Tag Archives: observation programs

14-4-9 9:16PM OBSERVATION (MARS) [OBS #4]; and a serious rant.

So, last night’s observation was of our planetary neighbor, Mars.

What is it with Mars, though?  It seems to bring out all the crazies.

First off, we have this musical masterpiece:

WAR OF THE WORLDS: The Disco Version

Then, we finally have figured out what THEY have planned for the Red Planet:

The Illuminati Discusses their Plans for Mars (not quite so coherently)

And last, but not least, Pastor John Hagee shows his adeptness at astronomy (wait, that’s astrology, actually.  Isn’t that something guys like he don’t….oh, never mind.).

The ‘Blood Moons’ heralds the Apocalypse?

So, this is what Mars is, anyway, despite all the speculation and fluff:

Mars, captured through Nikon Aculon 10×50 binos with my iPhone 5s. Edited in Lightroom 5.4

This is my more formal observation of it.  Sad to say, I did not see any little green men.

14-04-09 Observation--Mars (3 of 4)
Observation form for 14-4-9 (Mars)

And here is what my iPhone app, Star Walk, had to say.

14-04-09 Observation--Mars (4 of 4)
Mars at 9:16 on 14-4-9 as seen through Star Walk, an iPhone app.

So, what kind of things are on Mars?  Can’t see much from my picture.  But, here are some things about the Red Planet:


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).

Wikipedia pic of the Milky Way in the Black rock Desert of Nevada.

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.

Havertown, PA light pollution 4/12/14
Havertown, PA light pollution 4/12/14

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.

Cherry Springs State Park Light Pollution 4/12/14
Cherry Springs State Park Light Pollution 4/12/14

The website where you can go to look and see what light pollution is like near you is at http://www.jshine.net/astronomy/dark_sky/.  You can also check out http://www.blue-marble.de/nightlights/2012.  I’m definitely moving to South Australia.  The USA is too depressing.

Light pollution is  a serious problem.  Check out this PBS documentary on the issue:

PBS Light Pollution

How good/bad is your area?  Use the Bortle Dark Sky Scale.  My area is pretty bad, around a 7-8 on the scale.  Hope yours is better.  If it is, invite me out!


Thinking ahead while at the end of cabin fever

I haven’t posted much recently because we’ve been snowed in and I’m at a point with this weather that I’m ready to kill someone.   There have been some clearer nights, but I’ve had it with the cold and looking at starry objects through cold-induced tears.  Somebody really needs to complain to Congress about this weather, like they would do anything about anything anyway.  Maybe I need to write an executive order?

I’m still working on my observation programs and trying to do more of the book reading end of astronomy.

I’m also in the process, with my family, of trying to put together the money, etc for going to Stellafane, an astronomy convention in Springfield, VT.

Nighttime shot of the observatories at Stellafane. On the left is the Milky Way, on the right appears to be a falling star or jet?

At Stellafane, they specialize in amateur telescope making.  I don’t know if that is what I’ll be doing while there (they have other things to explore, such as astronomy activities for kids, scavenger hunts, starhopping activities, astrophotography workshops, keynote speakers, meteorite studies, astrosketching classes, and their annual telescope making competition which has telescopes big, small, and unusual.

A Newtonian refracotor made from Folger’s coffee cans. From http://www.geocities.ws/rbmagnus/stellafn.htm.

Oh, and I forgot to mention.  Night falls, and everybody checks out the telescopes while looking at the stars.  As a graduate of the University of Vermont (class of 1989), I can assure you that there are definitely more stars there than here.

I’m also hoping to check out the Delaware Valley Amateur Astronomers (DVAA), the local star club.  I would have gone earlier, but weather has been absolutely forbidding.  Write your Congressman, please.  When I go, I’ll let you know how it goes.

I like being a newbie at this.  Learning something new and totally unrelated to what I do for work (I’m a psychotherapist) is refreshing.  I know that I will make mistakes as I go along, but every mistake I made will be an opportunity to learn something new.  I just hope to not make really bad mistakes.

Old Lady and the Telescope

14-2-11 7:45-8:20PM OBSERVATION (Constellation of Andromeda/Andromeda Galaxy [M31]) [OBS #5]

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.

Canon 60D with 50mm lens.  32.0 sec @ f/3.5, ISO 100.  Unannotated.
Canon 60D with 50mm lens. 32.0 sec @ f/3.5, ISO 100. Unannotated.

Here is the image with a little more of a guide to what you kinda sorta are seeing:

Canon 60D with 50mm lens.  32.0 sec @ f/3.5, ISO 100.  Annotated.
Canon 60D with 50mm lens. 32.0 sec @ f/3.5, ISO 100. Annotated.

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.

Andromeda Constellation in Stellarium
Andromeda Constellation in Stellarium
Detail of Andromeda featuring the Andromeda Galaxy.
Detail of Andromeda featuring the Andromeda Galaxy over on the right.

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).

Red Dot Finderscope
Red Dot Finder
140211 14-02-11 Observation (Andromeda Constellation and Andromeda Galaxy) 7-45p to 8-20p - 35
Red Dot Finder

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.

Observation report for Andromeda (Constellation) and the Andromeda Galaxy.
Observation report for Andromeda (Constellation) and the Andromeda Galaxy.

Per Wikipedia:

Here is info on Andromeda, the constellation.

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.

Perseus figures as the savior of Andromeda from Cetus (See this part of the Perseus myth).

Here is info on the Andromeda Galaxy/M31.

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.

Here is an interesting video on the Andromeda Galaxy:  Video on Andromeda Galaxy from NASA (public domain)

I hope to do another observation of the Andromeda Galaxy in the future, when transparency conditions are better.

14-2-1 9:45PM OBSERVATION (CASSIOPEIA) [OBS #4] and more practical uses for Hamburger Helper when the weather stinks.

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.

The most promising recipe so far. Photo credit: http://bennydesk.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/01/ground-hog-helper1.jpg

Here’s my official observation log for tonight.  I think my sketching is getting progressively better.

140201 14-02-01 Observation (Cassiopeia) - 12-Edit 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.

Out of focus pic of Cassiopeia.  50mm lens on a Canon 60D.100 ISO, 1" shutter speed, 1.8 aperture.  Monochrome.
Out of focus pic of Cassiopeia. 50mm lens on a Canon 60D.100 ISO, 1″ shutter speed, 1.8 aperture. Monochrome.  In this picture, you can see how cloudy it was by the band in the upper part of the picture.
Out of focus pic of Cassiopeia.  50mm lens on a Canon 60D.100 ISO, 1" shutter speed, 1.8 aperture.  Color.
Out of focus pic of Cassiopeia. 50mm lens on a Canon 60D.100 ISO, 1″ shutter speed, 1.8 aperture. Color.
Out of focus pic of Cassiopeia.  50mm lens on a Canon 60D.100 ISO, 1" shutter speed, 1.8 aperture.  Monochrome
Out of focus pic of Cassiopeia. 50mm lens on a Canon 60D.100 ISO, 1″ shutter speed, 1.8 aperture. Monochrome.

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.

Here is information on Cassiopeia from Wikipedia. It has some Deep Space Objects (DSOs) and a few binaries in it.  None of these could be distinguished tonight.  I’m saving these up for later, when weather isn’t so terrible.

Math! Physics! And The Eye of Agammotto. Oh My!

How I feel right now.  I also want a donut.

So, here’s the thing.  I got the Universe Sampler booklet from the Astronomical League.  It is a great introduction to things to see out and about the universe.

Awesome book, and relatively understandable.
Awesome book, and relatively understandable.  Love the Star Trek font.

I was having a good old time reading it until I hit IT.  Right Acclimation and Declension.  Er, yeah, I mean Right Ascension and Declination.  Yeah.  The stars, planets, etc. are all kinds of beautiful things to look at and admire, but who the hell invited all the math and science?????

I got the idea of Altitude-Azimuth pretty easily.  However, the Right Aggravation and Dumbination thing will need some work.

What is Right Ascension and Declination and Altitude-Azooza?  Er, Azimuth?  Ways to tell where things are up in the sky.  DON’T ASK ME TO EXPLAIN IT YET.

Here is a brief discussion of what these things are.  However, the diagrams explaining the concepts remind me of the spells that Dr. Strange used to cast.


Right Ascension and Declination Coordinates, from http://www.stellarium.org/wiki/index.php/Astronomical_Concepts#Coordinate_Systems.

By the Hoary Hosts of Hoggoth, this science stuff is going to be an adjustment.

But, if this means that I can learn to be the Sorcerer Supreme and hang out with the Defenders and fight the likes of Dormammu, it can’t be all THAT bad, can it?

Bear with me, folks.  Give me the latitude (and longitude) to be frustrated as I learn.  And pass me some aspirin.


Jupiter from the Canon 60D DSLR with a Tamron 18-270mm lens at 18mm.  EXIF info is here:  http://www.flickr.com/photos/nateprentice/12096761876/meta/
Jupiter from the Canon 60D DSLR with a Tamron 18-270mm lens at 18mm. EXIF info is here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/nateprentice/12096761876/meta/
Observation record for Jupiter, Gemini, Castor, and Pollux.
Observation record for Jupiter, Gemini, Castor, and Pollux.

14-01-22 Jupiter in Stellarium up close14-01-22 Jupiter in Stellarium up close.


I left work a little early, as we had a blizzard recently, and I had a number of cancellations at the psychotherapy practice for which I work.  I looked up at the sky, and as is typical for after a major storm, the sky was clear.  Cassiopeia was clear as day.

But, we are talking about MY luck, right?  I got home and had to get a few things done around the house, then we had a guest, and then I went outside, and clouds had formed.  Cassiopeia was gone.  Orion was around (it often is), but I saw that the last time.  Jupiter was in a clear patch, so I took a pic or two.

Couldn’t get any real detail on Jupiter–that will have to wait until I start bringing out the telescope (too darn cold right now–14 degrees F, with a wind chill of 5 degrees F!  Brrrrr!).  But, I was able to see Castor and Pollux, the “twins” of Gemini with the naked eye (the conditions stunk, so that’s all of what I was able to see of Gemini).  When I took the picture, I took it at the widest setting, and cropped like mad.  Picture quality did improve compared to earlier pics, and I noted that Castor appeared to be a blue star!  I had never seen a blue star before!  Of course, I looked it up on Wikipedia, and it turns out that the blueness is an artifact of the fact that it is light from several very close stars (see below).  Even on the cruddiest nights, one can experience new things.

14-01-22 Shot of Jupiter in Stellarium within the context of Gemini.
14-01-22 Shot of Jupiter in Stellarium within the context of Gemini.
Jupiter, Castor, and Pollux
Jupiter, Castor, and Pollux.  Check out that blue star!

Per Wikipedia:

Here is information on Jupiter.

α Gem (Castor): the second brightest in the constellation [of Gemini] after Pollux. Castor is a sextuple star system 52 light-years from Earth, which appears as a magnitude 1.6 blue-white star to the unaided eye. Two spectroscopic binaries are visible at magnitudes 1.9 and 3.0 with a period of 470 years. A wide-set red dwarf star is also a part of the system; this star is an Algol-type eclipsing binary star with a period of 19.5 hours; its minimum magnitude is 9.8 and its maximum magnitude is 9.3.

β Gem (Pollux): the brightest star in Gemini, it is an orange-hued giant star of magnitude 1.2, 34 light-years from Earth. Pollux has an extrasolar planet revolving around it, as do two other stars in Gemini, HD 50554, and HD 59686.

14-1-20 12am Observation (Pleiades/M45) [Obs #2]

This is my second official observation for the purpose of working on observation programs for the Astronomical League.

This post covers the Pleiades, an open star cluster that is part of the Universe Sampler Program and the Binocular Messier Program of the AL.

Below is a scan of the sheet I used for the observation of the Pleiades.  It is inverted in order to better bring out the sketches.

Observation sheet for the Pleiades (M45)
Observation sheet for the Pleiades (M45)

The Pleiades, also known as the “Seven Sisters,” is part of Messier’s catalog of deep space objects.  It is also famous for being the easiest cluster to see with the naked eye.  I am partial to it because my favorite car ever was a Subaru, and the logo is based on the Pleiades (which is called “Subaru” in Japan).

Taken from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Subaru_logo.svg#filelinks

Here is a link to an Wikipedia article about the Pleiades.  There is also information about the Pleiades’ many cultural references.

Finally, here are some Pleiades-related photos from this observation.  Click on them to see them more fully.

Taken on the night of the observation.  Star trailing is evident.
Taken on the night of the observation. Star trailing is evident.

Here is a stock image that is of better quality and shows some nebulosity.

Pleiades, or “Seven Sisters”. Taken from Creative Commons licensed material. Photo from Jim Keller (http://www.flickr.com/photos/jimkster/). Rotated clockwise once.