Log, Jul 9, 2004

40+ people. I arrived with the sun still up. The parking lots to the north west of the observatory were filled with people attending the Big Apple Circus which will be visiting Ninigret Park this week. I set up the telescope and turned it to Jupiter just as the sun set. When I first looked I could see Jupiter but it took some 15 minutes before it was dark enough to see the Galilean Moons. While I looked, a bird crossed slowly across the field of view. It was smaller in cross section than Jupiter. I guess that I could work out how far way the gull was, but without doing the math; I know the bird had to be several miles away.

Hank and Ernie set up their scopes in the parking lot after dark. Joe looked at the sky and suggested that it looked rather humid and wondered how good the viewing would be. In reality it turned out to be fine. Not absolutely as good as it was back in June but none the less good enough for a rave review. The Circus lights made going after faint fuzzies a less than enthralling idea but after the last visitors emptied the park, the Circus folks turned off the bright parking light lots and turned down the tent lights. What is doubly nice is that they turned the lights off without any request from us. This is a good example of peaceful coexistence between lighted areas and the observatory. Thanks everyone at the Big Apple Circus.

A lot of folks wanted to see Saturn and Venus because they have been in the news recently. We had to explain that Saturn was almost lined up with the Sun and that Venus wouldn't rise until the wee hours of the morning. People still are amazed to find out that the planets have a rising and setting time of their own. I still have people who insist that the Moon only is up at night. Luckily enough people have seen it in the daytime that my creditability remains intact. Later in the evening, Joe attempted to give the visitors another planet besides Jupiter. He dialed in Pluto and away the telescope went. Sure enough a bunch of faint lights were visible - but which was Pluto. Unfortunately, the high detail map provided by Sky Chart III and the view in the eyepiece didn't seem to match up well. This is often the case with very faint stars. We probably saw Pluto but I can't swear to it.

We had an excellent Iridium Flare and brilliant "fly-by" this evening. Our old buddy Doug Stewart had alerted us to these flares this evening. Lots of people wanted to know why the Iridium satellites were so bright. Well the simple answer is that they are in low orbit and consist of huge solar panels that sometimes act as mirrors for the Sun. The longer story is that the Iridium satellites were put up by people who evaded law and international legal agreements (for example, the Iridium satellites broadcast in forbidden parts of the radio spectrum) and totally misjudged the cell phone market. They thought there was a large market for huge (3-7 pound) cell phones which could work anywhere. While a few people want telephone coverage at the North and South Poles and in the middle of the Sahara desert, most people want a small cell phone in populated areas. Now the Iridium satellites just sit up there reflecting sunlight in the early evening and late morning twilight.

We visited a number of old friends in Scorpio, Sagittarius and Ophiuchus. We tried to view M13 but it was situated too high to view with the telescope configured as it is. We made do with a beautiful M3. We also saw M4, M5, M6, M7, M17 and M20. M8 was particularly impressive with the O-III filter. Some visitors were startled to find that we could use filters to select a very narrow band of color (in this case the greenish light of triply ionized oxygen atoms) and exclude everything else. The effect is to remove almost all the circus light and still give us a fine view. The down side is off course that only certain dim fuzzies have a strong narrow band like O-III which can be specifically enhanced. The rest are washed out by general sky lighting.

One visitor asked if we could see M33 (Pinwheel Galaxy) with the naked eye or with binoculars. This galaxy lies near the border of Andromeda and Triangulum. Andromeda is a fairly easy constellation to locate but the Triangle is composed of dim stars. Frankly I don't use it as a guidepost. I find things in the area by taking aim from Andromeda, Pegasus or Cassiopeia. Our guest thought he could spot the Pinwheel with his binoculars. While I could easily find M31 (Andromeda Galaxy) both by eye and in my binoculars, I just could not see the dimmer M33 even with my binoculars. For me there was just too much light from Providence just over the horizon there and extra light from the Circus.

-Les Coleman

Leslie Coleman
Leslie Coleman
Entry Date:
Jul 9, 2004
Published Under:
Leslie Coleman's Log
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