Tag Archives: M51

CNYO Observing Log: Perseid Week @ Marcellus Library, Baltimore Woods, Beaver Lake, and Green Lakes, 11 – 14 August 2015

Greetings fellow astrophiles!

2015aug25_two-moons-hoaxThis was, far and away, the busiest and best-attended Perseid Meteor Shower week in my history as a CNY-residing amateur astronomer, ranking third overall in public interest behind a Darling Hill Observatory session for the closest approach of Mars in 2003 (the origin of that completely useless meme about Mars and the Moon appearing the same size this (and nearly every one since 2003) August) and the Transit of Venus event held along the Armory Square Creekwalk back in 2012. I would argue that a large part of this local interest (as pertaining to CNYO events, anyway) was due to the efforts of Glenn Coin at syracuse.com in keeping science (and, specifically, space science) in the local paper/websites. His articles following the days approaching, as well as the instigation of we locals to take another shot or two at seeing anything on alternatively partly-cloudy nights, can be found at the links below:

* 6 Aug – Catch the Perseid meteor shower at Baltimore Woods viewing party (by Emily Nichols)

* 10 Aug – Perseid meteor shower: What’s the best night to see it in CNY?

* 12 Aug – ‘Amazing’ Perseid meteor shower: When, where and how to see it in Central NY

* 12 Aug – Perseid meteor shower update: CNY skies should be mostly clear for peak

* 13 Aug – Miss the Perseid meteor shower last night? Try tonight

* 13 Aug – Perseid meteor shower: Watch video of amazing display above the Finger Lakes (by Lauren Long)

Our continued thanks to Glenn Coin and syracuse.com for covering the big yearly astronomy events!

Solar Observing Session At Marcellus Free Library, August 11th

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sunspots_1024_20150811Our Perseid week actually started in the daytime, with a Solar Observing Session run by Bob Piekiel as part of a How-To Festival at Marcellus Free Library on Tuesday, August 11. Like the Sun itself, the Sun’s importance in irradiating comets as they pass into the inner Solar System and melt enough to leave the trails of cosmic debris that become our yearly meteor showers cannot go unnoticed. This session featured Bob’s Coronado 90 mm H-alpha scope, a small Baader’ed refracting scope, and Christopher Schuck’s Coronado PST. Over the course of about 90 minutes (from the session start to the Sun slipping behind the high tree line), we had about 25 people cycle past the scopes to observe numerous medium-sized prominences and a reasonably clear Sunspot 2396 (click the image at right for a larger view from NASA/SOHO).

Besides the continuous dialog about all things solar, more than a few attempts to capture images through the scopes were had. While smartphones are not the ideal gear for accomplishing this (due to both the difficulty in proper placement and the relative sensitivity of the sensors to monochromatic light (in our cases, the dark red H-alpha band)), Chris did manage a pic that included multiple prominences, one power line, and the ever-constraining tree line (below).

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Smartphone Coronado PST pic by Christopher Schuck. Click for a larger view.

A Three-For: Baltimore Woods (Aug. 12th), Beaver Lake (Aug. 13th), and Green Lakes (Aug. 14th)

Bob and I handled scope and lecture duties for the three peak Perseid nights, hitting well-separated locations and a few overlapping attendees. As all three sessions were nearly identical in their content and observing targets, I’ll briefly summarize the unique aspects of each event before giving the combined (and nearly identical) observing lists.

Baltimore Woods (August 12th)

With the best time for the Perseids predicted to be between the late evening of the 12th and 13th, Baltimore Woods Nature Center was predictable busy. Attendees began to arrive around 8 p.m., with total attendance maxing out at about 65 people (and the parking lot itself maxing out before that). With an introductory lecture and white light warning provided, the entire 8:30 to near-11:00 p.m. session only included three shooting stars. Two were moderately bright (and fleeting). A third, the best of all three days, hit atmosphere above a large set of clouds, yet was bright enough to light the clouds like a green-twinged lightning bolt.

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Bob Piekiel and the calm before the storm.

The evening itself turned out mostly cloudy, providing just enough open pockets of dark sky for views of Saturn, a few Messiers, some Constellation touring, one ISS pass, and the three observed meteors that graced the skies that night. Cloud cover became all-consuming just after 10:30 p.m. and we packed up and were gone by 11:00 p.m.

In the interest of trying to catch at least one Perseid by photo, I trekked out to Cazenovia Lake around 4:00 a.m. in 30 minutes of trying, I managed only a single shooter (in the image below, it looks like a white arrow (at bottom) pointing to some dim objects).

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A sharp streak of a Perseid in an otherwise poorly-balanced image. Click for a larger view.

Beaver Lake Nature Center (August 13th)

CNYO’s official seasonal Beaver Lake Nature Center session was greatly simplified by having the Baltimore Woods session the night before (meaning Bob and I could attend both sessions with no overlap). With the session moved from the Beaver Lake rotunda to the overflow parking, we found ourselves in a darker, lower tree-lined, and easy to arrange location (meaning we may request that all future sessions be held in the same spot!). Beaver Lake skies were not much clearer than Baltimore Woods, but the waits between observables was shorter and our ability to cycle through objects and attendees was improved. With additional announcements on syracuse.com, the final Beaver Lake count was five meteors and about 75 people from our 8:30 introductions to 11:00 p.m. pack-up.

Green Lakes State Park (August 14th)

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Upcoming festivities announced during our session.

Our Green Lakes State Park session in July peaked near 120 people (some for the stars, some for the s’mores), which is quite a crowd for 3 scopes! Despite the predictions of clearer skies than previous days and generally excellent evening weather, the August session capped itself at about 70 people (with a bunch of them being young amateur astronomers who packed it in early, leaving a smaller group of about 15 to stay until our 11:00 p.m. Ending to pick off several Messiers after Saturn slid behind Green Lakes’ high southern tree line. Going solely by “ooh-and-aah” statistics, Green Lakes attendees may have seen a total of 5 Perseids (none rivaling the one from Baltimore Woods, but easily seen in the mostly clear skies above).

Observing List (More Of The Summer Same, And For Good Reason)

As has been discussed many times on this website, the importance of introducing new observers to easily observed and described objects cannot be understated. The hunt for dim NGCs and equally dim Messiers is always worthwhile with sufficient time and clear skies, but the brand new observer (arguably) benefits more from prominent views of objects such as the Moon, M13 in Hercules, Alcor and Mizar, M57 (the Ring Nebula) in Lyra, The Andromeda Galaxy (M31), and the bright visible planets each evening. These objects are easily seen by anyone approaching the eyepiece and can be used to give new observers a kind of “upper limit” on their expectations of what a scope is capable of magnifying from ground level. Amateur astronomy, like chess, can become a lifelong training in subtlety. That said, the mechanics are easy to learn by slowly introducing the many kinds of players.

With two scopes and +60 attendees at each session, we were definitely limited in our observing variety simply by the lengths of the lines behind each scope. That said, we were able to give all of the patient attendees some great views of the night’s best for each Perseid session. The short list of objects is below (listed according to the order in which they’re observable as the skies get darker and darker):

* Saturn (our bright planet for the Summer and Fall)
* Alcor and Mizar in Ursa Major, Albireo in Cygnus, Herschel’s Garnet Star in Cepheus
* M13 (globular cluster) in Hercules, M57 (The Ring Nebula) in Lyra
* M27 (The Dumbbell Nebula) in Velpecula
* M31 (The Andromeda Galaxy) and M32 (one of its two satellite galaxies) in Andromeda
* M51 (The Whirlpool Galaxy) in Canes Venatici

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M13, M57, and M27. Photos by Bob Piekiel. Click for a larger view.

In closing, we had an excellent week-long turnout for the sessions and are grateful to everyone who came out to make this a busy Perseid show. We hope all of the new faces on our meetup and Facebook pages keep track of upcoming events – and we hope to see your dark, featureless outlines at another 2015 session!

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: Star Search! At Green Lakes State Park, 26 July 2013

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The gathered crowd at Green Lakes.

July 26th saw the yearly return of Bob Piekiel, his 11″ Meade SCT, and 25x125mm Vixen Binoculars to Green Lakes State Park for his yearly “Star Search” observing session (original post HERE). Also in attendance were Ryan Goodson (representing CNYO and New Moon Telescopes with his fantastic 16″ Dobsonian) and myself (with “Ruby,” my equally fantastic 12.5″ NMT Dobsonian). I’ve been to Green Lakes many, many times over the last few decades, but I’ve never “seen” the place after sunset. I am pleased to report that CNY has an excellent piece of flat, maintained ground, low horizon, and reasonably dark sky just 20 minutes from downtown Syracuse – a place that I hope sees much more observing activity in the future.

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Local flora and fauna in the parking lot.

Ryan and I arrived around 8:00 p.m. to the sight of 40-or-so kids and adults huddled around a well-spaced campfire that doubled as a s’mores factory. Also in attendance were two caffeinated dogs and a few deer in the parking lot. The location of the session was just near the camping ground, with the parking lot and flat grounds centered in the google map below (a “right” and a “left,” a little meandering, and you’re there).


View Larger Map

The session started just after sunset with the identification of Venus in the Western sky as it began to settle behind trees. This served as an opportunity for everyone to see how the scopes work (and have them demonstrated so everyone knew where the eyepiece was later), to see the appearance of phase in this inferior planet (not to belittle Venus or Mercury – “inferior” refers to them being closer to the Sun than Earth. All other planets are “superior” to Earth in this respect, and we are one of Mars‘ inferior planets), and to see just what a thick, damp atmosphere does to bright pinpoints of light. In this case, the atmosphere acts like a prism, splitting the light from Venus slightly into subtle reds and blues on opposite sides the planet. Not a pretty view for an astronomer looking for sharp detail, but an excellent lesson in optics nonetheless.

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Bob (right) on Venus, Ryan (middle) discussing advanced optics design.

With the dogs corralled into nearby cars and Bob unable to shout louder than mezzo-piano for the session, I gave a brief introductory greeting around 9:00 p.m. that stressed the few important points we wish everyone going into a public observing session would know beforehand (but are happy to explain prior to observing through the scopes). These same points appear on one of the fold-out plaques we bring to each session:

1. If You Don’t See Something, Say Something!

During Mars’ 2003 closest-approach at Darling Hill Observatory, people waited in line for nearly an hour to catch a glimpse of Mars they wouldn’t have from Earth’s surface for quite some time to come. One woman looked quickly, then came down a bit put off by the poor sight she had waited so long to see. I snuck back up the ladder to find Mars nowhere in sight – the scope had moved off of Mars by some unseen event (it was dark after all). We put Mars back in, found the woman walking out of the observatory room, and escorted her right back up the ladder to a sight that was definitely worth the wait. Sidewalk astronomers are there for YOU, so ask questions, ask for clarification, make comments about the view, whatever it takes to make sure you don’t inadvertently miss a great sight.

2. Bright Lights = Bad Lights

Smart phones are the new bane of amateur astronomers, having taken over the role white-light flashlights once held. The first thing we tell people (and the first thing we re-tell late arrivals) is that the dark adaption of your vision is a sensitive and time-consuming thing. 15 to 20 minutes are required for your eyes to adjust to the dark enough to see more detail in the Night Sky (and any detail on the ground). One camera flash, one answered phone, one slip of the flashlight can set a whole group’s dark adaption back to square one. Whether by intention or accident, it is a disservice to other observers to set their observing back, so we always ask that people take extra care to spare attendees from bright lights. If your flashlight has a red mode, use it(!), as our vision is largely insensitive to red light (meaning no real dark re-adaption is necessary).

3. Dobsonians Move In A Stiff Breeze

One thing I’ve noticed among some young (younger than 10, that is) observers is a tendency to want to bring the view to them – which they do by dragging the eyepiece to their eye instead of walking up to see what the scope is focused on. We love the enthusiasm, but we don’t know what they’re seeing after they’re done moving! Because Dobsonians are designed to move very smoothly in all directions, we tell people that the best way to observe is to:

“Put your hands behind your back and walk up to the eyepiece.”

I see kids and adults do this after I mention it – and it works great.

4. Don’t Be Afraid Of The Eyepiece!

A final tendency I see among some new observers (especially with glasses) is to find a comfortable spot 2 or 3 inches from the eyepiece. And some young kids have it even worse as their parents try to hold their kid’s head near the eyepiece. No good! When I see someone doing either, I take over the observing, hand them my red flashlight, and show them just how to get that excellent view. Everyone’s done something new that they clearly didn’t know the procedure for. A bit of demonstration goes a long way (especially when you see the same person back in line for a new object and they walk up to the eyepiece – hands behind their back – like a pro).

An Education-First Session

The session itself ran quite smoothly for several hours, with Bob, Ryan, and I mostly sticking to easy-to-see objects. Another important aspect of a sidewalk astronomy or public viewing session is not to tax the new observer’s imagination by asking them to focus on dim, faint objects that might be totally invisible to someone who doesn’t know how averted vision works. Like an opening band trying to get their best material out in 30 minutes before the headliner, a session for new observers should emphasize big, bright objects where what you describe to them is obvious after a few seconds’ time. If you want to introduce new observers to a taste of everything, I recommend finding the best of each of the objects below to have at-the-ready and ready to describe (I include my choices with each for the Green Lakes session):

* (Hopefully) One PlanetVenus and Saturn
* One StarVega in Lyra
* One BinaryAlbireo in Cygnus
* 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
* One GalaxyM31, The Andromeda Galaxy in Andromeda (but I started with M51, the Whirlpool Galaxy in Canes Venatici just off the bowl of the Big Dipper, to stall until Andromeda cleared the horizon)

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A 15-second exposure of the Big Dipper from the grounds.

I was fortunate to have as my last set of public observers two near-teenagers who were attentive enough to my description of Andromeda and the mechanics of Dobsonian motion that I let them take Ruby’s reigns to find M110, a satellite galaxy just outside of the field of view of M31 and M32 in my scope. After both Bob and the crowd took off for the evening, Ryan and I spent another 30 minutes or so observing (pulling out the Veil Nebula in Cygnus – and still near Fayetteville’s lights!), where we decided that Green Lakes is an excellent, reasonably dark sky location in Syracuse’s direct suburbs – a location we would very much like to make a more regular CNYO observing hotspot.