|SIERRA STAR GAZERS
Observations for the January 15th Star Party
SSG Coordinators will be at the Cronan Ranch observing site at 5:30 pm to assist observers with basic telescope setup procedures, Newtonian mirror collimation, and polar alignment questions. Cronan Ranch is an excellent low altitude venue for quality observing while staying relatively warm, AND there is a porta-potty on site!
Please turn off your headlights, park your vehicle and set up your instruments as directed.
Over the years the SSG Coordinators have made (and survived) just about every setup and observing error possible, so don’t be afraid to ask questions.
Remember, if you are fortunate to have more than one eyepiece, always begin observing each object with the least magnification possible.
If you don’t have a telescope at this time, come join us anyway. We enjoy sharing.
January brings cold evenings that can put a damper on observing. Experienced observers dress in layers and ALWAYS wear a warm hat, preferably one that can cover the ears. A thermos of a hot beverage is guaranteed to make your innards toasty and your time at the eyepiece more memorable.
The evenings observing program will begin by casting our eyes on the brightest, and closest, major galaxy in our sky. Then we’ll search out and observe some open star clusters, magnificent Jupiter, and Mars. The descriptions of some objects may include apparent size in minutes of arc (‘). For comparison, the full Moon is 30 minutes of arc, or 1/2:
SSG Lead Host – Forrest Lockhart
Tonight we’ll be observing objects in the constellations Andromeda, Cassiopeia, and Taurus, plus two planets.
Andromeda (S&T Pocket Sky Atlas – pg 3 )
Andromeda is easily found almost directly overhead and just south of the familiar “M” asterism of Cassiopeia. The constellation is home to the most observed galaxy in the sky, and two companions that can be a challenge. Use low magnification to locate the objects, then slowly ferret out subtle details that casual observers frequently miss.
Messier 31 is the closest major galaxy to our own. At about 2.5 million light years distant, M31 is one of the most distant objects visible to the unaided eye. The galaxy is tilted about 30 to our line of sight. With about 300 billion stars spread across a 130,000 light year disk, this is an object worth spending some time with. Of interest is that M31 is approaching us at about 185 miles per second. In about 5 billion years the two galaxies will collide and eventually merge into a single elliptical galaxy.
Messier 32 is a small dwarf elliptical companion of M31. While photos of M31 frequently show M32 very close to its larger companions spiral arms, through the telescope you will need to look further out. M32 will be seen as a faint oval some distance from M31. At low to medium magnification you will first see a featureless oval glow. More inspection may reveal a faint outer envelope around the star-like core.
Messier 110 is another small companion of M31. While it is also an elliptical galaxy, it is larger than M32 and even further away from the observable arms of the parent. Look to the northwest of M31’s core to find it. Under a very dark sky scopes in the 4” range under medium to high magnification may glimpse a faint dust lane and some surface mottling.
Cassiopeia (S&T Pocket Sky Atlas – pg 1 – 3)
This constellation is one of the most recognized in the sky due to its prominent M (or W) asterism. Cassiopeia is also a circumpolar constellation, meaning that it can be observed at any time of the year if you have a clear northern horizon. Here we can easily locate two attractive open star clusters that are visual delights in scopes of any size.
Messier 52 is an open cluster about 5,100 light years away. Easily seen through binos as a uniform glow, the cluster has an approximate diameter of 16’ and an overall magnitude of 6.9. M52 is about 20 million years old and is 24 light years in diameter. Look for a remarkable 8th magnitude topaz star on the cluster’s edge, which is not a true cluster member.
Messier 103 is among the most easily found clusters. Situated about 8,130 light years away, it is situated well within a low power field of view with delta () Cass. M103 is a loose cluster of 10th & 11th magnitude stars concentrated within a 6’ area that some imagine to form a Christmas tree shape.
Taurus (S&T Pocket Sky Atlas – pg 15 & Closeup Chart A)
This constellation is best known for the bull horned V asterism with orange super-giant, Aldebaran at one tip, and enclosing the magnificent Hyades star cluster. But the real star of Taurus is what many consider to be the most widely known open star cluster in the sky.
Messier 45 is the famous open cluster known as the Pleiades, or the Seven Sisters. Mistaken by some to be the Little Dipper, the stars of the Pleiades were formed from a contracting cloud of gas and dust about 20 million years ago. At a distance of only 407 light years from us, the nine brightest stars encompass a true diameter of 7 light years. These new, very hot type O and B stars burn at a combined light of 1.5 magnitudes. The cluster is swathed in a very faint gossamer veil of blue dust that teases the eye and mind. Strangely, this dusty reflection nebulosity has no real connection with the birth of the cluster. Recent studies indicate that the original birth cloud has long since been blown away. What we perceive today is another dusty cloud that the cluster happens to be passing through at this time. In fact, the cluster and the dust cloud are traveling in opposite directions! What we see is not necessarily what we get.
Messier 1 is the famed Crab Nebula. M1 is actually the remnants of a supernova that became visible in the year 1054. Chinese astrologers recorded the “New Star” which remained visible for over two weeks in broad daylight. M1 is easy to find in scopes or binoculars by extending an imaginary line from the southernmost horn of Taurus through Aldebaran out to Tauri, then looking just a bit north. If you have any problems finding M1, ask one of the SSG coordinators for assistance. Once found, it is an easy target.
Jupiter, now sliding toward the western horizon, is a dynamic experience with anything from binoculars to the largest telescopes. Periodic observations over an hour or so will reveal motion of the inner moons and obvious rotation of the planet.
Mars will be at planetary opposition on January 29th, however, this opposition will not be favorable for observers. While, due to the elliptical orbit of our neighboring planet, Mars can close to less than 35 million miles on some occasions, the 2010 opposition will see Mars approaching to a distant 61.7 million miles from earth. At that distance Mars will appear only 14.7 seconds of arc in diameter. There is one bright side, however. At the 2012 opposition Mars will appear only 13.8 seconds of arc in size