The Telescope




















































Constellations of the month




Saturn, at the start of its new apparition, rises at around 3 am at the start of the month and just after 2 am at its end. With an angular size of ~16.3 arc seconds it climbs higher before dawn and so becomes easier to spot as the month progresses. Its brightness increases from +0.6 to +0.5 magnitudes during the month. The rings were at their widest a few months ago and are still, at 26 degrees to the line of sight, well open. Saturn, lying in Sagittarius, is just 3 degrees above the topmost star of the 'teapot'. Sadly, even when at opposition later in the year it will only reach an elevation of just over 15 degrees above the horizon when crossing the meridian. Atmospheric dispersion will thus greatly hinder our view and it might be worth considering purchasing the ZWO Atmospheric Dispersion Corrector to counteract its effects.


Jupiter rises just before midnight at the beginning of the month and about one hour earlier by month's end. Initially it has a 39 arc second disk, shining at a magnitude of -2.2 but, as the month progresses, its apparent diameter increases to 42.5 arc seconds and it brightens to magnitude -2.4. Jupiter will transit before dawn and so will enable the giant planet to be seen with the equatorial bands, sometimes the Great (but reducing in size) Red Spot and up to four of its Gallilean moons visible in a small telescope. Sadly, Jupiter, lying in Libra during the month, is heading towards the southern part of the ecliptic and will only have an elevation of ~20 degrees when crossing the meridian. Atmospheric dispersion will thus hinder our view and it might be worth considering purchasing the ZWO Atmospheric Dispersion Corrector to counteract its effects.


Mars starts the month in Ophiuchus but, moving quickly, moves into Sagittarius on the 12th as it approaches Saturn. Now a morning object, it rises at around 2 am at the start of the month. During the month, Mars has a magnitude which increases from +0.8 to +0.3 and an angular size of just 7, increasing to 8.5, arc seconds so it will be hard to spot details on its salmon-pink surface. It will only reach an elevation of ~14 degrees before dawn at the start of the month and just 12 degrees by month's end.

Venus, seen low in the west after sunset, shines at magnitude -3.9 all month with an angular size of ~10.3 arc seconds. Venus rises a little higher in the sky as March progresses, initially setting around one hour after the Sun but increasing to an hour and a half by month's end. It has two near conjunctions with Mercury as described in the highlights above.


Mercury gives us its best evening apparation this month when it reaches its peak height above the western horizon on March 15th when, at greatest elongation, it lies some 18 degrees east of the Sun. However, by this time its magnitude has dropped from -1.3 at the beginning of March to -0.4 magnitudes. Its magnitude continues to fall, dropping to +0.9 by 20th and soon after will be lost in the Sun's glare. Mercury flirts with Venus during the month as detailed above.

The Night Sky In and Around Swindon March 2018

Slide Presentation

The following presentation was given at our meeting on the 17th November, 2017 by Rob Slack

The constellation of Gemini

Gemini - The Twins - lies up and to the left of Orion and is in the south-west during early evenings this month. It contains two bright stars Castor and Pollux of 1.9 and 1.1 magnitudes respectivly. Castor is a close double having a separation of ~ 3.6 arc seconds making it a fine test of the quality of a small telescope - providing the atmospheric seeing is good! In fact the Castor system has 6 stars - each of the two seen in the telescope is a double star, and there is a third, 9th magnitude, companion star 73 arcseconds away which is alos a double star! Pollux is a red giant star of spectral class K0. The planet Pluto was discovered close to delta Geminorum by Clyde Tombaugh in 1930. The variable star shown to the lower right of delta Geminorum is a Cepheid variable, changing its brightness from 3.6 to 4.2 magnitudes with a period of 10.15 days

M35 and NGC 2158

This wonderful image was taken by Fritz Benedict and David Chappell using a 30" telescope at McDonal Observatory. Randy Whited combined the three colour CCD images to make the picture

M35 is an open star cluster comprising several hundred stars around a hundred of which are brighter than magnitude 13 and so will be seen under dark skies with a relativly small telescope. It is easily spotted with binoculars close to the "foot" of the upper right twin. A small telescope at low power using a wide field eyepiece will show it at its best. Those using larger telescopes - say 8 to 10 inches - will spot a smaller compact cluster NGC 2158 close by. NGC 2158 is four times more distant that M35 and ten times older, so the hotter blue stars will have reached the end of their lives leaving only the longer-lived yellow stars like our Sun to dominate its light.

The Eskimo Nebula, NGC2392, Hubble Space Telescope
To the lower right of the constellation lies the Planetary Nebula NGC2392. As the Hubble Space Telescope image shows, it resembles a head surrounded by the fur collar of a parka hood - hence its other name The Eskimo Nebula. The white dwarf remnant is seen at the centre of the "head". The Nebula was discovered by William Herschel in 1787. It lies about 5000 light years away from us.
The constellation Orion

Orion, perhaps the most beautiful of constellations, will be seen in the south at around 11 - 12 pm during January. Orion is the hunter holding up a club and shield against the charge of Taurus, the Bull up and to his right. Alpha Orionis, or Betelgeuse, is a read supergiant star varying in size between three and four hundred times that of our Sun. The result is that its brightness varies somewhat. Beta Orionis, or Rigel, is a blue supergiant which, at around 1000 light years distance is about twice as far away as Betelgeuse. It has a 7th magnitude companion. The three stars of Orion's belt lie at a distance of around 1500 light years. Just below the lower left hand star lies a strip of nebulosity against which can be seen a pillar of dust in the shape of the chess-board knight. It is thus called the Horsehead Nebula. It shows up very well photographically but is exceedingly difficult to see visually - even with relativly large telescope.

The Horsehead Nebula: Anglo Australian Observatory
Beneath the central star of the belt lies Orion's sword containing one of the most beautiful sights in the heavens - The Orion Nebula. It is a region of star formation and the reddish colour seen in photographs comes from Hydrogen excited by ultraviolet emitted from the very hot young stars that make up the Trapesium which is at its heart. The nebula, cradling the trapesium stars, is a beautiful sight in binoculars or, better still, a telescope. To the eye it appears greenish, not red, as the eye is much more sensitive to the green light emitted by ionized oxygen than the reddish glow from the hydrogen atoms.

The Orion Nebula: David Malin
March 8th and 24th: The Alpine Valley
March 2nd to 4th after sunset: Venus and Mercury within 1.3 degrees of each other

Venus and Mars together in the twilight sky...

After sunset on these three evenings and given a clear sky and a low western horizon, you should be able to spot Venus and Mercury. Their closest is on the 3rd when they are just 1.1 degrees apart. Binoculars might be needed to penetrate the skys residual brightness, but please do not use them until after the Sun has set. [Note: The sky brightness has been reduced in the chart.]

Compiled by Ian Morison - Jodrell Bank Centre for Astrophysics
March 10th/11th before dawn: Saturn, Mars and a waning Moon

Saturn amd Mars Mars below a waning Moon

If clear before dawn on the 10th and 11th, looking just east of south, one should see a waning crescent Moon lying to the upper left of Mars on the 10th and Saturn on the 11th.

The planets this month

An interesting valley on the Moon: The Alpine Valley

These are two good nights to observe an interesting feature on the Moon if you have a small telescope. Close to the limb is the Appenine mountain chain that marks the edge of Mare Imbrium. Towards the upper end you should see the cleft across them called the Alpine valley. It is about 7 miles wide and 79 miles long. As shown in the image is a thin rill runs along its length which is quite a challenge to observe. The dark crater Plato will also be visible nearby. You may also see the shadow cast by the mountain Mons Piton lying not far away in Mare Imbrium. This is a very interesting region of the Moon!

The Alpine Valley
The Alpine valley and the crater Plato

The constellation Leo
The constellation Leo is now in the south-eastern sky in the evening. One of the few constellations that genuinely resembles its name, it looks likes one of the Lions in Trafalger Square, with its main and head forming an arc (called the Sickle) to the upper right, with Regulus in the position of its right knee. Regulus is a blue-white star, five times bigger than the sun at a distance of 90 light years. It shines at magnitude 1.4. Algieba, which forms the base of the neck, is the second brightest star in Leo at magnitude 1.9. With a telescope it resolves into one of the most magnificent double stars in the sky - a pair of golden yellow stars! They orbit their common centre of gravity every 600 years. This lovely pair of orange giants are 170 light years away.

Leo also hosts two pairs of Messier galaxies which lie beneath its belly. The first pair lie about 9 degrees to the west of Regulus and comprise M95 (to the east) and M96. They are almost exactly at the same declination as Regulus so, using an equatorial mount, centre on Regulus, lock the declination axis and sweep towards the west 9 degrees. The other pair is M65 and M66.

M95 and M96