What a great weekend at Stellafane 2014. Just four weeks before, I attended a fantastic Cherry Springs Star Party, and was fortunate enough to get 3 solid nights of observing put in. The forecast for this year’s Stellafane really looked morbid one week before the convention. It looked like a crockpot of humidity during the days, and then wet rain at night. Luckily as the calendar approached, that weather forecast improved infinitely.
I arrived with most of my group early on Thursday, and the weather was mostly pleasant. Upon arriving at 3:20 or so, I immediately picked out my spot for my scope, and began unpacking the car. Two hours later, my 16” Dob was mostly assembled, my tent was up, and everything mostly settled in. One thing I can say about going to a star party – BE ORGANIZED. It makes a huge difference, and gets you to that Zen like state much faster.
Standing with my 16″ f/4 New Moon Telescope. A fantastic Dob, and the best gear I have ever purchased!
The small tent city we were setup in. My tent is the brown tent, third one in on left side.
Here’s a quick video showing a time lapse of me and my neighbors getting ready for a night of observing.
Of course the best thing about Stellafane is that it isn’t really intended to be a serious star party. There will be headlights, there will be lots of noise, there will be parties here and there. So it is a very casual and fun environment defined by the jolly go lucky attendees that decide to come. While observing is a big part of the event, having a relaxing time enjoying the company of amateur astronomers and telescope makers is really the focus.
This year at Kopernik AstroFest 2011, the skies were just down right mean to us. It never really rained (as far as I can remember) but we were socked in with clouds for 49 of the total possible 54 hours of AstroFest from Friday September 30th until Sunday October 2. We’ve come to expect this living in upstate, NY. That’s why our fantastic leadership team booked so many great speakers and guests to present and attend AstroFest 2011.
With this in mind, I first point to the time I spent with Barlow Bob. I have to admit, I was a bit leery about what magic Barlow Bob would pull out of the van with such dismal daytime skies. I’ve attended Barlow Bob’s NEAF Solar Star Party to observe “Bob’s Only Star he cares about.” And I know he has a VERY amazing inventory of solar observing equipment. When I previewed the weather forecast, I was a bit bummed out that I would not be able to play with these wonderful solar observing toys.
But as I’ve come to expect from Barlow Bob’s reputation – I wouldn’t be disappointed. We spent the better part of Friday and Saturday playing with different spectrascopes and spectragraphs. We observed a variety of different gases contained in small light bulbs that emitted different types of spectra. We observed everything from some elements similar to those in our sun to the ever-puzzling spectra produced by Iodine.
I have posted my March/April 2011 target list for your perusal (as exported from Astro Planner). The list shows about 1800+ deep sky objects in the easy to intermediate skill range. A variety of types, sizes, rise/set times, and other variables as well. Feel free to let me know if you have any questions and/or comments. The file linked here is an Excel file, let me know if you would rather a raw csv file.
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.
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.
So what do a bunch of up state New York Amateur Astronomers do in the heart of winter? Well they throw an outdoor astronomical observing party for the public. I mean why not? What’s a little cold anyway? Ok so we aren’t talking 40 degrees F out there, but rather something more like, well ok, 10 degrees F. But hey we are a hearty bunch right?
The day started out at around 4 PM, when we began the event with a special family workshop to build a small telescope. The gist of the program was to accomplish two goals. First, to teach families about how telescopes work, and then to also get them to look through the scopes. We had 19 families, for a total of about 60-70 people including moms, dads, children, and other family members.
In my latest observing session, I had setup my C-11 on the Losmandy mount, and it was a nice, clear brisk night. A little transparency and seeing issues but that just pushed me to check out some deep space objects. However, on this night, I had no plan in mind, and had to “get creative“ on the fly.
NGC 7331 & Company - Credit: Vicent Peris, Calar Alto Observatora, Spain
I really wanted to observe some far off galaxy to get my imagination into things. I guess I wanted to look at some very distant land, thinking that maybe someone or something was observing me right back. Seeing nothing but a fuzzy object with little definition and a bit of structure, my mind drifted to the orientation at which they would be observing the Milky Way Galaxy. The three dimensionality of space and our orientation in the Milky Way has always intrigued me. I long for a three dimensional model of the universe to ask such questions of.
I had never looked at NGC 7331 visually, just observations from the armchair admiring other’s photographic efforts. Hey Pegasus was up in the sky, so why not observe what many people refer to as the Milky Way’s Twin. Looking at TheSkyX, I noticed that there are other more faint galaxies in the that region of space. Maybe I would get lucky, and see some of these more faint galaxies as well. So be it, syncing the Losmandy to the stars Sheat and Matar in Pegasus, I then punched in NGC 7331. The scope did its job, and there was a faint fuzzy in my 55 mm EP.
Cruising around Taurus, checking out the normal targets, I wanted to hunt down a challenge object. Awed at the Pleades and Hyades clusters (both naked eye and through a 4” f/9 refractor)m and then barely squeaking in a peak at M1, visible, but more of my imagination was needed. I thought there had to be an object in this region that I could view with an 8” SCT, and yet had a bit of a challenge factor to it.
A fuzzy snowball was in order. Being a fan of the spent matter from a star that didn’t have the “stuff” to go super nova is always intriguing to me. A quick reference to the SkyX, resulted in quite a few targets. The first ones were listed as planetary nebulae of unknown magnitudes, and I know what that normally means…not with an 8” SCT ☺.
The Perseid Meteor Shower came and went last week. The peak was occurring between Tuesday August 11th and Friday August 14th. I always get excited about the Perseids. A few years back, I was observing on a rather explosive night of shooting stars, and ever since then, this has been my favorite meteor shower to observe. Living in Upstate NY, it is also one of the few Meteor showers to observe in shorts, under the warm August nights.