Tag Archives: Prominence

CNYO Observing Log: A Quick Overview Of The Last Month

Greetings fellow astrophiles!

CNYO members (several of them, anyway) have grown tired of sorting and cleaning their eyepieces this extra-frosty winter (not me – I think it’s fun!) and are getting ready for a long Spring and Summer of (hopefully) using them at observing sessions. With several scout, school, and public sessions scheduled or in the works, CNYO already has several successful events under their collective belts. A quick sampling of updates from these events is listed below.


1. North Syracuse Community Room For International Dark Sky Week – Tuesday, April 14

It happens to all of us at some point – we become so wrapped up in the minutia of a hobby or profession that we completely forget that the vast majority of the rest of the planet has little idea what we’re rambling on about. Light pollution – the encroachment of civilization on amateur astronomy due largely to a lack of forethought in the way people and businesses attempt to turn “the night” into “the late afternoon” – has been shown to have negative impacts on health (melatonin!), safety (street light glare!), security (blind spots big enough to eat hay!), energy conservation (714 lbs of coal are required to light one 100 W bulb for a year!), and the environment (plant cycles can be affected by stray light and the nesting and migration habits of several species have been shown to be affected by a lack of proper day/night cycles).

Within minutes of my starting the lecture on light pollution, I discovered that this was a completely brand new topic to half of the audience. The tone of the lecture changed rapidly from complaining to educating (you do learn to think on your feet a bit when giving public lectures), and I am optimistic that the audience left with a new understanding of the problem and many of the solutions now available (from simple solutions at Home Depot and Lowe’s all the way to legislation recently passed in Albany).


2. Bob Piekiel At Baltimore Woods – Friday, April 17

Bob’s monthly sessions at Baltimore Woods are, bar none, the most reliably-scheduled public observing events in CNY. Despite a bit of light pollution to the East-ish from Marcellus and Syracuse and a tree line that eats the very edge of the horizon for early-setting objects (and we’ve still managed to catch some photons from special objects at tree level in the past few years), the rest of the sky is wide open for constellations, planets, and the Messier Catalog.

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A colder Baltimore Woods session (February, 2015).

Bob reports that this session hosted about 20 enthusiastic observers – a sure sign that CNY was starting to thaw in April (as only the bravest/craziest made it out to the earlier sessions this year).


3. NEAF 2015 – Saturday & Sunday, April 18 & 19

Ryan Goodson and I missed the April 17th BW session, instead heading Southeast with vehicles full of both New Moon Telescopes Dobsonian parts and a very large fraction of the Stuventory. The NMT NEAF 2015 booth was (quite fortuitously) wider than expected, providing ample room for (1) Ryan to showcase a newly completed Dob, collapsible truss assemblies, and a new design prototypes and (2) me to run the biggest little used equipment sale I’ve seen in my 5 years of attending NEAF. I am pleased to report that the vast majority of the Stuventory is now in the hands of dedicated amateur astronomers from all around the Northeast and as far away as the Dubai Astronomy Group!

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Before…
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4. Maker Hall At Parent University – Saturday, April 25

Larry Slosberg, Ryan Goodson, and I lucked out with clear skies and a large crowd of kids and adults alike at the Dr. King Elementary School. What could have been a demonstration table indoors turned into a full-on solar session outdoors in the playground, complete with some of the best and busiest views of the Sun I’ve ever seen through my Coronado PST.

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A snapshot of the observing crowd.

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A prominent prominence at 2:30 p.m.

As has been the case with all of the kids’ sessions to date, half the kids keep you on your toes and the other half approach observing with their pint-sized science caps on (these ones are easy to pick out as they spend a good long time at the eyepiece).


5. CNYO At Beaver Lake Nature Center – Thursday, April 30

Our weather-alternate session at Beaver Lake started a bit on the soupy cloud cover side, but ended up clearing nicely just after sunset to give Bob Piekiel, Chris Schuck, Larry Slosberg, and myself reasonable skies for the Moon, Jupiter, Venus, and a few bright Messiers. With a short lecture on the observing highlights for the year (see below) already loaded on the laptop, several of us waited out the Sun indoors while others allowed their eyes to adjust gradually as the skies darkened and the early bugs slowly cooled out around the main rotunda.

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Attending observers at Beaver Lake.

We’re tentatively scheduled to host a Summer observing session late August and will post as the schedule finalizes.


6. Syracuse Rotary Lecture – Friday, May 1

2015may10_rotarymbs_rgbAn invitation to speak for 30 minutes (which turned into nearly an hour with questions) to the Syracuse Rotary Club provided the perfect excuse to prep a lecture on all of the major astronomical events happening in 2015 (planets, eclipses, International SUNDay, NASA missions, and comets). How often do you end up hearing about something interesting the day after? The +30 attending Rotarians were very welcoming and engaging during the lecture, with several questions taking us far, far away from the Powerpoint presentation into all areas of astronomy. If you ever get the opportunity to lecture to a Rotary Club, take it!

CNYO Observing Log: Baltimore Woods Solar Session, 24 August 2013

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The gathered crowd at Baltimore Woods.

Greetings fellow astrophiles!

As CNY completes a remarkable span of bright days and clear nights around this year’s Harvest Moon, we finally catch up on our observing logs with a recap of Baltimore Wood’s Solar Session held on an equally bright and clear August 24th.

Despite its importance as the primary reason we and this Solar System are here at all, the Sun often gets neglected by some amateur astronomers who opt out of expensive solar equipment in favor of expensive deep sky equipment. The Sun, like all stars, is a seemingly simple ball of light that reveals great complexity depending on what you use to observe it. Some filters knock down all but 0.001%(ish) of the Sun’s light to provide great Sunspot detail, while other filters let only very specific wavelengths of light through – these filters then providing insights into the surface structure of the Sun based on the excitation of specific atoms on the Sun’s surface or in its corona.

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An observer at a Coronado H-alpha scope.

Despite its close proximity and constant activity, the Sun is just like any other astronomical object – patience is the key to appreciating the view. At low magnification and over only a few minutes, Sunspots and prominences appear to drift slowly, if at all, in the field of view. Changing to high magnification reveals dynamic views around Sunspots as they undulate or merge with other spots, with changes that are apparent to trained eyes occurring over many seconds. Observers with good memories can return to their scopes over several minutes to see very obvious changes to large prominences. While the differences may be subtle to the eye, they are anything but subtle on the Sun. Keeping in mind that 107 Earths fit across the diameter of the Sun, seeing changes to large prominence over the course of minutes means that plasma on the Sun’s surface is racing at dizzying speeds. The drama only seems slow from our safe distance.

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The gathered scopes (and gathering observers).

The two hour session at Baltimore Woods provided ample time to sample both the range of filters and the range of timescales, thanks primarily to the ever well-equipped Bob Piekiel and his Baader, CaK, and H-alpha scopes. To this list of equipment was added Larry Slosberg and his Baader-filtered New Moon Telescope 12″ Dobsonian (the big primary mirror of the session), then myself with a Coronado PST (H-alpha). And speaking of filters (and taken from CNYO’s A Guide For Solar Observing brochure)…

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A solar projecting scope (left) and Larry Slosberg’s Baader’ed NMT Dob.

Baader Filter – The Baader (“Bah-der”) filter works by reflecting 99.999% of all of the incoming light (almost a mirror), leaving you with a pale yellow disk. You’ll see no prominences or fine surface detail, but Baader filters are excellent for observing sunspots.

CaK (Calcium K-line) – The CaK filter lets through a wavelength corresponding to the 393.4 nm Ca K-line transition (you see it as violet). These filters provide excellent surface detail.

H-alpha (Hydrogen-alpha) – This filter lets through a hydrogen electronic transition corresponding to a wavelength of 656.28 nm (you see it as a rich red). H-alpha filters are excellent for prominences and good for surface detail.

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The Sun through different filters (see above).

Thanks to the SOHO (Solar And Heliospheric Observatory) satellite and its website, it is easy to find the Sun’s snapshot on August 24th to see exactly what we were looking at, complete with a week’s worth of images from the days before to see how the positions of Sunspots changed as the Sun’s plasma rotated about its axis (the final image in yellow is the view from the 24th).

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The week before the solar session (images from NASA/SOHO).

Technical details aside, the session was an excellent one, with approximately 30 people enjoying many views of the Sun and all the solar details Bob, Larry, and I could remember. Of specific note was a prominence that started small at the beginning of the session but grew to contain a clear, dark hole more than one Earth diameter wide over only an hour’s time. The fun wasn’t restricted to scope observers, either. With filtered binoculars and simple Baader glasses, the dimmed ball of light itself was just as interesting a target.

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The unmagnified (and nearly unmagnified) view of the Sun through Baader glasses.

While I didn’t hear it mentioned, it is worth noting that the unmagnified (but filtered) Sun appears to be about the same diameter as the unmagnified (and unfiltered) Moon – a point of no small significance during Solar Eclipses. And as the Moon is slipping away from us at a rate of 1.5 inches per year, the Solar Eclipse is also (very, very slowly) becoming a thing of the past in favor of what will become Lunar Transits. All the more reason why it’s a great time to be observing!

I leave you with the most informative 30 seconds on the website (so far). To demonstrate the dangers of observing the Sun without some kind of filter, Bob and Larry set to work reproducing the fabled ship-burning apparatus of Archimedes (also of Syracuse) by burning one sheet of paper and one dark leaf at low magnification. As Bob explains, this same burning would occur on your retina without something to greatly knock down the Sun’s brightness. I even found myself jumping rather anxiously at one intrepid observer trying to look through the eyepiece of Bob’s projecting scope. Solar safety (and eye safety in general) is no joke!

It’s as informative and definitive a video on solar safety as you’ll find on youtube, so feel free to pass the link along to any and all.

CNYO Observing Log: ShoppingTown Mall, 19 June 2013

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Greetings fellow astrophiles!

From the CNYO Facebook Group page on 17 June 2013:

Damian and I [Larry S.] have been talking about doing another impromptu observing session. We had some really good turn out for a Solar/Lunar observing session in the Shoppingtown upper parking lot. Wednesday’s forecast is looking promising. Anyone interested in doing another Solar/Lunar session at Shoppingtown at 6pm on Wednesday? I’m choosing Shoppingtown again, because I have a CNY Skeptics in the Pub meeting at Scotch and Sirloin at 7pm. Any one interested in joining us for a drink after is also welcome.


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The approximate location (at center) of the session.

CNYO hosted a half-dozen observers (and a half-dozen or so other stopper-by’s) at its second facebook-organized combined Solar/Lunar Observing Session in the parking lot of ShoppingTown Mall on Wednesday, 19 June 2013, just prior to the bimonthly CNY Skeptics In The Pub meeting at the Scotch & Sirloin.

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In attendance were Larry Slosberg with both his NMT 12” Dobsonian (and my custom Baader solar filter) and his Meade SCT 8”, myself with Baader-equipped Zhumell 25×100’s, and John Giroux with his Coronado Solarmax 60 II (which obviated the need for me to bring my Coronado PST, providing a low-magnification Baader view for onlookers instead through the binos). This event also featured the first official use of our CNYO Solar Observing brochure, which we will continue to update and have available at all of our Solar observing sessions (download the PDF for yourself at its CNYO post).

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The 11 day old waxing gibbous Moon hung quite pale blue but feature-rich through Larry’s 8” SCT. Outside of discussion with attendees, all attention was placed on the Sun, which was busy with several sunspots and prominences, include Sunspot 1772, which featured a surface prominence easily visible in John’s Solarmax. A gif of the 5 days prior and 5 following days is shown below from NASA SOHO images (the image for the 19th is in yellow).

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From NASA/SOHO images. Click for a full-sized version.

The Solar/Lunar Sessions are a perfect combination of interesting (and important!) objects and family-friendly observing times, making them one event we plan on committing to a more regular schedule this summer (with new potential locations under discussion). We will keep you posted on this website. Stay tuned!