Today is the first day of school for my youngest daughter. So, contrary to other times, I was up. As I went outside to let the dog out, I noticed that Orion was up. Orion is quite possibly my favorite constellation, as it has so many things in it to look at.
I quickly went inside and retrieved my 10 x 50 binoculars and was able to see the Orion Nebula (M42) to some extent. The dawn was already breaking, so it was not very clear because it was fighting sunlight and morning clouds.
However, it’s good to see my old friend again. I can’t wait until I can see it in darkness again.
At Stellafane they have a swap table, where fellow enthusiasts sell the stuff that they no longer need.
I picked up an equalizer (compensates for the weight of 2″ eyepieces while using 1.25″ eyepieces so one can just counterweight the scope and be done with it (I no longer have to ask my child to be tied to the other end of the scope). I also got a Peterson mount for my 25x100s (it ain’t pretty, but it lets me use the 25x100s at zenith), and the seller threw in a set of Oberwork 20x90s with a 1.5x finder for $110.
Of course, as someone here said, if I don’t like it, I can always bring it back and sell it at the swap table. I responded to him that now I understand why there are people here who have come to each Stellafane since 1969, to much laughter.
Aside from the cultural history of Mars, it is noteworthy that it wouldn’t be a particularly fun place to stay. Too cold, covered in rust, and only a tiny bit of yucky tasting acidic water. Yes, if I were a Martian, I would want to invade the Earth. Earth girls are cuter.
Now, on to my rant.
See all those stars in the Star Walk picture? See all the stars in the picture of Mars that I took? What? No stars in the picture I took? Just Mars, right?
Folks, I did this observation in my company’s parking lot, which is flooded with light. That night I could see Mars, Spica (lower right hand star in the “box” in Virgo), and Jupiter. That’s about it.
That’s light pollution for you.
Seriously, it is a real problem. I’ve heard of complaints from city folks when they went out to the country and thought people were poisoning the air because they saw a “cloud” that extended for the length of the sky (er, that’s the Milky Way, city mouse).
The first time I really SAW the Milky Way was when I was bowhunting in Sullivan County, PA (Northern Tier). I was camping in my car and was awakened at 3AM by a bright light. I opened my eyes and looked outside to see loads of stars, very much like the picture above. I marveled in wonder and felt sad that where I live, one is not able to see such sights.
I live in a “white zone,” an area classified as the highest level of light pollution available. Where I live, I can see the larger, brighter constellations. That’s about it without a telescope. In the following link, which includes my town, Havertown, you can see how white it is.
Compare that with Cherry Springs State Park, near Coudersport, PA, an International Dark Site (one of the darker places in the country). That’s in blue, which means it is better. I suspect the grey area below is either not measured, or even better, but not easily accessible.
Last night I was out just observing in general with my 10×50 binoculars. I was trying out my red dot finder and found it to be extremely helpful. I looked at Jupiter, Orion, the Pleiades, Perseus, Andromeda, and Cassiopeia. Just for the fun of it, no official recording of observations. The sky was not too great in terms of transparency, about a 2-3 on the following scale. I live in a “white zone”, i.e. a place heavily impacted by light pollution. Having a street light on my property doesn’t help, either.
1 :: Mostly Cloudy
2-3 :: Hazy; 1 or 2 Little Dipper stars visible
4 :: 3-4 Little Dipper stars; Milky Way not visible
5 :: 4 Little Dipper stars; Bright parts of Milky Way visible (Scutum starcloud)
6 :: 5 Little Dipper stars; Milky Way visible with averted vision
While looking at Andromeda and Cassiopeia, I saw a rapidly moving gray object that did not have blinking lights moving from S through NW in Andromeda through the lower part of Cassiopeia around 9:18 or 9:19p. I had never seen one of these before. It was most likely a satellite.
With a little help from people in the Delaware Valley Amateur Astronomers group, I was able to access a database of satellite passes at Heavens-Above.com, but didn’t see my newfound friend.
Interesting. There were other satellites in the general area, but none that were flying from S through NW around lower Cassiopeia at that time. Maybe it was one of those satellites that aren’t on the official register, or perhaps an NSA satellite keeping an eye on us or the little green men were involved.
Today I braved the elements again and got in another observation. This time I went a little west of Cassiopeia and looked at Andromeda and the Andromeda Galaxy/M31.
Again, I had focus issues with my camera. I think what happened was a combination of star drift and too wide an aperture. I was using my 50mm lens, and I noticed that I had stuff out of focus at 1.8, but when I moved my aperture to 3.5, it improved. I was able to get a picture that wasn’t too incredibly horrible out of about 20 shots. In this one, the Andromeda Galaxy is somewhat present.
Here is the image with a little more of a guide to what you kinda sorta are seeing:
That smudgy thing in the circle is the Andromeda Galaxy. It is around the size of the moon, about 2° in size. It is noteworthy that Mirach (β Andromeda) is a red giant. By naked eye this could not be seen, but it could be seen in the above photo.
Here are some clearer views in Stellarium.
I also spent some time fiddling with a multi reticle red dot finder that I purchased which goes on top of the 25x100s. Got it to work by zeroing in on the moon. It does make finding things easier, assuming I can star hop to where they are. With binoculars, though, compared to telescopes which are inverted and/or upside down, it is far easier. the Finder can also double as a rifle sight (yet another hobby of mine).
While what’s below isn’t my actual red dot finder in action (it was a bugger trying to take a picture of it due to depth of field issues), this is essentially what it would look like looking through it.
Here is my observation report for tonight:
Sadly, due to shifting transparency conditions, I was not able to see the Andromeda Galaxy using the 25x100s tonight, although I was able to see it with my 8x30s earlier in the evening.
Andromeda is named after the daughter of Cassiopeia. Andromeda was apparently chained to a rock to be eaten by the monster Cetus, which is behind Pisces. It is bordered above by Perseus, below by Pegasus, to the right by Andromeda’s mother, Cassiopeia, and the Pleiades are to the left. Pisces and the Triangulum are to the left, but closer. Only one or two stars in Pisces were visible tonight, and Pegasus was behind trees.
The Andromeda Galaxy/Messier 31 is one of the largest deep space objects of the Messier group. It is a spiral galaxy about 2.5 million light years away from Earth. It will collide with the Milky Way galaxy in the future! In 3.75 billion years. Not high on my list of anxieties this week.
Today focused on a constellation for the Constellation Hunter Program, Cassiopeia. The weather was pretty bad for viewing. I put up with it, though, because we are expecting 3 storms this week, and it is probably the best I’m going to do for now and the near future. About all that one could see were constellations and Jupiter. I only saw about 4 stars of the Little Dipper–it was pretty bad.
For the record, until tonight I pronounced it Kas-eee-OH-Pe-Ah. Apparently this is how you pronounce it. It is also the most boring video I’ve ever seen on the topic. Needs more of a body count. But, now you know.
Tomorrow is Groundhog Day, and I’m already sampling woodchuck recipes and posting them on Facebook in the hopes that Puxatawney Phil is browsing prior to his big time tomorrow morning. I’m not going to let an oversized agoraphobic rodent get in the way of my learning about the wonders of the universe.
Here’s my official observation log for tonight. I think my sketching is getting progressively better.
That being said, I thought I’d try taking pictures with my nifty-fifty lens (50mm) to see if the pics came out clearer. In my infinite wisdom, I took it off of Autofocus, and never managed to remember that I needed to manually focus it. I’m just grateful that anyone who knows anything about photography, videography or the like is not reading this.
Anyway, here are some of the pics, such as they are.
Cassiopeia from Stellarium. The Andromeda Galaxy is in the lower left (not observed due to weather conditions). This is what Cassiopeia is supposed to look like, at least on the computer.