Saturday, August 26, 2006

I will not miss Pluto… as a Planet.

Since Astronomers started discovering larger objects past Neptune, Pluto as a planet has been discussed, reviewed and debated. The first IAU resolution adding three additional planets did not pass.
New definitions and requirements for Planets passed on August 24, 2006 by the International Astronomical Union. We now have eight Planets plus other Objects like Ceres and “Xena” have been redefined as Dwarf Planets, with Pluto as the proto-type of a new class of Trans-Neptunian Objects. More Dwarfs will be classified and listed in the near future. This means new Solar System Charts, Maps and Books with new information on the demotion of Pluto and should be in schools and stores by the year 2010. To me, Pluto has never stood out as a distinguished “Planet”. It was always a dim, cold and distant rock. Three billion miles away placed Pluto on the bottom of my planet viewing list. In my scope, this object is just a small white dot, like one of many Asteroids. Bright Venus and Jupiter or the yellow Saturn and the red Mars can be seen with naked eye. Small Mercury can be visually seen in the sky without equipment. Even Uranus and Neptune will stand out as a colored orb in the night sky through a scope.Larry mentions Pluto in our current newsletter, in the September 16 evening sky. Pluto is a possible search target for medium-to-large telescopes. “Throughout September,” says Astronomy, “Pluto lies less than 1 degree southwest of the magnitude 3.5 star Xi Serpentis. This convenient marker will make finding Pluto, which glows dimly at mag. 13.9, a little less challenging.”I am sure the debate will continue, but for now, I accept the new definitions and look forward to other topics and items discovered in the Cosmos the IAU will focus on …

Saturday, August 12, 2006

No equipment required... Perseid Meteor Shower

Skywatching for a meteor shower requires only looking at the sky from a comfortable lawn chair. Last night's Perseid event would have yielded a better count if the moon was not as bright. My field of view is restricted somewhat because of the trees.I started looking around 9:30 pm, before the moon came up.

One good meteor and a few weak streaks were all I logged for the hour or so I was out. I left my post for refreshments and a rest in a cooler room before going back out around 3 am. No flashlight needed to find my viewing spot. The moon was bright and flooded the sky and ground with it's reflective photons. I did see several weak meteors in a partly cloudy sky. This shower must have been more impressive....Somewhere. I am sure someone saw more than I did.What keeps me interested in skywatching during these meteor events? The November 1998 Leonids! It was a cold November dark sky night with no moon. That meteor shower event had Bolides and Smokers! Short Trains and Long ones! The count was one every two minutes for several hours. It was not a Meteor Storm, but it was a memorable event. Once you have seen a "Show" like that one, you do not want to miss the next " Meteor Shower." Even though last night was not the best event, it could have been. Every night sky is different... be there and be part of that sky even for a little while.
When does the next meteor shower peak? Here is a link I use for meteor events:

Tuesday, August 1, 2006

Skywatching from my backyard

Talking about the stars in the cosmos for the past couple of weeks compelled me to finally try and look up at them from my backyard last night. It has been a couple of months since I set up a scope and according to the Calendar, this was the last night in July for a dark sky. I struggled with my 10" Dobsonian scope, but with Elaine's help, we placed it in the driveway.

The quality of the sky was not perfect, looked a little hazy.

The evening was not quite dark enough when I started, but the six day Moon, almost at first quarter, was above the tree line with Spica close by. I focused the scope on the Terminator, using a moon filter. I moved slowly up and down, steering in and out of the craters and mountains along the edge of darkness. The bright crescent moon was moving down quickly and was not above the trees for long. But was a great view while it lasted. Here is a link I have used to review moon targets seen.

Jupiter was easy to spot with the eye and in the scope, 3 moons aligned on one side. One dim moon was trailing close behind the large gas Planet. Targets were not as sharp, so viewing was a bit poor.

I moved the scope more to the south and sighted the heart of Scorpius, the red star Antares. The hooked tail of Scorpius was below the tree line. Sagittarius, it's signature Teapot, was not high enough yet, still skimming the the tree line. I found Cygnus and targeted Albireo, I spotted the duel bright colored double star at the head of the "Swan". I then edged toward Vega and found the Ring Nebula. It was still where I remembered, trapped like a buoy, floating at the edge of the Harp. During my search, three long and bright meteors streaked through Cygnus. I believe these could be the beginning of this month's Perseids! Elaine spotted a couple of slow moving Satellites, at Zenith, traveling from South to North in the night sky.
Clouds were beginning to roll in and I wanted to catch the Globular M13. I looked up and saw what I thought was the "Keystone". But I had moved to quickly and after scrolling the scope up and down between four stars, I discovered I was in the head of Draco. I did catch a nice view of a double star, that looked like eyes glaring back at me. By then the clouds were consuming large areas of the night sky. It was a warm night with lots of flying little things buzzing around. I was ready to recover from the past couple of hours. We put the scope into sleep mode. I plan to put M13 at the front of my next target list. I know the stars will be there, waiting for me, the next time I step out in the backyard at night with a scope or binoculars and a clear sky. Take time to step out in your backyard and start star searching!You will find them there most nights waiting for you... to discover and explore.