Cold weather and more viewing

I looked at the Clear Sky Chart for my local viewing area a few days back, and I noticed a wonderful combination of things: Friday night was scheduled to be clear and the moon wasn’t going to rise until 2am.  Friday night being a weekend meant I didn’t have to get up early the next day.  I quickly sent out a few e-mails to the local astronomy group to see if anyone else was planning on showing up at Rattlesnake Lake.  Sure enough, a bunch of people said they’d be there:  I needed no more reasons.

Boaz tagged along, and we headed out there at about 8pm, just around the time of sunset.  Starbucks coffees in hand, and covered in several layers of wool, we waited.  Other people started showing up around 8:30pm as it was getting dark, and by 9:30pm we probably had a half-dozen telescopes setup.  Around 11pm, most people left, but a guy named Jim, Boaz, and I stayed out until 2am.  It was well worth it!

Last night’s bounty included:

And that’s just the stuff that I saw through my telescope.

Items I found new appreciation for last night:

  • Sky & Telescope’s Pocket Sky Atlas.  My observing still is maturing: I started off looking at only things I know (i.e., Orion nebula, Pleiades); I moved up to understanding celestial coordinates and using R.A. and declination to locate items; and now I’m star hopping with the Sky Atlas.  I found that a few times, I would like at something (using R.A. and dec) and then move on to the next object on my list — only to find that there were other objects just barely out of the viewfinder.  Using the Sky Atlas last night was great — we got every Messier object in the Virgo Cluster by starting with Vindemiatrix (? Vir) and ? Vir and then jumped from galaxy to galaxy.
  • Green laser pointers.  I’ve got to get me one of these; two people out there last night had them, and they make it amazingly easy to point out things.
  • Hand/Toe warmers.  Those little chemical packets you stick under your socks and in your gloves.  They’re very handy at 1am when it’s literally freezing outside.
  • Double stars.  You might think looking at two stars very close to one another is boring, but it’s pretty cool when the two stars are of vastly different color spectrum, like Albireo.
  • We’re tiny, and life is short.  All the stars you see in the sky that are so far away?  They’re all in our galaxy.  I saw other galaxies that are over 60 million light-years away.  The light from those has been traveling for 60 million years before it reached my eyes.  That’s astounding.