Tag Archives: Pleiades

CNYO Observing Log: Pedro Gomes Runs Another Watertown Sidewalk Astronomy Session, 2 April 2014

Fresh on the heals of his previous one-man space show, Pedro Gomes has hosted another Watertown sidewalk astronomy session at the YMCA. His write-up on the event is posted below with a few select snapshots. Many thanks, Pedro!

I brought my telescopes out for another sidewalk astronomy night at the Watertown YMCA on a clear and relatively pleasant Wednesday evening. This is now the second time I have done so at this location and it seems to have caught on with more “customers” this go-around than last. I even had a couple of repeat customers from last month who took it upon themselves to call some friends of their own over to get a look through the telescopes. I would say it is catching on.

The equipment was once again my 150mm Celestron Omni XLT reflector along with my William Optics 80mm ED. However, this time I brought along a few reference materials to help illustrate some points. I brought a laminated mirror-image moon map with all of its features identified and labeled as well as April’s Sky and Telescope issue to talk about some celestial highlights for the month. I felt having the images along helped if they had questions. The moon map was especially helpful as the moon was one of the two targets for the night.

Speaking of which, the targets were very limited that night, as I was sandwiched between two very “noisy” and tall streetlights. I tried to get the Orion Nebula (M42) and the Pleiades (M45) into the mix as well but the streetlights drowned out many of the stars that I use to find the Pleiades, and they also created way too much light pollution for any untrained observer to clearly make out the nebulosity in M42. So, I just stuck with two bright and prominent targets, the Moon and Jupiter.

The “customers” seem to all appreciate the views and I received plenty of “wows” and “shut the front doors” (no, seriously). I noticed that the hardest part was getting the first two or three people over but once they agreed to take a peek, other people would slow down and wait for an invite over. I have to admit if you are not familiar with astronomy gear it can be quite an intimidating sight. One person even thought I was the local news station.

I was kept pretty busy from dusk until about 10PM when I finally called it a night. I did find it a bit challenging to operate two scopes while also trying to provide some sort of quick-bite facts and information about what they would be observing through the scopes. The good part was that the night flew by but the down side was that I found myself with little time to offer any real insight into any particular topic. However, I felt that it was still a bit too cold for people to want to stick around and chat, so this wasn’t a real issue at that moment.

All in all, it was a successful night that even received another solicitation for an astronomy session by the head of 4-H Camp Wabasso. He seemed extremely interested in putting something together for the kids in the camp that would allow them to get a little bit of instruction and then put that instruction into practice with a nighttime observing session.

There was no better way to end the night. It was not only engaging and educational but the fact that someone else could sense the enthusiasm I had for the stars and for passing along that knowledge and passion really validated the effort for me. And in the end isn’t reaching young and enthusiastic minds the reason we stand out there and point people to the stars?

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CNYO Observing Log: Baltimore Woods, 22 March 2014 (And An Erigone Summary)

Greetings fellow astrophiles!

The often-announced (on this site, anyway) Regulus occultation by asteroid (163) Erigone on the morning of March 20th was a near-wash (no rain, but plenty of cloud cover), with only a few messages being passed around at midnight to see if anyone was even going to try for 2:00 a.m. That said, the International Occultation Timing Association (IOTA) got lots of good press and, with luck, a similarly notable occultation will occur to catch other eyes and instigate the IOTA to prep another big public recording effort. Those who want to relive the non-event can watch the Slooh Community Observatory coverage in the youtube video below.

Then, two days later, Bob Piekiel with his Meade C11 and I with my New Moon Telescope 12.5″ Dob treated two couples at Baltimore Woods to the kind of crystal clear and steady skies you read out but usually never have the good fortune to be out for. With the late March and early April temperatures beginning to melt the high hills of ice and snow around all the big parking lots in the area, the Baltimore Woods setup was a bit solid, a bit slushy, and quite dirty. Our four-person audience arrived early in time to watch the clear skies darken and Jupiter, Sirius, and Betelgeuse first appear in the South/Southwest sky. For the next 90 minutes or so, the observing list included Jupiter (several times at several magnifications, both early in the evening and after the skies had sufficiently darkened to bring out more detail), the Pleiades (M45), the Beehive Cluster (M44), the Orion Nebula (M42), Alcor and Mizar in the handle of the Big Dipper, the Andromeda Galaxy (M31) and its prominent satellites (M32 and M110) very low on the horizon (very likely our last catches of our sister galaxy for several months to come), and even M82 to say that we had, at least, seen the location of the recent supernova (if not a last few photons from it).

In an attempt to help someone remember as many constellations as possible at the Liverpool Public Library lecture a few weeks prior, I retold one of the more memorable tales of the winter star groupings of Orion the Hunter, Taurus the Bull, Canis Major (the big dog), Canis Minor (the little dog), and the Pleiades that I picked up from the excellent Dover book Star Lore: Myths, Legends, and Facts by William Tyler Olcott (which you can even read and download for free in an earlier form at archive.org).

Long story short, the Pleiades (also known as the Seven Sisters or the Seven Virgins) were the target of Orion’s rather significant attention, so much so that in his last run to them, the ever-invasive Zeus placed an equally significant bull in Orion’s path, leaving Orion and his two dogs (Canis Major and Canis Minor) stuck in their tracks. As is apparent from the images below, these four constellations (and one star cluster/Messier Object) are all tightly spaced in the Winter Sky. Better still, the end of Winter even finds these constellations standing on the horizon (instead of upside down in morning Autumn skies), making the picture all the more easily seen. As Orion is second only to the Big Dipper in terms of ease-of-seeing by practically everyone (raised in the tradition of Western Constellation arrangements, anyway), it’s the start constellation from which to find the other three. Canis Major is easily found by its shoulder star Sirius, the brightest start in our nighttime sky. Canis Minor is a leap from Sirius to Procyon, also a prominent star. Taurus the Bull is easily found by its head, the local star cluster known as the Hyades, and its orange-red eye, Aldebaran. The small sisters lie within the boundary of Taurus in a cluster that to the slightly near-sighted might just look like a fuzzy patch (but which, in binoculars, reveals numerous tightly-packed stars).

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Our cast of characters (and nearest neighbors). Image made with Starry Night Pro.

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The prominent stars in their starring roles. Image made with Starry Night Pro.

After packing up around 9:30 (about when the temperatures began to drop precipitously), I managed a single long-exposure image with my Canon T3i of the region above – quite possibly my last good look at the most famous Winter grouping until they appear again in the morning Autumn skies.

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Final scene from Baltimore Woods (with story labels). Click for a larger view.

CNYO Observing Log: International Sidewalk Astronomy Night, 7 March 2014

Greetings fellow astrophiles!

CNYO members Larry Slosberg and Michelle Marzynski, John Giroux, and I used the available clear skies of Friday, March 7th (and forecasts of far worse conditions on the official night of March 8th) to host the CNY branch of the International Sidewalk Astronomy Night (ISAN 7). ISAN 7 was made more significant to the amateur astronomy community with the passing of John Dobson on January 15th of this year (instead of reproducing more content about John Dobson in this post, I will instead refer you to the official announcement of our ISAN session. Needless to say, he left quite a legacy).

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Our session was held at our favorite downtown location – along the length of the Creekwalk between the MOST/Soundgarden and the Syracuse University Architecture School/Warehouse, on the same block as Walt the Loch West Monster. The location is definitely bright, but this limitation to observing can be overcome with the judicious selection of Messier Objects and planets (no galaxies!). The last two astronomy events held at this same location – the 2012 Transit of Venus and 2013’s NASA/MOST Climate Day, featured an easier target (the Sun), but also gave us plenty of on-the-ground time to find the Creekwalk a great spot to have both reasonable parking and a regular stream of passers-by to coax into looking into strange telescopes.

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“And so,” you might ask, “how long was your observing list for the evening? And what’s the point of observing from such a bright location?” I’ve run into such questions a few times in my own travels, and I assume that some other outreach-centric amateur astronomers have been asked the same questions. The answer for ISAN 7 over a +2 hour session was the Moon, Jupiter, the Pleiades (M45), and the Orion Nebula (M42). That’s it. Didn’t try for anything else, didn’t want to.

And, importantly, those four were plenty.

At the heart of sidewalk astronomy is getting people who’ve never looked through a scope before to take in a detailed batch of photons a few seconds (the Moon), several minutes (Jupiter), or even several light years (M42, M45) older than the ones they’re usually exposed to. As some people are hesitant to even get their eye near the eyepiece, the very best way to run a sidewalk astronomy session (or any public viewing session) is to put the easiest, most obvious, and brightest nighttime objects into the field of view to draw the observer in. Any fuzzy object, 16th magnitude asteroid, or even Uranus and Neptune are the last things a trained observer should try to expose a new observer to (IMHO) given that the passers-by at a sidewalk astronomy event will only stick around (as we discovered) for about 4 minutes (a few definitely stuck around longer, while a few others we surgical about their inspection of the Moon and Jupiter before continuing on. I think they half-expected us to “pass the hat”).

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The Moon to a new observer is a jaw-dropper. Assume wow-factor imminent as soon as you see the Moon’s light projected out the eyepiece onto the face of someone slowly making their way to the focuser. Jupiter (and Saturn, for that matter) is also a treat at the right magnification (enough to see surface detail, but not so much that the image becomes dull and unsteady. A Barlow’ed 6 mm is NOT the way to go without a very large aperture and rock-solid mount). The Orion Nebula was our “advanced topics for the persistent observer” object, as it was bright enough to still show some nebulosity and additional detail.

Over the course of about two hours, we put the total count at about 60 (which wasn’t bad, given the temperature and the fact that we were on the far side of the restaurant-heavy part of Armory Square). Larry, John, and I made our way into a few pics (intermixed in this post – we were mostly too busy to stop and take snapshots. Thanks to Brad Loperfido for taking them).

And then there was Pedro Gomes, who single-handedly brought ISAN 7 (and CNYO) to Watertown on March 8th. Some of his image gallery from Facebook is reproduced below and we thank him for sharing his excellent scope run with us!

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Look for future Creekwalk sessions in the near future, including a few solar sessions and the next NASA Climate Day at the MOST.

CNYO Observing Log: Baltimore Woods, 21 February 2014

Greetings fellow astrophiles,

This observing log will be as short as the observing window was.

The evening forecast for Friday, February 21st was iffy all afternoon, with a potential clearing predicted from winds coming from the Northwest, but still predictions of up-to-moderate cloud cover until later in the evening. In our great optimism, Bob Piekiel (with his Celestron NexStar 11) and I (with my 12.5″ New Moon Telescope Dobsonian “Ruby”) had our scopes setup and at-the-ready for attending viewers.

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A fuzzy image for a fuzzy evening.

Over the course of about 90 minutes, 8 attendees in two small blocks (9 if we include Larry Slosberg’s attending Canis “Luna”) bore witness to a very unpredictable sky. “Sucker holes” (those clearings within the clouds that appear to offer you a minute or two of viewing, only to close up as soon as your scope is pointed) were the order of the evening, providing only limited views of Sirius, Rigel, and Betelgeuse (three of the brightest stars that just made for targets in the wispy edges of cloud bands), the great Orion Nebula (clear when visible, but lessened by the low-transparency conditions), the Pleiades (giving only views of the brightest stars in the cluster), and Jupiter (which did impress for the five minutes it was visible).

Such evenings are never a loss for public viewing sessions, as the downtime gives everyone a chance to ask questions, wax astronomical, and keep track of any other interesting happenings going on that come up in conversation. Pack-up occurred around 9:30, finishing just as a first few snowflakes began to fall in the Baltimore Woods parking lot.

CNYO Joins Sidewalk Astronomers Around The World In Honor Of John Dobson – Saturday, March 8th (7 to 9 p.m.) Near Armory Square In Downtown Syracuse

Greetings fellow astrophiles,

CNYO is organizing a Syracuse session for the seventh International Sidewalk Astronomy Night (ISAN 7) being held in honor of John Dobson. We’ll have weather and event updates as we approach March 8th (the 7th and the 9th are official weather-alternate dates) and will be setting up next to Walt the Loch West Monster, the same place several hundred Syracusans observed the Transit of Venus in 2012 and a few of us participated in solar observing for the NASA Climate Day in 2013 (map below). Please spread the word and consider stopping by to celebrate John Dobson’s contribution to amateur astronomy. Several Dobsonians built by West Monroe’s own New Moon Telescopes will be on hand to show you their workings and, of course, show you the sights!


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Walt, just above the center green oval between Walton and W. Fayette.

A little background…

The 20th century was, by far, the most important century for amateur astronomy, as it was the first in which telescopes were mass produced for the consumer market (ours wasn’t much of a busy field for all of the rest of human history). The great science aside, it was the major jump in technology for our field that really grew our numbers.

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John Dobson, 1915-2014. Image from latimes.com.

While the list of names responsible for this transition is considerable, a few names are easily recognized as prime movers. John Dobson, who passed away this past January 15th, made one of the great contributions to amateur astronomy by taking the technology back to its foundations, synthesizing a number of great ideas in the amateur building community, throwing in some of his own ingenious ideas, and laying the groundwork for the scope we know today as the Dobsonian.

2014feb18_johndobson_sidewalkastronomersThe “Dob” made it possible for anyone to do large aperture, deep space observing by allowing builders to use very large mirrors in very (well, relatively) portable, reasonably light-weight designs. It is also a much simpler scope for a person to build compared to the many other varieties that used to dominate star parties. As the quality of the scope is limited by the quality of the builder and parts, this also means an expert builder can put together a world-class scope in their own garage that will absolutely compete with the best high-end company-built scopes (a fact that many of us Dob owners are thankful for!).

Better still, John was the world’s leading exponent for sidewalk astronomy, having effectively started the trend as the co-founder of the San Francisco Sidewalk Astronomers. In his honor, CNYO members are joining other astronomy organizations and sidewalk astronomers around the world in the seventh International Sidewalk Astronomy Night (ISAN 7) on March 8th. In our case, we’re fortunate to have a prime piece of the Onondaga Creekwalk just at the edge of Armory Square and will be setting up, as always, next to Walt.

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You know, Walt (twitter). Image from syracusepublicart.wordpress.com

While not the best place in the world to observe, there is plenty to see in the Night Sky even from well-lit Syracuse. Attendees will be treated to views of a first quarter Moon (and if you’ve never looked at the Moon with any kind of magnification, you are in for a real treat), Jupiter (worth the trip out itself!), the Pleiades, the Orion Nebula, possibly the Andromeda Galaxy (at least a small sampling), and a medley of assorted star clusters (which means we’ll find out what we can see when we’re set up). On top of all that, it’ll be a great chance (weather permitting), to hang out with local amateur astronomers and space enthusiasts in an easy-to-get-to location.

For more information about John Dobson, check out his wikipedia page. For more information about ISAN 7, check out one of several sidewalk astronomy sites, including sidewalkastronomers.us and sfsidewalkastronomers.org. And, of course, join our Facebook Group, add our twitter feed, or keep track of cnyo.org for more information as March 8th approaches.