NOTE: this is a cross posted article I wrote for kopernikastro.org.
Of the worst ways to start an astronomical visual observing blog entry is with, “It was a cold and rainy evening.” I was the primary support person at the observatory tonight, and I have to say I wasn’t in much of a hurry to get to the observatory. Due to the cloudy and rainy forecast and current weather conditions, I didn’t think many people would come to the observatory, and definitely didn’t consider rushing to a small crowd watching NASA TV a high priority.
Considering the “Just in Case” scenario, when I arrived at the observatory, I placed the Baader Herschel Wedge into the 6” Astrophysics F/12 Refractor with a 40mm eyepiece. Turned the scope on, and placed it roughly where Sol would be if the dreaded upstate NY cloud cover wasn’t there. It looked hopeless out there, but it looked good to the crowd that was amassing, and it gave me something to do other than wallow in my sol-less pity. I even prepped the dome for rapid opening in the weird chance of a clearing. But the clear sky clock said something like “keep dreaming” across the Kopernik Observatory banner (I think I saw that there).
To my surprise, and delight, there were about 225 eager enthusiasts amassing at the observatory to learn some about the Venus Transit, the Sun, and the importance of this event. I was “wow’d” given the horrific weather we had. I can’t believe that this many folks came all the way up to see our solar observing equipment and watch part of the transit on NASA TV. Fantastic! An awesome outreach reflection.
Planning is underway for the 2012 KAS Messier Marathon. This is a great opportunity to view all the objects catalogued by Charles Messier 1771 – 1773 that took him 24 years to observe. Messier catalogued objects that he originally thought were comets, but could not confirm them as such. Basically these objects appeared to him as “faint fuzzies” but unlike comets, they never moved. Basically, his list of 110 objects were considered a hinderance by him.
Today, this list of objects are the most accessible and easiest to view objects in and around our galaxy. About 10 of them can be spotted with the naked eye, and the rest are al findable with even a fairly modest telescope. Every year during the new moon dark window in March, all but a few of these great objects is observable in just one night. The window this year runs roughly between March 19th and March 28th. It takes the entire night to see them all, and we here in the upstate NY area can see all but 1-2 objects that rest on the extreme southern skyline.
Note: I originally posted this article on www.kopernikastro.org on 2/20/2012
Coming up: check out the view of Mars, the reddish-orange object, just below the constellation Leo. Mars will be making its close approach between February 24th thru about March 9th or so.
Daily observing of the 2012 Mars close approach will occur at Kopernik Observatory & Science Center, clear skies permitting. Check out the event info here.
For those of you advanced astronomers with high end equipment, check out this challenge by Astroguys.com to spot the Martian Moons Phobos and Deimos – http://bit.ly/wDbUai.
Coming out of winter, my astronomy observing bug begins to kick in. Getting all excited about the fair weather season coming up and I start to build my galaxy season target list. This one caught my eye as I was reading in both Sky and Telescope/Astronomy magazines about the upcoming galaxy spring season.
NGC 2403 is located in the constellation Camelopardalis. Don’t be confused by this constellation name, as this represents a giraffe, rather than what your first intuition probably suggested. This wonderful galaxy is held in a remote piece of space, and it has very few companion objects around it. It’s considered by many as being one of the closest galaxies to our local group of galaxies. It is estimated to be about 8.9 million light years away (there are more conservative estimates at 10.5 million light years away). It belongs to the same group of galaxies as the more well known M81 and M82 in Ursa Major.
A few weeks ago I was giving a presentation on the future of US space flight. It was a pretty good presentation, if I do say so myself, and I had lots of fun making it and presenting it. It was a small crowd of about 30 – 40 folks, which is strange for a clear night at Kopernik Observatory, and somewhere during the presentation, one of those rare moments of inspiration arose, and I just had to share it here on the blog.
Faster Than Light Travel (credit: NASA)
At the very end of the presentation, I presented a slide covering various technology and efforts which I hadn’t gone over in the presentation. I was only summarizing and providing a list of things to research for those interested. After all, we have to keep the presentations down to 45 minutes to allow folks to observe the heavens. However, I hit a moment where it was really just myself in the room despite all the others, and was able to block everyone else out. I absolutely long for moments like that, when everything became clarity, and time seemed to stop outside that moment. For a brief time, I had found a Zen like state to exist in, and it couldn’t have been interrupted by a better question…
Volunteering at Kopernik Observatory in public outreach activities, I have never seen a member of the public not be amazed at what we show them through our telescopes. People, no matter what their background are always amazed at what the heavens have to show us. There is a good reason for this, it is just simply amazing to observe and ponder the vastness of space, and to come to the realization that the wonders which surround us here on Earth are just one small part of the cosmic equation.
I have only been active in the local astronomy community for about five years now, but I have been “observing” in one fashion or another for most of my life. Furthermore, I have only owned my own telescopes for about five years. Before I purchased my first telescope, I spent many years “observing from the armchair.” Well more specifically, from my computer chair since the mid 1990’s. There is a wealth of information, images, computer software, and groups of people one can interact with without leaving the home.
OK there are two things that never go well together. Serious amateur astronomical observing and light pollution. The most irritating form of light pollution is something that is cyclical and periodic, but not constant. For this very reason, the last place one would imagine to go observing would be at a lighthouse. The periodic flares of light are the worst irritant to an observer, as the eye never adjusts to any particular steady state.
Bodie Lighthouse - Bodie Island, Outer Banks, NC (credit - Carolina Light)
It just seemed fairly ironical that the icons which signify the start of global light pollution would end up being an astronomical observing location for a night.