Friday, February 09, 2007

20070208: Galactic starhop down memory lane

Session name: 20070208.2030
Handheld Binos: Fujinon 7x50 FMTR-SX, fov 7.5°
Tripod-mounted Binos: Takahashi Fluorite APO 22x60 Binoculars, fov - 2.1°

The highlight of this session was observing M81 in the Tak bins from Central Park. I looked for M82 in the same field but had different results. As M81 resolved as a milky oval at the apex of a small equilateral triangle in the eyepiece, a moment of disbelief passed. I traveled back to a time when I began observing in Central Park. Traveled to a place we call TPO.

I first met team TotL back in October 2003 and began observing with them from Turtle Pond Observatory. Our squatters' right dubbed the spot TPO. I had just gotten the Tak 4" refractor, replacing the Coulter CT100 and Tele Vue Ranger as my primary scope. This was the time when I began in earnestness to learn the sky. I was seeing most objects for my first time. I was meeting many of the dog owners that I know today. I am grateful to Ben, Charlie, Curtis, Rich, and others that assembled there, sharing their scopes, knowledge and experience. It was all learning for me at that time.

One evening during this dawn of amateur astronomy, after a couple of failed attempts to starhop to M81, I prepared a chart to deliberately find this galaxy. I didn't know about surface brightness and contrast. Atlases showed magnitude 7 & magnitude 8.5 thinking these should be easy. Instead I recognized small triangles, kites, and diamonds that fit within circles the size of a 2° field of view. A trail of these were drawn from Dubhe. This gomsa post describes the night when M81 & M82 appeared to Debbie and me for the first time. Debbie & Sammy, dog owner and dog, that I haven't seen in years. Together we shared the excitement of bagging the galaxies, even with a 6.7d waxing Moon, from Central Park. A feat not many have, let alone in small scopes.

Fast forward to today, I have seen some 30+ galaxies from here, all but half a dozen or so, needing the 10". This evening, I look at 23- & 29 UMa drawing an imaginary, flat triangle to the east where sometimes I'll see 24 UMa. I land the bins, look into the eyepiece seeing a 1° right triangle, which has a mag 7.2 star along the long leg. I look southeasterly across beyond the apex to find M81. I struggled for m82 spending some time in the eyepiece to dark adapt. I suspected an area that averted vision registered a reaction but I couldn't confidently place it in the field of view. I am confident that on a more transparent night that M82 could be seen in these 2.6" optics.

These actions are almost second nature now; effortlessly, not taking more than a minute. Many of the objects I observe frequently are at or nearby familiar landmarks in the sky. Like a deli at the street corner or the bookstore in the middle of the block, the street with the 3rd building down that has the blue door, I learned many city landmarks in the sky. With thousands of objects in the sky, while discovery remains an opportunity, I traverse the sky and find new pathways, comforted in knowing where I am, so I can return.

2003 used to feel so close, close as a glance over my shoulder. But now in 2007, it seems more distant. From my beginnings, Saturn has moved from the belly of Gemini, passing M44, and now located in the sky making a smaller version of the Square of Pegasus with Regulus and other stars of the Sickle. Jupiter, now is Ophiuchus, the thirteenth zodiac, takes about 12 years to orbit Sun. Now 3+ years into observing, Jupiter has moved than a quarter of the way around since he was in Leo.

Image credit 2005 Digital Sky LLC, obtained from Wikipedia

Labels: , ,