Last week I posted about counting stars, assuming I’d have ample opportunities to star gaze any evening, thanks to one of the worst droughts since the early 20th century. And that same evening, a week ago on Monday the 8th of October, I took my binoculars with me to the backyard at 8:30 p.m. and let my eyes adjust for night vision for fifteen or twenty minutes. A few wispy clouds striated the night sky and a high school football game just a block away to my northeast made for less than stellar seeing. I estimated I could see fourth magnitude stars in the constellation Cygnus, but knew I could see better if the conditions improved bit. I’ve seen more stars in that constellation from the exact same spot in the past, including last year’s star count. I decided not to report my findings on the 8th to the Great World Wide Star Count web site, opting to observe on a succeeding evening.
As the week wore on, I began to despair. Clouds rolled in on Tuesday or Wednesday and stubbornly blocked the sky, but didn’t drop much rain, until Sunday morning. I am overjoyed for the rain, but disappointed at the lost observing opportunities. Rain all day, but please dissipate when the sun sets.
My next opportunity to observe came Sunday evening, after a long day of hanging garage doors. We called it quits around 8:30 p.m. and sent my dad home to get some rest just after 9:00 p.m. I didn’t remember about the star count until Monday morning, when I stepped outside and saw Venus, Jupiter, Sirius, the Pleiades and Orion for the first time in a week. I went back in and got my binoculars for a quick fix of planet, star, open cluster and nebula observing before leaving on the morning work commute.
Monday evening, I got home to more progress on the garage doors and wispy clouds during sunset. Grrr. I took Apollo on a short walk after eight o’clock. During our walk, I kept trying to look up at Cygnus, but with it being directly overhead, I risked tripping over something if I tilted my head back far enough to observe. Once back home, I went right back outside and laid down on my patio. After fifteen minutes or so, I determined I could see fourth and possibly some fifth magnitude stars in the constellation.
I texted my husband, asking him to bring me my binoculars. I didn’t want to get up (still very sore from the garage door project and my strength training exercise class at work) and/or ruin my night vision. He graciously brought them to me, and I went looking for the double cluster in Perseus. I think I found it, but I couldn’t’ confirm it because my star atlas was locked in the backseat of the car on the other side of the house, where I’d left it after my final stint as a volunteer staff member at a Powell Observatory public night. Saturday night, the one where thunderstorms and lightning further discouraged star gazing.
Tonight, after raking the front lawn under the odious burr oak tree, I will try to catch the new moon just after sunset and then drive to northwest Leavenworth County to places I frequented in my youth. I will repeat the star count and compare notes, so to speak.
If you haven’t observed and reported your star count findings yet, you still have four days. The deadline is this Friday, October 19, 2012.
I missed the opportunity to count stars over the weekend. Clouds obscured the heavens Friday and Saturday night, but I had absolutely no excuse not to step outside Sunday evening and participate in the Great World Wide Star Count. Thank goodness that Sky & Telescope‘s Facebook feed reminded me with their article ‘A Star Count for Everyone‘ this morning.
I checked my local five day forecast and I should be able to find Cygnus and count stars tonight and Wednesday. Tuesday, Thursday and especially Friday are iffy. This year, I’m going to try to do it from a couple of different locations, not just my backyard (like I did last year).
Here’s all you need to know to participate:
All you’ll need are a clear evening sky sometime between October 5th and 19th, your own two eyes, and a set of simple star charts. First, download the handy five-page activity guide (available in 16 languages) and print the star charts. If you live in the Northern Hemisphere, you’ll be looking high up for the constellation Cygnus, and its Northern Cross asterism. If you’re south of the equator, the target area surrounds the Teapot in Sagittarius. Each of the seven maps shows stars down to a different magnitude limit, plus one for a cloudy sky.
Then, after stepping out under the early-evening sky and letting your eyes adjust to the darkness, match one of the charts to what you see overhead. Step back inside and report what you’ve found online. You’re done! (Unlike many contests, you can enter more than once! You might be surprised by how much the sky’s darkness can vary from night to night.)
Very early Friday morning, I caught the waning moon approaching Jupiter and Aldebaran. You could draw a line from Venus to Moon and cross over or near Jupiter. The skies were clear and should stay clear throughout the day and into the night, with a forecasted high in the mid-80s, twenty degrees below what we’ve been experiencing for the past several weeks.
Friday at work was a whirlwind of meetings, including one held off site at another local law firm. I got home a bit early because one of my vanpool riders took the day off, but within fifteen minutes of getting home, my son and daughter-in-law arrived from their all-day road trip from North Texas. We visited with them for an hour and half, when they left to drive into Kansas City to spend the evening with several of their friends who still live in the area.
Terry cooked an excellent southern comfort food type dinner of chicken-fried minute steaks, organic green beans with turkey bacon, mashed potatoes and home-made white gravy. Too bad the kids didn’t hang around long enough to chow down with us. Terry and I let our food digest a bit, watching the Olympics until the skies darkened enough for some star gazing.
I grabbed the XT8 (affectionately known as ‘Dob’) and carefully carried it out to the lower backyard. This time I took a small table to put my charts on. I set my case of eyepieces on the ground. I brought out the Intelliscope handheld device to attempt an alignment. This device, unlike my ETX-90’s AutoStar, is only used to identify objects, not ‘go to’ them (since the XT8 does not have any motors). The Intelliscope can help you find objects with a warm/cold kind of seeking system. I still haven’t bought a stool to lean against, so my back aches a bit this morning. I did a two star alignment, finding and centering Arcturus first, then Vega.
I wanted to revisit the Double Double in Lyra to both confirm that I could find it by star hopping and to attempt to see the double within the double. I asked the Intelliscope to ID what I had centered in the eyepiece and it claimed I’d found the Crab Nebula. Hmmm. That’s in the constellation Taurus, which isn’t visible until early morning hours in the east. I must have done something wrong in the alignment process. I powered off the Intelliscope device and made a note to myself to re-read the manual in the morning. Since I’d already found Vega, I spent several minutes comparing my star atlas to what I was seeing in the finderscope. I found Epsilon Lyrae and observed it with 26mm, 15mm, 9mm and a 2x barlow (using the 26mm and 15mm). Despite the apparent clearness of the skies, I did detect some haziness and thin stratus clouds overhead. That may have inhibited my ability to split the doubles within the doubles.
I hopped over to Albireo in Cygnus, just to make sure I could find it again without referring to my star atlas. I used a trick I had read about from some artists who do astronomical sketching where you defocus the stars, especially doubles, to discern their different colors. I did this while observing Albireo and I could clearly see the red and blue for each star in the double. I stretched my back for a few minutes and stared off to the northeast, at Cassiopeia, which I could clearly see as a distinctive ‘W’ shape. I could not see the constellation Perseus, but I did see one or two meteors radiating from the space between Cassiopeia and where Perseus should have been visible (but wasn’t because of the haze and light pollution from the prison just north of my location).
I returned to the scope and began a star hop around Lyra in search of M57, also known as the Ring Nebula. This was a test, for me, not only of my ability to find this fuzzy smoke ring, but also of an 8-inch telescope’s ability to cut through the obstacles inherent at my closest observing site (my backyard). I surprised myself. I found the nebula, quicker than I thought I would, and I even saw it through the finderscope. It probably helped that Lyra was almost straight up above me and the telescope, meaning I had less atmosphere to peer through. Using averted vision, with the 9mm, I could clearly see the ring. I used the background stars to focus, because you can’t really focus well on a smudge that’s fuzzy and faint.
Since I found and saw a nebula with the XT8, I wanted to see if I could find a globular cluster next. And I just happened to know where one was. M13 in the ‘armpit’ of Hercules (see chart above) happened to be overhead, somewhere between Altair and Arcturus. I had some trouble locating the stars that make up Hercules with my naked eye. I took several minutes, stretching my back, to peer overhead, but towards the west, and Arcturus. Eventually, the star dots connected in my mind’s eye and I found the constellation. I oriented the XT8 to the general vicinity where I thought M13 would be. I think I saw it through the finderscope, although I can’t remember specifically. Using the 26mm eyepiece, I centered the globular cluster in my field of view and proceeded to observe this large dense cluster for several minutes with various magnifications.
I stared off into the northeast again, still trying to find Perseus and also Pegasus. If I could see the Andromeda Galaxy (also known as M31), I would achieve a triple crown of astronomical observing from my backyard with the XT8 (1: nebula; 2: globular cluster; 3: galaxy). I spent nearly a half an hour, roaming around my backyard, changing my point of view and line of sight to the northeast and east. I found Cepheus, but no matter how hard I squinted or averted my eyes, I could not clearly identify the box that makes up the body of Pegasus. Frustrated, and with an aching back, I decided to call it a night at about half past eleven o’clock.
I returned the telescope to the band room and replaced all the dust caps. I hugged my hubby, for he had brought me a refreshing freshly made strawberry lemonade to enjoy while bending over the telescope for hours. Off to bed and sleep, at least until the dogs started barking when Derek and Royna returned home (sometime after midnight and before five – not exactly sure as I tried to sleep through the commotion).
My alarm only fires off on weekdays, but most days I wake up fifteen minutes early. Not Saturday morning though. When I cleared the sleep from my eyes and checked the clock on my cell phone, it read 5:45 a.m. and I could already tell the eastern horizon was brightening. I grabbed the tripod and camera and went out to the driveway to take a photo of the Moon approaching Jupiter.
If I happened to live in the Pacific, today I would be able to observe the moon occulting Jupiter. But I won’t be too disappointed, since I can observe the moon occulting Venus next Monday afternoon, between 3:00 and 4:00 p.m. I plan to take a pair of binoculars and my camera equipment with me to work. I will setup on the top of the parking garage and hope I have a clear line-of-sight through the buildings to the west to see the occultation as it occurs.
Friday evening I had my first opportunity to really dig in and learn about the telescope I borrowed from my astronomy club. A week ago, Terry and I returned to Kansas City to meet one of the club members at the Warko observatory on the roof of Royall Hall on campus at UMKC. I put in a request to borrow an eight inch Dobsonian telescope (shown at left) to compare and contrast its light gathering abilities with my own ETX-90 (a Maksutov-Cassegrain type telescope). I had high hopes since the aperture on the XT8 is more than twice as big. On the other hand, the ETX-90 is lighter. I drove the van, having hidden the middle set of seats in the subfloor, to make the initial transport of the telescope as easy as possible.
Fast forward an entire week to another Friday evening. After a quick rather disappointing dinner at the local Dairy Queen, Terry and I returned home to separate activities: he to a strings-only practice for one of his bands and me to setting up the loaner scope.
I moved the base into the great room (so called because it’s the biggest room in the house and has a high vaulted ceiling with a floor-to-ceiling corner fireplace). I then re-read the instruction manual, paying close attention to the section dealing with placing the optical tube on the base. The tube weighs just a bit over twenty pounds (the base is a couple of pounds heavier). I picked up the tube, holding it vertically, and rested it gingerly on the bumper stops. I inserted the tension and retaining knobs per the directions and then tested the altitude and azimuth mobility. The base seemed to stick a bit, but nothing that couldn’t be overcome with some nudging.
I attached the finderscope to the optical tube, but did not attempt to adjust it until later, when the tube would be outside and I could find an object to orient on a suitable distance away from my site. I removed the dust cover cap for the tube and for the eyepiece in anticipation for the next phase: collimation
I peered down the optical tube, past the secondary mirror and its spider support system at the large eight inch mirror nestled in the bottom. A small faint circle was inscribed on the surface of the mirror, assumedly in the exact center. I stepped around to the side of the tube and stared down through the eyepiece opening, where I could clearly see my own eye and the small circle mentioned above. My pupil and the circle did not line up exactly, as they should have (see diagram above left).
Upon further reading, and searching through the boxes and bags that the telescope came in, I could not find the collimation cap referenced in the instruction manual: “This cap is a simple cap that fits on the focuser drawtube like a dust cap, but has a hole in the center and a reflective inner surface. The cap helps center your eye so that collimation is easier to perform.” I forged ahead, hoping I could get the mirror aligned ‘close enough’ for some test observing later that night.
I followed the instructions carefully, reading and re-reading and comparing what I was seeing through the focuser drawtube with the examples provided in the manual. I decided the secondary mirror didn’t need any adjustments, just the primary mirror. The locking thumbscrews on the back of the mirror were already loosened, so I began experimenting with small turns of the larger thumbscrews to adjust the tilt of the primary mirror. I eventually got the small circle in the middle and tightened the locking thumbscrews down. Now to move the unit outside to align the finderscope.
I tilted the tub vertical, grasped the convenient handle on the back of the base with my right hand, keeping the tube vertical with my lefthand. I walked slowly out the back door on the patio and down to the lower level of my back yard, away from (as much as that is possible) the surrounding trees (mine and my neighbors). I needed to find an object about a quarter of a mile away to align the finderscope. Because I live in a valley (Fawn Valley to be precise), everything, including the ground, is up from my backyard, and most of the horizon is blocked by houses and trees. I could barely see the road leading up the hill to where City Hall stands, a couple of blocks to my south. That would have to do. I quickly and easily got the finderscope dialed in.
Now, I had to wait for darkness to fall. I brought out my eyepieces (the three that came with the scope I left in the box with the solar filter) so they and the scope could reach a temperature equilibrium with the outside environment. I went back inside and reviewed the Astro Quest observing award object list and my sky atlas to determine a short list of objects to observe before the moon rose high enough to wash out the night sky.
At half past nine, I went back outside, knowing I’d be able to find Saturn and Mars in the southwestern sky. I did and quickly tried nearly every eyepiece I had, from a 30 mm down to a 9 or a 4 mm. I doubled a couple of those using a 2x barlowe lens. I could clearly see the Cassini division in the rings, but did not try to discern any cloud variances on Saturn’s surface.
I pointed the scope at Mars next, but again, while a bright ruddy object, the red planet still seemed just the size of a pinhead, no matter how much magnification I attempted to throw at it. I guess I need to ask some club members for assistance with seeing well enough to find the polar ice caps. Perhaps I’m just too late in the year, since Mars now sets an hour or two after sunset and I’m looking through so much thick, dirty, hazy, humid air.
I could tell the moon had risen, but still remained low in the east, hidden behind houses and my tall pin oak in my front side yard. My observing goals for the evening included three multiple star systems. The first one I had actually observed when I first got the ETX-90 back in October 2010. The middle star of the handle of the Big Dipper is actually an optical double star, Mizar-Alcor. Terry joined me in observing this popular duo.
My second observing goal could be found in the constellation Lyra, containing the brightest star in the summer sky, Vega, and one of the three stars that form the asterism commonly referred to as the Summer Triangle. Finding Vega turned out to be easy. Correctly adjusting the movement of the telescope when aimed directly overhead, not so easy. I had to run back inside to find my red flashlight and grab my reading classes and sky atlas before attempting to star hop the very short distance from Vega to Epsilon Lyrae, also known as the Double Double. In hindsight, I also had forgotten to confirm how many degrees field of view the finderscope provided me (five degrees from the spec page of the instruction manual read this morning). Because of the light pollution around my house and the rising nearly full moon, I could only see Vega and the beta and gamma stars of Lyra. I could clearly see a triangle in the finderscope with one of the three stars Vega for sure, but which one was the Double Double? I may have observed it last night, but I’m not entirely sure. I plan to retry tonight, provided the predicted thunderstorm activity fades before ten o’clock or soon after.
My final observing objective also appeared almost directly overhead, this time in the constellation Cygnus. The head of the swan (Beta Cygni also known as Albiero) is a striking colorful double star that I easily found and observed for a few minutes. Terry also took a quick look, but opted to let the mosquitoes and chiggers feast on me instead of him. Since the moon would soon escape the defense put up by my pin oak, I asked Terry to help me carry the telescope back into the house while I held the red flashlight overhead to light our path.
I put all the eyepieces back in their cases and all the dust caps on all the openings of the telescope. I recorded two of my three observations on my Astro Quest sheets. Terry, Apollo, Lexy and I all retired to bed and left the moon to play by itself through the short summer night.
Some pros and cons about the Dobsonian telescope: I like the improved light gathering capabilities. I love the finderscope (it’s a very good quality one), but would love it more if it had a right-angle viewer. I did not like the height of the eyepiece on the side of the tube. I will need to get a portable stool to lean against. My back is still aching this morning from the constant bent over position I found myself in last night.
Overall, I enjoyed my first foray among the stars with the SkyQuest. I did not use the Intelliscope handheld device that would have assisted in identifying and locating objects. I will save that adventure for another night, possibly at a darker site.
My dad contacted me Thursday to coordinate conveyances for our weekend astronomical adventure, thinking we would be attending the monthly ASKC club meeting, but he was a week early. Since I had mentioned earlier in the week a desire to see the glorious summer spread of our own Milky Way Galaxy, he had called me several times the past few days to see about driving to northern Atchison county to escape the Kansas City area light pollution. Both Wednesday and Thursday evenings turned out to be hazy and cloudy, so we nixed the road trip north.
Instead, I suggested we attend the monthly star party at Powell Observatory. I received two confirmation e-mails from David Hudgins, the club’s star party coordinator extraordinaire. I decided to leave my scope at home because you don’t really need a scope to take in the Milky Way Galaxy. If the skies grew dark enough, it would stretch from the southern horizon, up over the top, clear to the northern one.
I thought perhaps I was reliving last Friday (that would be the 13th) because when I got home early (by ten minutes) I walked into some surreal drama. I won’t go into the stressful week at work (we’ve all had weeks like that), but I looked forward to forgetting work and ignoring the excessive heat by reading books and watching movies in a quiet, air conditioned home with my hubby and two Rotties. I came home to find our satellite on the fritz and Terry needing me to pickup a prescription before the pharmacy closed at seven. While he cooked dinner, I did some preliminary troubleshooting of the satellite system with little success and decided to call DirecTV customer service, knowing I’d probably be on hold for several minutes. The technician wanted us to disconnect, check and reconnect all of our cables, which seemed a ridiculous request since the cable runs are static and have not been touched, moved or manipulated in years. After almost ruining supper in an effort to jump through DirecTV tech support hoops, we hung up on them and sat down to eat.
By now, I had less than an hour to pickup the prescription, so I grabbed my purse and drove to the store. I got as far as the pharmacy counter, where the assistant recognized me and had the prescription ready for me, but when I opened my purse, my billfold was missing. I had left it in the van because I stopped at Starbucks after work for a mocha frappacino treat for the drive home. Now I had to return home for my billfold and repeat the trip back to the pharmacy, a wasted trip, time and gas. When I returned home the third time, Terry had solved the satellite system glich. With our excessive heat and drought conditions, the ground supporting our satellite dish pole has dried up so far down into the ground, that the pole can now be easily moved back and forth and twisted on it’s concrete base. One of our dogs could have bumped into it and messed up the alignment. Terry used the signal strength meter diagnostics channel on the satellite receiver to dial the dish back in.
Hoping that would be the final challenge of the week solved for the moment, I called Dad just after seven o’clock and told him to head my way. I gathered up my camera equipment, my pocket star atlas, a large hardcover edition of Backyard Astronomy (to review Milky Way info), my purse (with billfold) and a lidded glass of cool water. I asked Dad to drive this weekend, volunteering to drive next weekend for the July club meeting. The hour jaunt to Louisburg passed quickly and we arrived at Powell just moments after sunset. The evening cooled off nicely, but remained calm, clear and surprisingly dry. In fact, we experienced no dew (the bane of telescope optics) until after midnight.
Several club members were already present and setting up their scopes in the East Observing Field (click photo above for photos taken upon our arrival). One member, Mike Sterling, introduced himself to me (asking if I was ‘the’ Jon Moss … apparently my name is known, if not my face or gender, from my blogging). He was in the process of collimating his 20-inch Dobsonian. My dad provided an extra pair of eyes to help finish. Mike also gave us a color brochure published by Astronomy magazine of the illustrated Messier catalog. This will come in handy in the future when I really get serious about an observing award.
The theme for this month’s star party centered around star charts and atlases. David Hudgins setup a table displaying several popular and easy-to-use books, visual aids and posters. I indicated to David I already owned the Sky & Telescope Pocket Sky Atlas and a smaller version of the wheel night sky star guide (the circular atlas resting on top of the poster in the upper left hand corner of the table shown in the photo above).
Dad and I wondered among the scopes, waiting for twilight to fade and the stars to emerge. Saturn and Mars, along with Spica and Arcturus appeared very early and most of the scopes honed in on our ringed neighbor. By 10:30 pm, the skies had darkened enough to begin hunting for some of the brighter Messier objects. Mike graciously asked me (several times over the course of the evening) what I wanted to observe next. I drew a blank every time because my goal had been to see the Milky Way, not any specific object viewable in a scope. He obligingly filled in the blank by touring through clusters, nebulae and a galaxy found in the constellation Sagittarius, Scorpius, Hercules and Ursa Major. I tweeted the objects as we found them so I would have a record of what we saw and when.
My dad and I also used his binoculars just to see what we could see with them (as opposed to a scope). The highlight of that side project included finding Brocchi’s Cluster (more commonly known by the asterism ‘the Coathanger’). One of the other club members used the Summer Triangle as an aid to locating the Coathanger. As stated in the Wikipedia article: “It is best found by slowly sweeping across the Milky Way along an imaginary line from the bright star Altair toward the even brighter star Vega. About one third of the way toward Vega, the Coathanger should be spotted easily against a darker region of the Milky Way. The asterism is best seen in July-August and north of 20° north latitude it is displayed upside down (as in the picture above) when it is at its highest point.”
* Update * (added after original publication):
I completely spaced out tweeting during the eleven o’clock hour. During this time, Mike disconnected the Goto electronics on his telescope and set me to star hopping for objects near Sagittarius. The first one he tested me with was finding two small globular clusters a small hop away from the gamma star in Sagittarius (the star the delineates the spout of the teapot). If I could find these two clusters, Mike told me I should be able to see both of them at the same time in the eyepiece’s field of view. After about five minutes, I spied a couple of small fuzzy balls, not as distinct as the surrounding background stars, but I thought they might be the clusters. Mike confirmed I had found them by doing a ‘happy dance’ and sing-songing ‘she found them, she found them’ for all to hear. The designations for these clusters are NGC 6522 and 6528.
Mike next set me to finding either M69 or M70 (also hanging out in Sagittarius, but in the bottom of the Teapot). I glanced at his star chart and used his excellent Telrad finderscope (which had a nice large field of view and an easy-to-use red bullseye) to quickly locate one of the Messier objects (probably M69). Again Mike did a happy dance and song.
Mike went looking for another globular cluster, this time between Sagittarius and Scorpius, designated as NGC 6380. I found this one especially interesting because of it’s apparent close proximity to a star.
The third test proved my undoing. Mike moved his scope to Antares in Scorpius and set me to finding M4. I didn’t review his star chart and spent several minutes attempting to find it. Eventually, I gave up and Mike located it.
Despite all the mesmerizing Messier distractions, I did succeed in observing the vast sweep of our Milky Way Galaxy. I learned a couple of cool memory aids and bits of trivia about finding the ‘heart’ of the galaxy and the path it takes. Cygnus, the swan constellation, also sometimes known as the ‘Northern Cross,’ flies along the Milky Way, pointing directly to the heart of the galaxy. To find the Milky Way’s heart, locate the Teapot (an asterism for the constellation Sagittarius), visible along the southern horizon during July and August, and imagine steam rising from the spout.
I even attempted to photograph the Milky Way using my simple tripod and DSLR camera, but without an equitorial mount of some kind with a tracking system and the digital photo editing software (to stack multiple repetitive exposures), the best I could accomplish was a three or four second exposure (using ISO 800) and fiddling with the brightness/contrast after downloading:
I also took photos of Cygnus swimming in the Milky Way, the Summer Triangle, the Big Dipper over the dome of the observatory and several of the southern horizon. To see the entire album, click on the photo at the top of this blog.
Soon after 12:30 a.m., Dad and I thanked Mike Sterling for the guided tour of the summer sky. We packed up our gear and drove the hour home, where I finally drifted off to sleep after two o’clock with visions of Messier objects dancing in my head.
Dad and I had a blast and my husband is now having second thoughts about staying home last night. Many thanks to David Hudgins, Mike Sterling and the other members of the Astronomical Society of Kansas City for throwing a fun mid-summer star party.
For the second night in a row, I spent fifteen or twenty minutes outside, letting my eyes adjust to the darkness before participating in the Great World Wide Star Count. I relaxed on my upper patio, hiding behind my pile of firewood, which blocks the bright lights from the doctors’ office to my west. Apollo joined me both nights, enjoying the cool autumn breeze and quiet evening.
I zoomed in on the Northern Cross, also known as the constellation Cygnus, as the target of my naked eye observations both nights. I printed the observing guide Friday before leaving work. Despite being surrounded by city streetlights, prison security lighting and a nearly full moon, I was pleasantly surprised to learn that I could see down to magnitude five, but not quite to magnitude six, again according to the Northern Hemisphere Observing Guide.
Friday night I even setup the tripod and Canon camera to snap a three second exposure of the constellation Cynus:
Tonight, rather than setting up the camera, I brought out the binoculars to see if I could discern the blue and yellow stars that make up Albireo in the head of the Swan. Having to look almost directly overhead and holding the binoculars away from my eyes did not result in a steady enough magnification to confirm. Perhaps tomorrow night I’ll haul the telescope up out of the basement and get a better, steadier look at that gem.
I need to find another place at least one kilometer away from my house to do a second observation to report back to the website referenced above. If only Lansing didn’t lock up all of it’s parks promptly at sunset, I might have an opportunity to observe from the new park out west on 4-H Road.
So how many stars can you see of the Swan? Step outside tomorrow night, give your eyes fifteen minutes to adjust and look directly overhead.
Last year, a few days after my birthday, I scrapped my MySpace blog, mostly due to interface changes, and ventured here to WordPress with a backup blog at Blogger. My original intention was to journal my astronomical adventures here and do some inspirational topics on the backup site. While I didn’t blog daily, I did manage to craft over two hundred blog entries here (this being my 225th).
In honor of my original intention to explore the heavens, I wanted to encourage everyone (and motivate myself) to participate in this year’s Great World Wide Star Count. Don’t be shy! Anyone can participate and it doesn’t require any equipment beyond your eyes. This project is an annual survey of the night sky, held this year between October 14th and 28th (7-9 pm optimal viewing window) to record how many stars you can see in the constellation Cygnus (the Swan) in the northern hemisphere (follow the link above if you reside Down Under). This helps map the spread of light pollution. I plan to get out my telescope (for the first time this fall) and view the beautiful blue/yellow double-star Albireo. I can’t tell from the survey’s website if they are affiliate with the IDA (the International Dark-Sky Association), but I’m doing my bit (via this blog) to raise awareness about the value of dark skies and their preservation and restoration.
And now, a brief retrospective of some of my favorite blog entries (indicated with asterisks) from the past year and a few popular (according to the stats) highlights: