Astro-Blog

Note: this is an archived version of my amateur astronomy weblog, which proved to be too difficult to maintain. The current version uses WordPress to manage the content.


Introduction

We have recently taken up amateur astronomy as a hobby that is fun and educational for our kids and ourselves. This weblog records our observations as we explore cosmos.

Equipment

Specifications
Type: Newtonian Reflector
Aperture: 114mm
focal length: 900mm
focal ratio: 1/7.9

We use a 4.5 in. Dobsonian reflector that we purchased from Orion. The “Dob” is a rugged and inexpensive design that makes it a popular choice for beginners. The telescope came with 10mm and 25mm Plössl eyepieces and a 6× 26mm finder scope. We also purchased a 2× Barlow adaptor.

We also now have a pair of binoculars for casual observing that we purchased from Orion (the Orion “Outsider” series). They are 10 × 50 (10× power, 50 mm aperture) wide angle (7.6° field of view) with 17 mm of eye relief, which makes them usable with my eyeglasses on.

The Venue

Many of these observations were made in our yard, either in the city of Rochester, NY (until the Summer of 2004) or in Fishers, Indiana, a suburb of Indianapolis. Consequently, observing conditions are far from ideal; the sky is never very dark, and trees and houses obstruct some of the view. These conditions push many interesting objects past the level of observability in a small telescope like the 4.5 in. Dob., especially in the hands of a beginner. Nevertheless, we took the challenge of determining the limits of our new hobby.

Table of Contents

Observations: 2004

26 September 2004

The sky was clear, and I had some free time this evening, but there was a bright full (or nearly so) moon out, so at first I didn't think there would be anything worth seeing. But then I thought, what the heck, why not just look at the moon? I had, of course, pointed my 'scope and binocs at the moon before, but I thought that this time a would give it a serious look.

I got out some charts from a couple of books I had, and started with crater identification. There were of course, the big easy ones—Tycho, Copernicus, Aristarchus, Kepler—then I got distracted by a some interesting looking craters near the terminator. They were large craters, almost in the shadow, with the floor dark but the central peak light by the sun. After consulting a chart, I decided that one of them seemed to be Hevelius. The other was near the northwest edge of them moon, and after awhile, I tentantively decided that it must be Herschel, judging by its relative position to Plato.

17 September 2004

First, I should begin this entry by explaining the long absence between observations. I haven't given up my hobby, nor have I abandoned this astroblog; rather, there have been some changes. We have spent most of the summer preparing for and executing a move to the Indianapolis, IN area. We now live in Fishers, Indiana, a suburb northeast of the city. As a result, our trusty Dob has spent a lot of time disassembled in its box.

The sky seemed pretty clear this evening, and the moon was just a thin crescent that would set early. It seemed like a good night to get the 'scope out. I unpacked and reassembled the Dob, and then checked its collimation with the collimation cap supplied by the manufacturer. At least by this crude measure, it still seemed in pretty good shape, at least to my untrained eye.

After 9:00, I set up the scope on the sidewalk in front of the house; I also brought the binocs' out. While I was waiting for my eyes to adapt to the dark, I started to reacquaint myself the sky. Although the sky was fairly clear of clouds; the seeing was only average. There was also some pretty significant sky glow to the southwest. I started by scanning some old familiar objects—the double star Albireo, the Hercules cluster M31, and the Andromeda Galaxy M31. I also looked for the Ring Nebula, M57, and found it after a short search, but I needed a fair bit of “averted vision” to see it.

Before turning in, I wanted to add another object to the Messier Viewing Log. I decided that M11, the Wild Duck Cluster was in a good candidate. First I scanned the area with binoculars, star-hopping from Altair through Aquila to Scutum. It seemed that I could cold make out a faint light smudge that could be it, so then I trained the scope on the area. I found the open cluster, but with my scope and under those seeing conditions, it seemed more nebulous than “clustery.” I could see one star resolved on its edge, but the rest of the cluster was an unresolved faint smudge smearing out to one side. However, I also learned that it was useful to use binoculars to scout out an area that I was viewing with a scope.

19 May 2004

The night looked pretty clear, and the “seeing” was definitely better than it was a few days ago (For example, now I could clearly see Draco snaking its way between the Bears). Thus I though it would be a good time look for that comet again. Around 10:00 I got out the 'scope and the binocs. I trained my binocs west and found M44, the Beehive cluster, first, which was much clearer tonight. From there I star-hopped my way up until I was able to locate the dim fuzz of Comet C/2001 Q4 NEAT. Having found it first with the binocs (and it still not being a naked-eye object for me from this location), I then used my 'scope to find it. I could make out a little structure in it tonight; there was a brighter spot off to one side, and I could get a hint of a broad but short faint tail off the other side.

I next looked at Jupiter. Four of the moons were visible and well-separated, one on side and three on the other. I could also see four moons when I used the binocs.

By now I noticed that Hercules was back in the sky, so I decided to look for my old friend M13, which was the first deep-sky object I ever found. Looking first with the binocs, I could see a faint gray fuzzy blob in the right location. I also used the 'scope to find the fuzzy blob as well. By now, a light haze was starting to creep up from the horizon, so I decided to call it a night.

16 May 2004

It was a nice, clear, sunny day today, so I fired up the grill for the first outdoor cookout of the season (barbecued chicken and grilled potato wedges). As the sun was setting, I decided to get some observation time in, so I brought out the 'scope and binoculars.

Around sunset, I put Venus in the 'scope. The girls got a good look at its pretty crescent before it was time for them to go to bed.

After it got darker, I went back out in the yard. While I was waiting for my eyes to adapt to the dark, I took a look at Jupiter. There was nice view tonight; two moons were visible—one on either side of the planet.

I then attempted to find Comet C/2001 Q4 NEAT again. As it was supposed to be near the Beehive Cluster, I trained my binoculars toward the west in that direction. Unfortunately, there was a fair bit of sky-glow in that direction, and none of the stars of Cancer were visible to the naked eye. Nevertheless, by sweeping the area with binoculars, I was able to find the cluster, but it was much dimmer than I had seen it before with binoculars. I thought I might have seen the comet dimly with averted vision, but I wasn't sure, so I decided to use the 'scope.

As I was moving to the 'scope, I saw a very bright light moving fast out of the corner of my eye. At first I thought it was a plane, since I'm near the airport. I looked closer, and saw a bright fireball, moving from north to south, roughly from the lower part of Gemini toward Cancer before it flared out. It had a bright orange tail, maybe about a quarter to a half degree long. The time was 10:15 pm (+/- 2min) EDT.

After the excitement died down, I looked for the comet again. Sadly, viewing conditions continued to deteriorate, although there was obvious cloud cover. The Beehive grew dimmer, and looking around, I many of the lower-magnitude stars that I could see a few days were unobservable.

11 May 2004

Around 7:30 pm, I was in the back yard with the kids. The sky was pretty clear, and although it was still pretty bright outside, I decided to see if I could find Venus in the daytime. I swept the area where I thought it might be with my binoculars, and after about five or ten minutes, I found it. Its bright crescent was clearly visible, silhouetted against the blue sky. I looked up with my naked eye to see it, and after awhile I was able to find a faint pinprick of light that tended to lose focus if I looked away. The time was 7:40; since sunset was at 8:24, that meant I saw Venus in the daytime more than 40 minutes before sunset.

As this was the first clear night in awhile, I hoped to be able to get a glimpse of Comet C/2001 Q4 NEAT, which was supposed to be visible at this time in Cancer. I got out the 'scope and set it up for the first time in awhile. As the sun was setting and the sky darkening, I looked at Venus with both the 'scope and the binoculars. Through the telescope the view was spectacular—a very pretty thin bright crescent.

I next turned my attention to Jupiter. The view tonight was pretty clear. I could easily see the four Galilean moons (two of them very close to each other) and the two major equatorial cloud bands were clearly visible. After putting in the 2× Barlow with the 10mm eyepiece, I thought a could also make out another cloud band in the south.

I then took a quick look at Saturn, but since it had got dark I was anxious to see the comet. I started by pointing the 'scope at Procyon and then sweeping toward its likely location in Cancer. I found it quickly—a “faint fuzzy” with a brighter core, in many ways much like some the deep-sky nebulae I observed last year. (Now I understand why Messier compiled his catalog). Having found it with 'scope, and knowing where to look, I also was able to find it with the binoculars.

19 April 2004

I was in my backyard with my binoculars, staring at Auriga, trying to see if I could identify any of the Messier open clusters there, when suddenly a large, amorphous, shape-shifting blob wandered into the field of view. I dropped the binocs to look up, but didn't see anything odd with the naked eye. Looking through the binocs again, I could see that it was a large flock of birds (perhaps pigeons; it was hard to tell, maybe geese if they were far enough away), dimly illuminated from below by the light wash of the city. I followed it across the sky until it crossed the rich star field of Perseus, which was nice because that was a pretty sight. Thanks, birds!

28 March 2004

It was a fairly clear evening; there was some high scattered cloud cover and slight haze, and the moon was about half full. My daughter heard from here teacher that five planets would be visible in the sky at the same time, so she wanted to see them. The western horizon was obscured by houses and trees, so we weren't able to observe Mercury, but I pointed out to her the locations of Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn. After it got dark, I wanted to try out the binoculars, so I looked at Jupiter (could see that it was a disk, and could make out one moon), Saturn (the rings weren't resolved, but it looked like an oblong disk) the Orion Nebula, and a couple of open clusters—the Pleiades and the Hyades. The star clusters looked particularly nice in the binocs.

24 February 2004

As I was going out last night (23 Feb.) around 6:15, I saw the crescent moon and Venus paired up in the western sky, separated by only a few of degrees of arc. They made a very pretty pairing in the darkening sky.

Tonight, around 8:30, after I got home from church, I noticed the sky looked pretty clear. Despite the presence of a crescent moon, the “seeing” seemed a lot better than it was last week.

I got the scope out, and while I was waiting for my eyes to adapt to the dark, I started with a little planetary viewing. The family also braved the cold (it was about 30°F or less, or just below 0°C) to take a look. We started with the moon, since it was an easy target, and the shadows at the terminator gave some nice depth to the craters and mountains. Jupiter was our next target. The image seemed a little crisper than it was last week. I could still see only two cloud bands, but if I stared I could imagine that I could see a little more detail on the surface if I used the 2× Barlow. Four moons were visible, three on one side of the planet and one on the other; the innermost (was it Io?) was very close to Jupiter. Everyone took turns looking at the planet, and they were very pleased with the view. Finally, the cold got the better them (and moreover it past the kids' bedtime) so they went inside.

Next I put Saturn in view. The view was definitely better today than last week. Titan was easily visible, and I could also glimpse one more moon (Rhea?). The ring detail was also much crisper than before. This time, by getting careful focus, and a with little patience, I could definitely make out the Cassini division! At least I could until I fogged the eyepiece with the warmth of my eye (maybe I will have to put a long eye relief, short focal length eyepiece on my wish list).

I put the 25mm eyepiece in to look at some deep space objects. I started with some familiar ones—M35 first, since my scope was already in the neighborhood. Then a quick look at the Pleiades, before turning around to look at the Beehive Cluster (M44) again (and tonight I could actually see some of the stars of Cancer to help me out).

Since it seemed to be pretty good seeing, (for around here, anyway) I then decided to add a target to my Messier Viewing Log. After consulting the book I've been using (Turn Left at Orion), it seemed to me that M50, an open cluster in Monoceros, would be a good candidate. Sirius had risen over the top of my house, so I star-hopped up from Sirius through Canis Major to its likely location. After a short search, I found it. At first, it didn't seem all that impressive to me, but after looking around a few minutes I noticed it had a distinctly red star in the cluster, which added to its charm.

By now, the moon had fallen below the horizon, so I thought I would take another try at finding M1. It turned out to be another fruitless search, but then I was also feeling the effects of the cold so I called it a night.

16 February 2004

Around 10:00, after the kids were in bed, I looked outside and noticed that the sky was relatively clear, so I got the scope out. Despite the lack of obvious cloud cover, and that the moon was not out, the “seeing” was not that good (the Pleiades, for example, was not visible to the naked eye). Accordingly, I decided to do some planetary viewing.

I first took a quick look at Saturn, which was pretty high in the sky. The air clarity must have been even worse tonight than last week, because its features were not very crisp and I could not see any of its moons. Jupiter, however, was high in the southeast sky so I turned my attention to the gas giant. I could see two cloud bands and four moons—three of the moons were on one side and one on the other.

Despite the poor “seeing,” I thought that I might want to add another object to my Messier Viewing Log. The Beehive Cluster, M44, seemed to be a likely choice. Although I could not see any of the stars of Cancer, I was able to use the finder scope to locate them and soon I had the cluster in view. Despite the poor sky, it still looked pretty good through the scope—lots of pretty stars, and many of them seemed to be doubles.

8 February 2004

The sky tonight was few clouds, but the “seeing” didn't seem to be that good. Nevertheless, since it's been awhile since I got to do any viewing I took the scope out for a look.

Venus was shining brightly in the west. I took a look at it; it was very bright in the scope (I even considered using the moon filter), and actually, there is really not much to see there. It seemed to be in a “gibbous” phase, although heat rising from a house directly under it made the image shimmer so it was hard to tell.

I looked at Saturn, again, and also at M35, since I was in the neighborhood. I also took some time to become familiar with the sky again, since it's been awhile. I also took another look at the Orion nebula. By now I noticed Jupiter shining brightly in the east, so I decided to take my first look. I could see two brownish-colored cloud bands near it equator, and also three of its moons. Wanting to let Jupiter get higher in the sky, I left the scope out for awhile and took a break inside. Unfortunately, the cloud cover rolled in by the time I came back out so I had to call it a night.

About January

January was a very frustrating month for viewing. Rochester had more than 60 in. (more than 150 cm) of snow, a January record. Needless to say, that didn't leave many nights that were clear for viewing. There were a few times that it seemed clear in the evening—I could occassionally see Venus shining brightly in the darkening sky as I was walking home from work. Invariably, however, the clouds quickly returned after sunset.

Observations: 2003

26 December 2003

For the first time in awhile, we had a relatively clear sky tonight. Around 8:00 pm, I took the scope out to the front yard to get another look at Saturn. I spent some time observing it with the 10mm eyepiece, with and without the 2× Barlow, trying to convince myself (unsuccessfully, it turned out) that I could see the Cassini division in the rings. However, I did notice a point of light nearby that made me wonder if I had seen Titan. I asked the kids if they wanted another look at Saturn, but they didn't feel like braving the cold to look at a planet they had already seen.

Later, around 11:00, I took the scope out to the back yard for some more observations. Noticing that Saturn was in Gemini, I decided to look for M35, an open cluster in that constellation, which visible from my location. I star hopped from the “foot” of one of the twins to its probable location, and I found it right away. The ease of locating it, as well as its appearance (it is more open and larger than some of the clusters I have seen before) made me suspicious that I was looking at just a patch of Milky Way, but looking around the area, I didn't see anything else that it could have been. Moreover, it seemed to match the description in my book.

Orion had by now moved into a position in the southern sky that I could see from a point between my house and the neighbor's, so I decided to look again at one of my favorites: M42, the Great Orion Nebula. This time I spent a bit of time examining it through both of my eyepieces. I was able to clearly make out the stars in the Trapezium, as well as discern some of structure of the gas clouds. While I was looking at the nebula, I realized that I could resolve M43, the diffuse nebula associated with M42, so I decided to add this to my Messier Object Viewing Log.

I was feeling lucky, so I tried to find M1, the Crab Nebula, in Taurus. After a fruitless search, I didn't see anything that resembled it. However, around midnight, I happened to look around and I saw a brilliant “star” rising in the eastern sky: this must be Jupiter! A quick look through the scope confirmed my guess, so I spent quite bit of time looking at it with my 10mm eyepiece with and without the 2× Barlow. I was able to resolve some of the cloud bands as well as three points of light that I presume were three of the Galilean moons.

29 November 2003

We drove down to western Maryland (around the Smithsburg/Wolfsville area, if you are interested—about halfway between Frederick and Hagerstown) for a few days to visit my sister and her family for Thanksgiving; also, my Mom was visiting there as well. We decided to take the 'scope just in case we wanted to do some viewing (that's something I probably wouldn't have done with a bigger scope), especially since the sky there in the country is usually darker than it is here. It was cloudy on Thanksgiving Day, and it rained on Friday, so I was beginning to think it was a waste of time to bring it. However, by late Saturday it was clearing up, so I took the 'scope out for a look around 8:00 pm.

My wife and kids hadn't seen Saturn yet, so I gave them and my brother-in-law a look. We all also took another look at M31/M32; it was straight up again, so it was hard to use the finder scope on it. We also had another look at the Pleiades (M45). It was getting cold, and I had not yet eaten dinner, so I took a break inside the house. I also wanted to give Orion a chance to rise a little higher and also for some of the remaining clouds to blow away.

After dinner, my brother-in-law and I came back out for some more viewing. I put the 'scope on a card table, since it is a pretty small 'scope and my brother-in-law is a pretty tall guy. We looked at the Great Orion Nebula (M42), which was now over the horizon. Additionally, while I was eating dinner and looking at my book, I decided on some more Messier objects to add to my viewing log. There were three open clusters in Auriga that seemed ready for a try: M36, M37, and M38. It took awhile to find the first one—we kept getting the “scale” wrong and were looking in the wrong part of the constellation. Eventually, we found one that we decided must have been M37. Once that was found, we were able to quickly locate M38 and M36. So, in the end, it was worth the trouble to pack the 'scope—I was able add three more objects to my log, and my brother-in-law seemed to enjoy star-hunting.

20 November 2003

It was the first clear night in a long time. Although I had some things to do earlier in the evening, I was able to make it to Durand-Eastman park by 10:00. Here I had two unexpected surprises. First, I took my 'scope down to the beach to have a darker viewing area. I picked out a bright “star” in the western sky to align my spotting 'scope; when I looked at it I was pleasantly surprised to see that I had trained my 'scope on Saturn. I quickly switched to my 10mm eyepiece with the 2× Barlow to get a clear view of the rings.

Since I only had an hour of viewing before the park closes, I decided to add an easy target to my Messier log, so I trained my gaze on M34 (the Perseus Cluster), which was overhead. It didn't seem all that impressive to me, so I double-checked my star chart, but there it was. I also compared it to the much brighter open cluster, the Pleiades (M45), which I saw earlier. I guess that large open clusters such as these are better binocular objects than telescope objects.

Next I took another look at M31, the Andromeda Galaxy, which was nearly straight overhead by that time. With this darker sky, I could more easily see more of the structure of the galaxy than I had before, although I still couldn't make out the spiral structure of the arms. However, this time I was pretty sure that I could see its companion galaxy, M32, using averted vision.

Finally, I noticed that the constellation Orion had made an appearance in the sky, but it was partially obscured by trees. Since it was close to the 11:00 park closing time anyway, I moved the telescope back to the parking lot. I took a final look for M42, the Great Orion Nebula, and I had my second nice surprise. Initially, I did not expect to see much because of the street lights in that part of the sky, but the nebula was so bright that its appearance just blew me away. I can tell this one will become a favorite object for my kids to see.

All in all, it wasn't a bad evening—even with only an hour of viewing time, I was still able to see my first view of Saturn and add three objects to my Messier log.

8 November 2003

Tonight we had a total lunar eclipse. The whole family was in the back to observe this spectacle. The kids seemed to really delight in viewing this phenomenon.

We got the 'scope out to get a better look. While the moon was in total shadow, I happened to notice M45, the Pleiades, in the sky. I decided to add this easy target to my Messier count, so I took at look through the 'scope.

30 October 2003

The night was clear, a solar storm was active, and I live at a latitude of about 43° north; consequently, I thought I might get a chance to see the aurora borealis. Since I happened to be out, around 9:00 pm I drove up to Durand-Eastman Park, which is on Lake Ontario and thus has a view of the northern sky obstructed by nothing but about 50 miles of water.

I found I was not the only one who had the idea; about eight or ten people also came to the same spot I was to look for the Northern Lights. We did not see a bright display, but there was a faint greenish glow on the northern horizon that was at its highest due north. Although I was not sure if it was the aurora, observers that have experience in seeing it seemed to think the glow was the real thing.

I also noticed that the park would be a great place for observation. The sky was clear and dark enough to see the Pleiades clearly by naked eye, and even some of the band of the Milky Way was observable. Although not as good a sky as out in the country, it's probably the best sky (especially the northern sky) in the city I'm likely to find. I'll definitely want to bring my 'scope out here some time.

20 September 2003

The sky was dark tonight, and the skies were pretty clear (we didn't see much of the effects of Hurricane Isabel here). Our neighbor's backyard floodlight was off tonight, so the viewing conditions were pretty good. I went out at 8:30 pm to look around. At first, I decided just to observe the sky without a 'scope to become more familiar with it. In about 30 minutes, I also saw two meteors shoot across the sky almost directly overhead—it's amazing what you can see just by looking up!

After awhile, though, the “bug” started to bite me, so I brought the 'scope out. The kids (and the wife) wanted another look at Albireo, so I obliged them; I also gave them another look at M13, after I found it.

I decided to try to find M57, the Ring Nebula, in Lyra, which was overhead. It's not as bright as some of the other objects I found, but since the viewing conditions were about as good as they get here, I thought I would have a chance. This time, I found it pretty quickly, since there plenty of good guideposts nearby, but boy, was it dim! I switched to the 10 mm eyepiece to get a better view; I could tell it was circular, but I could only barely tell the ring structure with averted vision (and maybe some imagination). Putting the 2× Barlow in only made the nebula a slightly larger, dimmer, and fuzzier blob. This brings my Messier count up to five.

I suspect that objects like M57, and M27 which I found a few days ago, are likely to be the dimmest deep-space objects that I will be able to see from my backyard using a 4.5 in. 'scope.

17 September 2003

The sky was clear again; since Hurricane Isabel is due to hit the east coast, I thought that this might be the last clear night for awhile. This time I went out about 8:30 pm. Although Mars was not out yet, I thought I would give the kids a chance to see Albireo before they went to bed. Cygnus was nearly directly overhead at this time, so we had an unobstructed view. They were delighted to see this beautiful double star.

After the kids went to bed, I decided to look around some more. My book indicated that a Messier object, M29, an open cluster, was nearby. At first, I didn't think that I could distinguish an open cluster from the background stars in the Milky Way. But after a bit of searching, I found a star cluster that must have looked like its description in the SEDS Messier Database.

I then decided to hunt for M27, the Dumbbell Nebula, which was also overhead. A nearby constellation, Sagitta, was barely visible to the naked eye, but easily seen through the finder. It took a bit of searching to find it, since I was not familiar with that area of the sky. Now, if you have ever used the finder of a small Dob for any length of time when it was pointed straight up, you can imagine what a workout that was. After about twenty minutes of neck- and leg-breaking searching, I was finally rewarded with a view of a faint irregular smudge of light that was M27, bringing my Messier count to four.

16 September 2003

I went out to the backyard again. The sky was much darker this time, so I practiced finding M31 and M13 again before the moon came out. Then I wanted to find a fresh target, a book I have suggested that Albireo, a double star in Cygnus, was worth a look. I wasn't disappointed; the colors of the individual stars were clearly apparent (gold and blue). I think the kids will like to get a look at this sometime.

9 September 2003

Near midnight, Mars was high in the southern sky. I could set the 'scope in the backyard, and observe it from a vantage point the looked between our house and the neighbor's. A bright full moon was also out, so most of the sky was washed out. Fortunately, Mars was bright enough to be clearly visible. I practiced viewing the planet under the highest power I had (10mm eyepiece with the 2× Barlow). It seemed that the best way to do this was to position Mars on one edge of the viewing field and keep the 'scope still and let Mars drift across the field of view. This way, I could get a good view of some of the detail on the planet—the polar ice cap and some of the Maria.

I also tried out our “moon filter“ with a view of the full moon. It definitely reduced the brightness and glare from the moon, but even so, the image was bright enough to leave an afterimage.

28 August 2003

Since August 28 was the date of the closest approach of Mars to Earth (at least for several thousand years) I took the scope out in the neighborhood for a closer look. While I was waiting for Mars to rise, I used the time to make some observations in the back yard. Now that know how M13 appears through a scope, I was able to find it much more easily this time, although naturally it was much brighter when I first saw it in the Adirondacks.

When Mars rose over tops of the houses in the southeast sky, I moved the scope to the front yard. After taking a quick glance from the sidewalk, I decided to lug the scope out to a strip of parkland (the north end of Genesee Valley Park) for a less obstructed view. On the way I met some neighbors and let them view Mars. I set up scope with the 10mm eyepiece, and also used the 2× Barlow to get a closer view. One neighbor was pleased to be able to make out the polar ice cap.

When I get to the park, I am somewhat disappointed that floodlights at a nearby baseball field make the viewing conditions less than optimal. In fact, it was darker in my back yard. Nevertheless, Mars is bright and I use the time to make some observations. Also, since I had a relatively unobstructed view of the sky, even if it was a little washed out, I made use of a star atlas to familiarize myself with the sky. I notice that the big “W” of Cassiopeia is overhead, and my atlas indicates that the nearby Messier object M31, also known as the Andromeda Galaxy, should be visible. Despite the bright sky, I locate a faint smudge of light in the right place that must be the nucleus of M31, giving me my second Messier observation—two down, 108 to go!

I move the scope back to my back yard, where the sky is darker, if more obstructed. I practice finding M13 and M31, which are both visible in the sky from my back yard. M31 becomes fairly easy to find now; I believe I can also see it in the finder scope. I also think I can get a glimpse of one of M31's companion galaxies (M32, perhaps) using averted vision, or it could be my imagination, but I'm not going to call it as an observed object until I get a clearer view.

22 August 2003

Some friends of ours lent us the use of their cabin the Adirondacks, so we packed our telescope as well. There was a clear sky at night, so I set out the telescope on the deck. Naturally, since we were in the middle of the Adirondacks, the sky was very dark. On the other hand, since we were in the middle of the Adirondacks, there were also a lot of trees in the way. (I could have taken the 'scope down to the lake front, which had a better view of the sky, but I didn't relish the thought of dropping an eyepiece in the lake in the dark). Nevertheless, through a gap in the trees I was able to see one of the few asterisms I could recognize—the “Keystone” in Hercules. I was determined to find M31, the Hercules Cluster, so I spent some time looking through the 'scope and poring over a sky chart. At one point, when I had my higher power (10mm) eyepiece in, I ran across an object that looked like a fuzzy blob. At first, I thought, “dang, I must have lost focus.” But then I suddenly realized: That's it! I put the 25mm eyepiece back in to get a broader view of the object, and let the rest of the family appreciate the view.

15 August 2003

Our telescope has arrived! Although it was too bad it didn't arrive the day before—that was the day of the great blackout, which would have given a nice dark sky. However, as luck would have it, the Rochester Astronomy Club was having a demonstration that night at the Genesee Country Museum, with a talk and telescope viewing. We were also able to see some meteors since the Perseids were active.

Later, when Mars was out, we were able to get our first view of a planet through our new 'scope. The people at the club were very helpful.


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