Monthly Archives: June 2014

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Drafting/Architect Circles – Know Your Field Of View!

From the “Why didn’t I think of that sooner?” Department…

Binoculars are, far and away, the best way to start in observational astronomy (after you have some of the constellations figured out first, of course). The Moon reveals great new detail even at low magnification, the four Galilean Moons of Jupiter are obvious (when they’re not transiting or being “occulted” by Jupiter), all of the Messier objects are find-able (with a little practice and either lots of time or one lucky clear evening in March), and the sky becomes a busy highway of satellites that are otherwise too small to reflect significant light for naked eye viewing. Perhaps less pragmatically but nonetheless significant, the ownership of one simple, easy to produce, easy to use, easy to master piece of paired glassware connects you to the magnification-enhanced world of astronomy begun with Galileo, who used a much poorer quality and lower magnification telescope than those found in Big-Box Stores to forever and disruptively change how Western Civilization (and beyond!) placed itself in the Universe.


That all sounds profound I guess, but you’ve got a book open and are trying to keep track of a flashlight while keeping your arm still as you bounce your head back-and-forth in this really dense part of sky because you don’t know if you’re looking at M36, M37, or M38 in Auriga and you know you’ll NEVER find that part of the sky again. The, if you’ll pardon the expression, dark art of star-hoping is one that absolutely requires practice. More importantly, it requires having a proper frame of reference. I admit that I spent more than a few months with my trusty Nikon Action 12×50′s without ever actually having a handle on just how big the piece of celestial real estate I was staring at was.

It may seem obvious but is something you (well, I) didn’t think to use to your (well, my) immediate advantage. The magnification in the binos does NOT change! You are constantly looking at the same-sized region. This means that you can easily correlate magnification to real estate and know exactly what the limit of your in-eyepiece star-hopping is.

My solution, and one that is generally applicable to all your binoculars (and low-magnification eyepieces in your scope), was to buy an architect or drafting circle set. Yes, one of the green numbers with all the holes. If you have one book you’ve committed to (in my case, Sky And Telescope’s Pocket Sky Atlas, but I also have a copy of the Cambridge Star Atlas that hasn’t had its spine properly cracked yet), find some obvious star groupings, see how many of them you can get in your field of view, crack your book open to the right page, and overlay until your circle engulfs only what you see.

Simple! This simple tool dramatically improved my star-hopping aptitude. Using the Sky Atlas and a pair of 12×50′s, I can just barely get the stars Mizar/Alcor and Alioth from the handle of the Big Dipper into the field of view – this corresponds to a 1.1250″ circle…


For the Cambridge Atlas, this same piece of sky encompasses a 0.8125″ circle.


I can plot the path to dim or densely-packed objects at leisure by finding bright stars or small groupings and “walking” my view along the path of overlaid circles, always knowing what I should and should not be seeing at any time (minus the odd planet, satellite, Milky Way supernova, etc.).

Depending on how much celestial real estate your star atlas covers per page, you can even take it one step farther. I have recently begun carrying around Version B of the awesome TriAtlas, which is a free 107-page star chart with stars down to magnitude 11.6. This means lots of stars, but also a full 8.5″ x 11″ piece of paper for each of 107 pieces of the entire sky. In working through Coma Berenices to find my favorite galaxy (NGC 4565), I found that the effective magnification of the B TriAtlas charts are such that my 40 mm Pentax XL 40 (which, in my 12.5″ f/4.87 Dob, corresponds to a magnification of just under 40x) shows a piece of sky that corresponds to a 17/32″ (or 0.5312″) circle. This now becomes my finder circle for knowing what I should see through this eyepiece (inverted in the Dobsonian, of course). With some object found by a 40x search, I can then step up the magnification with my 26 mm Nagler and 10 mm Ethos.


As ever, the value of a very low-power eyepiece cannot be overstated! For those wanting to try this at home and don’t want to wait for shipping, drafting circles are available at Staples and Office Max in their “drafting” section. Those in Syracuse can also find them at Commercial Art Supply (where I get ALL of my red acetate).

NASA Space Place – A Glorious Gravitational Lens

Poster’s Note: One of the many under-appreciated aspects of NASA is the extent to which it publishes quality science content for children and Ph.D.’s alike. NASA Space Place has been providing general audience articles for quite some time that are freely available for download and republishing. Your tax dollars help promote science! The following article was provided for reprinting in June, 2014.

By Dr. Ethan Siegel

2013february2_spaceplaceAs we look at the universe on larger and larger scales, from stars to galaxies to groups to the largest galaxy clusters, we become able to perceive objects that are significantly farther away. But as we consider these larger classes of objects, they don’t merely emit increased amounts of light, but they also contain increased amounts of mass. Under the best of circumstances, these gravitational clumps can open up a window to the distant universe well beyond what any astronomer could hope to see otherwise.

The oldest style of telescope is the refractor, where light from an arbitrarily distant source is passed through a converging lens. The incoming light rays—initially spread over a large area—are brought together at a point on the opposite side of the lens, with light rays from significantly closer sources bent in characteristic ways as well. While the universe doesn’t consist of large optical lenses, mass itself is capable of bending light in accord with Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity, and acts as a gravitational lens!

The first prediction that real-life galaxy clusters would behave as such lenses came from Fritz Zwicky in 1937. These foreground masses would lead to multiple images and distorted arcs of the same lensed background object, all of which would be magnified as well. It wasn’t until 1979, however, that this process was confirmed with the observation of the Twin Quasar: QSO 0957+561. Gravitational lensing requires a serendipitous alignment of a massive foreground galaxy cluster with a background galaxy (or cluster) in the right location to be seen by an observer at our location, but the universe is kind enough to provide us with many such examples of this good fortune, including one accessible to astrophotographers with 11″ scopes and larger: Abell 2218.

Located in the Constellation of Draco at position (J2000): R.A. 16h 35m 54s, Dec. +66° 13′ 00″ (about 2° North of the star 18 Draconis), Abell 2218 is an extremely massive cluster of about 10,000 galaxies located 2 billion light years away, but it’s also located quite close to the zenith for northern hemisphere observers, making it a great target for deep-sky astrophotography. Multiple images and sweeping arcs abound between magnitudes 17 and 20, and include galaxies at a variety of redshifts ranging from z=0.7 all the way up to z=2.5, with farther ones at even fainter magnitudes unveiled by Hubble. For those looking for an astronomical challenge this summer, take a shot at Abell 2218, a cluster responsible for perhaps the most glorious gravitational lens visible from Earth!

Learn about current efforts to study gravitational lensing using NASA facilities:

Kids can learn about gravity at NASA’s Space Place:

This article was provided by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, under a contract with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.


Caption: Abel 2218. Image credit: NASA, ESA, and Johan Richard (Caltech). Acknowledgement: Davide de Martin & James Long (ESA/Hubble).

About NASA Space Place

The goal of the NASA Space Place is “to inform, inspire, and involve children in the excitement of science, technology, and space exploration.” More information is available at their website:

Remembering The Godfather Of Solar Astronomy, Robert “Barlow Bob” Godfrey

The field of amateur astronomy hosts many different personalities. Some love to know anything and everything about astronomy equipment. Some prefer the study of astronomy through the ages. Some enjoy the banter around a large scope with others at midnight. Some enjoy the quiet solitude of a small dome or open field. Still others enjoy setting their equipment up in the middle of the chaos of a large group of people to show them the sights. Some take their love of outreach well past the observing field, taking it upon themselves to educate others by taking what they know (or don’t yet know) and making it accessible to the larger audience of amateurs and non-observers alike.

Amateur astronomy has seen a few key players pass this year, starting with John Dobson this past January and the noted comet hunter Bill Bradfield just a week ago. Both are noteworthy in their passing in that, amongst a large, large number of astro-hobbyists, their names are held in higher esteem because of their unique contributions to amateur astronomy. In the case of Bill Bradfield, he singly was responsible for finding 18 comets that bear his name, making him responsible for helping map part of the contents of our own Solar System from his home in Australia (reportedly taking 3500 hours to do so). In the case of John Dobson, he not only synthesized many great ideas in scope building with his own to produce the class of telescope that bears his name, but he also made it part of his life’s work to bring the distant heavens to anyone and everyone through his founding of what we call today “sidewalk astronomy.”


Barlow Bob at the center of the 2014 NEAF Solar Star Party. Click for a larger view.

The CNY amateur astronomy community learned of the passing of Barlow Bob on June 13th through an email from Chuck Higgins of MVAS. I suspect most people in the community didn’t even know his real name was Robert Godfrey until the announcement of his passing. The announcement of his passing had much farther to go, as the list of people and clubs that Barlow Bob had made better through his own outreach is as large as his many contributions to solar astronomy. For the record, below is a snippet of his contributions to the CNY astronomy community generally and to me specifically.

The Postman And Telephone Operator of Northeast Astronomy

I have a decent handle on all of the astronomy clubs in the Northeast thanks to Barlow Bob’s habit of forwarding newsletters and email announcements around to his email list. Those who’ve not edited a club newsletter do not know how much this simple gesture was appreciated! In my 2008 reboot of the Syracuse Astronomical Society newsletter the Astronomical Chronicle, the biggest problem facing its monthly continuation was new content. Not only did Barlow Bob provide a steady stream of articles for “Barlow Bob’s Corner,” but I learned about several free sources of space science news from these other newsletters (the NASA News Feed and the NASA Space Place being chief among them – still sources of news and updates freely available to all). He saved myself, and the SAS, several months of organizing content and finding relevant material. Those newsletters remain available in PDF format on the SAS website, many peppered with varied hot topics in solar astronomy that Barlow Bob chose to write about for “Barlow Bob’s Corner.”

As part of his aggregative exploits, amateur astronomers in his email loop were also treated to a yearly events calendar of nearly all of the East Coast star parties and special events. His and Chuck Higgins’ 2014 Events Calendar makes up the majority of the non-celestial phenomena listed in CNYO’s current calendar.

I also had the pleasure of being one of the recipients of his many (many!) phone calls as a regular of his “astro-rounds” call list, during which I learned early on to have a pen and paper ready for all of the companies to check out and solar projects to search for. Barlow Bob loved being on the edge of solar observing technology, both in pure observational astronomy and in solar spectroscopy (his Solar Spectroscopy History article is among the most concise stories of the history of the field). A number of his voice messages lasted little more than 15 seconds, but provided enough detail for a requisite google search and email exchange after.

“You keep writing them, I’ll keep publishing them.”

Barlow Bob was, by all metrics, a prolific writer on the topic of solar astronomy. My Barlow Bob CD contains at least 50 full articles along with pictures, equipment reviews, and society newsletters including his articles. Barlow Bob took great pleasure equally in his own understanding some aspect of solar astronomy and his committing that understanding to keyboard and computer screen for others. While many amateur astronomers delight in knowing something well enough to be able to talk about it with authority, precious few in the community actually take the next step and distill all they know into something others far beyond their immediate sphere can appreciate. Even those who’ve never been to NEAF likely knew of Barlow Bob through his writings. Along with his founding of the NEAF Solar Star Party, his many articles will serve as his lasting contribution to the field. We will continue to include Barlow Bob’s articles on the CNYO website and we hope that other societies will consider doing the same. Some of those articles are available on his dedicated webpage at NEAF Solar,

The Bob-o-Scope Comes To Syracuse


Barlow Bob and “the works” at Darling Hill Observatory. Click for a larger view.

While Syracuse only managed to have one solar session hosted by Barlow Bob, that one session provided a number of lasting memories. After a few months of planning around available weekends and Barlow Bob’s own vacation schedule, we finally settled on the early afternoon of 30 July 2011 for a solar session (with a lecture by CNY’s own Bob Piekiel to follow that evening, making for one of the better amateur astronomy weekends in Syracuse) at Darling Hill Observatory, home of the Syracuse Astronomical Society.


Very likely him at Darling Hill Observatory. Click for a larger view.

Our initial plan was for an 11 a.m. set-up and a noon to 3-ish observing session. Saturday morning started a bit earlier than I expected with a phone call at 9:30 a.m. – Barlow Bob, ever ready to be out and about on a clear day, was outside the locked front gate of Darling Hill Observatory. A frantic prep and drive out later, Barlow Bob and I set up and placed his many scopes on the observing grounds to the delight of about 30 attendees. I myself took one look through the Bob-o-Scope and began calling people, telling them “you have to come and see this.” A full day of observing in, Barlow Bob didn’t end up leaving Darling Hill until just before 5 p.m. The hour we took to leisurely pack his station wagon with all of his gear was full of shop talk, people and equipment to be made aware of, and plans on a similar event at some point in the future. That hang and the view through his Bob-o-Scope are two of my favorite memories during my tenure as SAS president.

Barlow Bob and a spectroscopy mini-lecture at Darling Hill Observatory, 30 July 2011.

The Sun, being the excellent, usually accessible target that it is, is ideal for hosting impromptu observing sessions at most any location. Members of CNYO now do as a small group (and with cheaper equipment) what Barlow Bob would do single-handedly – set up and observe “with attitude.”

Not Just NEAF

Barlow Bob is known to many in the community as the founder of the NEAF Solar Star Party and as the author of articles for “Barlow Bob’s Corner.” To those of us with a bent towards public outreach, Barlow Bob is an example of someone who could take some fancy equipment and his own know-how and run a one-host show. Barlow Bob committed a great deal of his own time and talent to doing for our nearest star what those like John Dobson did for far more distant objects. Despite the many, many amateur astronomers in the world today, it’s still a field where a single person can have a strong influence simply by being a perfectly-polished primary mirror that reflects their own love of the field for others to appreciate. Amateur astronomy outreach can learn a lot from Barlow Bob’s example and CNYO will continue in his footsteps of making safe, variously-filtered solar sights available to the public as part of our observing efforts. May we all become a bit more familiar with our nearest star, following in Barlow Bob’s footsteps to observe it “with attitude.”


“It’s like looking in a mirror!” Barlow Bob and I at Kopernik’s 2013 Astrofest.

* Announcement of his passing on Cloudy Nights:

* David Eicher’s announcement at

* A memorial webpage at

CNYO Observing Log: Girl Scout Encampment At Camp Hoover In Tully, 31 May 2014

Greetings fellow astrophiles,

Larry Slosberg and Michelle Marzynski, Joe Chovan, and I recently took CNYO on the road to Tully, NY to host a Girl Scout encampment at Camp Hoover. This was my fourth time at Camp Hoover at the behest of leader Libby Monte, who has always held authority over great and motivated scouts at the prior observing and lecturing events.


Joe Chovan looking East (by looking North). Click for a larger view.

An 8-ish arrival and setup found us coating ourselves in bug spray and tucking our pant bottoms into out socks over rumors of deer ticks in the vicinity (we all walked away unscathed. Everyone in shorts, who knows?). Amateur astronomy remains one of the great outdoor activities for the fashion unconscious.


Larry Slosberg (mostly) at Zenith. Click for a larger view.

With a quick intro to the observing guidelines and how-to’s, all scopes were sighted on the first (and shortest-lived for the evening) target Jupiter as it began to set behind trees and tent. Despite a level of dusk cloud cover that would have scared away those with very short teardown times, all were treated to clear, reasonably steady skies not one-half hour later.

As has been my approach to Public Observing events for some time, my goal for the evening was to show everyone at least one object from the categories listed below (and to describe what it means to be each object):

* One Planet – In our case, Jupiter, Mars, and Saturn all made for easy targets (including weather bands, polar ice caps, and a Cassini Division that most everyone could pull out of the views).

* One StarVega in Lyra (bright, shimmering stars and their colorized edges are fun to take in. It also lets you talk about scope design and how the shape of the spider supporting the secondary mirror produces the shapes you see over bright stars).

* One BinaryAlcor and Mizar (and more Mizar) in Ursa Major

* One Open Cluster – the Beehive Cluster (M44) in Cancer (not the greatest of sights to new eyes, but well in the neighborhood of other objects)

* One Globular (Globe-ular, not Glob-ular) ClusterM13 in Hercules (always a crowd favorite)

* One NebulaM57, The Ring Nebula in a Lyra (A two-fer with Vega. Also lets you talk a little easy physics, using a balloon to demonstrate how something gets more transparent as it gets larger, and how you see a “ring” just as you see the side edges of the balloon – because you’re looking through more material at the edges)

* One Galaxy – M51, The Whirlpool Galaxy in Canes Venatici (this was also not easy given some of the outdoor lighting at Camp Hoover. M51 was one of my last targets so that the shorter line could spend a little more time trying to draw the nebulosity of the two cores with a medium-power (26 mm Nagler) eyepiece).

We thank Libby and all at Camp Hoover for being gracious hostesses and we look forward to our return to the South-Eastern shore of Song Lake. We are always happy to accommodate Scouting groups as schedules and locations work out. Don’t hesitate to contact us through our CNYO Contact Page or at to check on scheduling possibilities.

CNYO Hosts The Syracuse Version Of The First International Sun-Day At The Creekwalk, June 22nd


CNYO is pleased to join a whole host of other astronomy clubs, companies, and other organizations as we take an afternoon off to appreciate our nearest star. The inaugural International Sun-Day, held on June 22nd of this year, is a chance for amateur astronomers the world over to follow in the footsteps of Stephen Ramsden, who has brought amazing views of (and no small amount of information about) the Sun to many, many thousands of students and adults as the founder of the Charlie Bates Solar Astronomy Project. Those who might be members of his Facebook page (or a Facebook friend) know the frantic, globetrotting schedule Stephen keeps as he does for Solar Astronomy what John Dobson did for Sidewalk Astronomy.

From the International Sun-Day website:

“scientia vincere tenebras”

The phrase means “Conquering Darkness Through Science”. It is the essence of the Charlie Bates Solar Astronomy Project and all of the groups below who have partnered together to bring you this event.

Kaleidoscopic-SunThe Sun and its composition, energy producing mechanisms and relationship with our little rocky planet is, by far, the most important influence in the Universe on our daily lives as human beings.  It’s never ending, natural, clean production of and subsequent bathing of our planet in life sustaining radiance is directly responsible for the continued existence of every living thing on this world, yet most people on Earth take it completely for granted and rarely ever learn anything about it.

The world of social media has brought together people from all over the world, regardless of nationalist, political or religious affiliation, who share a common passion for astronomy.  These dedicated people are especially tuned into the natural beauty of the world around us so we thought it would be a great idea to try and get everyone on our various internet portals to plan for one day out of the year to recognize and share their vision of the immense power and subtle beauty of the Sun.   Then share it with the general public on a common page to inspire more science in the community!! 

International Sun-Day 2014 will be held on the Sunday nearest to the summer solstice.  It is a day where we are encouraging all users of social media to share what they love about our star. You can go out in to your communities and share it through traditional outreach methods, give us your thoughts and images of a beautiful sunrise or sunset, share a poem or story about the Sun, take a funny picture of what the Sun means to you or how you like to relate to it, basically any creative way you can come up with to share your view of  the Sun on social media.  
No advertisers, no sponsors, no fees, nothing for sale, no donations, just pure science for science’s sake  and appreciation for the beauty of nature.  Please join us on June 22nd, 2014 for International Sun-day.

The process is simple! CNYO members will be set up from 2 to 4 p.m. on Sunday, June 22nd at our favorite downtown location – right next to Walt The Loch West Monster near the southern end of the Onondaga Creekwalk. With Baader, H-alpha, and whatever-else-shows-up scopes in tow (and copies of our Solar Observing Guide), we invite you to come and take in what has been, until recently, an unfortunately rare, direct glimpse of the Sun. Just as nighttime astronomy underwent a great transition with the production of affordable and portable telescopes in the later-half of the 20th century, the equipment needed for Solar Astronomy is becoming more prominent and less expensive, hopefully ushering in a new era of special solar attention and study. Perhaps the 2nd Annual Sun-Day will have us moving to a larger venue!

Stay tuned to for weather updates as we approach next weekend.

We hope you can join us!