Wednesday, May 31, 2006

20060531 - Getting Close

Charlie spoke of this arrangement of crescent Moon, Saturn, and M44 sometime last week and sent an email alert today. He also sent a link to this NASA story about alignments happening in June, all around this same area. It's all happening in Cancer, do the astrologers have anything to say? (The sign of Cancer is in the constellation Gemini.)

Looking out my living room window to the west the halo about crescent Moon seems to remain constant in the hazy atmosphere. I can't see Asellus Borealis but can see Asellus Australis using bins. (The Aselli have the Bayer designations delta and gamma Cancri.) The glare is just too much to see anything nearby and it is stronger on the waxing crescent side. Maybe later when Moon has moved further in eastward circuit gamma Cnc maybe detectable. As for M44 - not a chance! Usually in the handheld bins on clear nights catching the pale glow and some of the resolved stars is a pretty easy task.

Monday, May 29, 2006


Much is written about this event where front row seats - any seats for that matter - are in Manhattan only. Charlie had spoke of and planned for this event so when he said he was going to watch it from 34th & Park, I assumed that he would be the all alone like a misplaced scientist with his tripod mounted camera in the middle of the street. Far from it...

Looking down (manhattan-south) Park Ave when the traffic light turned red.

Another shot, looking northeast into the intersection during red light.

I was more amused by the people that assembled here just two blocks east of the Empire State Building. I can only assume that a number of other cross streets were people magnets from where one witnesses this twice a year sunset. This will occur again on 11 July when he Sun aligns once again. If we could only arrange a total solar eclipse at the same time.

Time was suspended while all this was happening. Impressive was seeing Sun emerge from the north side of the Empire State Building and then float centered above the New Jersey shore.. The certain magnificance was reinforced by the throng that attended and held reverence for Sol. I guess minutes ticked by as the traffic light was regulated a beat that orchestrated people from street to curb to street to curb. This happened at least four times.

The solar orb was a hypnotic orange, easily observed naked eye and through the hand held bins. I had the bins away from my eyes so I didn't notice the spots Charlie and I saw yesterday. They weren't that large anyways. Sol creeped north along as it sank lower the street window

Waiting for the crescent Moon to appear from behind the Empire State Building

And there were more people with film cameras than I expected. I think phone cameras still walked away as most popular.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

20060527 - 19 hour young crescent Moon

Session Name: 20060527.1800

Location: Eastern side of Great Lawn, Central Park, NYC
Site Classification: Urban
Dates/times: 27 May 2006, 6:00pm ~ 1:00am
Handheld Binos: Fujinon 7x50, fov 7.5°
Tripod-mounted Binos: Takahashi 22x60, fov - 2.1°
Tripod-mounted Reflector: 'Harry 6', homemade 6" F/6 newtonian


Weather History
Transparency/Seeing (1 worst - 5 best): 2
NELM: --
Conditions: Initially partly cloudy and hazy, cleared up and then became cloudy/mostly cloudy by 11pm. Transparency was poor where mag 4 stars typically stand out were very muted needing extra effort.
Observing party: Kin, Charlie, and me
Passersby: Hawaiian George, Mike, Times Up! (better than a dozen riders), a many others


It was a success in catching my youngest crescent to date, 19h 01m, 0.9% illuminated. The angular separation of Moon & Sun at time of sighting 10° 12' with Moon at an altitude of 7°34'. Mercury was easily visible 3° 10' SW (celestial) of Moon at mag -1.3.

After meandering a path on the web originating at Jeff's blog to a link he provided at moon watch add to that my existing interest in chasing crescents, I planned for this event. I was planning to catch the opposing crescents but the weather was not agreeable. The plan for a ~39 hour interval was:

Old crescent Moon from Carl Schurz Park prior to sunrise on Friday, 26 May 2006. Estimated a sight window 05:15 ~ 05:30. Unattempted. I awoke around 04:30am looked out the window seeing fog to the east and a very poor horizon over NJ to the west.

Young crescent Moon from the Great Lawn, Central Park just after sunset on Saturday, 27 May 2006. Estimated sighting window 20:15 ~ 20:30. Successful. Charlie & I met on the east side of the Great Lawn, just north of softball Field #2, around 6:30pm. We set up did a brief stint of solar observing seeing two groups of couple spots each. Then we waited.

Charlie caught the crescent first at 20:26 where it was 7°34' in altitude. He found a little more north on the horizon than I was looking, pretty much close to where he expected it. I had thought it would be closer to the Beresford, a building projecting off the horizon that we watched Sun set into. It may have been minutes earlier, say 3 or 4 minutes when we saw Mercury. In fact, Mercury would disappear behind the northern tower of the apartment building and reappear before we saw the crescent. I estimate the angular width of the tower to be ~0.75° ~1.0°.

Once spotted and the impression of what is to be seen the crescent was easy to see in all the binoculars. Even passers by had a look. After suggesting that they relax their gaze and look for a faintly illuminated, thin-lipped smile all saw it clearly. Charlie would describe the crescent as lumpy, and I saw it as extremely thin and uneven along the southeastern limb. Throughout my observation most of my attention was directed at the northern horn.

I want to say that I saw the crescent naked eye but do not share it with Charlie or Kin. I can't find the note in the Palm that timestamps when I recorded it. It was maybe 10 minutes later when it was tucked in a nook formed by roof of another apartment building to the north and the foreground tree in the park. The crescent was not cleanly resolved but a brightening arc which appeared brighter on the northern side. It was very difficult with Moon slightly contrasting with a horizon sky. Was this my desire to see it naked eye? I asked Charlie if he could see it and he stood right in front of me. I pointed out where to look which he found quickly but couldn't make out Moon. Later Kin came by. He saw the crescent from West 10th St. in binoculars but not naked eye.

After this we moved up to TotL proper. The sky was not nearly as good as it had been the past couple outings we had earlier in the week. Clouds would be a bother to search for any faint DSOs and it seemed like we were showing of Saturn and Jupiter to many persons that came and stopped. Time's Up stopped by on their monthly midnight run.

Having the 6" I thought that M106 would surely fold to the bigger glass. Guess not and I remain perplexed. Absolutely in the starfield and can see this *bright* galaxy. I went to confirm that I could see M63, M94, M64 but the clouds kept moving in. I struggled with the clouds in UMa as well but there were periods where the field was clear. Oh well, sort of reminds me of the 73p Schwass - what was that called. (Sort of a non-event for me.)

Well I 'm glad for the crescent sighting and am off to the circus today with the family.

Friday, May 26, 2006

M106. What's the deal?

By all accounts M106 should be seen from our sidewalk observatory in Central Park. From all the guides I've read this member of the Canes Venatici I Galaxy cloud, along with M94 and M64, is one of the brighter galaxies in the sky. Nearby M63, a member of M51 Galaxy Group or potentially a member of M101 Galaxy Group, is another easy object to detect and observe. In the last two sessions, I tried for M106 with no success using the Tak FS102 refractor. Eyepieces used included Plossl 32mm with & without Barlow 2x and Nagler 7mm.

Tony Flanders writes of M106 "...for a pleasant change, is a resonably bright and obvious galaxy."
Flanders, a regular contributor to Sky and Telescope, gives a peak brightness value of 19.2 magnitudes per square arc-second (MSA).

The site linked here was presented in an abbreviated fashion in S&T a few years back. I still reference his work as the authoritative work on sub/urban observation. He covers the Messier catalog with some starhoppingtips and detailed descriptions. Using a variety of instruments in urban and suburban settings, he assigns an index value describing degree of difficulty and level of interest. Highly recommended for the novice and un-dark sky observer.

Roger Clark of Visual Astronomy of the Deep Sky fame, provides in his book a visual description of the magnitude 9.0, 20' x 6.5' galaxy, with a bright core measuring in at 8' x 3'. He goes on to mention that the surface brightness is 22.9 MSA. Clark describes the observation with an 8" to be "quite a surprise."

Brian Rachford assigns a value of 19.9 MSA for the inner 2' in his study of visual magnitudes, essentially the nucleus of the galaxy. While you're there check out this page which has a condensed list of galaxies that should be fairly easy for urban astronomers.

Lastly, I think Alan MacRobert offers his description in his book, Star-Hopping for Backyard Astronomers
, that he could even see it with cloudy skies!

Now when reading all of this M106 is easy. I have no doubt that I have the field after starhopping a short distance from 3 CVn. No galactic core or nucleus. What gives? Our skies under favorable conditions in a favorable direction can yield to object with a surface brightness of 20+ MSA, maybe as faint as 20.5 ~ 20.75 MSA.

I have seen M94 and M63 a few times with instruments as small as the Tak 22x60 bins to the Teleport 10". Yet M106 I cannot get in the smaller optics. I can't believe that I have to resort to the 10" to bag it and observe it. Either I am missing the field (which I doubt) or missing some of the description between the lines.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Three nights...before the front

We were fortunate to have three nights of pretty decent skies, 22-24 May. The first evening Charlie and I packed and left before midnight, the next two nights were up to and past the 1am park curfew. Day 2 had spectacular transparency in terms of what we are accustomed to. I didn't test for NELM, but my guess would be better than mag 5.0. Even last night which began to go south around midnight was clear enough that I could see the seven stars of UMi, as well as Pherkad Minor; Mel111 also was apparent. The cloud cover that came in around midnight is the front of this weather system that's going to blow our chances of observing the reasonably favorable opposing crescent Moon phases.

On the first night I brought the Tak bins and on the other two nights I had the Tak 102 refractor. I like the aperture and the flexibility with magnification. I miss the large glass that the Teleport offers. Just haven't had the will to bring in the park lately. I suspect that three objects which eluded detection (M56, M68, M106) would have been easily caught within the 10" reflector. M106 continues to have me perplexed thinking that this should be easy!

These past evenings we were hanging out mostly in the summer stretch of sky. While the spring sky culminates at astronomical twilight, Leo already tipped forward, the early summer sky is rising. Libra is rising in the south east, Scorpio's claws, squished beneath Serpens and Ophiuchus, are clearing the tree tops. We spent some in the claws observing the doubles, Beta and Nu Sco. Nu Sco is similar to the Double Double with a more challenging pair. We did a compare-n-contrast with Epsilon Lyr, which the northern pair of Nu Sco sort of appeared similar to both components of the Double Double. Looking at the data below they really don't show much similarity other than being double doubles.

Referencing Karkoschka's atlas in the field:
Epsilon Lyr mag: 4.6/4.7 sep: 209.0"
e^1 mag: 5.2/5.5 sep: 2.4"
e^2 mag: 5.0/6.1 sep: 2.5"
Nu Sco mag: 4.0/6.3 sep: 41.0"
e^1 mag: 4.4/5.4 sep: 1.4"
e^2 mag: 6.7/7.8 sep: 2.6"

A 'first' for Charlie and me was seeing Coma Berenices Star Cluster, Melotte 111, naked eye. It twinkled away displaying up to seven distinct stars as a distorted, upside "Y", pulled longer to the west. It didn't present any glow or hazy spot but a constant twinkling of these stars. I realize now how large it is!

Another first was NGC6210, a planetary nebula nearby Beta Her. It reminded me of the Cat's Eye Nebula, planetary nebula in Draco. Its size and color struck me as very similar, but that's relying on memory. I didn't starhop to NGC6543 to see in real time. Maybe another night.

Over the three days Charlie, Kin, and I observed a number of the globular clusters. These objects remind me that it wasn't that long ago before man would come to understood the size, scope, and nature of our Milky Way until Shapley tapped into the resident variables. The clusters we would drop by and observe included M13, M92, M56* (not detected), M3, M5, M68*. We compared and contrasted their sizes, brightness profiles, shape, starfield, etc. Of this series each had distinct characteristics which make it easy to distinguish. Give it a try.

A good three days with much diversity. Most Messier objects but a small measure of NGC complimented by good dose of doubles .

Three nights...raccoon eats

For the past three observing sessions, Charlie and I saw this raccoon on our way out of the park at various spots. Each evening, he was on top of a garbage can getting his eats. This evening he picked up food from the garbage can at the foot of the tree and took flight to higher, safer ground. Charlie, Kin, or I would surely try to pick it from his paws if we had the chance.

I felt like guilty armed with the camera knowing full well I was going to blast tanuki with a flash. Shame on me, but I promised my daughter I'd snap a shot of her.

It's not uncommon to see raccoons in the park, even families of them. And their high pitched screeches are unmistakeable. On of Donna's blog there's a cut pic of I like, check out a photo found on one of her posts . Apparently, the birdwatching regulars in that area of the park know that raccoon well.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Central Park Experience Culminates

On Sunday, I blogged about an afternoon spent birdwatching with Ben on the north side of the Pond. Many persons stopped but one gentleman in particular I mentioned, Steve, who stayed with us a while. We had a good time watching the birds below us in the pond and the falcon on the GM building, easily a 1000 feet away. Ben & I had digital cameras attached to our scopes, which Steve spoke of his photography experience and offered some tips. Later Steve expressed how fun the afternoon and as a token of his appreciation he offered a photograph he took of birds.

Today I was delighted to receive a photograph that Steve had offered as a token of appreciation. Further, it was snail mail. Prior to his leaving that day I give him my address. I am so detached from receiving regular post (other than bills & adverts) that it was a pleasure to relive the day in his words. He goes on to explain that the photograph was taken of "... snow geese getting up for breakfast on a cold December morning in Bosque del Apache, south of Albuquerque, New Mexico."

Thank you, Steve. Much appreciated; and, come join us under the stars one night.


Monday, May 08, 2006

Peregrine Falcon from Central Park

I met Ben at Gapstow Bridge for a second day. Shortly after I arrived, another birdwatching friend of Ben's, Donna, arrived with a Swarovski Spotting scope. Later, a couple would join us bringing the number to 5. A number of passersby would stop and take a look through one of our optics. The female Peregrine Falcon was observed for most of the afternoon. She is perched on a building which is a good distance from us some 55 floors high.

Both falcons were unseen for nearly an hour. Actually, I hadn't seen the make at all since I arrived and Ben suspected he was tending the nest. Just prior to the one hour disappearance a man on the roof was observed. It was speculated that maybe his appearance caused the female to take off to divert attention to the nest. When she did return and ultimately dropped down into the nest, Ben recited exactly what was to occur, almost to the second. We watched the female drop out of sight to the nest and within a minute the male popped out of the fence and leaped from the building in familiar bullet fashion.

Ben's report of the day is found here. I continue to be surprised by the expressed interest of the pedestrians. Surely four tripod mounted scopes and bins with 5 persons collected at the knoll is more than enough to attract a person's curiosity. But one can sense their interest when they stop, look, and ask questions. Most were impressed by the sight of the female falcon and became more excited when she soared about the building.

Since I am not really a part of the birding community, some of my observations included watching the birders. Through their conversations I learned that their is a more formal structure and ranking membership to their community. I was also privy to the naming of these falcons, getting an idea of how the "process" works. I'm glad that TotL and team TotL doesn't have such a formality. But then again we're small, we make mistakes, and we have fun. The birding community may offer the same but I get the impression that it has many more people to please.

While I'm at it I'll throw in a photo of Pale Male Jr. It is so convenient to open the window, set up the scope, and spy on PM Jr. I even videotaped him getting up and flying from this stoop. It would be cool to see some offspring. I was able to watch two young ones late last summer. When I returned from vacation in early September, it appeared as if the nest was abandoned. These recent observations are my first since that time last year.

Moon from Gapstow Bridge

This is one of a bunch of shots taken of Moon while watching the Peregrine Falcons. The sky was hazy all day long with some high clouds passing through, really just a poor sky. As sunset came on it became easier to see the lunar features that didn't stand out earlier.

I met for a second day at Gapstow Bridge in the southeastern corner of Central Park. I brought two instruments with me to observe the falcons. The Tele vu Ranger with an 8mm plossl eyepiece was used with the camera. The Tak bins shared time on Moon and the female hawk. I don't think I went there as much to do bird watching than to face the challenge of photographing the falcon and Moon. It is tough and I can only admire those that photograph. I downloaded Gimp but have yet to learn how to use it. My primary stop for astrophotography is Vern's blog, second stop is Andrew's, and Ian's typically posts his efforts. All are worth the visit.

Three craters: Copernicus, Bullialdus, and Tycho prominently sat distributed across the face near the terminator. Bullialdus is the middle smaller crater in Mare Nubium. Clavius is pretty striking at the south end of Moon (to the right in the photo). To the north Plato is well into the late lunar morning light.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Central Park - A life size diorama

Photo 1: Male Peregrine Falcon perched on the northeastern corner of the building, 9 West. Click for larger 1.7 MB size photo.

I met up with Ben to observe the falcons from Gapstow Bridge. Gapstow Bridge is located in the southeast corner of Central Park. It crosses the northern end of the Pond. This Google Map shows the grassy knoll centered where Ben & I observed from to watch the falcons. We spent a few good hours observing birds, Moon, and meeting many people. In this beautiful park, I felt this incredible twilight zone feeling that I was in a diorama - a very cool diorama. One should know that Central Park is pretty much handmade landscaped. They didn't bring in the rocks but most of everything else is landscaped around them, such as the water falls one may see the hoses that feeds them.

Ben recorded and published observing notes of this session. I joined him later in the day, maybe around 5:30pm or so to see these falcons since he has been blogging about them for some time. Also it provided an opportunity to meet since it's been awhile that we've met. I did get to see my first aerial exchange of prey from the male to the female falcon. When observing them in the binoculars as they soared in front of the GM building, I could see a mirror reflection of them on the building. They looked as if they were having a good time sometimes floating high above then soaring about practicing their diving skills.

Here is a picture to help put things into perspective. It's a handheld shot of the buildingscape with two of them labeled.

Photo 2: Landscape view of where we were looking. The 2 buildings that the falcons landed on are labeled. Click on image for larger 1.4MB photo.

I am not a birdwatcher so it was sort of fun sharing this time as an event. Passersby expressed an interest in what we were doing and Ben spoke most with the public. It is so funny when you hear the same question over and over and over again. We had bins and scopes pointed at the corner of the 9 West building where the male was perched. People kept asking "how did you find it" or "where did you know to look". Ben calmly answered each person with the same answer to the same question, "We saw it fly in."

Earlier there was an older woman who stayed for a bit. She had just come from the David Blaine spectacle at Lincoln Center. If I remember correctly, she was more entertained by the life-size diorama experience with the falcons and Moon than trying to oogle Blaine in a tank.

A gentleman from New Jersey spent some time with us. Steve started out as one of the pedestrians but eventually stayed for hours observing the falcons, great egret, herons, Moon, and later a glimpse of Saturn between the clouds.

There was a Great Egret right in front of us in the reeds. Just like a wildcat stalking its prey, this heron egret was poised to spear its prey. We watched it move in slow motion, Tai Chi form as some fish apparently had its attention. We never did see her feed and she eventually flew off.

Photo 3: This large bird filled a two degree field of view which I can't photograph with the setup. So here is a tight up shot of its head. Larger image is 1.4MB.

A good afternoon into the evening. Though I don't mention it, we observed and showed to the passersby our Moon. She looked great in a partially clouded sky. As the evening wore on and contrast increased, she became more stunning. Through the eyepiece we observed Clavius in the middle of the terminator. The large crater floor was partially illuminated as were the rims of two large interior craters. Craterlets in Ptolemaeus and Arzachel caught my attention. I would guess that Sunday night the nearby Straight Wall, Rupes Recta, will be coming into the lunar morning light. The isolated mountain peaks of Teneriffe cast small shadows to the west just as the great crater Plato's eastern wall cast shadows on the interior floor.

Wow - looks familiar...

...but brighter with more clarity. Do you think they hired a professional for that? It's entirely coincidental having stopped here looking for a map of the park to link to in another post.

Look at the header photo of

Red-tailed Hawk next door

Birdwatching on Saturday, 06 May 2006.

This photo offers a general view from my daughter's window when looking out to the northeast. I marked up some the photo to identify some of the landmarks. Linclon of the Pale Male web site will observe on the roof of the Parker Meridian Hotel. That roof appears about one floor higher than I am. In fact today he has some incredible shots of the hawks on the homepage. (The home page appears to change regularly.)

From the photos below, one can see that the angle of attack/observation is slightly higher in elevation than the nest. I can't see entirely inside but a little above it. I am uncertain whether this is Pale Male Jr. or Charlotte. On his web site, Linclon reports that only Pale Male Jr. has been sitting in the nest.

I did some bird watching, Peregrine Falcons, with Ben later in the day and I mentioned these hawks to him. He knows of them all too well, describing which was which based on the coloring of the head in terms of light & dark. Naturally I forgot since I didn't scribble a note.

These photos were taken with eyepiece projection using a Canon Digital Elph - PowerShot S200 rubberbanded to a Tele Vue Ranger with TV Plossl 8mm eyepiece. The image is not absolutely as bright as I would like it but it does show some decent detail. From a distance Ben estimated from the roof to the Trump Parc at some 400 feet, my distance is about 600+ feet. Neither photo was touched up except for cropping in IrfanView.

Photo 1: Red Tailed Hawk flying into the nest. Click on image for a larger view 2MB.

Photo 2: Red Tailed Hawk sitting in the nest. This is how she was most of the afternoon. I chose this image to display her profile.

A good site I found from Ben's blog is Bruce Yolton's blog. One can download a 65-page pdf file that covers these hawks exclusively. Some really tight photos where he was able to get from a nearby window. And how can one ignore New York City as the backdrop - simply wonderful & beautiful.

Friday, May 05, 2006

Astronomy quizzes (with answers)

Do you like to take quizzes for fun ... and at home? What's more, get instant gratification by submitting a your response and immediately see how well you did. The book Astronomy: Journey to the Cosmic Frontier, 2nd Edition has a place on the web for supplemental material including a a quiz of 10 multiple choice questions in each of the 25 chapters. Jump to the TOC to begin navigating.

Last year I wrote about another quiz that was conducted as part of a greater study to measure the amateur's knowledge base. If you missed it you can visit this page first.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Saw the comet but nothing special

Since I'm posting this today it speaks to how impressed I was of Comet 73P Schwassmann-Wachmann. Last Friday, Kin, Charlie and myself observed the comet over two nights with a 4" Tak refractor on the first and a homemade 6" newtonian on the following. In low power component-C was easier to see, whereas component-B took magnification better. In all cases it was very difficult to get much detail. If we didn't have ephemerides for the fragments it would have been very easy to overlook. Charlie and I did speak of a sub-stellar nucleus and a bit of coma. I'm not entirely sure we saw a comet tail...and not taking any notes or making any sketches does not help my memory. Check out Charlie's blog since he reports on the objects more religiously than I do.

One thing that I recall, which davep reports in one of his logs, is a positional change over time. Kin & I first observed the comet fragments. Charlie had not arrived yet as he was attending an event at Columbia University. When he came down to TotL, we observed the fragments again and component-B moved noticeably with respect to two field stars that were used as marks on a ruler.


Image credits: Under Free Art License copied picture from Wikipedia - Comet Schwassmann-Wachmann 3 (73P) C component, as seen 19 APR 2006 from Mt Laguna, Calif. 55sec @ f/2.8 @ ISO 1600, Canon 20D, 400mm f/2.8 on Meade LXD55. Paul Martinez & Philip Brents.

Pale Male Jr. & Charlotte's Nest

This is a photo of Pale Male Jr & his spouse Charlotte's nest on the Trump Parc building. The empty nest sits precariously unrooted ~37 floors above the city street. The nest clutches to nothing on the ledge and appears that a strong gust could send the nest bye bye.

The other day I took a peek for a few minutes and showed my daughter one of the hawks in the nest. Only one was seen at that time. After seeing one of the red-tailed hawks flying around while I was TotL last weekend, I figured it was time to look in on these hawks. Not everyone has a view of them because of where they're situated. I'm sort of lucky.

This page has more pictures and descriptions. In fact, Ben's alter ego, a birder, is mentioned here on the page. His observational skills are not limited to a star-studded nightly dome. While you're at Linclon's site meander about the rich set of photos he makes available. Lots of great images of Central Park, her denizens, citizens, and pedestrians captured in a moment of time.