Category Archives: Observing Logs

CNYO Observing Log: Transit Of Mercury, 10 May 2016

Poster’s Note: A post from mid-May of this year never made it to the website. Posting now for the 2016 observing record.

Greetings, fellow astrophiles!

The real-time global observatory that is the internet has made available to everyone, all the time, every particular astronomical event that occurs anywhere. That said, it’s always more fun to be able to turn the computer off and point a telescope to the sky to see something with your own eyes.

2016may12_Mercury_transitOur side of the planet was treated to one of the great joys of terrestrial observing – a transit of an interior (to us, anyway) planet across the face of our closest star, the Sun. The downtown Syacuse crowd for the Venus Transit in 2012 peaked at close to 350 people (far larger than the 2006 transit crowd of 10!) and was one of the best documented astronomical events in CNY thanks to local news reporters. The Transit of Mercury this past Monday, May 10th was comfortably smaller, perhaps proportional to the significantly smaller black spot that Mercury makes as it passes across the Sun. A wealth of access to internet and space science resources, however, has left some excellent lasting records of the event for us to enjoy (such as the picture at right, courtesy of Bob Piekiel. Click for a larger view).

2016may12_20308482_bob_largeWith the usual thanks to Glenn Coin at for promoting astronomy events here in CNY (and for taking the pic at right of Bob in action, click for a larger view), local folks were made aware of the Syracuse and neighboring sessions (see link). Schenectady, Hamburg, Rochester, Binghamton (thanks to our friends at Kopernik Observatory), and Marcellus (thanks to Bob Piekiel) were all on the docket. Those stuck at the office were made aware of viewing opportunities online thanks to an Associated Press post at as well (see link).

Glenn Coin took the trek out to Marcellus for Bob Piekiel’s session. His write-up can be found at:

Bob Piekiel reported the following:

Chris [Schuck, fellow CNYO-er] and I kept them busy at the transit program this morning. Lots of folks mulling around with questions, cell phone cameras, and non-stop desires to see the view every few minutes. Skies were near perfect, with only a few clouds. Also, got some nice views of Venus, only 8° from the sun. Venus is so far away it is only 11 arc-seconds in size, compared to Mercury’s 10 arc-seconds. They both look about the same size in the scope, but one is white, the other was black!

Freshly displaced to Rochester, I enjoyed the start of the transit from Farash Observatory, home of the Astronomy Section of the Rochester Academy of Sciences.


A panorama of Farash Observatory (and deformed Coronado). Click for a larger view.

2016may12_davedaveI arrived at Farash Observatory with my Coronado PST in tow (in a small plastic box, that is) around 7:00 a.m. in time to set up, chit-chat with two Dave’s (manning the live stream in the image at right), Doug, and Bob, and catch the very start of the transit (by dumb luck at that. I started observing a minute before just to get things lined up and zoomed in). All were thrilled to see Mercury begin to transit at the same point that a bright prominence had grown (I overheard someone say “looks like Mercury’s got a tail”). ASRAS provided live streaming of the event on youtube through a CaK on the Farash grounds, then the dozen-or-so folks there early cycled through everyone else’s scopes for varying H-alpha and white light views of the transit. The transit through a solar-safe 16” Cave is quite impressive(!), with Sunspot 2542 visible below Mercury (below in the eyepiece and the flipped-around view the Newtonian scopes provide). Once home, I did what the majority of us were doing – checking NASA streams and the local club feeds for more sights until the transit’s end at about 2:42 p.m.

My own poor attempt at astrophotography (with an iPhone 6s and through the ASRAS 16″ Cave) is shown below, including a slightly smudged Mercury at upper right and Sunspot 2542 at lower right. For proper orientation, see the official NASA SOHO image of the Sun at its image repository (link here).


163186109.kpdILVVp.mercury_transit_4A few others with a bit more patience (and a bit more money) really made the transit memorable with some fantastic movies. One .gif passed around on Facebook is shown at right from Tom Polakis using a Lunt 100 (click for a larger view) that shows the tail end of the transit. This is the kind of stuff amateurs can do from their backyard with a good scope and a decent camera (wait for the 4.2 MB .gif to load. It is definitely worth it)!

On the other hand, those with a much larger budget can put telescopes into space and produce the following video – courtesy of NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO). Collective thanks to all for their tax dollars in bringing images like this to the masses.

Now we’re talkin’.

For those interested in taking in a more unobstructed view of the Sun, the next scheduled solar observing sessions in the Syracuse area are also being provided courtesy of Bob Piekiel and his considerable solar scope collection. The first is August 13/14 (Sat/Sun) at Clark Reservation, then August 27/28 (Sat/Sun) at Baltimore Woods.

We hope you don’t wait until another transit to take in some proper solar viewing!

CNYO Observing Log: Attempted Observing, Successful Lecture, And Maker Hall Session For January, 2016

Greetings fellow astrophiles,

A brief summary of events already had in January. For the most part, this is the time of year when most activities slow to a crawl (unless you’ve got a good few pairs of thermals to wear, in which case you’re observing is limited by conditions and the build-up of water vapor as you breath too close to an eyepiece).

Solar @ Green Lakes, Nighttime @ Baltimore Woods, January 9th

With the Friday night session a complete wash at Baltimore Woods, Bob Piekiel and I ran a double on Saturday, January 9th. The first event was a solar observing run at Green Lakes State Park (amid current construction around the main building). Sadly, this was the best-attended failed session yet, with considerable cloud cover only providing the most fleeting glimpse of the Sun before taking it away again. Attendance peaked near 25, though, which is great news otherwise. Bob will be running (and I wing-man’ing) a few more solar sessions, for which we hope the skies agree at least once.


Observers observing, but not as planned @ Green Lakes. Click for a larger view.

I am pleased to mention that, near the end of the session, a few mountain bikers came by the scopes to ask what we were looking at. When I said it was a failed solar observing session, one of the bikers (in an SOS shirt) mentioned that he had learned some observing with “A guy named Stu.” Taking a few minutes to remember local amateur astronomer extraordinare Stu Forster was a treat that made my otherwise overcast day.

Later that night, during what was maybe-sort-of predicted to be an opening in the sky from 7 to 8, Bob and I waited patiently at Baltimore Woods for his monthly New Moon weekend session. We went with hope, then left with 90 minutes remaining in the session as the cloud cover only got worse-and-worse. Our loss was other’s gain, of course – as we’ve had a few previous January sessions that were painfully cold but clear. 2016 has started warm but painfully cloudy.

Ceres & Pluto @ DPL 4 CNY Skeptics, January 21st

The lecture given at DeWitt Community Library for our fellow science-minded friends in CNY Skeptics was a repeat (mostly) of the Ceres & Pluto lecture given at Liverpool Public Library late last year. With a few new pics and the benefit of one full pass of the lecture, this session went fairly well (minus at least one softball-stump-the-speaker question). Plans are already in the works for a few more lectures, including one at DPL for the non-affiliated library audience.

TACNY Maker Hall @ The Dr. King Community Celebration, January 30th


A view from the CNYO table (and a Meteor Game). Click for a larger view.

This past Saturday, CNYO hosted a strategically-placed table to talk astro-shop for a third MLK Community Day Celebration in a row (with continued thanks to STEM Superstar Mary Eileen Wood for the invitation to the event at Nottingham High School). With brochures, Prof. John McMahon’s graciously donated table-top scope (and a 38mm eyepiece to be able to get *anything* into focus in the background), Mars and Ceres pebbles, and a gyroscope in tow, we had about 50 kids and adults stop by over the course of the 2 hour 30 min event. Directly behind us, Dr. David Wormuth made a guest appearance and put his surgical skills to the test (well, not really) in a live demo for the attending audience.

CNYO Observing Log: A Summary Of The Last Few Months Of 2015 In Rapid Succession

Greetings fellow astrophiles!

In the interest of full documentation of the year’s events (but because we’re running short on time), a brief post summarizing all of the unsummarized Observing Logs for the past few months (we’re done with observing for 2015 unless something really interesting happens tomorrow night!). Despite mostly unfavorable conditions, we did manage to get a few decent sessions in.

Mid-to-Late 2015 Library Lectures

1. Hazard Branch Library, Syracuse – 20 June 2015

In advance of International SUN-Day on June 21st, CNYO hosted a combined solar astronomy lecture and nearly clouded-out observing session. Provided the sky is clear (which was mostly NOT the case for the 2015 SUN-Day festivities), we’ll be running a session for International SUN-Day 2016 somewhere around town.

2. Seymour Library, Auburn – 6 October 2015

A “general introduction to astronomy” lecture was the staff request for this session, including a bit about getting around the CNY Nighttime Sky (courtesy of CNYO’s handy-dandy brochures) and a little sneak-in of the New Horizons (Pluto!) and Dawn (@ Ceres!) missions. For the record, one of the aesthetically pleasing libraries in CNY.

3. Liverpool Public Library, Liverpool – 23 November 2015


After a rescheduling of the October 22rd lecture due to pending social obligations, CNYO returned for our twice-yearly (or more) LPL lecture, featuring a more complete session about Ceres and Pluto and all that it means to be dwarf planets in our always-interesting Solar System.

4. CNY Tech User Group @ LPL, Liverpool – 7 December 2015

CNYPCUG (but by “PC,” they mean “Tech”), which meets monthly at LPL, saw the announcement for the November 23rd session and asked for a tech-centric lecture of their own. Mixing up some of the recent dwarf planet discussion with the flurry of missions already active (with an extra emphasis on Hubble imagery), this session ran over 90 minutes and had lots of good discussions to boot.

Late 2015 Observing Sessions

2015 wasn’t a truly bad year for observing, but trying to get clear skies, little-to-no Moon, and short-notice organizing all together for some of our hoped impromptu sessions just didn’t work out too well. The four official sessions on the books are listed below.

1. Total Lunar Eclipse @ Baltimore Woods – 27 September 2015

This, THIS session was a treat. Driving out to Baltimore Woods around 8:00 p.m., the sky was completely overcast with only a few patches of anything clear-like in the distance. Within 5 minutes of BW, however, the sky just opened right up, with some of the last cloud cover making for some excellent final views of the obscured Moon before the whole sky went clear. Over 50 people were at the session, which culminated in a beautiful full lunar eclipse.


The best part of the whole session – and the one I made mention of for people to take a second look – was just how bright the restive the sky becomes when the Moon is dimmed so significantly. One could have had a full New Moon observing session, complete with galactic views and all the subtle highlights one could wish for, all while having this dark orange/red Moon *right there* in the sky. Bob Piekiel was kind enough to make a montage of the event, which I include above (click for a larger view).

2. North Sportsman’s Club, West Monroe – 10 October 2015

This session was mostly organized on our Facebook Group and even received a small but active (8) attendance (including a guest appearance by New Moon Telescope’s own Ryan Goodson) despite a clerical error in the organization itself not allowing us to make it through the gate (so, not wanting to waste a clear sky, we unloaded and observed from the long NSC driveway – the field being too far away to want to risk carrying scopes around).

3. Joint Nottingham/Corcoran Observing Session @ Corcoran High School – 6 December 2015


A shining example of Murphy’s Law of Astronomy – “If you schedule it, it will be cloudy. If you cancel, it will be clear.” The session was scheduled for December 4th, with the 5th and 6th as alternates. The 4th was a wash, and the 5th looked to be – until we cancelled the session, after which those who still attended reported having an hour of clear skies for observing. We set the 6th as a make-or-break session – which mostly broke. Despite a busy 70 minutes with 18 attendees, we were only able to catch a poor view of the Andromeda Galaxy and a moderately washed-out view of the Pleiades. The discussion more than made up for the weather, however, and we plan to return again to try our luck near the heavily lit Corcoran High School football field (sadly, Nottingham High School does not fare much better).

4. Geminid Meteor Shower @ Baltimore Woods – 13/14 December 2015

As far as reported observing, this session went solely to Bob Piekiel at his special session at Baltimore Woods. With a one hour clearing on the evening of the 13th, Bob and his two attendees managed six bright meteors and a number of deep sky objects before packing it up. The 14th, sadly, was not an option for observing due to increased cloud cover, meaning CNY, yet again, largely missed out on one of the great meteor showers.

The 2016 calendar is getting populated and plans are in the works for more sessions. Stay tuned and Happy New Year!

CNYO Observing Log: Clark Reservation State Park, 21 August 2015

Greetings fellow astrophiles,

With Perseid Week just behind us, Bob Piekiel and I set up shop for one final Summer 2015 observing session at Clark Reservation. As was mentioned in a Clark Reservation post from last year, it isn’t a great location for heavy-duty amateur astronomers – Syracuse (and its light pollution) lies very close to my hometown of Jamesville (or vice versa, I guess) and even thin cloud cover acts as a dirty mirror to brighten the ground (and sky) around us. For the new observer, however, Clark Reservation is an excellent spot to get one’s feet dewy – it’s close to civilization (and easy to find) and the light pollution wipes out many of the dimmest stars (it probably isn’t far off to say that the sky goes from 2000 to only 400 visible stars thanks to stray city light), making constellation identification significantly easier.


Early attendees listening to the first welcome lecture.

The session started slowly enough around 8:00 p.m. with a small group of attendees present for our introductory observing lecture/white light warning/usual canned schtick. It wasn’t until after we hit the 40 people mark that I found out that this session was mentioned in the Post-Standard paper as a Weekend’s Best. As we hit the near-80 people mark, we both turned up the lecturing knob to keep people informed and entertained as the observing lines cycled through our two scopes. The crowd was excellent, interactive, and very patient.


A shot of half the crowd waiting for the ISS.

Every year, I find that some aspect of observing gets a kind of special attention that then becomes part of session dogma (past years being the focus on the hiding of smartphones and flashlights, the very deliberate explanation of how to (and how not to) observe through the scope, and the emphasis on the circumpolar constellations as the best way to get into seasonal constellation identification). The purposes of each of these is, simply, to simplify the session for the attendees (call it a “crash course” in observing). This year, it’s been observation by way of a “hierarchy of observables” (something that Bob and I both have used often). It goes as such:

Early in the evening (including before sunset), non-solar observers have the Moon in all its grandeur (itself possibly the best observable there is for amateur astronomy). While all of the classical planets (Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn) can also be observed, they require a little more time to get to the point of being interesting. Maybe 20 minutes after sunset. By the time that Vega, Arcturus, Deneb, Antares, and Altair are visible (usually coincident with the planets), the most prominent double stars in the sky are visible enough for decent magnification (here, specifically mentioning Albireo in Cygnus and Mizar and Alcor in Ursa Major). Another 20 minutes later, the brightest Messiers are visible – specifically M57, the Ring Nebula in Lyra and M13 in Hercules. 20 minutes later, some of the dimmer Messiers become (just) observable – here, the Andromeda Galaxy (M31 and M32) in Andromeda, and M27, the Dumbbell Nebula in Velpecula. 20 minutes later (so we’re now 80 or so minutes after sunset), the Messier gates flood open and one can begin to make out more objects than can usually be gotten through with a +40 crowd in 2 hours anyway.

Add to this list the ISS, Iridium Flares, random other satellites, a few shooting stars, and some of the detail of the Milky Way inside of Cygnus and down to as much of Sagittarius as the tree line will allow, and you’ve (hopefully) gone a long way to introducing a brand new observer to some of the very best sights available in the nighttime sky (with the above list obviously biased towards the Summer and Fall skies).

To the list above (with only Saturn and Neptune in the planetary observing list), we added at least two meteors (one in the right direction for a Perseid, one not) and a dimmed, by still present, Milky Way band. The lecturing itself didn’t stop for the entire two hours, and we were thankful for the questions that kept us (and others around us) occupied.

With the end of Summer in sight, part of CNYO’s yearly outreach will now include more library lectures and, of course, Bob’s monthly sessions at Baltimore Woods. Stay tuned for event announcements!

CNYO Observing Log: Perseid Week @ Marcellus Library, Baltimore Woods, Beaver Lake, and Green Lakes, 11 – 14 August 2015

Greetings fellow astrophiles!

2015aug25_two-moons-hoaxThis was, far and away, the busiest and best-attended Perseid Meteor Shower week in my history as a CNY-residing amateur astronomer, ranking third overall in public interest behind a Darling Hill Observatory session for the closest approach of Mars in 2003 (the origin of that completely useless meme about Mars and the Moon appearing the same size this (and nearly every one since 2003) August) and the Transit of Venus event held along the Armory Square Creekwalk back in 2012. I would argue that a large part of this local interest (as pertaining to CNYO events, anyway) was due to the efforts of Glenn Coin at in keeping science (and, specifically, space science) in the local paper/websites. His articles following the days approaching, as well as the instigation of we locals to take another shot or two at seeing anything on alternatively partly-cloudy nights, can be found at the links below:

* 6 Aug – Catch the Perseid meteor shower at Baltimore Woods viewing party (by Emily Nichols)

* 10 Aug – Perseid meteor shower: What’s the best night to see it in CNY?

* 12 Aug – ‘Amazing’ Perseid meteor shower: When, where and how to see it in Central NY

* 12 Aug – Perseid meteor shower update: CNY skies should be mostly clear for peak

* 13 Aug – Miss the Perseid meteor shower last night? Try tonight

* 13 Aug – Perseid meteor shower: Watch video of amazing display above the Finger Lakes (by Lauren Long)

Our continued thanks to Glenn Coin and for covering the big yearly astronomy events!

Solar Observing Session At Marcellus Free Library, August 11th


sunspots_1024_20150811Our Perseid week actually started in the daytime, with a Solar Observing Session run by Bob Piekiel as part of a How-To Festival at Marcellus Free Library on Tuesday, August 11. Like the Sun itself, the Sun’s importance in irradiating comets as they pass into the inner Solar System and melt enough to leave the trails of cosmic debris that become our yearly meteor showers cannot go unnoticed. This session featured Bob’s Coronado 90 mm H-alpha scope, a small Baader’ed refracting scope, and Christopher Schuck’s Coronado PST. Over the course of about 90 minutes (from the session start to the Sun slipping behind the high tree line), we had about 25 people cycle past the scopes to observe numerous medium-sized prominences and a reasonably clear Sunspot 2396 (click the image at right for a larger view from NASA/SOHO).

Besides the continuous dialog about all things solar, more than a few attempts to capture images through the scopes were had. While smartphones are not the ideal gear for accomplishing this (due to both the difficulty in proper placement and the relative sensitivity of the sensors to monochromatic light (in our cases, the dark red H-alpha band)), Chris did manage a pic that included multiple prominences, one power line, and the ever-constraining tree line (below).


Smartphone Coronado PST pic by Christopher Schuck. Click for a larger view.

A Three-For: Baltimore Woods (Aug. 12th), Beaver Lake (Aug. 13th), and Green Lakes (Aug. 14th)

Bob and I handled scope and lecture duties for the three peak Perseid nights, hitting well-separated locations and a few overlapping attendees. As all three sessions were nearly identical in their content and observing targets, I’ll briefly summarize the unique aspects of each event before giving the combined (and nearly identical) observing lists.

Baltimore Woods (August 12th)

With the best time for the Perseids predicted to be between the late evening of the 12th and 13th, Baltimore Woods Nature Center was predictable busy. Attendees began to arrive around 8 p.m., with total attendance maxing out at about 65 people (and the parking lot itself maxing out before that). With an introductory lecture and white light warning provided, the entire 8:30 to near-11:00 p.m. session only included three shooting stars. Two were moderately bright (and fleeting). A third, the best of all three days, hit atmosphere above a large set of clouds, yet was bright enough to light the clouds like a green-twinged lightning bolt.


Bob Piekiel and the calm before the storm.

The evening itself turned out mostly cloudy, providing just enough open pockets of dark sky for views of Saturn, a few Messiers, some Constellation touring, one ISS pass, and the three observed meteors that graced the skies that night. Cloud cover became all-consuming just after 10:30 p.m. and we packed up and were gone by 11:00 p.m.

In the interest of trying to catch at least one Perseid by photo, I trekked out to Cazenovia Lake around 4:00 a.m. in 30 minutes of trying, I managed only a single shooter (in the image below, it looks like a white arrow (at bottom) pointing to some dim objects).


A sharp streak of a Perseid in an otherwise poorly-balanced image. Click for a larger view.

Beaver Lake Nature Center (August 13th)

CNYO’s official seasonal Beaver Lake Nature Center session was greatly simplified by having the Baltimore Woods session the night before (meaning Bob and I could attend both sessions with no overlap). With the session moved from the Beaver Lake rotunda to the overflow parking, we found ourselves in a darker, lower tree-lined, and easy to arrange location (meaning we may request that all future sessions be held in the same spot!). Beaver Lake skies were not much clearer than Baltimore Woods, but the waits between observables was shorter and our ability to cycle through objects and attendees was improved. With additional announcements on, the final Beaver Lake count was five meteors and about 75 people from our 8:30 introductions to 11:00 p.m. pack-up.

Green Lakes State Park (August 14th)


Upcoming festivities announced during our session.

Our Green Lakes State Park session in July peaked near 120 people (some for the stars, some for the s’mores), which is quite a crowd for 3 scopes! Despite the predictions of clearer skies than previous days and generally excellent evening weather, the August session capped itself at about 70 people (with a bunch of them being young amateur astronomers who packed it in early, leaving a smaller group of about 15 to stay until our 11:00 p.m. Ending to pick off several Messiers after Saturn slid behind Green Lakes’ high southern tree line. Going solely by “ooh-and-aah” statistics, Green Lakes attendees may have seen a total of 5 Perseids (none rivaling the one from Baltimore Woods, but easily seen in the mostly clear skies above).

Observing List (More Of The Summer Same, And For Good Reason)

As has been discussed many times on this website, the importance of introducing new observers to easily observed and described objects cannot be understated. The hunt for dim NGCs and equally dim Messiers is always worthwhile with sufficient time and clear skies, but the brand new observer (arguably) benefits more from prominent views of objects such as the Moon, M13 in Hercules, Alcor and Mizar, M57 (the Ring Nebula) in Lyra, The Andromeda Galaxy (M31), and the bright visible planets each evening. These objects are easily seen by anyone approaching the eyepiece and can be used to give new observers a kind of “upper limit” on their expectations of what a scope is capable of magnifying from ground level. Amateur astronomy, like chess, can become a lifelong training in subtlety. That said, the mechanics are easy to learn by slowly introducing the many kinds of players.

With two scopes and +60 attendees at each session, we were definitely limited in our observing variety simply by the lengths of the lines behind each scope. That said, we were able to give all of the patient attendees some great views of the night’s best for each Perseid session. The short list of objects is below (listed according to the order in which they’re observable as the skies get darker and darker):

* Saturn (our bright planet for the Summer and Fall)
* Alcor and Mizar in Ursa Major, Albireo in Cygnus, Herschel’s Garnet Star in Cepheus
* M13 (globular cluster) in Hercules, M57 (The Ring Nebula) in Lyra
* M27 (The Dumbbell Nebula) in Velpecula
* M31 (The Andromeda Galaxy) and M32 (one of its two satellite galaxies) in Andromeda
* M51 (The Whirlpool Galaxy) in Canes Venatici

[envira-gallery id=”4192″]

M13, M57, and M27. Photos by Bob Piekiel. Click for a larger view.

In closing, we had an excellent week-long turnout for the sessions and are grateful to everyone who came out to make this a busy Perseid show. We hope all of the new faces on our meetup and Facebook pages keep track of upcoming events – and we hope to see your dark, featureless outlines at another 2015 session!