Last night after getting home from a fun day of fishing in the Adirondacks I double checked the clear sky chart
(both links are to current sky conditions in Plattsburgh) to see how the viewing was going to be. I saw that the cloud cover, transparency and seeing were all dark blue (the dark blue means CLEAR). I also noticed the humidity was quite low, which is good because the more humidity the more chance you have of your optics fogging up. Not only will the optics fog up but it may also cause some issues getting a good view at some deep space objects.
Last week I had gone out and spent over an hour looking in the southern sky, particularly Sagittarius and all of the deep space objects it contains. There are so many in that section of the sky that if you don’t know the exact coordinates you’re looking at you may mistake one object for another, making it rather difficult to confirm what you have viewed. That was my problem last week when I went out. I went out with no goal other than to enjoy the clear skies and I had taken notes. I had a heck of a time confirming which object was which. So last night I had a better plan; took the laptop with stellarium, my girlfriend had the note pad in case we needed any notes taken, and I had prepared myself with my camera and camera mount to get pictures.
I pulled into the park down the street from where I live, not the greatest dark site but it gives me a really good view of North, South and East. I can see to the west but there is quite a bit of light pollution from Plattsburgh in that direction. Constellations setting in the West seem to slowly fade away instead of actually set.
I set up my telescope on the basketball court, polar aligned the best I can (which turned out very well last night, only a small amount of star trails in pictures due to the Declination axis), and as we sat there waiting for our dark adaptation to take affect we looked up at the sky and watched for meteors. We must have seen a total of 5-6, maybe more, which isn’t bad considering the light pollution in the area. I had also seen one later on in the night go through my field of view when looking through my telescope.
After my eyes had adjusted a bit I quickly aimed the scope at Andromeda (M31). The core was very bright in the center of my eyepiece and with averted vision you could see the expanse of the galaxy from edge to edge of my 32mm eyepiece. Even that wasn’t a low enough magnification to get the whole thing in view. Also with averted vision you could make out the smaller galaxy M32 also known as La Genti – a dwarf elliptical galaxy. Andromeda is approximately 2.5 million light-years away from Earth. It is the nearest spiral galaxy to the Milky Way, but not the closest galaxy overall. Andromeda Galaxy gets it’s name due to it being located in the constellation Andromeda. At an apparent magnitude of 3.4 it is one of the brightest Messier objects. Even in my light polluted area I could just make out a slight hazy cloud feature with my naked eye, again using averted vision to see it. The darker and less light polluted the skies the easier it will be to find with the naked eye. Unfortunately the image I got of Andromeda was too grainy and not of good enough quality to get much more than the bright core in the photo.
After enjoying Andromeda I went for my main goal – Sagittarius. I wanted to photograph and identify one main object in Sagittarius to share here on my blog. I aimed the scope towards the constellation and aimed roughly where I knew the Lagoon Nebula (M8), Trifid Nebula (M20), and open cluster M21 were. I aimed at the Lagoon Nebula and started observing it’s features. There was a nice cluster of stars in the center of it with a slight nebula cloud to the left of them. Everything seemed so clear and crisp through my eyepiece. I turned on my motor drive to track it across the sky as I got my camera and mount ready for some pictures. I viewed it a bit longer through the eyepiece and then decided it’s about time to attach the camera to the eyepiece and get some pictures. Sagittarius was on it’s way to getting into the light polluted section of the sky so I wanted to catch it before it got too far.
Lagoon Nebula 6 30sec exposures at ISO400, F3.1. The dark spot in the center is due to the secondary mirror of the telescope.
After I got all the pictures I needed to get a good stack I then started searching for the planetary nebula called Dumbbell Nebula (M27) which I didn’t have any luck finding. It’s small and faint and I just couldn’t spot it. Hopefully I have better luck next time.
I had watched Jupiter come up in the east shortly after midnight and aimed at it around 1:45am. It is extremely bright around a magnitude -2. At first I was wondering why and how a plane was just sitting on the horizon not moving anywhere when I finally realized it was Jupiter. When I looked at it I could make out 4 of it’s Galilean moons; Europa, Io, Callisto and Ganymede. Through the eyepiece Jupiter looked like a bright ball of light I couldn’t make out much, if any detail. Not sure if I need to check my collimation of my mirrors or if it was just too low to the horizon. Will have to give it a shot again soon.
At the end of the night I gave Andromeda another look for about 5 or so minutes then packed it in as me and my girlfriend were both getting cold and tired. Great night of viewing. With all the none-astronomy-friendly weather we’ve been having at night it was a nice treat to get out there and be able to view the sky with decent temperatures that didn’t require me to go inside every 10 minutes to warm up. Summer astronomy is wonderful if you ever get a clear night to enjoy it.