Tag Archives: Circumpolar Constellations

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

Greetings, fellow astrophiles!

The latest article in the Upstate NY Stargazing series, “Upstate NY Stargazing in November: The Leonid meteor shower takes the stage,” has just been posted to newyorkupstate.com and syracuse.com.

Direct Links: newyorkupstate.com and syracuse.com

Some brief highlights…

The Leonids can be impressive and impressively bright, with up-to 20 meteors per hour expected this year. This shower will be improved by the lack of a Moon in the nighttime sky during the peak. To optimize your experience, lie flat on the ground with your feet pointed towards Leo and your head elevated – meteors will then appear to fly right over and around you.

Using Orion et al. to find the backwards question mark of Leo the Lion.

* With Orion out and about at a reasonable hour, the Orion-star-finder has been brought back from the UNY Stargazing archives (again):

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

* While UNY is predicted to be clouded out this November 13th morning, others will hopefully get to see an impressive conjunction between Venus and Jupiter before sunrise.

A very close pairing of Venus and Jupiter, with Mars and the Moon to boot.

* And, finally, we complete our survey of the circumpolar constellations by explaining just what they are and why they’re excellent first targets for new observers:


A walk through Nov. 1 in 6-hour increments. Focus on the six constellations in the blue circles. Day or night, all throughout the year, these constellations are always above the horizon for NY observers.

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.

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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.

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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: Beaver Lake Nature Center, 8 August 2013

Our summer CNYO observing session at Beaver Lake Nature Center was a reminder to always have something else to say when the skies prohibit observing. In the case of Thursday, August 8th, we had kept track of the weather conditions all morning and afternoon in hopes of seeing a clearing or two over Baldwinsville, NY. While the skies favored a canceling of the session in favor of an August 15th re-scheduling, Beaver Lake already had a healthy list of attendees and inability to contact them all by the time of any official decision, so Larry Slosberg, Bob Piekiel, and I headed out with both observing gear and lecturing gear in tow.

Having taken the advice of Stu Forster a few years before, a prepared observing host is only ready for anything when they can move the group indoors for one of several new or canned astronomy lectures. The muggy evening of August 8th was just such an instance, as the skies remained 98% or so overcast for a good 3 hours, opening up tiny holes only briefly. Larry and Bob kept watch for potential clearing outside while I extended the discussions of a three-part lecture in hopes of one of them running inside with good news. Over the course of an 80 minute lecture (that likely seemed longer to the 16 attendees), no luck.

Speaking of lectures (and on the bright side for the night), I am pleased to report that Beaver Lake now has an LCD projector to go along with their large screen (so future lecturers can rely on Powerpoints and/or leave their own gear at home).

And as part of trying to keep the observing sessions entirely outdoors, CNYO has several brochures available to help direct discussions (with cheap red flashlights in tow) that were also available indoors for future reference. They continue to be well-received and without major error yet – and were even used during the lecture to address an easy way to start learning the constellations (starting with the circumpolar constellations) and to introduce the Perseid Meteor Shower to attendees. We encourage you to download them and hopefully find them useful. All of them are summarized on our CNYO CHEAT SHEET.

Meantime, we are currently planning our winter session at Beaver Lake. stay tuned!