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OBSERVER REPORTS ARCHIVE


May 7–8, 2005  Bruce Kamiat -- Cherry Springs State Park, Pa.

For those willing to drive six hours out to the-middle-of-nowhere Pennsylvania to find a dark sky, a 2,300-foot-high mountaintop in Cherry Springs State Park is a worthy destination. Carter Camp, the nearest town to the site, is eight miles away and has a sign on the road by the general store, "Welcome to downtown Carter Camp (population 2)." Small though its "downtown" population may be, what might then be considered the suburbs of Carter Camp appear at a glance to contain about a half-dozen other houses and a couple of barns.

I went out there with my cousin Leo last Saturday night (May 7–8); and despite iffy weather predictions (the National Weather Service predicted maybe 50% cloud cover), the night was absolutely fantastic! It turned out to be perfectly clear all night. The only clouds we saw were galactic ones. It was the darkest sky I'd ever experienced. Of course, my experience is limited: it was darker than I've seen in Vermont or in the Taconics, and I've never done astronomy outside the northeastern United States. Vermont and the Taconics are great, but they don't come very close. The only significant source of artificial light at Cherry Springs was the very infrequent pair of headlights blinking through the trees from the nearby road.

Good driving directions are a must, as is a perusal of the many observing-field rules and regulations, e.g., a $4 fee, no pets, no white lights (I suggest covering internal car lights with red duct tape), and no parking on the field if you're not staying all night (they point out that there's an airstrip nearby with a parking lot you may use as an alternative). Unlike some observing locations, this one has bathroom facilities—crude, primitive, but better than nothing!

The following links will be useful:

Http://cleardarksky.com/c/ChrSprPkPAkey.html?1 is the Clear Sky Clock for Cherry Springs.

Http://www.erh.noaa.gov/er/ctp/ is the National Weather Service station at State College, Pa., which covers the area that includes the park.

Http://www.upstateastro.org/stars/cssp.html is the Cherry Springs Stargaze Web site, which includes news of gatherings and star parties as well as directions. It's unfortunately a big, confusing site with lots of stuff on it—not very well organized; so leave yourself some time to explore it and find what you're looking for. The maps are at http://www.upstateastro.org/stars/there.html.

The park hosts a lot of star parties, such as the Black Forest Star Party, http://www.bfsp.org/starparty/directions.cfm. The night I was there, no formally organized gathering was scheduled; nevertheless, there were a lot of other people on the field (maybe two-dozen scopes). That spot is virtually a dark-sky Mecca. People had come from all over—many from even farther than we had. Everyone agreed it was well worth the trouble. We saw myriad galaxies, nebulae, and star clusters, and finished off the night watching Mars rise just before dawn. I got many of the best views of familiar objects I'd ever had!

One of the night's observing highlights was a bright blue-green curtain of auroral glow that covered the northern third of the sky for over half an hour. Near the horizon, it was as bright as the glow from city lights; and it sent towering, shifting columns way up into the sky like a bank of searchlights. That was the first aurora I'd ever seen, and it was spectacular.

A variety of scopes showed up, including a very crisp Russian Maksutov-Newtonian and several big Dobs (17.5"–24"). I spent a lot of time looking through a finely made 17.5" Dob with a refigured Coulter mirror that gave beautiful views. It belonged to a very friendly guy named Wayne, whose last name I unfortunately didn't catch. In that scope, with a wide-field view, the area around Markarian's Chain teemed with uncountable faint galaxies. The longer I looked, the more members of the cluster I could see—most of which I'd never seen before. At higher magnification, NGC 4565 filled about two fields of view, with wonderful detail in the dust lane. M51 and NGC 5195 showed lots of bright star-forming regions in the spiral arms and detail in the dust lanes. The relatively faint companions of M81 were big and easy. Even in our little 8" SCT, M17 showed crisp detail in the foreground dust cloud, and the extended smoky nebulosity around it overflowed a 38' field of view.

It was a cold night, but I was so absorbed that I hardly felt it until the morning light wiped out the stars.

Bruce

 

April 5, 2005  Alice Barner -- Spring Class Observing Session at Ward Pound Ridge

Ward Pound Ridge was the destination of the latest AAA class observing night on Tuesday, April 5.  Class members Shoba Bandi, Haken Ozdenli, Warren Wollman, Eileen Moran, Grace Sadeen and Elizabeth Scott (with friend Oliver) joined Rich Rosenberg, Tom Haeberle and Alice Barner.

Rich, our sky guide, gave his knowledgeable talk on the constellations and major stars and demonstrated star hopping.  He also showed us some of the marvelous wide fields of view available with a simple pair of binoculars.  Tom, Rich and Alice manned the two telescopes, Michael O’Gara’s 8” Dobsonian and Alice’s 5” go-to Celestron.  Since a few cirrus clouds moved in on us, and there was glow from nearby towns, skies were somewhat limited.  However, great views of Jupiter and Saturn were to be had, plus an early on look at the Orion Nebula.  Then we went for a number of the double stars and a few of the asterisms. All had a great night, and we’re planning another one. There was a suggestion by the enthusiastic group for a camp-out sometime this summer.  Time and place to be decided. Let Rich know if you’re interested in joining us.  His address: outoftown@aaa.org.

group picture

Left to right:  Haken, Tom, Eileen, Rich, Grace, Shoba, Warren.  Alice took the photo.


September 21, 2004  Richard Rosenberg -- Observing at Riverside Park

AAA Members and the public flocked to an observing session at Riverside Park on Tuesday night, September 21st.  Among the members who came were Alice Barner, Rik Davis, Mike O'Gara, Mark McIntyre of the Parks Department, Charlie Ridgway, Ben Cacace, Susan Andreoli, Tom Haeberle and myself.

The night was excellent, with a first-quarter Moon low in the southern sky.  The location at the edge of the Hudson River was lovely.  Mark and other Parks Department personnel had covered nearby lights with black garbage bags.  There were some clouds, but most of them dissipated and the sky was pretty clear, unlike the last time we were here.

The first stars to come out were Arcturus and the Summer Triangle of Vega, Altair and Deneb.  Antares was surprisingly easy to see to the right of the Moon, and quite low.  The first target of the night for everyone was the Moon.  It was particularly lovely in Rik's refractor -- incredible detail in shadows cast near the terminator.  The evening sky is devoid of bright planets these days, but we found Uranus and Neptune in Alice's scope.

Thanks to those garbage bags, it was dark enough for us to go after deep-sky objects.  The Ring Nebula was awesome in Mike's Dobsonian equipped with a nebula filter.  The ring was obvious.  Also terrific in his scope were globular clusters M13 and M15.  through Alice's scope we saw clusters M6 and M7 in Scorpius barely over the horizon, and just made out the Dumbbell Nebula.  Everybody, scopes and binoculars alike, soaked up photons from the Andromeda Galaxy. 

We spotted double stars -- Mizar and Alcor, Albireo, Epsilon Lyrae.  The large field of view in Rik's refractor was just right for the Coathanger and the Double Cluster.

Best of all, these views of the universe were shared with many members of the public.  The Parks Department had publicized the event in their newsletter, and several people came by specifically for the event.  They were joined by joggers, bikers, dog walkers and others who just happened to be in the park.  Most people were quite interested and curious.  As the autumnal equinox was the following day, we got into a discussion of the Sun's movement in the sky, and what it would look like at the poles.  I even discussed the equation of time with one fellow.

Several people mentioned that getting into astronomy was something that had always wanted to do but never got around to.  We mentioned the AAA and the website, and handed out brochures.  Perhaps some of them will be in touch.

As we left, Mark expressed the hope we could return during the fall before it got too cold.

For sure, Mark.

June 8, 2004  John Pazmino -- Venus on the Sun

Introduction

   I hoped to see this transit since my early days in the profession. From accounts of the 18th and 19th century instances, it was no question that I should do everything possible to witness the next one on 2004 June 8.
   Inquiries last year for a trip to Europe to see the transit turned up nothing that grabbed me. By year end 2003 I designed to watch it from some where in New York City. The 1-1/2 hour duration here, from sunrise thru fourth contact, would be enough of a show for me.

Central Park?

   One obvious place to view the transit from was an elevated spot in Central Park. Altho the park is ringed by towers, making it a 'basin' in the middle of Manhattan, there are long low sightlines to the northeast horizon from within it. Discussions with the NYC Urban Park Rangers gravitated toward the terrace of Belvedere Castle. This edifice is on a hill looking over all intervening trees and park structures. The towers beyond on Fifth Av would block the geometric sunrise, but the Sun would clear their tops after a few minutes.
   In mid May 2004 the Rangers had to call off the Belvedere Castle project. The corps was getting extra busy with other park functions.  The approaching summer season was bringing increased demand for its services. Oh, I could use the Castle grounds by myself; there just would be formal R anger event for the transit.

Carl Schurz Park?

   Paralleling the plans for Central Park, many city astronomers, singly or in groups, were scheming to view from Carl Schurz Park. This is a promenade along the East River flank of Manhattan in the Upper East Side. It's really the roof of a 6-lane highway, FDR Drive, skirting the riverfront. Carl Schurz Park offers a clear view to the northeast horizon over East River.
   Plotting sightlines on street maps revealed that the Sun would rise thru the cables of Triboro Bridge! What a photo that would make!
   A flurry of other suggested sites came along in the weeks before the transit, some actually quite promising. The gotcha for me was that from my home in Brooklyn, all were a nasty ride away during owl hours. In the end, I figured that if I had to travel for any place, I should go where the main crowd of astronomers were going, Carl Schurz Park.

Weather forecasts

   The weather in New York in June can be just about anything from a raw chill to stormy rains to blistering heat. The prospects for that June 8th were so-so: warm, humid, hazy. Not so much cloud but a thick haze that would blunt the sunrays visually, yet leave them burning by heat. All in all, the forecasts warned that the Sun may be smothered in haze or heavily filtered into a red ball at his rising. Despite the possibility of losing the sunrise, the reports assured that after a while the Sun would climb out of this haze into clear sky.
   No one asserted that the transit would be clouded out from the City and surrounds. And no rain was seen for the night before.
   Personally, I feared a waterfront site for possible sea fog. Such fog completely blocks the Sun. Normally this is of little concern, for it burns off a couple hours after sunrise. A 'couple hours after sunrise' means losing the whole transit!

My mind is made up

   The previous weekend I prepared my gear for Carl Schurz Park. I needed a long telephoto lens, camera body, tripod, accessories, solar filters. I chose my Vivitar solid-cat 800m f11 lens for being a nice long focal length, yet compact and sturdy. It also avoided focus problems because it had a definite infinity mark which by experience I knew was accurate.
   This lens is a brother of Vivitar's fabled 600mm f8 model, one of which I lost in the great Eclipse Theft of 2003 November 8. Altho I since then obtained a replacement, I picked the 800mm jobbie to get a bigger prime focal image of the Sun. There is no corona or other off-disc features to worry about, like there are for a solar eclipse. The solar filter for the 600mm lens fits this longer lens, the two having identical fuselages.
   The camera body was a Miranda model G, with a clear non-diffusing screen, critical focuser, and cable release. My TiltAll Jr tripod supported this rig.
   I tossed in a few computer mouse pads. These I would place under the tripod feet to damp vibrations. The promenade is a thin shell deck roofing a busy highway.
   I went to bed early on Monday night, the 7th, with the intent to set off for the Park regardless of weather, save for actual heavy rain. I never fell asleep! My alarm rang at 02h EDT on the 8th. but I was already moping around in bed rather much awake.

Off I go!

   A last minute check of my stuff went well. I packed everything into a rolling luggage, threw on a thin jacket, and stepped out of my house by 03h. I deliberately allowed a full two hours to reach Manhattan because at that hour transit runs at long intervals. Much (up to half!) of the travel time would be waits between buses or trains.
   My lucky star was with me. I spotted a bus coming right away at my home bus stop, flagged it, and rode to the subway. The train was waiting in the station, the terminal for this line, and left after only a few minutes more wait. A change to a second train in downtown Brooklyn was made after only a few minutes more wait.
   I arrived in downtown Yorkville, near the park, by 04:30 EDT, with dawn just breaking in the northeast. The air, tho moist, was cool. I skipped the final transit leg, by bus, and walked the kilometer to the park. Street traffic was thin enough to let me skip stop lights at the corners. Most of it was trucks making drop-offs or pickups. Foot traffic was dense on 2nd and 1st Aves. and along 86th St. My bus passed me about 2/3 way to the park; I didn't care.

Setting up

   Carl Schurz Park has entrances at every block along its length on East End Av, some with stairs to the promenade, others with ramps. I took one of the ramps to ease my way for the rolling luggage. On the deck I met Charlie Ridgway, fellow AAA member and NYSkier, already adjusting his binocular rig. He hurried to the Park after seeing encouraging weather from his home in Parkchester, the Bronx. If the weather were more unfavorable, he would have been at a el station near his home. (Els are a quintessentially New York vantage point for casual starviewing.)
   The moon hung in the east, dull with her markings well defined. Vega was about overhead. We were too much into animated banter to inspect them in our optics.
   In a slow steady stream other astronomers arrived and quickly set up their gear. They were from the Amateur Astronomers Association, NYSkies, National Space Society, or were non-affiliates. (There is substantial cross-membership among city astronomers.) With minutes to go before sunrise, the promenade was dotted along some 150 meters on its riverfront fence with about 15 rigs crewed by about 30 astronomers. Visitors were gathering around each setup.
   Near me was a mobile television truck from WCBS. Its crew was busily tuning it. It later beamed out to national television clear close-up views of the transit and interviewed several astronomers. No, it missed me.
   I brought with me a couple hundred flyers for NYSkies and National Space Society relating to the transit. These I handed out to visitors as they came to my scope. Both papers had charts of the transit highlighting its features.

Sunrise -- not

   It was a very happy excited flock of people, as New Yorkers typically are. Most knew about the transit from the news media or science interest.
   Sunrise was completely smothered in horizon haze about seven degree tall all along the northeast. Above that layer was blue sky. A very hazy blue sky, but no clouds. As long as the horizon schmutz didn't grow, we will get good views of the transit once the Sun climbs above the haze layer.
   Some visitors were down-heartened by the lack of visible Sun. I pointed out the sky and assured that soon enough we'll have sunlight. Not quite full sunlight because Venus is blocking off a bit. They took flyers and asked lots of questions.
   It was a matter of hanging around and waiting.

Brief peeks

   "Wow!"  "Look!"  "Oooo!"  The Sun got into a thin part of the haze layer and shone thru weakly. So weakly that we could inspect it by eye without filtration.
   "Oh, no!"  "Oh, yes!"
   At about the 3:30 o'clock edge of the Sun was a pinprick.
   "Venus!"  "There she is."  " That's the effing planet!"
   And then the haze thickened; the Sun winked out. We got two or three more quick peeks before the Sun cleared the top of the haze.  Each was cheered and clapped by the concourse of spectators.
   The crowd accumulated to about 250, a level maintained all thru the rest of the transit. The turnover was low. Every one wanted to stay for the whole event. I guess that the cumulative total, with turnover, was more like 350.

Breakout!

   By about 06h it was obvious to all that the Sun would break out from the top of the haze. We all watched and waited as the sky next to the breakout point steadily brightened. Then up he came, crescent in luminance, dazzling the eyes.
   The congregation roared! We astronomers cranked up our scopes with visitors clinging to our coattails.
   We then had our first look thru the filtered scopes. Still a weak orange (in most filters, anyway) ball. Visitors huddled under the flyers or other handheld items to inspect the image. There was Venus, the utterly round black dot creeping toward the edge.
   The Sun never was in fully clear sky; there was always a veil of haze over him. The image in the scopes was dim, but quite pleasing. About all the alteration we needed in our plans was a slower shutter speed for photography.
   Folk were mixed up by the orientation of image in the various scopes or binoculars. Venus was on one side in one, on the other in other, or rotated around in still others. In my apparatus, the image was mirror reversed because I used the SLR camera body and focuser as the eyepiece.

The grand march

   From 06h EDT onward, we had the leisurely view of Venus slowly plodding along the solar disc. There was no rush or crowding. People waited their turn, took time to study the image, asked questions, took flyers, then circulated to the other scopes.
   There was time to munch a bagel, sip coffee, tend to babies, exercise dogs, read newspapers. Some of us passed around handheld filters to see the Sun directly. Yep, there's Venus, ever so much closer to the edge.
   The air warmed up quickly once the Sun break out of the haze. The humidity magnified the warmth, as did the total lack of breeze. The river was calm, except for the wakes of passing ships.
   The mouse pads worked perfectly. The rising tide of traffic for the morning rush hour under our feet induced vibration in some of our scopes. No one near me complained about the shimmy, altho I did see it when I made the rounds of other scopes. In mine, the image stayed put and moved only when the entire deck quivered as some extra heavy vehicle passed under it.

On the edge

   At 07:04 and some seconds, Venus quite touched the Sun's limb. Was there an ink-drop? Some said no; some said yes. Some digital pictures showed it; others did not. I did not see anything of it. To me Venus pressed cleanly against the Sun's edge.
   I did see, I THINK I saw, right at the intersection points of the two discs, short dart-like luminous extensions of the solar disc around the rim of Venus's disc. This happened when Venus was well along in her egress, like 1/3 diameter out. These were like very short solar prominences and lasted for many seconds.
   Did we see sunlight diffusing thru the Venus atmosphere?
   After a breather break, I looked again. They were gone. From 1/2 diameter egress to the parting of the discs, there was for me no other anomaly in the image.
   Soon Venus quit the Sun, the whole host of of us clapped and cheered. Lots of hugs and handshakes, even among strangers.

Calling it a day

   We hung around, looking at the plain, unobstructed, Sun thru the filtered scopes. There were a few tiny tiny sunspots near the middle of the disc, no way resembling Venus. After a while, we starting packing it in. By 07:45 astronomers and visitors were streaming out of the Park.
   Alice Barner, Rik Davis, Joe Fedrick, Tom McIntyre, Rich Rosenberg, and I stopped in a local coffee shop for a hearty breakfast. We reviewed digital pictures, debated the atmospheric effect at third contact, compared this transit to those of Mercury.
   From there we split off on our ways for home or work. The Sun was well up in hazy blue sky, beaming his summer heat on us as if nothing special ever happened only two hours ago.


June 8, 2004  Bruce Kamiat -- Transit of Venus

My girlfriend and I watched the transit together from her rooftop, 18 stories above East 14th Street—a good vantage point.

I had checked out the horizon some days earlier, looking for the best spot along the roof edge to put the telescope; but iron-containing beams under the roof had thrown off my compass readings to place the azimuth of the Sun's rising point. Charlie Ridgway had then helped me to calculate the correct angle, using mapping software. A distant group of buildings (Waterside Plaza) obstructed that part of the horizon; but it turned out not to matter, because the dense, low-lying shmuts layer of our New York atmosphere obscured the Sun until it was well above the tops of those buildings anyway.

As prefiltered through the shmuts, the Sun's light was initially too dim to pass through my new Baader solar filter even after the Sun had become naked-eye visible. When it became bright enough to appear in the eyepiece, it came through as quite red-orange, similar to the familiar color seen through the Thousand Oaks Type II Plus that I had used before getting the Baader. I guess the white image usually seen in the Baader is the color it shows when receiving the full spectrum of sunlight. The thicker atmosphere so low in the sky scatters more of the sunlight's blue component, while passing a lot more red and yellow. Thus, even the Baader shows an orange Sun.

As soon as I was able to see the Sun in the eyepiece, the black silhouette of Venus was extremely obvious; though the image was very wiggly due to the low-altitude atmospheric turbulence. As the Sun climbed higher, it appeared whiter and the wiggles died down considerably. Before long, the view was stable, bright, and crisp.

At 80 power, there appeared to be two tiny sunspots near the center of the solar disk. At 160 power—once the image had stabilized enough to make the higher power worthwhile—these resolved into two tight, somewhat complex groups of very small spots: the western one more densely clustered than the eastern one. The latter was surrounded by lines of tiny pores. There was also a large zone of faculae to the northwest of Venus's disk as Venus approached the solar limb.

About 7:05, I noticed that the solar limb was beginning to subtly flatten its curve where it was closest to the disk of Venus. This was the first sign I perceived of the black-drop effect. This slowly became an indentation, and Venus's disk extended to join it as third contact neared. That looked to me like an optical illusion, but I suppose the fact that it shows in photos proves it's real.

I looked hard to find sunlight diffusing through Venus's atmosphere beyond the limb of the Sun between third and fourth contacts. The most I was able to discern was the very faintest arc (I wasn't sure whether I really saw it or imagined it) along the southern limb of Venus, where it joined with the solar limb. It didn't extend very far out from the solar limb, either. Maybe it was 45 degrees of arc, probably less, certainly not more. I really looked for more, but I didn't see it.

To my great surprise, despite the attention the media had given the event, I saw nobody else watching this once-in-a-lifetime spectacle except for one rooftop gardener, who paused briefly with his binoculars while tending his plants. We waved to each other in acknowledgment of our shared experience.

Bruce Kamiat


June 8, 2004  Steve Lieber -- Transit of Venus

(Originally on NYSkies)

This morning just about everything went right. After all of the concern about the weather, after worrying about my telescope's mount, today proved to be a breeze.

I woke up at 4:00 and saw the Moon and realized that the sky was largely clear. At that point I knew that this was going to be a good day.

4 people joined me in my backyard. We set up 5 telescopes and one pair of binoculars. My 90mm Orion refractor looked humble next to some of the fine equipment that people brought with them. We had a good site, as we could see right down to the horizon.

Low clouds obscured the Sunrise. We first saw the Sun at 5:42. At first it was too dim to be seen through any of the solar filters. It quickly brightened, and by 6:00 all of us were observing it.

All of the instruments gave good images. Four observations come to mind:

First: I was surprised how the Sun had quieted down. Only a few faint Sunspots were visible. A few weeks ago the Sun looked much more active.

Second: I was using a white filter. Rich had a Coronado Hydrogen alpha filter. I saw both third and fourth contact 20 seconds before Rich did. This was expected. The Hydrogen alpha filter shows a larger part of the solar atmosphere.

Third: Nobody in the group noticed the "black drop" effect.

Fourth: I saw part of the edge of Venus after it was no longer in front of the Sun. This was after third contact, but before fourth contact. Half of Venus was beyond the Solar disc, and about 80 degrees of a fine arc could be seen beyond the Sun. Years ago this was the first direct evidence of an atmosphere on Venus.

This, plus some good food, made for a good morning. Then it was "off to work".

Steve


June 8, 2004  Mike O'Gara -- Transit of Venus

Wow--- to quote Oscar Hammerstein III "Oh what a beautiful morning".

I arrived at Carl Schurz Park for the Transit of Venus at 5:10 am this Tuesday morning and saw a CBS news van already warmed up and ready to go, and some of our fellow AAA'ers and other folks I didn't know getting their scopes out and their solar filters on. The sun was just starting to turn the clouds in the northeast red, and I hurried to greet everyone and hand out AAA Enjoy the Stars brochures, along with light pollution literature from SELENE

As I set up my 8 inch f/5 homemade Newtonian, I was introduced to the reporter from CBS, and we settled on doing a short interview once things got rolling. I set my scope up and waited. It was 5:15 and we still had no sunlight.  I offered anyone around me a look at the near last quarter moon, just to get things going.  At about 5:25 I put on my solar filter but the low-lying clouds and morning fog, were just enough of a barrier to block the sunlight from reaching us, so I couldn't really see anything yet.

Then at about 5:40 the sun had risen high enough to appear above the cloud bank and we saw the sight no living being has seen since 1882. Venus was beautifully round and quite well defined against the orange silhouette of the sun. The crowd started to buzz as one after another people were saying: "I see it, I see it". The lines quickly grew and before we knew it we had about 250 people milling about between the 20 or so scopes and binoculars set up on the promenade.

I spoke with a reporter from the Metro newspaper. I did the live feed for the local CBS morning broadcast where the reporter introduced me as the president of the Amateur Astrologers Association. Tom McIntyre standing nearby yelled over at us: "Astronomers – Astronomers", in a loud voice, and I quickly corrected the reporter on the air. That was an honest mistake: one which we have to put up with more often than not, when it comes to the public at large. I spoke briefly about how great it is that all these people came out to get a dose of astronomy here in NYC, how to safely view the event, and then I was back at my scope. I was asked to call into the newsroom to WNYC and I spoke to someone, not knowing if I was on tape or going out live on the air, who asked what it was like to be seeing this event, and then it was back to observing.

I had a nice time making a new friend named Jorge from San Salvador, the capital of El Salvador. We exchanged e-mails and websites and I hope we'll see him again when he returns to NY. He was observing through a Celestron refractor, and he was visiting his mom who lives here in NYC.  Being able to tell people that they can check our website and get up-to-the-minute information was a real source of pride for me. I felt that people would check out our future observing events at Carl Schurz Park and come back for more.

The Transit was lovely. The crowd was great, and the morning was perfect. "Oh what a beautiful day."

Michael O'Gara


June 8, 2004  Tom McIntyre -- Transit of Venus

Astronomy is alive and well in New York City.

After much discussion and brow-beating about where to go to view the transit of Venus in front of the Sun, we ended up in Carl Schurz Park on the East River at 86th street.

The Sun rose over the Triboro Bridge in early morning clouds and the usual horizon "schmutz" that we have come to expect, but soon cleared itself to display a wonderful sharply defined and "large" black shadow of the planet about two-thirds of the way across the disk of the Sun.

You had to see it to believe it--a perfectly round black shadow moving ever so slowly across the round disk of the sun to the lower right edge. The passage of the planet off the edge took about 20 minutes and was quite dramatic as "a bite was taken out of the sun".

The Amateur Astronomers Association members had more than 15 viewing devices for the public to use from ancient long-tube skinny refractors to huge binoculars and modern telescopes ranging from 60MM to 8 inch.

Two TV crews were on hand, CBS, which interviewed Mike O'Gara, our president and NY1 which interviewed Rik Davis, our observing committee chair. Several newspaper reporters were also in attendance.

I estimate the crowd at over 300 during the period of the transit from 5:30AM till 7:30AM, EDT.

Enjoy the photos.

Tom

February 17, 2004  Rich Rosenberg -- Custer Institute Trip

On Saturday, Tom Haeberle, Tony Hoffman, Charlie Ridgway and myself went to Custer Institute out on the North Fork of Suffolk County. Tom was kind enough to drive us and brought his NexStar 8. Tony, Charlie and I took our binoculars. We headed out from midtown Manhattan and arrived at Custer to see a totally overcast sky. Bummer! But at least Custer has a clubhouse (Tom's a member) and we were able to relax there while the skies cleared (so we hoped). After a few hours of waiting, the sky did improve to the point where viewing was worthwhile. The transparency was still lousy, and an occasional bank of clouds would move in, but we could see stuff. Unfortunately one of our prime targets, Comet 2002 T7, had set by then. Tony and I stood side by side, trying to locate objects with our binoculars. We saw the Hyades, Pleiades, Orion Nebula, M35, the Auriga clusters (36, 37, 38), M41, the Beehive and a few other objects. Meantime Tom set up his NexStar and Charlie his binocs. Through Tom's scope we saw Saturn in its glory and Jupiter with several belts easily visible. The Orion Nebula was dramatic - having seen it from the city a few days earlier the size of the nebula from this darker site was impressive. We decided to concentrate on galaxies. Ursa Major was high up and we checked out M81 and M82. Then we fetched M51, the Whirlpool. This was the first time I have seen this object and I was blown away. I expected a formless blob but saw something that actually looked like a galaxy. It was large, round, and had at least the suggestion of spiral arms. Later Virgo came up and we saw M87, another first for me. The hour was late (around 12:30 AM) and the weather quite cold, so we unpacked for the long ride home.


January 17, 2004  Tony Hoffman -- Solar Halo

A striking solar halo display has been visible from Queens for the past hour or so, though it appears to be fading. It consists of a 22- degree halo (with faint sun dogs at the side, with a bright arc intersecting it at the top, as well as a small part part of a secondary arc (probably at 46 degrees from the sun) directly above.

January 7, 2004  Tom McIntyre -- Saturn

Saturn and the moon waltzed across the skies last night in a beautiful cosmic ballet, with a scant two finger separation. The views were spectacular. I brought two scopes, my C90 and my 5" SCT. Alice brought her Nexstar 5. Ken Brown and Diane Eliott showed up as well as Rich Rosenberg, who helped Alice get her machine aligned and tracking. I had planned to stay out only one hour because of the predicted temperatures and wind chill and ended up exceeding the time by about a half hour. Not good. In those conditions, an hour is tops for this old goat. I had the C90 set on the moon with an easy to look through eyepiece and a field that was just about 3/4th of one degree and a "correct image" diagonal. My 5" was on Saturn at about 100 power. Titan was quite clear at 5 o'clock to the planet and only two ring diameters away. The view through Alice's eyepiece was a tad smaller, but her optics were clearer so she had higher contrast in the image; Titan was easier to see. We then instructed the Nexstar machinery to find M42 and it did so with no hesitation. Alice had just got the Celestron Eyepiece package and she boosted the power and we had a great view of the trapezium (all four stars) but it was getting so darned cold that we had to give up. Some people were screaming with astonishment at the views and we had a number of planetary and telescope virgins so it was pretty satisfying. I think that my next foray out with the scope will take a clue from the engineers' rule for concrete: "Forty degrees and rising"

December 22, 2003  Stephen Lieber -- Delta Scorpii Occultation

I was up and looked at the event from my house. This is in Rockaway, but several miles west of the occultation. I did not travel to the actual occultation zone because I have been fighting a cold and have been very tired. Also I had a concert later Sunday afternoon and needed to rest before it. I set up a 90mm refractor and observed with a 15mm eyepiece (33x). The sky was clear. The star approached so close to the Moon that it seemed to touch. No dimming was visible, and none would be expected at my location. After only a minute it was easy to once again see some space between the star and the Moon. Even though the occultation was not visible it was still interesting to see the relative motions of the star and the Moon. This becomes very apparent when the two come so close together.

December 21, 2003  Tony Hoffman -- Delta Scorpii Occultation

I figured the one place in my neighborhood that would offer me a good horizon was on the elevated platform at the Fresh Pond Road station (the M train), a couple miles north of the predicted graze line, so I was there by 6:10 a.m. or so with my 20 x 80 binoculars and tape recorder, at the end of the platform where hopefully I wouldn't be disturbed. Visual impressions: "6:10 -- Delta Scorpii looks beautiful, very close to the dark southern limb of the Moon. 6:15 -- Still looks beautiful and even closer. The scene looks particularly nice with the maria faintly lit by earthshine. The star, interestingly, looks to be flickering orange and green. It winked out abruptly at 6:17, reappeared briefly in about 20 seconds, then winked out again for about 10 more seconds. It then disappeared for about 175 seconds, whereafter it reappeared, very briefly winked out again after about 3 seconds, and returned in a fraction of a second. It returned for good at around 6:22 a.m." Once again, I noticed the peculiar color combination of orange and green. A spectacular event, though not a true graze from where I was (and I was unable to make accurate timings).