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.

A Small Mob For A Big Event – Quick Summary Of The New Nova Party For PNVJ20233073+2046041

CNYO’s first official “Scope Mob” and New Nova Party was composed of Larry Slosberg, Dan Williams, and myself. After only 50 minutes of observing (and enjoying a moonlit sky still clear enough to see plenty of detail), I am pleased to report that we:

(1) found the nova easily enough in binoculars and scopes

(2) saw three bright Perseids between us (it’s still going!)

(3) caught the ISS and many, many satellites

(4) as an added bonus – we caught DAICHI (ALOS) that flared four times as it went from South to North (very nice addition!). To see what gave it that flaring power, I refer you to the image below (and its very hefty solar array):

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DAICHI (ALOS) – See space.com for details.

(5) found the Moon yet again (very pleasant as always, with some nice brightening of high-elevation objects beyond the terminator)

(6) found a great little spot for hosting future impromptu darker sky observing sessions

For those wanting to check out the nova themselves in the next few days, I am pleased to report that it is presently Naked Eye (so is markedly brighter than it was even last night – 5.0 and brightening by all reports). For those interested in the search, I provide unlabeled and labeled images below. The key is to find the brighter Delphinus (look below Cygnus for the medium-bright diamond shape), then find Sagitta above and to the right (looks like a dim arrow). Naked Eye, you will see a star above Delphinus’ head, then another one between this bright star and the arrow tip of Sagitta. That “other” star is the nova, likely set to be even brighter tomorrow (with a closer Moon but still clear predicted skies). If you’re using 7x to 25x binoculars, you will see a small cluster of stars to the lower-left of the nova – which I’ve connected in the form of a Rockette for what may or may not be an obvious reason.

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Unmarked image (Canon T3i, 13 sec. exposure, ISO 1600). Click for a larger view.

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Marked image (Canon T3i, 13 sec. exposure, ISO 1600). Click for a larger view.

But it’s a relatively easy find once you have Delphinus and Sagitta figured out. There are only two other bright starts in the vicinity!

“New Nova” Scope Mob TONIGHT (Thursday, 15 August) For PNVJ20233073+2046041 In Delphinus!

Greetings fellow astrophiles!

UPDATE 7:40 p.m. Tonight is a go for our Nova Party! We’ll commence at 10 p.m. We hope you can join us!

1. Please check back here by 8:00 p.m. for the FINAL
announcement about time and location.

2. Please be judicious with your parking! If attending,
try to avoid hitting attendees with your headlights!

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Nova location. Image from universetoday.com (click the image for their excellent summary).

The amateur astronomy twitter feeds and blog sites have been buzzing the last 24 hours about a new nova discovered in Delphinus (right near the border with Sagitta – the constellation it’s technically closer to). Astronomers estimate that 30 to 60 novae occur in the Milky Way each year (with an average of 40 according to Ref. [1] below), but there’s a lot of distance and dust that obscures many of their views from typical large-telescope amateur observers. This new nova is a rare treat for CNY viewers, as it is not only bright enough to see with binoculars from downtown Syracuse (as I did last night), but it’s in the Northern Hemisphere – viewable to our South. We won the North/South Pole count toss as well!

In order to take this rare event in, a few CNYO members are going to bring their scopes to the large parking area just south of Jamesville Beach tonight at 10:00 p.m. for an official “Scope Mob” (hosting the event south of Syracuse to avoid its pervasive light pollution). The map below is centered on the spot we expect to be at – but we’ll be checking the grounds later today to confirm it’s accessible (so please check back here around 8:00 p.m. for the official FINAL announcement).


View Larger Map

We hope you can join us to take this rare event in! And maybe some other viewing (such as the Moon) as well!

Ref. 1: Prialnik, Dina (2001). “Novae”. In Paul Murdin. Encyclopedia of Astronomy and Astrophysics. Institute of Physics Publishing/Nature Publishing Group. pp. 1846–1856.