Expanding My Observing Programs

Last year, I wrote about my first steps into the world of Astronomical League Observing Programs. Having recently completed the “Lunar” program, I decided to expand my observing books to also include:

“Northern Skies Constellation Program”
I am not very good with names. Be it people or stars. This observing program should help to familiarize myself with the constellations and some of the major stars that form them. I particularly enjoy the observing programs that require some sketching, and after 39 Northern Constellations, I should be a good bit better at recognizing the night time sky. To assist me in these observations, I have purchased a “Planisphere”. As a child, I could never match these correctly with the stars. I’m hoping for better results in my 30’s.

“Galileo Observing Program”
Retracing the history and observations of the man who birthed the hobby is the purpose of this observing program. From the Moon to the Sun and the planets, the goal is to recreate the observations of Galileo. This one involves a variety of challenges that I am greatly looking forward too.

“The Observing Books”

RVAS President

For the past two years, I have been a member of the Roanoke Valley Astronomical Society. From day one, the club has been incredibly welcoming and has increased my interest in amateur astronomy as I posted in a previous article. After serving as Secretary for the past year, last month I was appointed President. I am thrilled to be in this new role and appreciate the confidence of those who encouraged me to accept this new position. If any of you have an interest in astronomy, please check out our website and stop by our next club meeting in downtown Roanoke.

Michael Martin
President, RVAS

The Summer Portrait is Complete

Tonight, I completed my imaging goal for the summer. Mars, Jupiter and Saturn have all been filmed, stacked and processed using a DSLR camera. All three of these images were captured at f/11.8 which means the images above are at accurate scale to each other as viewed through the Orion Xt8i. Mars was the last holdout, with the dust storm washing out most detail during my earlier attempts in late July. For comparison, below are my previous images of these three planets taken with an iPhone 6 back in 2016.



A Late Night Out

June 7/8, 2018: Those Summer Nights
Summer is not a favorable season for amateur astronomy. The nights are short, dew sneaks up on you and the insects are annoying. On this night, the skies were clear, the dew point was reasonable and the insects were not biting, at least not that bad. With the moon not rising until 2:45 AM, it was a wonderful opportunity to work through some deep-sky objects on my Messier List.

10:45 PM to Midnight
After allowing the telescope to cool for an hour, the evening began with M13-Hercules, a favorite of mine since my first observations of it in 2010. It is one of the most impressive views in the night sky and a treat to show off to family and friends. What starts off as a dense blurry core is peeled away to reveal finer levels of detail at medium and high magnifications, where thousands of stars become visible. Objects such as this truly reveal to me the glory of God’s creation. My success rate at finding and being impressed by other globulars tonight was hit and miss. While the small but impressive M92 was easy to find, the dimmer M107 was nowhere to be seen due to light pollution near the horizon. Most of the other globular clusters early this evening were of little detail, including M19, M80 and M9.

Midnight to 12:15 AM
Lauren came out to take a look at Hercules and Saturn. While she was impressed by the fine detail of Hercules, her favorite sight is always Saturn. She has a better eye for fine detail on the planets than myself and easily picked up the Cassini division and a dim cloud band across the middle of the planet.

1:00 AM to 1:30 AM
The hunt for globular and open clusters continued after a brief hiatus. M22 was a surprisingly impressive globular cluster with fine detail in its core showing up at 96x and 200x magnification. Hopping over just a couple degrees was the smaller and less defined M28. Switching to an open cluster, M25 was just a stone’s throw away from Saturn with a pretty collection of stars shown at lower magnifications. While M54 was difficult to find due to light pollution near the horizon, M70 was impossible. What awaited next was the most pleasant surprise of the evening, M11–The Wild Duck Cluster was a beautifully dense and sharply detailed open cluster. It could easily be mistaken for a globular cluster because of the density of the core. At 96x and 200x magnification, it revealed some fine details including one star shining brightly in the upper center of the core.

1:30 AM to 2:00 AM
Shifting gears to some things a bit closer home, Jupiter, Saturn and Mars were on display throughout most of this evening. Atmospheric conditions were ideal with fairly cool temperatures and no wind. Of the three, Jupiter in particular was stunning in it’s sharpness and clarity with three of its moons Io, Ganymede and Callisto in a tight triangular formation. I Hooked my iPhone up to the telescope and took some videos of the planets.

Here is some of the video I shot that is posted on my YouTube Channel.

The 1080p 60 FPS footage was sent to Registax 6 to enhance the sharpness. Then the color and contrast were enhanced in Adobe Premiere Elements 6 to create the following image of Saturn at 1200x magnification.

3:15 AM to 4:00 AM
With that, the night was done–or so I thought! Having brought in all of my equipment, I realized I was just three Messier objects shy of hitting the halfway point. I looked at the clock and decided to lug everything back out for three more objects. The final three Messier objects began with M73, an open cluster with a simplistic four star pattern. It took a while to verify its location, with observations at higher magnifications revealing more of the stars in its formation. One wonders why an object like this was included in the Messier list to begin with. Second to last was M15, a small yet surprisingly bright globular cluster with an impressive core which revealed some structural details at higher magnifications. The night officially ended with the anticlimactic M2, revealing itself only as a small blurry globular cluster with some minor fine detail at 200x magnification.

4:00 AM to 4:15 AM
Before going in, a few more attempts were made to capture Mars on video, since it had moved up from the horizon into better atmospheric conditions. As I was packing up, my Apple Watch showed that the Moon had recently risen. Walking around my property, I found a spot that showed it just peaking above the horizon. Seeing the Moon at this early morning hour was a perspective that I have seen few times before. Seeing the Moon at this hour with the waning crescent portion of it visible gave me a new perspective on a familiar sight.

4:45 AM to 11:00 AM

Year One of the Messier List

A year after beginning the Astronomical League’s Messier Observing Program,  I have completed half of the list. With 55 objects down and 55 to go, it has been a wonderful year of deep-sky observations. I anticipate the second half to go a bit slower than the first. Two factors will contribute to this. The first is light pollution from my primary observing location. I have run into difficulty finding galaxies and globular clusters that are dimmer than +9.00 magnitude. The second is my wife and I expecting our first child in July. Between light pollution and a little one, it will definitely take me longer to complete the second half of this list.

Objects Observed:

M1, M2, M3, M5, M9, M10, M11, M12, M13, M14, M15, M19, M22, M25, M28, M31, M32, M34, M35, M36, M37, M38, M39, M40, M41, M42, M43, M44, M45, M46, M47, M48, M50, M51, M52, M53, M54, M56, M57, M63, M64, M67, M73, M76, M77, M78, M79, M80, M81, M82, M92, M93, M94, M103, M110

Favorite Objects:

  • M11-Wild Duck Cluster
  • M13-Hercules Cluster
  • M31-Andromeda Galaxy
  • M37-Open Cluster
  • M42-Orion Nebula
  • M45-Pleiades
  • M57-Ring Nebula
  • M67-Open cluster
  • M76-Little Dumbbell Nebula
  • M81-Bode’s Nebulae
  • M82-Bode’s Nebula