Astro2 held an observing session along with the Physics department for today’s partial solar eclipse. They had a nice array of Telescopes there, two set up to project an image onto screens and then a PST for observing the Sun directly in H-alpha. I was technically at work so I couldn’t stay for the whole eclipse but coffee time coincided nicely with maximum eclipse so I got to see about 20 minutes starting just after maximum. The view in the PST was spectacular, some lovely prominences and also two small sunspots near the eclipsed bit of the moon.

Myself and another colleague watched a live webcast from Turkey from work for a few minutes either side of totality. It was no where near as impressive as actually being there but it was still nice to do something for the eclipse.

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Yesterday was a bitterly cold day and last night was no warmer. After the excellent Astro2 talk on Science, Religion and Dawkins only three of us were brave enough to venture out into the cold for some observing but for those of us that did it was well worth it. We had stunning views of Saturn showing the cloud bands and the Cassini division very clearly, amazing views of the Orion Nebula at ridiculously low magnification (30X) so as to get th entire thing into the same field of view and then we zoomed in on the core for a closer look. We also took in some of the open clusters in Auriga and M35 in Gemini as well as a rather un-impressive M1 (light pollution really spoils it). We then finished off with another look at Saturn because none of us could get enough of that beauty!

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We had an unexpected observing session at the Astro2 meeting today. As we went in to the excellent talk on Gravitational waves it was pelting with rain but when we came out later the sky had completely cleared and there wasn’t a cloud in sight so we all trudged up to the physics department observatory for a wonderful observing session.

We started out with a look at Saturn, first at 100X and then at 190X. The air was not very stable so close after a major weather system had passed by so although Saturn looked very crisp (and big) at 100X even 190X was starting to push the limits a bit. At 190X we could clearly see the cloud bands on Saturn, the shadow of the rings and in moments of good seeing the Cassini Division in the rings. Saturn looked a little nicer than usual today because the background was just peppered with loads of stars from the large open cluster M44 (the Beehive Cluster) which Saturn is currently moving through.

After Saturn we turned our attention to The Orion Nebula (M42). Because the over half full moon was very close to Orion I decided to go for as low a magnification as possible to give maximum stability, contrast and sharpness to our view. Even with the moon interfering the nebula still looked stunning at 62X with the LX200. The contrast was excellent and all four stars of the trapezium were easily separable. There was also a lot of detail visible in the nebula. All in all people seemed impressed with the view since there were lots of oooh’s and aaaah’s as people were looking.

Finally, after everyone had had a good look at M42 we moved on to the moon. We started at 62X so that people could see the whole disk at once and also get an idea of the scale of the Orion Nebula which they had just seen at the same magnification. We ended the session by allowing everyone a ‘moon walk’, i.e. I put in our highest eyepiece (6.4mm giving a magnification of 390X) and gave each person observing the key pad and let them scan the moon for a while.

All in all it turned out to be a great observing session probably made all the more enjoyable by the fact that none of us had expected the opportunity for observation to present it self tonight!

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It was both frosty and foggy last night so there were a lot of ice-crystals in the air. I saw one of the most impressive moon Halo’s I’ve ever seen. The inner circle went right in to the moon and was very bright, then there was a bright redish fringe followed by a dark fringe and then another bright fringe. For more information on Lunar Halo’s have a look here:

I had a look tonight because the weather is similar but th fog is just too thick to see any interesting phenomena.

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At the moment Mars is making it’s closest approach to Earth for the next 18 years so Astro2 thought this was too good a chance to miss! The only slight drawback was that Mars wasn’t well placed for observation from the Physics Observatory until after midnight. However, I offered to run a Mars watch at 1am and to my great surprise I wasn’t alone! There were in fact over 20 other people braving the cold with me!

This was the first opportunity Astro2 had to use the physics department’s LX200 10" telescope. The conditions were not really ideal but we did nonetheless get a good look. We started off with a 15mm eyepiece giving a magnification of about 170X which allowed people to see some surface details while keeping the magnification low enough to keep the image nice and sharp. Once everyone had a look at the low magnification I changed to a 12mm eyepiece to increase the magnification to about 120X. At this stage the sky was getting very hazy and there was a good coating of dew on the corrector plate of the telescope but we could still easily see the black regions on the surface even though the image was quite fuzzy. I did try to up the magnification to about 280X with a 9mm eyepiece but that just wasn’t gonna happen in those conditions!

All in all I think people had a good time and I’m really encouraged by such a high turnout for an Astro2 event at 1am!

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Got a look at a fairly nice aurora from Maynooth this evening. This was by no means a massively spectacular aurora like the ones you see in books but it was still very nice. There was a red glow on the north west horizon and white auroral bands over head and in the northern sky. It was also a fairly stable aurora which is less awe-inspiring to watch than more dynamic aurorae.

BTW, if you want to keep up with the most recent cool aurora pics keep an eye on the gallery at The gallery for this month has some very impressive images, my favorite being the one below:

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Well, Astro2 had it’s first observing session of the year and despite the weather being far from ideal we did actually manage to see some stuff and we also had a good turnout of about 20 people who braved the cold on the physics roof!

When we first went onto the roof observing conditions were far far from ideal, about 30% – 40% cloud cover and the areas that were ‘clear’ were still quite hazy. Thankfully the longer we stayed up there the clearer it got.

We only had use of our own ETX90 and our binoculars because the college’s LX200 was out of order. This made things a little more difficult because it meant we had no automatic tracking and no finder scope (don’t ask) so I stuck to a 32mm eye piece to keep the magnification low and only went for objects that were big, bright and easy to find.

We got a good look at the globular cluster M13, the Andromeda Galaxy (M31) and the double cluster in Perseus. I was hoping to track down the Dumbbell Nebula (M27) and the Ring Nebula (M57) but without a finder scope tracking down something in the midst of the Milkyway is just not gonna work so when my fingers got numb I gave up!

We also spotted some satellites and an Iridium Flare and we did some introductory stuff with our new members pointing out some of the constellations. Although it was far from an ideal night I still think a good time was had by those who showed up.

One thing that did infuriate me a bit was that Mars didn’t come up high enough to be seen from the roof till I was on my way home and spotted it in all it’s red glory taunting me from low in the sky next to the Hume building!

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Amazing what you can see with a pair of Binoculars!

Filed Under 42 (Life the Universe & Everything) on September 23, 2005 | Comments Off on Amazing what you can see with a pair of Binoculars!

Being in Cavan for a weeks well earned holidays I got my first look at a clear dark sky for a very very long time so out I went armed with no more than a simple pair of Binoculars (10×50) for some hands on practical astronomy. It was great to see the Milkyway blazing across the sky, you just don’t see that in Maynooth. You’ll be amazed at just how much you can see with just a pair of Binoculars that I got for 20 Euro in Lidle!

Probably one of the hardest types of object to see without a telescope are galaxies but you’d still be amazed how many you can see with Binoculars, some practice and a clear dark sky. Tonight I managed to observe four:

  • The Andromeda Galaxy (M31). Mind you that is not really saying much since you can see it with the un-aided eye under Cavan’s dark skes!
  • The Triangulum Galaxy (M33). This is one of my favourites because it is one of that rare class of objects that I can see relatively easily with my Binoculars but which is pretty much completely invisible in even the college’s 10" telescope because it is so big and spread out!
  • M81 & M82 in the plough. These are two galaxies that are stunning in a telescope but for some bizarre reason always seem to get over-looked by amateur astronomers.

I also had a look at the nicest of the Planetary Nebulae (dying stars), the Dumbbell Nebula (or M27 to Astronomers). Since most planetary nebulae are tiny you generally need a telescope to see them but M27 appears big on the sky because it is close to us so it’s within the range of my 20 Euro binoculars.

I also did the rounds of the Globular clusters getting good views of the two easiest (M13 and M3) and also managed to glimpse the smaller, more compact and hence harder to see M15 in Perseus.

I did of course also observe a few of the easiest objects to observe, Open Clusters:

  • As normal I kicked off proceedings by observing probably the easiest and most spectacular binocular object of them all, the Double Cluster in Perseus (NG869 & NGC884). No matter how often you see this object it still looks stunning!
  • I also got a look at another easy but beautiful cluster, M39, which sits in the heart of the Milkyway in at the top of Cygnus.
  • I also had a look at one of the cuter ‘clusters’, the Coat Hanger Cluster which is, as it’s name suggests, a cluster of stars arranged in the shape of a coat hanger. It’s not strictly speaking a cluster but it is too cute not to checkout when you get the chance IMO.
  • I also checked out one of my old favourites, IC4665 in Ophiuchus which is another realy easy to see cluster that almost no one knows about just because it didn’t make Charlie’s (Charles Messier’s) list.
  • Finally, I also got my first ever look at M11 in Scutum. TBH I only came across it by accident because I was randomly scanning the Milkyway, I had no idea it was so bright and easy to see!

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