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Summer Constellations Are Now Up for Early Risers

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#1 FirstSight


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Posted 14 February 2013 - 10:46 AM

I found myself awake in bed this morning about 5am, and was initially of a mind to roll over and go back to sleep but...wife was snoring, even the dog was snoring...why not take a peek outside and see if the sky finished clearing off overnight? I threw on a long-sleeved shirt, but still in my PJ bottoms walked out into my driveway...

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.

#2 drbyyz


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Posted 14 February 2013 - 11:00 AM

Sounds like a fun little trek out in the early morning hours. I'm tempted to do something similar one of these days. I've been dying to get a look at Saturn through some of my new eyepieces.

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.

#3 csrlice12



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Posted 14 February 2013 - 11:12 AM

uh, 5am IS my wakeup time....there is no going back to bed....but SOME day....

#4 Widespread


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Posted 14 February 2013 - 02:44 PM

I saw Saturn about a week ago under similar circumstances.

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.

Clear skies,

#5 Dennis_S253


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Posted 14 February 2013 - 03:12 PM

Sounds like a nice morning. I was waiting the other night for Leo to get a little higher. Ended up falling asleep watching a movie. Woke up about 3:30 and remembered the scope was still up. Ran outside and realized the sky looked wonderful. I checked out Saturn for awhile and realized I had to be up early in the morning. So I brought in the scope. I just left the tripot set up. And to bed I went.

#6 Ed D

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Posted 14 February 2013 - 07:37 PM

I'm up by 5:00am at the latest. For me early is around 3:30am to 4:00am, and I will take advantage of these great suburban observing opportunities whenever I can. It's a perfect reason to own a small grab-and-go scope that can be taken out on the spur of the moment. My wife and dogs are used to my habits, but sometimes one of my kids will get up and be surprised to see me out in the dark.

Ed D

#7 JayinUT


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Posted 14 February 2013 - 08:29 PM

Skies are clearing here in Utah so I am thinking on Friday night of getting out around 11:00, setting up with the waxing crescent going down and then observing from 12:00 to 4:00 or so. I'm not ready to observe summer, I'd like to say a quick hello and good-bye to winter and then spend time with spring.

#8 northernontario



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Posted 14 February 2013 - 09:24 PM

I feel guilty when I observe globulars in the winter....but I did have a sneek peak at M3 last week end.

Saturn at about 5:30 am too.


#9 wky46


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Posted 14 February 2013 - 09:42 PM

Very nice report Chris. I usually crawl out of bed at 6am but you've given me some incentive to start setting the alarm a bit earlier when the skies are forecasted to be clear. Those couple/three hours before dawn is so dark and clear and since the summer sky has so much to offer, 'tis a shame to miss out on it just for an hours sleep. We'll see when that alarm goes off :sleepy: :thinking:!.... Phil

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