The King’s Ball

Tonight was clear and unseasonably warm. And with the Moon not scheduled to arrive until after 10pm, it looked to be a promising night for observing. A group from the SPAC decided to meet out at the Gott Observatory to take advantage.

Most of the evening was spent going from favorite to favorite, comparing the views in different telescopes. We saw dozens of objects throughout the night, but I am only going to list some of my favorites here. They are in the approximate order that I observed them:

COMET 2014 (Lovejoy)
I wanted to make sure I took a final peek at Comet Lovejoy before it faded out of sight once again. The comet appeared large and round, with just a tinge of color left in it. The best part, though, was that the sky was dark enough to see parts of the tail, which I had not yet been able to see from my backyard.

M42 (Great Orion Nebula)
Although the nebula looked great as always, with dark green, billowy filaments of gas and dust fanning out across the entire field of view, we spent most of the time concentrating on how many stars we could see in the Trapezium cluster nestled inside. Five stars were easily visible most of the time through my 8″ dob, but in moments of good seeing, I could make out the sixth star.

DOUBLE CLUSTER
This is always a treat, but through Jerry’s 10″ dob with 100° 20mm eyepiece, it was flat-out gorgeous. The large clusters fit nicely in the field of view, with hundreds of stars visible.

M31 (Great Andromeda Galaxy)
The Great Andromeda Galaxy looked great tonight, with its spiral arms stretching out for miles, or rather, light years. The most fantastic view of it tonight, however was again with Jerry’s 100° eyepiece, where its two companion galaxies, M32 and M110 could also be easily seen within the same field of stars.

H3945 (Canis Major)
Collin pointed us to this pretty double star, nicknamed the “Winter Albireo” after its famous counterpart in the summer sky. One star was a deep orange and the companion was a medium blue, making a striking sight in even a small telescope. The stars were far enough apart to be easily split in a small telescope, yet close enough together to be visually appealing as a double star. This was definitely added to my “favorites list” tonight.

FLAME NEBULA (Orion)
This was the first time I had seen this awesome nebula. My first view was through the TTU 18″. After nudging the bright nearby star Alnitak out of the field of view, it was obvious, shaped a lot like a Christmas tree and even appearing green, with a dark interior.

JUPITER
The King of the Planets was definitely the highlight of the night. It was absolutely fantastic. Many cloud bands were visible, and the Great Red Spot was obvious as well. During moments of good seeing when the atmosphere settled down, the details were incredible.

But even Jupiter was about to be outdone by his own court. The Galilean moons twirled around the planet tonight, each one easily identifiable by their slight differences in size. Callisto appeared larger than either Io or Europa, and Ganymede was larger still. Through the 18″, you could even discern that Io was slightly paler and more of a creamy color than Europa.

Most of the evening featured Io (and its shadow) crossing Jupiter’s disk. The shadow appeared as a very tiny black dot crossing between the equatorial bands of Jupiter. As the moon approached the edge of the disk, Io became visible as a bright dot in front of Jupiter, with its black shadow following right behind. Around 11:30pm, Io completed its journey across the face of Jupiter and eclipsed Europa. It was interesting to see two moons merge into one and then split apart again. As they came together, the two moons looked like what Collin termed a snowman.

Shortly after this, you could see Europa become noticeably dimmer for several minutes as it slipped behind Io’s shadow. The dance of the moons was lovely to behold and made a great finale to a wonderful night under the stars.

Sunday night, January 11, 2015 Emma

I arrived late, about 7:15, and too late to catch Mercury and Venus, now setting low in the west, but Maurice Clark, Scott Harris and Gary Leiker had seen them, and Mark Smith may have arrived early enough to catch them, too. Dr. Clark had his Jaegers 5” short tube achromat, an almost 50 year old scope. When not imaging, Dr. Clark paired the scope with a Williams Optics 28mm UWAN. More on this later. Gary and Scott had the 12” dob, while Mark had an 80mm achromat. I brought my C102GT, a 97mm clear aperture F/10.3 achromat. Gary used his Meade HD60’s more the most part, occasionally borrowing my ES 28mm 68*. I used the ES 28mm 68*, the Pan 24, and TeleVue Nagler T6’s 7 & 13mm.

Of course, the first item on my agenda, and even theirs although they’d already seen it, was Comet Lovejoy. That night, the 11th, in Taurus and a fuzzy naked eye 4th magnitude “star”.  Dr. Clark noted how fast it was moving, and indeed it clearly had changed positions from the first time I saw it to further north & east on its way toward Aries and Triangulum, but from the “legs” deeper into the corpus of the Bull this evening. Dr. Clark snapped off a few shots.

We looked at a lot of things. Dr. Clark getting Gary and Scott to bag some Eridani galaxies, while I worked on the Orion Nebula & the Trapezium, having more luck, surprisingly, with my 13mm T6 vs. my 7mm one.

Without a doubt, however, the highlights of the evening were the jaw dropping widefield views the Jaeger’s 5″ together with the WO UWAN 28mm. Simply spectacular! Dr. Clark had been imaging earlier, so the scope wasn’t available for viewing until later. He had to reconfigure the focuser a bit to get the diagonal in place after removing the CCD, but, man, was it worth it! The 3.62 degree true field of view combined with the light gathering of a 5″ unobstructed primary, the rather perfect 5.6mm exit pupil, 22.68x magnification and the pristine Emma skies came together for an optic nerve nirvana. You’ve GOT to see it to believe it, folks. M31, the Andromeda galaxy, spread on forever and ever, amen! Obviously attended by both M32 and M110, seeing its galactic wings go on in a 3.6 degree field is just stunning! M33 lay in a beautiful field of Milky Way stars, faint arms unfurling. Maurice showed us the “pointing stick” of stars directed at the Double Cluster, stars one would never associate, could never associate, in a lesser field. And of course, comet Lovejoy’s long ion tail was spectacular flaring off this temporal inner Solar System interloper.

Now Gary’s 12″ did a nice job of pointing out M31′s dust lane, and with my 28mm 68*, we could just put M32 and M110 in the same field. This level of detail is nice, and it was satisfying to have both widefield star scape and exacting detail on the same observing field.

Around 9:30 the winds picked up, and the warm 60* sunny day of Sunday gave way to the wintry, freezing fog of Monday.  Just before this, I noticed the flickering and shaking of Rigel, which I was able to split, just barely, stars gyrating madly in the eyepiece, photons tussled about by the upper atmospheric disturbances that soon begat our much lower atmospheric ground winds.  We packed up and headed home, a night of stargazing that I will not forget, widefield heavenly vistas running through my head even to this writing.

Goodies at the Gott

As Snoopy might write, “it was a dark and starry night.” And I would add chilly. Last night, we had 11 people braving the cool weather to come out to the Gott Observatory at different times during the night. We had some regular observers: Tom C, Jerry, Gary, Scott, Mark, and Collin, as well as some visitors: Ram, Tommy, and his children Nathan, Oscar, and Olivia.

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Gary readies his 12″ Schmidt-Cassegrain telescope as the sun sinks below the horizon.

 

There were a few clouds here and there during the evening, but never enough to bother the observing. The Milky Way looked stunning, stretching all the way from setting Sagittarius to rising Perseus. We jumped from object to object throughout the night, and went back to a few objects more than once, so I won’t put things in the order we observed them, but rather group them by constellation.

 

ANDROMEDA

M31, the Great Andromeda Galaxy, was spectacular. Even though not many details were seen, we could see the spiral arms stretching out for seemingly forever. With our widest field eyepieces, we could also fit both M32 and M110 into the same field, which looked awesome. M32 was a bright, tiny, and almost circular patch of light, and M110 was much fainter, but large and elliptical with a stellar core. The best (and widest) view of these 3 were in Collin’s brand new Celestron 6-inch Newtonian reflector.

Also in the Andromeda constellation, we took a peek at NGC-7662, commonly known as the Blue Snowball. Through my 8″ telescope, it lived up to its name, looking like a fuzzy, pale blue ball of light.

Another delight in Andromeda was NGC-891, a large, dim, edge-on spiral galaxy. I was unable to find it in my 8″ (I may not have been looking in quite the right place), but it did show up nicely in Jerry’s 10″ and looked gorgeous in the 12″ SCT, where the dust lanes were quite visible as well.

 

AURIGA

M37 is a rich open cluster which was a crowd-pleaser. Dozens and perhaps as many as 100 stars were visible with varying brightnesses. A few of the brighter ones appeared to be yellow stars.

 

CASSIOPEIA

The kids (and adults) enjoyed seeing NGC-457 (The Owl Cluster). The two brightest stars in the cluster resemble the eyes of an owl, and other stars in the cluster are loosely shaped as outstretched wings and tail. I personally think the cluster looks more like E.T., but most kids nowadays have no idea who that is. Am I really that old?

We also wanted to find the Bubble Nebula (NGC-7635) tonight. It lies near the much-easier-to-find M52, so we stopped there first. M52 is a small open cluster that is so circular, it almost looks like a globluar cluster. Dozens of tiny stars could be seen, with the brightest star near one edge.

We found NGC-7635 nearby. I could see a nice arc of nebulosity, but was unable to see the entire bubble.

I also took a peek at NGC-663, an irregular-shaped open cluster. It has a couple of bright star pairs that make it interesting.

 

CYGNUS

Whenever Cygnus is visible, no stargazing session would be complete without looking at Beta Cyngi, commonly known as Albireo. This double star is stunning, with a bright blue component and an even brighter yellow star.

Jerry found NGC-6826, the Blinking Nebula, in his 10″ dob. It was oval with a central star that appears to blink in and out if you look away. It did not have this effect with me, but others saw it and were impressed.

But my favorite in Cygnus tonight was the Veil Nebula. It was easily visible when using O-III filters. Although the portion of the Veil with the star (NGC-6960) was brighter, we all preferred the NGC-6992/5 section as it showed a lot of filamentation and detail.

Another great open cluster in Cygnus is NGC-7039. Through Jerry’s 10″ dob, hundreds of stars were visible, most of a similar brightness. At one edge was a faint patch of nebulosity, which we later determined to be the planetary nebula NGC-7048. This nebula was first discovered using a 31.5″ telescope, so seeing it in a 10″ dob (even though we were using an O-III filter), was incredible.

 

PERSEUS

Throughout the evening, I kept taking a peek at Algol. It is an eclipsing binary star that dims approximately every 3 days as the fainter star moves in front of (from our vantage point) the brighter star. It was scheduled to eclipse tonight while we were out observing, so I kept watching its brightness in relation to other stars. As the evening progressed, you could tell it had definitely dimmed when compared to nearby stars.

Another widefield favorite is the Double Cluster (NGC-884/NGC-869). Dozens of stars centered around two cores are visible in the telescope, with a smattering of brighter stars.

One real treat tonight was getting to view NGC-1499, the California Nebula. An H-Beta filter was required to see it at all, and even then, in Jerry’s 10″, it appeared as a very large and extremely faint nebulosity surrounding a host of stars in the Milky Way.

 

PEGASUS

A great globular cluster, M15, was visible tonight in Pegasus. I like to call it the Hedge Apple Cluster, because of its proximity to the winged horse’s mouth. Many stars were resolved in a tight little ball with a stellar core.

 

SCUTUM

Before it sunk too low in the western sky, I pointed my 8″ at M11, the Wild Duck Cluster. To this day, I cannot see the shape of a duck or flock of ducks in this cluster, but it is nevertheless a pretty sight. It contains dozens of finely resolved bright stars with one really bright star towards one edge.

 

TAURUS

M45, the Pleiades, is another one of those celestial objects I have to look at every time I see it in the sky. Several stars in this stunning open cluster are visible to the naked eye, but through binoculars or a telescope with a wide field of view, it is simply breathtaking. Many of the brighter stars, to me, form a pattern resembling that of the Apollo lunar lander.

The Hyades is another naked-eye star cluster in Taurus. There aren’t a lot of members, but it is interesting because it contains 3 pairs of bright stars arranged in a lovely hexagon pattern.

Although low in the sky, we also looked at M1, the . It was a large oval of medium brightness. In my 8″ dob, details weren’t apparent, but just knowing that it is the remnant of a star exploding 1000 years ago is awe-inspiring.

While English knights were storming the French coast of Normandy, Chinese astronomers were staring in wonder at this mysterious “new star” that was visible even in daylight for a few weeks. Now, all that’s left is an ever-expanding mass of cooling gases that we call the Crab Nebula. Wow!

 

At one point during the evening, being told she would be attending a telescope party, little Olivia declared, “this sure isn’t much of a party!” But after seeing all these treasures last night, I would have to disagree with her. Despite the increasing wind, the cooling temperatures, and the increasing dew, it was a great night at the Gott!

Seeing spots

Last night’s late-forming clouds and wind may have stopped SPAC from having a good time at Gott last night, but you can never keep a good astronomer down.  Sometimes we get so caught up in looking for dark, starry nights, we forget all about the closest star to Earth — the Sun.  Right now, we are in the midst of a lot of solar activity, so if you have a telescope with a properly-equipped solar filter, it is a great time to take a peek at Ol’ Sol.  Pictured below is a snapshot I took through my telescope this afternoon.  Several sunspot groups are visible in the photo, but the image doesn’t capture all the detail visible with the naked eye, including different temperature zones, granulation, and convection.

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Gott Astronomy? Saturday night, 30-Aug-201​4

Keeping with tradition, I arrived late at the Gott Observatory Saturday night, about an hour after sunset, around 9:20 or so.  Everyone was already set up with their scopes observing.  Gary and Scott had Gary’s 12″ solid tube Orion dob.  I recalled looking thru Gary’s Meade 5000 30mm UWA and 18mm Meade HD eyepieces.  Jerry Hatfield had his Orion XT10i on an Orion dobstand, with ES 8.8mm 82*, 20mm ES 68*, and 20mm ES 100* eyepieces, that I was aware I looked through.  Tom Campbell had his Discovery 8″ dob with 10 and 25mm plossls, while Dan Roe had his trusty C9.25.  Kalana Pothuwila had his C8.  I think he did some visual observing, but noticed a camera on the eyepiece end of his SCT most of the time.  Mark Smith showed up long after me (10:30-ish?) and set up something, looked like a camera on a tripod, but I never went over there to look through an eyepiece so am ignorant of exactly what he brought out.  It didn’t bite anyone, though, so that was a blessing.  And speaking of biting, although I managed to swat a few off me, the mosquitoes were relatively absent.  I had brought some DEET enhanced OFF, figuring I’d need to douse myself with it after Thursday’s rain, but was spared the trouble (and smell) by the relative benign degree of infestation.

Saturn and Mars were already low by the time I got set up, which many noted, myself included, seemed to take an awfully long time.  Not that a lot of my stuff didn’t come in handy, the laser pointer, the S&T Pocket Atlas, but still, I seemed to make setting up a simple alt-az refractor as laborious and time consuming as possible.  At least I’m good at something.

Later, after we had finished and were jawing with local astronomy prof and Aussie Dr. Maurice Clark, he lamented his bad luck with cantankerous equipment, forgetting things, etc., this evening.  My own bad luck came quickly during setup, when my Stellarvue Red Dot Finder (http://www.buytelescopes.com/stellarvue-f1001-red-dot-finder) wouldn’t work.  The next day, I replaced the battery and it still didn’t work;  put the old one back in, and it came right up.  Ha!  So my evening began from the substantial handicap of non-functioning basic equipment.  Great!  Fortunately, my 50mm RA finder worked just fine, and I had ‘er aligned on my C102GT in no time.

The autumnal 5-and-a-half-day-old moon was sufficient to remove a lot of contrast from the sky, but its slendor figure in the west was not enough to obliterate our dark skies, the Milky Way quite visible from the north up through Cassiopeia, across the zenith at Cygnus, and down through Aquila and Scutum and onwards south.  The City of Lubbock, from our northerly locale, did its best to destroy the Milky Way as one meandered down to Sagittarius, but it was still visible, if somewhat washed out down there, but it’s always this way at the Gott.

As usual, Jerry Hatfield’s Xt10i put up eye-popping spectacles one after the other.   Doesn’t hurt that Jerry’s an absolute Cracker Jack putting various beautiful celestial eye candy in the eyepiece as fast as Jesse Owens at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin.  But the combination of Jerry’s God given talent for finding things (land and sky — you should see his dragon fly photographic collection!), one fantastic mirror, and some splendid ES eyepieces, not to mention his dobstand delivering views from a no-hunch necessary, ergonomic position was continuously inspiring through the night.

But there is, always, strength in numbers, and the single most spectacular find of the night came from the eyepiece of Tom Campell’s Discovery dob with a simple 25mm Plossl eyepiece — Hershel’s Garnet Star flanked by Comet Jacques!   None of us were aware of this conjunction on August 30th, coincidentally my good friend Neale Pearson’s 84th birthday, but there she blowed!  Thank God Tom had the foresight to put this gem into his eyepiece, one of THE coolest astronomical pairings of 2014, for sure!

We looked at many a thing.  Here’s what I recall, in as close to some semblance of order as I recollect, which most certainly is not accurate, but mostly what you who weren’t there will have to go on …

The moon (Jerry noted the beautiful lava flow wall visible across the equitorial Mare near the terminator)

Looking through Jerry’s dob as I set up my refractor, and loaned him my 2″ O-3 filter, he found 1st the Veil Nebula (NGC 6992/6960 in Cygnus).  This was quite nice, and I enjoyed the view, if not as contrast rich as I’ve seen before on moonless nights.  Next up was the North American Nebula (NGC 7000).  Honestly, I could only see smudges, and couldn’t make out North America or Mexico or nada, myself.  The moon was still pretty high and bright, tho, and the North American is a REAL dark sky object, and though not bad, the Gott with the moon was not dark enough for this target, at least for me.  Third, Jerry put M27, the Dumbbell, into the eyepiece.  Now that was easily visible, with plenty of rich 3D detail.  One great view.  Fourth and last object was the PacMan Nebula in Cassiopeia, NGC 281.  And a pretty site, too.  I’m less familiar with it, but one could just make out the circle with a slice in it, and star as the ‘eye’ of PacMan.  It was upside down (this was a dob, you see), but was nice and novel for me.

After that, my scope was finally set up.  Again, after Jerry found it, I put in NGC 457, the ET Cluster.  Jerry’s was richer, with more stars, but my 4″ refractor still did a nice job on the “phone home” man himself.

Jerry put NGC 6826, the Blinking Planetary in Cygnus, in the eyepiece early in the evening, starting things off on the right track.

The Double Cluster looked good in everyone’s scope.  That’s just one nice find.

We looked at M31/M32/M110, the Andromeda galaxy family, and this was beautiful, as usual.

Jerry found NGC 7331 in Andromeda, the galaxy that leads to Stephan’s Quintet.  He first found it in the 20mm 68*, but switched to the 8.8mm.  That light bucket of his collects so much light it looked MUCH better in the 8.8mm.  Not common with many galaxies.

The Ring Nebula in Jerry’s XT10i-with-ES-8.8 eyepiece was ‘da bomb’.  Really nice and 3D-like.  And M13 was also just fantastic in the same optical combination.  Yawz’r!  3D popping, baby!

M8 and M20, the Lagoon and Trifid nebulae of Sagittarius were again, great in Jerry’s XT10i with the ES 20mm 100*.  I found NGC 6544 and 6553 going the wrong way while trying to pan from the Lagoon on up to the Trifid.  But the Trifid was spectacular!  One could see the internal dark cloud markings that give the nebula its name.  Very nice.

Tom split Almach, a colorful double in Andromeda, and proceeded on to Mirach and Mirach’s Ghost (elliptical galaxy NGC 404).

I split the colorful double stars Eta Cassiopeia and Alpha Herculis (Rasalgethi).  Tom, and no doubt others, split Albireo.

Dan put the Pegasus globular cluster M15 in the eyepiece in his C9.25.  That was one VERY nice image.

The contrast improved as the evening wore on, with the moon getting lower, then finally disappearing over the horizon.

No doubt there are other things people put in their telescopes that I have failed to mention or remember, but that happens with me often, so hopefully no one is put out by my omission.

Plum forgot about Neptune, just one day after opposition.  Guess we’ll have to do it again.

 

South Plains Star Party at the Gott

 

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The Moon, Saturn (center) and Mars (lower-left of Saturn) shine brightly over Gott Observatory.

 

 

Last night’s star party at the Gott was a wonderful evening under the sky.  Even with a crescent Moon, the band of the Milky Way could be seen stretching all the way from Scorpius to Cassiopeia.  And dark dust lanes were easily visible near the region of Cygnus, high overhead.  Even the skyglow from nearby Lubbock couldn’t compete with the glory of the stars.

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Sagittarius and Scorpius refuse to be blotted out by the Lubbock light pollution.

 

A well-rounded variety of scopes were present, including refractors, reflectors, and Cassegrains.

A lot of favorites were seen, including planets (Saturn, Mars), galaxies (Andromeda, Little Andromeda, Mirach’s Ghost), planetaries (Dumbbell), nebulae (Veil, North America, Lagoon), double stars (Albireo, Almach), globular clusters (M13, M15) and open clusters (M7, M11, M39).  But the highlight of the night was Comet Jacques, easily seen in the same field of view as Herschel’s Garnet Star.

 

 

 

Saturn and Mars tip The Scales

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Tonight, Saturn (above) and Mars (below) made beautiful naked-eye targets in the southern sky as they meander through the constellation of Libra (The Scales).   This week is a great time to view both planets in the evening sky.

Venus/Jupiter conjunction 8-18-2014

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You had to get up well before sunrise to see the beautiful Venus/Jupiter conjunction this morning, but it was worth it. The planets were separated by less than the diameter of the Moon and blazed like a pair of binary stars in the pre-dawn sky.  This picture, taken with a standard tripod-mounted digital camera, shows approximately how it looked to the naked eye.  Telescopically, it was even more impressive, as I was able to see both planets and the Galilean moons in a single field of view at 50x!

Longest day of the year is Saturday!

Sun at southernmost point

“The sun reaches its northernmost point in the sky on Saturday, June 21, at 6:51 a.m. EDT. This is called the summer solstice in the Northern Hemisphere, and the winter solstice in the Southern Hemisphere. “

 

“The sun will reach its northernmost point in the sky — known as the summer solstice — Saturday. Earth’s closest star will seem to pause briefly before beginning its move southward again. In the Northern Hemisphere, this marks the longest day of the year.

Because of Earth’s tilt of 23.4 degrees to its orbit, the noon sun will appear to rise and fall in the sky over the course of the year. The two extremes of this apparent movement are called the solstices, derived from the Latin words for “sun stationary.”

For more information, see http://www.space.com/26284-summer-solstice-longest-day-year.html?cmpid=514630_20140619_26254946

 

Astronomy.com’s free Moon ebook

Astronomy magazine is offering a free short ebook about observing the Moon in various phases, with descriptions of the best features during the various phases.  The photo maps list the large features visible to the naked eye, binoculars, and small telescopes.

Free ebook

Free ebook “Your Guide to the Moon”

http://www.astronomy.com/rapid/2014/01/your-guide-to-the-moon