Tag Archives: Light Pollution

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: A Quick Overview Of The Last Month

Greetings fellow astrophiles!

CNYO members (several of them, anyway) have grown tired of sorting and cleaning their eyepieces this extra-frosty winter (not me – I think it’s fun!) and are getting ready for a long Spring and Summer of (hopefully) using them at observing sessions. With several scout, school, and public sessions scheduled or in the works, CNYO already has several successful events under their collective belts. A quick sampling of updates from these events is listed below.


1. North Syracuse Community Room For International Dark Sky Week – Tuesday, April 14

It happens to all of us at some point – we become so wrapped up in the minutia of a hobby or profession that we completely forget that the vast majority of the rest of the planet has little idea what we’re rambling on about. Light pollution – the encroachment of civilization on amateur astronomy due largely to a lack of forethought in the way people and businesses attempt to turn “the night” into “the late afternoon” – has been shown to have negative impacts on health (melatonin!), safety (street light glare!), security (blind spots big enough to eat hay!), energy conservation (714 lbs of coal are required to light one 100 W bulb for a year!), and the environment (plant cycles can be affected by stray light and the nesting and migration habits of several species have been shown to be affected by a lack of proper day/night cycles).

Within minutes of my starting the lecture on light pollution, I discovered that this was a completely brand new topic to half of the audience. The tone of the lecture changed rapidly from complaining to educating (you do learn to think on your feet a bit when giving public lectures), and I am optimistic that the audience left with a new understanding of the problem and many of the solutions now available (from simple solutions at Home Depot and Lowe’s all the way to legislation recently passed in Albany).


2. Bob Piekiel At Baltimore Woods – Friday, April 17

Bob’s monthly sessions at Baltimore Woods are, bar none, the most reliably-scheduled public observing events in CNY. Despite a bit of light pollution to the East-ish from Marcellus and Syracuse and a tree line that eats the very edge of the horizon for early-setting objects (and we’ve still managed to catch some photons from special objects at tree level in the past few years), the rest of the sky is wide open for constellations, planets, and the Messier Catalog.

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A colder Baltimore Woods session (February, 2015).

Bob reports that this session hosted about 20 enthusiastic observers – a sure sign that CNY was starting to thaw in April (as only the bravest/craziest made it out to the earlier sessions this year).


3. NEAF 2015 – Saturday & Sunday, April 18 & 19

Ryan Goodson and I missed the April 17th BW session, instead heading Southeast with vehicles full of both New Moon Telescopes Dobsonian parts and a very large fraction of the Stuventory. The NMT NEAF 2015 booth was (quite fortuitously) wider than expected, providing ample room for (1) Ryan to showcase a newly completed Dob, collapsible truss assemblies, and a new design prototypes and (2) me to run the biggest little used equipment sale I’ve seen in my 5 years of attending NEAF. I am pleased to report that the vast majority of the Stuventory is now in the hands of dedicated amateur astronomers from all around the Northeast and as far away as the Dubai Astronomy Group!

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Before…
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4. Maker Hall At Parent University – Saturday, April 25

Larry Slosberg, Ryan Goodson, and I lucked out with clear skies and a large crowd of kids and adults alike at the Dr. King Elementary School. What could have been a demonstration table indoors turned into a full-on solar session outdoors in the playground, complete with some of the best and busiest views of the Sun I’ve ever seen through my Coronado PST.

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A snapshot of the observing crowd.

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A prominent prominence at 2:30 p.m.

As has been the case with all of the kids’ sessions to date, half the kids keep you on your toes and the other half approach observing with their pint-sized science caps on (these ones are easy to pick out as they spend a good long time at the eyepiece).


5. CNYO At Beaver Lake Nature Center – Thursday, April 30

Our weather-alternate session at Beaver Lake started a bit on the soupy cloud cover side, but ended up clearing nicely just after sunset to give Bob Piekiel, Chris Schuck, Larry Slosberg, and myself reasonable skies for the Moon, Jupiter, Venus, and a few bright Messiers. With a short lecture on the observing highlights for the year (see below) already loaded on the laptop, several of us waited out the Sun indoors while others allowed their eyes to adjust gradually as the skies darkened and the early bugs slowly cooled out around the main rotunda.

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Attending observers at Beaver Lake.

We’re tentatively scheduled to host a Summer observing session late August and will post as the schedule finalizes.


6. Syracuse Rotary Lecture – Friday, May 1

2015may10_rotarymbs_rgbAn invitation to speak for 30 minutes (which turned into nearly an hour with questions) to the Syracuse Rotary Club provided the perfect excuse to prep a lecture on all of the major astronomical events happening in 2015 (planets, eclipses, International SUNDay, NASA missions, and comets). How often do you end up hearing about something interesting the day after? The +30 attending Rotarians were very welcoming and engaging during the lecture, with several questions taking us far, far away from the Powerpoint presentation into all areas of astronomy. If you ever get the opportunity to lecture to a Rotary Club, take it!

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).

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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).

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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.

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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.