Saturday, March 31, 2007

20070327 - More lunar observations

Session name: 20070327.1930

8d 23h moonMoon's age is 8 days 23 hours.

These past couple of sessions I didn't maintain the logbook. I got caught up with photographing Moon, taking snapshots of Saturn, and sharing sights with the Public that I didn't scratch a sketch or take notes of any significant value. Not really a good thing when there's detail to recall.

One small redeemer is that the camera timestamps the event. All these photos are taken with the Nikon Coolpix 995 mounted with an eyepiece adapter attached to the Takahashi FS102 refractor.

Charlie arrived with SAR, that's his Coulter CT-100. We each observed from our scopes and would occasionally switch to see the alternate view. This kind of observing is fun and useful. Charlie will often detect and point out features that are too subtle under higher magnification.

Here is the southern hemisphere on the moon, click on the image for a larger unmarked image.

One can see Mare Australe on Moon's southeastern limb, left in photo. More central, near the top along the terminator, sunrise lights most of the prominent crater Clavius, though the walls to the east still cast shadows to the west. This large crater hosts an arc of craterlets on the floor and craters Rutherford & Porter on its rim. In the scope finer craterlets and surface 'abrasion' can be observed. The undulations at the shadows' tips reveal the varying elevations.

On the eastern floor of Mare Nubium, the Straight Wall, known as Rupes Recti, is apparent between craters Thebit and Birt. If you have the scope on this area, throw some magnification at Thebit to see the crater on top of crater on top of crater.

Albategnius, the area we observed two nights prior, is well into its morning. On that recent observing session the trio Ptolemaeus, Alphonsus, and Arzachel were still experiencing night time. All of these craters are situated to the east of Mare Nubium. They become increasingly difficult to recognize as the moon waxes to full.

20070325 - staying in the solar system

Session name: 20070325.1900

I arrived at TotL with the Tak 102 refractor just before sunset. A 6 day 20 hour First Quarter Moon hung high over head. I wanted to return my hand to photographing the Moon but I should know bettre if I bring a scope in daylight hours to TotL. As it would happen, I ended up sharing the Solar System with the pedestrians as the stopped by, skipping from Venus to Moon to Saturn. All were enjoying the views during civil and nautical twilight.

At this time Venus was "burning" brightly in the field of view. I wanted to photograph the waning gibbous Venetian disk but decided it was too bright and abandoned any thoughts to try.

LAC 77Close-up of Hipparchus & AlbategniusClick on the map to the left to go to the Lunar Atlas Catalog found at LPI.
Contrasting the distances of the objects Charlie & I observed when we attempted a Messier Marathon from Central Park, tonight we stayed local in our solar system. Following Charlie's lead we focuses our attention on a complex crater, Albategnius, and the shadows and light created by the morning Sun on the lunar landscape.

In this photo I marked up the craters that grabbed our attention. Over the course of the night, even in as little as tens of minutes, we observed the diminishing shadows to the advance of morning sunlight.

Saturn imageHere is a photo of Saturn. Not terribly bad given the setup I have and not tracking mount. As usual, Saturn was shown to the few passersby that came through later in the evening. Andy, Masha, Didier, and his dog (?) stopped to have some looks. I thought that during the clear, steady moments, a lot of detail was visible. Higher magnification did soften the image, but there were moments of great seeing. As in the photo, the shadow of the disk on the rings, the Cassini Division, C ring across the face of the planet, a single, thick, ochre band across the planet, and darkened polar hood. We also saw the four brighter moons with ease: Titan, Tethys, Rhea, and Dione.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Follow-up : Globe at Night

Follow -up for this previous post
Were you able to get out during the Globe at Night dates, 08 - 21 March? It'll be interesting to see the results. More interesting would be to see the relationship between the Globe at Night's results and the light pollution map.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

20070320 - Messier marathon from Central Park

Well a hardy, hearty try. As my first marathon, I learned some valuable lessons. To be successful, don't try it in Central Park.

I arrived at TotL with the Teleport 10" reflector, a well-thumbed Hoshi Navi Messier Guide, and Pennington's Year Round Messier Marathon Field Guide. The Hoshi Navi guide is a tried and true field guide that fits easily in cargo pants pockets. The Pennington guide not.

While the scope cooled down during sunset I observed the crescent Moon & Venus. Andrew, Vern, and Ian each beautifully captured that evening sky & crescent moon. Also, I thought I would spend the time to plan an attack across the sky. Instead, the scope attracted attention and soon enough a small crowd assembled. Venus blazing in the western sky hovering above a gorgeous crescent suspended above the treetops did not help in the very least.

At times I tipped the scope for the pedestrians to see the crescent. When the sky darkened, I showed the crowd and other passersby Saturn, all the while describing that I was out for the Messier Marathon. Coincidentally, Saturn looked as beautiful as Vern's recent shot. The air was moderatey good in transparency but the seeing was phenomenal. We were able to magnify Saturn to 180x with no problems, which is not often the case.

The session began earnestly with a failed attempt at M74. I got to the field but didn't see boo.

It's important to have a plan. Despite having the references, I relied more on memory and the Palm T3. As a result, I was inconsistent crossing the sky. Nor did I realize that there were objects seting to the northwest, which may have been possible. I don't know, I never tried. This would include M31, M32, and M34. M33 & M110 have been impossible thus far.

I was participating in these pedestrians' first Messier Marathon. The first object of the night was actually M45. They bagged their first without a telescope: Aldebaran, identify Hyades, and then west to Pleiades.

When the sky grew dark enough I began to punch away at very familiar objects. Most I know and don't need a chart - just pop, pop, pop. I worked from memory. From instinct. With the low power eyepiece yielding a 2.2° field of view, I landed the scope of the Leaping Minnows in Auriga, hopped to the cheek of Chesire Cat to find M38. On to M36, and M37. Four or five persons shared the time with me. I described how the Messier catalog came to be and my efforts devoted to checking 'em off one by one. I shared with them the views of each object.

While looking in the direcction of Auriga or M45, a meteor came down the western sky passing south east of Auriga. It traveled brightly and sluggishly like the words slow gin fizz.

Lesson #2: Sidewalk astronomy and a Messier rapid fire approach don't mix. in this case, sidewalk astronomy prevailed.

After the Aurigae clusters, made a big jump to Orion for M42 and M43. As usual, M43 doesn't pop out as conspicuously as M42. I mentioned the Trapezium and the molecular dust cloud. (Remember Lesson #2.) I poked the scope up to M35 in the foot of the Gemini twin Castor and then came down the sky to Canis Major for M41.

Standing there thinking for a moment - I was thinking hard and mentally patting myself on the back. Yeah, what was that 7 ~ 8 objects in 10 minutes. I swung the scope all the way around the sky and landed on M81 & M82. Tough. I could see M80's core easily but M82 was not at all requiring averted vision and the experience of knowing a low contrast object looks like against the background sky. For the one pedestrian sticking it out, Kevin, he saw M80 but not M81. Good for you that was a galaxy from NYC and two more objects for our list.

It was, in fact, 9 Messier objects, Moon, Venus, Saturn, including three returning looks at M42 for the half dozen or more people that passed by or stopped. And it was more like an hour and 45 minutes, not ten minutes, that passed.

Lesson #3: Have a plan and stick with it. The more methodical, the more efficient.

Charlie arrived about this time with his Canon 15x binoculars. I returned to Sirius, alpha Canis Majoris, to launch my hop eastward into Puppis for M47, M46 (no Planertay Nebula detected), back to Sirius to go northward into Monoceros for M50. I admired M50, as well as M46. Both have a faint, concentrated glitters of light - though both are completely different in appearance. It's that shimmering, ethereal quality that they have in common.

Lesson #4: Don't hang out on the object. Observe, take a deep breath, and enjoy the scenery for no more then two moments. Detect it, note the time, and move on, save the visual interrogation for another session.

I eyed Wezen, delta Canis Majoris, then looked hard at the sky east for xi Puppis. Pushed the scope southeast from M50, putting the Rigel Quickfinder on xi Pup. M93 was a very short hop outside the field stop of the eyepiece. I had been in this area earlier in the night when someone asked me about my favorite object. After a hesitation, the scope was parked on tau Canis Majoris to delight in the fragile glow low in our southern sky.

Anyway ...

Back up to Orion to confirm that M78 won't show itself. I spend a bit of time to confirm the field which had some six or seven magnitude 10+ stars. Nebula, not.

Daniel the Intern arrived at this time. Andy, Masha, Didier, Carol and Dog "E" would pass. While Saturn wqas snuck into the repertoire I raced to get other DSOs. The list below contains the objects hunted.

All night long the cops were pretty busy in the park. At times there were two or three cars around the Lawn. One nearby street lamp was out and the other we placed a red towel over the half that faced our direction. No bidy said anything until one cop came by at midnight reminding us to leave by 1:00am, otherwise we could be charged with a misdemeanor crime. Shortly afterwrd, a dog owner stopped and told us of a horror story where he claims he was harassed by the polioce for nearly half an hour and then ticketed for being in the park at 1:04am. In his version, he was told by the police that they have a quota & he was at the edge of the park. Hearing all this, Charlie and I were spooked and left by 12:50am. These aren't the police we know and admire.

So in the vein of our last hurrah for a March Meesier marathon, the objects hunted are as follows (an asterisk indicates field but not seen):

M66 & M65,
M105 & NGC3321,
M96 & M95*,
RHO VIRGINIS and the Pinwheel,
M49 - only a faint small glow of the nucleus, ~4'
M44 - Ooops forgot these, going back
M67 - beautiful, faint OC that courageously struggles with the background sky
M60 & M59 - both nuclei in same field of view, faint but obvious
M3 - was going to pack but landed the scope right on M3 as last, deliberate object.

Packed up knowing that the Spring and Summer sky had a lot more to offer. I really didn't expect toi get all 110 but I am thinking that 80 should be realistic. Well I really won't know until were able to get reprieve from the curfew. Alittel bit of a let down at TotL.

Labels: ,

20070320 - Vernal Equinox arrives & people congregate at Sun Triangle

I met Charlie for lunch time to observe the Vernal Equinox alignment of the Sun Triangle at McGraw-Hill. A small crowd of people assembled to witness the shadow event and get the first hand feeling of astronomy. The atmosphere was lively and the weather was agreeable.

Minutes prior to local noon.

The alignment.

Assembly gets excited. Charlie photographs the shadow tip at high noon relative to the gnomon. Do the people know they're gnomons, too?

Another shot of the Spring Equinox alignment party.

Return to normalcy.

Labels: , ,

Saturday, March 17, 2007

20 March, Solar Noon - Vernal Equinox

The Sun Triangle at 49th & 6th Ave.

In Universal Time (UT), Vernal Equinox occurs, Wednesday, 21 March 2007 at 7 minutes past midnight in the Age of Pisces. For NY'ers, we adjust for Eastern Daylight savings Time (EDT) 4 hours earlier, resulting with the Equinox on 20 March 2007, 8:07pm EDT. (This standard time is estimated as I don't account for local mean solar time.)

If you want to celebrate the event in some festive way, gather at the McGraw-Hill Sun Triangle just before 1:00pm on Tuesday, the 2oth, to watch the Triangle's shadow shorten and the Sun align along the upper long side. Almost certainly there will be others that share this interest and welcome the arrival of Spring. (We recognize this date as Spring, but if you are south of the equator like astroblogger Ian, one recognizes Fall. )

Mapping info to find the Sun Triangle
Microsoft Live Local: Bird's Eye View || Aerial
Google Map: Hybrid
Great Buildings: McGraw-Hill Building

Labels: ,

Crescent moon alerts

18 March 2007 @ 22:43 EDT, New Moon occurs. This means it time to chase the crescents. Earlier this year, I prepared a list crescent detection predictions on this post.

One day past New Moon, this month's young, waxing crescent should be easy to spot - provided the weather is agreeable - with a predicted sighting 19:10 ~ 19:15 EDT. The age of Moon at sunset on 19 March will be 20h23m after New Moon. Look for it with binoculars after sunset about 11° above where the horizon and slightly south in azimuth ~3°. The crescent should be oriented like a big smile.

I'll be somewhere along the eastern side of the Great Lawn on the perimeter sidewalk.

Get details at Crescent Moonwatch and then file a report with them of your experience.

I didn't list the waning crescent this month because it is very, very difficult at best. Given Moon's elongation from Sun and that it is relatively close to the ecliptic, within a degree, I would say we had a fighting chance. What makes this event so challenging is that the ecliptic rises very shallow relative to the horizon. (Contrast that with the angle of the ecliptic for the young crescent mentioned above.) That results in the Moon and Sun rising within minutes of one another and greatly diminishing any contrast the crescent could have with a twilight sky background. Simply it gets lost in the glare.

At magnitude 5.9, Uranus may be difficult to spot 3° WSW (celestial) in the civil twilight, but if I'm wrong it could serve as a landmark to help isolate the area where the crescent may be detected.

Nonetheless, if the weather permits, I'll give it a shot at Carl Schurz Park on Sunday morning. If I miss the crescent, I'm sure to catch a glorious sunrise and observe the city's pulse awaken along the promenade.


Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Central Park Dark #6

Central Park Dark #6
Originally uploaded by 100five.
Update: 100five was kind enough to allow me to post a marked up copy of his photo shown to the right. Click on it to visit his Flickr page.

Picture Title: Central Park Dark #6
Photographer: 100five

via this post of Extra, Extra found on, 100five's photo of Bethesda Fountain provides a stellar background of the northern Spring sky. Bethesda Terrace is south of Great Lawn, the location where the New Year fireworks are launched.

This shot captures the sky from north to east-northeast, that is from Ursa Minor in the north to the tail of Leo, with stars as dim as magnitude 6. From TotL's perspective this is looking into the corridor. I'm guessing that the picture was taken between 6:30 ~ 7:00 pm on 11 March 2007, much closer to 7, like 6:52pm.

I have prepared a markup but 100five's creative commons license does not allow derivatives. Perhaps, 100five will allow it after asking :^D. This markup assist in identifying the visible constellations. Compare with the original.

A good tour to describe most of what is visible in this photo.

One can see the following constellations and asterisms:

Ursa Minor, more commonly known by its asterism name, Little Dipper to left of Bethesda Fountain. Typically, only Polaris, Kochab, and Pherkad are easily visible. It takes a keen eye to see the other stars. Team TotL uses the Little Dipper as one of the constellations to determine naked eye limiting magnitude (NELM).

Draco, to the left of fountain and curves from the horizon up and around the Little Dipper.

Ursa Major Two asterisms are found in Ursa Major, the popular Big Dipper and the bear's three paws, each consisting of a pair of stars, collectively known as the Three Leaps of the Gazelle.

Leo Minor
Canes Venatici

Two plane trails are also visible: one to the right of the fountain's cherubs base and the other below Regulus in the upper right corner.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Fun constellation art

Fun constellation art that offers a rich set of targets can be found at Stargazing for Fun.

~z~ goes into great detail to tell us about the various objects and their properties with in the constellation boundaries. Many of the DSO's listed in the illustrations are within the urban astronomers grasp. Print out the charts, grab a pair of 7x or 10x binoculars, and see if you can spot faint fuzzies or resolving clusters.

With the spring sky rising by midnight, I look forward to more of these constellation charts.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Two public events for Astronomy

8 - 21 March 2007 :: World-Wide Hunt for Stars

Stuart and davep mention another global event requesting the help of the public. Globe at Night is asking for participation to observe Orion, count the stars, and submit your results to them. The web site provides instructions and an activity packet in English & Spanish. Following the instructions provided the casual observer compares the sky at their location with templates available at the website. The goal is to assign a limiting magnitude for location.

Globe at Night reports of last year's success:
During the 2006 event over 18,000** people from 96 countries on all continents (except Antarctica) reported more than 4500 nighttime observations.

19 May 2007 :: 1st International Sidewalk Astronomy Night

astro_gifDonna Smith of Sidewalk Astronomers is spearheading an effort to get 1000 telescopes out on the street around the world. Donna responds to the question, "Why have astronomy night when we already have astronomy day?"

Her response is two fold: first is to honor John Dobson and the other is to take the initiative of bringing telescopes to the public. On the Yahoo!Groups Guild of Manhattan Sidewalk Astronomers, Donna invites people:
If you are interested, please reply to this email so that I can post it on our temporary website, You don't have to give an exact location, but make sure there is contact information that you don't
mind being posted.

Monday, March 05, 2007

tools in the palm of the hand

I have added another resource to compliment tools used in the field: photos grabbed from the web and stored on an SD card. Out into the field they go with the Palm Tungsten T3.

My primary lunar resource in the field is Astromist, a superb app for the Palm. Check out the features of the Moon Assistant on Cyrille's web page. This utility alone makes the app worth every cent. On those sessions when Charlie, Kin, and I cavort about the lunar landscape, the Moon Assistant helps us identify features.

Sometimes it is difficult to identify features on the limb dbecause those features suffer from foreshortening. In this case, I have been using images grabbed from Vern's website. Some of his images show a favorably librated eastern limb. This comes in handy clearly pointing out the different features of found in Mare Marginis or Mare Australe. I also loaded a marked up close up of Mare Australe created by Alan Chu and found within his fantastic Moon Book.

Here are a couple of the images on the Palm.

A screen grab of Astromist. Three levels of zoom, this is step 2 with focus on crater Lyot in M. Australe.

Screen grab of Alan Chu's marked up photograph on the Palm. AcidImage displaying at 71% of original size.

One of the few images of Vern's moon pictures. Very useful to identify features along the limb. Able to zoom beyond 100% and still able to identify features.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

A list of the items used on the Palm.

Palm Tungsten T3 the PDA.
LinkeSOFT ScreenShot 2.4 to grab these images

Astromist consists of many astronomy applications underthe hood of a unifying interface. Loaded with features and images.

Acid Image to display the photos on the Palm.
Vern's photographs swim through his lunar category archive to see these & more.
Alan Chu's Mare Australe from the excellent resource, "Photographic Moon Book" (very large).

new lunar resource

Clementine Lunar Map 2.0 (Beta)

New for me.

After looking at Andrew's recent image of Tycho, I re-called a lunar mystery reported by davep. Mistaken, I soon realized I that it was a mystery about Copernicus and not Tycho.

While looking for the detail I found reference to the Clementine Lunar Map 2.0 in the comment section of the davep post. Conveniently a link to Stuart's fade of the real Copernicus and Geoff Burt's sketch was the icing. Dig it up, it's a tribute to Geoff's sketching skill and a treat to watch the animated gif.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

March 3 Lunar Eclipse in NYC - a success

Session name: 20070303.1600
Equipment: Takahashi FS-102 Refractor & Takahashi Flourite Apochromatic Binoculars (22x60) Binocular

A moment of Zen at Carl Schurz Park around 4:00.
While Tom C. was becoming with one with sky, I asked Mother Nature to open her arms to release her hold on the clouds that quilted the sky. The two of us were the only ones in sight waiting for the eclipse. Perhaps we were too eager. We quibbled that others may have been discouraged from showing because of the clouds.

Where were the rest of Team TotL?

The following photographs were taken prior to the lunar eclipse. There are none of the eclipse. (Even though I had the camera and adapters, the scope served the lines of people with real-time, eye popping views.) the I was able to take a few snapshots but eventually the number of people increased considerably. It became incredibly busy around each of us that had scopes and something to say - and most spectacular was that no accidents occurred. Bravo, people of NYC.

The eclipse was fascinating. Tom C. detected a dull, gloomy disk through the schmutz of the horizon. It was very dim offering little contrast to the sky. This was a muted gray lacking any hint of reds or copper. As it rose higher in the sky the gray became less muted and more pronounced as a dark gray in total lunar eclipse. Its color - or lack of it - was most pronounced when Moon began to egress Earth's shadow, brightening the limb at the Moon's southwestern edge, described as 7:00~ish.

I was fortunate to observe the blinking of 59 Leonis at the time of disappearance and reappearance using the Tak bins. It was easy and the flash off and on was instantaneous from these optics. Typically, it would be difficult to keep the star near a Full Moon as the Moon's glare would overwhelm the surrounding sky concealing the star near the limb. Not the case here tonight. Bruce & I both called out the disappearance, but on the reappearance, seemingly I was the only one who called it out.

In all it was a fantastic evening. I began the session with Tom C. hoping for clear skies, passed time with hundreds of friendly, polite, interested people, and completed the session with Tom C. Kin, and Charlie. Team TotL assembled and we were the last standing.

On my way home I came to realize a very important aspect of why I love astronomy. Actually, I love the congregation of people. The telescope attracts the good people and the spirit among us grows positively. Fraternity, warmth, fascination, awe, affection, reverence, inspiration, reflection, charity, goodwill ...

As we waited for the appointed hour, the sky began to clear. As minutes passed, more people came around. Local news picked up the story and were walking about and asking questions. As we waited, we made the best of Venus challenging the assembling people around the telescope to find her on the daytime sky. My telescope and binoculars were aimed at Venus for the folks to take a look.

The people gather in numbers. This is the ast photo of a growing congregation of people. If I said 200 persons showed I would think that to be a conservative number. Maybe 300. And there more than a dozen scopes and bins set up for the people to see. It felt as if there were hundreds that came by to look through the Tak siblings.

Even though I photographed John Pazmino, I missed him. I did see many with his NYSkies flyers that provided a description of the eclipse, illustrations, and the timetable.
Bruce Kamiat, lower right corner, is setting up his scope. Bruce is the Chair for the NYC Amateur Astronomy Association's (AAA)Observers Group and is at ease with explaining to the onlookers how the solar system works. The family in the center background stand near my scope and the boy uses my handheld binoculars looking for Venus.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Takahashi bins grabs the brighter fuzzies

In the field, I use PleiadAtlas predominantly as my field guide. There is a harmony of the way it works and the way I work. Here are a handful of screen grabs from the Tungsten T3 and mosaic'ed & marked up with gimp.

On the last two sessions that I have been out on, I split the night between two different optics: Takahashi binoculars & Harry, a 6" F/6 reflector. The illustration shows a convenient starhop of bright Messier catalog open clusters. One's not limited to those, there is a lot going on in Puppis - Canis Major area that is within the grab of the bins. Also much more is west and north of Orion, the Winter sky is rich with bright fuzzies.

M67 & M46 are two of the Messiers that are beyond reach of detection for the Tak bins in the city sky. The 6' was able to grab M67 as a faint, slightly resolving ghostly glow on the sky background. My impression was that it is rich in stars. I didn't throw the 6" on M46 - another time.