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!