Tag Archives: Big Dipper

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

Greetings, fellow astrophiles!

The latest article in the Upstate NY Stargazing series, “Upstate NY Stargazing In March: Messier Marathon and the Lunar Occultation of Aldebaran,” has just been posted to newyorkupstate.com and syracuse.com.

Direct Link: newyorkupstate.com/outdoors/2017/02/…lunar_occultation_of_ald.html

Direct Link: syracuse.com/outdoors/index.ssf/2017/02/…lunar_occultation_of_ald.html

* Prof. Leslie Hebb’s Cazenovia College Science Cafe lecture, “Distant Worlds: What We Know About Extra-Solar Planets And Their Potential For Habitability” was a great success this past Wednesday and we look forward to announcing and co-sponsoring future astro-related events.

* With one day to go and the potential for clear skies, interested parties are encouraged to read up on how to observe – and record – the lunar occultation of Aldebaran on the night of March 4th.

* And, finally, the March article is the perfect time to introduce new observers to Messier Marathons prior to any attempts of the same at month’s end.

Caption: M31, the Andromeda Galaxy, and its satellite galaxies M32 (a hazy star just above-left of M31’s center) and M110 (the oval structure below-left of M31’s center). Photograph taken at Kopernik Observatory & Science Center by Kopernik Astronomical Society member George Normandin. Click for a larger view.

Turning our attention to the North, and in anticipation of a larger discussion about circumpolar constellations, we introduce Ursa Major – a great, easy-to-find constellation with a small fortune in Messier Objects.

Caption: Ursa Major and the Big Dipper, including brightest star labels, the locations of Messier Objects, and an arrow to follow to the north star Polaris. Click for a larger view.

CNYO Observing Log: Clark Reservation And Baltimore Woods, 18 July 2015

Greetings fellow astrophiles!

Bob Piekiel and I have continued to make the most of the Summer for hosting observing sessions. While the Sun is good anytime, the Summer Nighttime Sky certainly makes for a worthy complement to our Winter sessions. Instead of crisp, clear (and cold!) conditions and close-ups of some of the most impressive objects in the Nighttime Sky (everything in Orion alone is worth dressing up for), we trade boots for sandals (or less), slap on the bug spray, and scour into the heart of the Milky Way for a host of fine objects to our zenith and points south. As Summer weather is also easier to brave for most, we enjoy larger turnouts and introducing others to the greater outdoors.

Clark Reservation, 18 July 2015, 1 to 3 p.m.


The Sun from Saturday, 18 July 2015 (from NASA/SOHO)

While the Sun is always busy, those phenomena which causes us to spend beaucoup bucks on equipment were in short supply on the surface that afternoon, with tiny-ish sunspot 2386 the only significant feature to scout around. The presence of Bob’s Coronado H-alpha, He, and CaK scopes did noticeably open up the feature window for some of the more subtle objects.


Bob and attendees at along his observing array.

The whole session ran a hot two hours. About 15 people made rounds to the scopes, with a few people making second rounds (some to see again, others returning after some of the clouds had moved on for their first viewing). As a true testament to Syracuse weather conditions, we went from blue sky to heavy cloud cover to a quick sprinkle and back to blue sky in a 10 minute window at 2:30.

Baltimore Woods, 18 July 2015, 9 to 11:30 p.m.

Unfavorable conditions Friday night made for a Saturday observing double-feature. We had some hold-over from a Baltimore Woods concert (featuring Joanne Perry and the Unstoppables) that ended at 8:00 p.m. (while it was still far too bright to do any observing. Even the Moon was a tough catch) and a patient wait for, um, one person’s mirror to warm up after a heavily A/C’ed drive from downtown Syracuse.


Venus and the Moon caught just at the tree line. The elongated view of Venus is not an exposure artifact (1/200th second at that), but is because Venus was, at that time, a medium-thin crescent. Click for a larger view.

The evening turned out excellent for Public Viewing. Venus and the Moon (see above) were an early, close catch due to the high summer tree line (Jupiter was too far below the tree line by the time it was dark enough to be interesting in a scope, although Bob did get one quick view of it earlier after aligning his Celestron Nexstar), after which Saturn, Antares, and Arcturus were the next catches.

Despite a band of slow-moving clouds to the South early on that threatened quite a bit of celestial real estate, the skies cleared nicely for a full 2.5 hours of observing. With a healthy variety of kids and adults in attendance, there was as much discussion as their was observing. A few of the kids in attendance knew just enough to know what they wanted to see, making for a fun game of “stump the scope owner.” My observing list through my New Moon Telescope 12.5 Dob was as follows:

* Saturn – Several times for several waves of attendees, and the Summer and Fall’s highlight planet.

* Albireo in Cygnus – Part 1 of a “test your retinal cones” survey, with everyone able to get at least a little orange and a little blue out of this binary.

* Zubeneschamali in Libra – Part 2 of a “test your retinal cones” survey. Bob, er, found a way to get 100% agreement on the apparent green-ness of this star (a much better percentage than at our Green Lakes session), courtesy of a particular screw-on filter.

* Herschel’s Garnet Star in Cepheus – Part 3 of a “test your retinal cones” survey. The Garnet Star has become a favorite for 2015 viewers, as the dark amber/red color jumps out to everyone (no subtlety, or filters, to be found).

* Alcor and Mizar in Ursa Major – A binaried binary, with one binary itself binary of binaries. Not only do you get to stare at six gravitationally-bound stars, but you get to explain the differences between optical, true, and spectroscopic binaries with a single shining example.

* M57, The Ring Nebula in Lyra – Old amateur astronomers pride themselves in being able to discern all kinds of detail from dim, fuzzy objects. I tend to talk down the impressiveness of some objects to make sure new viewers spend a little extra time pulling detail out (we’re not Hubble, after all). Everyone present for the Ring saw the donut easily at low magnification and were happy to spend extra time giving another, even fainter look at high power (which made for a great part of the whole session in my book).

* M13, The Globular Cluster in Hercules – Second only to Saturn in “woah” moments, M13 never disappoints visually. After you add a little bit about its size and history, several people insisted on taking another, more informed look at it.

* M51, The Whirlpool Galaxy in Canes Venatici (but just-just off the handle of the Big Dipper in Ursa Major) – Just off the last handle star of the Big Dipper. I had one request to see something outside of the Milky Way. With the Andromeda Galaxy in the direction of Marcellus and Syracuse (and the night already getting long for many of the kids in attendance), I tested some eyesights (and imagination) on this faint pair of galactic cores in collision.

* To that list we added one decent shooting star, just enough of the 300 billion other stars in the Milky Way to make out its cloudy band through Cygnus and down to Sagittarius, and one timed Iridium Flare (see below).


An 11:09 p.m. Iridium Flare caught below the bright star Arcturus (for the record, caught at its brighest first, so the satellite is going from the left to the right in the image). Click for a larger view.

August has rapidly become a busy month for observing, with several sessions planned around the Perseid Meteor Shower. Keep track of the website for whether/weather announcements. We hope you can join us!

CNYO Observing Log: Beaver Lake Nature Center, 18 September 2014

Greetings fellow astrophiles,

After a double wash-out for our scheduled August 8/15 event, CNYO made a triumphant return to Beaver Lake Nature Center for one last end-of-Summer public viewing session. While the local meteorologists and the Clear Sky Clock predicting clear, dark skies for the entire evening, the observing itself was still a bit touch-and-go until about 9:00 p.m., when the whole sky finally opened up.

Despite a small snafu with the Beaver Lake events calendar (or, specifically, our lack of presence on it for this rescheduled event), we still managed 10 attendees (and passed the word along to several people there for an event earlier in the evening – I’m also happy to report that Patricia’s attendance justified our meetup group event scheduling!). With four CNYO’ers (Bob Piekiel, Larry Slosberg, Christopher Schuck, and myself) and three scopes present (including Bob Piekiel’s Celestron NexStar 11, Larry Slosberg’s 12” New Moon Telescope Dob, and my 12.5” NMT Dob) this was a great chance for several of the new observers to ask all kinds of questions, learn all the mechanics of observing through someone else’s scope, and, of course, take in some great sights at their own pace.

The 7:00 p.m. setup started promising, with otherwise overcast conditions gradually giving way to clearings to the Northwest. That all changed for the worse around 8:00 p.m. (when everyone showed up), when those same NW skies closed right up again, gradually devouring Arcturus, Vega, and any other brighter stars one might align with. The next hour was goodness-challenged, giving us plenty of time to host a Q+A, show the scope workings, remark on the amount of reflected light from Syracuse, and swing right around to objects within the few sucker holes that opened. And when all looked lost (or unobservable), the 9:00 p.m. sky finally cleared right up to a near-perfect late Summer sky, complete with a noticeable Milky Way band, bright Summer Triangle, and a host of satellites, random meteors, and bright Summer Messiers.

As has been the case for nearly every public viewing session this year, all the new eyes were treated to some of the best the Summer and Fall have to offer. These include:

M13 – The bright globular (“globe” not “glob”) cluster in Hercules
M31/32 – The Andromeda Galaxy (and its brighter, more separated satellite M32)
M57 – The Ring Nebula in Lyra
Herschel’s Garnet Star – To show very clearly that many stars have identifiable colors when magnified
Albireo – To reinforce the color argument above and to show one of the prominent doubles in the Night Sky, right at the tip of Cygnus.
Alcor/Mizar – Did you know that Alcor/Mizar is actually a sextuple star system? Alcor is its own double, each in Mizar is a double, and recent data reveals that the Alcor pair is gravitationally bound to the Mizar quartet.

To the observing list was added a discussion of how to begin learning the constellations. As we’ve discussed at several sessions, the best place to start is due North, committing the circumpolar constellations to memory FIRST. For those unfamiliar, these are the six constellations that never set below the horizon from our latitude (Ursa Minor (Little Dipper), most or Ursa Major (Big Dipper), Cassiopeia, Cepheus, Draco, and Camelopardalis (and if you can find Camelopardalis, you’re ready for anything). We’ve even consolidated all of this material into one of our introductory brochures for your downloading and printing pleasure:

CNYO Guide For New Observers

To my own observing list was added a treat thanks to Bob’s perfect position on the rise of the Beaver Lake parking circle, as he managed to catch Uranus low on the Eastern horizon just before we packed up for the evening. Even with Syracuse’s glow dimming the view, Uranus is a clear sight either in a scope (as a slightly blue-green disc) or through a low-power finder scope.


Closing at Beaver Lake (including one low-flyer).

We offer special thanks to the Beaver Lake staff, who were fine with us staying as late as we liked (although we still finished up around 10) and who found *all* the light switches for the parking lot. I suspect our next Beaver Lake event won’t happen until the Spring, meaning we hope to see you at one of Bob Piekiel’s Baltimore Woods sessions during the winter – unless we all get inspired to throw extra layers on and organize another winter observing session somewhere, in which case we hope to see you there as well!