Thursday, October 27, 2005

20051026 - Observing Mars

Session Name: 20051026.2145

Location: 59th & 6th, Entrance to Central Park, NYC
Site Classification: Urban
Date/time: 26 Oct. 2005, 9:45pm ~ 12:25am
Takahashi FS102, F/8 102mm refractor

Plossl 32mm :: 50° :: 26x :: 2.0°
Nagler 13mm :: 82° :: 63x :: 1.3°
Nagler 9mm :: 82° :: 91x :: 0.9°
Nagler 5mm :: 82° :: 164x :: 0.5°

Accessories: Barlow 2x, Barlow 3x

Perseus - m5.24, HIP 14043; m5.04, HIP15219; m4.99, 4 stars (trapezoid) between Mirfak and delta Per.
Hyades 12 stars - 75 Tau (HIP20877) m4.96.
Cas - upsilon^1 m4.83

Conditions: Mars in a clear, moonless sky. Seeing was poor as judged by boiling on Martian surface and limb; transparency was very good. Weather history for
26 Oct. 2005 at

Brought the Tak refractor back out to the sidewalk nearby the statue, Jose de San Martin. Kin biked by shortly after I set up, shouting from his bike as he rode by. Kin would later come back and stay a while. Less than a dozen persons observed Mars through the scope. Almost all of them spoke of NYC bright skies so I pointed out the Pleiades nearby as an example that some things can be seen. At times, I would see Kin speaking with the curious pedestrians and pointing in the sky towards Mars.

The seeing was not nearly as good as the transparency. At times, it was like looking at Mars through running water. The atmosphere would settle, allowing for some good views. I have been looking at the same features on these last 3 sessions. I suspect the major features observed include Syrtis Major, Iapygia, Mare Tyrrhenum, and Mare Cimmerium. I have yet to clearly see and identify Hellas. Last night, the conspicuous dark markings appeared like a "y" leaning to the left in the fov. As a "y", Syrtis Major is the upper right stroke of the character.

The 4" refractor provides some nice views, but I am challenged with getting enough contrast from the image. I am thinking that the 10" is necessary if I expect to get more information from what I see. I have pushed the 4" to 328x (Nagler 5mm & B2x), but that was too soft. I could still see the darkened belts traversing the surface but the lower contrast "continents" did come through satisfactorily. I did most of my observing, and showing the public, with the Barlow 2x and the Nagler 9mm for 182x magnification. Occasionally, I swapped to the Nagler 5mm for a clearer image, however there was little change. I felt the decrease in magnification was too much of a cost so would return to the higher magnification.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

20051023 - Observing from TotL: Venus & Mars

TotL was bursting at one point. A number of the familiar faces, Alexander, Gabriel, Claudia, & John were joined by some new including Brett and the four police officers which parked right next to us. The police car was parked with headlights pointing in the direction of seated Ben and standing Kin.

Earlier in the day, I had the Tak bins with me. In the afternoon, I took the photos shown in the previous post and observed Venus. When I was setting up, a woman stopped and asked what I was looking at - hawks? I mentioned Venus and pointed to the area of the sky where it should be, nearly the same elevation as the Sun and just passed celestial South. Ipointdto a spot in the sk where the clouds served as better landmarks. I returned to my gear to complete setup and she announced she could see it naked eye. "A certificate for you!" and a high five with her as congrats. She said she sails at night and has good eyes. It was very easy to see once she showed me where to look relative to the moving clouds.

Through the bins, Venus looked great. No flaring and distinctly last quarter. If it had even the slightest of gibbous, I din't pick it up. I had to share the views with the passing clouds. Around 5:00pm, it became so cloudly that I packed up to go out to dinner with the family.

I would return about 9:00 or a bit later to observe Mars. I had the Tak refractor with me and I took the opportunity to allow it to cool down while I chatted among the crowd. Since the police car headlights were on I was in no rush. I thought they would leave. I didn't want to interrupt them to ask to turn down the lights, but later when they asked for peeks in the scope, I did ask. They turned them down with no problem.

Mars looked great where almost everyone was able to see two distinct dark markings on the surface. Looking more closely, one could pull out more details.

This drawing provides a snipping from Starry Night v. 4.5 to the left and a composite drawing from 2 sketches in my notebook. My drawing really needs more work because the dark, high spot (Syrtis Major) was more central than drawn here. I am anxious to get something up so I posted this knowing that it needs more work and does not really provide enough information. I may do more work on it to to correctly place these features,label them, and label directions. I observed Mars for a considerable period. The 10:49pm session offered the clearest views.

I used 3 EP combinations when observing Mars. Most time was spent with a Nagler 5mm, and shared equal time with a 2x-barlowed Nagler 9mm and a 3x-barlowed Nagler 13 mm.

Panoramas of TotL

I took these photos on Sunday from where my scope is typically situated at TotL. This is from the north end of the Great Lawn.

It was pretty funny when Martha and John, familiar pedestrians, a wife-n-husband writer/photographer team, saw me setup with the Bogen 3221 and a tiny Digital Elph S200 propped up on top. "Pretty heavy camera". Well, I was voiceless - caught off guard. When I think about it I continue to chuckle.

The original tiff and jpeg files view nicely in Windows Picture and Fax Viewer, able to take zooming well. These images uploaded don't seem to take it well. Nonetheless, I hope that one can get a sense of where we view from.

This is a panorama image which wraps from Celestial N to Celestial SW, or in terms of Manhattan, NNW to S. This photo shows the parts of the sky I observe most. Behind the man with the glove on the right side of the photo is the part of the sky known as the "Corridor". The Corridor is N to NE and is the darkest . To the right of center, one can see of the sky Celestial ESE to SSW. The trees obstruct the horizon better than 20° from ENE to ESE.

This is panorama image wraps more than 360° from where I took the pictures. One will notice how the buildings to manhattan-South are shown on both ends of image. The pinched center shows the Corridor, the sidewalk left of center leads manhattan-West and the sidewalk right of center leads to manhattan-east. The sidewalk wraps the circumference of the Great Lawn, which is visible on both ends of the photo.

Friday, October 21, 2005

20051018 – Wrapping up with Mars

Session Name: 20051018.2115

Location: 59th & 6th, Entrance to Central Park, NYC
Site Classification: Urban
Date/time: 17 Oct. 2005, 9:15pm ~ 12:25am
Tripod Mounted Binos: Takahashi FS102, F/8 102mm refractor

Plossl 32mm :: 50° :: 26x :: 2.0°
Nagler 13mm :: 82° :: 63x :: 1.3°
Nagler 9mm :: 82° :: 91x :: 0.9°
Nagler 6.5mm :: 82° :: 126x :: 0.7°
Nagler 5mm :: 82° :: 164x :: 0.5°

Perseus - m5.24, HIP 14043; m5.04, HIP15219; m4.99, 4 stars (trapezoid) between Mirfak and delta Per.

Conditions: Full Moon & Mars in a clear sky. Weather history for 18 Oct. 2005 at


This evening wrapped up a 3-day streak of observing from the south end of Central Park, in the path of Jose de San Martin and his defiant horse. (scroll down the page).

I had selected this spot because it was a short walk from my house, Moon was full, and the weather forecasts were not promising . I wasn’t planning on doing any deep sky observing so I didn’t need a large dark sky; the section of the Ecliptic where Moon and Mars are situated these days was readily available. Wrapping up from this temporary location is prompted by the fact that features exposed from libration have been masked by the evening terminator. It was a good ride from here, meeting many friendly persons, new faces and variety from those I meet at TotL.


Of the nearly 2 dozen persons that stopped by, Caroline, and later Jesus and Stan, stood out from the rest. Caroline arrived during setup. She mentioned that she had stopped by the other night with a friend, but they had to leave rather quickly. She did take the opportunity to look briefly at Moon that left an emotional impression. Tonight, Caroline stayed for maybe a half hour or more, keeping me company and engaging in conversation. The waning Moon and brilliant, orangy-red Mars were the objects of interest. She commented that Mars looked more reddish naked eye than through the telescope. She asked whether there is an observatory in New York City, which I told her about Columbia University’s public outreach program, and the amateur led one conducted at TotL.

Much later, Jesus and Stan came by separately. Jesus & Stan stayed with me a bit talking about all things. Stan had showed a photograph of Moon and Mars taken a previous night on his digital camera. Jesus was particularly interested in buying a scope. I emphasized learning the sky and binoculars. I suggested that he attend one of NYC’s astronomy club’s, AAA, public sessions at Carl Schurz Park. He can look through a variety of scopes. Of course, I mentioned TotL, but there is no regular scheduling. Moon, Mars, and the Pleiades were shown to them. When I pointed out where we looking at the Pleiades, Jesus said he could see six stars bunched together.


The take away for this night was Mars. I've had my best observations of the planet thus far. Aperture and magnification were major contributors to the great views. Yesterday’s observations begged for this, so I stepped up from the TVR 70mm refractor to the Tak 102mm refractor. A broader collection of EPs helped out. In all, I was pleased with the observations ranging from 92x to 164x. I used the Nagler 13mm, 63x, very quickly seeing that the Mars appeared small. I didn't look long enough to judge how details of Mars appeared.

It was later around 10:45, when I focused on Mars. It had risen higher in the sky and appeared much better than earlier. In the times I was left to my own, I was able to get some quality observing time. The drawing below is an impression of what was seen. This one corresponds to what was detected at 164x magnification. The outline across the top of the lower, large expanse, I associated the astronomical symbol for Scorpio, since there were two humps that saddled the center of the disk, and on Mars western hemisphere there was a sharp dip.

I don't know Mars well, so some of the features I think I saw include:
- Mare Erythraeum. The large expanse which had low contrast, but enough to detect the humps and a brightened limb along the Martian southern limb.
- Sinus Meridiani. Unmistakeable, darkened section, on the eastern limb (field reverse drawing).
- Chryse. A brightening white area/spot in the center of the disk. I only detected 1 under 164x, with 126x I saw two white spots.
- Mare Acidalium. Another conspicuous dark feature across the top, but I did not see the same kind of low contrast surrounding area.
- As noted, there was a sharp falling off from the second "hump". I haven't found the name of this feature yet or the name of the lighter ground (non-mare?), but for such a shape I would think it received one.

I continued with the exercise of sketching Moon. I concentrated northeast of Mare Crisium, the terminator was now providing the relief I am accustomed to seeing. A “valley” ran from the northeast corner of M. Crisium, the mountains in a discontiguous line along the northern edge of this valley into the terminator. I suspect that this was part of the rim of Mare Anguis. At least six craters and two elevations now appeared on the floor of M. Crisium.


After I packed up my gear into the snowboard bag and backpack, I spent some time assessing the NELM. I was shocked. It was around midnight, and Cassiopeia was nearly straight up. From where I stood, I could easily make out both Upsilon stars, and Novi. (I have always been confused by this name. I got it from TheSky6y, but I have seen this refer to gamma Cas.) Novi, HIP 4151, is a m4.8 star 36’ ENE of gamma Cas. 6 stars of Pleiades were easily counted, Jesus had counted them earlier. I could see all of Hyades, in addition to resolving theta^1- and theta^2 Tau with no difficulty.

Walking to the east around the trees, I could see Perseus. Here I searched for my standard candlesticks which I judge the NELM in the Corridor. I was able to see as faint as m5.2, though this required effort and averted vision. Four stars inside of Mirfak and delta Per, a quadrilateral, was seen, effort required for the southern one near Mirfak.

I anticipate that I won’t come to this spot in the near future, returning to TotL. TotL is not as busy, horizons are not as badly obstructed, the area of sky is significanltly larger, and the Team assembles there. I would have liked to compare-n-contrast these observations in the different instruments and hear the impressions of others. Soon enough – and Mars doesn’t seem to be going anywhere except coming closer.


Tuesday, October 18, 2005

20051017 – Young Decrescent

Session Name: 20051017.2045

Location: 59th & 6th, Entrance to Central Park, NYC
Site Classification: Urban
Date/time: 17 Oct. 2005, 8:45pm ~ 11:00pm
Eqpt. The Travel Pack
- Handheld Binos – Fujinon 7x50
- Tripod mounted Binos: Takahashi 22x60
- Tripod mounted Tele Vue Ranger (TVR), F/6.8 480mm refractor
- EPs: Plossl 20mm [24x, 2.1◦] & Nagler 9mm [53x, 1.5◦]

NELM – no attempt

Weather conditions were similar to yesterday, as judged by those annoying high cirrus clouds that caused a bright sky glow around Moon. The halo was nuisance when moving Moon out of the fov, so I simply avoided any observing nearby.

I brought my travel pack and setup again on the NW corner (reported incorrectly yesterday as the NE corner). The travel pack is my Kelty backpack that comfortably fits both bins and the TVR, along with accessories. I can either carry the tripod in a free hand or securely strap it along the side of the pack. It is light, convenient to travel, set up and breakdown. Much different than bringing the larger scopes – Tak FS102 or TP10. Coming to this location is great for this pack since it is a 5 minute walk from my home.

This corner is on the beaten path and my presence attracts attention and encourages curiosity. I can feel it from the pedestrians walking by, but not as many as I expect stop. I am not the inviting kind, as I am concentrating on observing and recording notes. If one happens by and asks what’s up, I pause, chat and share the view with them. This evening about 18 persons had a look at the Moon and some saw Mars. One gentleman was a “sticker”, he stayed for more than a half an hour up until I packed it in. The most remarkable was the cab driver who pulled up and asked if he could look at Moon, he had never looked through a telescope. He asked much. Nothing. He took a quick look, I sort of wished he looked longer. He offered me some money which I refused and replied that it was my pleasure.

Responding to another man’s question, I told him we were looking at Moon. He said that’s all, just the Moon. He was invited to look through the telescope and I heard him speaking to himself words of amazement. I said pretty impressive, our celestial brethren, beautiful sight, we even sent men there. He finished the thought with, “And we brought them back!” He continued speaking by saying when he’s faced with challenges at work he reminds people that we sent men to the Moon and brought them back, now what problems can’t we solve here? As he left with his family, he smiled and I sensed that this experience substantiated his belief in some way.

My goal tonight was to continue to observe Moon along the eastern limb, being that libration is favorable. Prior to going out, I read about the 15 day Moon in The Photographic Atlas of the Moon by Chong, Lim, Ang. There described was a passage about the instantaneous Full Moon and how one may detect the Terminator after Full Moon. This stuck with me. During my observations I would detect this, considering it a crescent terminator, and not much farther flung as the Decrescent Moon.

“Young Decrescent Moon” can’t be a new moniker. I am sure someone has expressed this before, describing a growing terminator, opposite to sunlit crescents, young or old. This was a young decrescent since it is waxing to new Moon; or in more proper terms, relative to the sunlit portion, Moon is waning. My observations were done with both the Tak bins and the TVR. The details described below were evident in the bins but the TVR really brought out details under magnification for better study. The following details are based on the TVR views. I estimate the decrescent subtended 90◦ ~ 100◦. The horns from just west of Mare Humboldtianum down to about 4:15 where a lip was observed, just below crater Lyot in Mare Australe.

Without going into much detail, 3 features – craters Hayn and Endymion, and Mare Humboldtianum - constituted an anchoring triangle that I could regain my bearings and work from. In my fov, Moon’s appearance and orientation in the refractor was that Hayn was on my 12:00 to 6:00 mental reference line, Tycho on the south end. Relative to this reference line, Endymion was the most central to this, Hayn ever so slightly towards 1:00, that is 12:05, and M. Humboldtianum was cheating to the east.

Crater Hayn was where I suspected the decrescent’s horn to begin. It was right on the terminator and the crater is so foreshortened on a favorable librating limb, that it was capable of expressing relief that one generally associates with the terminator.

Mare Humboldtainum’s upper, eastern wall was on the terminator, its rim brightly lit up.

In my notebook I drew a line, as opposed to a circle which would represent a crater, in the area where Mare Marginis may have been but no other notes remark on it. Mare Smythii was spectacular in the terminator. I noted that its length was almost as large as Mare Crisium’s length. Just like mountain peaks observed along the terminator, a part of M. Smythii’s southern rim peaked above the terminator looking like an orphaned jewel beyond the terminator. This was noticed in the Tak bins. The huge smooth floor crater contrasted nicely with long rim extending along the limb. In the TVR, I could see a crater embedded in the wall of the northern rim.

I think it is crater Neper that neighbors M.Smythii to the north. In the Tak bins, a central peak was easily observed. In the TVR, I could see a second mountain peak further north in the partially shadowed floor crater.

There was a lot to see as I tried to sketch Moon again. Not good. My scale is way off, even when I place objects relative to one another. Seems that the errors accumulate rather quickly in the 2½” template I use. This needs to be bigger.

I suspected that the opposing horn of the decrescent terminated near Mare Australe. There was chunk taken out of the limb, more like a step. This was located around 4:15 in my fov, below M. Australe. Also, my sketch shows that Australe is well within the limb, so I sense that libration is rotating down along this area. In contrast M. Humboldtianum was high up on the limb, and Hayn looks like it will roll over to other side real soon.

I observed Mars for a fair bit, though I wish I had a larger scope and higher magnification. I observed Mars with only the TVR, and like Moon, exclusively with the Nagler 9mm. I could see a large dark patch across the middle and lower half of the disk. At times, it looked as if there were two dark specks, nipples standing out above the rest of the blotchy area of Mars. . To the north, I was certain that I saw darkening. Occasionally, I thought I did, but it was not consistent and lasting, so I only mention the experience. This was the first time I was satisfied with what I saw of Mars. Prior, I have seen Mars a handful of times with the Tak refractor or TP10, but what I remember of the seeing was not impressive. The dark feature was apparent in those scopes but now that Mars angular diameter is increased, I wonder if more is available from them. If I make my way out again tonight, I’ll probably bring the Tak for Mars viewing.

One other object I’ll note is Mesarthim. Since I was in the neighborhood of Moon, I first thought of returning to zeta Psc, and seeing how far Moon traveled. It fit within one Tak bin fov (2.1◦) away. More than 12◦ it moved past, so I change tack and went to gamma Ari. In the bins, it was a pretty composition of this equally bright white double with a fainter reddish star ESE of it, maybe ¼◦ away.


Monday, October 17, 2005

20051016 - Moon, Mars, and beyond

Session Name: 20051016.1950

Location: 59th & 6th, Entrance to Central Park, NYC
Site Classification: Urban
Date/time: 16 Oct. 2005, 7:50pm ~ 10:00pm
Tripod Mounted Binos: Takahashi 22x60

NELM -- No attempt

Weather conditions were not the best as clouds passed frequently when observing the rising Moon. Some thin cirrus clouds would catch the moonlight, impacting the field of view.

I set up on the NE corner of 59th and 6th sidewalk, just on the mouth of the road that leads into Central Park. Outside of the park, I really felt like a sore thumb sticking out. A man with tripod mounted binoculars pointed up to the buildings. It turned out to be a good session, and not bothered by any pedestrians in this really beaten path location. I did share views of Moon and Mars with 13 persons.

One woman, Gwen and her dog Mimi, remembered me from an early evening last year from a spot not so far away. We met one evening when Arissa and I were firefly hunting up on the hill that has our pet namesake, Firefly Garden. Arissa and I had just finished some library books about fireflies, so she was fresh and speaking of the facts. I spoke with her about the diversity of persons involved with many different interests that park offers: birders, lepidopterists (?sp?) and astronomers. She mentioned that she submitted and published with NY Times Metro section an essay of this meeting. Nice words to hear.

I concentrated predominantly on Moon. I wanted to get another shot of the limb maria and sketch a bit more of what I was seeing. The eastern limb is very much in favorable libration as I could see Mare Marginis, -Smythii, and -Australe. I practiced calling out the other maria by name to improve my knowledge of Moon.

While sketching, I was becoming more aware of details that I normally don't notice. For instance when sketching Proclus, I noticed how the rays wrap from about 9:30 to 5:00 (orientation in my fov) and that one ray extends into Crisium's north western quadrant. The maria and craters are no longer round circles but squarish, rectangular as result of foreshortening. My sketching skills still need a lot of improvement. My scale on objects is off and a lot of erasing and replacing. Over time.

About 2° to the ESE of Moon was the double STF100, zeta Psc. Placing Moon outside the 2:00 edge of fov, the double sat just inside. This is where the annoying light from moonlight on the clouds occurred. At times it was nuisance to observe. Couple that with the wind and the shaking ground from the subway passing beneath. I dealt with it. The 23" separated double is easily resolved; the A star was white for me but I was troubled with the B star. I kept seeing orangish, but when I got a good steady look at it, it was white-blue. Returning to it, I kept sensing orange if there was a slight shake. hmm.

Later I tried and found M57 around 9:15pm. A trail of stars which I use to find it were visible, but averted was needed to pick up the nebula. From Sheliak, a wide double of unequal magnitude, I follow a winding trail of 4 m8 stars up to the fifth one which is the nebula. From experience, if I can't see this trail of stars then I won't see the nebula.

While in the area, I also checked out the doubles of Lyra, epsilon- and zeta Lyr. I thought that delta Lyr was a double but didn't resolve anything that was close. In that fov, delta Lyr is distinctively yellow and much brighter than the surrounding field stars in the Tak 2° fov.

Just prior to leaving, I spent some time looking and showing Mars to the public. No detail detected. The disk was very apparent, and it is almost too bright for the bins, flaring a little bit. Wonder if holding a color filter to the EP will improve the view.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Photos of my equipment

This is a photo of my Takahashi 22x60 binoculars mounted on a Bogen 410 head and a Bogen 3221-WN tripod. The shot was taken from Firefly Garden on 5 September 2005.

This photo shows both the Tak bins and the Teleport 10" reflector, manufactured by Tom Noe of Wiley, TX. The shot was taken on the evening of 02 October 2005 at TotL. The 10" is required to get as much as I can from the NYC skies. Bringing both of these to the park is a "schlep" to say the least.

20051015 - Clear skies come to TotL.

Session Name: 20051015.1515

Location: TotL, Central Park, NYC
Site Classification: Urban
Date/time: 15 Oct. 2005, 3:15pm ~ 8:00pm
Handheld Binos: Fuji 7x50
Tripod Mounted Binos: Takahashi 22x60

Transparency/Seeing (1 worst - 5 best): 2.5/3
NELM ~7:15pm NE m4.8 in Cas, 6 * of Little Dipper.
Conditions: Windy. Early it was very hazy, the entire sky overcome by dark clouds, then cleared with so-so transparency and seeing. In the bins, Sun was boiling on the limb, Venus was flaring.

Familiar & pedestrians: "Ice-T", Alexander, Stephen, Derek & Kate, and dozen or more pedestrians

Cardinal point conventions: lower case cardinal directions with respect to Manhattan or abbrev as m-n, -e, -s, -w ; UPPER CASE speaks to celestial equatorial direction, abbrev N, E, S, W.)

************ Remarks ************

After putting in some four hours of work in while Junko & Arissa were having their Saturday Japanese girls' day, I decided to go to TotL for some daytime observing. After eight days of rain I was encouraged by a blue sky with some rolling tufts of clouds. I intended to record our horizon elevation from TotL proper and observe Sun & Venus.

TotL is the central northern tip around the Great Lawn. This is our primary observing spot. Occasionally, we'll observe from TotL-benches. This is on the northeastern corner of the Lawn and the horizon changes dramatically, particularly from an obstructed NE to S. Observing here offers a better SW to N horizon.

I didn't get much done on the surveying. I spent much more time with observing Venus and Sun and showing or talking with the public. In locating Venus from the Sun I was able to mark the azimuth of the foreground trees and elevation of the trees and buildings to m-ssw. A regular that I don't recall his name (Mike?), but one time he said call me "Ice-T", showed up shortly after I set up. Funny thing when seeing these folks during the daytime: I mostly meet them in the dark. So at first I didn't recognize him and it took a few seconds to register. He stayed for a bit, observing and chatting with me and the pedestrians, I asked if he was down at the Belvedere Castle and if saw Ben or Tom, but he hadn't. He eventually left saying he might come back around later in the evening when it was dark. The clouds had been moving in at this time.

Along with the Fujinon 7x50 for handheld and tripod-mounted Tak bins, I brought the Thousand Oaks solar filter that I fit to the Tak bins with rubber bands. I observed and showed to the public Sun and Venus during the day on two occasions. Dark clouds moved in and a few rain drops fell to the ground, but I wouldn’t describe it as a drizzle at all. But it was enough to pack up and sit on the bench reading from 4:25 - 5:40. The weather report called for mostly clear skies so I figured to sit and wait it out. Eventually a large patch of clear sky was seen to the west and that was that. I set up the tripod mounted Taks again to resume observing.

When I returned to observing after a stint on the bench, a young girl and her younger sister rode up on their bikes asking what I was looking at. I told them Venus and the older one asked a lot of questions about color, surface details, and size - all from a 9 or 10 year old. I offered them a look and snapped the tripod down to their size. "Oh too cool! You got to see this." The l'il one looked and echoed her big sister. Their mother was calling from down a bit, and the older shouted back, "Wait! I'm looking at Venus! Come see!" Mom came down and from her bike leaned over to see Venus as well. They all left with repeated thanks as the biked away. Later another pair of youngsters, brother and sister, took a look a Venus. There reactions were more subdued than the pair earlier.

Days (or nights) like this where I don't have many objects logged I feel as if I didn't get enough of my share. I think perhaps that my skill level could be cause. But I am reminded about appreciating the quality of observing one can experience by a thread I recently read in SPA.

Soon after discovering davep's astronomy blog by an email from Ben, I meandered over to Society for Popular Astronomy (SPA) where Dave mentions it. I don't recall specifically which thread it is but there is a dialogue about sketching. In one his posts, Dave speaks of the amount of time he spends on an object, thus, limiting the number of objects observed. I can totally relate to this, but as he, and many others state, what one sees under this kind of study increases the detail seen and ultimately the observation considerably.

[Correction: The comment is from Jeff Stevens.
Jeff Stevens comment on SPA links to the thread I learned from an article, "Drawing Templates" in the Tools section of Dave's astronomy website. Jeff speaks of improved observing skills and "...slows the observing session down..." I can7t agree more.]

************ Observations ************

Daytime Objects [EDT]

- Venus [15:28, 17:45]
I have been observing Venus in the daytime since late June. It has always impressed me as a waning gibbous phase, but today's observation it looked more like last quarter. It was something like 11" in size then. Today it nearly 21", and coincidentally, Mars is about 19.5". Over this past month or so, both planets have been growing larger by the day, almost in synchronous concert.

- Sun [15:54]
Only one sun spot was observed. It was located about 9:30 on the disk. It was very dark, no penumbra, and appeared as one spot.

- Mercury & Jupiter [17:40]
I wanted to observe Mercury but was unable to detect it. I had worked off the landmarks I had established from the Sun's position earlier. There is a building with two towers and spires atop that was sort of in the way, I estimated their elevation to 6 ~ 6.5°. Mercury should have been right above the m-e tower but I didn't see it. With a low ecliptic, the anticipated path was not promising. I assumed that there was a small window of opportunity to spot it. I began looking for Mercury while Sun was 5.2° high until it set behind the trees and even till sunset. Never did see it.

For sh%ts & giggles, I tried for Jupiter. At the time, between 1750 and 1825, Jupiter was to have been just above the treetop level, about 4°. This part of the sky was much brighter than where I was looking for Venus that I gave up after a few quick scans across the treetops. When the sunset, Stephen mentioned how the sky had a pretty the tangerine color.

Evening Objects

- Moon [19:30]

On my way out of the park, I noticed the large bright Moon shining through the trees. I decided to set up the bins on the western side of the Lawn to quickly observe it. Instead I spent about a half hour, sketching and appreciating its presence. The most immediate impressions were all the rays shooting across the surface of a ~12.5 day Moon. One can really get a feeling of her sphericity by tracing the shallow arcing lines across her face.

I mostly concentrated on the gross features of Moon and her eastern limb. Apparently, libration was favorable for this section as I was able to see Mare Humboldtianum, Mare Marginis, and Mare Smythii. Mare Undarum and Mare Spumans were dark and bold extending NE from Mare Fecunditatis, east of line between Mare Crisium and Mare Tranquillitatis. Mare Undarum always strikes me as a "3" or an "M". Mare Fecunditatis has a rectangular appearance. Dark floor crater Condorcet easily stood out in contrast to the surrounding area. Just above the NNE rim of Mare Crisium, Mare Anguis was apparent with dark floor, though not as striking as the Undarum or Spumans off the SSE rim, nor as large as Spumans.

West of Mare Crisium, Proclus was really packing a punch in brightness, absolutely the brightest and whitest object that impressed me. I don't recall noticing Aristarchus. Interesting about Proclus, is that the rays are in a fan shape to the east, a bit better than 180° around, but they are not visible to the west. Due to its brightness, I would think that this is a 'fresh' crater and rays, but that would make any material above that blanked out section to be more recent. This ray-blanked area obviously has a darker hue to it. Something to look up.

This was my first time identifying Mare Humboldtianum. It may have been there before, but I never noticed it nor looked for it. I am not certain if libration is required to see it, but I was pleased with the *discovery* Nearby, to its SSE was Endymion, a crater which had the past as M. Humboldtianum, in that I paid no attention to it before. However, tonight it was obvious and I would say it compares in size with Plato. It also exhibited a dark floor color similar to Plato.

Speaking of the maria, opposing Mare Crisium is Mare Humorum. They appear as cousins of size and shape. Both suffer from some foreshortening, but their roundness can prevail. Mare Humorum was already east of the morning terminator and Schickard and Phocylides were prominent below. Most of the time, I can identify Schickard very easily but have trouble finding Clavius, which is usually what prompts me to look in this area. My experience is that Clavius does not do well under full illumination, reveling at sunrise or sunset.

Monday, October 10, 2005

Test - Custom Icons

This is a test for using my own custom icons. Layout is still up for grabs. Here is a demonstration of the icon and some descriptive text.


M57, Ring Nebula. This is a challenge object for 50mm bins. I first saw this described as a binocular challenge in an article, M57 and Expectations, by Gary Seronik in his monthly column, northern binocular highlight, Sky & Telescope, August 2005. I have seen this nebula without a filter in a number of small scopes. It typically appears as a small, unfocused star. It is faint, but there is enough contrast with the background sky to see with direct vision. Binoculars that I have successfully, and pretty consistently, seen M57 are Canon 15x50 binoculars and Takahashi 22x60 binoculars. In all binocular observations, a tripod was used.

{Insert telescope icon} The Coulter CT100 is a small fast scope which the nebula is slightly easier to detect. In the 4" Takahashi refractor the nebula displays a doughnut shape, and my larger 10" provides much, much more detail. Blah, blah, blah.

Friday, October 07, 2005

Harry 6 a.k.a "The Kite"

Harry 6 is a F/6.2 6" reflector scope. The mirror was made by Mark D. Harry. The OTA is constructed with 3/8" foamcore and 1/4" foamcore ribs. This photo was taken when I was out at Firefly Garden and I was observing Venus and Jupiter during the day. My daughter and I dubbed this location on the south side of the park describing where we catch & return fireflies.

The 2" low profile focuser was manufactured by Gary Wolanski. The spider and diagonal was purchased from ProtoStar. The mirror cell is Tags handmade from 3/4" and 1/2" plywood following a design found in Neal Howard's Standard Handbook for Telescope Making, 2nd Ed.

The scope has earned its nickname from fellow observers you may already know by name. The scope is so light and has a lot of surface area that it catches the wind very easily. Its lightness and poor mounting design contribute to shaky views when tweaking the focuser.

The scope is shown on the Bogen tripod, however it began life as a proper Dobsonian. It had a matching rocker box built with the same material. The rocker pinched the mirror box a bit but it worked okay. Since the mirror box was a bit out of sqare the bearings would ride off. Traveling with the rocker box was not convenient so the plywood base was attached with a Qwik shoe for the Bogen 410 tripod mount.

I've always said this is a temporary setup, but have not taken any measures to build another model. I have a number of designs worked out in Visio but that's about how far I've gotten.


Thursday, October 06, 2005

20050930 Weekend - Observations & Remarks

Location: TotL, NYC

Dates of Observations
-- 30 Sept 2005 / 8:25pm ~ 12:30am; Party - Charlie & Kin
-- 01 Oct 2005 8:15pm ~ 1:55am; Party - Charlie, Kin, and Ben

Eqpt: Naked Eyes; Fujinon 7x50 bins (handheld); Tripod-mounted Takahashi bins; Teleport 10" reflector


- Object List -

Objects (Asterisk indicates attempted, not seen)
09/30 session - NGC225, NGC7789, STT 131 (lambda Cas) NGC1039 (M34), NGC1023, NGC1245*, NGC2403*

10/01 session - NGC225, NGC581 (M103), STF 131, NGC663, TR1, NGC253, HJ 3407, NGC6853 (M27), NGC6838 (M71)

Objects seen exclusively in others scopes M56, Charlie's SAR

Objects shown to public NGC224 (M31/32), NGC869/884

- Remarks -

When starhopping for an object it is not unusual to see doubles along the way. I don't make a habit of recording them because sometimes I don't know exactly where I am and the planetarium programs I have don't have good double star catalogs. (I could create one or import one for Planetarium for the Palm but haven't yet.) However, over the weekend, I did recognize a couple of doubles that I really hadn't noticed in the past.

NGC581, more commonly known as M103, has a conspicuous double, WDS STF 131, as the brightest star on the NNW end. This was evident in TP-10, but not in the Tak bins. As most of us adopt our own way to interface with the sky, personal asterisms come play to an important role. I have many throughout the sky and they take on a variety of personalities or familiar shapes. M103 strikes me as a pair of slippers. The first slipper consists of three bright stars in a line, STF 131 on the NNW end and the line extends to the toe star nearly 6’ to the SSE. A dimmer 4th star lies west of the second & toe star. This is apparent with small optics; larger optics brings out the second slipper crosswise. How do you see it?

While near M103, I had Tr1 in mind. I have never seen this before and have tried in the Tak bins and refractor but have never definitively id’ed it. Near M103 there is a small tight cluster of three or four stars that one could think is the cluster. This fooler is not in the right location when looking at the chart. Having the 10” I looked for this cluster in the same fov with M103. I was surprised to find it very easily. Its appearance different from expectation. Nonetheless, it was detected under low and observed at medium magnifications. After identifying the cluster, it is now apparent in the Tak bins, albeit small, hazy patch. In the Nagler 17mm EP, four bright stars are easily apparent in a 4.5’ NE – SW line. There are two doubles which I haven’t id’ed yet. There are dimmer stars sprinkled about, bringing the count to 10 stars. Really no concentration, but richer towards the end that has the double.

Robert Julius Trumpler was an impressive astronomer. His efforts and contributions to science are fascinating. He used the Lick Observatory and published in their journal an article, “Preliminary results on the distances, dimensions and space distribution of open star clusters.” This was period of time where visual astronomy was being waning to astro-photography and astrophysical science discipline. His work with creating a list of more than 100 open clusters for his study relied on the Franklin-Adams photographic plates. He devised a classification system for open clusters. One will see this 3-character code that identifies specific features of an open cluster. His study of open clusters was toward the effort of determining the structure of the Milky Way. He is responsible for the discovery of the first evidence of the presence of an interstellar medium. There is an interesting debate he had with Edwin Hubble. Often I"ll drop in on TR2 often as it is nearby Stock2 and the Double Cluster. Tr2 is more interesting, as it is larger and has a prominent red star central to the cluster. See for yourself, it is well situated now in Perseus and is an easy binocular object.

One last object that I’ll comment about in Cassiopeia is NGC7789, Caroline’s Cluster. This is a tough object for binoculars. I have thought that I have seen this before in scope and Charlie’s bins. But after observing this OC, I reconsider. This is an awfully faint object, exhibiting low surface brightness and not much contrast to the background sky. I needed the 10” to definitively detect and resolve this cluster. I think Charlie described it as a bow tie shape, which it did resemble, its steallar concentration more on the W edge. With the Nagler 17mm EP, I was able to count 28 stars. Like a lot of them, I really don’t know how to determine the edges of the cluster unless it is strikingly obvious. Even after locating the OC, I returned to it unable to see it with the Tak bins.

I had starhopped to the field where NGC253, Sculptor Galaxy, resides. I wasn't able to detect this bright galaxy on two different occasions on Saturday night. I was surprised because my observation from Custer Institute site left me the impression that this galaxy is definitely do-able from TotL. Unfortunately, neither the Tak nor the TP-10 could help in spotting it. At one point, I thought I may have sensed a very, very faint glow. I asked Charlie to look in the Nagler 17mm EP fov and if he could detect any object with a very, very low contrast. Instead he described seeing a double. This turned out to be WDS HJ 3407.


references excerpted from Cartes du Ciel, ver. 2.76
Double Star
STF 131 AB
Magnitude: 7.30/ 9.90
1827: 13.8"/143°
1999: 13.8"/143°
Spectral Class: B5Iab
Note: Np
DM:+59 271
J2000 RA: 1h33m14.00s DE:+60°41'11.0"


Double StarHJ 3407
Magnitude: 8.80/ 8.94
1835: 15.0"/126°
1991: 12.9"/127°
Spectral Class: A9/F0V
Note: Np
DM:-25 343
J2000 RA: 0h54m00.00s DE:-25°03'00.0"

TotL - Naked Eye Limiting Magnitude

All too often I hear from pedestrians the same general statement uttered as a rhetorical question: Isn't it too bright in the city to see any stars? Well, yes it is for the uninitiated and the unknowing person. An interest to look up is the first prerequisite then knowing where to look and knowing what you're looking for is next to see that the NYC sky does have stars. We often perform naked eye tests to judge transparency of our sky. This was my first lesson with learning how to see, a very important skill one can develop over time.

Personally, I concentrate on the "Corridor". That is the darkest section of sky from celestial NNW to ENE. In the Corridor and Zenith m5.2 is definitely possible, and as noted in other reports we've seen deeper on rare occasion.

The E can be washed out low and I consider the 30° deck to be the altitude which is best to look above. Despite maybe seeing m4.0+ stars, detecting DSOs may not fare as well. They'll have to be awfully bright; not hopeless, but very challenging in the least.

The SE begins to wash out and the Citicorp building has a tower of light, a hint west of celestial S that can be used to judge how hazy and humid the sky is for the night. This is used in conjunction with the SW that we've dubbed "Gegenschein". The SW is notorious for the glow that Times Square creates in our sky. Sometimes distinct beams shoot straight up nearly as high as zenith and other times it is great big wash. Nonetheless, the skyline can be stunning, and often captures the attention of pedestrians. And for this season, one can see Sagittarius's Teapot asterism poking impressing itself through the brightened glow. By conjecture, I'd say that m3.5 is possible in the SW, improving with altitude.

As for the weekend of 30 Sept. 2005, Friday & Saturday were very good for transparency and seeing. Naked eye limiting magnitude (NELM) was in excess of m5.0, maybe m5.3. Following is an outline which describes how I go about finding NELM to NE and zenith.

* Ursa Minor -- Goal count 7 stars of Little Dipper, eta UMi ~m5.0; also looks for m4.2 stars near Polaris & Kochab

* Auriga -- Leaping Minnows, 3e stars which range from m4.5 to 5.9

* Perseus -- alpha Perseid Association, typically four stars, a quadrilateral with short side close to Mirfak, between Mirfak and delta Per North of Mirfak towards the Steeple of Perseus, up to four stars reaching ~m5.2 just S of center between tau- and gamma Per.

* Taurus -- The Pleiades, typically 6 stars are seen, exceptional evenings Celaeno and Asterope are detectable

* Cassiopeia -- Cas upsilon^1 & -u ^2; HIP 4151, just NW of gamma Cas. These are ~m4.8 stars. South of Ruchbah, delta Cas


Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Testing images

I created this image in Visio 2003 for my T3. I sourced the information from Robert Garfinkle's book, Star-hopping. I like this book for the wealth of information. It is one of the more comprehensive starhopping treatments, covering mythology, stellar properties, and a variety of deep sky objects. He provides a schematic of the area within one will hop. Many of the objects are simply a challenge to find from TotL but I still refer to this book often for ideas and information.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

20051001.2015 - Team TotL in full attendance

The medicinal properties of fairy tales and a good night's sleep.

I missed out on the old Moon practice run the morning of 01 Oct. (I would also miss this morning's 02 Oct. old Moon crescent sighting.) A good night's sleep was the culprit, and what a benefit to my health and well being. Regarding this night's observing session, oversleeping to 10:15am was exactly what I needed to restore my energy for a productive night and more considerate disposition to the pedestrians. Perhaps, babysitting my daughter's friend 3-year old and reading to her the books that I had read Arissa when she was a baby contributed to the improvement. Come on! Dr. Seuss, Snow White, and Mother Goose fairy tales have a way of re-aligning an adult's morals and senses.

Charlie, Kin and I set up at TotL where not many pedestrians happened by, less than handful. For those that did take looks, I limited the objects to the Double Cluster and/or Andromeda's Galaxy. Alexander the Mathematician, Michelle the Security Guard, and Hawaiian George, familiar pedestrians would stop by and chat.

Ben made an appearance some time after 10:30pm, bringing Team TotL to full attendance. After a summer off concentrating on birding, it appears that Ben will return to his nova hunting program.

Ben's reappearance to the fold coincides with the rising of Pleiades. He was an apparition since Sun - and birds - was in that part of his sky making him virtually unseen during the summer months. Well, to the night sky and astronomers, at least. As such, Sun progressively traveled east across the ecliptic, and Ben's appearance coincides with Pleiades rising above the tree to our ENE. Ben is a fall-winter constellation. He is marked in the sky about 24° to ENE of Pleiades, by the very asterism which he discovered in Auriga, "The Chesire Cat". (Follow the Leaping Minnows to the NNE where M38 sits. M38 is in the northern cheek of a cat ~ 2° in size, one can form an equilateral triangle with its right eye and the last star of the mouth.) My belief is reinforced by the fact our first dialogue was online at gomsa on 01 Oct. 2003 & our first meeting will be 2 years to the date of 05 Oct. 2003. This begins our third year observing; and, it has begun on 01 Oct. 2005.

About a week after meeting Ben, I would meet Charlie. Maybe a little earlier, but my notes mention him set up at TPO preparing for the eclipse to come in that November. That particular note describes our observing session on 12 Oct. 2003. I've known Charlie to be the predominant binocular observer of the group, consistently mounting his Canon 15x image stabilzed model. I really don't recall his starting abilities but I have witnessed an exceptional improvement with his starhopping skill. Over this past summer we observed frequently, and many a time, he has led the observing agenda where I would trail in my scope or at least get peeks through his bins. Of recent, he picked up a Coulter CT-100, nicknamed SAR. SAR requires TLA. As SAR gets more time in the park, the Canon bins spend more time at home.

Kin appears where I note him by "Ken ? (a young cyclist)" sometime around 5 March 2005. This somewhat corresponds to Time's Up (Critical Mass) February Midnight Central Park ride. I think that's where Kin had discovered us. Kin has been a regular, growing from the armchair-Starry Night observer to naked eye observer with Mr. PocketStars on the PocketPC to now having bins, spotting scope, and tripod. I remember he would come to the park with 1", that is 25mm, bins. Those are "opera glasses", aren't they? His enlistment to the team seems perfectly natural.

"Mirror-mirror in my hand..." I can reflect on time past of others with general ease. I leave it to others to give voice to my time.

This is the varsity team of TotL. From these gents I attribute the majority of development in skill and interest. For anyone taking up the hobby of observational astronomy the absolute best resource one can have is a group of friends with which you can comfortably observe, share, and explore. And, yes, mistakes and imagination are acceptable: the very necessary and natural element of growth. One, maybe two years, of armchair astronomy and solo observing prior to meeting these guys pales significantly to the advances I gained through time spent with them.

Ben, Charlie and I first observed from Turtle Pond Observatory (TPO) on the south western corner of the Great Lawn. We stayed there until 04 May 2004. Ben posted a report to gomsa marking the date when we re-located to the north end of the Great Lawn. The move was motivated by Comet NEAT C/2001 Q4 appearance 8.4° altitude, and from that location our view South was improved. TPO's SW to NNW horizon is considerably obstructed by neighboring trees, and to the South the trees and castle across the pond rise high enough to limit how low we can see. My guess is maybe 8° to 10°. In any event, the north end has many advantages, particularly the nuisance from the street lamps was not as accentuated.

Over time, we continued in the new location, and sometime in June or July of that year the location was dubbed Top of the Lawn (TotL) by Ben. To give credit where credit is due, I recall TPO being dubbed its nickname by Curtis Borg in a post to gomsa. The TPO crew derived an amusing term from Curtis. Occasionally, he would suggest meeting at TPO but never showed. This was pretty consistent so in his absence, we called it 'pulling a curtis'. I haven't heard the term in a long while, but I am guilty this month of pulling curtis by suggesting recently that we observe the old Moon. Charlie & Kin went to Carl Schurz Park (CSP) over the past 2 days in the wee hours while I was taking my medicine.

Saturday, October 01, 2005

20050930.2030 - A low energy evening at TotL

I arrived at TotL last night with a heavy load around at 8:30pm. The sky appeared dark and clear above the 30° deck. My observations concentrated in the NNW to NE corridor. The heavy load was Bogen tripod, Tak Bins, TP-10, and a backpack full of accessories. For the energy level I had, but didn't personally accept, this was too great of a burden. It is nice to have the insstruments available when observing but it is a chore to get them there and return home with them.

I had wanted to work with TP-10, concentrating on its alignment. Everytime I set it up I am adjusting the secondary. This doesn't seem right to me, should be just the mirror. After the cooldown period, I began to align. Seeing the laser dot pretty far off center, I reset the extending truss poles. This corrected much of the misalignment. A small tweak to the secondary and then a small tweak to the mirror cell put the red dot on its targets. Still I think that I could learn how to rough align they way I am doing and then do the final tweak with a star test.

To check last night`s performance I set the lambda Cas in field. At 32x, 75x, and 100x, this did not resolve. I thought the separation to be greater than what it is - 0.5"! Silly me. So tonight I`ll pick more reasonable targets. Also, lambda Cas at an m5.3 seems way too bright to conduct as test for this scope. It irradiates far too much for liking, a fainter star in the neighborhood of m7.0 would be more accommodating.

Last night, I wasn't the most social sidewalk atsronomer. I really had an observing agenda and was not too interested in interrupting my activities by swinging the scope to a brighter object or showing a low contrast object that pedestrian wouldn't see anyway. If they passed and asked what we were looking at Charlie and I would just say stars and not gesture any invitation to look. They would stand momentarily and then wish us a good night as they moved on. I was further frustrated that some starhops took effort. For instance, NGC1245, an OC in Per, was eventually abandoned. I observed this in the past, and since I just observed NGC1023, a G nearby M34, I figured what the heck. Well heck it was. My game was off, out of my zone. It happens, move on.

I did have on my list NGC2403, a G in Cam, which should be easy in TP-10. I had the field a few nights ago when I only had the Tak bins. I couldn`t pull out the galaxy but was absolutely certain of the field. Actually, at that time, the starhop was pretty easy, using a round about way to get from Muscida to the galaxy, 7.7° separation (as the crow flies). However, I abandoned that hop, as well, from a half-hearted start. The galaxy was about 24° in altitude and on my way I considered the sky too bright to effectively hop.

Charlie packed up and left early. He was going to CSP to prepare for observing old Moon rising on the morning of 10/2. I was on the fence at the time and ended oversleeping to 10am. That left me out. Dropped by Charlie's blog and read his report. Kin, who had left with me around 12:30 or so, joined Charlie in the morning.

Earth`s evening terminator awaits just beyond the horizon. probably be out agian tonight at TotL.