Here are a couple of galaxy trios observed in the last three weeks or so. Trio 15 (NGC 2513, 2510, and 2511) was pretty easy with 2513 being a direct vision galaxy and the other two held steady with averted vision. Trio 16 (IC 2375, 2377, and 2379) was a bit tougher with all three members of this tight group being averted vision galaxies.
AL Galaxy Groups & Clusters Trio #15 – Copyright (c) 2013 Robert D. Vickers, Jr.
AL Galaxy Groups & Clusters Trio #16 – Copyright (c) 2013 Robert D. Vickers, Jr.
I and three other members of the West Kentucky Amateur Astronomers did an Astronomy Night for the students, teachers, and parents of Barsanti Elementary school at Fort Campbell, Kentucky on Friday April 12th. We showed an estimated 50-60 people sunspots, the Moon, Jupiter, Mizar, the Pleiades, and the Great Orion Nebula.
Then, on April 20th, WKAA volunteers helped out with Astronomy Day festivities at Golden Pond Planetarium and Observatory, Land Between the Lakes, Kentucky. We had solar observing going on throughout the afternoon with both white light and Hydrogen alpha views. Later in the evening the clouds held off just enough to show the Moon, Jupiter, and Mizar. An estimated 200 people came through during the day and another 25-30 that evening.
Astronomy Day 2013 at Golden Pond Observatory, Land Between the Lakes, KY – Copyright (c) 2013 Robert D. Vickers, Jr.
The last week in March, Melissa and I took a trip to visit our son and his wife in northern Florida. They have just moved to a new place and, as it turns out, it is about thirty-nine miles from the Chiefland Astronomy Village, near Chiefland, Florida. Begun in the late 1980’s, all the lots in this “village” are owned by amateur astronomers. Most have their own observatories and there is also an observing field for the members of their Chiefland Observers Group. I wanted to take the opportunity to check the place out because I was considering bringing my scope on one of our visits and doing some observing in their dark skies. I didn’t have the scope with me this trip nor did I have time to observe (it was full Moon, anyway). I did however, have time for a short tour of the place. I got on the Chiefland Observers Yahoo Group, contacted the administrator, Joe Mize, and we set up a time to meet. On the day we went down to Chiefland, it was raw and windy (not your typical Florida weather) and I really hated to make Joe come out in the cold. But, he was very gracious and insisted on showing us around the observing field and its facilities. Everything was very open with good horizons. Not so good on a windy day but good for observing.
Former residence of Tom & Jeanie Clark at the edge of the Chiefland Observers Field. Copyright (c) 2013 Robert D. Vickers, Jr.
Clubhouse & warm room on observing field. Copyright (c) 2013 Robert D. Vickers, Jr.
Joe also showed us his setup, a fourteen inch Richey-Chrétien Cassegrain with a custom water cooled imaging system in a roll-off-roof observatory. Check out his fantastic images at: http://www.cav-sfo.com/
Joe Mize and his 14″ Richey-Chretien scope with custom water cooled imaging system in roll-off-roof observatory. Copyright (c) 2013 Robert D. Vickers, Jr.
On our way back from Florida we stopped by the Tellus Science Museum in Cartersville, Georgia, just off I-75. We had been there decades ago when it was just the Weinman Mineral Museum. It is now a major museum with dinosaur skeletons, antique cars, a full scale replica of the Wright Flyer, a 120 seat planetarium, an observatory with twenty inch scope, and an expanded rock and mineral museum. I highly recommend it if you get the chance. http://tellusmuseum.org/
Tellus Science Museum entrance. Cartersville, GA. Copyright (c) 2013 Robert D. Vickers, Jr
Apatosaurus cast inside Tellus Science Museum. Copyright (c) 2013 Robert D. Vickers, Jr.
Me in front of the Tellus Science Museum Observatory which houses a 20″ scope. Copyright (c) 2013 Robert D. Vickers, Jr.
The evening of 13 March was very clear so I thought I would go out and observe some more on the Astronomical League’s Galaxy Groups and Clusters list. While I was using Procyon to zero in the finder scope, I noted that the seeing was pretty darn steady. It looked much better than the Clear Sky Chart had predicted, so I decided to have a quick look at Sirius to see if I could see its companion, Sirius B, also known as “The Pup” (Sirius being the Dog Star).
I have been trying to see Sirius B for the past several years as its eccentric orbit carries it farther and farther from the overwhelming glare of its primary. Just last year it passed the point in its orbit where it was discovered in 1862 by one of the sons of Alvan Clark, the famed telescope maker. Sirius B is the nearest white dwarf star to the Earth. It has an apparent magnitude of 8.5 which is 10,000 times dimmer that its brilliant magnitude -1.5 companion, making it a challenge even at a generous 10 arcseconds of separation.
Without really expecting to find anything, I got Sirius (just past its peak altitude to the south) into the eyepiece and watched it drift across the field of view. I knew to look almost exactly east of Sirius A, on the following side as it swept toward the west. Immediately I noticed a small constant dot just outside the worst of the glare. It was embedded in the lesser, more extended glare and just above one of the diffraction spikes from my secondary spider. Wow! I watched it through multiple passes and even moved it around in the field of view to make sure I was not seeing a reflection of some kind, but it remained constant. Now, I can mark this one off my “nutcracker” list.
For anyone interested in spotting The Pup, I recommend making a practice run on Rigel first. It has a slightly brighter magnitude 7.6 secondary and its primary is a not-so-brilliant magnitude 0.1. Its separation is 9.5 arcseconds, so it will give you an idea of how far apart Sirius A & B are. Better hurry as Sirius is rapidly moving off to the west. Good luck, and may the force be with you.
Pencil Sketch of Sirius A (mag -1.5) & Sirius B “The Pup” (mag +8.5) – Separation approx 10 arcseconds – 18″ Obsession w/ 9mm Nagler Type 6 EP @ 231X – Copyright (c) 2013 Robert D. Vickers, Jr.
A few days ago, on the evening of 12 March 2013, I helped with a public event in Jackson, TN, to observe Comet C/2011 L4 PanSTARRS. We even had a reporter from the local TV station WBBJ (channel 7) in attendance. Two friends from the Forked Deer Astronomy Group, Eric Geater and David Fesmire, and I set up our scopes at the Liberty Garden Park & Arboretum parking lot about 7:15pm and waited for darkness. A thin crescent Moon helped immensely. We spotted the 28 hour old Moon around 7:30pm and found the comet shortly thereafter about 4-5 degrees to the left of the Moon and maybe half a degree higher. I spotted the Moon first in my 7×35 binoculars and then the comet in the 10×60 finder scope on my 18″ Obsession. Through the scope the comet was very nice with a bright fuzzy nucleus and a dimmer coma surrounding it. It also had a short tail that became easier to see as it got darker. We were able to watch it and show it off to the public for a half hour or so before it nosedived into the trees and buildings. It was so low to the horizon we were literally sitting on the ground looking through the eyepiece of the telescope. I was quite pleased to get this good of a look. It was still just barely naked eye through all the city light pollution but was probably much better in dark country skies. Below is a sketch I made later from memory.
According to what I am reading about the comet, it is a first time visitor to the inner solar system, taking millions of years to get here from the Oort cloud, nearly a light year from the Sun. As it leaves our vicinity and heads back out toward the abyss, its new orbit has been calculated at about 106,000 years. Mark your calendars…
Pencil sketch of Comet C/2011 L4 PanSTARRS – 18″ Obsession w/ 25mm EP @ 83X – 12 March 2013 From Jackson, TN – Copyright (c) 2013 Robert D. Vickers, Jr.
Here are some GG&C observations I did a couple of weeks ago as well as a couple from over five years ago.
The first is Astronomical League Trio #10, except that I could not see one member of the trio (NGC 1062). This galaxy is listed as NGC 1062 in the GG&C booklet sold by the A.L. but is listed as UGC 2201 in Uranometria and in a January 2010 Sky & Telescope article by Ken Hewitt-White titled Galaxy Groups in Triangulum. A fourth galaxy (which is actually part of Trio #9), NGC 1060, was easily visible at the edge of the field of view.
Astronomical League Galaxy Trio#10. Copyright (c) 2013 Robert D. Vickers, Jr.
The next group was Additional #9 (or the NGC 1129 group). I managed to spot all seven of the main galaxies in this cluster which consisted of one large central galaxy (NGC 1129) and six smaller galaxies. One of the smaller galaxies, MGC +7-7-3 is superimposed on NGC 1129.
Astronomical League Additional Galaxy Group #9 (aka NGC 1129 Group). Copyright (c) 2013 Robert D. Vickers, Jr.
My luck was not nearly as good with the next cluster, Abell 397. In fact I didn’t have any luck at all because I could not see any of its members. Apparently all were too dim.
I am including two observations that I did back in 2007. The first is for Additional #47, also known as the NGC 7331 group or the Deerlick Group. NGC 7331 is a foreground galaxy about 50 million light years distant whereas the remaining small galaxies are in the 300-400 million light year range. These smaller galaxies have the charming, if somewhat itchy, title of “the Fleas.”
Astronomical League Additional Galaxy Group #47 (aka The Deerlick Group or NGC 7331 &The Fleas). Copyright (c) 2013 Robert D. Vickers, Jr.
Lastly, the other observation from 2007, is the Hickson 92 galaxy group (also known as Stephan’s Quintet). Four out of the five galaxies in this group are about 282 million light years away while one (NGC 7320) is about 56 million light years away. All are very faint. (For you trivia buffs out there, in the opening scenes of the movie It’s a Wonderful Life staring Jimmy Stewart, the angels are really the galaxies of Stephan’s Quintet.)
Hickson 92 Compact Galaxy Group (aka Stephan’s Quintet). Copyright (c) 2013 Robert D. Vickers, Jr.
On the nights I was out observing two weeks ago I made a point to look for the zodical light, sunlight reflecting off of interplanetary dust. It is very apparent on moonless evenings this time of year. A pretty obvious, tall, leftward leaning pyramid of light in the west-southwest, it could easily be mistaken for light pollution. It points along the ecliptic and can be traced very high into the sky (I estimated it as between 50 and 70 degrees upward from the horizon.) According to Alan MacRobert of Sky & Telescope magazine, it is “the brightest thing in the solar system after the Sun.” The light is just spread out over a very large area so it appears dim.
Charlie Warren, editor of Amateur Astronomy magazine, just sent me a split out of my article How to Become a Better Observer which appearsin the newest issue (#77 – Winter 2013). In it, I talk about the various physical and mental aspects of visual observing and what you can do to improve your acuity. To read it, click on Articles in the header above.
This has turned out to be a nice warm day after a frosty and cloudy start with the high temperature reaching 50 degrees. A beautiful full Moon is rising tonight. According to EarthSky.org, the second full Moon after the Winter Solstice is traditionally called the Wolf Moon (also, the Hunger Moon or Snow Moon).
On the afternoon of 21 January 2013, I tried a couple of times to spot Jupiter naked eye in dayight a little ways east of the Moon but had no success. Even the images from my tripod mounted Canon Powershot on telephoto didn’t pick it up. I couldn’t see it until a few minutes before sunset while I was driving home. (Why do I always see interesting stuff when I am driving?) Sunset was at 5:10 pm CST and I pulled over and snapped this shot just a minute or so before that. Technically it was still daylight although the sky had darkened a lot. After I got home I came outside and looked every hour or so til about 10:00 pm when Jupiter and the Moon were at their closest (less than one Moon diameter). A lovely sight to end the day with.
Parting, they seemed to tread upon the air,
Twin roses by the zephyr blown apart
Only to meet again more close.
– John Keats, Isabella
21 January 2013 Jupiter/Moon Conjunction — Copyright (c) 2013 Robert D. Vickers, Jr.
Backyard Turkeys – Copyright (c) 2012 Robert D. Vickers, Jr.
The afternoon of Friday, 28 December 2012 was cold and gray with a light rain falling. My son, who was visiting for the holidays, happened to notice a large number of wild turkeys (which I have since learned is called a rafter) crossing our back yard. I counted forty-four and there may have been a few more that I couldn’t see. They ambled along, scratching up the leaves to uncover insects, seeds, and nuts.
Believe it or not, a hundred years ago wild turkeys were almost extinct. In the late 1800s the clearing of land for farming combined with unregulated hunting reduced an estimated population of five million to just thirty thousand by the beginning of the twentieth century. During the last half of the 1900s a concerted effort of wildlife biologists and conservationists has brought the wild turkeys back from the brink.
A rafter of wild turkeys – Copyright (c) 2012 Robert D. Vickers, Jr.
This blog entry has gotten delayed due to a very busy holiday schedule at work, but better late than never….
The skies were exceptionally clear Thursday before last (12/13/12) and the night was not as cold as it had been for the previous few nights. I went out early to observe and, as part of the Astronomical League Galaxy Groups & Clusters list, re-visited the Pegasus I cluster that I had explored three years ago with my 12.5” dob. This is an interesting cluster on the border between the constellations Pegasus and Pisces, whose components are around 200 million light years away. It is a fairly rich cluster with two bright, large elliptical galaxies (N7619 & N7626) slightly off center, surrounded by several smaller and dimmer galaxies. The two bright ones were easy direct vision objects with stellar nuclei, bright cores and halo’s about 2.5 minutes in diameter. A couple of other dimmer galaxies were visible by direct vision of the nucleus only. Six of the ten galaxies that I saw required averted vision. I picked up three new galaxies this time with the 18” Obsession. They were IC 5309 at mag 13.7, N7615 at mag 14.3, and N7621 at mag 15.7. All three were visible more than 50% of the time with averted vision. See the sketch below:
Astronomical League Additional Group #50 (aka NGC 7619 Group or Pegasus I Group) – Copyright (c) 2012 Robert D. Vickers, Jr.
This was also one of the peak nights for the Geminid meteor shower, so after finishing my sketch of the Pegasus I cluster, I lay down on the floor of the observatory and looked up for an hour or so. After the first twenty minutes, I had seen nothing and was seriously considering packing it in when two bright Geminids shot across the sky within about 30 seconds of each other. Over the next 40 minutes, I saw another fourteen meteors for a total of sixteen for the night. (I might have seen more if my view had not been restricted by the walls of the roll-off-roof observatory, but I was more comfortable there than I would have been in the yard.) Fourteen were Geminids streaking away from the radiant in the constellation Gemini, and nine of them were bright. A couple lasted between one and three seconds and left a smoky train behind. It turned out to be a very nice show and I’m glad I stayed out a little longer to see it. I wish I could have watched even more but, alas, I had to get up and go to work the next day.
As I was driving home from work Wednesday evening (28 November) heading east on Interstate 40, the full moon rose directly out of the trees ahead of me with Jupiter about 2 ½ moon diameters to its upper left. The moon looked huge and glowed orange like a Japanese lantern. Together, they looked a lot like Jupiter and one of its moons look through the telescope. I took the following picture while barreling down the expressway. Of course the flash went off so I nearly blinded myself with the reflection off the windshield, and I’m sure the people in the cars around me wondered what the heck I was doing. But, I didn’t cause any accidents and with a little brightness/contrast adjustment, the picture turned out half decent. Click on the image below for a closer view.
Full moon and Jupiter Conjunction – Copyright (c) 2012 Robert D. Vickers, Jr.
Yet another 22 degree solar halo. I saw this one while at work about three weeks ago. It was a complete circle (but too big for the camera lens) and bright. I took the following shot with the sun placed behind the power pole.
22 degree solar halo. Copyright (c) 2012 Robert D. Vickers, Jr.
The high, thin, ice crystal clouds were courtesy of Superstorm Sandy. Yes, even here in western Tennessee we saw cloud bands from the massive storm. I didn’t see any Sundogs (also called Mock Suns or Parhelia) at the time I took this shot but about an hour later there were two very bright ones, one on each side of the Sun, just outside the halo. Unfortunately, I did not get a picture of them as the battery in my camera went dead after I took the shot above.
I have also uploaded six more sketches to the Galaxy Groups & Clusters page. One of the best of these six is the Additional Galaxy Group #49 (also known as the NGC 7433 Group) shown below (click on the pic for a closer view.)
Astronomical League Additional Galaxy Group #49 (NGC 7433 Group) – Copyright (c) 2012 Robert D. Vickers, Jr.