December Observing List

Our next club dark sky star party will be Dec 28th at the usual Kaʻohe site, in the lull between the Christmas and New Year’s holidays.

The Pleiades, color image through LRGB filters
The Pleiades, color image through LRGB filters

For the evening I have again assembled an observing list for those who want to explore some of the more interesting objects available in the sky this month.

These are all visible in the early evening, all suitable for average telescopes, with a couple more suitable for binocular viewing.

While most of these will be easy to locate and observe, there are a few more challenging objects in the list.

Continue reading “December Observing List”

June Observing List

Our next club dark sky star party will be June 1st at the usual Kaʻohe site.

Omega Centauri
Omega Centauri, NGC5139

For the evening I have again assembled an observing list for those who want to explore some of the more interesting objects available in the sky this month.

These are all visible in the early evening, all suitable for average telescopes of at least 6-8″ aperture.

RA: 15h 18′ Dec: 2° 4’N Mag: 5.8 Globular cluster in Ser
A nice bright globular, about 15′ in diameter

Iota Cnc
RA: 8h 46′ Dec: 28° 46’N Binary star in Cnc
A pretty yellow and white pair, 4.0 and 6.6 separated by 30″

V Hya
RA: 10h 52′ Dec: 21° 15’S Mag: 8 Carbon star
Reddest carbon star known variable from 6.5-12 magnitude with a period of 533 days

RA: 17h 17′ Dec: 43° 8’N Mag: 6.5 Globular cluster in Her
This nice globular cluster is often overlooked in favor of its more famous neighbor M13, but M92 is also worth the stop.

RA: 16h 43′ Dec:36° 50’N Mag: 11.6 Galaxy in Her
Just 28′ north of M13 this faint 11th magnitude galaxy is a nice challenge object for eight inch or larger optics.

RA: 15h 6′ 29.3″ Dec: 1° 36′ 20″N Mag: 10.2 Galaxy in Vir
A bright elliptical, those with larger aperture may note a small companion galaxy on the south edge of the halo

M99 Coma Pinwheel Galaxy
RA: 12h 18′ 49.7″ Dec: 14° 24′ 59″N Mag: 9.8 Galaxy in Com
A nice spiral galaxy, larger aperture will show some of the spiral structure

NGC5128 Centaurus A
RA: 13h 25′ Dec: 43° 1’S Mag: 7 Galaxy in Cen
A large bright galaxy with an obvious dust lane

Proxima Cen
RA: 14h 29′ 43″ Dec:62° 40′ 46″S Red dwarf star
The closest star outside our solar system, a challenge object to be sure, you will want good charts to find this one. The coordinates given above are from the Gaia mission data release 2 and are recent enough to be accurate, this high proper motion star moves about 4 arcseconds each year.

RA: 13h 46′ Dec: 51° 22’S Mag:7.6 Globular in Cen
Another nice, but oft overlooked globular star cluster

Keep in mind that this list is assembled for the usual West Hawaii Astronomy Club observing site at Kaʻohe, on the side of Mauna Kea at 20N latitude. It may include southern objects out of reach for anyone much further north.

April Observing List

For our late April West Hawaii Astronomy Club star party I have put together a short observing list. This in my effort to expand our skills and knowledge of the sky.

M22 or NGC6656 in Sagittarius, a classic globular cluster

The best upcoming weekend for a star party is May 4th, the same day as new Moon. The 4th is also AstroDay Hilo and many members including myself will be busy. Thus our next new Moon star party will be Saturday, April 27th. With a last quarter Moon rising a little before 2am it is a nice night for a star party with dark skies until long after midnight.

Ten objects, from easy to a few more challenging targets, something for everyone. None of these are Messier objects, a couple are from catalogs you may have never heard of. Trust me in that there are a few nice surprises to be found here…

RA: 7h 18′ Dec: 24° 57′ S Mag: 4.1 Open cluster in CMa
Centered on the bright star Tau CMa

RA: 7h 16′ Dec: 23° 19’S Mag:4.8 Binary star in CMa
Pan north of NGC2362 a few fields or about 1° north and a touch west, called the Winter Alberio

The Stargate
RA: 12h 36′ Dec: 12° 1’S Mag:7 Asterism in Crv
Very bright, easy to find, just one degree SW of M104, look for a triangle within a triangle

RA: 12h 24 Dec: 18° 47’S Mag:10 Planetary nebula in Crv

Melotte 111
RA: 12h 22′ Dec: 25° 51’N Mag:1.8 Open cluster in Com
Hint: Do not use the telescopeNGC4565
RA: 12h 36′ Dec: 25° 59’N Mag: 9.5 Galaxy in Com

Trumpler 20
RA: 12h 39′ Dec: 60° 36’S Mag 10.1 open cluster in Cru
Large, try binoculars or lowest power, very rich!

DY Cru
RA: 12h 47′ Dec: 59° 42’S Mag: 8.4-9.8 Carbon star in Cru
Put Mimosa in the field, put in an eyepiece for about 100x and look 2′ W of Mimosa, if needed put Mimosa just out of the field of view to cut the glare

Pismis 4
RA: 8h 34′ Dec: 44° 24’S Mag: 5.9 Open cluster in Vela
Large, bright, use lowest power

Trumpler 14
RA: 10h 43′ Dec: 59° 32’S Mag: 5.5 Open Cluster in Car
Part of the Eta Carina nebula complex, 19′ NW of Eta Carina

RA: 11h 5′ Dec: 58° 46’S Mag:3 Open cluster in Car
Big, bright, use lowest power

You may notice a lot of seemingly odd catalog designations… Pismis, Trumpler, Melotte… Just to show that there is a lot to discover beyond the Messier and NGC catalogs.

A couple hints… All of these objects are to the south, setup your telescope to be comfortable looking south. Most of these will not be in your telescopes little computer if you use GOTO. Learn how to enter manual RA and Dec coordinates.

M6 The Butterfly Cluster
M6, the Butterfly Cluster, 9 x 1min Canon 60D and AT6RC

All of these objects should be visible in the early to mid-evening on April 27th. Those in Canis Major should be viewed first, while the last are in Crux which rises around 7pm and culminates around 10pm.

The dimmest objects listed here are tenth magnitude, within easy reach of a six inch telescope. If you do not have a six inch, check out the view in someone else’s telescope. The brightest object here does not even need a telescope, indeed it is too large to fit in the field of view.

A Solo Messier Marathon

Yeah, I did another Messier marathon, You know, that crazy exercise where you attempt to find all 110 Messier objects in a single night. A bit crazy, but also rather addicting. I am a somewhat of a purist, I use no computerized telescope, just a chart, a Telrad, and my knowledge of the night sky. This makes a Messier marathon a real challenge.

The Clouds at Sunset
A few clouds wandering across the western horizon, some near, some far. At least there is some blue sky!
I had invited a few other folks to join me at the Kaʻohe observing site on the side of Mauna Kea. A few other observers had indicated they would be there, I even had a DLNR permit for a small group to join me and a few extra checklists printed out. It was the clouds that convinced the others not to make the attempt. Thus, in the end I had the night to myself. Mostly.

Even if the clouds spoiled the event there was not much to risk. May as well pack up and drive to the site, as the organizer I pretty much had to be there in case any of the others responded to my invitation. This outing would not take much preparation, a cooler packed with munchies and drinks to get me through the night and one of my smaller telescopes. There is not much question as to which telescope I will use… Primero, my 6″ RFT and the veteran of many Messier marathons. it is this instrument with which I achieved my one perfect 110 score at the All Arizona Messier Marathon many years ago.

Continue reading “A Solo Messier Marathon”

A Winter Star Party

In Arizona, during the heat of summer we would head for the mountains. We knew dozens of fire roads and meadows where a telescope could be set up under the stars among the cool forest pines. When the weather chilled, we headed to the low desert, our favorite site was Sentinel, Arizona. A desolate volcanic field just off Interstate 8 between Gila Bend and Yuma. It was still cool at night, a beautiful place to enjoy the desert skies…

Deep Violet at Sentinel
Deep Violet at Sentinel, Arizona for the 2015 Pierre Schwarr Star Gaze

Database Work

I have spent quite a few hours lately revamping my observation database. The whole thing had been quite neglected as of late, never being properly updated since I changed over to WordPress on the main blog. The appearance had been left in a halfway state that didn’t match anything, never mind some serious bugs.

Overlayed DSS image of HCG88. These overlays are generated on-the-fly using the object data.
In addition to adding all of my recent observations at the telescope, I have redone the style sheets. You can now select white-on-black, black-on-white, or night vision red, just look for the pull-down menu on the object page.

The printable version is still there, a clean black-on-white layout including inverted DSS images for printing. I took a cue from that printed version and kept the other new layouts very clean and uncluttered in appearance.

There is a nearby object section that picks up any close by objects for quick reference. Some attention has been paid to the search routines for better usability.

Those are just the visible changes, much of the work has gone into the back end to improve the quality of the underlying data. The whole thing uses Python and Tk on my local machine, this gets converted to SQL and PHP for the webserver. Most of the tools are automated at this point, and getting less buggy as I hunt down the little issues that I find with use.

I put the whole thing together for my own use, a place to organize my observing notes. But as it is online, anyone can use it. Let me know if you ever find it useful.

Mauna Kea Observing

Yes, it is three in the afternoon and I am just waking up. That was the plan.

A night spent under dark Mauna Kea skies with a telescope. It has been much too long since I had a good night out with the ‘scope, it was time. A few items conspired to make it happen… Good weather, a note from the HR department that I was at maximum on accumulated vacation time, use it or lose it! Additionally, my friend and co-worker, Olivier Martin, was looking for a night of observing as well.

With a couple days of approved vacation I headed for the mountain.

A partly cloudy sky greeted us on arrival, high and heavy cirrus hid much of the blue. The forecast was for this to clear off during the first part of the night, not yet time to panic. Not wanting to deal with the crowd at the Mauna Kea VIS we hid out in a spot I found on one of the nearby back roads, a place where we would not be disturbed by any visitors through the night, a place that is completely dark.

New Telescope Happy
Olivier beside his new telescope, a 12" Orion Dobsonian
Olivier brought his new 12″ Orion Dobsonian. And I do mean new, it was not yet fully assembled! The usual troubles of life had conspired to rob him of any time in the few days since the telescope arrived. He had assembled the main parts, the base and OTA, but had yet to install the elevation bearings, handles, encoders or the primary mirror. Thus we spent the first two hours finishing the telescope, no problem as final assembly gave the heavy cirrus clouds time to clear out.

Continue reading “Mauna Kea Observing”