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!

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