening: Binoculars show the Pleiades a few degrees above of the Moon..

Artist's impression of Cassini.

October 16th: Day 289 of the Gregorian calendar.
In 2001, the Galileo spacecraft passed the 181 km of Io, a moon of Jupiter.

Observations: Aldebaran (α Tau) 6º at south of the Moon.

October 17th: Day 290 of the Gregorian calendar.
In 1604, the astronomer Johannes Kepler observed a supernova in the constellation Ophiuchus.

Venera 4.

October 18th: Day 291 of the Gregorian calendar.

In 1959 the Soviet Luna 3 probe sends first pictures from the other side of the Moon
In 1967, the Soviet Venera 4 spacecraft enters the atmosphere of Venus and becomes the first to measure the atmosphere of another planet.
In 1989, the Galileo spacecraft was launched from the STS-34.

Observations: Try to observe the Perseus Double Cluster (find how).

Max Planck.

October 19th: Day 292 of the Gregorian calendar.
In 1900, Max Planck delivers a new quantum theory Berliner Physikalische Gesellschaft. His theory revolutionized science.
In 1983, the Royal Swedish Academy awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics to Professor Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar of the University of Chicago, for his theoretical studies of the physical structure and evolution of stars. Professor William A. Fowler of the California Institute of Technology, on the other hand, you also receive the prize for his theoretical and experimental studies of nuclear reactions of the importance of the formation of chemical elements in the universe.

Observations: Try to observe Albireo in the Swan constellation

October 20th: Day 293 of the Gregorian calendar.

Observations: Last Quarter Moon (03h 30m U.T.)
The Moon passes 11º at South of Pollux (β Gem) and a few degrees at North of Procyon (α Canis Minoris).

Discovery of Eris.

October 21st: Day 294 of the Gregorian calendar.

History: In 1955, Comet Ikeya-Seki approaches perihelion, passing 450,000 kilometers from the Sun.
In 2003 the pictures of the dwarf planet Eris that lead to the subsequent discovery made by astronomers Michael E. Brown, Chad Trujillo and David L. Rabinowitz were taken.

Observations: Late Night:  The modest Orionid meteor shower peaks late tonight. Best in the early hours of the 22nd. From 2th October to 7th November Wide maximum between 20th to 25th October  ZHR (Zenital Hourly Rate) about 23 meteors visible per hour under dark-sky conditions. The Orionids, fragments of the comet 1P/Halley are unusually swift. Often they show trails. Dawn: Mars 6,5º at North of the Moon.
Venera 9.

October 22nd: Day 295 of the Gregorian calendar.

History: In 1966, the Soviet Union launches Luna 12.
In 1968, Apollo 7 landed successfully in the Atlantic Ocean after orbiting the Earth 163 times.
In 1975, the Soviet probe Venera 9 lands on Venus.
In 1999, the Earth's closest approach to asteroid 1989 VA (0.1993 AU).
In 2008, India launched its first unmanned lunar mission, Chandrayaan-1.

Observations: Mercury is at aphelion.
Dawn: Regulus (α Leo) 6º at North of the Moon..


October 23rd: Day 296 of the Gregorian calendar.
In 1885, the first picture meteor shower was made. 
In 1977, Meteosat 1 becomes the first satellite produced by European Space Agency (ESA) orbiting Earth.

Observations: Asteroid  Juno in conjunction with the Sun.

October 24th: Day 297 of the Gregorian calendar.
:In 1946, a camera aboard the V-2 rocket No. 13 takes the first photograph of Earth from space.
In 1998, launch of Deep Space 1 mission.

Observations: Don't forget to work to finish your projects for "Catch a Star".

Io's eruption viewed from Earth

October 25th: Day 298 of the Gregorian calendar.
In 1999, ground-based observations of an erupting volcano on Io, a moon of Jupiter.

Observations: Dawn: A very thin crescent Moon should be visible low in the east-southeast a half hour before sunrise. Binoculars may show Saturn about 10º to the Moon’s lower left..

Asterix 1.

October 26th: Day 299 of the Gregorian calendar.
In 1959, the world first sees the other side of the moon, thanks to the Soviet probe Luna 3.
In 1965, launch of the first French satellite, Asterix 1.

Observations: Dawn: Binoculars may show Spica (α Vir) about 2º at North of the Moon
   The Moon in its perigee
    Venus in its ascending node
    Dawn: Binoculars may show Saturn about 7º at North of the Moon
    New Moon (19h 56m U.T.)

Saturn I.

October 27th: Day 300 of the Gregorian calendar.
In 1961, the first successful launch of the Saturn I rocket
In 1999, Earth's flyby of Asteroid 3838 (0.374 AU).
In 1994, the first is unquestionably identified substellar mass object, Gliese 229B.
In 2005, it launched SSETI Express micro-satellite from the Plesetsk Cosmodrome.

Observations: Dusk: Telescopes and binoculars should show Mercury 2º below Venus very low in the southwest 15 minutes after sunset. If conditions are perfect, they might also show the super thin Moon a few degrees below or lower right of Mercury.

October 28th: Day 301 of the Gregorian calendar.
In 1971 Britain launched the Prospero, its first satellite.
In 1974, launch of the Luna 23 probe.
In 2009, NASA successfully launches the Ares IX mission, the only release of the canceled Constellation program .

Observations: Dusk: The thin crescent Moon is about 9º upper left of Venus and Mercury.

John Glenn.

October 29th: Day 302 of the Gregorian calendar.
In 1991, the Galileo spacecraft makes its closest approach to 951 Gaspra, the first to visit an asteroid.
In 1998 the Space Shuttle Discovery departed into space aboard the leading astronaut John Glenn for 77 years.
Glenn, who was the first American to orbit Earth in 1962, thus became the oldest person to ever have been in space.

Observations: Jupiter is at opposition and almost at its brightest.
Antares (α Sco) 4º at South of the Moon.


October 30th: Day 303 of the Gregorian calendar.
In 1985, the Space Shuttle Challenger is launched on STS-61-A, his last successful mission.

Observations: Dusk: Binoculars continue to show until 16th of November Mercury 2º below Venus very low in the southwest a half hour after sunset.

Deep Space 1(Artist impression)

October 31st: Day 304 of the Gregorian calendar.
In 1998 was launched on Deep Space 1 spacecraft in their mission to study asteroids / comets.
In 2000, launch of Soyuz TM-31, carrying the first resident crew of the International Space Station. The ISS has been continuously manned since.

Observations: Pluto 2,5º at North of the Moon (requires a very large telescope and dark skies to see).


The constellation of Cygnus
by Jordi Delpeix

Cygnus is a large and splendid constellation in the October skies. ¡This month we will travel across the probably the most beautiful zone of the whole northern sky!

What’s a huge swan doing flying through the night sky, anyway?
Apparently this constellation has been identified as a long-necked bird since classical times. The most popular myth concerning Cygnus says that the Olympian deities placed Orpheus who was wondrously changed to a magnificent bird after his murder, in heaven near his beloved harp Lyra. Some say the Bird is the pet of Queen Cassiopeia. He’s also been associated with the son of the great sea-god Neptune, changed to a swan to save him from being murdered by the mighty Greek warrior Achilles.

Mythological representation of the Swan constellation.

How to find it:

It is remarkably easy. You could begin finding Deneb, the brightest star of the Cygnus constellation. Together with Altair (0,8 magnitude) α Aquila and Vega (0,0 magnitude) α Lyrae, Deneb (magnitude 1,3) α Cygnus forms the famous asterism known as the Summer Triangle, (three of the brightest stars you could see in Summer/Autumn from northern hemisphere, which make up a triangular shape and are high on the October evening sky).
At twilight look at the zenith, directly over your head, Vega is the first to appear, but it is soon followed by Altair and Deneb. From Deneb it’s easy to locate all the other stars in Cygnus (when twilight is finished and the sky has darkened).
While this constellation’s shape does somewhat resemble a winging swan. Cygnus is one of the most distinctive constellations in the sky, and we do not need to have much imagination to see in the stars the figure of a bird flying south along the Milky Way.
In order to distinguish this Swan from some other flying animal or bird, you need to know that  the head of the Swan is in the South on the star β (Albireo) and the tail in the North on the star Deneb (in fact Deneb means tail in Arabic). This way it is easy to imagine a swan with a long neck and long wings flying to the South.


α Cygnus or Deneb is the 19th brightest star in the sky, burning at magnitude 1,3. It is the farthest first-magnitude star from Earth. The star is about 1.500 light years from us and is still so bright in our sky. It is a giant, with an estimated luminosity nearly 60,000 times that of our Sun! Imagine 60.000 Suns shining together...  Deneb is a bluish-white star of spectral type A2, with a surface temperature of 8.400º Kelvin and an estimated mass of 20 Suns. The diameter of Deneb is huge, as much as 100 times that of the Sun. If we would place it in the center of our Solar System, it would extend halfway out to the orbit of the Earth (and just to be clear, we are not talking about a bloated red giant but about a regular main sequence star). It is one of the largest white stars known. This is a truly admirable star.
As a blue-white supergiant, its high mass and temperature mean that the star will have a short lifespan and will probably go supernova within a few million years. It has already stopped fusing hydrogen in its core. The star was probably an O class star during its main sequence lifetime and is now probably expanding into a red supergiant. As it expands, it will go through the F, G, K and M spectral types.

The constellation:

The Swan constellation's map.

Cygnus is big, but also bright, containing stars like the remarkable Deneb, in fact, all the stars that form the cross shape are easy to see from the most light-polluted urban locations, with the dimmest being magnitude 3,1, β or Albireo, the head of the swan. The brightest stars are Deneb (magnitude 1,3), γ (magnitude 2,2), ε (magnitude 2,5), δ (magnitude 2,9), and β or Albireo (magnitude 3,1).

In some countries is called the Northern Cross, in contrast to the Southern Cross, a bright but small and unequal configuration of stars which looks like a diamond more than a cross. Cygnus, forms a luminous perfect cross stretching 22º from Deneb, the head of the cross to the beautiful double star, Albireo, at the foot. From Deneb, straightaway to the south you could find γ, η (magnitude 3,9) and β all of them into the central axis of Milky Way. The arms starts from γ to the East and West and are drawn with perfect symmetry by the stars δ and ε and prolonged in both directions but more irregularly by less bright stars like ζ and µ to the East and ι (iota) and κ (kappa) to the West.

If you are lucky and have a really dark sky, you could observe the marvelous part of the Milky Way which coincides with the main axis of the cross direction to the south which contains γ and η. Is incredible the richness of stars, if you have a binoculars, observe carefully this part of the Milky Way, is an amazing sight!

γ Gamma is the 69th brightest star in the sky. It is 1,500 light years from us. This is also a real giant, for its luminosity surpasses our Sun by approximately 21,000 times.

The yellow-orange ε Epsilon is the 91st brightest star in the sky. Its light travels 72 years in order to reach us. The luminosity of the star is 38 times that of the Sun.

δ Delta is the 147th brightest star in the sky. It is 170 light years from us. The luminosity of the star surpasses our Sun by 150 times.

χ Chi is situated in the neck of the Swan constellation, this is a long-period variable star of the Mira type, a red giant that changes its brightness from magnitude 3,3 to 14,3 over an average period of 407 days. At its maximum, it usually shines with magnitude 4 or 5. Thus Chi Cygni is visible at its minimum only with telescopes larger than 30 centimeters, while at maximum brightness is easily visible to the naked eye. It is about three and a half months in increasing from its minimum magnitude to its full brightness, and the same in decreasing; for which reason it may be considered as invisible during six months. The star lies 2.5 degrees southwest of Eta (magnitude 3,9), which is a good comparative star for the maximum. When Chi is moving toward its minimum, it is soon hidden among the vast number of faint Milky Way stars in the vicinity. The only way that we can recognize it is by its distinct orange color. The star reached one of its maximums November 19, 2008. From this date and from the known period, one can easily calculate the approximate dates for the next maxima. The distance to Chi is not truly known; however, the estimates range between 300 and 400 light years.

In the opinion of numerous amateur astronomers Albireo (β Cygni) is probably the most wonderful double star in the sky, and luckily the stars can also be separated through binoculars. The main star (magnitude 3,1) is of a golden yellow color, a giant star and its fainter companion (magnitude 5,4) is of a distinct blue color. But do not think that this is a modest star, it is 100 times brighter than our Sun! The apparent separation is 35 arcsec. They are 400 light years from us. The true separation between the stars is 4.400 AU (Astronomical Units: The distance from the Sun to Earth = 150 million of km). While observing this double you should think about the fact that you can place up to 73 Solar Systems between them!

The famous double star 61 Cygni (magnitude 5,2) are among the least conspicuous stars visible in the night sky to an observer without an optical instrument. These distinct orange type K dwarf stars with magnitudes 5.3 and 6.1 are 32 arcseconds apart, so they are easily separated through binoculars. The orbital period is about 659 years. 61 Cygni first attracted the attention of astronomers because of its large proper motion. This double became famous as far back as 1838. That was when F. W. Bessel measured the parallax and determined the distance of the stars to be 10,4 light years away (very close to the today’s value is 11,4 light years). This was the first distance estimate for any star other than the Sun, and first star to have its stellar parallax measured. That was when astronomers could for the very first time start imagining how great the distances between the stars are and how immense (and empty) the universe truly is.



The Dumbbell Nebula (M-27 or NGC- 6853) A Planetary Nebula in Vulpecula
by Jordi Delpeix

For this month we have selected an easy view: M-27 in the small constellation of Vulpecula (The Little Fox).

(M27-Dumbell Nebula

What You Will Look At:

This was the first planetary nebula discovered; by Charles Messier in 1764 is an irregular ball of thin, cold gas expanding out from a central star (much too faint to be seen in a small telescope) which provides the energy to make the gas glow. The gas is mostly hydrogen and helium, very cold and very thin.

M-27 is approximately 1.200 light years from us, which means that its real diameter is 2,5 light years. The gases in the nebula are expanding in all directions with the speed of approximately 30 km/s, and so the cloud of light has been growing steadily at about one arc second per century. If it has been growing at this rate since it was formed, then it must have taken about 50.000 years to reach its present size.
The central star from which the nebula emerged is an extremely hot blue sub giant with a surface temperature of approximately 85.000º K and is one of the hottest stars known to us. However, since it is extremely small, its luminosity is only half that of our Sun. In our sky, the star shines with magnitude 13,5. With its strong ultraviolet radiation, it excites the gases in an otherwise cold surrounding nebula. These shine in glorious colors and reveal the nebula’s composition. Green and red prevail. The red light is emitted mainly by ionized hydrogen atoms, while the green is emitted by twice-ionized oxygen atoms.

This stage in the death of a star is short, this is the reason why there are not many planetary nebulae in the sky. After 50.000 -100.000 years, they simply start to clear in the space.

How to Find it:          
Coordinates    RA: 19º 59’   Dec: + 22º 43’

Vulpecula may not be a familiar constellation for novice astronomers, and it’s certainly not prominent. Its three brightest stars form a distorted triangle, that’s hardly eye-catching. The brightest star in the constellation, α  Vulpeculae, is a dismal magnitude 4.4.
Vulpecula is a small and unremarkable summer constellation, lying between Cygnus, Lyra, and Sagitta.

To locate M-27 start to find Altair, the southernmost of the three stars that make up the Summer Triangle. Just to the north are a narrow group of four easily visible stars. This is the constellation Sagitta, the arrow. The leftmost star, γ Sagittae (magnitude 3,5), the “Arrowhead”is the point of the arrow, and the other three make a narrow triangle that are the arrow’s feathers. The easiest way to find M-27  is with the aid of β Cygni and γ Sagittae. Vulpecula lies between the two.

γ Sagittae is located approximately 3 degrees to the south of the planetary nebula; thus, it appears in the same field of view of binoculars or Finderscope.  Let the distance from the star in the middle of the arrow to the star at the point (γ Sagittae ) be one step; move your telescope that distance due north from the arrow’s point.

The Vulpecula constellation.

In the Finderscope:

Draw an imaginary line from γ Sagittae  to 13 Vulpeculae (magnitude 4,6) about 5º’ away. 13 Vulpeculae should be easy in most finderscopes. M27 lies about 3º along this line toward 13 and just a bit outside the line to the Northeast. This is an area lacking in bright stars, but 14 Vulpeculae (magnitude 5.7), just 23’ Northwest of the nebula, is prominent in finders, and is an almost infallible guide to the Dumbbell.

The nebula is a tiny fuzzy spot in a rich field of faint Milky Way stars. Look for a narrow triangle of stars pointing at the nebula from the northwest.

Stellar field of 6º Finderscope with Inverted Vision.
(Click on the image to see a bigger version.)

Through the Telescope:

The planetary nebula M27 is one of the largest and closest of its kind and that is responsible for the wonderful view we have of this star-corpse from town. It shines at a global magnitude of 7,4, so it is the brightest planetary nebula in the sky. It is visible through binoculars or with a little 6 cm telescope from a city but of course, from really dark skies or with a medium size telescope it will offer us a great sight.

With a size of approximately 8’x 6’ it is one of the largest planetary nebulae but this size can vary greatly, depending on observing conditions. With excellent conditions we might even glimpse the irregularities in the otherwise unified bright spot.

M-27 or NGC-6853 is popularly known as the Dumbbell Nebula due to its shape, this nickname goes all the way back to William Herschel’s son, John, who likened its double lobed appearance to a barbell. M-27 is clearly visible through binoculars, but merely as a spot of faint light, unfortunately this double-lobe shape is not seen through binoculars. However, it can be seen through mid-sized amateur telescopes. In fact, the nebula looks like an out-of-focus bow tie (or, more classically, a weight-lifter’s dumbbell) in a field rich with stars. Even though its butterfly or guitar body shape will be obvious in the city if you’re using at least a 15–20 cm telescope. But if you’re using a 10 cm or smaller instrument, from a highly polluted urban site M27 is fairly easy to identify, but the hourglass shape is extremely elusive and not always easy to detect being barely perceptible at times. You will probably see something more like a strongly oval fuzzy spot of light.

Through a 7x50 binoculars with a limit magnitude about sky 5,7 you could see like a hazy “square star”.

To appreciate details, you need a really dark sky, and a telescope of at least 10 cm with an eyepiece of medium power and averted vision. If you use more power you will increase the contrast and the edge of the nebula stands out more. Usually you could use 150x with a telescope of 15 cm. However, with higher magnifications more aperture is needed, as the nebula extends and darkens as it increases the scale of the image. Fortunately its almost total lack of gradient makes it almost as bright in the center than in the edges and so admirably defined.

On a dark night, look for slight asymmetries in the shape and irregularities in brightness. The Northern lobe is a bit bigger than the Southern one, but instead it appears drawn with the most perfect sharpness.

If you could use a UHC or OIII filter, The OIII, in particular, will help M27 tremendously. It will make the nebula’s dumbbell shape easier in a small telescope and unmistakable in a mid-sized instrument. 100x is a good level to begin at when you’re hunting details. And there are many details to be had, at least in 20 cm and larger apertures. One of the easiest to detect is a diagonal bar of brighter nebulosity that runs from lobe to lobe. Careful study of the nebula at higher powers will reveal a number of other bright patches in the central region, too. You’ll also notice—if you remove the OIII filter—numerous dim stars scattered across M27’s face. If you leave the filter off, you may even have a chance of locating the central star. Unlike the most famous planetary nebula the Ring’s (M-57) in Lyra dauntingly dim, the central star of the Dumbbell is quite approachable at magnitude 13,5. The secrets to spotting it are using high power to dim down the surrounding nebulosity and using a photograph or chart with the central star labeled to help you pick it out from the many faint stars scattered across the nebula. This fabulous object may present us with a picture of what the Ring Nebula (M-57) in Lyra would look like if viewed side-on rather than from the end.

M-27 through small telescope at low power.
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 Let your eye relax, and take the time to look around the object as your vision adapts to the dim light. Take it slowly, and the nebula will reward you. On a good dark night, this ethereal, extended glow of light seems to “hang in space” in among the surrounding stars. The contrast between the pinpoints of light from the stars and the diffuse glow from the nebula makes this one of the more striking, and prettier, sights in the sky.

Eyes on the Solar System - A wonderful new tool by NASA


Screenshot of Eyes on the Solar System.

NASA is giving the public the power to journey through the solar system using a new interactive Web-based tool.

The "Eyes on the Solar System" interface combines video game technology and NASA data to create an environment for users to ride along with agency spacecraft and explore the cosmos. Screen graphics and information such as planet  locations and spacecraft maneuvers use actual space mission data.

"This is the first time the public has been able to see the entire solar system and our missions moving together in  real-time," said Jim Green, director of NASA's Planetary Science Division at the agency's Headquarters in Washington. "It demonstrates NASA's continued commitment to share our science with everyone."

The virtual environment uses the Unity game engine to display models of planets, moons, asteroids, comets and spacecraft as they move through our solar system. With keyboard and mouse controls, users cruise through space to explore anything that catches their interest.

A free browser plug-in, available at the site, is required to run the Web application.

"You are now free to move about the solar system," said Blaine Baggett, executive manager in the Office of Communication and Education at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, Calif. "See what NASA's spacecraft see -- and where they are right now -- all without leaving your computer."

Users may experienced missions in real-time, and "Eyes on the Solar System" also allows them to travel through time. The tool is populated with NASA data dating back to 1950 and projected to 2050.

The playback rate can be sped up or slowed down. When NASA's Juno spacecraft launched on August 5, 2011, users could look ahead to see the mission's five-year journey to Jupiter in a matter of seconds.

Point of view can be switched from faraway to close-up to right "on board" spacecraft. Location, motion and appearance are based on predicted and reconstructed mission data. Dozens of controls on a series of pop-up menus allow users to fully customize what they see, and video and audio tutorials explain how to use the tool's many options. Users may choose from 2-D or 3-D modes, with the latter simply requiring a pair of red-cyan glasses to see.

"By basing our visualization primarily on mission data, this tool will help both NASA and the public better understand complex space science missions," said Kevin Hussey, manager of Visualization Technology Applications and Development at JPL, whose team developed "Eyes on the Solar System."

"Eyes on the Solar System" is in beta release. It has been demonstrated at science conferences, in classrooms and at the 2011 South by Southwest Interactive Conference in Austin, Texas.

Designers are updating "Eyes on the Solar System" to include NASA science missions launching during the coming months, including GRAIL to the moon and the Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity rover.

"Eyes on the Solar System" and an introduction video are available at:


NGC 7635: The Bubble Nebula . Image credit and copyright: Larry Van Vleet.
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This is a fantastic false-color composition of beautiful NGC 7635, the Bubble Nebula, that is the result of the pushing out of the nebulas gas by the stellar wind of massive central star BD+602522. The bubble is expanding next to a giant molecular cloud, visible to the right. This is a very interesting collision between an extremely violent outward force against a static mass of gas. The cloud is able to contain the expansion of the bubble gas, but the radiation heats up dense regions of the molecular cloud causing it to glow. The Bubble Nebula, is about 10 light-years across and part of a much larger complex of stars and shells in the  constellation of the Queen of Ethiopia (Cassiopeia). The Bubble Nebula Can be seen using medium size telescopes.

European Association for Astronomy Education