Tag Archives: Auriga

Upstate NY Stargazing In March: Two Full Moons, Venus And Mercury After Sunset – Posted To syracuse.com And nyup.com

Greetings, fellow astrophiles!

The March, 2018 UNY Stargazing article is up for your reading and sharing pleasure at syracuse.com and newyorkupstate.com:

Links: newyorkupstate.com & syracuse.com

Note that March is the best month for planning your Messier Marathon. Be sure to check your local astronomy club to see if any events are being scheduled.

The best-of-winter constellations over Baltimore Woods in Marcellus, NY. The bright star at lower-center is Sirius in Canis Major. To its right and up, the belt of Orion, the five-star “V” of Taurus, and the Pleiades star cluster near the image edge. Photo by the author.

There were a few evenings this past February that were unexpectedly comfortable for the time of year, hopefully giving observers some unexpectedly long opportunities to take in some of the busiest regions of our nighttime sky. To have the grouping of the Winter Hexagon – Orion, Taurus, Auriga, Gemini, Canis Minor, and Canis Major – out and about at such reasonable hours means that anyone can see not only the brightest grouping of bright stars in our yearly sky, but also some of the closest groups of stars. The Hyades star cluster, made up of the “V” of the head of Taurus the Bull – but not including the bright eye star Aldebaran – is our closest star cluster at 150 light years. Just to the northwest of the Hyades lies the second-closest bright cluster of stars to our Solar System – the Pleiades.

If you can find the Pleiades and the patch of stars under Orion’s Belt, you can even scratch two of the 110 Messier Objects off of your list. The history and some key details of the Messier Objects were discussed in the March, 2017 article. In brief – these are the bright galaxies, star clusters, and nebulae that can all be found with little more than a quality pair of binoculars, dark skies, a good star chart, and a big cup of coffee. The time around mid-March and early-April is the only time of the year when, if you start VERY soon after sunset, you can find all 110 of these objects before sunrise the next morning. Astronomy clubs the world over often plan marathons as a group – these are great opportunities to learn from seasoned amateurs as well as to see how the same object may look in many different binoculars and telescopes.

The 110 Messier Objects through highest-quality optics. Images compiled by Michael A. Phillips.

Read more…

Also, in the event, February flew too quickly for the post. The February, 2018 article is linked to below:

Links: newyorkupstate.com & syracuse.com

“Upstate NY Stargazing In January” Article Posted To newyorkupstate.com And syracuse.com

Greetings, fellow astrophiles!

The latest article in the Upstate NY Stargazing series, “Upstate NY Stargazing in January: Quadrantid meteors and Winter’s best early evenings,” has just been posted to newyorkupstate.com and syracuse.com.

Direct Link: newyorkupstate.com/outdoors/2017/01/…_winters_best_early_eveni.html

Direct Link: www.syracuse.com/outdoors/2017/01/…_winters_best_early_eveni.html

Anyone clicking on the link will be treated to a remarkable image of the Horsehead and Flame Nebulae, next to the belt-edge star Alnitak in the constellation Orion the Hunter. With the kind reproduction permissions from Andrew Chatman of ASRAS, I’ve included the hi-res version of the image below for your downloading and desktop-background-ing pleasure.

Caption: The Flame and Horsehead Nebulae in the constellation Orion the Hunter. The belt star Alnitak is the brightest star in the image, just above the Flame Nebula. Image by Mike Selby, Andrew Chatman (member of ASRAS-Rochester Astronomy Club) and Stefan Schmidt at SC Observatory, Samphran, Thailand. Downloadable images: 3000×1956 6436×4196.

The Quadrantids turned out to be a wash for CNY, but we’ve had a few crystal clear nights near the New Moon for planetary and other observing. With, perhaps, a last major focus on Orion this year, a How-To seeking guide for nearby constellations using Orion was included in the article (reproduced below with caption).

Caption: Orion can guide you around its neighborhood. Red = belt stars to Sirius and Canis Major; Orange = Rigel and belt center to Gemini; Yellow = Bellatrix and Betelgeuse to Canis Minor; Green = Belt stars to Aldebaran and Taurus; Blue = Saiph and Orion’s head to Capella in Auriga. Click for a larger view.

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).