Tag Archives: Messier Objects

Upstate NY Stargazing In March: Two Full Moons, Venus And Mercury After Sunset – Posted To syracuse.com And nyup.com

Greetings, fellow astrophiles!

The March, 2018 UNY Stargazing article is up for your reading and sharing pleasure at syracuse.com and newyorkupstate.com:

Links: newyorkupstate.com & syracuse.com

Note that March is the best month for planning your Messier Marathon. Be sure to check your local astronomy club to see if any events are being scheduled.

The best-of-winter constellations over Baltimore Woods in Marcellus, NY. The bright star at lower-center is Sirius in Canis Major. To its right and up, the belt of Orion, the five-star “V” of Taurus, and the Pleiades star cluster near the image edge. Photo by the author.

There were a few evenings this past February that were unexpectedly comfortable for the time of year, hopefully giving observers some unexpectedly long opportunities to take in some of the busiest regions of our nighttime sky. To have the grouping of the Winter Hexagon – Orion, Taurus, Auriga, Gemini, Canis Minor, and Canis Major – out and about at such reasonable hours means that anyone can see not only the brightest grouping of bright stars in our yearly sky, but also some of the closest groups of stars. The Hyades star cluster, made up of the “V” of the head of Taurus the Bull – but not including the bright eye star Aldebaran – is our closest star cluster at 150 light years. Just to the northwest of the Hyades lies the second-closest bright cluster of stars to our Solar System – the Pleiades.

If you can find the Pleiades and the patch of stars under Orion’s Belt, you can even scratch two of the 110 Messier Objects off of your list. The history and some key details of the Messier Objects were discussed in the March, 2017 article. In brief – these are the bright galaxies, star clusters, and nebulae that can all be found with little more than a quality pair of binoculars, dark skies, a good star chart, and a big cup of coffee. The time around mid-March and early-April is the only time of the year when, if you start VERY soon after sunset, you can find all 110 of these objects before sunrise the next morning. Astronomy clubs the world over often plan marathons as a group – these are great opportunities to learn from seasoned amateurs as well as to see how the same object may look in many different binoculars and telescopes.

The 110 Messier Objects through highest-quality optics. Images compiled by Michael A. Phillips.

Read more…

Also, in the event, February flew too quickly for the post. The February, 2018 article is linked to below:

Links: newyorkupstate.com & syracuse.com

CNYO Brochure – An Observational Astronomy Facts And Figures Cheat Sheet

To cut to the downloading chase: Astronomy Facts And Figures Cheat Sheet V6.pdf

Greetings, fellow astrophiles!

Those who’ve ever run an observing session have inevitably faced the most daunting of amateur astronomy outreach questions:

“Woah. How far away is that?!”

In the interest of having a rapid response to that and similar questions, the posted cheat sheet combines as much of the usual information that observers and attendees might want to know as can be fit in not-too-small font into groupings that fit on single pages (10, total).

An important word on the facts: To the very best of ability, all of the information has been checked and double-checked against available data online. To that end, all of the data as presented can be directly attributed to the following websites as of their content on 1 January 2017:

* astropixels.com/messier/messiercat.html – extra thanks to Fred Espenak for use permissions

* astropixels.com/stars/brightstars.html – extra thanks to Fred Espenak for use permissions

* www.amsmeteors.org/meteor-showers/2016-meteor-shower-list/

* www.dl1dbc.net/Meteorscatter/meteortopics.html

* nssdc.gsfc.nasa.gov/planetary/factsheet/

* star.arm.ac.uk/~dja/shower/codes.html

And, of course:

* en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_exceptional_asteroids

* en.wikipedia.org/wiki/88_modern_constellations

* en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_meteor_showers

* en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_brightest_stars

* en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apparent_magnitude

* en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stellar_classification

The Observational Astronomy Cheat Sheet contains the following:

Page 1: The only two figures in the document, including the famous “finger how-to” for measuring distances in the night sky and a figure describing right ascension and declination (with values for many objects given in the tables).

Page 2: Moons And Planets – All of the standard information (and descriptions below) about the relative places of planets in the Solar System (distances, masses, temperatures, distances from Sun), then an extra column for our Moon.

Page 3: Best Meteor Showers – All of the categorized Class I, II, and III Meteor Showers throughout the year, including approximate peak dates, times, and directions.

Page 4: Marginal Meteor Showers – All of the categorized Class IV Meteor Showers (these are surely poor meteor showers for observing, but that fact that we’ve catalogued them there tells you how exhaustive astronomers have been in keeping track of periodicities in our day/nighttime sky).

Page 5: Winter And Spring Messier Objects – including abbreviations, NGC labels, types, distances (as best we know them), and Common Names.

Page 6: Summer And Autumn Messier Objects – including abbreviations, NGC labels, types, distances (as best we know them), and Common Names.

Page 7: Northern and Zodiacal Constellations – including family, origin, brightest star, and positional information.

Page 8: Southern Constellations – including family, origin, brightest star, and positional information.

Page 9: Top Asteroids – the best and brightest (and best identified), including distances, discovery information, and magnitudes (as available).

Page 10: Stars – the Top 50 brightest (with our Sun at its rightful position as #1), including constellation, magnitudes, distances, and mass and positional information.

And, without further ado…

Download Astronomy Facts And Figures Cheat Sheet V6.pdf

Two (Maybe Three) Saturday Sessions Announced For The North Sportsman’s Club – Sept 12th, Oct 3rd, And (Maybe) Oct 10th

Greetings fellow astrophiles!

A red-lit view of the NSC building (and several tens of billions of stars towards the galactic center).

We are happy to announce a few new sessions at the North Sportsman’s Club to take us into the Fall and, for many, the near-end of their comfortable observing weather (although enough of us are crazy… about the Winter Constellations, so we’ll also brave any clear skies between December and March).

For those who didn’t make it to one of the sessions last year, the NSC is located in West Monroe, NY – take 81 to Exit 32, turn onto 49 East, then make a LEFT (at the next lights) onto Route 37 and go about a 1/2 mile North until you see the NSC sign on your RIGHT – maybe 15 minutes from downtown Syracuse. Map’ed out below.

The NSC in google maps. Click to generate directions.

The field provides an excellent Eastern horizon, complete with a distant radio tower red light for your Telrad aligning pleasure. For those who like to watch Earth’s rotation in real time – or see the very first arrivals of Messier Objects – tripod’ed binoculars pointed anywhere on the Eastern tree line and a comfortable seat will last you all evening. The East and North-East are wide open well to the North-West (so we’ll have many chances to view the Andromeda Galaxy at various point in the evening) and the tree line to the South and South-West block some of the distant light from Syracuse and related, making it a great spot for taking a lot of the sky in in very short order (weather-pending, of course).

The two (maybe three) sessions are as follows:

Saturday, September 12th – 8 p.m. to 11 p.m. – [meetup.com event & facebook event] coming up soon! The New Moon hits early in the morning on the 13th and the cold front arriving on Thursday should make the nighttime sky quite comfortable. Hopefully the clouds cooperate.

Saturday, October 3rd – 8 p.m. to 11 p.m. – [meetup.com event & facebook event] the 3rd Quarter Moon arrives close to 11:00 p.m. and our low, clear Eastern Horizon will make for some excellent final views for those with packed scopes but accessible binoculars.

* Saturday, October 10th – 8 p.m. to 11 p.m. – We’re currently holding the 10th as a weather-alternate for the 3rd. That said, if we get lots of interest, we’re going to run a session that evening as well.

We’ve added these events to our meetup.com and Facebook pages, and will make final announcements by 5:00 p.m. The evening of each session. Keep track of cnyo.org for any additional info (or drop us a line through our Contact Page). We hope to see your dark, featureless outlines at (at least) one of these sessions!

Drafting/Architect Circles – Know Your Field Of View!

From the “Why didn’t I think of that sooner?” Department…

Binoculars are, far and away, the best way to start in observational astronomy (after you have some of the constellations figured out first, of course). The Moon reveals great new detail even at low magnification, the four Galilean Moons of Jupiter are obvious (when they’re not transiting or being “occulted” by Jupiter), all of the Messier objects are find-able (with a little practice and either lots of time or one lucky clear evening in March), and the sky becomes a busy highway of satellites that are otherwise too small to reflect significant light for naked eye viewing. Perhaps less pragmatically but nonetheless significant, the ownership of one simple, easy to produce, easy to use, easy to master piece of paired glassware connects you to the magnification-enhanced world of astronomy begun with Galileo, who used a much poorer quality and lower magnification telescope than those found in Big-Box Stores to forever and disruptively change how Western Civilization (and beyond!) placed itself in the Universe.

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That all sounds profound I guess, but you’ve got a book open and are trying to keep track of a flashlight while keeping your arm still as you bounce your head back-and-forth in this really dense part of sky because you don’t know if you’re looking at M36, M37, or M38 in Auriga and you know you’ll NEVER find that part of the sky again. The, if you’ll pardon the expression, dark art of star-hoping is one that absolutely requires practice. More importantly, it requires having a proper frame of reference. I admit that I spent more than a few months with my trusty Nikon Action 12×50′s without ever actually having a handle on just how big the piece of celestial real estate I was staring at was.

It may seem obvious but is something you (well, I) didn’t think to use to your (well, my) immediate advantage. The magnification in the binos does NOT change! You are constantly looking at the same-sized region. This means that you can easily correlate magnification to real estate and know exactly what the limit of your in-eyepiece star-hopping is.

My solution, and one that is generally applicable to all your binoculars (and low-magnification eyepieces in your scope), was to buy an architect or drafting circle set. Yes, one of the green numbers with all the holes. If you have one book you’ve committed to (in my case, Sky And Telescope’s Pocket Sky Atlas, but I also have a copy of the Cambridge Star Atlas that hasn’t had its spine properly cracked yet), find some obvious star groupings, see how many of them you can get in your field of view, crack your book open to the right page, and overlay until your circle engulfs only what you see.

Simple! This simple tool dramatically improved my star-hopping aptitude. Using the Sky Atlas and a pair of 12×50′s, I can just barely get the stars Mizar/Alcor and Alioth from the handle of the Big Dipper into the field of view – this corresponds to a 1.1250″ circle…

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For the Cambridge Atlas, this same piece of sky encompasses a 0.8125″ circle.

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I can plot the path to dim or densely-packed objects at leisure by finding bright stars or small groupings and “walking” my view along the path of overlaid circles, always knowing what I should and should not be seeing at any time (minus the odd planet, satellite, Milky Way supernova, etc.).

Depending on how much celestial real estate your star atlas covers per page, you can even take it one step farther. I have recently begun carrying around Version B of the awesome TriAtlas, which is a free 107-page star chart with stars down to magnitude 11.6. This means lots of stars, but also a full 8.5″ x 11″ piece of paper for each of 107 pieces of the entire sky. In working through Coma Berenices to find my favorite galaxy (NGC 4565), I found that the effective magnification of the B TriAtlas charts are such that my 40 mm Pentax XL 40 (which, in my 12.5″ f/4.87 Dob, corresponds to a magnification of just under 40x) shows a piece of sky that corresponds to a 17/32″ (or 0.5312″) circle. This now becomes my finder circle for knowing what I should see through this eyepiece (inverted in the Dobsonian, of course). With some object found by a 40x search, I can then step up the magnification with my 26 mm Nagler and 10 mm Ethos.

2014june26_coma

As ever, the value of a very low-power eyepiece cannot be overstated! For those wanting to try this at home and don’t want to wait for shipping, drafting circles are available at Staples and Office Max in their “drafting” section. Those in Syracuse can also find them at Commercial Art Supply (where I get ALL of my red acetate).

2013 Perseid Weekend Part 2: Baltimore Woods Perseid Session And International Starry Night Event – August 12th, Marcellus, NY

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A view to the Southwest from the Baltimore Woods parking lot.

The peak of the Perseid Meteor Shower this year turned into a pair of observing sessions for several CNYO members. Both sessions, I am happy to report, included the observation of several Perseids by attendees and good-to-excellent clear, dark skies.

Following the first of several updates on Perseid weather conditions by Dave Eichorn (LINK 1 and LINK 2) at syracuse.com and the event itself by Andrew Donovan at NewsChannel 9, Larry Slosberg and I met up with Bob Piekiel at Baltimore Woods for their official Perseid Session that CNYO was delighted to have listed as an International Starry Night event (see that background for this event HERE). The partially-to-mostly overcast skies all afternoon opened up around 8:30 p.m. (as Eichorn had predicted) to give us over two hours of excellent clear skies.

The total (and limited) equipment list for this session reflected the Perseid-centric nature of the session. Bob brought an his 11″ SCT, Larry brought his NMT 12″ Dob, and I brought my Zhumell 25×100’s and, again, a Canon Rebel T3i in the hopes of capturing a Perseid or two. Most importantly, all three of us had reclining chairs in tow for the end of the session (after our respective scope duties were completed for the evening).

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A view to the south from the Baltimore Woods parking lot.

A total crowd in the 35 to 40 range observed a total of 25 meteors over the two-hour session (9 p.m. to 11 p.m.) before clouds began to roll in. Those not reclined for the Perseid count were treated to some excellent scope views (Saturn and Venus being the early evening stand-outs), two ISS flybys at 9:00 p.m. and 10:30 p.m. (both on the dimmer side but both captured and followed by several attendees), one very bright Iridium Flare, and lots of airplane traffic from the Southwest. I was fortunate to have several intrepid young observers around me for the observing session, so I spent quite a bit of time describing constellations and Messier objects and adjusting the big binos (and step stool) as the discussion progressed. Binocular views for the evening included Saturn (for comparison with the big scopes), the Moon, Albireo (with quite the neck strain to capture to color differences in these two stars), Alcor and Mizar in the handle of the Big Dipper (to show another binary star system and the additional detail one gains from magnification), and a pre-nova Brocchi’ Cluster (the “Coathanger”) in Delphinus (to show how low magnification can reveal interesting objects that higher magnification simply won’t show in the eyepiece).

2013august14_baltimorewoods_lights

Attendee reaction to headlights.

One of the “unavoidables” of observing sessions is the late arrival of attendees and their headlights, made all the brighter by the sensitization of observers already dark-adapted. One of the only problems with Baltimore Woods as an observing location is the proximity of the scopes to the front gate and parking lot. Two of the attendees were captured reacting to a later arrival (I dare not call them “late arrivals,” as everyone was there late) in the .gif above. Their captured (and long-held, as these were several second exposures each) poses speak volumes.

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Bob, Larry, and I in inaction action.

The crowd left around 11:00, leaving Bob, Larry, and I to enjoy a half-hour of scope-free meteor hunting as the clouds rolled in (maybe 3 total for the 1/2 hour). With a large patch of thick clouds moving in around 11:30 p.m., Bob began to pack up his gear. I had left the camera to capture images throughout and was able to capture one clear patch opening up just as Bob drove off (posted as a youtube video of the event and embedded below).