Tag Archives: Messier Object

“Upstate NY Stargazing In April” Article Posted To newyorkupstate.com And syracuse.com

Greetings, fellow astrophiles!

The latest article in the Upstate NY Stargazing series, “Upstate NY Stargazing in April: Comet Hunting and the Lyrid Meteor Shower,” has just been posted to newyorkupstate.com and syracuse.com.

Direct Link: newyorkupstate.com/outdoors/index.ssf/2017/03/…the_lyrid_meteor_shower.html

Direct Link: syracuse.com/outdoors/index.ssf/2017/03/…the_lyrid_meteor_shower.html

* We extend last month’s discussion of Messier Objects by briefly discussing the objects Messier was most keen on finding – comets. Many thanks to Brad Loperfido for the kind reprint permissions of his excellent Comet 41P/Tuttle-Giacobini-Kresak et al. catch (below).

Caption: One-hour motion of Comet 41P/Tuttle-Giacobini-Kresak (left) within Ursa Major, including M108 (the “Surfboard Galaxy”, upper right) and M97 (the Owl Nebula, lower right). (Image by NY photographer Brad Loperfido on March 22, 2017)

* We continue our look north with Ursa Minor, the second of six constellations that are always visible in the nighttime sky from our latitude (readers then can guess where the next four articles are headed).

* This month, we await the Lyrid Meteor Shower, which peaks on the early morning of April 22nd. The Lyrids peak in the presence of a sliver of a waning crescent Moon – this is excellent news for observers annoyed by the many washed-out 2016 meteor showers, as the Moon will not be bright enough to dull bright Lyrid trails.

Caption: The Lyrid Meteor Shower radiant, roughly between the bright star Vega and the southern elbow of Hercules. Pending the skies and brightness, you may even be able to see Comet 41P/Tuttle-Giacobini-Kresak between the head of Draco and arm of Hercules that night. Click for a larger view.

Bob Piekiel Hosting His Monthly New Moon Baltimore Woods Session Tonight, 5 February 2016, 7-9 p.m.

Greetings, fellow astrophiles!

Tonight is looking reasonable enough to warrant trying to get at least one February observing session in. Pending any final weather update (by 5:00 p.m. tonight here and on the Facebook Page), Bob and I will be at Baltimore Woods Nature Center from 7 to 9 p.m. to enjoy some of the very best (and, to me, THE best) observing of the year.


Not only is the Southern Sky full of some of the very best Messier Objects of the year (click on the image above, centering Orion at 9:00 p.m. for ease-of-orientation, for a larger view), but we’ll (hopefully) be treated to a sight of Comet Catalina, currently in the direction of Polaris.

For those going out to look at the conditions around 6:00 p.m. – wait! At 6:13 p.m., the ISS will be flying overhead and hitting mag. -3.1 (you can’t miss it! MAP #1 courtesy of heavens-above.com). Attendees will be treated to a second, dimmer fly-by at 7:51 p.m. (only mag. -0.4. MAP #2 courtesy of heavens-above.com).

As with all Baltimore Woods events, they request that you RSVP for the event through their facility. Also note that Baltimore Woods is supported by hosting these events, so there is an associated fee for the event ($5 for BW members, $8 for non-BW-members). To RSVP, contact the BW office at (315) 673-1350 or info@baltimorewoods.org.

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.


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.


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!