Monday, March 07, 2005

Introduction: Nova Hunting

Nova hunting started in earnest on 8 Nov 2004. Searching for new stars involves studying small areas of the night sky with binoculars & memorizing patterns of stars in order to see whether the light from an exploding star is cruising past Earth.

Observations are done with binoculars in order to create asterisms, mini constellations, which will be used to create a map to assist in future sessions. The maps are used until the patterns are committed to memory.

Systematic nova hunting has been an activity pursued by amateur astronomers for decades. Visual hunting is done by fewer amateurs than photographic nova patrols.

Most discoveries these days are spotted photographically. A photographer will image an area of the sky over several nights, then compare the images in order to spot any changes. If something appears to have changed research is needed to eliminate false positives i.e. known variable stars, asteroids or image defects.

Hunting for novae photographically is reliable in the right hands but reporting a new find takes longer since the images need to be developed digitally or chemically and analyzed at a later date. This gives the visual hunter some hope that she/he will be able to report a discovery earlier than a photographer would.

This web log is an attempt to document the process of visual nova hunting from inside the borders of New York City.