Upstate NY Stargazing (The Article Series, Anyway): 2016 – 2018

Above: Uranus, the one planet making all of the rounds in your favorite news feeds today, as captured by Voyager 2 in 1986. Credit: NASA/JPL.

For those wondering why the May 1st web content on syracuse.com and newyorkupstate.com looks a little brighter (get it?), I’m passing along here that the article series has been cancelled by Syracuse Media Group. After almost two years, 28 articles (having even gone weekly last summer to coax people out more often with up-to-date positioning and flyover timings), one well-attended solar eclipse, and a short-stack of Uranus potty humor and misspelled complaints about grammar and punctuation (sorry again, Kathleen), readership for the series wasn’t high enough to warrant its continuation.

The series was both enjoyable and instructive for my part – having to put together observing lists, keep record of planetary positions to know when to head outside with a pair of binoculars, make Stellarium do what I wanted it to do, and focus a few paragraphs worth of new content at top (a monthly whatever) and bottom (an easily-observable constellation) each month was a great exercise for keeping myself in the amateur astronomy loop, even when the weather conditions in CNY/UNY did not lend themselves to being outside for more than a few minutes at a time.

Obviously, it didn’t do much to shorten my sentences.

Best of all was the monthly reminder that groups of amateurs all over the state were still hosting public sessions and organizing their own events – and that there are many individuals either hosting their own observing websites or sharing their observing logs and images with their respective member organizations.

My thanks to Glenn Coin for keeping astronomy-related content still appearing in syracuse.com and newyorkupstate.com as significant events happen and to Steve Carlic for making the series happen in the first place. Space stories by "not me" always make their way to both websites as well – I am optimistic that Uranus will always coax comments, even if some readers never make it past the title.

Finally – as was the point of the article series – if you see an astronomy event in your area, go to it. If you’ve a local club, join it – membership dues keep these organizations running. Most importantly, if you see someone waaaaaay off the scientific mark, find a polite way to correct them or, at least, make it clear to those around them that the facts are out there. Google and wikipedia remain wonderful resources when used correctly.

And, with that, the entire series is PDF'ed and posted at the link below:

www.somewhereville.com/upstate-new-york-stargazing/

Some Light Science Reading. The Constellations: Pisces

As first appeared in the August 2010 edition of the Syracuse Astronomical Society newsletter The Astronomical Chronicle (PDF).

Constellation Map generated with Starry Night Pro 6.

Those who've ever been told that "there are more fish in the sea…" should be relieved that we only cast our visual nets to the heavens for stars and galaxies, as this most important of animals throughout history is only represented in the Northern Hemisphere by one pair of gilled swimmers tied at the tails.

The identification of one-half of this constellation as a fish (its other half had originally been a dove) dates back to at least Babylonian times, when a second great Western civilization prospered in the valley of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers to the West of Egypt, home of the first great Western civilization at the Nile Delta. The two civilizations from which most of the astrology (and mythology) that turned into early astronomy was established were founded by key water sources, providing the means for irrigation, transportation, and stable food supplies in the form of fishing, the three key needs of a society that allow for growth and the ability of the few to support the many (as James Burke has considered in Connections and The Day The Universe Changed, the ability of people to NOT need to provide subsistence level support for a society is what promotes scientific growth, cultural evolution, and whatever other types of activities most of us attend to everyday while some small fraction of the U.S. harvests or raises the food that the rest of us consume with hasty abandon). The Greeks eventually solidified the tied-fish representation of Pisces, representing Aphrodite and Eros, tied to one another during their escape from the god Typhon (You can guess how he rolled… In this case, the two were tied so as not to loose one another in the river Euphrates).

This constellation is reasonably large in visual real estate compared to other members of the Zodiac, but is occupied by fairly unremarkable stars, making Pisces one of the less prominent objects in the sky (it is possible you know the location of Pisces by looking below the more pronounced square of Pegasus). Pisces is made pronounced currently by its having caught Jupiter and Uranus at its Southern side, with Jupiter now making its way through Pisces (with a small fraction of time in Cetus) on its way into Aries this time next year. Most all observers will have Jupiter in their scopes at some point this Summer and Fall, giving them a chance to take in a second of the large gas giants in our Solar system as well as one solitary Messier Object within the Pisces boundary while having to move their scopes only slightly.

The only Messier Object within the Pisces boundary is M74, a less-pronounced cousin of the also face-on Whirlpool Galaxy (M51). In Hubble images (below), the bright cloudiness almost shrouds the spiral quality of the galaxy. An infrared image taken with the Spitzer Space Telescope (below) reveals a pronounced web-like quality to this galaxy, as well as some greater definition in the M74 spiral shape.

M74, image from NASA, ESA and the GMOS Commissioning Team.
Infrared image of M74 taken by the Spitzer Space Telescope.

For those attempting to check two planets of their list while memorizing the shape of Pisces, the image below provides you a reasonable cheat-sheet for how to hop from the very prominent (magnitude of -3) Jupiter ("1") to the markedly less prominent (magnitude 5.75) Uranus ("3"). You'll note in the image that the four famous Galilean Satellites of Jupiter (Ganymede, Io, Callisto, and Europa) are virtually on top of one another at this "magnification," giving you an idea of how far the motion will be to find Uranus in your eyepiece. From among the many (invisible) other moons of Jupiter (all of the labels in this image are just a fraction of the total count to date), you'll note a 6th magnitude star at position "2", the brightest other object in the sky in this area. A slow, cautious scope motion to your south-east (and low magnification to start) will help you capture a view of this small blue-ish globe, a fitting color to search for within this aquatic constellation.

Finding Uranus starting at Jupiter. Map generated with Starry Night Pro 6.

Clear skies, Damian