New Book Page and Articles

I have added a new book page with a link to my Kindle book, available on Amazon. You can get to it either by clicking on My Book in the header or clicking on the image of the book cover at the top right of the blog post.

I have also added several articles I wrote a few years ago for The Faint Fuzzy, the official newsletter of the West Kentucky Amateur Astronomers, to the articles page. Access the page by clicking on My Articles in the header.

Posted in Amateur Astronomy

Return To Pennyrile

Two years ago this spring Melissa and I took a long weekend getaway to Pennyrile State Park in Kentucky. (See my post on 13 May 2012.) This is where the West Kentucky Amateur Astronomers (of which I am the current president) host the Twin Lakes Star Party each fall. We rented a lakeside cabin there and stayed three peaceful days and two nights. It is a great place for relaxing and bird watching, and we enjoyed it so much we wanted to do it again this year.

On the way up we decided to swing by the new Tennessee National Wildlife Refuge Headquarters & Visitor Center, which has just been built along the shores of Kentucky Lake east of Paris, Tennessee. We drove down a winding access road to find a long low building with tan walls, a brown roof and rock trim blending into a wide grassy peninsula. In addition to providing a headquarters for the NWR staff, the building will also provide an environmental education facility for students from local schools as well as the general public. The new building should open this summer and I have agreed to do an astronomy public night for them in September.

Tennessee National Wildlife Refuge Headquarters  Visitor Center near Paris, TN - Copyright ©  2014 Robert D. Vickers, Jr.

Tennessee National Wildlife Refuge Headquarters Visitor Center near Paris, TN – Copyright © 2014 Robert D. Vickers, Jr.

I was very glad to see full cutoff lighting fixtures in their parking lot! These kinds of fixtures keep the light shining on the ground where it is needed and not up into the sky where it just contributes to light pollution.

New Tennessee National Wildlife Refuge Visitor Center on Kentucky Lake - Copyright © 2014 Robert D. Vickers, Jr.

New Tennessee National Wildlife Refuge Visitor Center on Kentucky Lake – Copyright © 2014 Robert D. Vickers, Jr.

Driving up the southern half of the Trace through the Land Between the Lakes, we stopped to take a tour of the 700 acre Bison Prairie. This is a 3.5 mile “drive-thru” habitat with reintroduced herds of bison and elk. Although we saw no elk this trip, we did see plenty of bison.

Bison Herd at Land Between the Lakes - Copyright © 2014 Robert D. Vickers, Jr.

Bison Herd at Land Between the Lakes – Copyright © 2014 Robert D. Vickers, Jr.

As we slowly drove by the herd we saw three girls (we guessed they were Murray State College students) who had parked their car at the road and walked well out into the field within 100 feet or so of a lone bison. (According to posted rules you are supposed to stay in your car if bison are within 200 feet.) They were all three standing together with their backs to the bison. One of them held a camera at arm’s length to take a “selfie” with the bison in the background!

After we had passed, I continued to watch curiously in the rear view mirror as a park ranger rapidly drove his truck up to the girls and pointed meaningfully back toward their car. They were lucky the bison was lazy that day and didn’t decide to charge them. According to park information, they can run up to 35 miles per hour which would allow them to cover 100 feet in just a few seconds.

Bison on Bison Range, Land Between the Lakes, Ky - Copyright © 2014 Robert D. Vickers, Jr.

Bison on Bison Range, Land Between the Lakes, Ky – Copyright © 2014 Robert D. Vickers, Jr.

After our LBL drive, Melissa and I made our way up to Pennyrile Park where we took up residence again in “our” lakeside cabin. The cabin has a nice large deck facing the lake that is a wonderful place to watch birds from and we found ourselves spending most of our time on the deck. The afternoon was quiet and relaxing and we settled into our “zero-gravity” chairs to listen to the wind in the trees and the birdsong. I could hear a couple of Gray Catbirds nearby as well as Titmice, an Eastern Phoebe, and a Wood Thrush. As I scanned the trees with binoculars, I spotted a smallish bird with a black “hood,” a light gray breast fading into a white belly, blackish wings, back, and tail, and a white band across the end of the tail. Its voice was a rapid chittering similar to a Chimney Swift only louder. A quick check of Peterson’s allowed me to identify it for the first time as an Eastern Kingbird. It was back in the U.S. apparently after wintering in South America as many birds do.

Birdwatching from the cabin's lakeside deck - Copyright (c) 2014 Robert D. Vickers, Jr.

Birdwatching from the cabin’s lakeside deck – Copyright (c) 2014 Robert D. Vickers, Jr.

We enjoyed dinner that evening on the deck and sat watching the gloaming progress until weariness finally overtook us and we moved back indoors.

Cool spiral staircase in our lakeside cabin - Copyright (c) 2014 Robert D. Vickers, Jr.

Cool spiral staircase in our lakeside cabin – Copyright (c) 2014 Robert D. Vickers, Jr.

The next morning we ate our free continental breakfast at the lodge and sat at our favorite table to watch the geese and ducks on the lake. We had arrived the day before on a Sunday afternoon just as everyone else was leaving. On a quiet Monday morning we had the restaurant almost to ourselves.

View from our favorite table at Pennyrile Lodge Restaurant - Copyright (c) 2014 Robert D. Vickers, Jr.

View from our favorite table at Pennyrile Lodge Restaurant – Copyright (c) 2014 Robert D. Vickers, Jr.

A day outing to Henderson, KY brought us to the John James Audubon State Park again where we made another tour of the museum, watched a couple of videos on the history of the park, and took a walk in the 700 acre woods. The park lies right next to one of the busiest highways, densely packed with gas stations, stores, billboards, and fast food restaurants, that I have ever seen.

Entrance to Audubon State Park in Henderson, Kentucky - Copyright © 2014 Robert D. Vickers, Jr.

Entrance to Audubon State Park in Henderson, Kentucky – Copyright © 2014 Robert D. Vickers, Jr.

It was like passing through a time warp into another world.

Taking a walk through Audubon State Park - Copyright (c) 2014 Robert D. Vickers, Jr.

Taking a walk through Audubon State Park – Copyright (c) 2014 Robert D. Vickers, Jr.

When we got back to the cabin, I again took up residence on the deck, inspired by the art and journals of John James Aububon to look for more birds. Circling and diving over the lake was some kind of swallow, but I couldn’t tell what kind. I could also hear a Red-Bellied Woodpecker calling and drumming in the distance as well as the song of another new bird that I did not know, a fairly complicated series of twelve or so rapid notes (3-6-3) repeated in the same pattern. I followed the new song around the trees until I finally got a clear view. It was a dark bird with a black head, a brick red breast, belly, and rump, and black wings and tail. Again to Peterson’s and another new bird was identified, a male Orchard Oriole.

Male Orchard Oriole, Pennyrile State Park, Ky - Copyright © 2014 Robert D. Vickers, Jr.

Male Orchard Oriole, Pennyrile State Park, Ky – Copyright © 2014 Robert D. Vickers, Jr.

As the late afternoon progressed, a gibbous Moon rose over the lake, two days before full.

Gibbous Moon Rising over Pennyrile State Park, Ky - Copyright (c) 2014 Robert D. Vickers, Jr.

Gibbous Moon Rising over Pennyrile State Park, Ky – Copyright (c) 2014 Robert D. Vickers, Jr.

Once again, I sat on the deck and just enjoyed the sounds of the birds and the cool wind in the trees. The Sun slowly sank below the horizon allowing Mars and some of the brighter stars to come out. The moonlight sparkled on the water.

Moonrise over Pennyrile Lake, Ky - Copyright (c) 2014 Robert D. Vickers, Jr.

Moonrise over Pennyrile Lake, Ky – Copyright (c) 2014 Robert D. Vickers, Jr.

The next morning, I decided to walk from the cabin a short distance to the Pennyrile Lake dam. In the pine trees along the trail I first heard, then observed another male Orchard Oriole (or maybe it was the same one as the night before). Then, nearby, I also spotted an immature (first year) male, yellow with olive wings and a black patch under the chin.

While walking across the dam, I watched the swallows perform their aerial acrobatics over the lake. It was increasingly windy but the wind did not seem to deter the birds. Close observation of their markings and their voice identified them as Rough Winged Swallows; another new species for me. These were the ones I had seen flying around the cabin but they had been too fast to identify and I could only see them as silhouettes against the sky. As they flew over the dam, the spillway, and the lake, I could make out their brown backs and wings, their white belly, and the dusky brownish color under their chin. They circled and dove in playful flight, uttering a harsh rolling “trit.”

As I came back up the hill toward the cabin, I saw the male Orchard Oriole again, but this time he landed next to a female. The female was very similar to the immature male, having a yellow body and olive wings but it lacked the black patch under the chin. So, I saw a male, an immature male, and a female all within about 45 minutes!

By late morning, Melissa and I reluctantly departed Pennyrile State Park and drove to Kentucky Dam Village just to sight-see. On the way there, we crossed both the Cumberland and the Tennessee Rivers and saw the dams across these rivers. At Kentucky Dam Village, we stopped at the lodge and walked outside to view the bird-feeders on the side facing the Tennessee River. There were Common Grackles and Chickadees. There was also a beautiful Red-headed Woodpecker. These gorgeous birds have a completely red head while the body and wings are a starkly contrasting black and white.

Red-headed Woodpecker at Kentucky Dam Village State Park, KY - Copyright (c) 2014 Robert D. Vickers, Jr.

Red-headed Woodpecker at Kentucky Dam Village State Park, KY – Copyright (c) 2014 Robert D. Vickers, Jr.

After eating too much lunch at Patti’s in Grand Rivers, we drove down the northern half of the Trace through LBL and from there on to home. We have come to really enjoy these getaways to Pennyrile and they are rapidly becoming a tradition with us.

Until next time…

Posted in Other Nature Studies

Long Overdue GG&C Post

Here are a couple of Galaxy Trios and a couple of Hicksons observed over the past month or so. The first is Galaxy Trio 21 or the NGC 3128 Trio in Hydra. These three very elongated galaxies form a nearly equilateral triangle. They each have a fairly even brightness around magnitude 14.

GG&C Trio 21 - Copyright (c) 2014 Robert D. Vickers, Jr.

GG&C Trio 21 – Copyright (c) 2014 Robert D. Vickers, Jr.

On the opposite end of the shape spectrum is Trio 22 or the NGC 3202 trio. It is a compact group of three roundish galaxies in Ursa Major, all around magnitude 13.2. NGC 3207 actually appears to me to be the brightest of the three and is visible with direct vision. It has a bright, almost stellar, nucleus surrounded by a small roundish halo.

GG&C Trio 22 - Copyright (c) 2014 Robert D. Vickers, Jr.

GG&C Trio 22 – Copyright (c) 2014 Robert D. Vickers, Jr.

On the same evening that I observed the galaxy trio above, I also found the two bright asteriods Vesta and Ceres. They were about two degrees apart in the constellation Virgo, Vesta near 84 Virginis and Ceres near 78 Virginis. The view through my finder scope (sketched below) reminded me of the “double-double” star Epsilon Lyrae. They will appear closest in the sky on July 5th at only 10 arcminutes apart.

Asteroids Vesta & Ceres - Copyright (c) 2014 Robert D. Vickers, Jr.

Asteroids Vesta & Ceres – Copyright (c) 2014 Robert D. Vickers, Jr.

The Hickson 42 compact galaxy group consists of one larger and brighter galaxy (NGC 3091) surrounded by three smaller and dimmer ones. I managed to snag all of these galaxies, even P28926 which, at magnitude 15.8, was an extremely dim round spot on the very edge of visibility.

Hickson Galaxy Group 42 - Copyright (c) 2014 Robert D. Vickers, Jr.

Hickson Galaxy Group 42 – Copyright (c) 2014 Robert D. Vickers, Jr.

Finally, was the Hickson compact galaxy group 61, also known as “The Box.” This group is an interesting rectangular or box-shaped arrangement of four fairly bright, mostly elongated galaxies. Two of them, NGC 4169 and NGC 4174 were visible with direct vision while the dimmest, NGC 4173, was visible only as an elusive dim haze. N4173 is actually a foreground galaxy about 60 million light years distant. The other three galaxies are about 180 million light years away. (See the Sky & Telescope article: The Gossamers of Coma Berenices by Sue French in the May 2010 issue, page 67.)

Hickson Galaxy Group 61 (AKA "The Box"<img src=

- Copyright (c) 2014 Robert D. Vickers, Jr." width="500" height="294" /> Hickson Galaxy Group 61 (AKA “The Box”Smilie: ;) – Copyright (c) 2014 Robert D. Vickers, Jr.

Posted in Amateur Astronomy

February Hicksons

Believe it or not, there were a few clear nights in February. Although very cold (think polar vortex!), the transparency was excellent and I managed to view a few more Hickson Compact Galaxy Groups. Many of the individual galaxies in these groups are very dim and I was unable to see all the galaxies in any given group.

GG&C Hickson Compact Galaxy Group 31 - Copyright (c) 2014 Robert D. Vickers, Jr.

GG&C Hickson Compact Galaxy Group 31 – Copyright (c) 2014 Robert D. Vickers, Jr.

The first group was Hickson 31, AKA the NGC 1741 group. This is a very interesting group with two heavily interacting galaxies, NGC 1741 and P16573. These two are listed as the “a” and “c” elements of Hickson 31. The brightest is actually P16573 as it contains the central starburst which shows as a bright stellar nucleus. NGC 1741 is only visible as a vague, hazy extension of P16573 to the ENE. Even though the “b” element, P16570, is listed as brighter than N1741, I could not make it out. Neither could I see the tiny and ridiculously dim d element, P16571, at magnitude 17.3. I could, however, see another galaxy (IC399) a few arc minutes to the SE. This roundish galaxy which becomes brighter toward the center is not listed in the Astronomical League GG&C booklet but is listed in other sources as element “g”, a possible member of the group. The distance to Hickson 31 is given as about 166 million light years.

GG&C Hickson Compact Galaxy Group 22 - Copyright (c) 2014 Robert D. Vickers, Jr.

GG&C Hickson Compact Galaxy Group 22 – Copyright (c) 2014 Robert D. Vickers, Jr.

I only managed to see one galaxy in the next group, Hickson 22, before the clouds moved in. NGC 1199 appeared slightly elongated SW/NE with a stellar nucleus. It is by far the largest and brightest of the group at mag 12.2, but I did not even have a chance to look for the other elements. I will have to re-visit this group sometime in the future.

GG&C Hickson Compact Galaxy Group 32 - Copyright (c) 2014 Robert D. Vickers, Jr.

GG&C Hickson Compact Galaxy Group 32 – Copyright (c) 2014 Robert D. Vickers, Jr.

I could see only the two brightest galaxies in Hickson 32, M-3-13-53 and P16578. Both were small, round, fuzzy spots of light with M-3-13-53 having a dim star-like nucleus.

GG&C Hickson Compact Galaxy Group 33 - Copyright (c) 2014 Robert D. Vickers, Jr.

GG&C Hickson Compact Galaxy Group 33 – Copyright (c) 2014 Robert D. Vickers, Jr.

Lastly, I observed the brightest two galaxies of Hickson 33, P16867 and P16866. They were both small, round, fuzzy spots with no stellar nuclei. I was surprised to be able to see them at all due to their magnitudes of 15.4. I figured that I was probably only able to see them because the group was very high in the sky with a +18.0 degree declination so I was looking through much less atmosphere. None of the galaxies in this group were even plotted in Uranometria.

Posted in Amateur Astronomy

My New Book

For anyone who is interested, I have written a short book which is now available on Amazon. It has been a long time coming (several years) but I have finally declared it to be finished.  It is basically a memoir of some of my experiences in amateur astronomy prompted by my Herschel 400 observing project from 2004 to 2006.

Book Cover 7

Currently, it is a Kindle version only but even if you don’t own a Kindle, you can download the Kindle for PC app (for free) which will allow you to read it on your PC.

The book is normally $2.99, but I have set up a three day promotion for Sunday, February 9th, through Tuesday, February 11th, where you can download for free. Click on the cover image above to link to the Amazon page.

I hope you enjoy it.

Posted in Amateur Astronomy, Other Nature Studies

More Abells, Hicksons, and Trios of Galaxies

As with most Abells it seems, Abell 2589 (GG&C #46) offered only a fraction of the total number in the cluster that were bright enough for me to see at all. I saw two out of the fifteen plotted galaxies, and both required extreme averted vision. Most of the remaining galaxies were very dim PGC (Principal Galaxies Catalog) galaxies. The brightest galaxy (NGC 7647) was only magnitude 14.6.

GG&C Abell #46 (Abell 2589) Galaxy Cluster - Copyright (c) 2014 Robert D. Vickers, Jr.

GG&C Abell #46 (Abell 2589) Galaxy Cluster – Copyright (c) 2014 Robert D. Vickers, Jr.

Abell 2593 (GG&C #47) was not much better at four visible galaxies out of thirty-two plotted. Again, all were visible only with averted vision. The largest and “brightest” galaxy of the bunch is NGC 7649 at mag 15.0.

GG&C Abell #47 (Abell 2593) Galaxy Cluster - Copyright (c) 2014 Robert D. Vickers, Jr.

GG&C Abell #47 (Abell 2593) Galaxy Cluster – Copyright (c) 2014 Robert D. Vickers, Jr.

I could see two of the four galaxies in Hickson 96, both with averted vision.

GG&C Hickson 96 Galaxy Group - Copyright (c) 2014 Robert D. Vickers, Jr.

GG&C Hickson 96 Galaxy Group – Copyright (c) 2014 Robert D. Vickers, Jr.

In Trio #48, I could see two of the three, one (NGC 7701) with direct vision. At mag 15.9, NGC 7699 was not visible. A very uneven trio.

GG&C Galaxy Trio #48 - Copyright (c) 2014 Robert D. Vickers, Jr.

GG&C Galaxy Trio #48 – Copyright (c) 2014 Robert D. Vickers, Jr.

Abell 2634 (also called the Pegasus II Cluster) is a good collection of small but fairly bright galaxies. It consists of a central clump of five brighter galaxies and a few more scattered dimmer ones.

GG&C Abell #48 (Abell 2634) Galaxy Cluster - Copyright (c) 2014 Robert D. Vickers, Jr.

GG&C Abell #48 (Abell 2634) Galaxy Cluster – Copyright (c) 2014 Robert D. Vickers, Jr.

When I observed Trio #50, I didn’t realize it at the time but I missed one of the trio galaxies (NGC 7781). Instead, I saw nearby NGC 7782 and sketched it instead. Sometime in the future I will try to come back and look for the “lost” galaxy. These are all fairly bright at mags 12.7 to 13.9.

GG&C Galaxy Trio #50 - Copyright (c) 2014 Robert D. Vickers, Jr.

GG&C Galaxy Trio #50 – Copyright (c) 2014 Robert D. Vickers, Jr.

Last, but not least, is Trio #1. It is a string of three fairly bright NGC galaxies, all roundish. Mags 13.1 – 13.7.

GG&C Galaxy Trio #1 - Copyright (c) 2014 Robert D. Vickers, Jr.

GG&C Galaxy Trio #1 – Copyright (c) 2014 Robert D. Vickers, Jr.

Posted in Amateur Astronomy

Himalia

The skies last Saturday night turned out to be much better than I thought they would. Daytime clouds dissipated and the evening stars appeared. After checking on the new supernova (SN2014J) in M82, which was quite easy to see, I decided to turn my scope to something closer to home but a lot harder to see. In addition to its four Galilean moons, Jupiter has at least one more moon that is visible in amateur telescopes. It is called Himalia, a 170 km (102 mile) diameter hunk of rock orbiting way outside the orbits of Io, Europa, Ganymede, and Calisto. It was discovered by Charles Dillon Perrine at the Lick Observatory in 1904. It has an orbital period of 251 Earth days and a visual brightness between 14th and 15th magnitude. Being this dim it is easily overwhelmed by Jupiter’s glare when it is close to the planet. Fortunately, its orbit takes it as much as a degree from Jupiter (equivalent to the diameters of two full Moons side by side) and this is the best time to view it. Himalia has been on my bucket list since I read an article in the September 2000 issue of Sky & Telescope magazine titled Moons of the Outer Planets by Roger W. Sinnott, but I only just recently researched how to find it in the telescope. I began (as I do most of my research projects nowadays) with a Google search for “Observing Himalia.” The search turned up two sources of information: The Whassupinthemilkyway.blogspot.com posts for Saturday December 10, 2011, & Monday August 13, 2012, by Karen Keese, which references an earlier online article (http://www.astronomy.net/articles/18/) by Rick Scott from October 20, 2003, which also references the aforementioned Sky & Telescope article. Given these guides and Jupiter’s recent opposition, I figured that now was the perfect time to try for Himalia.

I pretty much followed Karen’s instructions so I will not go into great detail here but will instead send you to her article for a step-by-step guide. I went first to the JPL Horizons website and generated an ephemeris for Himalia for the evening which showed its exact position in the sky (Right Ascension and Declination) at hourly intervals. I chose one time listing, in this case for 2300 CST or 0500 UT, as my projected time of observation. I then went to the Digitized Sky Survey (DSS) website and entered the coordinates. I produced two star field printouts, one at 30’ x 30’ and one at 15’ x 15’. I was able to match one approximately 7.5 magnitude star in the 30’ x 30’ printout with one of my Uranometria charts covering the lower half of Gemini. I also used a ruler to draw reticle lines to bracket the exact spot on the 15’ x 15’ printout where Himalia should appear.

Armed with charts, printouts, and a great deal of enthusiasm, I went back out to the scope to begin my search. Beginning at the star Mekbuda in Gemini, I then found 36d Gem through the finder and starhopped a little over one degree to the northeast and the 7.5 mag star shown on the Uranometria chart. This was the star that was also on the 30’ x 30’ printout. Near the center of the printout (Himalia’s theroretical location) was another dimmer star which also showed near the center of the 15’ x 15’ printout. I starhopped to the dimmer star, which was about half a degree from Jupiter’s glare, and scanned just to its west-southwest. About 0.5 arc-minutes from the star, I found (using averted vision) a very dim “star” where none should be. It was slightly to the east of my reticle lines but the time was only 2230 CST. Bingo! With continued averted vision scanning, I spotted two more dim stars nearby that I could confirm on the printout. Both were dimmer than Himalia’s apparent visual magnitude of 14.81 (according to the JPL ephemeris). I plotted its position and watched for a while. As my eyes adjusted more to the darkness, I could find Himalia with averted vision but could hold it for a while with direct vision. I called Melissa to come out and look and after some adaptation time and some coaching she was able to barely see it too with averted vision.

After about a half hour it became obvious that the distance was widening between my Himalia candidate and the nearby star. I continued to watch for about an hour until I was absolutely sure of its slow drift westward and slightly northward. In the course of an hour I estimate that it moved about 23 arc-seconds. Wow! One of my best observing nights in quite a while, and I was a long time getting to sleep….

Himalia: 1/25/14 Plotted at 2230/2300/2330 CST East to West. Digitized Sky Survey (DSS) image.

Himalia: 1/25/14 Plotted at 2230/2300/2330 CST East to West. Digitized Sky Survey (DSS) image.

“The sight has the appeal of the purely passive, like the racing of light under clouds on a field, the beautiful dream at the moment of being dreamed. The breeze is the merest puff, but you yourself sail headlong and breathless under the gale force of the spirit.”–Annie Dillard (Pilgrim at Tinker Creek)

Posted in Amateur Astronomy

Venus in Daylight

Back on 26 February 2012, I used the Moon to find the planet Venus in daylight and posted a pic and description. During the last couple of weeks Venus has been about as bright as it ever gets and with some encouragement from my good friend Ross Workman I had a go at locating it in the middle of the day with no Moon as a guide. In the late afternoon on 17 December I had stumbled across it while watching a flock of birds and it was easy enough to see while I was looking right at it. But if I looked off more than a degree or two it disappeared from sight completely. You do have to be looking in just the right spot.

The next day was mostly sunny with just a few high hazy clouds, so I went out about 1:30 pm and stood in the shadow of the building where I work in Jackson, TN, and faced south. I scanned around the approximate area and found Venus pretty easily within a minute or so. I memorized the location and went to get my binoculars from the car. Through the 7×35′s, I could just barely make out its current crescent shape.

On 24 December I went out in my backyard around 3:00 pm and spotted Venus again just above the treeline. Took the following pics. The first with 8x optical zoom. You can just make out a crescent shape.

Daylight Venus around 3:00 pm CST on 24 Devember 2013 - Copyright (c) 2013 Robert D. Vickers, Jr.

Daylight Venus around 3:00 pm CST on 24 Devember 2013 – Copyright (c) 2013 Robert D. Vickers, Jr.

I added a little more telephoto here (probably around 16x). You can see the crescent shape pretty easily. Both pics were taken with my Canon PowerShot ELPH115IS.

Daylight Venus around 3:00 pm 24 December 2013 - Copyright (c) 2013 Robert D. Vickers, Jr.

Daylight Venus around 3:00 pm 24 December 2013 – Copyright (c) 2013 Robert D. Vickers, Jr.

 

Posted in Amateur Astronomy

Cold Clear Nights of Galaxy Groups & Clusters

Here are four Galaxy Groups & Clusters for your amazement and amusement. The first is Additional Group #45 (NGC 7103 Group). I could see three out of the seven plotted galaxies, two NGC’s and one IC, ranging in magnitude from 12.6 to 15.5. The IC was just a tiny smudge with a stellar nucleus.

GG&C Add'l Galaxy Group (NGC 7103 Group) - Copyright (c) 2013 Robert D. Vickers, Jr.

GG&C Add’l Galaxy Group (NGC 7103 Group) – Copyright (c) 2013 Robert D. Vickers, Jr.

Next is Abell Cluster #45 (Abell 3744). This is a large cluster of up to 70 galaxies but the only galaxy that I could see other than the #41 Trio (included in the cluster) was PGC 66149 (MCG-4-49-16) at a listed magnitude of 16.1. Disappointingly, everything else was too small or too dim for my increasingly light polluted skies.

GG&C Abell#45 (Abell 3744) - Copyright (c) 2013 Robert D. Vickers, Jr.

GG&C Abell#45 (Abell 3744) – Copyright (c) 2013 Robert D. Vickers, Jr.

Additional Galaxy Group #46 was much better and I was able to see all four of the plotted galaxies. Magnitudes ranged from a bright direct vision 11.7 for NGC 7184 to 14.0 for NGC 7188. I looked for but could not spot the brighter ring in NGC 7184 that shows in photographs. Maybe from a darker location…?

GG&C Add'l Galxay Group #46 (NGC 7184 Group) - Copyright (c) 2013 Robert D. Vickers, Jr.

GG&C Add’l Galxay Group #46 (NGC 7184 Group) – Copyright (c) 2013 Robert D. Vickers, Jr.

Lastly was bright and easy Trio #49 (NGC 7769 Group). All three were direct vision galaxies, although little NGC 7770 at magnitude 13.8 required averted vision to spot initially.

GG&C Trio #49 (NGC 7769 Group) - Copyright (c) 2013 Robert D. Vickers, Jr.

GG&C Trio #49 (NGC 7769 Group) – Copyright (c) 2013 Robert D. Vickers, Jr.

Posted in Amateur Astronomy

Comet ISON Adventure

Melissa and I got up at 5:30 this morning, donned our warmest clothing, and drove a couple of miles to a spot we had picked out along Highway 22 just south of Huntingdon that offered an unimpeded view to the East. Except for a very light string of clouds right at the eastern horizon, it was clear. The Moon was overhead, along with Jupiter. -0.7 magnitude Mercury was there a few degrees above the horizon. Saturn, at magnitude +0.6 was there just to the lower left of Mercury. Even magnitude 2.75 Alpha Librae joined the party to the lower right of Mercury & Saturn, making a roughly equilateral triangle. The only no-show was the guest of honor, Comet ISON. I had seen it a couple of weeks ago on the morning of the 8th of November. Through the telescope it was an unimpressive fuzzball not visible with naked eye or 7×35 binoculars and barely visible through the 10×60 finder. The last few days have been cloudy and rainy so we hoped to get one last glimpse of the comet before perihelion. It was supposed to be just to the lower right of the Saturn/Mercury/Alpha Librae trio, just above the cloud line, but even scouring the area with binoculars turned up nothing. The sky was rapidly brightening by this point and at last report ISON was only about 4th magnitude. Comet of the Century? No, not yet anyway. We looked a while longer until it became obvious that if we hadn’t seen it already, we weren’t going to see it. Then we drove home. On the way back, Melissa asked me why I had chosen a hobby that required getting up at 5:30 a.m., standing outside in 20 degree weather peering at the sky only to see nothing… I must admit that the possibility of taking up stamp collecting did briefly flit through my mind. Wait… the adventure? Yes, that was it. The adventure! After all, we were doing something really cool and different, something that hardly anyone else even knew about. And we did get to see a nice grouping of two planets and a star. We got to see Jupiter (and even a Galilean moon or two through binoculars) and the Moon! While I pondered what ISON might be like after perihelion, Melissa, the adventurer, went back to bed.

Posted in Amateur Astronomy

Catching Up

Here are a few images from the last few months that I haven’t had time to post until now.

Oh Deer - Copyright 2013 Robert D. Vickers, Jr.

Oh Deer – Copyright 2013 Robert D. Vickers, Jr.

Not exactly astronomy or nature, but back in September a B17 named Sentimental Journey was on display at the Lexington, TN airport. This is one of the few World War II vintage B17′s that are still in flying condition.

B17 Sentimental Journey - Copyright 2013 Robert D. Vickers, Jr.

B17 Sentimental Journey – Copyright 2013 Robert D. Vickers, Jr.

B17 Sentimental Journey - Copyright 2013 Robert D. Vickers, Jr.

B17 Sentimental Journey – Copyright 2013 Robert D. Vickers, Jr.

We got to tour the inside as well. It gave me an appreciation of the cramped quarters the ten man crew had to work in.

B17 Sentimental Journey Cockpit - Copyright 2013 Robert D. Vickers, Jr.

B17 Sentimental Journey Cockpit – Copyright 2013 Robert D. Vickers, Jr.

I am standing next to the ball turret entrance. The gunner had to lower himself down through that tiny hatch and strap himself into a fetal position to operate the machine gun under the belly of the plane… no parachute. Needless to say, this had to be a pretty small person.

B17 Sentimental Journey Ball Turret - Copyright 2013 Robert D. Vickers, Jr.

B17 Sentimental Journey Ball Turret – Copyright 2013 Robert D. Vickers, Jr.

The tail gunner had pretty cramped quarters, too. Unfortunately, he was often the first target of enemy fighters attacking from the rear.

B17 Sentimental Journey Tail Gunner - Copyright 2013 Robert D. Vickers, Jr.

B17 Sentimental Journey Tail Gunner – Copyright 2013 Robert D. Vickers, Jr.

This is a lunar corona taken through clouds during the waxing gibbous phase in October. The corona actually appeared redder to the naked eye than the picture shows. Also, all the surrounding black area was much lighter.

Lunar Corona - Copyright 2013 Robert D. Vickers, Jr.

Lunar Corona – Copyright 2013 Robert D. Vickers, Jr.

And, finally, sunrise this morning was absolutely gorgeous….

Sunrise November 19, 2013 - Copyright 2013 Robert D. Vickers, Jr.

Sunrise November 19, 2013 – Copyright 2013 Robert D. Vickers, Jr. 

Posted in Amateur Astronomy, Other Nature Studies, Uncategorized

Galaxies, Galaxies, Everywhere

From September 28th until October 1st, Melissa and I spent three days and nights at the Twin lakes Star Party at Pennyrile State Park in Kentucky. The event, which is hosted by the West Kentucky Amateur Astronomers, is the entire week but we were only there Saturday through Monday, and only Saturday night was halfway decent for observing. I managed to complete one Hickson group (#86) on the GG&C list and started Additional cluster #44.

GG&C Hickson 86 - Copyright (c) 2013 Robert D. Vickers, Jr.

GG&C Hickson 86 – Copyright (c) 2013 Robert D. Vickers, Jr.

While I was out Saturday night my new Kendrick dew heaters seemed to work well. It was pretty wet and while others around me were complaining of having to stop observing because of the dew, I was able to keep going until the clouds covered the sky around 11 pm. Initially, I had the finder scope objective set to 20% heating but that didn’t seem to be quite enough because it started to fog up. I ran it up to 50% (so I thought) but it still didn’t clear. I finally ran it up to 100% (so I thought again) but when I felt of the heating band it was hardly warm at all. Finally I traced the wire back to the controller and realized that I had it plugged into a different outlet than I had thought. I ran the power back down to 20% and ran the correct one up to 100%. Within minutes the fog had gone so I returned the setting to 50%. I ran the fan and the heaters for approximately four hours on the gel cell batteries with no problems. I prepared for more GG&C’s but did not get the chance to observe again. It rained most of the day Sunday and was cloudy almost all day Monday.

I have observed three more nights since the TLSP and had no problems so far with dew. I finished the A.L. Additional cluster #44 (the NGC 6962 cluster) on 3 October eventually finding eight galaxies.

GG&C A.L. Additional Cluster #44 (NGC 6962 Cluster) - Copyright (c) 2013 Robert D. Vickers, Jr.

GG&C A.L. Additional Cluster #44 (NGC 6962 Cluster) – Copyright (c) 2013 Robert D. Vickers, Jr.

On that same night, I also observed Hickson 88, finding three of the four listed galaxies.

GG&C Hickson 88 - Copyright (c) 2013 Robert D. Vickers, Jr.

GG&C Hickson 88 – Copyright (c) 2013 Robert D. Vickers, Jr.

On October 8th I just barely made out two of the four galaxies of Hickson 89 but I saw all three of Trio #41.

GG&C Hickson 89 - Copyright (c) 2013 Robert D. Vickers, Jr.

GG&C Hickson 89 – Copyright (c) 2013 Robert D. Vickers, Jr.

GG&C A.L. Trio #41 (NGC 7018 Trio) - Copyright (c) 2013 Robert D. Vickers, Jr.

GG&C A.L. Trio #41 (NGC 7018 Trio) – Copyright (c) 2013 Robert D. Vickers, Jr.

Driving through the nearby small town of Huntingdon a few nights ago on some errands I noticed they had installed new street lights of the worst possible design, similar to the three “Pawn Shop” globes, that radiate as much light upward as they do toward the ground (actually more, since the post blocks part of the bottom.) The skies here are getting worse and worse. No wonder I am not seeing some of these faint galaxies! I guess I will have to start making more trips up to LBL Golden Pond. It used to be that my site here was just about as good as LBL, but not anymore.

Posted in Amateur Astronomy