Tag Archives: Double Cluster

CNYO Observers Log: Green Lakes State Park Solar Session (7 March 2015) and Monthly Baltimore Woods Session (13 March 2015)

Greetings fellow astrophiles,

A quick observing log combining two recent events hosted by Central New York’s own Bob Piekiel. As everyone who’s been local all winter knows, conditions were less than ideal for lots of observing. For those sessions that cloud cover (and snow) didn’t ruin, the Arctic Chill that hit CNY in the middle of February really did a number on even the most determined observers.

Solar Session – Green Lakes State Park – 7 March 2015

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Having put off and re-put off a solar observing session at Green Lakes State Park bus to lousy conditions, the powers that be wanted to go forward with a session on Saturday afternoon, March 7th. With H-alpha and Baader’ed scopes in tow, Bob (and I helping run the Baader’ed scope) hosted a session in the parking lot behind the main building at Green Lakes. Over the course of about 90 minutes, perhaps 10 good minutes of observing were had. Clear skies to the East couldn’t be coaxed to shift West and the upcoming mild snow storm that afternoon even provided some advanced warning. Still, about 10 people either showed specifically for the solar or made their way off the skiing path to take in a few sights of our nearest star.

2015march19_sunspots_1024_20150307The Sun itself wasn’t particularly busy that afternoon, with a major sunspot region having just fallen off the Sun’s edge, leaving a small speck of dark spots just within scopesight (see the March 7th image at right from NASA SOHO. Click for a larger view). As with all sessions, the observing was complemented by good introductory astronomy discussions and direction to the CNYO site for upcoming events (including upcoming solar sessions).

For those keeping additional track, the Sun did provide quite a show over the past few days in the form of fantastic aurora after an X-class solar flare fired up ionization in our atmosphere. For those looking for a gallery of what everyone by Central New Yorkers (it seems) saw over this past St. Patrick’s Day, I encourage you to let google do the work for the following image search: solar storm st. patricks 2015.

Baltimore Woods Monthly Session – 13 March 2015

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A panorama from the Baltimore Woods Session start. Click for a larger view.

A decidedly more fruitful session was had in the thawing parking lot of Baltimore Woods on Friday, March 13th. This evening was also first light for 2015 of my 12.5” NMT Dob (Bob’s SCT having already seen action with a few observing sessions this year). The sky (mostly) did not disappoint! Jupiter and Venus were easy and excellent targets, Mars was at the horizon at session start but still observable (Uranus having slipped too low to see), and a dozen eager observers attended to take in the sights. The only real letdown for the evening was the persistent cloud cover that obstructed all of Orion throughout, giving only a few passing views of the Orion Nebula. To Jupiter, Venus, Mars, and the Orion Nebula (sort of), a very double-centric crowd were treated to views of the double cluster in Perseus, Alcor and Mizar in Ursa Major, and Castor (a sextuplet star system that resolves to a bright binary pair) and Pollux in Gemini. Cloud cover was just persistent and wide-ranging enough to make galaxy views all but impossible, making the whole session a real hopscotch survey of the brightest available at the time. After a solid 80 minutes of observing, we finally packed up with plans for the next sessions made.

For those wanting to check out one of Bob Piekiel’s many events this year, please see his calendar on the CNYO website. We hope to see you!

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!

CNYO Observing Log: Baltimore Woods, 27 September 2013

Greetings fellow astrophiles!

The September 27th Baltimore Woods session was notable for several reasons. On the down side, my drive to Marcellus through Fairmount was delayed when a minivan with far too many large dogs in it had one of its automatic windows dropped down to the delight of an ejected dog that bounced off my driver side door (my non-astro thought for the day – if your pets are your children, please use the child safety options built into your very modern vehicle!). On the up side, for the first time since March, a Baltimore Woods session started at 7 p.m. The skies were dark enough to begin seeing the brightest stars with ease and cold enough to freeze out the many bugs that frequent the BW Nature Center.

Attending scopes included Bob Piekiel‘s massive 16″ Meade GOTO (with some included heavy lifting by the two of us to get it set up and torn down), Larry Slosberg’s 12″ New Moon Telescope, and my 12.5″ NMT Dob (herein referred to as “Ruby”). A fourth scope appeared early in the evening with the first attending family, but ended up not getting too much use. Despite being a bit worse for wear, their “retail store” Stratus 60mm refractor scope surprised the owners (and kids) with a good view of a distant cellular tower and a fuzzy but noticeably “half-moon cookie” Venus (whatever description works is fine with me).

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Bob inspecting the Stratus 60mm.

The final size (25ish) of the crowd (and the number of first-time attendees) dictated the observables for the evening, with all of us sticking mostly to bright, easily identifiable objects. As for our local neighborhood, the good news was that more than half of the planets were out for the evening (counting the views of Earth). The bad news was that Venus and Saturn set early (both due to the time and the high trees along the Western horizon), leaving the very distant Uranus and Neptune as targets for later-night observers.

As has been my standard procedure, I picked one object from my standard list of “kinds of” objects so those at my scope would be sure to get a sampling of the types of objects we amateur astronomers look forward to looking at. My list included:

* (Hopefully) One Planet – From my (scope’s) vantage point, Venus and Saturn were impossible catches behind large trees. Neptune and Uranus were, for the entire viewing session, nestled within the glow of Marcellus (and Syracuse beyond), so I didn’t even bother attempting to find them. Bob, however, had at his disposal a massive GOTO, so the gathered crowd was able to take in at least one of the two distant planets (making them part of the way-less-than-1% of the entire planet who can claim the same).

* One Star – At Bob’s request, I gave special attention to Herschel’s Garnet Star (mu Cephei) in Cepheus. One of the real benefits of magnification through good optics (or long-exposure photography) is the appearance of color in many stars that are otherwise just too slightly colored to be noticeable to Naked Eye observers. While the different colors of the binary star Albireo are generally obvious to most people, the Garnet Star jumped out to everyone through every eyepiece as a very orange star. This red supergiant, affectionately known to some as Erakis, is BIG. Those who have seen the image below in one of our CNYO library lectures…

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The scale of familiar objects in our vicinity (click for the wikipedia version).

Will recognize Mu Cephei as the third star from right (in the “Big Block” 6) in the bottom of the image. Our own Sun peters out in Block 3. If a super race of aliens were to swap out our Sun for the Garnet Star, the outer edge of its plasma would engulf Jupiter and either engulf or roast Saturn. Big. Not only big, but old to boot. Mu Cephei is what is known as a “carbon star,” one that has nearly exhausted its helium (which is produced from all the fusion of hydrogen, which it then exhausted quite some time ago) and is now producing carbon in the star’s core. The near-exhaustion of the star’s fuel means that it’s likely only a few million years from going supernova (somewhere between a finger snap and ringing wine glass in cosmic terms) and is currently identified as a variable star for its subtle and erratically changing brightness.

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Mu Cephei, Cepheus, and surrounding constellations.

As you scour Cepheus some evening, do take the Garnet Star in. If you’re scanning randomly along the bottom of the barn, you can’t miss it!

* One BinaryAlbireo in Cygnus remains an easy favorite. Everyone saw Albireo A as slightly orange or yellow, while Albireo B appeared as slightly to “clearly” blue (clearly a demonstration of the importance of dark adaption and cone sensitivity in the retina). One point of interest is that we’re not entirely sure of Albireo is an optical binary (the two just appear close, but one is much farther away than the other as projected onto our two-dimensional sheet of the Night Sky) or a gravitationally-bound binary pair. If gravitationally-bound, the two are likely far from one another, with the orbital dance occurring over 100,000 or more years.

* One Open Cluster – The Double Cluster (Caldwell 14) in Perseus

* One Globular Cluster – The ever-obvious M13 in Hercules

* One Nebula – The Veil Nebula in Cygnus – typically, this would be considered one of the less-easy objects for a new observer to make out. Through an OII filter, however, the wispy-ness jumps out and new observers, with a little patience, can even see the curvature of each fragment well enough to know where the Veil must be radiating from.

* One Galaxy – M31, The Andromeda Galaxy in Andromeda (and M32 and M110), which were easy for all to spot with a little scope nudging.

As has become the norm recently, I packed up Ruby around 9:30 p.m. and pulled out the Canon T3i and tripod for an extended session of scope-less astrophotography. Three highlights include a very discernible Milky Way, complete with Great Rift, from opposite the direction of Marcellus…

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The Milky Way (plus one bright plane and one dim satellite). Click for a larger version.

A dimmer part of the Milky Way that seemed to radiate from (and be washed out by) Marcellus…

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The Milky Way and Marcellus (plus a dim plane (dashed line) and dim satellite). Click for a larger version.

And a quite decent view of the varied objects in the vicinity of the constellation Perseus (in the pocket between the two trees and closer to the left tree), including the components of the Double Cluster, NGC 884 and 869 (the fuzzy splotches at the base of the small necklace – 1/3 over from the left edge and 1/4 down the image).

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Perseus, NGC 884, and NGC 869. Click for a larger version.

I packed it in around 10:00 p.m. in great anticipation! Within the glow of Marcellus lay the Pleiades (M45) and just a hint of its closer cousin the Hyades in the head of Taurus the Bull. These objects have likely served as markers for many millennia that the clear, dark, steady, and uncomfortably cold night skies of winter approach.