Planetary bodies

by Chuck April 22, 2012

Astronomy Observation Record


Date: 4-22-2012 Time: 9:30 - 10:30 p.m. Location: Brambly Hill
Instrument: Northstar Aperture: 76mm Focal length: 700mm
Eyepiece/Magnification: 32/22 17/41 13/54 8/88
Transparency: Average Seeing: Good/Excellent
Conditions: Cool, low winds. Some high clouds


Object Notes


Started with Venus at dusk. Very bright against evening sky. Showed a definite crescent shape at medium magnification.


Mars looked as red as I've ever seen it to the naked eye. Featureless red disk through telescope at all magnifications.


Saturn showed as a yellowish circle with "ears" at low power. AS I stepped up the magnification the view just kept getting better and better. At 87X I could only hold it in the eyepiece for about 30 seconds or so. Best view was at 54X with the 13mm eyepiece. Good detail between the rings and the planetary disk but not moving too fast through the field of view.

Mizar & Alcor

Stopped briefly at Mizar and Alcor. Always pleased at the way it keeps splitting. At low power Mizar is an elongated oval. At medium power and above it resolves into a nice pair of stars. At 87X I wasn't able to hold Alcor and Mizar in the field of view at the same time.

Cor Caroli

Ended the night splitting Cor Caroli. At low power it showed as a double, but at medium and high power it appeared as two separate blue-white stars. The primary shows double the size of the secondary, and is quite a bit brighter.


I tried to find M94 -- but I need to spend some time figuring out how my 'scope compares to the finder views in "Turn Left."


Backyard Astronomy

Double vision

by Chuck July 5, 2011

Since we the fireworks in the neighborhood were keeping us up anyway we decided that hauling the ‘scope out wouldn’t be a bad thing, it would give us something to do until after midnight when the booming fades away.

I spend some time with the Sky and Telescope star chart tonight looking for something interesting to see. There is an article in there about double stars, so that’s what I decided to look for.

The seeing tonight was the best that I’ve seen, clear and crisp views of the stars. Unfortunately, my star hopping wasn’t good enough to find 95 Herc, the particular double that I was looking for. I did see M13 as I was sweeping the sky, so that’s something.

The best part of the night was looking at Mizar and Alcor. First with the naked eye, where they are visible (to me, anyway) as a single point of light. Next, the 7x50 binoculars show them clearly as a double star with a third star going along for the ride. Then finally I pointed the 76mm reflector towards them and we could see Mizar’s close companion.

I know that Mizar and the close companion are actually a double-double system, but it was fun to see the way the view changed with different optics, and to see the kids figure out what they were seeing.


Backyard Astronomy

M42 - The Great Orion Nebula

by Chuck September 2, 2010

OK, this is an easy one to find, but for completeness I feel like I need to put it in here. Tonight the air was clear and cold, and after taking a look at Mars hanging bright in the sky I decided to train the binoculars on Orion’s sword to see the Orion Nebula. Here’s the Wikipedia entry.

The naked eye shows the nebula as a bright smudge that makes up the tip of Orion’s sword. Through my 7x50 binoculars the gas clouds are evident, but the most visible thing is the blue glow of the young stars lighting up the nebula. If we get a chance to get the big scope out on a clear night while Orion is still in the sky it should make a fairly easy target.

In fact, I can’t imagine why I haven’t tried for it before…

This is one of the earliest Messier objects that I learned how to find, since it’s right there in one of the most recognizable constellations.

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M31 - Andromeda Galaxy

by Chuck August 13, 2010

The Persied meteor shower was supposed to be visible tonight (supposed to be, but Astronomy magazine says the best viewing time is around 2:00 a.m. We didn't stay up that late) so Katie and I sat outside in the dark for a while watching for the bright streaks of meteors across the night sky.

We were disappointed by the meteors, in an hour of watching we only saw one large, bright meteor. Not exactly the 60 per hour that the magazine predicted. Since we were out there, however, we decided to get the binoculars out and take a look around.

Our first target was the bright planet that was above the tree line to the West. We assume it was either Venus or Saturn -- I shake too much to see details like Saturn's rings through the binoculars and Katie wasn't sure. It was definitely a planet though, the crescent shape was clear even through my shaky view (Update -- since the planet was crescent shaped it had to be Venus. Saturn doesn't show phases.)

Next we turned back to Hercules and looked for M13 again. It was right were we expected to find it, confirming both our ability to view vague blobs of light in the sky, and our ability to find the vague blobs in the sky.

Emboldened. we turned our sights on M31, the Andromeda galaxy. We were looking in that general direction anyway for the Persied meteors, so it made sense to try to find something to our North rather than the South as we usually do. It took me a few tries. I tried using the end of Cassiopia as guide stars to find the galaxy, but one of the stars was hidden behind a tree so I was using the wrong set  of stars. Once I figured that out, I was able to get the binoculars on M31 with few problems.

By this time Katie had headed in to bed, so after a few minutes viewing, I headed in myself. On the way up I stopped by Katie's room to tell her that I spotted the galaxy, she hopped out of bed and we went back outside to take another look. I needed to find different way to guide her to the galaxy, working off Cassiopia didn't help her. Fortunately, M31 was almost directly above another tree top, so I was able to guide her up from the horizon.

In the 7x50 binoculars M31 appears as an elongated blob of light, quite bright in the center, fading gently to the edges. It occupies a large portion of the binocular's field of view. From our viewing position we could not see M31, nor the nearby stars, with the naked eye, we'll need to find a darker viewing area to see the galaxy without help.

We didn't have the 3-inch reflector set up, so we weren't able to take a "closer" look. That will have to wait for another night.

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Backyard Astronomy

M44 - Beehive Cluster

by Chuck February 10, 2010

After taking a look at the Orion Nebula Katie and I decided to look around for some more easy-to-find Messier objects. Since the Beehive Cluster was very near to Mars – a quite recognizable landmark in tonight’s sky – I gave it a try.

At first I couldn’t find it. I was confused by the star chart and looked down and to the left of Mars when in fact the cluster was down and to the right. I gave up on finding it and decided to take one more look at Mars before calling it a night. As I swung the binoculars up to take in Mars, there it was.

At first I wasn’t completely sure what I was seeing. Surely it was a Messier object -- there was marked at that location on the Astronomy magazine star chart. I just wasn’t sure which object it was. In these situations, Google is your friend, and the very first image Google returned looked almost exactly like what I saw through my binoculars. See it for yourself here.

In my binoculars it is a bright mass of stars with a few very bright blue stars that shine out. When I had it in my binoculars the bright light of Mars was just out of the field of view of the binoculars, helpful since Mars was brighter than Sirius tonight.

Katie got a chance to see it too, so her bag of Messier objects is still the same size as mine.


Backyard Astronomy

M13 - Hercules Globular Cluster

by Chuck September 18, 2009

Tonight was a beautiful clear night, so I set the telescope up to try to get a look at M13 through our little 3-inch reflector. Two weeks ago at the Everett Astronomical Society's open scope night we'd seen M13 through a 16-inch Dobsonian telescope, a view that made the cluster look like the picture from the Hubble Space Telescope (here on Wikipedia). That night I'd went outside with binoculars and took a look, through the 7x50's M13 was little more than a smudge on the lens, but I could see it.

I was certain it wouldn't look anything like the 16-inch Dob in our scope, but the telescope would make it appear better than the binoculars, I was sure.

M13 is in Hercules, about 2/3rds of the way between the bottom two stars of the trapezoid (40ZetaHer and  44EtaHer according to Pocket Stars). I star-hopped from the tree line near Arcturus up to Hercules -- finding M13 was pretty easy since there was a straight line of bright stars from the tree line to the trapezoid. Once I'd found the trapezoid, finding M13 was easy.

Through the 16-inch reflector M13 appeared as a bright cluster of stars, the central cluster showing individual stars and thinning out toward the edges. Through the 7x50 binoculars the cluster appears as a bright smudge against the black sky, but with little detail. Through the 3-inch reflector I still can’t make out any individual stars in the cluster, but I can begin to see that it is round, bright in the middle and thinning toward the outside.

According to Wikipedia M13 is just visible to the naked eye on a clear night. I haven’t been able to pick it out yet, but since this is an easy to find Messier object, I’ll keep trying.

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Backyard Astronomy

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