Tag Archives: Cygnus

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.

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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.

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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.

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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).

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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: “Stars And S’mores” At Green Lakes State Park, 10 July 2015

Greetings, fellow astrophiles!

I’ve had few chances to provide write-ups of observing sessions in 2015 due to CNY skies not agreeing with we amateur astronomers. Fortunately, Bob Piekiel’s yearly 2015 Green LakesStars and S’mores” Summer Session (on the books for 6 months now) landed on an excellent summer night, providing a large crowd some excellent views of some (sadly, not all) of the Solar System’s best sights.

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Part of the crowd at Green Lakes. Click for a larger view.

There were roughly 120 people in attendance at the start of the session (by the car/people count of the Green Lakes staff. They estimate 3.5 people per car on average, which sounds like quite a mess in the back seat), making this the largest public CNY session I’ve attended since the Transit of Venus in 2012. To Bob’s SCT and my NMT 12.5” Dob was added guest attendee and the IOTA’s own Ted Blank with his (I’m pretty sure, anyway) Orion 120mm ST Refractor. We had one last work-in-progress scope in attendance with the arrival of fellow CNYO’ers Kirk Frisch (his work-in-progress) and Chris Schuck. As usual, the setup of the scopes cut into our collective s’mores time.

Bob had already aligned his SCT and started close to 8:00 p.m. on the viewing of Venus after a quick welcome and safety lecture. I had someone with great eyesight point out Venus near my scope, after which the line behind my Dob hit +50 people. Sadly, with a +50 person line at each of the scopes and all pointed at Venus to give the attendees that view, you take quite a bit of time to show the planet to everyone (and for the motor-less scopes, additional time re-nudging Venus back into the eyepiece. Stupid Earth rotation…). For us, that meant that Jupiter, the next to appear after sunset, was already obscured in the high tree line to the West of the Green Lakes field. Bob had a short-but-heroic catch between branches, but Ted and I were left to wait for Saturn.

Another search by the same woman at my scope (someone had a big piece of carrot cake earlier, I guess) pointed out Saturn midway above another high tree patch. We all then spent a good 30 minutes on Saturn, comparing views and encouraging people to spend a little time trying to pull additional detail out – namely, Titan and the Cassini Division. Finally well after sunset, the stars began to then appear behind Saturn, so person #40 had a more engaging view than person #1.

Venus and Saturn viewing for the whole group took about an hour, after which the youngest members of the crowd headed home and a few others showed in time for some non-planetary viewing that went until about 11:00 p.m. My observing list for the night (a recurring theme for all of the Summer public viewing sessions) was as follows:

* Saturn and Venus

* Albireo in Cygnus – a Summer favorite to show people that stars are actually quite colored when you find the right ones (and binaries make it all the more interesting)

* Alcor and Mizar in Ursa Major – first as a Naked Eye test for attendees, then on to the discussion of the complexities of a 6-star (!) system

* M57, the Ring Nebula in Lyra – a real standout at near-zenith, as well as a preview of what our own Sun will look like in 5-ish billion years

* Herschel’s Garnet Star in Cepheus – the first of the closers for the evening, showing that some stars are very intensely colored

* Zubeneschamali (?! Let’s go with beta Librae) in Libra – the second of the closers in my scope (at Bob’s request). Some people see this as a faintly green star, which makes it quite noteworthy (Bob and I have decided it’s actually blue-ish instead. According to wikipedia, “There seems to be no generally accepted explanation for why some observers see it as green.” Perhaps someone could do the study to see if these people also see the dress as black and blue).

The Andromeda Galaxy (M31) and M32 – a final view just above the horizon (so all had to stoop low to see into the eyepiece) to take the final 5 attendees outside of the Milky Way. At the risk of starting an argument, I would argue that M31 is best viewed through 25×100 binoculars, giving you the best combination of field of view (this galaxy is six Full Moons across and any significant magnification causes you to miss lots of the trailing starlight around the core) and spiral detail. In fact, M31 is a prime reminder to all that a good pair of binos is a must-have for the dedicated observer.

Those interested in some additional summertime viewing are welcome to join us at Bob Piekiel’s Baltimore Woods session this coming Friday, July 17th (18th as the weather-alternate) and solar session at Clark Reservation on Saturday. Check cnyo.org on Friday afternoon for an official announcement. We hope you can join us!

CNYO Observing Log: Clark Reservation State Park, 29 August 2014

Greetings fellow astrophiles,

Central New York is a reasonably reasonable place for the reasonably active amateur astronomer. A 10 minute drive away from the center of downtown Syracuse puts one far enough away from enough of the city lights to make bright clusters and galaxies visible, although not necessarily impressive. A 15 to 25 minute drive in the right direction provides skies dark enough to keep any keen amateur occupied for a long evening of Messiers. Those willing to meander their way through a 40 to 50 minute excursion can find some tremendously dark skies fit for subtle NGCs and non-CCD comets. And those of us who host sessions along the Creekwalk know it’s perfectly reasonable for the Moon, Sun, and bright planets (and, if the big globular clusters aren’t out, not much else).

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First setup at Clark Reservation. Click for a larger view.

Clark Reservation State Park leans very much in the near-downtown category, lying about 10 minutes to the Southwest of the Salt City. A two-hour session hosted by Bob Piekiel and assisted by Christopher Schuck and myself revealed Clark Res to be a great harbor for new amateur astronomers wanting to get their feet wet but not ready to be thrown eyepiece-first into the deep abyss offered by Dark Sky locations. Bright constellations are obvious, the planets jump right out, the crescent Moon is a busy structure of mountains and valleys, and the brightest Messier objects are “obvious” to observers looking through the eyepiece, all while the sky is streaked by bright shooting stars and crisscrossed by satellites too numerous to keep track of.

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Summer Triangle panorama. Click for a larger view.

Setup commenced around 7:00 p.m. with Bob, Chris, and I initially spaced in an equilateral-ish triangle to try to maximize the amount of “different” observables. The clear field just west of the main parking lot offered a remarkably open view of the sky, with several large clearings between trees to really let one get low to the horizon for last-look viewing. My initial proposal to Chris to catch the Moon, Saturn, and Mars between one of these South-most clearings seemed reasonable until we stepped over to Bob’s East-most setup – a change of only 50 feet completely opened up the Western Sky. What started as a Summer Triangle then turned into Triangulum, leaving me with dominion over the Eastern Sky and all of the constellations and Messiers Autumn will offer at our zenith.

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Maybe a 4? The light pollution from Clark Res (lower number = better). For Deep Sky objects, not good. For learning the major constellations, not bad. From stellarium.org.

Despite the brightness of Syracuse (and some of the Clark Res safety lights), the sky wasn’t “that bad.” It was certainly a great starting point for new observers who’d only ever recognized the Big Dipper in the late-Summer sky. It was very easy to point out – then reinforce – the Big Dipper, Little Dipper, Pegasus, Cygnus, Lyra, Cassiopeia, the Summer Triangle, and Hercules. The Messiers through my scope were limited to M13, M57 (which was a stretch for the newbies, no doubt about it), and M31/M32 (which, despite the location, looked excellent in a 26mm Nagler), leaving Saturn, Mars, and the Moon to Bob and Chris – this on account of a good-sized group (about 20) who kept in constant rotation between our three scopes. We did have ourselves a prominent Iridium Flare, 6 confirmed meteors, and a host of satellites (which made a few people’s day).

Final pack-up started a little before 10 p.m., requiring bright flashlights and small mops (was quite a damp evening). All in all, Clark Reservation is a good spot for those who want to get their bearings without having to drive too far from home (a nice starter spot for that 10-minute range), and I found myself spending more time with a green laser pointer and some mythology than I did looking through the eyepiece. Attendees didn’t seem to mind, and we all got home by bedtime.

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).

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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!).

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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!

NASA News – NASA’s Kepler Telescope Discovers First Earth-Size Planet in ‘Habitable Zone’

Greetings fellow astrophiles,

Certainly NASA news worth posting! The constellation Cygnus returns to prime viewing in late Spring through the Summer and we’ll hope to have Kepler-186 found for the big Dob’s by then. Meantime, the NASA News Press Release is reproduced in its entirety below.

RELEASE 14-111 – April 17, 2014

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Caption: Kepler-186f resides in the Kepler-186 system about 500 light-years from Earth in the constellation Cygnus. The system is also home to four inner planets, seen lined up in orbit around a host star that is half the size and mass of the sun. Image Credit: NASA Ames/SETI Institute/JPL-Caltech

Using NASA’s Kepler Space Telescope, astronomers have discovered the first Earth-size planet orbiting a star in the “habitable zone” — the range of distance from a star where liquid water might pool on the surface of an orbiting planet. The discovery of Kepler-186f confirms that planets the size of Earth exist in the habitable zone of stars other than our sun.

While planets have previously been found in the habitable zone, they are all at least 40 percent larger in size than Earth and understanding their makeup is challenging. Kepler-186f is more reminiscent of Earth.

“The discovery of Kepler-186f is a significant step toward finding worlds like our planet Earth,” said Paul Hertz, NASA’s Astrophysics Division director at the agency’s headquarters in Washington. “Future NASA missions, like the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite and the James Webb Space Telescope, will discover the nearest rocky exoplanets and determine their composition and atmospheric conditions, continuing humankind’s quest to find truly Earth-like worlds.”

Although the size of Kepler-186f is known, its mass and composition are not. Previous research, however, suggests that a planet the size of Kepler-186f is likely to be rocky.

“We know of just one planet where life exists — Earth. When we search for life outside our solar system we focus on finding planets with characteristics that mimic that of Earth,” said Elisa Quintana, research scientist at the SETI Institute at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif., and lead author of the paper published today in the journal Science. “Finding a habitable zone planet comparable to Earth in size is a major step forward.”

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Caption: The diagram compares the planets of our inner solar system to Kepler-186, a five-planet star system about 500 light-years from Earth in the constellation Cygnus. The five planets of Kepler-186 orbit an M dwarf, a star that is is half the size and mass of the sun. Image Credit: NASA Ames/SETI Institute/JPL-Caltech

Kepler-186f resides in the Kepler-186 system, about 500 light-years from Earth in the constellation Cygnus. The system is also home to four companion planets, which orbit a star half the size and mass of our sun. The star is classified as an M dwarf, or red dwarf, a class of stars that makes up 70 percent of the stars in the Milky Way galaxy.

“M dwarfs are the most numerous stars,” said Quintana. “The first signs of other life in the galaxy may well come from planets orbiting an M dwarf.”

Kepler-186f orbits its star once every 130-days and receives one-third the energy from its star that Earth gets from the sun, placing it nearer the outer edge of the habitable zone. On the surface of Kepler-186f, the brightness of its star at high noon is only as bright as our sun appears to us about an hour before sunset.

“Being in the habitable zone does not mean we know this planet is habitable. The temperature on the planet is strongly dependent on what kind of atmosphere the planet has,” said Thomas Barclay, research scientist at the Bay Area Environmental Research Institute at Ames, and co-author of the paper. “Kepler-186f can be thought of as an Earth-cousin rather than an Earth-twin. It has many properties that resemble Earth.”

The four companion planets, Kepler-186b, Kepler-186c, Kepler-186d, and Kepler-186e, whiz around their sun every four, seven, 13, and 22 days, respectively, making them too hot for life as we know it. These four inner planets all measure less than 1.5 times the size of Earth.

The next steps in the search for distant life include looking for true Earth-twins — Earth-size planets orbiting within the habitable zone of a sun-like star — and measuring the their chemical compositions. The Kepler Space Telescope, which simultaneously and continuously measured the brightness of more than 150,000 stars, is NASA’s first mission capable of detecting Earth-size planets around stars like our sun.

Ames is responsible for Kepler’s ground system development, mission operations, and science data analysis. NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., managed Kepler mission development. Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp. in Boulder, Colo., developed the Kepler flight system and supports mission operations with the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics at the University of Colorado in Boulder. The Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore archives, hosts and distributes Kepler science data. Kepler is NASA’s 10th Discovery Mission and was funded by the agency’s Science Mission Directorate.

The SETI Institute is a private, nonprofit organization dedicated to scientific research, education and public outreach. The mission of the SETI Institute is to explore, understand and explain the origin, nature and prevalence of life in the universe.

For more information about the Kepler mission, visit: www.nasa.gov/kepler

-end-

J.D. Harrington
Headquarters, Washington
202-358-5241
j.d.harrington@nasa.gov

Michele Johnson
Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif.
650-604-4789
michele.johnson@nasa.gov

Karen Randall
SETI Institute
650 960-4537
krandall@seti.org

NASA news releases and other information are available automatically by sending an e-mail message with the subject line subscribe to hqnews-request@newsletters.nasa.gov. To unsubscribe from the list, send an e-mail message with the subject line unsubscribe to hqnews-request@newsletters.nasa.gov.