Tag Archives: Clear Sky Clock

CNYO Observing Log: Friends Of Rogers, 8 August 2015

Greetings, fellow astrophiles!

“It goes to show you never can tell.” – Chuck Berry

As of 10 a.m. On Saturday, August 8th, it was pretty clear that the late evening and early night time sky wasn’t going to be. The usual complement of forecast websites and Clear Sky Clock all indicated that the night was going to go from Mostly Cloudy to Partly Cloudy after midnight. A generally bad sign for amateur astronomers on both counts:

1. There would likely be enough cloud cover to distract from observing

2. There would likely be just enough clear sky to make you regret setting up the scope

Our Friends of Rogers (FoR) session in Sherburne was scheduled as an Observing-Only event. If the sky was completely overcast, there likely wouldn’t have been any confusion as to what wasn’t going to happen that evening. The forecast of Mostly Cloudy, coupled with (1) a one-hour drive for most of us from here to there, and (2) FoR having done plenty of advertising for the event but not having an RSVP list or any way to contact people that the session wasn’t going to happen, made for a small conundrum.

For those not in the know (from the Friends of Rogers website)…

Operated and run by Friends of Rogers as a non-profit to provide outstanding educational opportunities that excite, inspire, and motivate people of all ages to enjoy, understand, and protect our natural environment.

FoR is a beautiful facility and grounds pocketed away in Sherburne, NY. Similar to our more local Beaver Lake Nature Center. The place includes lecture facilities, equipment rentals, plenty of walking space, summer classes of varied kinds for kids (for which we may host an astro-specific event next summer), and a very friendly staff (frankly, it isn’t often that staff is still ready for more at 11:00 p.m. at many of the placed we hold sessions).

The solution was for our Observing event to be announced as cancelled, but I’d head down anyway to provide some kind of indoor astronomical program for anyone who showed. I arrived around 7:40 p.m. to three staff and one visitor, followed soon by a half-dozen more attendees. With my honest-ta-goodness-totally-legit Mars and Ceres rocks and various meteor fragments and consequence pieces (desert glass, tektites, etc. I’ve also promoted Kopernik’s own Patrick Manley’s daughter’s discovery to near-legendary status in these parts) in tow, plus a 30-or-so minute lecture on 2015 Astronomy Highlights, we ended up having a two hour discussion indoors before stepping outside to talk a little bit about finding prominent constellations, navigating the circumpolar constellations, orienting ourselves in preparation for the Perseid Meteor Shower peaking this week, and then observing a total of 30 stars in the same single 26mm Nagler field of view through my NMT 12.5” Dob and the Lagoon and Trifid Nebulae through one attending’s pair of binoculars.

2015august9_findpluto_1

The little teapot, short and stout, in the body of Sagittarius.

2015august9_findpluto_2

Pluto, threading the 4/5 mag. needle at the tip of the teaspoon (the “needle” stars are easy in low-power binoculars. Pluto, not so much). Click the image for a larger view.

That set of 30 stars in the same field of view was crystal clear for a few minutes, and fortuitous given the lecture content. With a clear shot of the handle of the Teapot that is the body of Sagittarius, you can find your way to the teaspoon (well, to me, anyway) just above and to the left of the handle. The end star of the teaspoon is actually 2 stars, one a pure white (ksi 1) and the second a deeper orange/red (ksi 2, with a small companion off to one side). As it so happens, Pluto is threading the needle hole at the moment right between those two stars (see the image below).

While none of us actually “saw” Pluto given the conditions (and that would be a Herculean effort in a 12.5” Scope with a few surrounding lights), we all did have more than a few photons from Pluto, Charon, Kerberos, Nix, Hydra, and Styx, hit our retinas (technically, even a few from the New Horizons spacecraft itself. Isn’t statistics wonderful!).

The lesson learned for any and all future sessions (provided no rain) are as follows:

1. Always be prepared to say something (handing people a piece of another planet and/or dwarf planet makes that pretty easy).

2. An attending registry can be very helpful. In CNYO’s case, we’re going to make sure that our Facebook and Meetup events list are always up-to-date.

And, with that, we await what the weather holds for this coming week’s Perseid Meteor Shower. If it’s clear, several of us will be out most of the week hoping to spot a few at local parks. See our official announcement post for details. We hope to see you!

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.

2014sept25_beaverlake

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!

CNYO Observing Log: Green Lakes State Park, 25 July & 15 August 2014

* Session 1 – 25 July 2014

Exactly 364 days after our last outing past the now-defunct Fayetteville Friendly’s, Bob Piekiel and I hosted another well-attended session in the large open (frisbee) field of Green Lakes State Park on July 25th. This Friday evening saw reasonably warm and dewy conditions and no small amount of bug spray. The generally young crowd (2/3’s in the mid-teen or younger) was treated to Bob and mine’s usual post-dusk schtick, early sights of Saturn and Vega, and then a small host of other celestial objects as the night grew darker (after many of the youngest were dragged away by schedule-conscious adults).

2014august12_greenlakes_july25_small

Bob Piekiel inspecting the dusk skies during setup.

After setup, the race was on for one of us to find Saturn to make sure everyone had seen at least one planet before leaving. After a lucky run of star finding (Vega and Arcturus) to align his Celestron NexStar 11, Bob had a long planetary line behind him, leaving me to start the evening with my New Moon Telescopes 12.5″ Dob on Vega (giving my post-Saturn line a glimpse of increasing numbers of stars around Vega as it darkened). By the end of the Vega line, Saturn was obvious to all and Mars was just between widely-spaced branches, allowing us to fill in the planet views before 1/2 the attendees (and all the youngest observers) left just after 9:00 p.m.

The rest of the evening was the usual free-for-all. While the sky still wasn’t nearly dark enough for dedicated observing at 10:00 p.m., we were fortunate to have a remaining group with both great interest in astronomical phenomena and vivid imaginations to fill in the perceptual gaps left by distant Fayetteville lights and our own early event timing. The discussions around the scope were as well received as the objects themselves.

As you might expect, having a session almost exactly 1 year apart means that the “pick hits” of last year were very similar to the “pick hits” of this year. The only real difference was the swapping of one swiftly-moving planet (Venus) with another (Mars). Saturn, in that one year block, has slid only slightly from Virgo last year to Libra this year. As for my usual policy of presenting at least one from the list of standard types of objects at each session, my observing and lecture list was as follows:

* (Hopefully) One PlanetSaturn
* One StarVega in Lyra was the obvious choice, giving all an early view of how bright stars shimmer strongly upon magnification (and allowing us to show how the shape of the spiders holding up our secondary mirrors affects our views). At Bob’s request, we also threw in Herschel’s Garnet Star in Cepheus as an example of very strongly-colored stars in the night sky (after showing Albireo to demonstrate the same).
* One BinaryAlbireo in Cygnus. I also included epsilon Lyrae in Lyra as it was close to Vega. Alcor and Mizar in Ursa Major are also excellent for testing visual acuity among attendees (and the magnified view gives still more to say about double stars in our neighborhood).
* One Open ClusterThe Double Cluster (Caldwell 14) in Perseus
* One Globular ClusterM13 in Hercules
* One NebulaM57, The Ring Nebula in a href=”https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lyra”>Lyra. The use of an inflating balloon to demonstrate how you can see through the middle of a well-inflated balloon but can’t see well through the edges is as clear an explanation of what the Ring Nebula is from our vantage point as any other I can think of.
* One GalaxyM31, The Andromeda Galaxy in Andromeda. Despite the closeness to the horizon, M32 and M110 were also visible to observers at low magnification.
* Anything Else? – we were treated to several dozen obvious satellites and at least one bright meteor tail before packing up.

* Session 2 – 15 August 2014

The week of August 11 – 17 will be remembered as an almost useless one for CNY amateur astronomy. The Perseids were not only washed out by the timing of the Full Moon, but also by the constant overcast conditions (mixed with a few interesting lightning storms). Planned sessions at Baltimore Woods, Beaver Lake Nature Center (rescheduled for August 21st!), and North Sportsman’s Club were all scrubbed.

Given the lousy conditions all week for nighttime observing, I was a bit hesitant to drive out to Bob Piekiel’s August 15th session at Green Lakes State Park (even with one scope, it’s a lot of gear to drag around for a session where it won’t be used). That said, the Clear Sky Clock indicated a potential opening in the 9-ish to 11-ish range and the s’mores weren’t going to eat themselves. The crowd of around 25 (all crowded around a fire pit that smelled of charred marshmallow) were ready to observe and full of questions and fun discussion, so the early views of Saturn, Vega, and Arcturus were enough to keep us all occupied.

Around 9:20 p.m., a small miracle occurred as a massive clearing of the sky swept South/SouthEast, taking with it all of the present clouds in a slow, straight band that eventually gave us views of the entire sky before closing back again around 10:30 p.m. The clear, steady 70 minutes were more than enough to allow us to re-scan last month’s observing list (all little changed since last month!).

2014august18_greenlakes_fire

Old and new light – the end of the fire pit and inspecting flashlights.

With everyone departing soon after, we were left to take in a bit of the remaining fire in the pit (and our observing attire left to take in that burning wood smell) before giving the grounds one last scan with a bright flashlight before departing. A lousy evening turned into a fantastic (and slightly shortened) night for a Public Viewing Session. Kudos as always to Attilla Danko for his ever prescient Clear Sky Clock!