Thursday, June 30, 2016

Virgo Part II: Observations

Here is Part 2, the observations.... enjoy!

M49 A round glow with a bright core. A nice one similar to M87 50X.

M53 A globular cluster NOT a galaxy. It is somewhat resolved and takes power up to 109X pretty well. A nice break from those dim galaxies!

M58 A bright core, mostly evenly bright oval. 50X

M59 A bright oval that brightens more to the core. 50X

M60 It is a brighter galaxy with NGC 4647 nearby. It Averted Vision the galaxies look to touch? 50X

M61 A round glow, with a core, the round halo part of the galaxy is not really even in brightness. 50X

M64 A bright round glow. Even with averted vision not really seeing the black eye, maybe a hint of it. Kinda in a no mans land for star hopping. 50X

M84 A little brighter then M86. A bright oval with a core. 50X

M85 A bright core with a fainter halo. NGC 4394 pairs up with this galaxy.50X

M86 A little fainter then M84. It appears maybe a little bit bigger and/or extended then M84. 50X

M87 A round glow that is bright core. It has a jet, that can be seen with larger scopes 50X.

M88 A bright core, the rest is a oval glow that is somewhat pointed to the south east. Maybe a field star(s) is imposed on the galaxy in the south eastern side.

M89 A bright and round glow. 50X

M90 A unevenly bright and round glow. It has a nice core. 50X

M91 A small but bright core, the rest is just a circular glow. 50X

M98 Pretty bright, elongated but not even in brightness. The core is not every even in brightness either. 50X

M99 Elongated, with a core. Not really seeing the spiral structure with Direct or Averted vision. 50X

M100 Very bright and has a nice core that is round and small. The edges are kind of diffuse. 50X

M104 The Sombrero!, I can see two lanes pretty easily, but it really doesn’t look like a hat though. Very nice. Bright. 50X

I have included all the objects one would hunt down while doing the Virgo/Coma galaxy hunt. I also included M53 which if you are hunting these galaxies down is a nice distraction from the “dim oval” or “dim smudge” of the galaxies. I have always found galaxies interesting but with the rural skies of where I live and the size of scopes that I owned, galaxies have never really been a favorite. They really do take patience and good skies to be able to tease the details out of.

My notes I kept short for the blog and also pretty general. Hopefully they reflect pretty well the impressions that others would have under similar conditions with similar equipment.

I think star hopping these galaxies is really something everyone should do at least once. It really teaches you how to use your scope and navigate the sky in area that is pretty tough to star hop. Once you get started though one mostly just galaxy hops in this area.

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Virgo Part 1: My equipment & resources for observing Virgo Messier List Galaxies

This past month I was able to get in a epic observing run to catch all the Virgo galaxies and I was victorious. I did it by star hopping which was a little tough being there isn't a lot of stars to hop from in Virgo. I found a few things essential in getting successful results:

1. A 8X50 Right Angle Correct Image finder scope.
2. Knowing how big the FOV of my finding eyepiece with my scope is (50X with a 1.3 degree field of view)
3. A book with the images of the galaxies. I used The Messier Object by O'Meara.
4. Sky Safari 3 on my Macbook.
(I also used the recent binocular observing article in Sky Telescope from April 2016)

Now do you need all 5 of these things, well no. I do think the first three are pretty valuable. An observer could get by without the Sky Safari and the magazine article if they had a good star chart. Actually there are probably some better printed materials out there for the Virgo cluster then what I used.

I found the galaxies in Virgo to be pretty tough, mostly because of the lack of stars to hop from AND well with an 8in scope galaxies are not going to be bright unfortunately. The skies at Chandler Mountain are darker then where I live, but they are not super dark either. The Milky Way is pretty easy to see in the summer but it is a bit harder in the winter. I also found hopping the Virgo area to be mentally taxing somewhat too. One is pointing their scope in a somewhat small area of the sky, but there is numerous galaxies in the area, so one has to galaxy hop a lot. Also knowing how big your FOV is helps, because for me I can count FOVs to move around in a tougher area of the sky. I personally set my Sky Safari to show the rings for a Telrad and the FOV of my 8X50 finder. I found myself taking my time, studying the image on the laptop and comparing it to the book a lot. I would highly recommend reviewing or looking at sketches of these objects before going out and observing. Try and find sketches made by folks using a size scope similar to your own. I like using The Belt of Venus blog
, but there are others out there too.

I used mostly my 24mm eyepiece which gives 50X with my scope. I find that eyepiece and my 11mm eyepiece are my two favorites for deep sky objects. I also use a 16mm some too if the 11mm is too much power or I just do not like the view. All my eyepieces except one are from Explore Scientific or Meade and are either 68 degree or 82 degree. The three eyepieces give 50X, 75X and 109X in my scope. I also have a oldie but a goodie Orion 32mm Optiluxe, which is for really low power and comets! For higher power observing I have 8.8, 6.7, 5.5 and 4.7 eyepieces from the Meade 5000 series line. I use them for the Moon and planets.

My telescope is a 8in f/6 Orion Skyquest XT dob. I have the 8X50 Orion RACI finder and a Telrad. I use the ScopeStuff magnet weights to balance the scope with the two finders up front putting so much weigh on the scope.

Thanks for reading! Next month will be Part 2, which will be my observations and thoughts on the galaxies. Till then Clear Skies!

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Another AL observing pin down

Well earlier this month I got my Sunspotter pin, which is exciting. I also got started on the Hydrogen Alpha Observing pin with my recently acquired PST. I am still learning to use the PST, but it is fun and I do enjoy seeing the Sun outside of the white light bandwidth that I was able to do with my dob.

I also got another five double stars knocked out on the Bino Double Star and knocked a few more features on the Moon for the Lunar II pin.

However I haven't been able to get any real dark sky time due to work and weather. At one point this year I thought I might be able to knock out 5 pins, but that is looking in doubt unless I can get some more of the Messier objects done. Summer and the haze is rapidly approaching and it is tough to get any really good observing done once the haze, heat and clouds settle in.

I decided to not continue the Mike Brown class mainly because I have too many irons in the fire. It is very good, but I just don't have the time to commit to it right now.

I really wish I had more to report this time around, but sadly I just haven't really been getting a ton of eyepiece time the last few weeks.

So till next month, keep looking up!

Thursday, March 31, 2016

On turning 70... 70 objects that is...

Hi All! So this past month I went observing and worked in some more Messier objects. I keep a list on a spreadsheet so I can track progress. Well I hit 70 this month, which is enough to get the Astro League certificate (no pin though). I haven't emailed anything in yet to get the certificate, but hitting that 70 objects really makes me feel I have made some real progress towards the pin.

Also this month I am enrolled in Mike Brown's class again for the second time. I really enjoyed taking it the first time and learned a ton.

So I really don't have a ton to really report though, I am just excited about hitting those 70 objects. However Virgo and the galaxies located there still await and it will be a challenge. Hopefully next month I can write my thoughts on it, assuming the weather is good one night and I can get out there and see the Virgo galaxies.

Monday, February 29, 2016

NGC 2362

On Saturday evening I had a chance to get out with the telescope and get some observing in. I only had till 10:15pm local time till the Moon came up and what I really wanted to look at was not favorable in the sky. I am have the Virgo, Leo, and Canes Venatici as the biggest area of the sky left on my journey of star hopping the Messier list to earn a pin.

At the end of the year 2015, the Astronomical League introduced some new certificates to aid folks in earning the Master Observing Pin and to go beyond the initial pin requirements. Of course being a pin addict I had to join the fun of this. One of the certificates is the Observer certificate. To earn this certificate one must complete the Lunar, Solar System, Binocular Messier or Telescope Messier, Constellation Hunter and then a pin of their choice from a list. One of the pins on that list is the Universe Sampler, which I have the workbook for.

I will go into more detail about the Universe Sampler at a later time, but one of the objects in the list is NGC 2362 in Canis Major.

I had never heard of this object before and had to look up a picture of it so I knew what I was looking for. Oh boy am I glad I did. This is a most beautiful open cluster. It has a very bright star in it and that is surrounded by a semi circle of stars that wrap around it... it is absolute beauty. It is magnitude 4.1(v) and is approximately 5000 light years distant. The bright star is Tau Canis Majoris a 4.39 magnitude O8 type star.

Also as a bonus about 2 degrees away to the north is h3945 a double star also known as the Winter Albireo. I stumbled on the double star while panning around for the cluster. It is really beautiful too and worth study.

While I didn’t get a lot of time out under stars this weekend because of the Moon, I did come across this gem of a star cluster and a pretty snazzy double star too. I would really encourage you to get out and look at these before we lose the winter constellations till next fall.

One Minute Astronomer

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Happy Near Year 2016!

Well I am sorry I didn't get to updating the blog since July, I was shooting for once a month last year, and well... yeah didn't happen.

However lots of good observing news is coming your way.

I am about half way through the Messier list, doing it by star hopping. Once I finish later this year, I am going to post my observing notes on that.

Also last year I took trip to Missouri and stopped by the hometown of Edwin Hubble and got pictures of the city square with the model HST and painting. So that is coming! Also I have resumed the Bino Double Star program, so I am going to get some thoughts on paper for y'all on that.

So lots of news and stuff coming. So stay tuned, and sorry for the big hiatus!

Friday, July 31, 2015

Mike Brown's Planetary Science Class on Coursea (review) OR How I got to glimpse another life

Earlier this year, a post on cloudy nights spoke of an opportunity to take an online planetary science class with Mike Brown at CalTech. The course was based on a graduate level course, and consisted of online lectures, quizzes and homework. The course started with thousands, however only around 800 actually passed with a 70%. I made an 89%.

When growing up, what got me into astronomy and space was a NOVA special about the Voyager space probes that flew to the outer solar system. It was narrated by Patrick Stewart from Star Trek The Next Generation. This would have been around the time I was in 5th grade or so. I didn't think much about planetary science as a career till I was much older. Life has a way of getting in the way sometimes and things that teenagers can't control can derail things. I remember in high school there being a senior level geology class that I wanted to take. I, however, was not able to take it because of school rules. In the end it would not matter because I dropped out of high school my senior year anyway. I worked for a couple of years and then one day decided I was going to go to college. I was 19, I was in Missouri with my Dad visiting my grandmother, and by golly I was going to do it. And I did. Community college, I took English 101, Math 093D (Pre-Alegbra) and Library Skills. I passed all the courses, with each being a B. The following semester I took Math 95D (Algebra),English 102, Psychology 101, and Geology 101 with lab! So it took a few years but I got the Geology class. I passed it with a B+, and decided I was going to major in Geology and eventually study the planets. I really wanted to study Neptune! I have always loved the planet since that old NOVA special.

In the end I would not study planetary science or geology. I today have an accounting degree, and work in banking (and I do also have a high school diploma). I help develop programs that stop fraud on debit cards. I am not the person who calls you wanting to know if you did a transaction... I promise! I help write "rules" for cards that stop bad transactions from happening in the first place. But enough about that!

Now fast forward to 2015. This class I thought would be just some lectures and simple homework. Ya know, list the order of the planets. What is a crater. How does the Sun work. Stuff that one can learn on Wikipedia. I signed up because well it is space and I love anything about space. The first lecture was pretty much where the planets are in the sky. How to download the program Stellarium. That kind of thing. By about the third or fourth lecture the class was learning about the atmosphere of Mars. Needless to say this is not going to be a rehash of some "How The Universe Works" tv show or Astro 101 class.

Over the nine weeks the class got very deep. We learned about the Nice model, the Grand Tack model. We studied the chemistry of comets. We learned why Europa has oceans. We learned about why Enceladus has plumes and a ocean, and what it means. We learned that the solar system has an asteroid belt that has actual belts inside it. Yes belts inside a belt!

In the end I was challenged. And in the end I learned I was probably never capable of being a planetary scientist. Now this isn't some down with me, I am sad post. Not at all. People who study space have to be very smart and very good at math and science. I have a passion for space, but that doesn't mean I can do high level math and physics and chemistry. Academics in the space sciences also have to be willing to put up with a tough life style. They are broke a good part of their 20s and maybe 30s being grad students and post docs and researchers living on a grant, shoestring budget and maybe a prayer. And in the end, they have to be the best of the best when it comes to academics and grades. I am a solid B student. I am not a "professor smart" person.

So where am I going with this. This is sounding like a Debbie Downer. I for nine weeks, got to be a planetary scientist, well a student planetary scientist.... and I loved it. I am proud of my 89%. I am proud of a "certificate" that I earned (it is just a PDF doc with no credits at any school). I actually got to learn science and not just look at pictures or listen to a podcast (while usually mowing grass or working) and learn why things are what they are in the sky. Why our solar system is the way it is. In essence I was that fifth grader again watching and learning about the solar system all over again like it was new.

In the end I got to glimpse another life of something I could never do, but for nine weeks I did do.

But I will warn you those who are reading, it is dang tough. When the guest lecture by Bethany Ehlmann starts, you are going to be really second guessing yourself... I know I did. But I am so glad I toughed it out and grew as a person.

Thank You Mike Brown. I can not recommend your course enough.