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.