Summer Constellations Are Now Up for Early Risers
Posted 14 February 2013 - 10:46 AM
HOLA! it's clear, but...other than the obvious big dipper of Ursa Major, the sky was at first an unrecognizable jumble of stars, handicapped further by treelines partly obstructing the view in many directions. This happens to me nearly every spring when I haven't seen the spring/summer constellations for awhile, and it takes a few minutes for pattern recognition to kick in and begin once again confidently identifying celestial navigation landmarks. Leo was already down past the high wall of trees severely limiting my view to the west. The transparency was suprisingly good, given how moist the air still was from yesterday's all-day steady gentle rain, and the extent to which the lingering humidity brightened the suburban skyglow. Surprisingly, I could just barely, but plainly make out all the principal stars in Ursa Minor, which indicated that at least in that limited direction I had near-mag 5 skies, but I knew the sky was nowhere near that good overall...probably somewhere 3+ to 4-, dropping off severely toward the brighter skyglow nearer the horizons.
I thought I recognized Vega and the surrounding stars of Lyra high to the east, but if so, where was Cygnus? I walked out of my driveway and up my street to work around treeline obstructions to my celestial view. Fortunately, my street was deserted except for me at that hour, no one up to call the cops about that crazy guy wandering the neighborhood in his pajama-bottoms. Yep, there it was, appearing somewhat farther separated from Vega/Lyra than I remembered. Back up in my driveway, my night vision adaptation improving, I recognized Hercules, and followed the star-chain down to Ophiuchus, which is surprisingly easily recognizable in my southern suburban sky for such a modestly bright constellation down somewhat in the skyglow. I could then identify the group of stars to the south (with one bright one among them) as Spica and the tail-end of Virgo, the rest lost up in the trees.
I assembled my tripod, mount, and NP-101 (which had been put away after a club observing session Saturday night, and thus was not already set up) and went out for a brief grab n'go session with limited ambitions. I started with Saturn, because where I was set up it would soon disappear behind the treewall to the southwest. It was smaller than I remembered it being at 150x in a 3.7mm Ethos, and the seeing was only so-so (and also reminded me that I really needed to upgrade my mount to the more substantial full Unistar Deluxe, as the settling vibration time when focusing at higher powers is suboptimally long on the Lite version). I could resolve the Cassini division, but the view was less than razor-sharp. However, the transparency was good enough that M13 resolved into quite distinct granularity, though I wouldn't quite consider that resolving it to individual stars. I could find the faint smudge of M56, though the poor contrast from the moisture-enhanced skyglow made it a bit of a challenge at first to recognize, and also found either M10 or M12, though its view was impaired from being in a relatiely less dark part of the sky. I finished the session by looking at the beautiful double-star, Beta Scorpii, which just peeked up high enough above the southern treeline to get a clear view, and then a bit of gawking in the general Milky Way band between Lyra and Cygnus (the Milky Way was nowhere near visible naked-eye, not even faintly, but telescopically it's rich even in suburbia).
Put my scope away, then got back in bed a little before 6am. Fortunately, both wife and dog had ceased snoring, and so I got over another hour of sleep before the alarm-clock awoke us just before 7:30am, the sky bright with sunrise daylight by now.
The two hours just before dawn twilight are often the best of the night for those of us stuck most of the time with suburban yard observing. Both business and home lights are at lowest ebb, the streets are relatively deserted of people and traffic, and you have the night and the sky alone to yourself as much as you'll ever have inside a city suburb.
Posted 14 February 2013 - 11:00 AM
I also agree with the note about suburban lighting. I find that I get my best views shortly after midnight when the skyglow from the city/subdivisions to the East has dimmed from stretching up to the Zenith almost, down to about tree level.
Posted 14 February 2013 - 11:12 AM
Posted 14 February 2013 - 02:44 PM
After having been spoiled by Jupiter, and having gotten used to seeing Saturn with my 8"SCT, it was smaller than I remembered. Then again, the twinkling stars indicated poor seeing, so I didn't bother barlowing my 8.8ES82, which means I was viewing at only 72x, perhaps a bit low for this planet 9 AUs distant.
Still, it was my first Saturn of 2013, and it brought back memories of spring/summer ob sessions. You're right about the light pollution: my neighborhood was as dark as I've ever seen it. If I wake up a bit earlier, I'd like to try for some Leo galaxies next time.
Posted 14 February 2013 - 03:12 PM
Posted 14 February 2013 - 07:37 PM
Posted 14 February 2013 - 08:29 PM
Posted 14 February 2013 - 09:24 PM
Saturn at about 5:30 am too.
Posted 14 February 2013 - 09:42 PM