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.)

Friday, June 19, 2009

6/16 - Saturn on Johnson Avenue, Way Too Bright for M57

Finally the clouds cleared up! I had some great Chandra X-Ray Observatory material from the guys at Columbia University to hand out (I ordered a ton more - people are eating up the handouts), and had a great night of clear skies and good transparency, with seeing pretty decent. Tried for the Ring Nebula and was exactly in the right spot between Sheliak and Sulafat but the skies were just way too bright to find anything. Great night!

Monday, June 8, 2009

6/7 – Observing at Jenny Jump, New DSOs with an almost full Moon

What’s pretty wild about Jenny Jump is how much darker it is out there with a nearly full Moon compared to a new Moon night from a dark spot in New York City. Some of the highlights from yesterday:

1. Watching the Moon occult Antares around 10:50pm. This was pretty awesome. The Moon visually “overtook” a nearby star, and I watched at 120x magnification as the Moon and star slowly neared each other, culminating in the Moon’s occultation of the star (Antares). It was great watching this with 5-6 other people on their own scopes, all watching exactly the same thing at the same time. Also, it’s fun watching something actually change before your eyes in the sky, as astronomical time is, well… astronomical.

2. The Ring Nebula – AWESOME! Messier object #57, the Ring Nebula is a a planetary / emission nebula (a glowing shell of gas and plasma given off by certain types of stars when they die) in the contellation Lyra. What is pretty awesome about this object is that it looks like a cheerio! What is totally crazy about this object is that the estimated distance across the ring is about a half a light year, or a bit under 3 trillion miles.

3. Saturn is amazing, as always. Titan was clearly visible, along with either Rhea or Dione, not sure which it was.

4. M81 through a 14” LX200. Pretty awesome spiral galaxy about 12 million light years away. A light year is about 5.8 TRILLION miles.

5. M13 through a couple of 14” scopes. What a difference between my 8” and a 14”… man, telescope envy!

6. Epsilon Lyrae double double with very obvious separation of each double through a 5" apochromatic refractor, a solid $7,000 telescope (just the OTA).

Thursday, June 4, 2009

We've Been Blogged About!

Here, and reposted here! Thanks, guys!

6/2 - Saturn & Moon Viewing on Johnson Avenue

Those of you who have attended Riverdale Sidewalk Astronomy events on the corner of Johnson Avenue & 235th Street may recall that at some point during the night a bright streetlight obstructs and overpowers whatever we're looking at and we have to move the telescope a few feet to the side. It's not such a big deal, but what was great about 6/2 was that the waxing gibbous Moon and Saturn were both clearly visible on either side of the streetlight! It just took a small azimuth slew and an even smaller altitude adjustment to jump back and forth between the objects. It was a bit cloudy at times, but Saturn was generally sharp and the Moon tends to look kind of cool behind an occasional thin and moving layer of clouds. Great night out! Thanks to everyone who came!

Saturday, May 30, 2009

5/30 - Saturn & Moon Viewing on Johnson Avenue

Fairly clear skies and decent transparency led to some nice views of the Moon beginning around 8pm, and Saturn around 9pm. The crowd was great tonight, easily hitting 100!

The Ted Barker Solar Observatory was dedicated at the UACNJ site today. Looking forward to some great H-Alpha solar viewing soon!

Monday, May 25, 2009

5/25 - Saturn on Johnson & 235th Street

Busy night - I gave out 75 fliers to viewers in the first hour of my being outside! The seeing tonight was only so-so, but Saturn still looked pretty sharp and elicited the usual "Wow!" reactions. Titan was visible, but was much fainter than usual.

Separatel,y I'm thinking that it may be time to find another location to split my time with. (Not because I've hit everyone who walks by Starbucks, rather to just share the sky with different crowds of people.) We'll see...

Sunday, May 24, 2009

5/23 - 5/24: Dark Sky Observing at Jenny Jump State Park

I remember vividly my first viewings of the more stunning celestial objects. Saturn. Jupiter. M41. M13. Last night, however, I had an experience to trump all of the above. To leave out a tremendous amount of detail, I'll summarize in saying that I was at dark site observatory for the night, and when the clouds broke between 2:15am and 3:00am, the sky was filled with stars. Depending on the area of the sky I was looking at, stars between magnitude 5 and 6 were visible, and the milky way clearly shined. It's wildly disorienting to go from city observing to dark sky observing, but I had some great new and old sights, including M51 (the Whirlpool Galaxy - both through my 8" Dobsonian and a 16" Newtonian), M13 (found quite easily with the Telrad), Jupiter, and other fantastic objects. I will definitely be back as soon as I have the opportunity!

Thursday, May 21, 2009

5/21 - Saturn Viewing on Johnson & 235th

Saturn looked pretty awesome at 240 tonight, and with cooperative weather, the crowd was great! I would estimate at least 50-60 people viewed tonight in the span of about an hour! Tomorrow night I head off to Hope, NJ for some serious dark sky observing. Hope the weather holds up. (Mild pun intended...)

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

5/20 - Fort Tryon Park w/ Inwood Astronomy Project

I really need to start exploring the Bronx more! Fort Tryon park was beautiful, and it was a perfect night out to join Andre and Jordan for some public viewing of Saturn, Mizar/Alcor, and M13 (with Jason's help toward the end). The site is quite dark, with some good foot traffic to boot. Saturn stood up well to 320x magnification, with Titan and Dione (maybe it was Rhea, couldn't tell) clearly visible. M13 withstood 160x magnification, but no more than that. Highlight of the evening: a local community college professor took his entire class of ~30 students out to the event!

Friday, May 15, 2009

5/15 - Solar Observing on Johnson Avenue

I saw the faintest sun spot (my first!) today. It looks the size of a couple of dead pixels on a computer screen, but I'm sure it was a sunspot!

Monday, May 11, 2009

5/10 - Saturn on Johnson & 235th

Remember those "You know you're an X when..." lists? Well, when it comes to astronomy, you know you're an astronomer when you're constantly looking up as you walk around outdoors. And you know you're an astronomer in New York City when you're constantly looking up outdoors, thinking 'Will those clouds break already?!?!' Last night they finally gave way to clear skies, and I took the opportunity to share Saturn with about 50-60 people on the corner of Johnson & 235th Street, my usual public spot in front of Starbucks. I had a great time, with perhaps one highlight being the little kid who claimed to have found a new planet in the eyepiece when he moved the telescope a bit. I'm fairly convinced that he had pointed the telescope at a street light. Very clear views, the Telrad did its thing admirably and the new 7.5mm eyepiece also provided some spectacular 320x viewing. (Oh, and I met a guy who has an XT6!)

Sunday, May 10, 2009

5/10 - Really Late Night View of Jupiter (First time!)

Wow! I went up on my roof around 3:45am to check out Jupiter. It was starting to cloud over, and not quite knowing where to look, I was a bit bummed when I didn't see it where I thought it should be. Evidently my view of the eastern horizon is much better than I thought - pretty much down to zero degrees. Jupiter was a BRIGHT object, much higher in the sky than I had expected. Looking through the telescope - and using the new Telrad - revealed a magnificent cream-colored planet with three of the Jovian moons clearly visible! I counted 7 bands, which was awesome considering that the seeing wasn't amazing. This was well worth it! (Didn't spot Neptune though, as it got too cloudy before I began a hunt. May not have seen much anyway because of the full Moon as well...)

Of the planets, so far I've seen Mercury, Venus, Saturn, and Jupiter. I'll certainly fill out that list a bit more as time goes on.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

5/2 - Moon Viewing on Johnson Avenue

Tonight was my first night out with the telescope (i.e. carrying it) since knee surgery last week. Walking with the scope was no problem, and although the cloud cover made me hesitant to go out, I'm glad I did, as we had a solid ~200 people look through the scope tonight! The weather was great, and the view of the Moon was pretty clear throughout most of the time I was out.

As an added bonus, there were a few instances where I saw birds flying between the scope and the moon, creating a great shadow on the Moon's apparent surface in the eyepiece. As always, if you would like to be in touch, email me at

Sunday, April 26, 2009

4/26 - Mercury Hunt at Inwood Hill Park

Mercury was at its greatest eastern elongation from the Sun, so today was literally one of the best nights this year to spot the planet. (It is usually too close to the Sun to spot.)

Having just come off off knee surgery on Wednesday, it was a tough call to make as to whether I would attend the Inwood Astronomy Project hunt for Mercury, but my decision to go for it ended up being totally worth it. My knee held up, sunset was beautiful, the company was great, skies ultra-dark (for NYC), and we spotted Mercury! I found it a couple of times with my finder scope (left the telescope itself at home - still on crutches for longer walks), and Jason had it in the eyepiece for some good spurts when the clouds were kind. Sort of looked like a tiny copper coin. Cool!

PS - Also saw Saturn and pointed out some stars/constellations.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

4/18 - Saturn & Almost M3 in Inwood Hill Park

Went out (scope free!) to Inwood Hill Park to join Jason Kendall and the Inwood Astronomy Project for a night with the skies. After finding parking easily (a blessing in the area), I trekked to the top of the hill, finding no one. Turned out Jason had set up on the baseball field at the bottom of the hill, which was fortuitous, as the clouds broke just as we met up with him. Had a great time chatting with Jason and viewing Saturn. (Almost saw M3, which I have been missing lately - didn't blog about those viewing sessions!) Thanks to my wife for joining me tonight!

4/17 - Saturn on Johnson Avenue & 235th Street

Finally a gorgeous evening! Clear, and very mild weather. We had a fantastic crowd throughout the night, probably around 60-70 people over the course of an hour and a half outside. Spent the night trained on Saturn, with some folks very interested in learning more about astronomy, the telescope, and the planets. The cloud cover, transparency and seeing all added up to a great night out. Looks like I'll need to make more copies of the handout, something I'm happy to have to do.

Monday, April 6, 2009

4/5 - Great Night on Johnson Avenue!

It's been really cloudy for the last few weeks, but today was a great exception!

I spent most of the day outdoors yesterday, enjoying the perfect weather. One of the upsides of being outside was noticing the brilliantly clear skies throughout the afternoon and evening, highlighted by a bright moon that my wife spotted around 7pm. As soon as we got home I packed up the telescope and brought it out to Johnson Avenue & 235th Street in front of Starbucks, where it quickly drew attention, questions, and some funny looks through the window from people drinking their coffee.

The Moon and Saturn stood out as perfect targets, particularly because of their proximity to each other. With Saturn less than 20 degrees behind the Moon (my estimate), it was easy to switch back and forth between the two objects to give people different views. The stream of viewers was steady, at times building up a crowd of 10-15 people around the scope. There were a number of highlights (the "WOW!"s and "That looks so fake!"s are always fun), including a group of teenagers who, once one of them took a look, became very interested and stuck around asking questions and taking turns at the eyepiece for a while.

If you have questions, comments, or if you have a telescope and would like to join us for a sidewalk event one evening, email

Thursday, March 19, 2009

3/19 - Clouded Out on Johnson Avenue

I think the gods were conspiring against me tonight. The skies were mildly clear until just after I had the scope set up. At the point clouds rolled in, the transparency went to zero, and I spent the evening chatting with a friendly astrophotographer. It was mild out and the company was good, but the closest I came to seeing something interesting was aligning my finder scope on Sirius (which disappeared about 10 minutes later).

Note to self: Clear Sky Clock is more accurate than I gave it credit for...

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

3/18 - What a clear night!

Freezing by the time midnight rolled around, but definitely clear!

  • Whirlpool Galaxy (M51) - didn't expect anything in NYC...
  • M41, Open Cluster in Canis Major - weird that I couldn't find this... (Update: I'm going to blame the star chart on this one. Comparing the chart I had with me to others I looked at, I probably still should have found M41, but the location on the chart was a bit misleading.)
  • Tried for Lulin... totally not happening!
  • Hyades (Collinder 50)
  • Pleiades (M45)
  • Orion Nebula, Trapezium (M42)
  • Beehive Cluster (M44)
  • M35 (Open Cluster in Gemini)
  • NCG 2158 (Open Cluster in Gemini)
  • Saturn
  • Mizar & Alcor
  • Mizar A & B
What a great and freezing night! (Oh, and I finally brought a chair with me. Makes a huge difference in comfort and in seeing.)

We'll be out tonight... somewhere!

The Clear Sky Chart is showing excellent viewing conditions for tonight. Depending on what time we head out (probably between 8pm and 9pm), we will either be at Seton Park or at the usual spot on Johnson Avenue & 235th Street.

Given the conditions, we may end up at the darker park location with significantly lower horizon views, though much less foot traffic.

[To clarify, there are things that I am interested in seeing that I'll never find in a bright area but that I may find in a dark location. Given the great conditions expected tonight, I'll probably try for those objects. The Moon and larger planets are usually visible in less-than-optimal viewing conditions.]

Friday, March 13, 2009

3/13 - Looking at the Sun on Johnson Avenue & 235th Street

Now that the clocks have changed I was finally home from work in time to use the new solar filter. A recurring problem that I've been experiencing is that people have been interested in seeing through the scope before it has finished cooling down. Anyway, I only gave the XT8 around 20 minutes to cool down before putting the solar filter on and having a look. Not bad at all! The sun is pretty wild, even without bereft of sunspots as it was today.

I did have the fortune of seeing a solar transit - of a bird! It was surprisingly majestic, as the shadow of the birds slowly flapping wings crossed the sun. I had a great time out today, a lot more foot traffic than late at night (obviously), but with less to see. Some of the most interesting views for people were just carefully holding up the solar filter and coming to terms with the fact that the apparent size of the sun is just about the size of the moon, rather than the huge area that we imagine.

One thing that someone mentioned was that the Sun was a pretty average/small star. We spoke about it a bit, but I figured that it would be best post a correction here. The Sun is not an average star! From "It's not the biggest or brightest star in the Universe, but it's actually brighter than 85% of the other stars in the Galaxy. In fact, if you looked at the 50 closest stars in a volume around the Sun, our star would probably rank 4th." There you have it.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

3/11 - A Mildly Successful Night in Seton Park (M44)

I give up, the Clear Sky Chart is pretty darn accurate! The sky was pretty unfriendly tonight, but I went out anyway at 9:30pm, lugging my telescope around 1/2 mile to a nearby park. Fortunately, the city replaced the infields of one of the ballfields with astroturf, so the ground wasn't too wet to work on. I unpacked to a pretty cloud-covered Moon. Once things cooled down a bit, I set my sights on the lunar surface, checking out the Sea of Tranquility (Apollo 11 landing site), craters Plinius, Copernicus, and Kepler, and a few other things that I found interesting. The clouds frequently obstructed my view, but those times proved welcome as breaks because I didn't bring a chair.

Once the clouds started to break a little, I was able to make out Alhena in Gemini but not much else. As the clouds broke a bit more, Castor and Pollux became visible and I split Castor cleanly at 240x.

I then set out to see the M44 (Beehive Cluster) for my first time. It took me a few minutes of hunting before I found it. Forget about naked eye in NYC... 12x25 binoculars (which admittedly are not good for astronomy) didn't pick it up, and it was faint in my 9x50 finder scope. At 48x through the XT8, however, it really shined!

The story ends with the wind picking up a LOT and the cloud cover returning. Tomorrow is another day!

*Also, I was reading a star chart by a red LED flashlight when an unmarked police car pulled up to find out what I was doing. The officer who was driving seemed a bit disappointed that it wasn't "a bunch of kids hanging out" that they could kick out of the park. Once I explained what I was up to they went on their way and left me to my (cloudy) sky.

Monday, March 9, 2009

3/9 - Boo...

Cloudy skies predicted for the next couple of days

3/4 - Funny Experience in New Rochelle

In celebration of my brother's birthday, I was out for dinner in New Rochelle with my folks. The skies were quite clear, and I was able to make out the stars making up Orion's belt, shoulders and legs. Also, 12x35 binoculars that I was carrying easily showed M42. I decided to take the opportunity to show my family the famous nebula, so I'm standing outside and pointing at the sky, drawing a small map for my family, and suddenly I realize that a few of the Asian wait staff at our dinner restaurant are eagerly looking through the front window up in the sky. There is absolutely no way that they could have seen anything from inside, but they were thrilled! Loved it!

Johnson Avenue & 235th Street, Moon & Saturn

It was 8 degrees and windy, but this was a great night out! I first targeted the Moon, standing on the northeast corner of Johnson Avenue and 235th street. Lots of foot traffic and very clear views on the terminator. This was actually my first viewing of the lunar surface through the XT8, which was marvelous. Next time the skies are clear I need to take the scope out for a personal lunar viewing session. The detail is fabulous! At least 40 people viewed the Moon, and my family came out mid-session to see the new scope and find out what all the fuss was about. Despite the weather, they certainly enjoyed themselves.

As the night drew on I switched to the northwest corner of the intersection to target Saturn, which was clearly visible around 60 degrees in the ESE sky. (It was fun trying to help people see it with their naked eye, particularly after viewing it at 240x in the scope. Those who were able to spot it naked eye appreciated the abilities of the scope that much more.)

This was the night that made me realize that I needed to have some literature available for those who are interested. It needed to have basic information about who we are, what we look at, interesting information about what we look at, and answers to some frequently asked questions like "What is a light-year?" and "Can you see the flag on the moon?"

I took care of that (the genesis of this blog...), and for my next sidewalk session will be handing out informational/educational flyers and star charts.

2/25 - Johnson Avenue, Just South of 235th Street

Couldn't resist clear skies after having such a positive experience with the Inwood Astronomy Project. I took the scope out at around 7:30pm to share Saturn with the world, setting up where I found a clear view of the planet (right next to a floodlight!) on the side of the Key Food parking lot.

A lot of people were floored by the view, but unfortunately, a number of very interested people showed up before the scope had finished cooling down, which didn't leave much to see - beyond what looked like a golden dot in a swimming pool. It turned out that partway through the night someone who had enjoyed the 850 million mile close-up view announced in Starbucks that there was "a guy outside with a telescope showing people Saturn." Traffic went up significantly, and I stayed out until it got way too cold.

*Also showed one guy M42 (Orion Nebula) on request. That's the beauty of a Dob. Turn, point, and you're viewing.

2/24 - Viewing Comet Lulin With The Inwood Astronomy Project

On Tuesday, February 24th I took my new Orion XT8 for a spin with the Inwood Astronomy Project, a great group that observes every Wednesday and Saturday in Inwood Hill Park at what is likely the darkest site in Manhattan.

After lugging my scope up the hill (this is in the pre- carrying case days...), I was treated to a large crowd waiting to see something awesome in the night sky. It was freezing out and my scope had for the most part already cooled down (my toes as well), so it wasn't long before we were looking at some pristine views of Saturn, with Titan clearly visible. At least 40 people looked through my scope that evening.

Lulin wasn't very cooperative, and only Jason Kendall was able to find it in his new 8" Schmidt-Cassegrain Scope. It was a faint fuzzball, but was clearly visible in his eyepiece!

It was amusing to overhear some of the wacky lunar landing/space alien theories that a small but vocal minority of people were absolutely convinced of. I kept my mouth shut, which I'm pretty sure was a good move. All in all, a fantastic but freezing night! (Met some great amateur astronomers as well!)

What's This All About?

This blog is here to keep track of various events, observations, and musings of the Riverdale Sidewalk Astronomy group. It will contain interesting stories, links, and information, and may at times even keep you informed about future observing sessions. Stay tuned!