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.

Logbooks
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.

Top 5 Spring Astronomy Objects

Winter is cold!  Whenever I conjure up enough bravery to observe during the cold late and early months of the year I can’t help but think of the poor kid in “A Christmas Story” who horrifically froze his tongue to the freezing pole. Now, I’m not suggesting that amateur astronomers are constantly licking their telescopes, but there have been a few instances when the freezing steel tube touched by my bare warm hands and froze to them for an instant. Thankfully, those months are behind us and the warmer nights of the spring are upon us. What am I looking forward to from the spring time nights? Well, I’m glad I asked, because here are my top 5 spring observation sights!

5. Orion’s Nebula-I Know, I know, stop your shouting! Now it may be cheating to include this in my spring list when it is considered a winter constellation, but I get the most enjoyable views of Orion’s mighty nebula in the warmer nights of the spring than the cold nights of the winter.  The greenish blue glowing inner clouds are brought out beautifully by low to medium powered observations.  Views through a 2 inch 38 mm eyepiece reveal the dark background of space against the ghostly clouds of the nebula, bringing out the contrast and internal detail even more.  Be sure to add a UHC filter to experience even more contrast and depth.

4. Beehive Cluster-Last year I came across this cluster for the first time while doing observations of Mars at Roanoke College.  It may not be the most impressive star cluster out there, but it is still quite a sight to spend some time on.

3. Bode’s Nebula (M81 & M82)-Two of my favorite galaxies come back into prominence during this time of the year.  The best part about these galaxies is that they are bright, at least as far as galaxies go, and you can observe them through a variety of ways.  View both together with medium and low power eyepieces or individual study them through high power observations.  Either way will provide rich views of the neighboring spiral and irregular galaxies.

2. Virgo Galaxy Cluster-No other spot of space has more beautiful galaxies crammed together than this bunch near the constellation Virgo which rises high during the months of spring.  Scanning through this expanse will reveal many of the Messier Lists most prominent galaxies.  Start out with low magnification and simply scan the field for the vague ghost smudges that are galaxies.  Once you come across the prominent ones, play around with the magnification and test out the light gathering capability of your scope to reveal detail in these faint fuzzies.

1. Saturn-The first love of many astronomers returns to prominence in the month of April and this time she is really putting on a show.  With her rings tilted more towards Earth, the incredible Cassini divide is once again visible, making Saturn must more impressive than the previous two years.  My hope is to have a new 6mm Zhumell planetary eyepiece for 200X observations of Saturn for the spring and early summer.

Deep-Sky List: Supernova Remnants

The sky is filled with many wonders.  While the universe is encapsulated with incredible examples of beauty through creation it is also filled with examples of beauty through death.  Planetary nebula or supernova remnants are the expanding aftermath or shock wave of a star that has recently exploded at the end of its life cycle.   However, in death there is also a new beginning as is seen by our own sun which is a third generation star made up of material from supernova remnants of the ancient celestial past.  These ghostly objects are best viewed with a nebula filter and in a dark site location.  Here is my starting list of  these beautiful former stars that I hope to view over the next few months and years.

  • Large and Bright

Ring Nebula (M57)-9th magnitude smoke ring surrounding a very faint star
Dumbell Nebula (M27)-Capable of being seen been binoculars
NGC40

  • Small Planetaries:(Make up the majority of supernova remnants, often hard to distinguish from stars at low power)

Blue Snowball (NGC7662)-Northern Andromeda
Eskimo Nebula (NGC2392)-Gemini
Blinking Planetary (NGC6826)-Cygnus
Saturn Nebula (NGC7009)
NGC1514
NGC7008
IC289

  • Large and Faint:(More than 60 arc seconds)

Helix Nebula (NGC7293)-Spans half the diameter of the Moon
NGC6781 & NGC246-Best viewed under dark sky conditions
Medusa Nebula-Huge planetary over 11 arc minutes across, difficult to view

  • Exploding Supernova Remnants

Crab Nebula (M1)-Recent explosion seen around 1054 A.D. in China during daylight
Veil Nebula (NGC6960)
IC443-Crescent shaped arc, extremely faint

Source:The Backyard Astronomers Guide

Deep-Sky List: Stars & Star Clusters

Every amateur astronomer needs a list.  Going out and blindly observing, without any idea of what you’re looking at, is enjoyable for a while, but wears thin overtime.  Compiling a variety of objects to view will help to hone your skills while making the most effective use of those few nights with exceptional seeing conditions.  Here is my starting list of  Double, Carbon and Red Giant Stars as well as Open and Globular Star Clusters I hope to view over the next few months and years.

  • Double Stars:(Two or more stars orbiting each other)

Mizar-Middle Star in the handle of the Big Dipper
Gamma Arietis-Headlight Double
Gamma Virginis-Headlight Double
Albireo/Beta Cygina-Color
Delta Cephei-Color
Gamma Andromedae-Color
Antares-Color
Sirius-White Drawf Star Difficult to See

  • Carbon Stars:(Glow Strong Red. Slightly defocus occasionally to bring out color)

Mu Cephei
R Leporis
Ruby Crucis

  • Red Giants:(Glow Yellow Orange)

Betelgeuse
Aldebaran

  • Open Clusters:(All stars can be individually resolved)

Pleiades-Low Power/Binocular Viewing
Beehive-Low Power/Binocular Viewing
NGC7789-Rich Cluster/100 or more stars
M11-Rich Cluster
Jewel Box Cluster, NGC4755-Rich Cluster, Ruby-red star in a field of blue stars
Gem Cluster, NGC3293-Rich Cluster
NGC457-Poor Cluster/Less than 50 stars, Apparently looks like E.T.
NGC 2169-Poor Cluster, Resembles the number 37 or an XY
NGC2477-Very rich open cluster, nearly a globular

  • Globular Clusters:(Appear as a haze, harder to resolve individual stars)

M13
M3
M5
NGC288-Loosely concentrated
NGC5466-Loosely concentrated
NGC 5897-Loosely concentrated
M71
NGC2419-Very small, faint and distant, 300,000 light years
NGC7006-Very small, faint and distant, 185,000 light years
M55-Belongs to Sagittarius Dwarf.  A companion Elliptical Galaxy of the Milky Way

Source:The Backyard Astronomers Guide