Monthly Archives: March 2014

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CNYO Observing Log: Baltimore Woods, 22 March 2014 (And An Erigone Summary)

Greetings fellow astrophiles!

The often-announced (on this site, anyway) Regulus occultation by asteroid (163) Erigone on the morning of March 20th was a near-wash (no rain, but plenty of cloud cover), with only a few messages being passed around at midnight to see if anyone was even going to try for 2:00 a.m. That said, the International Occultation Timing Association (IOTA) got lots of good press and, with luck, a similarly notable occultation will occur to catch other eyes and instigate the IOTA to prep another big public recording effort. Those who want to relive the non-event can watch the Slooh Community Observatory coverage in the youtube video below.

Then, two days later, Bob Piekiel with his Meade C11 and I with my New Moon Telescope 12.5″ Dob treated two couples at Baltimore Woods to the kind of crystal clear and steady skies you read out but usually never have the good fortune to be out for. With the late March and early April temperatures beginning to melt the high hills of ice and snow around all the big parking lots in the area, the Baltimore Woods setup was a bit solid, a bit slushy, and quite dirty. Our four-person audience arrived early in time to watch the clear skies darken and Jupiter, Sirius, and Betelgeuse first appear in the South/Southwest sky. For the next 90 minutes or so, the observing list included Jupiter (several times at several magnifications, both early in the evening and after the skies had sufficiently darkened to bring out more detail), the Pleiades (M45), the Beehive Cluster (M44), the Orion Nebula (M42), Alcor and Mizar in the handle of the Big Dipper, the Andromeda Galaxy (M31) and its prominent satellites (M32 and M110) very low on the horizon (very likely our last catches of our sister galaxy for several months to come), and even M82 to say that we had, at least, seen the location of the recent supernova (if not a last few photons from it).

In an attempt to help someone remember as many constellations as possible at the Liverpool Public Library lecture a few weeks prior, I retold one of the more memorable tales of the winter star groupings of Orion the Hunter, Taurus the Bull, Canis Major (the big dog), Canis Minor (the little dog), and the Pleiades that I picked up from the excellent Dover book Star Lore: Myths, Legends, and Facts by William Tyler Olcott (which you can even read and download for free in an earlier form at

Long story short, the Pleiades (also known as the Seven Sisters or the Seven Virgins) were the target of Orion’s rather significant attention, so much so that in his last run to them, the ever-invasive Zeus placed an equally significant bull in Orion’s path, leaving Orion and his two dogs (Canis Major and Canis Minor) stuck in their tracks. As is apparent from the images below, these four constellations (and one star cluster/Messier Object) are all tightly spaced in the Winter Sky. Better still, the end of Winter even finds these constellations standing on the horizon (instead of upside down in morning Autumn skies), making the picture all the more easily seen. As Orion is second only to the Big Dipper in terms of ease-of-seeing by practically everyone (raised in the tradition of Western Constellation arrangements, anyway), it’s the start constellation from which to find the other three. Canis Major is easily found by its shoulder star Sirius, the brightest start in our nighttime sky. Canis Minor is a leap from Sirius to Procyon, also a prominent star. Taurus the Bull is easily found by its head, the local star cluster known as the Hyades, and its orange-red eye, Aldebaran. The small sisters lie within the boundary of Taurus in a cluster that to the slightly near-sighted might just look like a fuzzy patch (but which, in binoculars, reveals numerous tightly-packed stars).


Our cast of characters (and nearest neighbors). Image made with Starry Night Pro.


The prominent stars in their starring roles. Image made with Starry Night Pro.

After packing up around 9:30 (about when the temperatures began to drop precipitously), I managed a single long-exposure image with my Canon T3i of the region above – quite possibly my last good look at the most famous Winter grouping until they appear again in the morning Autumn skies.


Final scene from Baltimore Woods (with story labels). Click for a larger view.

CNYO Observing Log: International Sidewalk Astronomy Night, 7 March 2014

Greetings fellow astrophiles!

CNYO members Larry Slosberg and Michelle Marzynski, John Giroux, and I used the available clear skies of Friday, March 7th (and forecasts of far worse conditions on the official night of March 8th) to host the CNY branch of the International Sidewalk Astronomy Night (ISAN 7). ISAN 7 was made more significant to the amateur astronomy community with the passing of John Dobson on January 15th of this year (instead of reproducing more content about John Dobson in this post, I will instead refer you to the official announcement of our ISAN session. Needless to say, he left quite a legacy).


Our session was held at our favorite downtown location – along the length of the Creekwalk between the MOST/Soundgarden and the Syracuse University Architecture School/Warehouse, on the same block as Walt the Loch West Monster. The location is definitely bright, but this limitation to observing can be overcome with the judicious selection of Messier Objects and planets (no galaxies!). The last two astronomy events held at this same location – the 2012 Transit of Venus and 2013’s NASA/MOST Climate Day, featured an easier target (the Sun), but also gave us plenty of on-the-ground time to find the Creekwalk a great spot to have both reasonable parking and a regular stream of passers-by to coax into looking into strange telescopes.


“And so,” you might ask, “how long was your observing list for the evening? And what’s the point of observing from such a bright location?” I’ve run into such questions a few times in my own travels, and I assume that some other outreach-centric amateur astronomers have been asked the same questions. The answer for ISAN 7 over a +2 hour session was the Moon, Jupiter, the Pleiades (M45), and the Orion Nebula (M42). That’s it. Didn’t try for anything else, didn’t want to.

And, importantly, those four were plenty.

At the heart of sidewalk astronomy is getting people who’ve never looked through a scope before to take in a detailed batch of photons a few seconds (the Moon), several minutes (Jupiter), or even several light years (M42, M45) older than the ones they’re usually exposed to. As some people are hesitant to even get their eye near the eyepiece, the very best way to run a sidewalk astronomy session (or any public viewing session) is to put the easiest, most obvious, and brightest nighttime objects into the field of view to draw the observer in. Any fuzzy object, 16th magnitude asteroid, or even Uranus and Neptune are the last things a trained observer should try to expose a new observer to (IMHO) given that the passers-by at a sidewalk astronomy event will only stick around (as we discovered) for about 4 minutes (a few definitely stuck around longer, while a few others we surgical about their inspection of the Moon and Jupiter before continuing on. I think they half-expected us to “pass the hat”).


The Moon to a new observer is a jaw-dropper. Assume wow-factor imminent as soon as you see the Moon’s light projected out the eyepiece onto the face of someone slowly making their way to the focuser. Jupiter (and Saturn, for that matter) is also a treat at the right magnification (enough to see surface detail, but not so much that the image becomes dull and unsteady. A Barlow’ed 6 mm is NOT the way to go without a very large aperture and rock-solid mount). The Orion Nebula was our “advanced topics for the persistent observer” object, as it was bright enough to still show some nebulosity and additional detail.

Over the course of about two hours, we put the total count at about 60 (which wasn’t bad, given the temperature and the fact that we were on the far side of the restaurant-heavy part of Armory Square). Larry, John, and I made our way into a few pics (intermixed in this post – we were mostly too busy to stop and take snapshots. Thanks to Brad Loperfido for taking them).

And then there was Pedro Gomes, who single-handedly brought ISAN 7 (and CNYO) to Watertown on March 8th. Some of his image gallery from Facebook is reproduced below and we thank him for sharing his excellent scope run with us!

[envira-gallery id=”2573″]

Look for future Creekwalk sessions in the near future, including a few solar sessions and the next NASA Climate Day at the MOST.

CNYO Observing Log: Liverpool Public Library, 6 March 2014

From the Liverpool Public Library Calendar of Events:

Step outdoors with the CNY Observers ( and learn about the late Winter/Spring constellations, their origins, and how to navigate the Night Sky using the six constellations that are visible year-round.

Centuries before automated GoTo telescopes or phone apps were invented, constellations served as the amateur astronomer’s map of the heavens. Many telescope observers and binocular sky hunters still prefer the “age olde” method of learning the positions of nebulae, clusters, and galaxies based on the bright stars these objects reside near – all of which become much more easy to find once you associate these bright stars with their mythological characters.

This program is part of the Liverpool Public Library’s Unplugged Month.

CNYO members returned to the lecture circuit in 2014 with a stop at the Liverpool Public Library. Cindy Duryea and the rest of the LPL staff have been the most supportive of CNY astronomy events among the many local public libraries, having now hosted a half-dozen lectures in the last three years (for which the CNY amateur astronomy community is most grateful!). Regular patrons may even know that the LPL has established a binocular loaner program to help new amateur astronomers learn the craft on-the-cheap, complete with 20×80 binoculars, heavy-duty canvas case, red flashlight, and a few instructional books on the topic. CNYO members in attendance for this event included Ryan and Heather Goodson (and one New Moon Telescope Dob used to demo the scope workings indoors), Larry Slosberg (with another NMT Dob), Bob Piekiel (with a Meade C11), and myself (with an armillary sphere and copies of our brochures).


The author working through A Guide For New Observers.

As I’ve mentioned on a few occasions, the local libraries are excellent places to host your open-to-the-public lectures, as the library provides the seating, presentation equipment (complete with LCD projector and large drop-down screen at LPL), and either free heat or cooling (made all the more important by Syracuse’s temperature swing throughout the year).


Ryan Goodson describing the workings of an NMT Dob.

In keeping with the Unplugged Month theme, the indoor part of the lecture used no more technology than a flashlight to act as the Sun (no one brought candles). The lecture itself consisted mostly of walking through the first two of our brochures, Guide For New Observers and How The Night Sky Moves. The Guide For New Observers served several purposes:

1. Discussing Dark Adaption and the importance of not answering your smart phone.

2. Using your fully-extended arm and hand as a distance measure for the constellations.

3. Using Light Pollution to your advantage by starting to find bright constellations in the city.

4. Tricks to finding some of the most common (and easily found) constellations.

How The Night Sky Moves
goes into a bit more detail about why the constellations appear as they do, including the yearly changes in the Night Sky that come with our oriented rotation axis towards Polaris and the yearly changes that come with our 23 hour, 56 minute, and 4 second daily rotation.

I will warn those who have not tried to give an astro lecture without proper preparation that it is not as easy at you might think! Amateur astronomy is a very visual hobby. Take away your standard Hubble images of celestial panoramas and various historical content in a Powerpoint slide, and you find yourself working extra-hard to turn hand waving into physics. That said, it is an excellent exercise to test how well you know and can explain physical phenomena, so worth trying (at least once) as you plan your future lectures.


The outdoor group and scopes.

With the indoor lecture complete, attendees willing to brave the cold (and a few who just happened to be walking by) were treated to attending telescopes in the park across the street (not ideal for dedicated observing, but you can absolutely get some great sights from well-lit city centers provided you pick your observing targets accordingly. No galaxies!) and a sneak-preview of the Regulus occultation by asteroid Erigone (which, ultimately, wasn’t observable from CNY).

CNYO members are always happy to bring our scopes and know-how to libraries, school events, and any other groups that might be interested. For more information, please contact us through our Contact Page.

TACNY John Edson Sweet Lecture Series – “Technology Behind Brewing” And Tour Of Anheuser-Busch

Tuesday, 8 April 2014, 5:30 – 7:30 p.m.

Anheuser-Busch Brewery, 2885 Belgium Road, Baldwinsville, NY 13027

Ryan Brown will discuss the technology behind brewing, then lead a tour of the Anheuser-Busch Brewery ending in the tasting room (must be 21!). Ryan has a degree in electrical engineering from the University of Notre Dame. Previously, he was a controls engineer at the Los Alamos National Laboratory for 5 years. He held multiple positions at Anheuser-Busch at the Los Angeles Brewery. Ryan transferred to the Baldwinsville Brewery in 2004 as Warehouse Manager to install a fully automated warehouse. He has served in multiple positions and is currently the Resident Engineer.

Space is limited and reservations are required no later than 6 April.

TACNY John Edson Sweet Lecture Series

Since 1916, the TACNY John Edson Sweet Lecture Series has annually presented a minimum of six lectures, free and open to the public. Former speakers have included Herbert Hoover, R. Buckminster Fuller, and Jacques Cousteau.

Technology Alliance of Central New York

Founded in 1903 as the Technology Club of Syracuse, the nonprofit Technology Alliance of Central New York’s mission is to facilitate community awareness, appreciation, and education of technology; and to collaborate with like-minded organizations across Central New York.

For more information about TACNY, visit

Regulus Occultation Update #2 – Everyone Else Is Seeing The Event – But Will CNY?

NOTE: For additional information about the Regulus occultation, we’ve three previous posts at that cover the official IOTA (International Occultation Timing Association) press release, a little more info about the event itself, and a previous update from last week. Links are below:

Official IOTA Press Release:

Additional Information:

CNYO Update #1:

Greetings fellow astrophiles!

With only 3 full days (and a few hours to either side) left before the occultation of Regulus by Main Belt asteroid Erigone, the news media is starting to feature this event in their always-to-infrequent science snippets (that said, it has been a busy week).

Within the amateur astronomy community came this announcement from the AAVSO (American Association of Variable Star Observers):

Alert Notice 499: Predicted occultation of Regulus

And this ever-thorough analysis from Astro Bob (this is a plug to get you to subscribe to Astro Bob’s RSS feed. His writings are some of the very best in the community):

Asteroid Erigone makes a bright star vanish for 14 seconds – Don’t miss this rare event!

Beyond the larger amateur astronomy community, this announcement and interview (with IOTA members) comes from

Asteroid to dim a bright star for some in Northeast

Our blogging about the occultation even caught the eyes of Shannon Ash, in-house astrophysicist at the Rachel Maddow Show Blog (I guess we can call this a “link out” instead of a “shout out”), who included a link to our announcement of the IOTA press release.

Week in Geek: This week, a big star ‘winks’

We will await similar “link outs” from Fox News.

So, the good news is that the event is starting to make its rounds in the media. The bad news is, as of Sunday evening, that we in CNY may not get a clear shot at observing the occultation. A smattering of weather predictions from, News Channel 9, and a youtube post of the forecast from CNYCentral are shown below (the youtube bad news shows up around 3min40sec). We all know that 24 hours in CNY is a LONG time when it comes to weather changes, so we await the predictions on Tuesday (Then Wednesday. Then Wednesday afternoon. Then Wednesday, 11:00 p.m.).


Above: Weather predictions from


Above: Similar predictions from News Channel 9.

Above: More similar predictions from CNYCentral.