Lunar Eclipse 2014

I set up the reflectors for the Eclipse on the 14th.  This was my very first lunar eclipse, and I’ll say, it was spectacular.

The Big 12 ready for the eclipse!

The Big 12 ready for the eclipse!

As expected, the Eclipse started around 11:00, seen as a dark protrusion on one side. The image of the moon dramatically changed over a period of just a few minutes.  My little brother Kevin joined and took control of the RV-6, and really enjoyed swapping out eyepieces.  It was a lot of fun, and he was very impressed with the views.  I was using the 12.5″ and the moon is so bright my eye started to hurt after a while.  Kevin came over and enjoyed several minutes on the stepladder intently watching the eclipse.  I think he may have an early case of aperture fever!

The shadow continued to creep over surface, gobbling up crater after crater into the inky shadow.  I could still see the features, but they were faint in the shadow.  Eventually, a soft orange glow came over the shadow area and made the features more pronounced.  I created a  4 photo montage showing the stages of the event.

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Eclipse montage, taken through both scopes using Ipod Touch camera

I edited the photos to bring out the red orange coloring, and to make the surface features more apparent.  In reality it appeared more subdued. As Lunar totality arrived, I noticed that my surroundings had drastically changed.  For one, it was very dark, and many stars came out. Usually on a full moon all but the very brightest stars are washed out, but now with the eclipsed moon, it was dark like a night without a moon.  Also, it became very quiet.  The crickets ceased their chirping and the wind had finally settled down.  It was amazing watching the eclipse.  There was scattered clouds throughout the evening, but I managed to get excellent views.  During totality, a cloud would pass over and it would turn the same color as the moon.  Soon after totality, I had to go to bed, as it was a school night!

As much as I would have loved to make a sketch of the moon, during this event, sketching anything lunar is extremely difficult for me.  Deep sky? No problem.  Planets? I can do it.  Lunar? No way! There is another lunar eclipse this October, and hopefully it will be as exciting as this one was.  I’m glad I got to experience this, even though it happens relatively often.  It’s always nice to have a total lunar eclipse as your first one! I found that the views through my 40mm finder scopes were spectacular, just as good as through the big scope and the RV-6. In this case, it’s not aperture that counts as much as magnification, which should be low.  In any case, a lunar eclipse is really fun to experience, telescope or not.

March Astronomical Events

This month features a few rather important, exciting events to look out for.  March is a great time of year for checking out the winter stuff in the early evening and getting a taste of summer objects in the late night/early morning.

In the early evening, expect some nice views of the Orion Nebula, The Messier clusters M36, 37, and 38 in Auriga. Open cluster M35 is northeast of Orion constellation in Gemini.  Farther northeast near the main stars Castor and Pollux, have a look at the small, but luminescent planetary nebula NGC 2392.  It should be readily visible in a 6 inch telescope.

Credit: Celestronimages.com

NGC 2392
Credit: Celestronimages.com

Coming back to Orion, NGC 1999, 10th magnitude nebula faintly connected to M42 is just south of the Sword of Orion. Appears as a faintly glowing irregularly shaped disk with bright central star.  M78 is in Orion as well, relatively bright nebula with 2 stars involved in the main nebulosity, a faint fan shaped nebula is seen generally.  Of course there’s the Horsehead nebula complex, that requires dark skies and a larger telescope and much patience,  I wouldn’t bother with it in the city. However, on very clear nights here in La Verne, sometimes the Flame nebula (NGC 2024) can be glimpsed in the 12.5″ with low power and wide fields.  The Pleiades are a great target in most scopes, and for a clear night challenge try for the Merope nebula (NGC1435), faint nebula engulfing the brighter portions of the cluster.

6409513-image

NGC 1999 Finder Chart- From Sky Safari +

Jupiter will make for some nice observing for most of the night, until around midnight it gets lower in the horizon to where atmospheric conditions will detract from the views.  The great red spot is showing much more color than in previous years, if you know when it’s visible and what to be looking for, it’s visible even in a 60mm (2.4″) refractor telescope.

The M82 supernova, formally designated as SN2014J has passed it’s peak and is slowly fading. It’s brightness is a little fainter than 10th magnitude, still well within limits of amateur telescopes.

On March 20th the star Regulus, mag 1.4 in Leo will be occulted by asteroid (163) Erigone and will completely block out the light of the star for a maximum of 14 seconds.  If your on the east coast, your in luck.  It occurs around 2 AM EST.  I wish I could see it firsthand; it will be well documented I’m sure of that.  All the information is available here.

In the early morning, a multitude of objects will become visible. Mars will rise around 9PM and a steady view probably won’t be achieved until more than hour after.  Saturn rises at 11PM and a steady view will require more than an hour as well.  Ursa Major culminates a little after midnight, the best time to check out planetary nebula M97, and galaxy M108, visible together in a wide vield of view just south of the “bowl” of the big dipper.  Galaxies M51 and M63 are in prime spots for viewing, as well as M94 in Canis Vernatici.  From 1AM on is a great time for viewing the Coma-Virgo galaxy cluster, located in, you guessed it- Coma Bernices and Virgo. This area of sky is so rich with galaxies it becomes very difficult to identify galaxies within heavily light polluted skies.  Dark skies are highly recommended for this area.  If you can, have a look at Markarian’s Chain, a big “river” of galaxies including the bright Messiers M84 and M87. Many fainter galaxies are part of this and it makes for a wonderful low power view of galaxies. Other galaxies such as M64, M87 and NGC 4565 are all nice to see from this time on.  In the south, the famous Sombrero Galaxy, M104 culminates at 1:30AM in the south, located in Virgo about 15 degrees West of the bright star Spica.  Seen pretty easily in a 6 inch reflector.

Markarian's Chain Credit: Jim Thommes

Markarian’s Chain Credit: Jim Thommes

Early morning to dawn will give a taste of the summer objects, including the Ring Nebula in Lyra, the Veil Nebula in Cygnus. M13, the famous globular cluster in Hercules should be very good in this time of morning. Messier globular clusters M10, M12, and M14 in Ophiuchus.  Scorpio will be up, check out globs M4, M80, M62, M9.  Venus rises at 3:45 and is a bright mag -4.5.

Take note that as the month wears on the moon will be increasing in size, and most early evening objects can be seen undisturbed by even a first quarter moon. Anything past that and it starts to drown out DSO’s.  Which only can mean one thing… observe the moon!!! Hope this helps you out in planning your next outing.

Observing Session #1: Mount Baldy

Me and my Dad got to go up to Mount Baldy (elevation 4000 feet) for an exciting evening of dark sky telescoping.  We knew it was going to be cold, considering it was already down to 48 degrees before we even started ascending the mountain.  We had along my 70mm f/10, and my Dad’s Orion  XX14 Go To dob.

We also had brought along an armada of eyepieces and accessories  as well as a LOT of jackets and coats.  I think by the end of the night, the temp got down to somewhere in the 30s.  Up until about 3 or 4 weeks or so, the average temperature in southern California for the past 3 months was somewhere around 100 degrees.  I’m sure that if we were “seasoned” with cold weather previous to this trip, we probably wouldn’t have been as cold.

Since the recent time change, this is a great time to make a trip up to acceptably good dark skies, just for a couple hours of observing.  This time, we came prepared, with a list of objects to observe, and we had almost everything we needed, short of a few batteries.

We were set up in a lot off of Glendora Ridge Road.  I’m not sure if there any more decent places to put up a scope farther up the mountain.  Itchy for dusk to settle below the horizon, I went over my list of 23 objects.  They were mostly Messier objects, with a couple of NGC’s.  It seems like most of the objects we observed were star clusters, but hey, they’re pretty, and respond well to dark skies.

Some of the highlights of the night included:

– The “Propeller feature across M13.  There are 3 thin dark lanes that cut into the globular and form an airplane propeller.

–  NGC 7000, North American Nebula.  A very large nebula by Deneb in Cygnus.  It was seen naked naked eye.

– NGC 7009, Saturn Nebula. A very cool Planetary Nebula that looks like the planet Saturn.

– Individual Stars in M31.  I could resolve some stars in a cluster within M31- NGC 206

– M31, M32 and M110 in the same FOV.  Was done in 70mm f/10 at 28x.

– M33- Triangulum Galaxy.  Seen for the first time in 10×50 binocs, 70mm f/10, and XX14.  Best view was in 70mm.

– M76- Little Dumbbell.  Allegedly the hardest Messier to find.  Not true.  looks like a smaller, flatter M27 (Dumbell Nebula)

– Dark Nebula in front of M45.  Seen in 10×50 binocs when leaning on the car

– Just seeing the Milky again was a real treat.

In the end, we observed 19 out of the 23 objects on our list.  I definitly don’t regret making that list.  One of the best feeling you can have is having so many stars in the field, you’re overwhelmed.  This happened when I had gazed upon the Double Cluster (NGC 869) with the 70mm f/10 at 28x.  It framed the 2 groupings perfectly; this sight brought a tear to my eye.  This is what a serious astronomy buff does .

Photo: GSMimaging.com

This was the closest picture I could find to what I saw in the eyepiece.  Truly overwhelming amount of stars visisble.  There had to be hundreds, quite possibly thousands of stars visible.  I’m glad the scope is a refractor, because had it been a reflector, the stars would no have been quite so sharp.  I failed to understand this  until I owned this scope.

As far as the seeing, it was great, and dark as it can get for that location.  The location has dark skies, but they’re not the darkest I’ve been under.  For example, Lake Arrowhead.  My family went there on vacation years ago.  My Dad had brought along his 6 inch reflector, and he said that the view of M31 was compared to the view of it through the 14 inch, the 14 was slightly better.  Unfortunately, I don’t have a say in this.  I was very young and my primary interest was in my Game Boy.  Oh well, all of this observing makes up for that, so my conscience is clear!

Ascending into the skylight

All Night Observing 9/15/12

Me and my dad had been thinking about doing a run up to Mount Baldy and we finally got everything ready to go.  The 14 inch and 70mm refractor easily fit into the car, as well as all of our accesory cases and star charts.  Just before we left, my Dad showed me his new 5x 2 inch barlow.  We had seen this on ebay and I did know of such a lens.

Anyway, we were all excited to go up there to get away from all the lights.  You know it’ll be good seeing when your going up the mountain and seeing the smog and lights from the city below.  It is an awesome view, and I was going  to take a picture of it, but I forgot the camera.   We made it all of the way up there, and we were just about to turn onto Glendora Ridge Road and it was blocked off.  It was probably because of the extreme heat lately and they didn’t want to risk a fire of some sort.

We came down the mountain looking for an alternate spot.  When were pretty much all the way down, we found a nice parking lot to view in. There were cars going by every once in a while, but no site is perfect.  We got everything all set up and we were observing for not more than 45 minutes when were told to leave.  I guess the police don’t want people around there after dark.

So we had to pack everything up and go home.  Once we got back, we could either take out the scope in the backyard or put it away.  We took it out.  I will try to list all of the objects I saw, but I might forget some.  I saw so many, if you can think of any decent object, I probably saw it.

I saw:

M13 globular

M57 planetary (as well as the central star)

M56 globular

M11 open

M27 planetary

Cat’s eye nebula (NGC 6543)

Blinking planetary (NGC 6826)

Stephan’s Quintet

M2 globular

M15 globular

M22 globular

M8 lagoon nebula

M20 Trifid nebula

M31 Andromeda galaxy

M42 Orion nebula

 

I stayed up pretty much all night.  I got to be the first one to see the Orion nebula in the 14 inch.  When you view it with that much aperture, you can see structures of clouds and dust going in multiple directions and the nebula extends out very far.  In the 10×50 binoculars the whole region is nebulous.  I also saw M31 which came out really awesome in a sketch I made.

Shortly after viewing it, I found out there was an area on the edges of the galaxy called NGC 206.  I would definitly seen it had I known it was there.  One of the other highlights of the night was Jupiter.  It was absolutely amazing in the 14 inch, and this is where I got the most use out of the Rini 5x.  I was getting clear focus, even when it filled nearly the entire field.  I must have spent about 45 minutes on it, and returned to it several times.

I also managed to sketch the Blinking planetary.  Also, I was able to pick out several very dim objects with the 70mm, such as the blinking planetary, the Cat’s Eye Nebula and the Saturn Nebula (NGC 7009).  I came in around 4:30, and it was still dark.  I guess it technically wasn’t all night, but it’s the longest observing run I’ve ever made.  I also tried imaging M45 with the digital and they came out OK, you can see the blue stars but not much more.

 

All in all, one of the best nights I’ve ever had out with the telescope,  I need to find a way to stay awake longer though.