2013 Perseid Weekend Part 1: New Moon Telescopes Open Session – August 10th, West Monroe, NY

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Larry Slosberg, Terran Defense Force.

The peak of the Perseid Meteor Shower this year turned into a pair of observing sessions for several CNYO members. Both sessions, I am happy to report, included the observation of several Perseids by attendees and good-to-excellent clear, dark skies.

The first session occurred on August 10th (with Friday, August 9th having been a near-total cloud-out) after an announcement from New Moon Telescopes owner and CNYO member Ryan Goodson that his observing grounds in West Monroe were going to be open for some deep sky observing. Those who hadn’t yet been to West Monroe (a good 40 minutes north of Syracuse) for a session were introduced to some of the darkest skies in Central New York, including the noticeable absence of big city lights along the horizon. The skies were crystal clear throughout the session, making the Andromeda Galaxy an obvious Naked Eye object and the Milky Way a nicely detailed object of one Great Rift and many clusters and nebulae visible as non-pinpoint patches along the galaxy’s plane.

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The Northern Sky, including Cassiopeia and M31. Click to enlarge.

The driveway and front lawn of NMT HQ were dark enough that, because of my late arrival, I wasn’t entirely sure just how many people were there in total. Ryan estimates the 20 to 25 range over the course of the 5 hour session. Several NMT Dobsonians were present on the grounds along with John Giroux’s considerable imaging setup. With a choice of NMT Dobs to look through (certainly the best way to populate a star party in NY), I packed light for the evening, bringing only a pair of Zhumell 25×100’s. Also in tow was a new Canon Rebel T3i and several new lenses to attempt my first round of dark sky astrophotographic panoramas (with the hope of capturing at least one meteor trail).

For those who’ve not traveled far north of Syracuse for any kind of observing, it is difficult to describe just how much better the skies (and, specifically, the horizon) away from city lights can be. My view from downtown Syracuse is largely limited to 3.5ish magnitude stars, meaning the Big Dipper is easy, but only the handle-end (Polaris) and bowl-end stars of the Little Dipper are identifiable without considerable work to make out the remaining stars. For diffuse objects, the nebulosity of the Orion Nebula is about all one can make out through low-power (and just barely Naked Eye).

The dark skies of West Monroe (and surroundings) fill in all of the gaps, making all of the constellations (and their component stars) clearly visible (almost too many stars for people first learning the sky). Furthermore, the Andromeda Galaxy becomes an easy Naked Eye objects, the Double Cluster in Perseus appears as a bright, diffuse nebula (requiring magnification to see that the cloudiness is really closely-packed stars), the whole of the Milky Way jumps right out, and the colors of stars become more apparent. Arizona desert observers might complain that the West Monroe skies are a “little murky,” but one can’t help but gain a new appreciation for the our local stellar neighborhood when making the relatively short trip away from city lights.

Of course, these dark skies make meteor showers even more enjoyable, as even dim meteor trails stand out against a starry backdrop uncluttered by terrestrial photons. As for the best trails of the evening, the dark sky makes these bright enough to read by! Michelle M, the most dedicated of the meteor shower observers that evening (that I knew was there, anyway), put the final count at 20. John Giroux and I both caught at least one during our imaging sessions (one of mine is shown below above the observes and their scopes):

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The group, the Milky Way, and one meteor trail. Click for a larger version.

The individual observing lists were likely varied and lengthy. High points for me included M31 at low magnification (a great view in 25×100 Zhumells), Neptune in Ryan’s 16″ Dob (and swiftly moving at high magnification – only slight coloring but the disc of the planet was obvious), and the image below of the Milky Way, generated from a 2 minute exposure at ISO 1600 with a Rokinon 8mm fisheye lens.

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The Great Rift of the Milky Way. Click for a larger version.

As for some proper astrophotography, John Giroux produced the images of Messier 2 and Messier 71 below during the NMT session. You can see more of John amazing work at his facebook page, John Giroux – Terrestrial and Celestial Photography.

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From John: Messier 2 or M2 (also designated NGC 7089) is a globular cluster in the constellation Aquarius. Canon T2i, 120 sec x 10 stacked, 120 sec x 10 dark frames, ISO 800, processed in Nebulosity 2.5 & Photoshop Elements 10. AstroTech AT6RC 6″ F/9 Ritchey-Chrétien.

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From John: Messier 71 (also known as M71 or NGC 6838) is a globular cluster in the constellation Sagitta. Canon T2i, 120 sec x 20 stacked, 120 sec x 10 dark frames, ISO 800, processed in Nebulosity 2.5 & Photoshop Elements 10. AstroTech AT6RC 6″ F/9 Ritchey-Chrétien.

I left John Giroux and Ryan around 1:30 a.m. wearing three layers and with the car heater up half-way (not entirely expected for mid-August in CNY). The skies were well worth the cold! For those interested in joining CNYO and others when Ryan makes observing announcements, be sure to “like” NMT’s Facebook page and join them on Twitter.

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