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Astronomy: Adventures in Stargazing

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Re: Astronomy: Adventures in Stargazing

Postby wolfloversk » Aug 16, 2011 7:57 am

I also thought it was the little dipper at first, but it was too small and had a really short handle :P
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Re: Astronomy: Adventures in Stargazing

Postby Shadowlander » Aug 17, 2011 2:48 pm

Wolf wrote:I also thought it was the little dipper at first, but it was too small and had a really short handle :P


Indeed. It should be called The Teaspoon.
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Re: Astronomy: Adventures in Stargazing

Postby stargazer » Aug 18, 2011 9:45 am

Believe it or not, there already is an asterism called The Teaspoon. ;)) It's part of the zodiacal constellation Sagittarius (the Centaur Archer). It's close to another famous asterism, the Teapot. See more on both groups here.

Both figures are recent inventions, credited to George Lovi back in the1970s.

Another relatively recent invention, but well-known, asterism is the large Summer Triangle. It contains 3 bright northern stars, Vega, Deneb, and Altair, each the brightest in their respective constellations. The Milky Way also goes right through the Triangle. Though it's high and bright now in northern summer (hence the name), it'll remain visible in the evening skies until early December, when some of us will watch it while snow crunches underfoot.

I had the opportunity to show the ISS to 2 of my niece's children this week, aged 4 and 6. It was a great pass, nearly overhead, and they were pretty excited about it.

narnian_at_heart, I'm glad you got to see the Southern Cross! I've wanted to see the southern constellations for a long time - and it would be another reason to travel Down Under. :)
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Re: Astronomy: Adventures in Stargazing

Postby Aslanisthebest » Aug 18, 2011 11:49 am

*is really enjoying reading this thread*

Aaah, thank-you for that really informative post, SL!! :D *waves the whole thing ;)) * I'm going to try spot the North Star tonight and then memorize the mneumonics. I hope I can learn something new!
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Re: Astronomy: Adventures in Stargazing

Postby stargazer » Aug 22, 2011 9:19 pm

Recently johobbit wrote:

I do wish I had kept more specific logs over the years, which I know some have: they must be fascinating and nostalgic to review.


I'll offer hearty encouragement to write down your own notes...even simple ones. Not only do they offer that nostalgia and connection with the past mentioned earlier, they can be a fun record of your own progress in learning the stars and constellations. And if you like to observe other aspects of nature, such as birdwatching or weather, consider including those notes as well. More fun reading for later on...

This year's Perseid meteor shower, as several have noted, was largely washed out by moonlight. But check out this image of a meteor seen from above (from the International Space Station). Incidentally, that site (Astronomy Picture of the Day) has an extensive archive of excellent and beautiful sky-related photos.
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Re: Astronomy: Adventures in Stargazing

Postby fantasia » Aug 25, 2011 8:13 am

Hopefully this isn't too off-topic for this thread, but I just stumbled across a story on Yahoo that was too "cool" not to share. :P

NASA spots chilled-out stars cooler than the human body

Such a strange thing to think about. Stars that are actually cooler than us. Maybe someday us humans will go stand on a star. :P (Is there even any mass to actually stand on?)
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Re: Astronomy: Adventures in Stargazing

Postby Shadowlander » Aug 28, 2011 8:53 pm

That is interesting, FK! And very close to our own neighborhood, astronomically speaking. ;)) 80F sounds like a nice vacation getaway.

Since we're at the tail end of summer you may look up and see one of my favorite constellations, Cygnus the Swan.

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Sometimes referred to as the Northern Cross, Cygnus is situated along the same axis as the Milky Way. The tail of the Swan is Deneb, one third of the Summer Triangle and a massive star in its own right. Deneb is enormous, far bigger than our own sun, and the star is distant from us (I've heard conservative estimates between 1500-3000 light years away), and that despite it's great distance it's still one of the brightest stars in the heavens says a lot. Take a look! :D

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Cygnus has some nebulae in it as well. My favorite among those is the North America nebula. You can see the shape of North America in the image if you squint ;).

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Re: Astronomy: Adventures in Stargazing

Postby stargazer » Aug 29, 2011 9:51 am

Nice picture, Shadowlander! The Milky Way in Cygnus is wonderful when viewed in binoculars from a dark spot - definitely worth a relaxed, leisurely tour.

Another stellar highlight in Cygnus is Albireo, the head of the swan, which is not on the diagram above (it's just to the right of the map, finishing out the cross shape). It's a famous double star, showing "Boy Scout" colors (blue and gold) in even small telescopes. It was featured in this picture.

It was 36 years ago this week that stargazers around the world were astounded by the sudden and unexpected appearance of a bright new star in Cygnus, not far from Deneb. It was called Nova Cygni 1975, and in a few hours went from invisible to almost as bright as Deneb. It faded from view early in September.

(I remember stepping outside for a routine check of the sky, and just staring at that bright new star. I was pretty sure it was a nova; I'd just never expected to see such a bright one. In those days there was no internet, so I had to rely on 'archaic' news sources for confirmation. ;)) Pretty exciting nonetheless!)
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Re: Astronomy: Adventures in Stargazing

Postby johobbit » Aug 30, 2011 3:51 pm

*so enjoys reading (and learning from) everyone's posts* :D

Bella, did you manage to spot the North Star?


stargazer wrote:I'll offer hearty encouragement to write down your own notes...even simple ones.

Thank you! I remember you encouraging this before, and I did to a certain extent, but they were on little slips of paper, which are easily lost. :p This time I got meself a notebook, and am jotting down observations in there. Should have started it that way months ago. :p Thank you, again!

Btw, that image of the meteor from the ISS is fantastic. Those Astronomy Pictures of the Day are often really awesome, indeed!

fantasia, thanks for that link. Really interesting! I could do with 'cool' today. Especially on a star. ;))

Amazing photo of Cygnus, Shadowlander! Wow! And how very cool about "Nova Cygni 1975", 'gazer. The knowledge that flows from the two of you blows me away. :D

Well, now that the hottest hazy skies of summer are (mostly) over, and the night is falling earlier, I am able to get out and see more of the dark sky before bed. Last night there was a beauty of an ISS pass (-3.5 mag) pretty much overhead. It was fun to see it pass Arcturus, and then ice-white Vega, as it moved into the Summer Triangle. In the middle of that vast space, its light quickly faded—faster than usual, it seemed, but the couple of minutes prior were :-bd.

I found out later in the Town Square that stargazer was able to see the same pass hundreds of miles away, albeit through a bit of cloud. 'Tis so cool when that happens. :) Tonight I hope to see another quite bright pass at 2039 EDT.

I've kept a watch out for Iridium flares as well, and while some strong ones have been visible, unfortunately (in this case) in that direction from our backyard—ENE—there are a couple of huge trees. I barely managed to glimpse a -8 a couple of nights ago through the branches and wow, it was stunning, even obscured. I could have gone out on our quiet street to take a clearer look, except that by that time I was in my PJs already.
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Re: Astronomy: Adventures in Stargazing

Postby wolfloversk » Aug 30, 2011 4:04 pm

Saw quite a few stars last night including one of the dippers (I have a hard time telling them apart sometimes unless I see them both (the big one is obviously bigger) I used to be able to tell them apart, but who knows. I saw another one that I know I've seen in books, but most of it was hidden and I have know idea what it was. Plus we have a bit of light pollution.

But I scouted out a few decent stargazing locations along the lake shore :) (I bet the laggon would be nice too fewer trees and not too bright, but it's a bit out of the way.)

I'd like to make a rough sketch star map one of these nights. (I gotta start keeping a field journal again... it would be good practice for me too add stars to the list, and they are much more stationary than birds...)
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Re: Astronomy: Adventures in Stargazing

Postby johobbit » Aug 30, 2011 4:25 pm

wolf, years ago we bought an invaluable purchase: a star chart—to be exact, a Planisphere. I'm surprised it's not worn out, we use it so much. ;)) Thankfully it's very sturdy and durable: good thing, as it has survived not only many nights here at home, but also rough and tumble camping trips out in the wild.

It would be cool, though, to make one's own chart of the night sky. Doing this would sink it more indelibly into one's mind, I would think. Let us know how you fare in that!

And Hurrah for seeing one of the dippers! :D They're just like comforting old friends, aren't they? Speaking of which, I'm looking forward to Orion's appearance this fall. I always miss the Hunter when it disappears into the west in the spring.

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Re: Astronomy: Adventures in Stargazing

Postby stargazer » Aug 30, 2011 5:48 pm

This time I got meself a notebook, and am jotting down observations in there. Should have started it that way months ago. Thank you, again!


'Tis my pleasure. :) You may also want to consider keeping your notes on the computer (with external backups, naturally!). It's not quite the same as paging through an actual logbook, but features like word search make it much easier to find a specific entry than looking over pages of scrawled notes. And my typing is much faster and neater than my writing. ;))

It was very nice indeed seeing the same ISS pass as you last evening, jo. It was -3.2 here, easily visible despite clouds and twilight.

A planisphere! Great recommendation, jo! Somewhere around here I may have the one I learned the stars from. They're indispensible tools, I think - websites may have spiffier graphics on their starcharts, but a piece of paper can follow you out into the backyard and not light up the surroundings as much.

I rather miss Orion too, jo...and lately I've been too lazy to get up in the wee hours before dawn to look at it. ;))

Enjoy that new observing spot, wolf!
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Re: Astronomy: Adventures in Stargazing

Postby Shadowlander » Sep 14, 2011 4:25 am

It has been getting darker and darker when I get off at 6am, and this morning it was pitch black for the first time in a very long time. I walked the dog, looked up and beheld my favorite Winter constellation, Orion. One of the most beautiful of all constellations it's got lots of great things going on, but none more impressive than the Great Orion Nebula, which one can see with the naked eye (just barely) on a very clear, cold night.

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To anyone who reads this post and is afraid of getting into astronomy for fear that it's somehow too complicated, I must heartily recommend at least one time taking out some binoculars and looking at Orion's sword, which hangs from his belt. The bottom stars are actually the nebula itself. :D

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When you look at it you'll see that the bright orange star top left is Beetelgeuse, an enormous orange/red star that is (from what I've read) nearing the end of its life. For all we know it could have already gone nova and we wouldn't know about it for many more years. Beetelgeuse forms the left shoulder of Orion (the Hunter), and Bellatrix the pretty blue star on the far upper right forms his right shoulder. The three stars in the middle are the Belt of Orion, home to a few cool interstellar sights too, and right below that is Orion's sword, strapped on to his belt. The last two stars of the sword) are where you'll find the Great Orion Nebula. :D When you first view it it fills the whole of the eyepiece...it's huge!

Supposedly the Horsehead Nebula is in there somewhere around the belt (somewhere to the left of it) but I've never been able to spot it. You ever have any luck with it gazer?
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Re: Astronomy: Adventures in Stargazing

Postby johobbit » Sep 14, 2011 9:10 am

Thanks for the tips re documenting observations, stargazer. I've tried to make a point of jotting down in a simple Hilroy notebook any special sights over the past month. Wish I'd begun years ago ...

Shadow wrote:It has been getting darker and darker when I get off at 6am, and this morning it was pitch black for the first time in a very long time. I walked the dog, looked up and beheld my favorite Winter
constellation, Orion.

Well, well, well, I was coming today to post the same thing. :D I got up for my walk around 5:45 this a.m., and since the temperature had dropped by 30°F yesterday, this morning was awesomely cool and clear. There, in the south-west was magnificent Orion. It was so good to see him again! And then, high above, was the Pleiades, one of the cutest of star clusters, methinks. ;))

We have a bright -8 Iridium flare coming up tomorrow evening (at 2055). The forecast is for clearing tomorrow, after some developing rain tonight (which we need).
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Re: Astronomy: Adventures in Stargazing

Postby stargazer » Sep 14, 2011 10:09 am

Funny both of you should mention the early-morning Orion viewing...I'm not much of a morning person, so my wee-hour observing has been lax of late.

But yesterday I got up around 0530 to give my father a ride to the shuttle bus stop - and it was great to see Orion blazing in the southeast sky, not to mention Sirius to his lower left.

Jupiter was a bright beacon high in the southwest, and for a split second I wondered if I'd hit upon an unexpected ISS pass. ;))

You ever have any luck with it gazer?


No, SL, I've never managed to spot the Horsehead on my own (observatory public nights or star parties are another story). I confess I haven't tried of late, surrounded as I am by millions of city lights.

These rapidly-lengthening nights mark the impending arrival of the next seasonal landmark: the September equinox. Coming officially at 0904 GMT on the 23rd, day and night are of roughly equal length worldwide. Autumn begins in the Northern Hemisphere and spring in the Southern.
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Re: Astronomy: Adventures in Stargazing

Postby Shadowlander » Sep 14, 2011 11:02 am

Ah, but did ya' see Aldebaran and that nice V shape of Taurus the Bull? ;)) I saw Sirius too, gazer. Funny to think such a massive star is only about 8 light years away. It'll be one of the first we get to explore in the New Earth. :D
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