Tag Archives: Pegasus

CNYO Observing Log: Clark Reservation State Park, 29 August 2014

Greetings fellow astrophiles,

Central New York is a reasonably reasonable place for the reasonably active amateur astronomer. A 10 minute drive away from the center of downtown Syracuse puts one far enough away from enough of the city lights to make bright clusters and galaxies visible, although not necessarily impressive. A 15 to 25 minute drive in the right direction provides skies dark enough to keep any keen amateur occupied for a long evening of Messiers. Those willing to meander their way through a 40 to 50 minute excursion can find some tremendously dark skies fit for subtle NGCs and non-CCD comets. And those of us who host sessions along the Creekwalk know it’s perfectly reasonable for the Moon, Sun, and bright planets (and, if the big globular clusters aren’t out, not much else).

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First setup at Clark Reservation. Click for a larger view.

Clark Reservation State Park leans very much in the near-downtown category, lying about 10 minutes to the Southwest of the Salt City. A two-hour session hosted by Bob Piekiel and assisted by Christopher Schuck and myself revealed Clark Res to be a great harbor for new amateur astronomers wanting to get their feet wet but not ready to be thrown eyepiece-first into the deep abyss offered by Dark Sky locations. Bright constellations are obvious, the planets jump right out, the crescent Moon is a busy structure of mountains and valleys, and the brightest Messier objects are “obvious” to observers looking through the eyepiece, all while the sky is streaked by bright shooting stars and crisscrossed by satellites too numerous to keep track of.

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Summer Triangle panorama. Click for a larger view.

Setup commenced around 7:00 p.m. with Bob, Chris, and I initially spaced in an equilateral-ish triangle to try to maximize the amount of “different” observables. The clear field just west of the main parking lot offered a remarkably open view of the sky, with several large clearings between trees to really let one get low to the horizon for last-look viewing. My initial proposal to Chris to catch the Moon, Saturn, and Mars between one of these South-most clearings seemed reasonable until we stepped over to Bob’s East-most setup – a change of only 50 feet completely opened up the Western Sky. What started as a Summer Triangle then turned into Triangulum, leaving me with dominion over the Eastern Sky and all of the constellations and Messiers Autumn will offer at our zenith.

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Maybe a 4? The light pollution from Clark Res (lower number = better). For Deep Sky objects, not good. For learning the major constellations, not bad. From stellarium.org.

Despite the brightness of Syracuse (and some of the Clark Res safety lights), the sky wasn’t “that bad.” It was certainly a great starting point for new observers who’d only ever recognized the Big Dipper in the late-Summer sky. It was very easy to point out – then reinforce – the Big Dipper, Little Dipper, Pegasus, Cygnus, Lyra, Cassiopeia, the Summer Triangle, and Hercules. The Messiers through my scope were limited to M13, M57 (which was a stretch for the newbies, no doubt about it), and M31/M32 (which, despite the location, looked excellent in a 26mm Nagler), leaving Saturn, Mars, and the Moon to Bob and Chris – this on account of a good-sized group (about 20) who kept in constant rotation between our three scopes. We did have ourselves a prominent Iridium Flare, 6 confirmed meteors, and a host of satellites (which made a few people’s day).

Final pack-up started a little before 10 p.m., requiring bright flashlights and small mops (was quite a damp evening). All in all, Clark Reservation is a good spot for those who want to get their bearings without having to drive too far from home (a nice starter spot for that 10-minute range), and I found myself spending more time with a green laser pointer and some mythology than I did looking through the eyepiece. Attendees didn’t seem to mind, and we all got home by bedtime.

CNYO Observing Log: Cherry Springs Star Party, 26 – 29 June 2014

This past June 26 – 29, the Astronomical Society of Harrisburg PA hosted their annual Cherry Springs Star Party (CSSP) at, appropriately, Cherry Springs State Park – the second location to be designated an International Dark Sky Park (wikipedia entry). The park’s about 3.5 hours from Syracuse and, by most metrics, in the middle of nowhere (if you find petrol as you approach the park, get it).

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Some light and relevant U-Haul reading on the way to CSSP.

There’s quite literally no basic cellular service anywhere after the 3 hour mark (certainly the case for AT&T customers), leaving the park wifi and, of course, AstroGizmos to provide all the connectivity one should otherwise be trying to get away from for a weekend of observing (but definitely couldn’t get away from, so both wifi’s were much appreciated!). And for those wondering “does anyone make those?” – AstroGizmos had available 12 V hair dryers (with varied powering options) for those looking to evaporate eyepiece condensate on dewy nights (I now have mine).

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Cherry Springs State Park – first sign in the park.

Besides the great dark skies, the CSSP also provides CNY clubs a chance to hang out and do nothing for a few days. I set up shop with fellow Kopernik members at the usual Kopernik location (the first left after the “Nova” signpost). My vehicle was extra full this year with a special delivery of New Moon Telescope Dob #17 to Pedro Gomes, known previously on the CNYO Facebook Page as the hardest working observer in Watertown (now at points south).

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A panorama from the Kopernik site. Click for a larger view.

For those roughing it on the site for the entire party, a not-untypical Saturday schedule might involve (1) staying up as late as the caffeine will allow, listening to angered attendees when someone accidentally turns on their car lights (which is less funny when you’ve waited a half-hour for your eyes to fully adjust to the dark, moonless sky), (2) sleeping in until the Sun cooks you in your tent or vehicle, (3) listen to someone (Pedro) tell you about the black bear that passed by his scope and tent the night before (the presence of a few black bears also explained the gunshot fired by camp rangers the night before), (4) going to the vendor tent, (5) making a trip to catering (well, trucks and tent) to wait in line to eat, (6) going back to the vendor tent, (7) attending one or more of the scheduled lectures and checking out the raffle donations (to pass the time until nightfall), (8) vendor tent, (9) raffle!, (10) caffeinate and apply bug spray (although it wasn’t too bad this year), and (11) See 1.

Observing Tip: If you want to make the most of a Star Party, consider taking a break from your usual caffeine intake a few weeks in advance. That first cup of coffee will feel like rocket fuel.

I’m pleased to report that the raffle was a complete success for your’s truly. Not only did I score free admission to the upcoming Kopernik AstroFest in October, but I also managed to walk away with the 8 mm Delos graciously donated to CSSP directly by TeleVue Optics. The company rep, John, and I even had a good exchange Sunday morning (he having done some imaging of the Veil Nebula that night, I having passed around my trusty OIII-filtered 26 mm Nagler to others wanting to observe the same in the Kopernik camp). Admittedly, my bias towards TeleVue eyepieces is strong (and in the official record at Astronomy Technology Today), so the Delos was a very welcome addition (one should not observe Saturn without it!). And it will be present at CNYO events for those wanting to compare and contrast. Many thanks to TeleVue, Kopernik, and all of the CSSP donors (amateur astronomers take their raffle prizes very seriously)!

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Patrick Manley (left) and Pedro Gomes listen as collimation guru Howie Glatter (right) talks shop. Click for a larger view.

I was told that Thursday night was great but very wet. Friday night (my first night there) was a patchwork of clouds and less-than-thrilling seeing conditions. Saturday night was out-and-out fantastic. Going from about 9:30 p.m. to 2:30 a.m., my list included Saturn and Mars, 35 Messiers, 20 NGCs (including my personal favorite, NGC 4565), and a lot of just staring into “nowhere particular” just to enjoy the visual peace and quiet.

Blazar-3c424.3-pic-SDSS-credit-580x485The one object I did want to take a stab at seeing was Blazar 3C 454.3 in Pegasus, having seen the announcement cross the CNYO Twitter Feed in the form of a link to universetoday.com (image at right from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey). Blazars are so bright that astronomers didn’t know until the 1970’s that they weren’t actual stars in our own Milky Way. Blazars are the cores of galaxies where matter is being sucked into a supermassive black hole, releasing in the process jets of energy perpendicular to the plane of the galaxy and right in our direction (so these host galaxies would appear to us like the Whirlpool Galaxy, where we’re seeing the whole galaxy face-on as we stare down its rotation axis).

The blazar in Pegasus recently peaked at around 13th magnitude and has been dimming since. That’s dim. That’s far dimmer than binoculars and small scopes will reveal, but is just fine for a 12” Dobsonian (where 15th magnitude is possible under ideal conditions – which Cherry Springs almost certainly is). While not particularly impressive in any kind of scope, this blazar is noteworthy for being 7 billion light years away. When the photons beaming through that new 8 mm Delos left their home galaxy, the Sun and Earth were still more than 2 billion YEARS away from being ANYTHING. That, to my mind, compensates for the dim.

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The view to the East at Sunset on Saturday night. Click for a larger view.

By 2:45 a.m., the Kopernik crowd had thinned to just Keith Werkman and I. I packed up the scope and pulled out the camera for a few long-exposure shots just in time to see a few randomly-oriented bright meteors (not affiliated with the Boötids Meteor Shower, which peaked the night before) and a Milky Way band bright enough to read by.

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Another view of the Kopernik site at the CSSP. Click for a larger view.

Groggy and sore from our respective sleeping arrangements, the gang began to split just after breakfast and a final clean-up of the grounds. Having now survived my second CSSP with quite a bit of excellent viewing (and viewing tools) to show for it, I and others await next year’s CSSP and next month’s Black Forest Star Party at the same location.

CNYO Observers Log: New Moon Telescopes’ 27″ Dobsonian Observing Event At The North Sportsman’s Club, 3 November 2013

Greetings fellow astrophiles!

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The front gate of the North Sportsman’s Club in West Monroe, NY.

The first CNY public outing of New Moon Telescope’s (NMT’s) massive 27″ Dobsonian took place this past Sunday, November 3rd at the North Sportsman’s Club in West Monroe, NY. After two overcast evenings (despite Friday the 1st looking quite reasonable all afternoon) and a cloudy Sunday morning that ruined local views of the hybrid solar eclipse (see our post of the event HERE), the weather settled Sunday afternoon for what became a very cold-but-clear evening of observing at what turned out to be a quite dark location (despite its close proximity to Syracuse and its well-lit surroundings).

1. 27″ Dobsonian?!

All research indicates that NMT’s flagship 27″ Dobsonian is the largest portable telescope in New York, and it is fair to say that it is in the far end of the Gaussian size distribution of all amateur scopes in the U.S. Those who have been to any CNYO event have been treated to at least one of Ryan Goodson’s fine Dobsonian creations, as Ryan, Larry, Dan, and myself all own (at least) one. The 27″ Dob features a few notable additions to NMT’s add-on packages, including full GOTO functionality by way of Servocat and Argo Navis.

As reported by Ryan during his expedition to Okie-Tex earlier this year and made very apparent to anyone looking through the scope, the views approach unreal. Aperture is everything in telescope astronomy, with bigger mirrors making bright objects more detailed and the otherwise invisible visible. Ryan reports having been able to see three of the four corners of the Einstein Cross in Pegasus through the 27″ (that’s sitting at almost 17th magnitude!), a feat that is difficult enough to capture through astro-imaging (and those familiar with the difference between observing and imaging will understand the significance of Ryan’s capture). You can see Ryan’s walk-through of the scope in the youtube video below:

We are pleased to report that this is definitely not a one-view deal! When NMT or CNYO schedule an event that will feature the 27″ Dob, we will be sure to make note of it (the timing and the temperature were less than ideal for many of the people who responded to our announcement on the TACNY listserve, so we hope to bring that many more people out to future sessions).

And if you want to keep up-to-date on all things NMT, I urge you to like their Facebook Page and subscribe to their twitter feed.

2. North Sportsman’s Club in West Monroe, NY

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The CNYO sign at the NSC front gate (81 to 49 to 37. An easy find!).

We were fortunate to make the acquaintance of North Sportsman’s Club’s (NSC’s) John Knittel at both CNYO’s Beaver Lake Observing Session on May 2nd and NMT’s Perseid Meteor Shower Session this past August. NMT jumped at the chance to have the First CNY Light for the 27″ Dob at the NSC and CNYO members were delighted to help promote and support the event. The NSC is an ideal location for public observing, combining a large, clear range with all the amenities of home (in this case, restrooms for both genders, a heated meeting room, and coffee and cocoa on tap thanks to a few NSC members who braved the outdoors indoors and kept the conversations going). All that aside, the view from the Northeast to the Southeast is as clear as it gets right down to the low tree-lined horizon (a pleasant change of pace considering the zenith-centric views from several other locations we’ve observed from), giving observers a chance to catch first light of rising objects and many hours to track those same objects as they rise towards the zenith and fall to the still reasonable western sky.

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The NSC range and the view to the East (with the 27″ and 12.5″ Dobs). Click for a larger view.

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The same view to the East, featuring two planes, the Milky Way, and one radio tower. Click for a larger view.

3. Attendees

Despite the “school night” timing and the very-to-bitterly cold weather, approximately 30 people made it out to take in the views through the 27″ Dob, my 12.5″ NMT Dob Ruby, and Steve Capp’s 16″ NMT Dob. To the usual suspects – Larry Slosberg, Ryan and Heather Goodson, Dan Williams, and myself – local amateur astronomers Joe Chovan and David Wormuth also braved the cold to enjoy the sights. The long-distance awards go to our good friends in the Kopernik Astronomical Society – Fibber and Sally Magee, as well as Art Tilts, who arrived early and hung out late.

4. “Dressed for Stargazing Success”

The timing of the proper observing attire article in December 2013’s Sky & Telescope did not go unnoticed on our Facebook Group Discussion of the event. You don’t really appreciate how cold the outdoors can be – and how quickly the heat can leave you – until you’re standing still for long periods of time peering through an eyepiece. The physics is simple – when the temperature outdoors drops below the temperature of your skin, YOU become the heat source for the outdoors.

I suspect Ryan and I both learned (the frozen-solid way) from last February’s Baltimore Woods Session.

The solution to freezing is simple – just do what the article says and and be “Dressed for Stargazing Success.” In anticipation of the first real cold night of observing since last March, I made the pilgrimage to DeJulio’s on Burnet Avenue, walking out with dual-layer long johns, wind-proof (and pocketed) pants, a stretch face/head cover, a brim-less hat (funny thing about the brims – they keep your eye from the eyepiece), and a few extra pairs of wool socks. Was it cold out? Yes. Did I care? Not a bit.

5. Closing Up

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Ryan, Larry, Art, and Joe packing up the 27″, with Steve Capp still observing through his 16″ in the back. Click for a larger view.

Ryan and I were set up by 4:00 p.m. and observed with attitude until about 9:00 p.m. when the rest of the crowd had made the short trip back to Interstate 81 (having a location this good only 20 minutes from downtown was a real treat for those of us used to debating the unloading of the car that night).

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The North Sportsman’s Club at night, complete with the other half of the Milky Way. Click for a larger view.

CNYO gratefully acknowledges John Knittel and the members of the North Sportsman’s Club who not only made the event possible, but kept the festivities going inside to boot. We hope to do it again!