Summer Astronomy: Off The Beaten Path~ NGC 6819

Night scene at the 2600 metre high Cerro Paranal,
home of ESO’s Very Large Telescope (VLT) array.
(image source)

Warm summer nights can be a real pleasure when exploring the depths of space with a telescope. The constellation of Cygnus beckons with many popular targets.  One of my favorites in Cygnus is a little off the beaten path for some, but still very rewarding once you locate it.  It is the open cluster NGC 6819.

Cygnus is brimming with open clusters.  I have viewed many of them on different occasions with different equipment.  NGC 6819 isn't as big or bright as some, nor does it have any really bright (apparent brightness) stars to offer.  But it's a favorite just the same...


Summer Astronomy: Off The Beaten Path~ NGC 6210

NGC 6210
A Planetary Nebula in Hercules
(image source)

The showpiece objects of summer are numerous.  Naked eye, binoculars , or a telescope can all be your observing instrument of choice for summer's most popular targets.

In my next few posts however, we will venture off the beaten path a bit to examine a few astronomical wonders less frequented by many, but very worthwhile for viewing. Modest, reasonably priced telescopes will suffice for this journey, and first up is NGC 6210...


Saturn... on a Budget!

The Saturn System
(image source)
 This is my 2nd post on one of the most popular targets for any size telescope, the ringed planet Saturn.  For the next few months, Saturn is well placed for viewing with a telescope.  The rings are starting to open up more, and opposition is nearing!  You will find Saturn shining brightly (a bit brighter actually) near the star Spica, the brightest star in the constellation of Virgo.  Saturn rises in the East around midnight right now, and is high in the South just before sunrise.

Okay, so it isn't the only planet in our solar system with rings, officially, but you can see Saturn's rings easily in small telescopes.  Which, by the way, is why we have known about them so much longer than we have known about the tenuous rings surrounding the other gas giants.

In my previous post about Saturn, I provided a lot of general information about the planet, and what to expect when viewing it.  In this post I will show you how to see and enjoy Saturn without breaking the bank...


Perseus: The Double Cluster & More

(image source)

The constellation of Perseus is a winter grouping visible after sunset high in the eastern sky during the month of January.   For denizens of the northern hemisphere, the cold crisp nights start early and last long this time of year, and the night sky is filled with a greater number of bright stars than summer.

The constellation of Perseus plays it's part in winter's dazzling display, presenting a familiar undulating "V" pattern of bright stars between the Andromeda, Cassiopeia, and Auriga constellations.  The area in and around Perseus has several famous deep sky objects, many fine double stars, and one of the most famous variable stars of all.

Let's dig into Perseus a little and uncover some of it's finer gems...


Taurus: Astronomy DJ Takes A Tour

The Pleiades- "The Seven Sisters"
(image source)

     Taurus the Bull is a winter constellation with something to offer for everyone who ventures out into the night to view the heavens.  But, you don't have to wait until winter to see it.  Just stay up a little late this month to take advantage of milder temperatures, and you can enjoy it now.  Naked eye, binoculars, or telescopes large and small will all be rewarded with sights worthy of a night out under the stars...


The Milky Way: Part IV

A Milky Way Panorama
(image source)
High overhead for mid-northern latitudes in autumn lies a treasure trove of Milky Way star fields.  Arguably the richest of constellations for the small telescope is Cygnus, the Swan, owing to it's placement high overhead for observers in the northern hemisphere.  Northward from Cygnus, the constellations of Lacerta, Cepheus, and Cassiopeia trace the path of the Milky Way into early winter.
Our first object of interest lies back in Cygnus, the finest double star for small telescopes, Albireo...


The Milky Way: Part III

In mid-August 2010 ESO Photo Ambassador Yuri Beletsky snapped this photo at ESO’s Paranal Observatory. A group of astronomers were observing the centre of the Milky Way using the laser guide star facility at Yepun, one of the four Unit Telescopes of the Very Large Telescope (VLT).
Yepun’s laser beam crosses the southern sky and creates an artificial star at an altitude of 90 km high in the Earth's mesosphere. The Laser Guide Star (LGS) is part of the VLT’s adaptive optics system and is used as a reference to correct the blurring effect of the atmosphere on images. The colour of the laser is precisely tuned to energise a layer of sodium atoms found in one of the upper layers of the atmosphere — one can recognise the familiar colour of sodium street lamps in the colour of the laser. This layer of sodium atoms is thought to be a leftover from meteorites entering the Earth’s atmosphere. When excited by the light from the laser, the atoms start glowing, forming a small bright spot that can be used as an artificial reference star for the adaptive optics. Using this technique, astronomers can obtain sharper observations. For example, when looking towards the centre of our Milky Way, researchers can better monitor the galactic core, where a central supermassive black hole, surrounded by closely orbiting stars, is swallowing gas and dust.
(image source)
In part three of my Milky Way series we will slide our telescopes northeastward through Scutum and Ophiuchus, Aquila, Sagitta and Vulpecula.  There is so much to see that an article of this length can hardly come close to covering everything, so we will simply be taking a closer look at some of my favorites.  We will begin our tour with M16...


The Milky Way: Part II

(image source)

If you live south of 40 degrees north latitude, you can get a very good look at one of the best constellations in the summer milky way, Sagittarius.  A reasonably dark site, a good telescope, and the desire to explore is all you will need.  Several nebulae, numerous open clusters and a really good globular await you.  All are framed by the starry backdrop of distant stars that make up the milky way.

I will introduce you to some of these marvelous objects here at Astonomy DJ, in the hope that you will be inspired to view them first hand and in person.  There is truly nothing like the real thing...


The Milky Way: Part I

This dazzling infrared image from NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope shows hundreds of thousands of stars crowded into the swirling core of our spiral Milky Way galaxy. In visible-light pictures, this region cannot be seen at all because dust lying between Earth and the galactic center blocks our view.
(image source)
 In this article I will detail some interesting sights of the summer Milky Way in the constellation of Scorpio.  This southern constellation contain the first portions of the Milky Way to transit the meridian for northern hemisphere observers.  The actual center of our Galaxy is located near this direction of the sky as well.

Rich star fields, open and globular clusters, and nebulae both bright and dark are within reach of telescopes of all sizes.  Literally something for everyone.  To really see the Milky Way itself in all it's glory though, a dark sky away from light pollution is essential.  The cloudy looking band then becomes bright against a contrasting inky blackness and it is filled with knots of brighter material, dark rifts and lanes, and fuzzy patches that beckon closer inspection. 

 If you missed my intro to The Milky Way series, be sure to see my previous post.  Now let's get on with it.  Grab a good star chart.  We'll start with the southwestern most portion, the first to become visible at the zenith, Scorpio...


An Introduction to The Summer Milky Way

M8 - The "Lagoon" Nebula in Sagittarius
(image source
In just a couple of months the Summer Milky Way (Winter Milky Way for our southern hemisphere friends) will present itself in all it's glory in the hours after sunset.  In order to properly enjoy it's true splendor you need a clear sky, a fairly dark location, a telescope, and a willingness to explore. 

Actually, the telescope part is not a requirement for appreciating the Summer Milky Way, but it will greatly enhance your experience.  A telescope exposes the treasures of the milky way in a very personal way.  And the treasures are many and varied indeed.  The colorful image of M8 above is the result of long time exposure photography.  The associated cluster of stars and quite a bit of the nebula detail is visible in even modest size telescopes from a dark site (minus the color of course).  The use of various nebula filters can enhance the view considerably.

Today's introduction will be followed with a three part series intended to help you get the most out of the upcoming encounter with the Summer Milky Way.  It is perhaps astronomy's finest seasonal event, so let's get prepared...


Globular Clusters For Spring

M3 in the constellation Canes Venatici
(image source)

Surrounding our Milky Way galaxy is a sphere-shaped halo of a specific type of star cluster, namely, Globular Clusters (pronounced "glob", not "globe").  They vary in size, distance and direction from the galactic center and contain the oldest stars in our galactic system.  Around 13 billion years old in some cases! 

If you are the owner of a small telescope, globulars are a good reason to upgrade to a larger telescope because they are absolutley one of the most beautiful sights you will ever have a chance to see.  Check out my article on what to consider when before you take the plunge and lay out big bucks for a bigger scope.  You'll be glad you did...


Double Stars For Spring

Astronomy DJ takes a look at some popular Double Stars visible this time of year.  In this article we will look at some double and multiple systems that can be located with the eye, and studied with small to medium size telescopes.

This picture is an artist's impression showing how the binary star system of Sirius A and its diminutive blue companion, Sirius B, might appear to an interstellar visitor.
(image source)

Our Milky Way galaxy is estimated to have around 300 billion stars, spread out over a disc shape 100,000 light years in diameter and 10,000 light years thick at the hub.  Yet you can only see about 2000+ stars with your unaided eye on a given night.  Of these stars, more than half are binary/multiple stars...


Saturn: The Showpiece of Spring

(Courtesy: Paul Haese)
Link to Website: http://paulhaese.net//
I think it is safe to say that Saturn viewed through a telescope has "wowed" more people than any other object.  Even a very small telescope of mediocre quality can do the job.  A decent medium sized telescope will amaze you.  A quality larger scope will provide literally jaw dropping views...


Open Clusters of Spring

M35 and NGC2158 in the Constellation Gemini
(image source)
Open clusters of stars are a great target for small and large telescopes alike.  Our Universe Today zeroes in on a few favorites in this article.  Late winter and early spring provide many opportunities for pleasurable study...


The Orion Nebula (M42)

M42 The Great Nebula in Orion\
(image source)
 The Constellation of Orion is a favorite among telescope enthusiasts.  The cold, crisp nights of winter offer a rich tapestry of astronomical objects for viewing, and the Great Nebula in Orion takes center stage.  Also commonly referred to as M42, the Orion Nebula offers tremendous opportunities for telescopes of all sizes.  Let's start off with a little about the Orion Constellation and where it's located...


Astronomy DJ newsflash: Comet Hartley 2: Snowstorm!

Enhanced image of Nov4 flyby of Hartley 2
(image source)

Comet Hartley 2 is providing some surprises. Namely, a snowstorm! Check out this link to a Nasa News Brief.  The article is very interesting. It compares this cometary flyby with previous encounters with Halley, Borrelly, Wild 2, and Temple 1.  The same space craft (Deep Impact) made both the Hartley 2 and Temple 1 flybys, indicating an actual difference in activity, not just a difference in camera resolution. 

I hope you enjoy the view!



November Skies

Optical & Chandra X-ray Image of Andromeda Galaxy
(image credit)

November skies have many offer many fine targets for back yard observing of our universe.  Check out the monthly sky guide tab for a video with more about what's up in November.  The video barely scratches the surface, though.  Here are a few of my favorites under November skies...


Astronomy DJ newsflash: Comet Hartley2

Comet Hartley2 (image credit)
One of the Epoxi mission recently returned photos of the close approach
 Nasa has successfully completed a flyby of Comet Hartley2, returning never before seen image close ups of the comet nucleus.  You can view all the images at this link.  Be patient, the server is kind of busy right now!

Excerpt taken from http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/news/news.cfm?release=2010-371

NASA Mission Successfully Flies by Comet Hartley 2
Jet Propulsion Laboratory
November 04, 2010

PASADENA, CALIF. - NASA's EPOXI mission successfully flew by comet
Hartley 2 at about 7 a.m. PDT (10 a.m. EDT) today, and the spacecraft
has begun returning images. Hartley 2 is the fifth comet nucleus visited
by a spacecraft.

Scientists and mission controllers are currently viewing
never-before-seen images of Hartley 2 appearing on their computer
terminal screens.

EPOXI is an extended mission that utilizes the already "in-flight" Deep
Impact spacecraft to explore distinct celestial targets of opportunity.
The name EPOXI itself is a combination of the names for the two extended
mission components: the extrasolar planet observations, called
Extrasolar Planet Observations and Characterization (EPOCh), and the
flyby of comet Hartley 2, called the Deep Impact Extended Investigation
(DIXI). The spacecraft has retained the name "Deep Impact."

Comet Hartley2 has been the focus of comet watchers in recent months.  Visible in binoculars and small telescopes, it has rekindled the interest of many involved with astronomy as a hobby or pastime.  A pretty dark site was needed to get more than a glimpse of the comet.

It appeared as a large, faint, ghost-like object in my 80mm refractor from a suburban location, barely visible against the grayish background sky.  From a much darker location with the same scope, it was much easier to observe, appearing much brighter.  It had a greenish translucence from the darker site, and looked a little brighter toward the center.  I was never able to see a tail visually, though others reportedly were.  A short tail was visible in time exposure photos.

Thanks for stopping by,


Astronomy DJ highlights: The Moon & Jupiter

Don't let a bright moon keep you indoors, with your telescope in a closet...there are plenty of great things you can look at and do. 

1st Quarter Moon
(taken w/ 8" Schmidt Cassegrain & Nikon Coolpix)

Jupiter is still fantastic right now.  It's four bright moons provide a nightly dance for entertainment as they orbit the planet.  The cloud bands are visible in even very small telescopes, and every 10 hours the Great Red Spot takes center stage in medium and larger scopes.

Double stars are a great target on moonlit nights.  There are always plenty to choose from.  Many are very easy to split with a small scope, and have pretty, contrasting colors.

And, of course, you can spend some very relaxing hours with earth's nearest solar system neighbor, the moon...


Dark skies

(image source)
 For the past two weeks I have been blessed with really clear skies.  Two days in a row are fairly common around these parts.  Two weeks is extraordinary.  Clear skies are a stargazer's second best friend.  Dark skies definitely rank number one, though.

Unfortunately, I live in a fairly bright suburban area.  I do have the good fortune to have a reasonably dark sky location within 30 minutes of my home. And as an added bonus, for the last four nights, I have been at a more remote location with skies dark enough to inspire...


Astronomy DJ on: Early Fall Skies

M57 The Ring Nebula
(image source)

Summer may be over, but you can still see some of the summer's best astronomical objects in the first two hours after sunset. With Cygnus high overhead at twilight, the skies are poised for a final glimpse of three fine targets for any telescope...

A quality telescope of three to eight inches in aperture will provide inspiring views of our universe. From the moon and planets to distant galaxies, and many sights in between, you are limited only by viewing conditions and your knowledge of the stars. Late September offers an abundance of objects from early evening into the morning hours. Today we will highlight three fine celestial beauties visible in the hours right after sunset.

The first and western most object is arguably the finest globular cluster in the northern hemisphere, M13, in the Constellation of Hercules. From a dark location, those with keen eyesight can just pick it up visually as a rather dim, fuzzy looking star.

In a three inch telescope at 50x you will see a fuzzy ball shaped object that gets brighter towards the center. It will exhibit a slightly mottled appearance, without being resolved into individual stars. A five inch scope at 125x will reveal hundreds of tiny outlying stars surrounding a brighter, unresolved central mass. An eight inch at 150x will show thousands of stars with much more of the central mass being resolved. A magnificent sight to behold.

Next we venture eastward to Lyra. Not to far from it's brightest star, Vega, lies a tremendous planetary nebula, M57, which resembles a tiny smoke ring hovering among the stars. It is visible in binoculars from a fairly dark location. A three inch telescope at 50x shows a tiny ghostly ring, grayish in color against a dark background. A five inch at 100x will have similar brightness, but will be much larger in appearance with more detail visible. An eight inch at 200x gives an impressive view with better detail of it's structure. It also starts to take on a greenish hue. A splendid object at higher powers also. Light pollution filters, both broadband and narrow band (those specifically for planetary nebulae) work very well with M57, and the next object...

M27, a large planetary nebula in the constellation Vulpecula. Use lower powers on this one. Filters like those mentioned above really bring out the best. Nicknamed the Dumbbell, it has a rectangular appearance, slightly narrower towards the center. It lies among many fine background stars, framing the field nicely in low powers of 50-75X. It has a distinct greenish cast to it from darker locations, even in smaller scopes. This one really gorgeous to gaze at.

I hope you enjoyed the tour, and that you find the time to go out and see these fine views of our universe firsthand!



Astronomy DJ vists: The Orion Constellation

The Orion Constellation
(author: Matthew Spinelli)
(image source)
Coming soon to your back yard, the fabulous Orion constellation of stars!   Try staying up until 2am however, and you can enjoy them without the freezing weather.  Those of us who have cold winters can relate.  Orion also offers perhaps the most interesting nebula for small to medium sized telescopes, or even binoculars...


Astronomy DJ says: Jupiter Looms Near

Jupiter-Earth-Red Spot
Size Comparison
(image source)

Whether you are new to astronomy or you have been around the block a few times, Jupiter is a favorite target.  This fall, due to it's favorable position and apparent diameter, we have Jupiter at it's best.  I would like to inspire you to go out and look at it, but not in the same way as most sites are doing...


A Night Under The Stars

I recently learned of an observing site used by a local astronomy club.  The night sky isn't perfect by any means, but it is way better than my suburban back yard.  And, it's within about thirty minutes of my home.  Needless to say, I was anxious to check it out.  I got the chance last night...


The Distance to the Stars

This is the first direct image of a star other than the Sun, made with NASA's Hubble Space Telescope. Called Alpha Orionis, or Betelgeuse, it is a red supergiant star marking the shoulder of the winter constellation Orion the Hunter
(image source)
The other night, a coworker asked me a common question people have when I'm rambling on about this or that star in the sky and mention it's distance.  "How do we know how far away it is to a given star?"  Actually, it's a very good question, since there isn't a short answer that is very complete.


Astronomy DJ says: Clouds & Rain? Try Gsky

Supernova in Hubble Deep Field
(image source)
If you have downloaded Google Earth onto your computer, you also have Google Sky.  With it, you can travel all over our universe from your computer.  It's also a good way to become more familiar with constellations, and where some of the deep sky wonders are located within them.  Nice pictures, too.

I like to use it during the day, or on nights when I can't look in person for some reason.  I don't let it become a replacement for going out with a telescope, though.  It's fun, but it's not the same as live viewing.  For those who venture out into the night there is what I like to call, the hunt.  As I've said before, getting there is not only half the fun, the successful hunt makes viewing your target more rewarding.

 ( image source)
So if your stuck inside and feel like exploring our universe today, try Google Earth's "sky" feature.  It's the next best thing aiming a telescope at a "dim fuzzy", or maybe Jupiter, for a first hand view.

Coming up soon in a future post...a basic observing guide for Jupiter.  The next few months are perfect for it.   

Thanks for clicking,


Our Universe is a Big Place

Here's a nice video for you to enjoy.  It does an adrimable job of giving some idea of the scope and size of our universe as we understand it.  I hope it inspires you!


Comments are welcome...


To Boldly Go...

The U.S.S. Enterprise
(author: Shisma)
 (image source)
You don't have to be Captain Kirk to explore the universe a little. Or a lot. You don't need a space ship, an observatory, telescope, or even binoculars. Heck, you don't even need to go outside thanks to the virtual universe of the Internet. Don't get me wrong, the Internet and a PC are awesome tools to have on hand, but I think it's hard to beat looking up at a dark sky and becoming fully engaged in the moment...


Observing Equipment to Consider

Constellation of Cygnus
(author: Ole Nielsen image source)
Let's say you want to supplement those eyeballs a little when you venture outside on a clear night. You have several options.  Which ones you choose depends on your interest, budget, observing location, and even who will be using the stuff (anyone have kids?).  Here's a little primer on what's available and why it might be of interest to you...


The Ways to Gaze

The Earth at Night (Nasa)
Let's see...I'm right about, there.  How about you?  All you really need is a reasonably clear sky in a fairly dark, open area.  Most of us get the clear part at least once and a while.  Fairly dark may be a little harder for some in large metro areas.  Ditto for an open area.  I live in a pretty bright suburb but I can get by on really clear nights very well.  It depends on what you want to look at, and your equipment.


Astronomy DJ

The Galaxy M104 in the Constellation Virgo.
(Credit: Nasa)
Astronomy DJ is dedicated to observational astronomy.  I'm DJ, your guide to backyard astronomy.

Our universe seems to be a pretty big place, at least from our perspective.  Of course there is that "small theory" concept of everything in our universe being a cosmic drop of water in an ocean of other universes, or a single cell in a pimple on some unimaginable being's backside.  That still makes the universe a large place relative to us, though.

We people are the only mortal beings we know of on this planet who are aware that the universe extends into space beyond earth.  Exploring it on your own can be a lot of fun, and you can do it from your own backyard.  This blog attempts to provide gateways for you to personally discover the beauty of our universe, and inspire you to get out under the stars live and in person.