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Back Garden Astronomy - planets



Back Garden Astronomy
knockintele - Back Garden Astronomy Newest pictures
The image above is of the Knockin Radio Telescope in Knockin, Shropshire, on the England/Wales border. I happened upon it whilst driving to my girlfriend's parents house.
I researched the telescope and found that it's a part of the MERLIN (Multi-Element Radio Linked Interferometer Network) array of radio telescopes distributed around Great Britain, all operated by Jodrell Bank Observatory.
Not everybody has a radio telescope in their back garden. Or even a telescope for that matter. Most of us do, however, possess a pair of binoculars of one kind or another. That is what this page is all about.
Looking at the stars with just the naked eye, there are only a handful of stars that show colour. Most obvious to me is Betelgeuse, the brightest star of Orion. But just looking through a pair of binoculars will show the colours more pronounced. My personal favourite is the bright star, Vega, in the constellation Lyra. Through binoculars its deep blue, i can't help but point my binoculars to the beautiful hues of Vega.
Colour depends upon surface temperature. White heat is hotter than yellow heat, yellow is hotter than red. The surface temperatures range from below 3000 degrees Celsius for the coolest red stars, and over 50,000 degrees Celsius of the very hot stars which are white or bluish.
The German optician, Joseph von Fraunhofer was the first to study the Sun's spectrum in detail, in 1814, the dark lines, or absorption lines are known as Fraunhofer lines. Later, around the end of the 19th century, the spectra of other stars were examined by astronomers at Harvard College Observatory. The spectral types were given letters of the alphabet, as follows:

O: very hot stars, greenish-white or bluish-white. O-stars are rare.
B: hot white stars.
A: cooler white stars.
F: slightly yellowish.
G: yellow stars.
K: orange stars.
M: orange-red stars.

There are a few more types but they're extremely rare. The types above are always used.
The strange alphabetical sequence was made by the Harvard astronomers which is just an abbreviation for, "Oh Be A Fine Girl Kiss Me". Sometimes an "S" is used. S type stars are cooler than M. "Oh Be A Fine Girl Kiss Me, Smack".
Using binoculars, it is possible to see the colours of many stars.
It's also possible to view the planets with binoculars. Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn are all visible to the naked eye. With binoculars Uranus and Neptune can be spotted. Pluto, however is beyond binocular view.
Mercury is difficult to observe because it is so close to the Sun. It can be seen sometimes in the early morning before sunrise and in the evening after sunset.. Make sure the Sun is below the horizon before pointing binoculars at Mercury. The intense heat will burn your retina's and blind you in an instant.
Venus is much easier to view. Often resembling a bright star in the morning or evening sky. Through binoculars its easy to see the crescent-shaped Venus. We can never see Venus as a complete sphere from Earth because Earth is further from the Sun than Venus.
To the naked eye, Mars appears to be a pinkish-red, through binoculars the colours are much more pronounced.
The Jovian giant, Jupiter, is quite easy to spot in the night sky. It's also possible to see it in daylight if you know just where to look. The cloud-belts cannot be seen through binoculars unfortunately, whereas, the four Galilean satellites can. They are Ganymede, Callisto, Europa and Io. They change positions quite regularly around their parent planet.
If your binoculars are of high magnification, x20 or higher, it is possible to see that Saturn has rings. You must be of keen eyesight though. I can just make out the gaps between the rings and planet. Saturn needs to be facing us with its rings tilted in our direction to be able to see it. Again, depending on eyesight, some observers, such as myself, can see it's largest satellite, Titan, with binocular aid.
With magnification of x20, Uranus appears to be greenish in colour. It can be visible with the naked-eye if you know just where to look.
It is difficult to detect the blueness of Neptune, even through binoculars.
Keep an eye on the monthly "Phenomena" topic page which will tell you where the planets are located.
The moon is very rewarding when viewed through binoculars. It is best viewed when it is half-full.
With binoculars, look down the terminator (line between dark and light). Many craters can be seen. As the moon goes through its phases, different craters can be seen from night to night.
Full Moon isn't a very good time for observing. Only the lunar maria (seas) can be seen and no craters (the maria are the darker patches on the lunar surface. They may once have been filled with lava).
The brightness of the Full Moon also outshines fainter stars and nebulae.
The safest way to observe the Sun is by method of projection. Its relatively simple to do. All you need is a pair of binoculars and a sheet of white card. Point the binoculars towards the Sun and hold the card away from the eye-piece. Once in focus, the Sun will be projected onto the card. You can observe Sun spot cycles in this way. I used this method when observing the transits of both Mercury and Venus as they crossed the face of the Sun.
Obviously, don't put your eyes to the binoculars when pointed at the Sun.
Monthly astronomy magazines show the positions of the Moon and planets and even the moons of Jupiter. So you'll know which moon is which. They also show the constellations and some nebulae and galaxies.
There are various ways to hold your binoculars steady. I have mine on top of a camera tripod. If you don't have a camera tripod, try leaning back in a deckchair or sunlounger with your elboes resting against your chest. Or, if you're mechanically minded, try making a binocular mount that can be fixed to a table or solid surface. There are also "image stabilising" binoculars available.
The higher the magnification, the heavier and awkward binoculars become. They have the advantage of showing a much more detailed look of the sky than a small telescope of the same price.
If you're looking for a telescope, it's best to buy one with an aperture of ten inches (250mm) or higher or else stick to binoculars. Telescopes show everything upside-down anyway.


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