Well Fall is coming on quickly and with it some of the best astronomical objects to point your telescope or binoculars at. The Open House’s at the observatory are the best opportunity we have to entertain, introduce, and educate the public to the enjoyment we experience every time we turn our eyes skywards. The weather here in Michigan can be a little frustrating at times, but that only make us more appreciative and sometimes in awe of those moments when the sky goes “crystal” and the ethereal glow of the Milky-Way becomes a glorious pathway running from horizon to horizon.
This Fall we are being treated to two of the most spectacular planets in the solar system - Jupiter and Saturn.
Jupiter shows up in the southern sky at -2.5 magnitude and is almost 43 arc seconds in angular size. Its speeding rotation means a constantly changing view. The Galilean moons of Jove waltz their way around in an everlasting dance. Their shadows appear on the face of Jupiter like a miniature black-eye. We are also very privileged this year to Jovian satellite occultations and eclipses. No study of Jupiter can be considered complete if you haven’t glimpsed the Great Red Spot or watched it transit the face of Jove.
Saturn with its rings tilted at a 10.33 degree angle away from us and shining at about 0 magnitude is always a great sight. Saturn’s angular size is about 20 arc seconds and its northern declination make it a superior object in any astronomical telescope, but at higher powers even its “creamy” complexion shows subtle flaws. A good test for you and your eyes is to spot the Cassini Division in the outer reaches of the rings. The multitude of telescopically visible moons are always a treat and sometimes a challenge.
Now for a few of my favorite deep-sky objects of the Autumn nights by constellation:
RA 21h 33m Dec -00 49 6.5mag 13’
A globular cluster of at least 100,000 stars. About 50,000 ly distant and about 150 ly across.
RA 21h 04m Dec -11 22 8.3mag 28”x22”
A planetary nebula called the “Saturn Nebula” by Lord Rosse because of extending arms or ansae which protrude from the nebula when seen under a good, dark sky. Only 3900 ly distant, which means its about 0.5 ly across.
Epsilon Peg. -
RA 22h 43m Dec +30 18 3/9mags
A lovely colored double star, widely separated at 81” making it easy to split in almost any telescope.
RA 22h 37m Dec +34 25 10.4mag 11’x 4’
One of the brightest non-Messier galaxies. A large scope can show a dark dust lane. This galaxy can be spotted with binoculars or finder scope. At a distance of 50 million ly this is a beauty.
RA 00h 42m Dec +41 16 3.5mag 178’x40’
The largest, brightest spiral galaxy near the Milky-Way. It is easily seen naked-eye from a dark site and in binoculars it is truly a glorious sight. A low power wide field of view eye piece will show two of its companion galaxies. At a distance of 2.2 million ly away this is the farthest naked-eye object visible.
RA 23h 56m Dec +42 33 8.6mag 17”x14”
A very nice planetary nebula commonly known as the “Blue Snowball”, find this one and you’ll see why it got that name. 5600 ly away
Almach - Gamma And. -
RA 02h 04m Dec +42 18 2/5mags
Almach means “The Foot” in Arabic, because this double star is the foot of Andromeda. These two stars are separated by 10” and have always looked bluish and orange to me. 80 ly distant
RA 23h 24m Dec +61 35 6.9mag 13’
An excellent open cluster that is 3000 ly away and 10 to 15 ly across.
RA 01h 19m Dec +58 20 6.4mag 13’
Another good open cluster commonly called “The Owl Cluster” due to the two bright stars that look like eyes of an owl with outstretched wings. This one is beautiful in low power.
NGC884 and NGC869 -
RA 02h 22m Dec +57 07 4.4mag 60’
The Double Cluster is one of the finest sights in the sky. Always a great crowd pleaser. In low power these two fit in the same field of view. 8000 ly away. Don’t pass this one up, it truly is marvelous.
Eta Per. -
RA 02h 51m Dec +55 52 4/8mags
A color contrasting double star separated by 28” they are easily split at about 100x and have always looked gold and deep blue to me.
Well there is so much more to see in the Autumn night sky that I might have to write a follow up article next month. But before I conclude this one and before they slip slowly below the western horizon catch those Summer time favorites such as M13 a globular cluster in Hercules, M57 The Ring Nebula in Lyra, M27 The Dumbbell Nebula in Vulpecula, Collinder399 The Coathanger in Vulpecula (best in binoculars), M11 The Wild Duck open cluster in Scutum and just about any where in the constellation of Cygnus.
So come on out to the next open house and enjoy the Autumn night sky with us. It truly is a wonderful experience.