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January 2000 Issue

Astronomy Digest

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Front Desk

News Throughout the Net Updated Weekly

What Happened to the Mars Lander? - May have landed in a deep valley. - MSNBC, January 6, 1999.

Why Does the Moon Look so Large in the Horizon. - One theory. - ABC.

Britain Investigates Asteroid Risks - Committee to assess the risk of asteroids and earth collision. - CNN, January 4, 1999.

Several UFO Sightings in China - Reports are on the rise. - MSNBC, January 3, 1999.

On December 22 the moon's orbit will be closest to the earth. This is called lunar perigee. During winter the earth orbit is closer to the sun than other times of the year. On December 22 there will also be a full moon. Look for a very bright moon that night. This day will also mark the Winter Soltice.

Another Round of Searching - SETI is scheduled to search the skies once again for ET. - MSNBC, December 21, 1999.

Going Prospecting Inside a Supernova - Data from NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory offer a new understanding of stellar explosions. - Space Science News, December 21, 1999.

The Christmas Star - New theory on how the Magi came to Bethlehem. - ABC, December 20, 1999.

Io's Active Volcano - Galileo spacecraft has taken pictures of volcanic eruption on Jupiter's moon Io. - CNN, December 20, 1999.

Europa May Be Just Right For Life - Scientists see Europa as having the right conditions for life. - ABC, December 16, 1999.

Past Oceans on Mars - Mars polar area being studied. - ABC, December 10, 1999.

XMM in orbit - New x-ray telescope in orbit. - MSNBC, December 10, 1999.

New Theory on Uranus and Neptune - Jupiter may have pulled them away from their closer solar orbit. - Fox, December 9, 1999.

Listening to the Stars - Using radio telescopes. - ABC, December 9, 1999.

What happened to the Mars Polar Lander? - Top suspects. - ABC, December 8, 1999.

Second Sighting - Another group of astronomers have seen a planet orbiting a distant star. - BBC, November 25, 1999.

Gamma Ray Finding - May open a new window on the distant universe. - CNN, November 25, 1999.

Galactic Clouds - Clouds seen above galaxy. May be seeding material to create stars. - MSNBC, November 24, 1999.

Leonids Rain in Spain - An outburst of over 1500 Leonid meteors per hour dazzled observers in Europe and the Middle East. - Space Science News, November 18, 1999.

Methane Asteroid Explosion Theory - May have caused the extinction of the dinosaur. - ABC News, November 17, 1999.

Where did Jupiter Come From? - Questions from data collected by the Galileo spacecraft's . - BBC News, November 17, 1999.

Hubble Looks at Trifid Nebula - Star nursery is being torn apart by massive star. - BBC, November 10, 1999.

Farthest Object in Solar System Detected - Object observed orbiting the Sun that is more distant than any other known object. - BBC, November 9, 1999.

A surprise November meteor shower? - On November 11, 1999 Earth will pass close to the orbit of newly-discovered Comet LINEAR C/1999J3. The result could be a new meteor shower -- the Linearids.- Space Science News, November 5, 1999.

Hubble Looks at Passing Galaxies - Photographs taken of the larger galaxy, NGC 2207, passing IC 2163. - BBC, November 5, 1999.

Volcano on Io Have Lava Flows Just Like Earth - Io's volcano looks just like Kilauea volcano in Hawaii. - CNN, November 5, 1999.

Planet Found Orbiting Star Pair - This suggests that there may be huge numbers of planets since more than 65 percent of the stars are paired.- ABC News, November 3, 1999.

Hubble looks at M87 - Astronomers study region near the black hole.- BBC, October 28, 1999.

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January Skies

January 06 - New Moon
January 14 - First Quarter
January 21 - Full Moon
January 28 - Last Quarter

January's Meteor Showers

December 28-January 7
Maximum January 4

Skywatching Center - Current Month's Skies.

Astronomy Magazine - The Sky Show in January 2000.

Sky & Telescope - January 2000 Skies.

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What's Up
by Steve Coe


Easily the most famous name associated with discovering deep sky objects is Charles Messier. However, many other people found clusters and nebulae using telescopes in the 18th and 19th century. John Louis Emil Dreyer was hired by Lord Rosse to be the principal observer with the 72" telescope he had just completed and he needed an observing list. Starting with the General Catalog of John Herschel, he added over 2000 objects and published the New General Catalog in 1888. Dreyer's compiled observing list became the standard deep sky observers catalog. Very few bright objects were missed in the NGC, it is an excellent review of the entire sky. All the objects within Monoceros this month are from the New General Catalog.

NGC 2215 is bright, large, pretty rich, round and compressed at 165X. I counted 42 stars, some in nice chains. Seen in the 10X50 binoculars.

NGC 2236 is pretty bright, pretty small and somewhat compressed at 165X. It is composed of about 25 pretty faint stars in a group that has a 9th mag star in the center.

NGC 2251 is bright, pretty large, elongated and contains about 40 stars in a very nice Milky Way field. It is pretty rich and not compressed at 100X. A noticeable bright spot in 10X50 binocs.

NGC 2259 is bright, pretty large, round, rich and very compressed at 100X. I resolved 15 stars against a very grainy background at 220X. This is a nice, tight cluster, try some power.

NGC 2264 is a brighter naked eye spot in the Milky Way that marks the location of this large, bright and not compressed star cluster. Because of the shape of the brighter stars, this is called the Xmas tree cluster and includes the variable S Mon within the tree shape. Binoculars or finder will show the tree outline with ease. The cluster is involved in a faint nebulosity that is brightest near S Mon and on the north side of the cluster. With the 38mm Erfle and the UHC filter the nebula extends for 2 degrees around the star cluster. At 100X with the UHC a dark lane can be seen in the nebula, this is the Cone Nebula. There are very few faint stars in this region a measure of the amount of dark nebulosity that permeates this entire region.

NGC 2301 has been a favorite of mine for many years. This open cluster is bright, large and pretty rich with about 40 members. It is easy to pick out in the finder scope. The aspect of this cluster which makes me return each winter is a lovely blue and gold double star right in the center. There is a clear area around the double star. If you have missed this beautiful cluster, put it on your list.

NGC 2324 is bright, large, rich and compressed at 165X. I counted 55 stars with a rich backround of dimmer members. This sparkling cluster is elongated 2X1 in PA 45.

NGC 2343 is pretty bright, small, not rich and not compressed at 100X. I counted 23 stars including a yellow and blue double star on the eastern edge of the cluster. I estimated the double to have a separation of 10" and a PA of 315 degrees. This cluster was seen in my 11X80 finderscope.

NGC 2353 is pretty bright, pretty large, pretty rich and not compressed. It is a nice cluster at 135X, with about 50 members. The UHC filter will just barely show a very faint streamer of nebulosity on the south side. Rocking the scope helps to make the nebula more noticeable.

Quote of the Month

Everyone is a moon, and has a dark side which he never shows to anybody. Mark Twain

Orion Nebula

M42 and M43, The Orion Nebula and the Trapezium, is a large diffused nebula. M42 and M43 both make up this nebula. M43, the Trapezium, is the part of the nebula which contains four bright stars that form a diamond.

To find this nebula locate Orion's belt. The belt has three bright stars in a row with the same star magnitude. Hanging off the belt is a dagger. This Nebula makes up part of the dagger. You should be able to see this nebula with your naked eye. It will look a bit fuzzy. Notice how it looks different than that of a sharp point of light of a near by star.

The nebula is about 1,500 light years from earth. The nebula is about 100 light years across. However, only about 20 light years of the nebula is visible in a telescope.

This nebula is made up of a large hydrogen and helium gas cloud. The Orion Nebula is a stellar nursery. This is where stars are being born. Through the forces of gravity the hydrogen and helium particles are gathering together. When the mass becomes large enough the fusion process takes place. Once it was thought that water was rare and had only been found on earth. It has been found that water is abundant in space and plays a key role in star formation.

The light from near by stars and newly forming stars cause the gas to glow. The ultraviolet light from the near by stars also cause the electrons from the gas atoms to break apart. When the electrons recombine with the atoms, green and red light is created. You may be able to see a green hugh through a telescope. Leaving the shutter open on a camera you can photograph the red light.

The Orion Nebula is one of the best objects to view in the winter sky.

Photograph by Al Kelly, publisher of Al Kelly's CCD Astrophotography Page . Stop by his web site for other great astrophotographs. His work is copyrighted, so please do not copy them without his permission.

Buying a Telescope.
Part II

by Stuart Lolly

Last month we talked about how to get started in astronomy by going to star parties, joining an astronomy club, buying a book, and using your naked eye and binoculars. Now you are hooked and want to buy a telescope. But, which type of telescope should you buy?

Buying a telescope is like buying a car. People buy a telescope to meet their needs. People are loyal to their brand and type of telescope. I own a dobson and dollar for dollar I do not understand why someone would buy a catadioptric. I own a Pathfinder and I do not understand why anyone would buy a Mercedes. A Mercedes can't carry a large telescope. My Pathfinder can.

You have three basic types of telescopes to choose from: a refractor, reflector, and a catadioptric. Over the next few issues I will talk about the advantages and disadvantages of each. This will help you decide which telescope fits your needs.

A refractor telescope is the most basic telescope. They call them departmental telescope because if you go to a departmental store you are most likely able to see this type of telescope. Basically, light goes down one end of the tub and, using glass, is focused to a single point of light at the other end of the telescope.

Most amateur astronomers snub this type of telescope. I heard one astronomer say that hale bopp comet almost killed amateur astronomy. People who were new to astronomy went out and bought a refractor telescope to see the comet. Since they could not see deep sky objects they soon placed their telescope in the closet and there it sat.

I do not share this view. Refractors serve their purpose. An advantage of a refractor is of the three telescopes they are the least sensitive to light pollution. When I look at the stars with my telescope I drive 60 miles to a dark sky sight. If you are not willing to drive to a dark sky sight, or you can not see the bright milkeyway stars from your back yard, then you may want to buy a refractor telescope.

Another advantage is that they are cheap. You can buy a pretty good one for under $150 dollars. These telescopes do not flip the image. So if you are planning to use the telescope to view your coast line, or to observe birds, you may want to buy this telescope. The image will not be flipped upside down, or backwards.

A refractor telescope will allow you to see close objects like the moon. You should be able to see two rings on Saturn, the two weather bands on Jupiter, and Jupiterís four moons. You should be able to identify Mercury, Venus, and Mars as planets vs stars. You should be able to see Andromeda galaxy and Orion nebula. Basically, you will be able to see a little bit more than a normal pair of binoculars.

What you will not be able to see are the many deep sky objects. This is why many amateur astronomers do not like these telescopes. For the most part amateur astronomers search for objects they can not see with their naked eye. They use star maps and sky hop from star to star to find the object. Most of the time the refractors are not light sensitive enough to show a good image of the deep sky objects.

I recommend staying with the name brands such as Meade, Orion, and Celestron.

by Helene Studer

You don't want it to end....but you know it's going to, and sooner than you you try to drink it all in, etch it in your brain, so you'll remember it all afterwards ...but somehow you never quite can because it's so awe-inspiring, overwhelming and almost unreal. You fumble with your camera, trying to capture as much of it as you can, Murphy's Law kicks in and something invariably DOES go wrong, you fling the camera aside, never mind, I've got to SEE, I've got to LOOK before it's over.

A total solar eclipse does things to you...emotionally and physically. This was the second time I was privileged to see nature's most incredible spectacle. February 26th, 1998, aboard the ship 'Veendam' off the coast of Venezuela - a date I had been looking forward to for over a year, and now it was finally here! People setting up chairs, cameras, tripods, telescopes on deck early in the morning, dressed in the strangest looking outfits to protect themselves against the sun and the heat. Nailbiting time...clouds moving in, covering the sun - omygod, this can't be happening! The good ship's captain, however, is a master at navigation and finds and moves us to a 'hole in the sky' - clouds all around the horizon, but above us, clear blue sky.

And now it's finally begun - FIRST CONTACT!! someone yells out, goggles up to protect your eyes, and yes, there it is! A tiny black bite taken out of the sun, ever so slowly growing larger. Because we are near the equator, the first phase of the eclipse until totality will take quite a long time, and an almost 'party atmosphere' begins to develop on the crowded deck. People are comparing cameras, telescopes, filters, telling each other about previous eclipse experiences they've had, once in a while checking the progress of the moon's shadow across the sun's disk. Many of us take out our electronic cabin keys, flat pieces of plastic with round holes cut into them, and use them to project tiny miniature "eclipses"...each small hole acting as a projector throwing a perfect little image of the crescent sun onto the ship's deck.

Ever so slowly the black 'bite' grows bigger, and when it has covered about two thirds of the sun, you begin to notice a drop in temperature. Shadows become sharper and the light begins to take on an eerie quality, difficult to describe. It's not like twilight, it's somehow "grayer" and unreal. A few minutes to go till totality, conversations cease, it becomes very quiet, the sky now getting darker, and there is the planet Venus, plainly visible, shining bright!

Then, the big moment - DIAMOND RING! A shout goes up, the last beam of sunlight just before the moon's shadow totally covers the sun, a bright flash, a diamond ring in the sky. I quickly look out to sea and there is the shadow, racing towards us at supersonic speed, a dark "thing" coming at you, you know what it is, you've expected it, but it makes you feel almost helpless, you know you can't stop it, it's going to engulf you in a moment, and before you have time to think about it anymore, it's upon you, the sky is completely dark. You take off your viewing goggles, look up and a gasp from everyone around you, then a tremendous cheer, clapping, people jumping up and down, you can't help yourself, you yell out, it's happening!!

A black hole in the sky, blacker than anything you've ever seen, blacker than the sky around it, and around the hole the sun's corona, glorious, bright, streamers and tendrils reaching out millions of miles into space, and all the planets known to early man literally explode into the sky. You know you only have just over 3 minutes to enjoy it, you wish your eyes were bigger so they could take in more of it, people are babbling, WOW, look at the prominences, look at those streamers, this is incredible!!

And then, all too soon totality ends, you know you can't stop it, and briefly "Baily's Beads" are visible, bright pearls of light around the rim of the sun where sunlight manages to escape in between the craters of the moon, and there is the diamond ring effect again, a bright explosion of light, this time on the opposite side of the sun, up with the goggles, and the bright crescent grows larger and larger and the entire process repeats itself in reverse. A sadness comes over you, it's over, it's gone, too short...then somebody shouts "SHADOW BANDS!!" - and there, on the ship's white superstructure, wavy alternating bands of shadow and light ripple up like ocean waves projected onto the bright surface. And now you KNOW it's over, the sky becomes a little brighter again, the planets disappear in the twilight, and people begin to talk to each other again after the first quiet few seconds of disappointment at the brevity of it all. Did you see it?? Did you photograph it? Wasn't it wonderful? There is almost a collective sigh of relief - our sun is back, things are the way they should be again!

The temperature slowly rises again, the light around you becomes more 'natural', and the ship slowly begins to move away from the center line of the eclipse for our next port of call in the Caribbean. People begin to disassemble their rigs, talking to each other, total strangers united for a few minutes in a great and wonderful spectacle, trying to re-capture the experience verbally. Are you going to see the next one in 1999? Just wait till next year! Perhaps we'll see each other there...

ECLIPSE '99 - a travelogue to an eclipse.

Total Eclipse was written by Helene Studer, owner of Cygnus Designs. Helene creates simple, tastefully designed and well-organized webpages, as well as providing freelance business services. Stop by Cygnus Designs.

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