Sunday, September 14, 2008

Description of Top of the Lawn

John P. of NYSkies offered to host a description of our group since we provide astronomy observing to the public. The following is a slightly modified version found at NYSkies. Ben, Charlie, John, Kin, & Tom reviewed and contributed to the description.

Top of the Lawn, more commonly called "TotL" (pronounced "total"), is a loose association of urban astronomy enthusiasts who gather on the northern perimeter path of Central Park's Great Lawn. The core group of sidewalk astronomers equipped with binoculars, telescopes, and a passion for sharing our skies. We are in the Park all year round to observe each season's sky, typically on clear weekend nights.

In addition to the TotL team, there are regular visitors that include dog walkers, cyclists, and pedestrians. These folks come by with such regularity that they learned the fundamental motions of the night sky and how to identify various targets in the sky. However, all visitors are welcome to stop by for peeks and chat.

Defying popular belief, there are many celestial delights to see with the eye and small optics. Many objects are challenged by high background sky brightness. Others, like the Milky Way, can be veiled from sight. Despite this impediment, TotL members help you find the brighter objects in the sky, by eye and optics, and provide some details about them.

In general, solar system bodies are easy to follow from the city, they include the Moon, planets, major comets, and larger asteroids. Man-made objects can be easy to observe, like International Space Station, Space Shuttle, Iridium flares, and large space capsules from other countries.

We can see many bright open clusters, double stars, planetary stars, some nebulae, and globular clusters. Their number and place in the sky vary with the season. Our city sky challenges most galaxies beyond the Milky Way, yet the great Andromeda Galaxy can be observed in optics as small as binoculars.

TotL members gather for the informal purpose of sharing our fascination for the night sky. Passersby are captivated by the vastness of space and distances to other worlds. They look into the eyepiece with awe and wonder. For our group, these reactions and expressed interest are reward enough to share with the public.

A visit to TotL, we can help with the following:

- getting started
- learn how to get your bearings in the sky
- how to use a planisphere
- identify constellations and asterisms
- how to find various deep sky objects
- what to consider when buying equipment
- how to use your binoculars or telescope
- tricks and tips with daytime observing

Just show up – with or without optics. Travel instructions and the map below detail our location in Central Park. We just ask that you respect our equipment and be considerate of others. No expert knowledge is required; an interest and positive attitude are helpful.

Look for us at the northern perimeter sidewalk of the Great Lawn, Central Park. That is approximately at 85th St. in the middle of the park. One can enter the park on the westside from Hunter's Gate at Central Park West (CPW) & 81st St. or Mariner's Gate at CPW & 85th St. at the north side of each entrance, follow the sidewalk straight into the park, crossing the road, West Drive, towards the Great Lawn.

The M10 bus stops nearby at 84th and CPW and the B & C subway stops at 86th and CPW.

If one enters the park from the east, use the entrances north or south (Miner's Gate) of the Metropolitan Museum of Art and walk westward along the path. From the southern entrance one crosses East Drive under the bridge. From the sidewalk north of the “Met”, one follows the sidewalk into the park and crosses East Drive when traffic and the light permit. The sidewalk continues, leading into the Great Lawn.

M1, M2, and other buses run south and stops around 84th & 5th Ave while the 4, 5, or 6 subway stops at 86th & Lexington.

Once you arrive, walk north on the perimeter sidewalk around the Great Lawn. We'll be at the top, or maybe a little further east.

This map indicates meeting places relative to the Great Lawn, Central Park. The red circle indicates our primary meeting place. There are some events where the horizon is more favorable when observed from the blue circles, for example lunar eclipses from Turtle Pond Observatory.

Map to TotL

A Google map

View Larger Map

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