A New Beginning in Observing

Upon receiving my telescope in 2009, I decided to start keeping a list of astronomical observations. From that, LateNightAstronomy was born. Through this website, I have listed over 125 objects (including the Earth) on pages such as “What I’ve Viewed” and “Nightly News”. While, I will be continuing to list objects and nightly events in this format, I am now beginning to take hand written official observational logs to catalog objects for certification through the Astronomical League.

The First Three Logbooks

To begin the process, I decided to focus on three observing programs the Astronomical League has to offer:

“Messier Observing Program”
This is a wonderful starting point for documenting some of the most impressive 110 objects of the deep sky. I suspect it will take me two to three years to view all of the objects given limitations of seeing from my house and the slow shift of the stars throughout the year.

“Lunar Observing Program”
For nights when the Moon will be blocking out my Messier observing, I’ve decided to start charting the lunar surface. The 100 objects listed in this program are great for people new to astronomy and can be completed with a pair of binoculars or a small telescope. I hope to have this program completed within three to four months.

“Comet Observing Program”
With Comet C/2015 V2 Johnson currently in the night sky, I thought it might be a good idea to start an official logbook for comets. Documenting 12 comets for this program will take quite a while, and I expect it to be completed in 4 to 5 years.

“The Logbooks”
To assist me in my official observations, I came across a wonderful logbook created by Matt Wedel over at 10minuteastronomy. I took his design concept for the Messier book and formatted my own books for the lunar and comet observing programs using resources provided by the Astronomical League. After a quick run to Staples, I had some premium printed, coil bound and plastic covered logbooks to begin my journey into the Astronomical Leagues Observing Program.

iPhone Telescope Adapter

If you are looking for a basic starting point in astrophotography, a smartphone eyepiece adapter may be a good option. These adapters along with a dobsonian or other non-tracking telescope can provide nice video and images of the Moon and Planets.

I’ve found that it is best to connect the adapter to the eyepiece near a light source before putting the eyepiece into the telescope. This allowed me to adjust the iPhone directly over the eyepiece at the right distance and angle to capture the light.

Most of these adapters can be found on Amazon for around 20 dollars. If you are interested in making some early steps into astrophotography, I would encourage you to check out this line of products.

An Evening of Astrophotography

This past Sunday, February 26, 2017, a fellow member of the Roanoke Valley Astronomical Society, Bert Herald, invited me over for some observing. Bert has recently purchased an impressive Celestron Cassegrain telescope and tracking mount to do astrophotography.

He has just recently moved from afocal imagining, using an iPhone, to the big leagues of DSLR astrophotograpy. The evening started with a complicated and sometimes frustrating polar/5 star alignment which gave me a greater appreciation for the complexity of these advanced telescopes. After some initial difficulties with alignment, later in the evening Bert was able to get some nice exposures of NGC 1983, the Running Man Nebula. He described overcoming some difficulties with the tracking system for this observing session and the process of capturing the nebula:

Tracking continued to suffer even after a second round of alignment! But it was good enough to capture a set of 5 30 sec exposures. I stacked them and briefly edited…

The result of his efforts is an impressive image of NGC 1983, particularly for someone new to advanced astrophotography.

Bert Herald: Running Man Nebula, February 26, 2017

Late Night Astronomy’s Editorial Board: Presidential Endorsement

In the 76 year history of Late Night Astronomy, the editorial board has never made an endorsement in a presidential election. That ends tonight. After two debates and over a year of campaigning, it is obvious that only one candidate has the judgment, temperament and stamina to be President of the United States. Through these criteria and after great deliberation, we are throwing our support behind “Giant Meteor 2016”.

Image result for giant meteor 2016 poll

Only “Giant Meteor 2016” has the ability to wipe out the national debt and take America back to the glory days of our early republic. While some in the mainstream media will attack “Giant Meteor 2016” for bringing instant death to millions and a slow death to tens of millions more, we simply find these results preferable to a Trump or Clinton presidency.

In fact, a recent poll found that 13 percent of Americans prefer “Giant Meteor 2016” when given the option.

Image result for giant meteor 2016 poll

If you’re tired of politics as usual and want something that will truly shake up the system, we urge you to vote for “Giant Meteor 2016” this November. Our children’s future depends on it!

RVAS Telescope Loan Program

Bringing someone new into the hobby of Astronomy can be a daunting task. Expenses ranging from telescopes to eyepieces are just the start of frustrations that can be expounded upon by the complexity of telescope maintenance. Due to these factors, various astronomy clubs around the country have started a telescope loan program, where people can go to their local library and rent a telescope to test their hand at the hobby without having to endure the frustrations of expenses and difficulties of telescope maintenance.

Dan Chrisman, the President of RVAS, invited several club members to his home to help with our club’s telescope loan program. The goal of our meeting was to simplify the mechanics of an Orion StarBlast down to a point where the average person could use it with limited hassle and maintenance. To do this, we had to tear the scope down and rebuild it, removing some features and adding others, all with the goal of making the it more user friendly. Our hope is that these telescopes, soon to be in local libraries, will be a person’s first step into the hobby of amateur astronomy.

The following pictures are a brief overview of the tear down and rebuilding process.


Exploring the Summer Sky

The summer months can be a tricky time for observing. The nights are short, the weather is erratic and dew starts to build up on the telescope as soon as the serious observing begins. Nights that are clear, calm and cool are rare to come by and should be taken advantage of. I did just that on the night of July 10-11 from 10:45 pm to 1:30 am.

Starting with the Solar System
Viewing conditions were difficult, looking through the turbulent summer atmosphere, views of Mars were less impressive at high magnifications. Also, Mars continues to move farther from us, having made its closest approach to Earth on May 30, 2016 at a distance of 47 million miles, making surface detail harder to make out each night.

One of the highlights of the night, as usual, came from Saturn. With the Cassini Division in full view, this planet always tends to be more forgiving of rough atmospheric conditions, particularly compared to Mars and Jupiter. I was able to try out my new iPhone adapter with the telescope and after some initial alignment difficulties over the eyepiece was able to get a short video.

After being processed through Registax 6 and Adobe Premiere Elements, this image was the final product.

Saturn, 7-10-16

Into Deep Space
The main targets of the evening were Deep Sky Objects. I’ve been chipping away at the Messier List for about six years. These 110 objects are considered some of the best to view and most are attainable with affordable binoculars and telescopes if you are in an area with low light pollution.

Globular Clusters:
Of all the views from this night, the globular clusters were the most difficult to find and disappointing to see. These dense collection of stars were partially drowned out by light pollution and the Moon that had yet to fully set. M80 and M92 were two new ones that I was able to mark off my list. M13 was an impressive show, even with the viewing conditions working against it. The Hercules Cluster is one of the most impressive globular clusters in the sky. I find it hard to focus the object correctly because of how dense the star field is. Various levels of focus almost seem to bring out new layers of detail.

Open Clusters:
M18 (2)These collections of stars always impress me with their elegance and simplicity. Not nearly as dense and “fuzzy” as globular clusters, open clusters can be difficult to find but rewarding to discover. Take M18 for example, to verify that I had the correct collection of stars, I had to consult my star chart (Sky Safari 4 Plus on my iPhone) that I was in the correct region of the sky.  I did this by counting stars and comparing patterns between what was in my eyepiece and what the chart on my app showed. M23, M26 and NGC 6633 rounded out the list of open clusters viewed.

Supernova Remnants:
One of my favorite sights of the summer sky are the five to eight thousand year old supernova remnants of the Eastern and Western Veil Nebula. I wasn’t sure if NGC 6960 and NGC 6995 would show up from my viewing site, but sure enough with the help of an O-III filter they did. The scale of these two objects is an impressive sight and their ghostly outlines are fitting for the remnants of a dead star.

One last Planet
By around 1:30 am, I started to get tired but noticed that there was one planet which had just moved high enough for me to view. Neptune is the farthest planet from the Sun, making it one of the more difficult ones to spot, excluding dwarf planets, sorry Pluto. At 400x magnification, I could make out a faint circular disc with a blueish gray tint. Not bad for something 2.8 Billion Miles away.