Tag Archives: Orion

NASA Space Place – The Closest New Stars To Earth

Poster’s Note: One of the many under-appreciated aspects of NASA is the extent to which it publishes quality science content for children and Ph.D.’s alike. NASA Space Place has been providing general audience articles for quite some time that are freely available for download and republishing. Your tax dollars help promote science! The following article was provided for reprinting in February, 2016.

By Dr. Ethan Siegel

2013february2_spaceplaceWhen you think about the new stars forming in the Milky Way, you probably think of the giant star-forming regions like the Orion Nebula, containing thousands of new stars with light so bright it’s visible to the naked eye. At over 400 parsecs (1,300 light years) distant, it’s one of the most spectacular sights in the night sky, and the vast majority of the light from galaxies originates from nebulae like this one. But its great luminosity and relative proximity makes it easy to overlook the fact that there are a slew of much closer star-forming regions than the Orion Nebula; they’re just much, much fainter.

If you get a collapsing molecular cloud many hundreds of thousands (or more) times the mass of our sun, you’ll get a nebula like Orion. But if your cloud is only a few thousand times the sun’s mass, it’s going to be much fainter. In most instances, the clumps of matter within will grow slowly, the neutral matter will block more light than it reflects or emits, and only a tiny fraction of the stars that form—the most massive, brightest ones—will be visible at all. Between just 400 and 500 light years away are the closest such regions to Earth: the molecular clouds in the constellations of Chamaeleon and Corona Australis. Along with the Lupus molecular clouds (about 600 light years distant), these dark, light-blocking patches are virtually unknown to most sky watchers in the northern hemisphere, as they’re all southern hemisphere objects.

In visible light, these clouds appear predominantly as dark patches, obscuring and reddening the light of background stars. In the infrared, though, the gas glows brilliantly as it forms new stars inside. Combined near-infrared and visible light observations, such as those taken by the Hubble Space Telescope, can reveal the structure of the clouds as well as the young stars inside. In the Chameleon cloud, for example, there are between 200 and 300 new stars, including over 100 X-ray sources (between the Chamaeleon I and II clouds), approximately 50 T-Tauri stars and just a couple of massive, B-class stars. There’s a third dark, molecular cloud (Chamaeleon III) that has not yet formed any stars at all.

While the majority of new stars form in large molecular clouds, the closest new stars form in much smaller, more abundant ones. As we reach out to the most distant quasars and galaxies in the universe, remember that there are still star-forming mysteries to be solved right here in our own backyard.

This article was provided by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, under a contract with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

Caption: This striking new image, captured by the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope, reveals a star in the process of forming within the Chamaeleon cloud. This young star is throwing off narrow streams of gas from its poles — creating this ethereal object known as HH 909A. These speedy outflows collide with the slower surrounding gas, lighting up the region. When new stars form, they gather material hungrily from the space around them. A young star will continue to feed its huge appetite until it becomes massive enough to trigger nuclear fusion reactions in its core, which light the star up brightly. Before this happens, new stars undergo a phase during which they violently throw bursts of material out into space. This material is ejected as narrow jets that streak away into space at breakneck speeds of hundreds of kilometres per second, colliding with nearby gas and dust and lighting up the region. The resulting narrow, patchy regions of faintly glowing nebulosity are known as Herbig-Haro objects. They are very short-lived structures, and can be seen to visibly change and evolve over a matter of years (heic1113) — just the blink of an eye on astronomical timescales. These structures are very common within star-forming regions like the Orion Nebula, or the Chameleon I molecular cloud — home to the subject of this image. The Chameleon cloud is located in the southern constellation of Chameleon, just over 500 light-years from Earth. Astronomers have found numerous Herbig-Haro objects embedded in this stellar nursery, most of them emanating from stars with masses similar to that of the Sun. A few are thought to be tied to less massive objects such as brown dwarfs, which are “failed” stars that did not hit the critical mass to spark reactions in their centres. A version of this image was entered into the Hubble’s Hidden Treasures image processing competition by contestant Judy Schmidt. NASA and ESA Hubble Space Telescope. Acknowledgements: Kevin Luhman (Pennsylvania State University), and Judy Schmidt, of the Chamaeleon cloud and a newly-forming star within it—HH 909A—emitting narrow streams of gas from its poles.

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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.

Bob Piekiel Hosts Observing Sessions At Baltimore Woods (And More!) – 2016 Observing Schedule

This event list will be added to as the year progresses. Check back often!

I’m pleased to have obtained the official schedule for Bob Piekiel’s growing observing and lecture programs for the 2016 season and have added them to the CNYO Calendar. For those who have not had the pleasure of hearing one of his lectures, attending one of his observing sessions, or reading one of his many books on scope optics (or loading the CD containing the massive Celestron: The Early Years), Bob Piekiel is not only an excellent guide but likely the most knowledgeable equipment and operation guru in Central New York.

Notes On Baltimore Woods Sessions:

The Baltimore Woods events calendar is updated monthly. As such, I’ve no direct links to the sessions below. Therefore, as the event date nears, see the official Calendar Page for more information and any updates on the event.


* Registration for these events are required. Low registration may cause programs to be canceled.
* $5 for members, $15/family; $8 for nonmembers, $25/family.
* To Register By Email: info@baltimorewoods.org
* To Register By Phone: (315) 673-1350

Baltimore Woods:

* January 8 (Fri.)/9 (Sat. weather alternate), 7-9 p.m. (meetup.com)

Winter skies at their finest, with the many bright clusters and nebulae surrounding the constellation of Orion. The planet Uranus will be visible as well, and maybe a few leftover Quadrantid meteors.

* February 5 (Fri.)/6 (Sat. weather alternate), 7-9 p.m.

Winter skies again, with the many beautiful sights surrounding the constellation Orion. Another good look at the planet Uranus, and we may get our first peek at Jupiter as it rises in the east.

* February 27 (Sat.)/28 (Sun. weather alternate), 1-3 p.m.

Solar program in the parking lot.

* March 4 (Fri.)/5 (Sat. weather alternate), 7:30-9:30 p.m.

Jupiter will be about as close to earth as it gets, so it will be bigger and brighter than any other time in the upcoming year. Come see the king of the planets, plus a final look at the bright winter skies.

* April 15 (Fri.)/16 (Sat. weather alternate), 6-9 p.m. (Notice the early start time!)

This will be our best chance to see the planet Mercury, as it will be as high in the western sky after sunset as it ever gets. Jupiter will be visible, plus a bright moon. While the moon will blot out faint objects, this will be a great night to view the planets!

* Monday, May 9, 8-10 a.m.

Rare Transit of Mercury Across the Sun. The planet Mercury will move directly between the Earth and the Sun. Viewers with telescopes and approved solar filters will be able to observe the dark disk of the planet Mercury moving across the face of the Sun. This is an extremely rare event that occurs only once every few years. There will be one other transit of Mercury in 2019 and then the next one will not take place until 2039. (Venus will also be visible right near the sun as well).

* June 10 (Fri.)/11 (Sat. weather alternate), 9:00-11:00 p.m.

The start of Summer skies, with the planet Jupiter in good view, and Mars about as close to earth as it will get for the year.

* July 22 (Fri.)/23 (Sat. weather alternate), 9:00-11:00 p.m.

Summer skies at their finest, with the many rich star clusters and nebulae visible in the direction of the heart of our Milky Way galaxy. Venus, Jupiter, Saturn and Mars will be visible.

* August 12 (Fri.)/13 (Sat. weather alternate), 8:30-11:00 p.m.

The annual persied meteor shower, one of the year’s finest. Bring a blanket or lawn chair to recline on while not looking through a telescope. Great views of the summer Milky way, with the planets Mars Jupiter, Venus and Saturn visible.

* August 27 (Sat.)/28 (Sun. weather alternate), 1:00-3:00 p.m.

SOLAR VIEWING PROGRAM. Using special telescopes, come and see solar flares, prominences, sunspots, and magnetic storms on our nearest star, the sun!

* September 9 (Fri.)/10 (Sat. weather alternate), 8:00-10:00 p.m.

Say goodbye to summer skies, and view the softer constellations of Autumn. Neptune will be visible, as well maybe our last look at Saturn before it sets. Venus is getting bigger and brighter. We will also get a good look at the first-quarter moon, displaying a wealth of craters and mountain ranges.

* October 21 (Fri.)/22 (Sat. weather alternate), 8:00-10:00 p.m.

The Orionid meteor shower peaks at this time, plus Venus, Uranus and Neptune are in great viewing positions. The fall skies, with their many bright galaxies, will be visible through telescopes. Bring a lawn chair to lie back and watch for meteors.

* November 4 (Fri.)/5 (Sat. weather alternate), 7:00-9:30 p.m.

This is the night of the Taurid meteor shower. Venus, Uranus and Neptune will be visible, as well as the start of the winter skies, with their bright nebulae and star clusters. Bring a lawn chair to lie back and watch for meteors.

*December 13 (Tue.)/14 (Wed. weather alternate), 7:00-10:00 p.m.

This is the night of the Geminid meteor shower, the year’s finest. Even though the moon will be nearly full, many Geminids are so bright they can still be seen. Bring a lawn chair to lie back and watch for meteors, and enjoy telescope views of some of the brightest winter star clusters and nebulae. Depending on the tree line, we MIGHT get a quick peek at Mercury just as it gets dark. Uranus and Neptune will be visible all evening. Venus will be a bold crescent just before dark.

Green Lakes:

* January 9 (Sat.)/10 (Sun. weather alternate), 1-3 p.m. (meetup.com)

Come view our nearest star, the sun, close up in special telescopes that give interesting views of solar flares, eruptions, and sunspots. At the parking lot behind the main office building.

* February 26 (Fri.)/27 (Sat. weather alternate), 7:30-9:30 p.m.

Come see the winter skies at their finest! The area around the constellation of Orion has more bright stars, nebulae, and clusters than any other part of the sky, plus, the planet Jupiter will be in good view as well. At the parking lot behind the main office.

* July 29 (Fri.)/30 (Sat. weather alternate), 8:00-10:30 p.m.

The summer skies are at their finest, when we can look directly into the center of the Milky Way galaxy, and see it’s many rich star clusters and nebulae. The Delta Aquarids meteor shower peaks that night, and Venus, Jupiter, Saturn and Mars will be visible. We might even get a peek at Mercury.

* August 26 (Fri.)/27 (Sat. weather alternate), 7:30-9:30 p.m.

Summer skies again, Plus a stunning conjunction of Jupiter and Venus in the west on those nights, and Mars and Saturn also.

Clark Reservation:

* July 8 (Fri.)/9 (Sat. weather alternate), 8:00-10:30 p.m.

Planets, stars, and a crescent moon! The summer skies are at their finest, when we can look directly into the center of the Milky Way galaxy, and see it’s many rich star clusters and nebulae. Venus, Jupiter, Saturn and Mars will be visible. We might even get a peek at Mercury.

* August 13 (Sat.)/14 (Sun. weather alternate), 1:00-3:00 p.m.

Solar program! Using special telescopes, come and see solar flares, prominences, sunspots, and magnetic storms on our nearest star, the Sun!

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.


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.


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.


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).


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 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


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


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!