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April 13, 2010 April 30, 2010

Posted by orionrising in Observing.
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Photorealistic Image in Stellarium

Object: Saturn

Site: Front Yard

Seeing: Better than Average

Transparency: 4 (out of 5 (best))

Type: Solar System Object

Size: 45″

Magnitude: 1.00

Constellation: Virgo

Magnification: 10x

FOV: 4.8 degrees

Observing Time: 9:45 pm – 9:55 pm

Notes: Saturn, b VIR and Zavijava making a distinctive right triangle.  At first glance I mistook Saturn for a bright star! This trio was seen under the heels of Leo the Lion.  Saturn is in the constellation Virgo now, and it was special to see it in a unique geometric formation as seen here (Pythagoras would have been pleased =D). Saturn doesn’t reveal much in the way of planetary features in binoculars.  In fact, it is easy to mistake it for a star, even through binoculars– like I did. To differentiate, the creamy yellowish “star” will not twinkle, because of a light “disk” coming at your eyes. A pinpoint source of light is prone to atmospheric turbulences, thus distorting its path, and causing light from real stars to twinkle.  To see the glorious rings, and enjoy the spectacle, a telescope is needed.  A littering of fainter stars dot the background.  Virgo is the only female form in the Zodiac, and has been associated in the past as the “Wheat Goddess” [http://bit.ly/alrwMd].  Primarily composed of 12 bright stars (of course, fainter ones permeate the whole constellation), Virgo is found behind Leo, and below Bootes, another constellation.  One of the brightest stars in Virgo is called Spica.  It is easy to find, and serves as a distinctive star of spring.  To find it, first find the Big Dipper.  Tracing along its curved handle, follow the curve, extrapolating until you hit a bright reddish star.  This is Arcturus, the brightest star in Bootes. Now, look down from Arcturus, and you should see another bright, yellowish star; Spica.  To help you remember, “Arc to Arcturus, and Speed on to Spica”.  This useful phrase isn’t my invention, rather it has been passed along between budding amateur astronomers for many years.

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March 30, 2010 April 26, 2010

Posted by orionrising in Observing.
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Photorealistic Image in Stellarium

Object: Moon

Site: Backyard

Seeing: Good

Transparency: 4

Type: Solar System Object

Size: 1.2 Degrees

Magnitude: -12.33

Constellation: Virgo

MagnificatioN: 10x

FOV: 4.8 Degrees

Observing Time: 10:30 pm – 10:35 pm

Notes: First time looking at the stars from the backyard since I purchased my binoculars, and this was also the first time I saw the Full Moon through binoculars, very exciting! First impressions: more than ever I realized that the moon was a chunk of rock and not some ethereal glowing body (as naked-eye perception would tell me)…I can imagine Galileo’s shock when he first looked at the Moon through his telescope very long ago. Even though I’ve been studying science since I was a child, and everywhere from books to my mind I know that the Moon is made of rock, it is a refreshing experience to actually see it for myself.  Binoculars bring out much more detail, and I could see many small irregularities in the whole circumference of the moon.  Curiously, it seems less bright through binoculars than with the naked eye.  Spica in the upper left (another Spring star).  A little background on Galileo.  An Italian astronomer in 17th century Europe, he is credited to be the first to use the telescope to look at celestial objects and played an integral role in the Scientific Revolution.  He did not invent the telescope, as commonly misinterpreted.  By observing irregularities in the moon, and sunspots on the sun, he put to rest the concept of perfect heavenly bodies– the moon and sun, he observed, were not perfect. By observing the moons of Jupiter orbiting around their planet, he confirmed that the Earth was not the Centre of Everything and had reason to support Copernicus’ heliocentric solar system model. This set off a political/religious dilemma, one that I won’t cover here.  If interested, a quick search on Google will undoubtedly quench your interest. This past year, 2009, was the International Year of Astronomy in honor of the 400th anniversary of Galileo first looking through his telescope to the stars, and the legacy he left behind for generations of astronomers to come.

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