Tag Archives: Constellations

CNYO Observing Log: Liverpool Public Library, 6 March 2014

From the Liverpool Public Library Calendar of Events:

Step outdoors with the CNY Observers (www.cnyo.org) and learn about the late Winter/Spring constellations, their origins, and how to navigate the Night Sky using the six constellations that are visible year-round.

Centuries before automated GoTo telescopes or phone apps were invented, constellations served as the amateur astronomer’s map of the heavens. Many telescope observers and binocular sky hunters still prefer the “age olde” method of learning the positions of nebulae, clusters, and galaxies based on the bright stars these objects reside near – all of which become much more easy to find once you associate these bright stars with their mythological characters.

This program is part of the Liverpool Public Library’s Unplugged Month.

CNYO members returned to the lecture circuit in 2014 with a stop at the Liverpool Public Library. Cindy Duryea and the rest of the LPL staff have been the most supportive of CNY astronomy events among the many local public libraries, having now hosted a half-dozen lectures in the last three years (for which the CNY amateur astronomy community is most grateful!). Regular patrons may even know that the LPL has established a binocular loaner program to help new amateur astronomers learn the craft on-the-cheap, complete with 20×80 binoculars, heavy-duty canvas case, red flashlight, and a few instructional books on the topic. CNYO members in attendance for this event included Ryan and Heather Goodson (and one New Moon Telescope Dob used to demo the scope workings indoors), Larry Slosberg (with another NMT Dob), Bob Piekiel (with a Meade C11), and myself (with an armillary sphere and copies of our brochures).

2014march29_lpl_da

The author working through A Guide For New Observers.

As I’ve mentioned on a few occasions, the local libraries are excellent places to host your open-to-the-public lectures, as the library provides the seating, presentation equipment (complete with LCD projector and large drop-down screen at LPL), and either free heat or cooling (made all the more important by Syracuse’s temperature swing throughout the year).

2014march29_lpl_rg

Ryan Goodson describing the workings of an NMT Dob.

In keeping with the Unplugged Month theme, the indoor part of the lecture used no more technology than a flashlight to act as the Sun (no one brought candles). The lecture itself consisted mostly of walking through the first two of our brochures, Guide For New Observers and How The Night Sky Moves. The Guide For New Observers served several purposes:

1. Discussing Dark Adaption and the importance of not answering your smart phone.

2. Using your fully-extended arm and hand as a distance measure for the constellations.

3. Using Light Pollution to your advantage by starting to find bright constellations in the city.

4. Tricks to finding some of the most common (and easily found) constellations.

How The Night Sky Moves
goes into a bit more detail about why the constellations appear as they do, including the yearly changes in the Night Sky that come with our oriented rotation axis towards Polaris and the yearly changes that come with our 23 hour, 56 minute, and 4 second daily rotation.

I will warn those who have not tried to give an astro lecture without proper preparation that it is not as easy at you might think! Amateur astronomy is a very visual hobby. Take away your standard Hubble images of celestial panoramas and various historical content in a Powerpoint slide, and you find yourself working extra-hard to turn hand waving into physics. That said, it is an excellent exercise to test how well you know and can explain physical phenomena, so worth trying (at least once) as you plan your future lectures.

2014march29_lpl_outside

The outdoor group and scopes.

With the indoor lecture complete, attendees willing to brave the cold (and a few who just happened to be walking by) were treated to attending telescopes in the park across the street (not ideal for dedicated observing, but you can absolutely get some great sights from well-lit city centers provided you pick your observing targets accordingly. No galaxies!) and a sneak-preview of the Regulus occultation by asteroid Erigone (which, ultimately, wasn’t observable from CNY).

CNYO members are always happy to bring our scopes and know-how to libraries, school events, and any other groups that might be interested. For more information, please contact us through our Contact Page.

CNYO Observing Log: Beaver Lake Nature Center, 2 May 2013

2013may2_beaverlakebanner_v2

Greetings fellow astrophiles,

May 2nd served as the rain date (due to rapidly-overcasting conditions on April 25th) for our first Beaver Lake Nature Center lecture of the year – The Guiding & Wandering Stars – Key Northern Constellations & Planet Observations. On hand to run scopes and engage in lecture duties were the author with a 12.5″ New Moon Telescope Dobsonian, Larry Slosberg with one Meade SCT and Bob Piekiel with another.

The Constellations have been with us for thousands of years, but there are only a few good, clear nights each month to memorize their positions as they slowly move across the sky! This outdoor lecture by the CNY Observers (www.cnyo.org) will briefly describe the history and importance of the Constellations as mythological, agricultural, and navigational guides, then will describe a simple system to begin to learn their relative positions. At the same time, Jupiter and Saturn are on opposite sides of the Southern sky, making excellent targets for binocular and telescope observing. Free and open to the public.

While the week including May 2nd will be known to some as a particularly bad week for maple tree allergies, the nighttime sky stayed quite clear and the bugs eventually froze around us to produce an excellent session. The attending crowd of about 35 served as test subjects for both our two new brochures (How The Night Sky Moves and Guide For New Observers) and our first official completely outdoors (Powerpoint-free) lecture (which, despite astronomy being such a visual hobby, worked will with just the brochure contents). In anticipation of some nighttime brochure reading, I put together some red light flashlights on the cheap locally. For anyone attempting similar, I found a four-pack of Dorcy AAA 6 LED Flashlights at Dicks Sporting Goods for $10. Some very minor surgery is needed to remove the top caps, but conversion to red light flashlights is straightforward with the help of a four-layer stack of red acetate purchased many moons ago from Commercial Art Supply in Syracuse.

406px-EB1711_Armillary_SphereDespite a little confusion about the start time (7:30 or 8:00), everyone had pulled in by 7:45 p.m., so we began the session with a good 30 minutes of physics. The goal of these Beaver Lake lectures is to not only observe objects, but to explain why the sky moves as it does so those trying to learn new constellations will understand what to expect both over the course of a night and over the course of a year. This began at the ground floor – understanding how the Earth moves around the Sun. With the help of an armillary sphere (which holds the Earth at its 23 degree tilt – see the image at left from wikipedia), the Earth’s movement around the Sun was demonstrated, specifically showing that the rotation axis stays pointed the same way as we revolve – thus resulting in Polaris appearing not to move over the course of the year despite the Earth shifting position by 300 million kilometers (2 astronomical units) every 6 months. Knowing that Polaris is always in the same place in the sky (whether it’s daytime or not) leads smoothly into a discussion of the circumpolar constellations and the benefit of learning these six constellations first (for this discussion and some how-to’s, I refer you to the CNYO brochure: Guide For New Observers).

Running a sunset-to-late-night session with a non-cycling crowd has (at least) two distinct advantages. First, the importance of dark adaption and the need to avoid smart phones (or avoid their use around others) can be stressed early in the evening. While enforcing protocols to maintain dark adaption at any kind of public lecture is usually a losing battle, anyone answering a phone did it in a very non-obvious manner, which was most welcome. Second, the mechanics of my Dobsonian telescope and Larry and Bob’s two motorized SCTs could be presented while still visible to attendees. More importantly, the proper observing technique for all could be demonstrated by showing (a) how to approach an eyepiece (I tell people to put their hands behind their back and simply lean into the eyepiece) and (b) just how easy it is to nudge a scope away from its target. Specifically for the Dob, I’m sure anyone who’s brought their scope to a public session has had at least one person lean on or pull closer an eyepiece. I’m pleased to report that, once the observing started, our collective intro to scope workings made my Dob-running life simple with no unplanned re-adjustments (just adjustments of the unmotorized kind).

As stated in a previous post (2013 March 8 – At The Syracuse Inner Harbor), new observers are best introduced to observing with easy objects that don’t require training. Deep, dim, distant galaxies are not useful starters for someone with no background in eyepiece observing. For my part, a good 70 minutes were spent on Jupiter (low in the Western Sky with all four Galilean moons present), Saturn (low in the Eastern Sky and my first view of it this year), Arcturus in Boötes (its shimmering in the sky both with and without magnification was a point of discussion for several near my scope), M13 (the globular cluster in Hercules, which served as a first “way out” object and an example of using the constellations as a “coarse adjustment” for finding Messier and other objects), and the pair Alcor and Mizar in the handle of the Big Dipper/tail of Ursa Major (to show the separation and additional detail that comes with magnification).

With a much smaller crowd around 9:30 p.m., I did treat a few interested parties to some more difficult observing in my scope – The Leo Triplet – after first briefly explaining the mechanics of averted vision. Of the five people who looked, all could make out M65, all could at least tell that something “was there” where M66 rested, and three people could tell that “something else” was there at NGC 3628‘s position. And I did miss a golden opportunity to observe NGC 4565 (my personal favorite) in Coma Berenices.

We closed up shop at 10 p.m., just as Cygnus and Lyra began to peak out over the horizon and announce the approaching return of our Summer Constellations. I am pleased to report that we will be hosting a Summer Session on Thursday, August 8th (with an August 15th rain date) where we will again do a little bit of mechanics and instruction outdoors, followed by Saturn, Venus, and all that our summer view of the Milky Way can provide.

August 8 – Stargazing with CNY Observers & Observing

CNY Observers (CNYO) hosts an introductory lecture to the Night Sky, focusing on planets and other objects observable during August and September.  Part of the lecture will discuss some simple ways to learn the Constellations, while the rest of the lecture will provide details about meteor showers, observing satellites and the ISS, and the ever-expanding description of our own Solar System.  If time and weather permits, some early evening views of Venus and Saturn will be had from the Beaver Lake parking lot.  Free for members; $2 for nonmembers.

CNYO Brochure – How The Night Sky Moves

Greetings fellow astrophiles!

In preparation for upcoming 2013 lecture and observing sessions, we have put together instructional brochures to help introduce the Night Sky to attendees. The second of these, entitled “How The Night Sky Moves,” is provided below in PDF format. This brochure will be available at our combined lecture/observing sessions, but feel free to bring your own copy (or the PDF on a tablet with a good red acetate cover!).

Download: How The Night Sky Moves (v4)

NOTE: These brochures are made better by your input. If you find a problem, have a question, or have a suggestion (bearing in mind these are being kept to one two-sided piece of paper), please contact CNYO at info@cnyo.org.

2013may1_htnsm_pg1

2013may1_htnsm_pg2

How The Night Sky Moves

Why Polaris Doesn’t (Seem To) Move

“Like the Sun, the Night Sky appears to rise in the East and set in the West (which is a result of the Earth spinning from West to East).”

The Circumpolar Constellations

“Their orientations due to Earth’s rotation may change, but they are ALWAYS VISIBLE IN THE NIGHT SKY – SO LEARN THESE SIX FIRST!”

Zodiac, Ecliptic, Solstices, Equinoxes

“The constellations of the Zodiac are special because they mark the apparent path the Sun and planets take across the sky as the Earth revolves around the Sun.”

One Earth Day vs. One Earth Rotation

“There are 24 hours in a day, but the Earth takes 4 minutes less than 24 hours to make one full rotation.”

Constellation Movement By The Hour

“With 24 hours in a day, the sky turns 15 degrees (1/24th of 360 degrees) per hour. During a 4-hour observing session, circumpolar constellations will then appear to move counterclockwise (East-to-West) 60 degrees – 1/6th of a circle – around Polaris.”

Constellation Movement During The Year

“After 12 months, the Earth (and our view of the Night Sky) almost returns to the same position it was the year before. Why almost?”