I’d like to welcome anyone and everyone who has come here from the 365 Days of Astronomy Podcast. Welcome to my regular readers as well – today I’ve got the featured podcast on that site, which is part of the International Year of Astronomy activities – it’s a podcast on astronomy every day of this year and I’ve got the 15th (or thereabouts) of every month. It’s a new effort for me – my first podcast – and I had a really good time putting it together. In the podcast, I’m talking about planning your observing sessions. Anyway – take a look, if you haven’t already seen it.
If you’re looking to plan your observing session as discussed in the podcast, let’s start here:
Step 1. Check the Weather
I use http://www.weather.com to start with and then proceed to http://www.cleardarksky.com/ where I look at the Walker County Observatory sky chart since that’s my county. You should find the closest observatory to your location and check out the conditions. While these charts aren’t perfect, they are generally very good, at least for my location.
The Weather Channel is telling me right now that it should be clear and very cold, also probably too windy for imaging – maybe too windy for observing (I get nervous at anything above 10mph – I really don’t want my scope to fall over). Clear Dark Sky is telling me it should be clear and dark but seeing might not be so good – I’m not 100% sure why, but that’s what it’s telling me.
Step 2. Check for Events
Let’s start here: http://www.skyandtelescope.com/observing/ataglance - the Sky & Telescope folks highlight interesting sights night by night here. For the 15th, they just mention that Vega (a summer star) is still visible here in winter. Nothing significant is mentioned for that day.
Let’s look for the International Space Station (ISS) here: http://www.heavens-above.com. To start with, I need to log myself on to pull up my location (this is very location dependant – make sure you select your location). Once I’ve done that, I click on “ISS”. Cool! It looks like I’ll get 2 ISS passes here in north Georgia – one at 6:27pm and one at 8:00pm. I’ll keep my eye out and maybe see if I can get an image.
Step 3. Find targets using Worldwide Telescope or other astronomy software.
Here is my list of targets for the night:
Mercury – I’ll have to be really quick about this – it’ll be low on the horizon immediately after sunset. I’ll probably only be able to see it in binoculars. Here’s an image I got on the 7th of January:
Venus – This is high in the southwestern sky and unmistakable – it’s the brightest thing visible in the night sky right now (other than the Moon, which won’t rise until much later). It should be clearly a quarter moon tending toward a crescent in your scope – adding a bit of magnification with a Barlow or shorter focal length eyepiece will help you see that even better. Here’s an image I got on the 14th of this month:
Now we’re going to head off to look at some deep sky stuff – stuff that’s not in our solar system.
M45 – The Pleiades (also known as The Seven Sisters). This is a wonderful sight in a scope and is easy to find. It’s nearly overhead (just a bit east of straight up) after dark and is easy to spot in the scope. With a telescope you can see many more stars in this cluster than you can with the naked eye. With the camera (or a large scope) you can see nebulosity or cloudiness around the stars in this cluster.
M42 – The Great Orion Nebula. This is maybe the best deep sky object in the sky – it’s beautiful in any scope or even in binoculars. You should be able to not only see the stars in this nebula, but much of the nebula as well. When I see it in my scope, it looks like it has a tinge of green, but in reality is mostly blue and red.
Now these images of the deep sky stuff are not what you’ll see through your scope, so don’t get discouraged. That said, Venus will probably actually look better than my image. I don’t have a great setup for imaging planets. I hope you’ve enjoyed the podcast and will continue to tune in in the future.