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.

April Astronomical Events

This month presents a host of exciting objects and events for us observers, ranging from Mars, Lunar Eclipses and the return of the ringed planet! As in my previous Astronomical Events posts, I am highlighting what’s to come throughout the month. Let’s get right into it!

For starters, we have the opposition of Mars coming up on April 8th, and should provide a spectacular show.  A few nights ago I was out with the 12.5″ Newtonian observing Mars. The best view was with a 7mm Galoc Ortho at 272x, showing off the Polar Ice Caps, intricate light and dark areas, and Orographic Clouds. These are of particular interest. Ever noticed that even on clear days from the city, you notice those clouds always surrounding mountains? The high altitude of the mountains creates what is called micro-climates, and the same effect can be seen on Mars, but on a much bigger scale.  Mars is home to the largest volcano in the Solar System, Olympus Mons.  Because it’s so large, it creates a micro-climate so large, the cloud systems produced can be seen even from Earth.

Image Credit: Anthony Wesley

Image Credit: Anthony Wesley

The image Mr. Wesley has made here is very similar to what I have been seeing in my 12.5″ telescope.  When the Orographic Clouds are near the edge of the planet (from our point of view), they can be sometimes mistaken for a polar cap.  Back when I was doing my first observations of Mars in 2012, I was often confused as to why I was seeing  a “3rd” Polar Cap. In the small 70mm aperture, the details are much less distinguishable than in the much large scopes I have today.

On the evening of the 14th-15th, there will be a Lunar Eclipse occuring. This will be the first one I have ever seen before, it will certainly be an exciting experience for me.  What’s also neat and unique about this is that even though the Opposition of Mars is on the 8th, technically we are closest to it on the same evening as the eclipse.  Mars’ brightness will appear the same as it did on the 8th.   Now the lunar eclipse has 2 main stages that it goes through, the partial eclipse, and the total. The total is certainly the climax of the event.  The Eclipse begins at 10:58 PM (PDT). This is the beginning of the partial  eclipse. The whole event will last a most of the night, fully ending at 2:33 AM.  The absolute best time peak of the event occurs at 12:46 AM, with the Full Moon turning an orange red color.  With the red moon and Mars, it will be spectacular!

This is a Sky Safari screenshot of the location of Mars and the Moon at the peak of the lunar eclipse.

This is a Sky Safari screenshot of the location of Mars and the Moon at the peak of the lunar eclipse.

The chief object are very similar to last month’s, but with a few additions.  M5, a globular cluster in Serpens is big and bright, and is right up there with M13, M3, and M22.  Later in the evening expect to see Scorpio rising, as well as Ophiuchus.  The nice globulars M10, M12, M107 reside in the western half, and faint M14 in the eastern part.  M4 is a bright globular right by Antares, very easy to find. Has an interesting bar shaped core. In a wide field eyepiece, try to spot NGC 6144,  just to the northeast or M4.  It can be seen from light polluted skies in a 6″ telescope.  M80 is another nice globular in Scorpio, similar to M92, but fainter. If you can stay out late enough, you might get glimpses of open clusters M6 and M7. M7 is one of my summer favorites.  Of course there is still plenty to see in the Coma-Virgo area, thousands of galaxies actually. There is certainly no shortage of objects this time of year!

Chart of the Scorpio area. Ophiuchus is to the left

Chart of the Scorpio area. Ophiuchus is to the left

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.

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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.