Saturday, September 26, 2009

Another apology for not posting after events, and a recent observing log

Yeah, sorry. Here's the log:

Opened up the telescope around 8:30pm. Started off jumping around familiar objects.
  • M13 - Gorgeous as usual, holds up wonderfully to high magnification
  • M57 - Lovely, although I'm still trying to spot the 15th magnitude central star
  • Albireo - Best around 80x-120x mag, fantastic diffusion rings
  • M92 - nice globular in Hercules
  • Double cluster in Perseus - first time looking at this in the 16". Would be even awesomer with a super wide field eyepiece (NGC 869 & 994)
  • M31 - Andromeda, still need to see this under dark skies in binocs. Waiting to be more stunned.
  • M110 - Easy find above Andromeda
  • M32? - Where the hell are you....
  • M33 - NEW - VERY hard object to find, although I finally bagged it. Really just a smudge of faint light that moves with the background stars when the telescope is tapped. Became more convinced after reading others' reports. How on earth did Messier find this thing?
  • M34 - NEW - Nice bright open cluster in Perseus
  • M76 - NEW - Fun and bright planetary nebula, similar to Dumbbell Nebula, very distinct peanut shape
  • M103 - open cluster in cass, decent
  • M52 - fan shaped open cluster in cass
  • Tried for M101/102 - There is no reason why I should have had trouble with this, but hey, no luck
  • M56 - Pretty globular cluster in lyra
  • M27 - dumbbelll nebula, large and bright
  • M71 - globular in sagitta, easy to find as long as sagitta is visible
  • M29 - NEW - open cluster in cygnus. had to match this one up against some sketches to confirm. very sparse.
  • M39 - NEW - even more sparse than M29, but confirmed against a sketch. too bad i don't have a finder!
  • M2 - NEW - small globular cluster in aquarius
  • M45 - Plieades. It's getting dark enough (now that the moon has fully set) that I can make out at least six of the stars in the Plieades naked eye. It is said that Messier included this cluster in his catalog to round it out at 45 and for no real other reason. Anyway, telescope shows nebulosity. Nice.
  • M1 - NEW - Crab Nebula. I have a Chandra image of this wild nebula at my desk at work. Tough to make out any detail other than general shape in the scope.
  • M42 - Great Nebula in Orion - whoah. and this was when it was pretty low on the horizon. lots of crazy dust lanes, tons of detail.
  • M43 - NEW - nebula in orion, tough to verify, but pretty certain i saw it
  • M78 - NEW- reflection nebula in orion. very faint, but saw the two 10th mag stars in it clearly.
  • M36 - NEW - open cluster in auriga, beautiful
  • M37 - NEW - open cluster in auriga
  • M38 - NEW - open cluster in auriga, came back to check out the cross asterlism, which was obvious after it was pointed out
  • Mars, naked eye - and telescope
  • M35 - open cluster in Gemini
  • Sirius through scope

Friday, September 4, 2009

Assorted Public Events + Night Sky at UACNJ Observatory

Once again I have been remiss about posting after (forget about before!) events. Since my last post I have done a number of public observing events, most targeted at Jupiter and the Moon, and last night visited the UACNJ Observatory at Jenny Jump State Forest. This post will cover last night's observing. I decided on heading out to the observatory last night because the timing worked. Astronomers hate a lot of things, like the atmosphere and light pollution, but one of the less-than-obvious sources of light - particularly at dark sites - is the Moon. (If you are at a ridiculously dark site, some people will get fed up with Venus and Jupiter, but that's pushing it!) Anyway, most astronomers find that moonlit nights are pretty much only good for observing the Moon and planets, but for a guy like me from New York City, a moonlit night in the middle of nowhere is still a dark-sky adventure. So here's the deal. After a brief stop at home after work, I packed the car with some observing equipment (eyepieces, maps, etc. - left the telescope at home) and food, and sped off to Jenny Jump. The drive was pretty quick and for the first half hour, I was treated to a gorgeous purple sunset. Fast forwarding, I got to the observatory, dropped my stuff at the house, rolled off the observatory roof (this was tough by myself!), and opened up the 16" Newtonian to give it some time to cool off. During that time, I reviewed the Summer night sky and had some dinner. Here are yesterday's observing targets:
  • Deneb: I forgot how enjoyable it can be to observe a ridiculously bright star! Dened is one of the greatest known supergiants and is the brightest star in the constellation Cygnus.
  • M31 - The Andromeda Galaxy: Bright core visible, couldn't see M32
  • M110 - Satellite galaxy of M31, member of the local group. Visible as a fuzzy patch above M31.
  • M13 - The greatest globular cluster in the night sky! Through the 16" this resolved ridiculously well straight to the core. Wild "wow" factor.
  • Double Cluster in Perseus
  • Mizar (A&B) and Alcor - A nice visual and binary double in Ursa Major
  • Albireo - WHOAH. First time observing this beautiful double star. Particular when looking at the diffraction rings, but also at prime focus, these two stars have sharply contrasting colors of orange and blue-green.
  • M57 - Ring nebula. Never fails to impress me. Even with the bright moonlight, this was a great sight and resolved easily. Could not see 15th mag central star.
  • M27 - First time observing the Dumbbell Nebula. This is a large planetary nebula with a twin-lobed shape. Quite spectacular.
  • [Jumped around to a bunch of objects in Cass.]
  • Moon - really crisp, clear, bright shots through the 16". Required use of variable polarizing filter to reduce brightness.
  • Jupiter - first time observing the planet through such a large scope, the exponential increase in detail is breathtaking. Looked like a photograph..

Fun time!

Thursday, July 30, 2009

7/30 - Moon, Jupiter, and an Iridium Flare on Johnson Avenue & 235th Street

Finally a clear night! I thought I might be stuck at work all night, but I guess my prayers were answered and I made it home in time to hit the streets with the telescope around 8pm. I plowed through over 200 fliers this evening, also giving away ten Chandra X-Ray Observatory DVDs and a number of other Chandra handouts. The crowd was great throughout the night, and we observed a crisp and clear Moon, Jupiter, and a special treat for the 5 or 6 people who were there around 9:15pm - an Iridium flare! The flare was bright, and faded over ~ 7 or 8 seconds. Peak brightness was wild though! Thanks for a great evening to everyone who stopped by!

Saturday, July 25, 2009


The absolute best night of observing I have ever had. I began by trying to locate M57, the Ring Nebula in Lyra, which shouldn’t be difficult but gave me a hell of a hard time and I eventually gave up on it. I also spent way too long trying for M27, the Dumbbell Nebula in constellation Vupecula, another object I should have easily found (update: my chart wasn’t terrible accurate – ha!). So it seemed as though the night was off to a poor start… Anyway, Jupiter proved a beautiful target, with brief periods of clarity just barely allowing 320x magnification. The seeing didn’t prove good enough to allow for clear identification of the recent impact scar, although I’d give myself 40% odds that I saw it – just without enough time to really be sure. Spending a significant amount of time at the eyepiece looking at one object only really enabled me to tease out a lot of detail from Jupiter, a very worthwhile experience.

Ok, so next steps were getting a better handle on the Summer constellations, which didn’t take too long. As for objects, M13 was ridiculously uncooperative (I really just don’t have enough experience finding it and can’t see the Hercules keystone naked-eye), but things then started to really take off! First I was mesmerized by Capella and its apparent resolution as a small disc in the eyepiece. May have been just an illusion from the double star, but still was a cool sight. Next I made my way over to Andromeda and found the famous M31 Andromeda Galaxy. While I was there, I scoped out M32, a close neighbor to M31. M110 wasn’t happening, nor was M74. I shouldn’t have expected to see those two, however, as they are pretty much invisible from NYC. I next spent some successful time in Cassiopeia! M103 popped out quickly, as did NGC457, but the absolute highlight in nearby Perseus is the Double Cluster NGC 869 & 994. This is stunning in a wide-field eyepiece. M34 was also a pretty quick find, although it was just as quickly moved on from as it isn’t too visually interesting. Next stops were NGC7789, a pretty and rich open cluster in Cassiopeia, and M52, a similarly rich Milky Way cluster in Cassiopeia. Before wrapping up, I spent another few minutes on Jupiter and then scanned the sky for rising planets (Mars) and to refresh my memory on the constellations I had learned in the evening. So I look over at Vega, and what do I see? – Clear as day, Sulafat and Sheliak. I guess my limiting visual magnitude for the night – at its best – was about 3.5. Ugh, New York! Next steps from there were obvious, and I jumped right at the opportunity to find M57, which took only a minute or so. I think what had partially tripped me up earlier was M57’s small size in the finder, which I had totally forgotten. Anyway, some fun observing of this amazing plantary nebula / cheerio, and I was packing up to head downstairs.

To recap:
  • Jupiter, no impact scar
  • M31
  • M32
  • M103
  • NGC 457
  • Double Cluster (NGC 869 & NGC 994)
  • M34
  • NGC 7789
  • M52
  • M57

SOLID NIGHT! Ten objects, nine of which were new! (I had previously found and viewed M57.)å

Friday, July 10, 2009

7/9 - Moon & Jupiter on 23rd Street & 3rd Avenue

Once again I've been remiss in posting a session report, but this time it's with decent reason. I went out for about 45 minutes on the night of July 4th, with a primary target of the Moon. The streets were totally dead! Of course, just as I was about to pack up a crowd showed up, but it was a slow night for science outreach in Riverdale.

On to awesomer news! I ventured beyond the gates of Riverdale last night and did an observing session on 23rd Street & 3rd Avenue from around 11:30PM until around 1:00AM. I knew that Riverdale went to sleep early, but I clearly didn't have a good understanding of what I was missing - particularly considering that 23rd & 3rd isn't exactly the busiest intersection in Manhattan. We viewed the magnificently close appearance of the Moon and Jupiter, jumping back and forth between the two targets all night. There was a diverse and steady stream of viewers, including a few people with backgrounds in astrophysics. I'll definitely be doing more sidewalk events in the city in the not-too-distant future.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

6/29 - Moon Viewing on Johnson Avenue

[Before talking about the 6/29 viewing, I should note that there have been a few public observing sessions that I haven't had time to blog about. Two of those were a blast, because I was joined by guests from France who - on each occasion - met French speakers and had a great time.]

So, 6/29: Fantastic as usual! The night started out a bit cloudy, but the clouds were thin, providing some lovely views of the Moon with black wisps floating over the bright surface. The crowd was great and varied in age from two to senior. (The crowd varied in species as well, with a couple of dog owners holding their pets up to the eyepiece for a look.) The sky didn't clear up in time for Saturn, but the Moon was pretty spectacular, and at times there were large groups of fascinated teens taking a peek at our huge natural satellite. One person asked about the possibility of seeing the International Space Station with the naked eye. I already responded to that individual by email, but for those of you who are interested, many satellites are frequently visible to the naked eye. For information about where and when to find them, check out and enter your city.


Sunday, June 21, 2009

6/20 - Early Morning Views of Jupiter, Venus, Mars, and the Moon

I totally didn't think that I would make it out of bed at 4:30am on a Saturday morning (my wife didn't either), but somehow I found myself trudging up the stairs to the roof of my building around 4:45am - with my telescope on my back. The attraction was a super-conjunction (not a technical term...) of Jupiter, Venus, Mars, Mercury and the Moon - with the Pleiades making a guest appearance. The weather was very cooperative, as the sky patiently waited for me to make my observations before totally clouding over (actually I didn't catch Mercury, which was clouded out on the horizon from the start). It was my first viewing of Mars and only my second viewing of Venus through a telescope. Venus only shows phases, which is surprisingly a both boring and spectacular sight at the same time, and Mars was pretty puny, even at 320x magnification. The seeing and transparency weren't fantastic for observing it, so there wasn't much detail available. Still, pretty awesome to see another disc in the sky. Jupiter was it's awesome self, and the Moon provided some nice viewing opportunities just before sunrise. (Which was also pretty spectacular.)