Astronomy Days 2015

Posted in Outreach on January 26, 2015 – 8:27 PM
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This past weekend was the annual Astronomy Days event at the NC Museum of Natural Sciences and the Nature Research center. This annual event is one of my favorites and I volunteer throughout the weekend. It’s a chance for everyone to interact with astronomy on many levels. I’m fortunate to be part of such a great club, the Raleigh Astronomy Club, which anchors the event. The event drew over 14,600 people and featured exhibits by NASA and JPL, unversity science departments, as well as many other organizations showing off everything from meteorites to rockets. There were craft projects and lots of hands on activities. Congratulations to everyone involved, a special thanks to all the museum volunteers who really make the event successful.

Here, my son does some Solar Observing during a break on Sunday.
Solar Observing

The Raleigh Astro club ran about 11 exhibits including exoplanets, telescopes on display, scale of the universe, solar observing, “age, weight, and jumping on other planets”, astrophotography and others. I also served as “Ask the Astronomer” for a good part of the weekend which allowed me to share some pictures I had taken and give people information about the club and our upcoming events. Astronomy definitely gets people’s imagination going and looking through a telescope seems to be a very special and memorable experience. And I have a message for the International Astronomical Union (IAU)… Even after about 9 years, there is still outrage over Pluto’s demotion. I fielded many questions about Pluto’s designation. I was stumped a few times, but particularly memorable was someone asking about Milankovitch Cycles had me scratching my head – I had never heard of this before.

Throughout the weekend there were many talks. The featured speaker was Andrew Feustel, a NASA astronaut with many hours of spacewalking experience. There were many other talks, including excitement from a scientist on the New Horizons mission, which is approaching Pluto for a July flyby. A club member, a professional astrophysicist, gave a popular talk on black holes. I presented on “Types of Telescopes” and “Astronomical Spectroscopy.” Perhaps I need to simplify the message a bit, but I know a few people in each talk who were helped or interested and wanted to know more.

My son, Jack, was with me the entire weekend this year. He helped around at a number of stations, and even filled in as the resident astronomer for a bit.
Jack the Astronomer

As always, it was a great event. I really enjoying seeing kids, young and old, take an interest in the world around them… and beyond.

M36, M37, and M38 – Three Open Clusters in Auriga

Posted in Observation Record on November 30, 2014 – 10:52 PM
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Date: November 30, 2014
Location: Home (Raleigh, NC)
Skies: Clear, reasonably steady, poor transparency, light polluted
Temp/Humidity: Upper 50’s, low humidity
Moon: Gibbous (69%)

As nights get longer and colder, Capella, the 6th brightest star visible from Earth (other than our sun) moves higher and higher in the east. It marks a corner of a large hexagonish shape which contains three messier open clusters.

Map of the constellation Auriga

Map of the constellation Auriga

M37: Starting just outside the boundaries of the hexagon, M37 appears as a small cluster of stars. This is the best cluster of the trio, in my opinion. It is quite obvious when you land on it. The stars are tightly packed and look quite nice at both 60X and 133X. It fills that TMB Planetary 9mm eyepiece quite well. That would suggest an overall size of just under 27′.

M38: I actually missed over M36 and happened upon M38. M38 has a lot of stars, the most of the trio under my skies and magnification, and seems to make an X or K shape. I was not able to see the greek letter pi as others contend. It was similar in size to M37, perhaps a little smaller.

M36: I doubled back to M36 and was easily able to find it. It’s one of the harder to find messier’s in my opinion, because it just isnt as obvious. It is a small, loosely packed cluster of stars. It did appear to have a few brighter stars which dominate the view, opposed to the other clusters where the star distribution was much more uniform. One double star (or appeared to be a double) really caught my attention. It was easily split and perhaps the highlight of this cluster.

RACOBS at Bigwoods… A cold evening!

Posted in Observation Record on November 16, 2014 – 9:55 PM
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Friday night was the monthly “RACOBS” observing session. This is the monthly planned observing night with my astronomy club. I make a real effort to attend this night whenever possible. During this month’s session there wasn’t a cloud in the sky, but was the first really cold night of the season. Temps started in the upper 30’s when I arrived at 6:30 and dropped below freezing before long. I made it until about 1:30am. Seeing started out questionable, but steadied through the evening.

This was my first opportunity to get my tracking scope out on a field lacking power thanks to my astro piglet. In other words, first time in a year since I’ve really had a chance to use it. My goal for the night was to improve on my ability to polar align the scope and allow longer tracking. But it wasn’t meant to be. While I thought I had good polar alignment and I also had a friend reposition it for me, it just never worked out. Actually, never made it past the alignment process. We’ll try again another time.

But once I gave up on the tracking scope, I moved to my dob at about 11pm.

M33 – Triangulum Galaxy (also called Pinwheel, but others have that same name)
This galaxy is always hard to find, especially for a low numbered messier object. It cannot be seen under light polluted skies, but under the darkness of bigwoods (it was positioned towards the west) it was observable. It lacked structure, but showed as a large fuzzy patch, but definitely brighter towards the center. It was slightly oblong, but stretched about 1 degree in the longer direction.

NGC 752
Not far from M33 was a little star cluster, NGC 752. This little cluster stands out from the background stars. The cluster seems to have maybe 50 stars, with about a dozen brighter ones.

Double Cluster (NGC 869 & 884)
The double cluster is always a nice view, especially in my 38mm (70 degree FOV) eyepiece. The 2 degrees through my scope nicely fit the two bright clusters.

The great nebula in Orion is always a welcome sight in the fall. This was my first opportunity to get it in the telescope this fall. Orion will rise earlier and earlier the next few months. And this particular time, the nebula was as good as I have seen through my dob. The nebula extended out through every piece. Variations in color could be seen, especially the bright right on the top right of the object (as seen in the inverted image). M43, Mu Ori, showed good nebulosity as well, however I couldn’t see anything in the vicinity of the running man (NGC 1977).

The moon and Jupiter
About 12:30am the moon rose. It was about half lit, the bottom half. It was quite a sight seeing it low on the horizon, glistening over Jordan Lake with bright Jupiter about 10 degrees above it in the sky.

M36, M37, and M38
I spent some time in Auriga looking at the three messier open clusters. They require further study, especially as the cold was starting to pull my attention. Of particular interest was a patch of nebulosity very clearly seen, I believe in field (wide field) with M38. I’m not sure if this was NGC 1931, IC 417, or something else. To be continued….