It had been two years since I’d had a good look at the summer Milky Way. At my latitude, it doesn’t get dark enough for visual stargazing from late May to late July, and clouds, smoke, moonlight, and the vicissitudes of life disposed of the remaining late summer nights. But this week delivered what I’ve long awaited – a promising forecast of two nights with a crystal-clear atmosphere and no moon. The excuses were over – it was time to drive an hour west of town to my favorite dark-sky site with a telescope, a bag of eyepieces, and a star map in the back seat. If I was going to see the Milky Way before winter comes, it was now or never.
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The Sun kicked it into high gear this week! A few big prominences emerged, especially a towering tornado-shaped construct on the southern solar limb. I just managed to catch the tail-end of it this morning as the Sun cleared the trees at my observing location. Took a few images of the prom, went for a cup of coffee, came back to the telescope, and – POOF! – it was gone. South is up in this image, captured with a Lunt 60MT H-alpha solar telescope and Player One Apollo-M Mini camera.
A recent thread on the astronomy forum Cloudy Nights explored the possibility of capturing quick ‘snapshot’ astrophotos with small but sensitive monochrome cameras and inexpensive, small-aperture lenses of less than 25mm (!) aperture. Even better, this approach used no astronomy mount or tracking at all, just a fixed camera tripod and a PC to capture and stack each image over the course of a minute or two. Lightweight, cheap, simple.
It seemed like a preposterous idea. So of course I had to try it!
If you’re looking for something good to see in the sky this month, my recent article at Sky & Telescope magazine takes you on a tour of the sights in and around the asterism known as Taurus Poniatowski. A little offshoot of the constellation Ophiuchus, Taurus Poniatowski spans a patch of sky about the size of your hand held at arm’s length, but it contains all sorts of fascinating deep-sky sights from double stars to open clusters, and even a galaxy (unusual in this part of the sky). Grab some binoculars and your favorite telescope, and head outside to see this fascinating little star group.
At a distance of about 11 million light years, the Messier 81 (M81) galaxy group lies nearly overhead in the late northern spring and early summer and presents a handful of intriguing targets for backyard stargazers. This aggregation of gravitationally bound galaxies lies mostly in Ursa Major with some spillover into Camelopardalis. It’s one of the nearest galaxy groups to our own, and it contains some 40 galaxies and a total of about a trillion stars [Read more…] about Touring the M81 Galaxy GroupShare This: