Tag Archives: observing

AOS Star Fest 2011

A new moon, not a cloud in the sky, and it’s above freezing. That’s very rare combination of things in the North East. But this year at AOS we got just that on Saturday night. After 1am we started struggling with dewing (to an extent I’d never seen before). The Milky Way was strong, and high, and even in the moments when we weren’t looking at Galaxies, Globular Clusters, and Nebula, we were just staring up, taking in the sky in all it’s glory.

Every time I go to one of these events I learn more about the universe, more about equipment, and more about getting the most out of a night of observing. It’s an amazing and energizing thing.

While there are no pictures of the observing while it was happening, I got a number of pictures just at dusk, of the setup. Hope you enjoy.


Happiness is a clear dark night

Tonight I got in the first real night of observing since a series of equipment upgrades this April. Yes, it took until June to actually get in a clear dark night. The views of Saturn don’t really count, as I was doing those with plenty of moon. There were lots of really great views tonight from off my deck, but the thing that blew my socks off was the 2 Globular Clusters in Hercules (M13 and M92). The combination of a laser alignment tool for my optics, light baffling inside my scope, and a new focuser that lets me really dial in a tight focus, made these objects just amaze me.

You are looking at a cloud of stars, hundreds of thousands, that are the core of a galaxy eaten up by the milky way billions of years ago. But with all the improvements the number of individual stars you can make out in that cloud goes way up. They shine like jewel boxes in the sky. I just sat there in awe, and took in the night.

Saturn Watch

“Oh my god. I can see the Rings!”

— 50 different people last night

Last night was awesome. Last night was the Mid-Hudson Astronomical Associations observing event at the Vassar Farm Preserve, titled Saturn Watch. This is the second public outreach event we’ve done at the Preserve, folking our wildly successful Observe the Moon Night back in September.

We had at least 10 telescopes on the fields brought by members, and at least 60 – 80 visitors there (as I keep hearing about the various groups of 5 – 10 that came, I’m starting to think that might actually be a low estimate). For nearly an hour I had a steady stream of folks coming to my scope to take a look at Saturn.

The first time you see Saturn through a telescope is a magical and visceral experience. That emotion was spilling out through out the field, as you could hear gasps and exclamations as they brought their eye up to the eyepiece.

Talking with folks through the evening, I answered questions about Saturn, telescopes, and astronomy in general. I also let everyone know about our other observing events throughout the year. I think we got at least 2 new members, and I know we managed to get a lot of kids excited about astronomy as well.

Now I’m eagerly looking forward to the North East Astronomy Forum, and the April star party.

An incredible night of observing

Last night was our monthly star party for the Mid-Hudson Astronomical Association.  It was just about a perfect August night, not too hot, not too humid, and with very clear skies.  Apparently the effort that I’ve been spending on publicity for the group has been paying off, because we got at least a dozen new folks there last night.

Once we got enough dark to start seeing things, Bill managed to give a nice tour of the night sky, which people really loved.  This hit some of the major high lights of the big dipper, the little dipper, lyra, cygnus, scorpio, sagittarius, the the milky way, which was in quite full force last night.  Rick and I managed to effectively hide from the building lights behind a few trees, which left us in a nice dark environment.

With so many folks, and Sagittarius in good striking zone, I spent the first half of the night hitting globular clusters and the lagoon nebula over there.  My new ultra high contrast filter got it’s first work out on the lagoon nebula, which was striking.

As the evening wound on we saw two waves of people head out, until just Rick, Bruce, Ray and I were left.  Jupiter popped up to greet us, and we got a few views of that, though through that much atmosphere you were hard pressed to get it above 100x and still see anything.  I randomly found (only identified this morning) the Omega Nebula and the Wild Duck Cluster as I was just exploring around Sagittarius.

About 12:30 the four us decided to call it a night.  I got home at about 1, too wired to go to sleep for the next 45 minutes.  It was a great night.

Amazing Night of Sky Watching

After a quite full day yesterday, I pulled out my telescope for the first in months (since Vermont in July actually), helped in part by the nudging by Jeremy during the week about when I would next do some observing.  The observing forcast looked great, it was a new moon, good transparency and good seeing were predicted, so it was definitely the night to do it.

The neighbors were having a party, so the yard was not nearly as dark as I was hoping.  When I got started at 10, I started with Andromeda Galaxy, which is now up in the east, and a very easy target.  It’s always good to have familiar targets after a couple of months of down time to re-remember pointing and finding strategies.  The two smaller galaxies around Andromeda were quite distinct as well, the seeing and transparency forecast seemed to be accurate.  To give that a test, I went looking for the Ring Nebula.  My off hand memory for it’s location turned out to pretty off.  Eventually I pulled out a book, and realized I was looking in the wrong section of Lyra, and found it quickly enough.  It was magnifiable up to 240x with reasonable clarity, which definitely prooved the night sky was quite good.  At that point I got a call from Jeremy, told him I was out observing already, and he came over.

With Jeremy in transition, and Jupiter nicely moving into the small strip of southern sky I can see from the deck, I decided to give it a shot.  When introducing someone to astronomy, it’s always good to start with a planet, preferably Jupiter or Saturn.  It’s bright, you can see the moons, and is one of the objects that most obviously is different from the naked eye to under magnification.  I put my 48x eyepiece in, and swung the scope around to see what I could see.

I was floored.  Jupiter was more clear than I’d ever seen it.  Every time I’d looked at Jupiter in the past in my telescope the banding in Jupiter had bee quite fuzzy, more hints of shade than anything else.  This time they looked like they were inked in.  Incredibly distinct and crisp.  I didn’t even bother to put in intermediate lenses, but just jumped straight to the 240x one to see how much this would hold.  At that magnification you always get some shimmering in the atmosphere, but that was relatively minor.  The detail on Jupiter was just amazing.  You could see bits of structure inside the think dark bands, and the number of bands you could make out was far more than I’d ever seen with my own eye.  It was enough that I managed to get Susan out of bed to come and take a look.  It was truly the most amazing view of Jupiter I’ve ever had.

Once Jeremy showed up we looked through a few things in the sky, Jupiter, obviously, my previous targets, and some open clusters.  Sadly, no globular clusters were in the view that I had.  Over the course of the evening we each saw 4 or 5 shooting stars (not always the same ones).  Given that I was out there for 2.5 hours, that’s about on par with my 1 per 30 minutes on any given night.  I explained a lot about what we see and why we see it, and had a great time.  That view of Jupiter is something I’m still remembering this morning, the image is just burned into my brain now.  The skies look great again tonight, so I’m going to have to give it another shot.  GIven the clarity, I’m curious if I can make out the red spot with the equipment I’ve got.

I hadn’t realized how much I missed spending time under the sky (due to our totally weird weather) until last night.  It’s great to get back out there.

Update on Amateur Astronomy Hour

2 months ago I bought a telescope.  I’ve wanted one for years, and finally broke down and did it while they were on sale at Orion.  It arrived about 6 weeks ago, and I’ve had about a dozen good observing days since.

Previously I spent some time finding Nebula, double stars, and galaxies.  Last night I decided to check out something different, stellar clusters.  It turns out there are 1/2 dozen different stellar clusters in and around the constellation of Cassiopeia, and I found most of them last night.  While the most famous is M103, as that’s in the messier catalog, the double cluster was the most spectacular.

There is something about a stellar cluster and it’s dense packing of starts that gives you the sense that the stars are just spilling out of a rift in space.  The pictures don’t do them justice, they are just breath taking in the scope.  The detail and depth of the clusters is amazing, even in slightly too bright sky last night (the moon was 1/2 full and setting at the time).  I can’t wait to check them out once the moon cycle passes and we get back to really dark skies.

M103 – open cluster in cassiopeia

NGC 869 & 884 – double cluster in perseus