Sunday, April 23, 2006

Rainy days are the blues

Today was mostly rainy and now clearing up. After messing around with the blog template, found this fun, bluesy site via plastic bugs

Friday, April 21, 2006

Playing with Mother Nature

As Charlie and I continued with the comet hunt at TotL, Mother Nature was intent on making it even more challenging. We assessed the NE sky by the visibility, or lack of, of the brighter stars of Corona Borealis and Bootes. Alphecca was a real challenge at times while the other six stars of Corona Borealis remained hidden. As a result our attempts were abandoned early in the evening. The clouds first came in low similar to what the photo shows. They climbed up and over the celestial dome trimming away at the dimmer naked eye stars.

Instead showed the pedestrians - what else - ______-O-______.

I did some starhopping in Ursa Major, at one point targeting M106. This galaxy has been on my list for a while and this was maybe my third attempt. I wish I could say I suspected it at one point but was never able to get it back where I thought I saw it. I'll see next time because it would have formed an equilateral triangle with two stars in the field. It is an easier starhop than I originally thought and am now pretty comfortable with the starfields along the way. On previous hops I came in from chi UMa, but I found it much easier to hop from gamma UMa to 5 CVn to 3 CVn. The galaxy is about 1.5° south of there.

We packed up early and took off, letting Mother Nature have her way. As it would happen, the sky took a turn for the better as all our gear made it into our bags.

- peter

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Still Looking - Still TotL

Session Name: 20060419.2000

Still looking for 73P/Schwassmann-Wachmann 3 (2006) with no success. This graphic shows a 10° field of view with telrad circles and both comet elements B (upper) & C (lower). Charlie, Kin, and I have been looking with various small aperture optics ranging from binoculars to reflectors to refractors. The graphic shows naked eye orientation for 10pm EDT.

It is hard to believe that these comet elements are brighter than magnitude 9.5. I am confident with my ability to detect dim, extended objects exhibiting a low surface brightness and/or low contrast with the background sky, yet 73P-B & -C keep evading detection. (As a matter of fact, a previous night I was able to pick out NGC2903 where that exhibited such a low contrast with background sky that if one was not familair with it then it could easily escape detection. This extended object is magnitude 8.9 and estimated 60" ~ 75" in length.) I read at
astroblog that the comet may be as bright as magnitude 8.2.

Update: Check out Jeremy's latest report & sketches at Belt of Venus.

At one point I began to defocus on a mag 9.4 star to see how large it would get before it disappeared. Unfortunately the clouds rolled through at this time and I didn't repeat the exercise later. I am uncertain of the size of the comet but imagine that 10" ~ 20" is not unreasonable to expect. So when I hear that an extended object is magnitude 8.2, or any magnitude for that matter, it is not the same as looking at a focused star of the same magnitude. The star of the same magnitude needs to be defocused to cover the same area that the extended object covers. Through the 4" Tak refractor and even Charlie's 4" F/4 reflector mag 9.5 ~ 10.0 required effort to resolve, so if the comet brightness is in this range then it is understandable why we don't see it. At magnitude 8.x I do expect to see "something". Well we'll keep trying.

Following are a few more Screenshots of Planetariun for the Palm (PftP) where Charlie and I have been starhopping and scanning the area looking for B & C. Both pictures show the field as seen from the Tak refractor with a diagonal, such that it is mirror reversed. A telrad finder is superimposed on the field for scale.

Puuuuuuuuuhleeeeeeeease let me know if these look wrong. Charlie and I were thinking even if the orbital elements were slightly off that the comet can't be far away, say 10' or 20'. And in a 2° field of view, one should still be able to see it.

73P/Schwassmann-Wachmann B is shown here near psi Boo as it appears in the refractor's eyepiece. All the stars shown within the outer telrad 2° field were observed. The limiting magnitude was set to 10. The grid is displaying alt/az.

73P/Schwassmann-Wachmann C is shown here near alpha CrB as it appears in the refractor's eyepiece. All the stars shown within the outer telrad 2° field were observed. The limiting magnitude was set to 10. The grid is displaying alt/az.

Since the weather has been nice the pedestrian traffic is a bit up. So of course, we showed off Saturn and M44, and Jupiter to thos ethat came later. Other objects we observed throughout the night included M13, M92, M57. These objects were observed with both low and medium powers. The globulars are both bright enough to see with ease though there brightness profiles differ. M13's brightness is more evenly distributed with a slight drop off on the periphery; in contrast, smaller M92's nulceus is a bright spike with the core and periphery dropping off more sharply. No details or stellar resolutions were detected in either cluster.


Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Canis Major

Something amusing on my way to the park...

Monday, April 03, 2006

Does that have UV protection?

Session name: 20060402.1700

Got out on late Sunday afternoon to get some time in at TotL for solar observing. The previous night Team TotL: Kin, Ben, Charlie, and myself had gone to Staten Island to observe the Pleiades event so I was still in the mood to observe. Clear Sky Clock forecasted with line of little blue squares! It actually was cloudy and hazy.

I brought the Tak refractor out. I had disassembled it b/c I put it up for sale for a short period of time and as a result forgot the diagonal. This was the first time I used a refractor sighting straight through an EP in line with the optical path of the scope. It worked out okay since Sun was low enough to observe bending over or kneeling on a towel. It was great for the younger ones because they stood right up to the EP, hands hanging lightly on the focuser, and a long scope radiating out of their head. They looked like professional astronomers! Or land-loving pirates.

Almost without exception, the scope in the park during a weekend day attracts many people. This day was no different. I imagine that many ask "Does that have UV protection?", but yesterday that seemed to be a very popular question. Even as the next person in line would step up after the previous person, someone in the back would ask about the filter. Fair enough it's safety. Following is a picture of the scope with the filter on the end. (This is taken from another day and another place.)
Some also took some peeks through the viewing window to see Sun & the passing clouds.

For those that may have missed the Sun it may still be available on here on

One of my favorite sights is watching Sun set into the silhouette of a foreground building, sometimes seeing Sun through the windows. This building's profile was interesting with its terraces and jagged edge. It was apparent that this was exciting for others as well.

After Sun set I packed up. I pointed the scope on luna but contortion was not part of the observing plan. I was talking with a familiar passerby when Charlie arrived. I stayed with him until ~9:30 or so while he waited for Jupiter to rise above the tree line. For a couple of hours we checked out 5 open clusters, 1 quadruple & nebula, and Moon in his Canon 15x binoculars. We debated some time over the identities of a Mickey Mouse arrangement of craters (Hommel, Vlaqc, & Pitiscus). We walked around the sky naked eye picking up what stars & constellations would yield themselves in a slighltly hazy New York City sky.


Sunday, April 02, 2006

20060401 - Celaeno Graze and Other Pleiades Occulted

[Updated with links to other observer reports.]

Session Name: 20060401.1730


Location: Staten Island September 11 Memorial, NYC
Site Classification: Urban
Dates/times: 01 April 2006, 5:30pm ~ 9:45pm
Handheld Binos: Fuji 7x50
Tripod-mounted Binos: Takahashi 22x60, fov - 2.1°


Transparency/Seeing (1 worst - 5 best): -/-
Conditions: Gusty winds, cloud cover changing from 50% - 80%
Observing party: Ben, Charlie, Kin, and myself



M45 at SEDS
Charlie's Occultation map for Celaeno event 01 April Report 05 April Update
Did Ben write up a report? Yes, he did.


Last night, Team TotL took a class act trip to Staten Island to observe a grazing event. This was a first for me - I think for both Kin and Ben, as well - and absolutely worthwhile and fun. Moon was traveling eastward across the sky occulting the background stars of Pleiades. One of the Seven Sister stars, Celaeno, was grazed by the limb of Moon, causing it to blink on and off. Caught up in all the excitement , I think we called out 3 or 4 times each for the disappearance and reappearance of the star. We were an unrehearsed cacophany of shouting geese. I really don't remember what I was shouting. "Blink", "In", "Out", I think were some of the terms I used. For me it sounded as if we were all 'pretty much' close together in calling it out but the others said that was not the case.

We are patiently waiting for Charlie to reduce his data and hopefully publish it to his blog. Charlie brought along a mixer where a shortwave radio for timing signals fed one channel and his recorded his voice to another. We were all hoping to hear our voices in the background but early indicators seem that only Charlie's was picked up.

Charlie, Kin, and myself had binoculars all in the 15x - 22x range. Ben came with his TV76 Apo telescope. He swapped EPs for a ~22x and ~48x. Everyone was comfortable with their optics which were adequate to observe this event. The wind was a force that needed to be reckoned with. At first we were setup in the open of the esplanade, catching the full force of the wind. We observed the grazing event from here. Charlie and Kin also watched Electra dissappear. Funny, it doesn't take much to miss an event. Simply take your eye away from the EP and you can kiss opportunity goodbye.

After the graze we relocated to one end inside the Memorial looking over the Wall. Our intent was to observe the occultations sheilded from the wind but it didn't help much. For the dimmer stars , mag ~6.5 & fainter, it was difficult. However for the brighter stars it wasn't as bad.


All day leading up to the event it was cloudy. I mean entirely overcast with a threatening look of rain. Charlie insisted that he was going because if the weather to a turn for the better than he would have no regrets. A good thing that we followed his lead.

Throughout the evening the clouds were a pain. We were fortunate that when the occultations occurred the clouds would clear. There was one, probably miss, that clouds did not clear. It's the star that is fainter and nearby Maia at a 4:00~ish position, seen on the SEDS photo. That one, SAO 76152 seemed like it was on good course for a graze. As Moon approached it, it didn't appear as close to the limb as Celaeno did. Celaeno was very close to the limb for a good period and it was tough to resolve any separation. It was obvious to see the full starlight as a pimple on he limb of the darkside of Moon. Never did I see the starlight maginitude diminish rather than completely blink off.

Of the brighter, named stars we would watch Electra, Merope, Alcyone, Atlas, and Pleione disappear and reappear. Asterope I & -II, Maia, Taygeta were not part of the event from our location. It is hard for one to disregard the fact nearby Moon is travelling across the sky wher its motion is easily observed by the background stars of the cluster. At times I would try to estimate when an event would occur but I was off erring to too long. Things happened quickly up there.

At the very end, we were waiting for Atlas to reappear. It was nearly 9:30pm and Moon was caught behind this thin cigar~ish shaped cloud. From the behaviour of previous clouds we thoughtthis one would pass quickly by. It didn't. Moon was caught behind there for good lengths. ocassionally punching through. We finally picked up Atlas clear of Moon and called it a night. Naturally, as we walked towards the ferry with our optics and tripods strapped to our backs, a look over our shoulder displayed a golden, crescent Moon hanging above the horizon very much in the clear.

- peter

9/11 Still Very Close

This past week the city released 9/11 tapes. The newspapers and TV are all about it. I haven't sought to listen or look to read transcripts of the calls. Yet the other night, a news clip came on TV with my buddy's buddy, Chris Hanley. His parents released the entire tape with Chris' side of the call to the NY Times. Here on the tube, Chris was speaking clearly and calmly from the 106th floor with a 911 Operator. Years ago, Chris worked with Bloomberg and when I was job hunting he graciously showed me around and hooked me up with the right person to see for an interview. Our family prayers to Chris & his family.

The following morning on my way to work, I bumped into Evan. Evan & I worked together in my company's Weehawken, NJ office at that time. It's been more than 4 years since I've seen him because I moved into one of the NYC offices shortly afterward and he had since left the company.

Like almost everyone in the company that morning we were watching the events unfold across the river. In addition to that - early - phones were ringing and rumors were flying all about. I called my wife to tell her to check out CNN, a plane had hit the WTC. No one knew what was really happening. Until some saw the second plane hit the WTC. Some shouted, some cried but they were in agreement "Terrorist attack." So early in the day, did they know they were right?

By 10AM it was impossible to call into the city, or even get a free line to use. The city was evacuating. No one in, and the river was full of boats helping to evacuate people from the city.

Evan and I rode the elevator down together, we were going to watch from the promenade along the river. He was telling me that he just spoke with his wife. She called from the subway station beneath the WTC and that the lines for the phones were very long wait and that the trains were not running regularly.

We reached outside and we began to cross the street for the esplanade. Then right before our eyes the second Tower fell. Evan screamed, "My wife!" Again, people were in disbelief. Sobs, cries, shouts - it was literally crazy and we were watching this from a distance. One could not help but think that there are people there. It turned out that Evan's wife had caught the last train out of there and was safe.

And last night, 1 April 2006, Charlie, Kin, Ben and I observed a Grazing/Occultation event on Staten Island. As we approached Staten Island slip, Kin pointed out the 9/11 Memorial. It wasn't planned but we ended setting up our gear there. From this spot, one looks across the water to see all of Manhattan, especially lower Manhattan shore and skyscrapers. A plague on the rail describes how lower Manhattan skyline has changed over time, including reference to the WTC. It finishes stating that Staten Islanders suffered greatly by the event.

As I read the plaque, behind me stands two large curved walls that represent postcards each with a curved corner that opens towards Manhattan. These postcards memorialize the victims of 9/11. Though described as the wings of a dove, I am struck by impression of the tail fin of a plane when walking up to it. Along the inside of these walls are the profiles and name plates of the 270 Staten Island 9/11 victims cut into granite. The profiles appear actual where one can recognize unique characteristics like hairline, nose, moustache, etc. There are some place holders that I assume are waiting to be completed at later date.

9/11 is still very close and won't slip away into history anytime soon.

-- peter