Sunday, October 16, 2005

Central Park Observing - 15 Oct. 2005

Location: TotL - Central Park's Great Lawn (north end)
Date/time: Sat-Sun, 15-16 Oct. 2005 (~10:30p-12:45a)
Optics: 10x70 Fujinon's (mounted); 8.5x42 Swarovski's
Observers: myself, Kin plus 8 passersby including George
Conditions: winds from the west from 7-9 m.p.h., temperature 59°-58°F

When I arrived at ~10:30p Kin was there speaking with another regular, George. Hearing snatches of conversation I could tell George was relating tales from his solo adventures across the globe.

After setting up the binoculars on the Pleiades both Kin and George enjoyed the view. Mars and the nearly full Moon respectively were placed in the binoculars as I was assembling the chair. George was thrilled with the view of the Moon calling it 'the gem of the sky'. He can Bogart optics like no other. A true connoisseur!

The night sky was finally clear after many days of overcast nights. Magnitude 4.8 stars were spotted easily but I didn't make an effort to do a true estimate of the limiting magnitude. More time than expected was spent showing the public and not looking for novae.

Objects observed with the 10x70's:


• M2 in Aquarius [mv 6.3]: spotted in the 8.5x42's and then picked up in the 10x70's. Kin was able to pick up the less than stellar glow. The star hop was made from β Aqr (Sadalsuud) [mv 2.9]. Three stars [mv 5.8-6.9] north of (above) Sadalsuud form a triangle whose base points in the general direction of M2. M2's distance from β Aqr is ~4.8°.

• M15 Great Pegasus Cluster [mv 6.0]: spotted easily in the 8.5x42's and much easier than M2. The star hop was from ε Pegasi (Enif) [mv 2.4]. A line from θ Pegasi (Baham, which is southeast of ε) [mv 3.5] to Enif leads directly to M15. The distance from Enif to M15 is ~4.2°. The stars immediately surrounding the globular cluster are close and bright making for a rich and recognizable field in the binocular's 5.3° field of view.


• M45 in Taurus (The Pleiades): first object for the night. Enjoyed by all including a number of passersby. A group of three young people (2 girls and a guy) stopped by. One of the young ladies was more interested than her friends and stuck around to view as many objects as I could show her. She was impressed by all but was blown away by the number of stars seen in the Pleiades compared to what could be seen naked eye. She asked many times what was the most amazing thing I've ever seen in the night sky from Central Park and I wasn't able to give a definitive answer since all of it is pretty amazing to me. I called out a number events with 'Lunar Eclipse' heading the list.

• Hyades in Taurus: showed this to George and he was less than overwhelmed but still enjoyed looking at the view.

• Perseus OB Association (surrounding α Persei (Mirfak)): looked great in the 10x70's with each blue/white star perfectly formed in the optics. Showed this one to George also. Turns out he couldn't get enough of the Moon.

• M36 in Auriga: easily spotted in the binoculars below the 'Cheshire Cat'. Pointed this asterism out to Kin and he recognized it as a smiley face. He then easily picked it up in his 7x50's.

• M37 in Auriga: very dim. Dimmest object viewed and was not picked up by Kin. I star hopped to it starting at the False Kids (τ, ν & υ at the apex) which point to M37. An asterism of three stars near M37 form a 'T' with M37 as the upper left portion of the short arm. M37 is ~4.8° from the tip of the 'False Kids'. The observation was confirmed with Planetarium for the Palm. Very subtle.


• Moon: a little more than a day from full. Showed to all who passed by. All were impressed by the view. I didn't look closely and didn't try to identify the craters showing up on the following limb.

• Uranus in Aquarius: star hopped to it from the western stars of the 'Water Jar' (π & γ Aqr [mv 4.4-4.7 & 3.9]) which point to θ Aqr (Ancha) [mv 4.2] to the south. From Ancha it's a short (~5°) walk ESE to Uranus. Five brightish stars surround the planet. Three form a long isoscoles triangle with Uranus just east of the apex. Uranus is the tip of a west pointing, less than isosceles, triangle which is ~1° wide.

• Neptune in Capricorn: found δ Cap (Deneb Algedi) [mv 2.9] to the lower left of the already spotted Sadalsuud (β Aqr). From here it was short ~9.1° hop through γ [mv 3.7], ι (iota) [mv 4.3] to θ [mv 4.1]. With θ Cap at the base of an elongated 'Keystone' Neptune is the right object on the narrow side of the trapezoid.

• Mars in Taurus: seen naked eye with a quick glimpse in the binoculars. Would have been nice to seen in the large scope.


• Alberio in Cygnus: double star easily split in the 10x70's. Showed to both Kin and George.

• 'Coat Hanger' (asterism in Vulpecula): the three bright stars in the head of the Eagle (Aquila) should roughly point to the 'Coat Hanger'. I scanned for it knowing it was inside the 'Summer Triangle' closest to Altair.

• M57: Ring Nebula in Lyra: This was the only object looked for and not seen. Kin asked whether I was able to see this object in the binoculars. I told him it would be tough but would look like a slightly out of focus star. Between β & γ Lyrae, closer to Sheliak (β Lyr) I could see a nearly equilateral triangle made up of stars from mag. 8.3-8.8 which point to M57, south of the triangle. Between the dim triangle and the wide binocular double (optical?) mags 7.7 & 8.1 an 8.7 mag star was seen but I couldn't pick up the nebula just southwest of this star. M57 at the time was ~23° above the horizon.


I was impressed by the effect the sidewalk astronmers at TotL, and elsewhere, had on the few people we met last night. Besides Kin & George three groups stopped by and each knew of the group in one way or another.

One the guys in the first pair asked if an astronomy club met at the top of the lawn. I said we did but we weren't a club, just a group of friends.

The young guy hanging with the two girls knew we observed in the area and I invited the interested young lady to visit us again especially when Saturn was visible before the 1 AM curfew.

Then a couple stopped by both taking a took at the Moon. The woman mentioned that she was in the park to view the Leonids on a cold November night around Central Park's Great Lawn and was really impressed by the event. I asked how she found out about the gathering, which she viewed in pajamas and a parka, and said she probably read about it somewhere. I was interested in talking to her more but the husband pulled them away after thanking us for the view of the Moon. Overall an excellent night.

The nova hunt was postponed until 12:00am which I'll write about in another post. It was nice that the sprinklers never activated!


Tag said...

Hi Ben,

Thanks for the report of last night. After eight days of rain, finally a night out. I was out earlier and suspected that Team TotL would show. Great to hear you made it out.

Your report shows a good variety of objects that you observed. Pretty funny remark of George - "bogart optics..." Can he appreciate this variety of celestial objects that you showed him? It sounds almost like "Powers of Ten", from Moon all the way to the oldest objects, the globulars.

Despite the fact we can't see the Milky Way, he also was looking back into our Spiral Arm and some of the sub-structures of Gould's Belt. I assume that your reference to Per OB Ass is Per OB3, Melotte 20. I think it is suspected as the core 'cluster' of the much larger Cas-Tau Association. This indeed is a beautiful sight for binoculars.

Your report states that you didn't scrutinize Moon. Libration is favorable for the eastern limb, and I saw your "web handle" along with the Mare Marginis and - Humboldtianum.

I don't see mention of nova hunting. Had you an opportunity?

If tonight is clear, I'll be sure to be out. I am curious about how M57 appears in your bins. I don't know what time you observed Coat Hanger and Alberio, but I assume they were comfortably low in the sky for the bins. That would indicate that M57 is not so high. Can you check this out and offer up a report of your experience?

c'ya peter

Ben C. said...


I'm adding another paragraph including the attempted observation of M57. Many of yesterday's objects were suggested by Kin. It was good to have him around for the night.

When the entry is updated I'll add 'Updated' to the beginning when completed.

Thanks for the report on the Moon. I didn't even look close enough to check on libration. I was hoping to get to the nova hunting as soon as possible. More on that on another post.