by Rex Parker, PhD email@example.com
A crispness to the skies and a sense of urgency with the temperatures give October an auspicious feel for amateur astronomers. New constellations well positioned include Perseus, Andromeda, and Pegasus – three of the original constellations of the famed Almagest thought to be written by second-century astronomer Ptolemy. It’s impossible to ignore the Milky Way stretching overhead to the southern horizon, and the great galaxy in Andromeda (Messier 31) can be discerned by naked eye in mid-evening if light pollution isn’t too severe. Indeed, that galaxy was visible without aid and a glorious sight in telescopes under the pristine clear skies at StarQuest last weekend in north Jersey. Pegasus, the winged horse constellation, is seen by some today as merely a big empty square of stars (what was Ptolemy thinking?) and devoid of deep sky objects. Yet the databases list nearly a hundred “NGC” and “IC” deep sky objects (star clusters, galaxies, and various nebulae) within the great square. Though challenging, some of these are accessible to AAAP members through the 14-inch Celestron telescope at the club’s Washington Crossing Observatory, though of course many are visible only with electronic enhancement (CCD, DSLR or video cam). Pegasus is also a good test of limiting magnitude, because a dozen stars inside the square are magnitude 6 or brighter, the level generally considered a threshold for good skies. I counted ten at StarQuest.
A much more visible and dynamic celestial event takes place on October 8 early in the morning. A total lunar eclipse will be in progress as the sun rises here in central Jersey. You’ll need to have a clear view of the western horizon in the early morning hours. In counterpoint to the rising sun, the moon sets with the eclipse in totality, adding a twist to previous recent eclipses. The next total eclipse of the moon at our location won’t occur till next September, after which we’ll have to wait for a total eclipse here until 2018 when there are two (there are partial and penumbral eclipses before then).
As the pictures and articles in this issue attest, StarQuest 2014 was a great success with some of the clearest, darkest skies we’ve ever had. I’d like to give special thanks to Michael Wright for the “heavy lifting” organizing of the event and for the creative and very cool Solar System Walk (a scale model of the solar system on the grounds of the conference center) which surprised us all with the immense distances between the planets! Special thanks also to Ludy D’Angelo for the excellent StarQuest Trattoria!
Our tradition of great speaker presentations continues this month (7:30 pm, Oct 14 at Peyton Hall) with a talk on the future of human spaceflight by Dr. Ken Kremer of Universe Today, AmericaSpace, and AAAP. Check out the article in this issue and the AAAP website (http://www.princetonastronomy.org/) for more info.
Important note: AAAP meetings at Peyton Hall now begin at 7:30 pm.