Tag Archives: Cassiopeia

NASA Space Place – A Trip Through the Milky Way

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 September, 2018.

By Jane Houston Jones and Jessica Stoller-Conrad

2013february2_spaceplaceFeeling like you missed out on planning a last vacation of summer? Don’t worry—you can still take a late summertime road trip along the Milky Way!

The waning days of summer are upon us, and that means the Sun is setting earlier now. These earlier sunsets reveal a starry sky bisected by the Milky Way. Want to see this view of our home galaxy? Head out to your favorite dark sky getaway or to the darkest city park or urban open space you can find.

While you’re out there waiting for a peek at the Milky Way, you’ll also have a great view of the planets in our solar system. Keep an eye out right after sunset and you can catch a look at Venus. If you have binoculars or a telescope, you’ll see Venus’s phase change dramatically during September—from nearly half phase to a larger, thinner crescent.

Jupiter, Saturn and reddish Mars are next in the sky, as they continue their brilliant appearances this month. To see them, look southwest after sunset. If you’re in a dark sky and you look above and below Saturn, you can’t miss the summer Milky Way spanning the sky from southwest to northeast.

You can also use the summer constellations to help you trace a path across the Milky Way. For example, there’s Sagittarius, where stars and some brighter clumps appear as steam from a teapot. Then there is Aquila, where the Eagle’s bright Star Altair combined with Cygnus’s Deneb and Lyra’s Vega mark what’s called the “summer triangle.” The familiar W-shaped constellation Cassiopeia completes the constellation trail through the summer Milky Way. Binoculars will reveal double stars, clusters and nebulae all along the Milky Way.

Between Sept. 12 and 20, watch the Moon pass from near Venus, above Jupiter, to the left of Saturn and finally above Mars!

This month, both Neptune and brighter Uranus can also be spotted with some help from a telescope. To see them, look in the southeastern sky at 1 a.m. or later. If you stay awake, you can also find Mercury just above Earth’s eastern horizon shortly before sunrise. Use the Moon as a guide on Sept. 7 and 8.

Although there are no major meteor showers in September, cometary dust appears in another late summer sight, the morning zodiacal light. Zodiacal light looks like a cone of soft light in the night sky. It is produced when sunlight is scattered by dust in our solar system. Try looking for it in the east right before sunrise on the moonless mornings of Sept. 8 through Sept 23.

You can catch up on all of NASA’s current—and future—missions at www.nasa.gov

Caption: This illustration shows how the summer constellations trace a path across the Milky Way. To get the best views, head out to the darkest sky you can find. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

About NASA Space Place

With articles, activities, crafts, games, and lesson plans, NASA Space Place encourages everyone to get excited about science and technology. Visit spaceplace.nasa.gov (facebook|twitter) to explore space and Earth science!

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

Greetings, fellow astrophiles!

The latest article in the Upstate NY Stargazing series, “Upstate NY Stargazing in May: A Meteor Shower and Preparations for the Solar Eclipse,” has just been posted to newyorkupstate.com and syracuse.com.

Direct Links: newyorkupstate.com and syracuse.com

* With only four articles to go before the great total solar eclipse on August 21st of this year, we’ve shifted gears in the article opener from great nighttime observing to great daytime observing. You’ll be seeing more and more from all kinds of news sources as the data approaches, and CNYO is figuring out what we plan to do for the event (besides a few scheduled eclipses lectures in the CNY area in the weeks before).

For the record, amateur astronomers reserved their rooms years and years ago in all the best places – if you’ve not figured out your flight plans around the 21st already, there is a seriously good chance that you’ll be stick driving to see the best view of totality.

Caption: The transit of Venus across the Sun on June 5/6, 2012. By NASA/SDO, AIA.

* We continue our look north with Cassiopeia, the third of six constellations that are always visible in the nighttime sky from our latitude (readers then can guess where the next three articles are headed).

* This month, we await the Eta Aquariid (or Eta Aquarid, or eta Aquarid… Halley’s Comet doesn’t care what you call it) Meteor Shower, which peaks on the early mornings of May 5/6. In doing the homework for the article, I found it interesting to note that we’re not entirely sure that this meteor shower originates from particles attributable to Halley’s Comet, the object we most associate with this shower. It is possible that Halley’s Comet is indirectly responsible for the particles by being directly responsible for the redirection of the debris from a different object in to the current Eta Aquariid path.

Caption: The Eta Aquariid radiant, complete with Venus, Saturn, the newly returned Summer Triangle, and one perfectly-placed 5 a.m. ISS flyover on the morning of May 6. Image made with Stellarium. Click for a larger view.

NASA News Digest: Space Science For 30 July – 20 August 2015

Greetings fellow astrophiles,

The NASA News service provides up-to-date announcements of NASA policy, news events, and space science. A recent selection of space science articles are provided below, including direct links to the full announcements. Those interested in receiving these news announcements directly from NASA can subscribe to their service by sending an email to:


California “Rain Debt” Equal to Average Full Year of Precipitation

RELEASE 15-162 (Click here for the full article) – 30 July 2015

2015august20_15_162_masterA new NASA study has concluded California accumulated a debt of about 20 inches of precipitation between 2012 and 2015 — the average amount expected to fall in the state in a single year. The deficit was driven primarily by a lack of air currents moving inland from the Pacific Ocean that are rich in water vapor.

In an average year, 20 to 50 percent of California’s precipitation comes from relatively few, but extreme events called atmospheric rivers that move from over the Pacific Ocean to the California coast.

“When they say that an atmospheric river makes landfall, it’s almost like a hurricane, without the winds. They cause extreme precipitation,” said study lead author Andrey Savtchenko at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.

For more information about NASA’s Precipitation Measurement missions, visit: pmm.nasa.gov

NASA’s Spitzer Confirms Closest Rocky Exoplanet

RELEASE 15-160 (Click here for the full article) – 30 July 2015

Using NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope, astronomers have confirmed the discovery of the nearest rocky planet outside our solar system, larger than Earth and a potential gold mine of science data.

Dubbed HD 219134b, this exoplanet, which orbits too close to its star to sustain life, is a mere 21 light-years away. While the planet itself can’t be seen directly, even by telescopes, the star it orbits is visible to the naked eye in dark skies in the Cassiopeia constellation, near the North Star.

HD 219134b is also the closest exoplanet to Earth to be detected transiting, or crossing in front of, its star and, therefore, perfect for extensive research.

“Transiting exoplanets are worth their weight in gold because they can be extensively characterized,” said Michael Werner, the project scientist for the Spitzer mission at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California. “This exoplanet will be one of the most studied for decades to come.”

For more information about NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope, visit: www.nasa.gov/spitzer

NASA To Share The Universe With Tumblr Users

RELEASE 15-167 (Click here for the full article) – 7 August 2015

2015august20_15_167cNASA is launching an official Tumblr profile that will give Tumblr users a regular dose of space in a blog-like format through text, photos, videos and more.

Tumblr is a social media platform that allows users to connect and follow other content creators in a collaborative micro-blog format. People are able to discover, share and create content that expresses their personality, hobbies and interests. The NASA Tumblr profile will share information, images and video about the agency’s missions of exploration and discovery.

To follow NASA’s new Tumblr account, visit: nasa.tumblr.com

For a comprehensive list of NASA social media accounts and platforms, visit: nasa.gov/socialmedia

Oxymoronic Black Hole Provides Clues To Growth

RELEASE 15-165 (Click here for the full article) – 11 August 2015

2015august20_15_165Astronomers using NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory and the 6.5-meter Clay Telescope in Chile have identified the smallest supermassive black hole ever detected in the center of a galaxy. This oxymoronic object could provide clues to how larger black holes formed along with their host galaxies 13 billion years or more in the past.

Astronomers estimate this supermassive black hole is about 50,000 times the mass of the sun. This is less than half the mass of the previous smallest black hole at the center of a galaxy.

“It might sound contradictory, but finding such a small, large black hole is very important,” said Vivienne Baldassare of the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, first author of a paper on these results published in The Astrophysical Journal Letters. “We can use observations of the lightest supermassive black holes to better understand how black holes of different sizes grow.”

An interactive image, podcast, and a video about the findings are available at: chandra.si.edu

For more Chandra images, multimedia and related materials, visit: www.nasa.gov/chandra

Send Your Name To Mars On NASA’s Next Red Planet Mission

RELEASE 15-171 (Click here for the full article) – 17 August 2015

Mars enthusiasts around the world can participate in NASA’s journey to Mars by adding their names to a silicon microchip headed to the Red Planet aboard NASA’s InSight Mars lander, scheduled to launch next year.

“Our next step in the journey to Mars is another fantastic mission to the surface,” said Jim Green, director of planetary science at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “By participating in this opportunity to send your name aboard InSight to the Red Planet, you’re showing that you’re part of that journey and the future of space exploration.”

Submissions will be accepted until Sept. 8. To send your name to Mars aboard InSight, go to: go.usa.gov/3Aj3G

CNYO Observing Log: The Winter Of Lovejoy – Green Lakes, Jamesville Beach, And New Moon Telescopes HQ – January 9 to 14, 2015


Comet Lovejoy imaged on January 10th by the ever-impressive CNY astrophotographer Stephen Shaner. From his CNYO Facebook Group post: Last night was the first in over three months it was clear enough to shoot, but it worked out well because Comet Lovejoy is at its peak. Here’s a quick process of about 40 minutes of exposures between 8-9 PM as it crossed the meridian. FOV is roughly three degrees. Distinct pale green coma in the eyepiece but unable to make out a tail or see it naked eye.

The 2015 skies are going to be full of comets. Well, at least six, to be exact, that will be either naked eye- or binocular-visible. That’s still quite a few to those keeping track! The amateur astronomy community has taken heroic efforts to scientifically identify and track new comets in the last, say, 400 years. The rise of, for instance, the Panoramic Survey Telescope & Rapid Response System (or panSTARRS) as a method for finding and tracking both comets and near-earth asteroids (or, lumped together, “objects,” for which you might hear the abbreviation “NEOs”) has greatly increased the number of accounted-for fuzzy objects in our fields of view (and provided us a giant leap in our existential risk assessment infrastructure to boot). Quite simply, we’ve more + better eyes on the skies, meaning we’re bound to continue to find more and more comets and asteroids. You can even subscribe to NASA twitter feeds that announce the passing-by of these hopefully passers-by (see @AsteroidWatch and @NasaNEOCam).

The discovery of NEOs may or may not qualify as a modern John Henry-ism, as amateur astronomers are still discovering objects at a decent pace thanks to improvements in their own optics and imaging equipment. Comet Lovejoy, C/2014 Q2, is one such recent example discovered by famed modern comet hunter Terry Lovejoy (who has five comets to his name already).

Comet Lovejoy And More In CNY

Comet Lovejoy has made the winter sky that much more enjoyable (and below freezing cold that much more bearable) by reaching peak brightness in the vicinity of the prominent winter constellations Taurus and Orion. Visible soon after sunset and before the “really cold” temperatures set in (after 10 p.m. or so), Lovejoy has been an easy target in low-power binoculars and visible without equipment in sufficiently dark skies. Now on its way out of the inner solar system, its bright tail will shrink and its wide coma (that gives it its “fuzziness”) will disappear as the increasingly distant Sun is unable to melt Lovejoy’s surface ice. Those of us who dared the cold, clear CNY skies these past few weeks were treated to excellent views, while the internet has been flooded with remarkable images of what some have described as the most photographed comet in history (a title that will likely be taken from it when a few other comets pass us by during warmer nights this year).


The tiki lounge at Green Lakes State Park, 9 January 2014.

The first observing session around Syracuse this year happened at Green Lakes State Park on January 9th. Bob Piekiel, one of CNY’s best known and most knowledgable amateur astronomers, had his Celestron NexStar 11 in the parking lot behind the main office, which was fortunately kept open for attendees hoping to warm up between views. To Bob’s C11 was added my Zhumell 25×100’s, providing less magnification but a wider field of view to take in more of the comet’s core, tail, and nearby stars.


A very prominent Orion and arrow-ed Comet Lovejoy from the Green Lakes parking lot. Photo by Kim Titus.

The Friday night skies were only partially on our side, offering a few short-lived views of the Orion Nebula and Lovejoy. Jupiter was just bright enough to burn through some of the cloud cover to our East, giving us slightly muddled but otherwise decent views of it and its four largest satellites for about 10 minutes. By our 9 p.m. pack-up and departure, the skies were even worse – which is always a good feeling for observers (knowing they didn’t miss a chance for any additional views by packing up early).

The night of Saturday, January 10th turned into a much better night for observing, offering a good opportunity for some long-exposure images to try to capture Lovejoy just past its luminous prime. The following image was taken from one of the parking lots at Jamesville Beach – the same spot where Larry Slosberg, Dan Williams and I observed the nova in Delphinus. Light pollution aside from the 30 second exposure, the brightest constellations are clearly visible and a fuzzy, bright green star is clearly visible in the full-sized image. Click on the image below for a larger, unlabeled version of the same.


An array of Winter’s finest from Jamesville Beach, 10 January 2014, 8:00 p.m. Click on the image for a full and unlabeled version.

The imaging continued in Marcellus on January 10th, with Bob Piekiel producing a zoomed in view of Lovejoy.


An unmistakable view of Comet Lovejoy. Image by Bob Piekiel.

As with all astronomical phenomena (excluding solar viewing, of course), the best views come from the darkest places. A third Lovejoy session was had up in West Monroe, NY on Wednesday, January 14th with fellow CNYO’er Ryan Goodson at New Moon Telescopes. Putting his 27” Dob to use, the green-tinted Lovejoy was almost bright enough to tan your retina. With dark skies and no observing line, we then attacked some subtler phenomena, including the Orion Nebula in Orion, the Eskimo Nebula in Gemini, and the Hubble Variable Nebula in Monoceros. The images below are our selfie with Lovejoy and the best of Winter, a snapshot near the zenith (with Jupiter prominent), and the Northern sky (click on the images for larger, unlabeled versions).


Ryan and I pose for 30 sec, our fingers completely missing the location of Lovejoy (red arrow). Click for a larger view.


Some of Winter’s finest from NMT HQ, including a prominent Jupiter just to the west of (and about to be devoured by) the constellation Leo. Click for a larger view.


A view of NMT’s opening to the North, including Cassiopeia at left (the sideways “W”), the Big Dipper in the middle, and Jupiter at the right. Click for a larger view.

A Clothing Thought…

As we can all attest to, the nighttime temperatures this month have oscillated between bitterly cold and painfully cold. The pic of my Element’s thermometer at my midnight departure from West Monroe read -12 F (and the tire inflation warning light stayed on until I hit 81 South), yet with the exception of the tips of my toes, I wasn’t very bothered by the cold.


2015jan22_nmt_layersIt’s one of the cold realities of amateur astronomy – you never realize how cold it can get outside until you’re standing perfectly still at a metal eyepiece. The solution is as old as the sediment-grown hills – layers! The top half of my outfit for the evening is shown below, featuring six (yes, six) layers from turtleneck to final coat. My bottom half featured three layers that decorum permits me from showing here. For those wondering how the blood still flows below the belt, the answer is simple – buy yourself an outer layer two or three sizes larger than you usually wear. In my case, my outer coat’s a bit baggy and my outer pants are a very tightly-meshed pair of construction pants with a 40” waist (from a trip to DeJulio’s Army & Navy Store on Burnet Ave. in Syracuse).

And don’t worry about color coordinating. The nighttime is the right time for the fashion unconscious.

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!