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Touring the Skies By Jim Bonser (

August 29, 2019
Northern-Sun Print
Ps. 19:1 The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Sometimes simple is best. Options are nice. Features are nice. However, options and features also bring complexity and can rob a lot of enjoyment from an activity. Faced with pressure from other automobile manufacturers to offer cars painted in different colors, Henry Ford is quoted as saying, “Any customer can have a car painted any color that he wants so long as it is black!” Simple is definitely better for the manufacturer. For the astronomer, simple can be refreshing. Having a computer aided telescope mount is a wonderful option - when it works. You just punch in an object’s name and the mount quickly points the telescope right at Jupiter or the Andromeda Galaxy or thousands of other targets in the night sky. On the other hand, for the mount to do that well, it requires the astronomer to remember to bring along a (fully charged) battery to power it. It also requires you to learn and memorize all those buttons on the hand controller and be able to use them in the dark, AND the mount has to be reasonably well aligned with the North Celestial Pole (NCP) and it can’t be synced to the sky until at least one, but preferably 2 or 3 known stars are visible. When you are by yourself, this is not too bad. When you are surrounded by 15 or 20 excited elementary aged kids who are dying to look through that beautiful telescope at something, anything, simple becomes very attractive! I’m not suggesting that you leave your computer aided mount at home the next time you are asked to help out at an observing event, but I am suggesting that occasionally you take time to just grab a thermos of hot chocolate and maybe a pair of binoculars and head out to the lawn chaise on the back deck and simply enjoy the beautiful night sky God has provided for us to wonder at. Take in the grandeur of the Milky Way. Reacquaint yourself with the constellations of the season and perhaps learn to identify a couple new ones. Look for the subtle colors in the stars, and be thrilled by the flash of a meteor crossing the sky. Sometimes, simple is best. This month, in addition to the Milky Way being well placed for early evening viewing, the Moon, Jupiter, Saturn and possibly Venus will adorn the sky after sunset. Mercury, Venus and Mars are all in superior conjunction with the Sun this month. Superior conjunction means they line up with Earth and the Sun with the Sun in the middle, so they won’t be visible. Mercury reaches superior conjunction with the Sun on the 4th, and Mars exactly lines up on the 2nd. Venus was at superior conjunction with the Sun last month, on the 14th of August. Both Mercury and Venus will begin to peek out from behind the Sun around midmonth. Mercury will remain so close to the Sun that it will likely not be visible to us after sunset this month. Venus will have a very close conjunction with Mercury on the 13th. They will be separated by about 0.3 degrees, but will be only 8 degrees from the Sun, too close to try to observe with your unprotected eyes. However, a very carefully aimed telescope during the day could show them in a single field of view. Please don’t try this with your eyes - a camera on one of those computer guided telescopes would be a much safer way to observe this event. Blindness can occur from even a brief glimpse of the Sun through a telescope. Venus will get far enough away from the Sun by the 15th that it will be visible shortly after sunset for the second half of the month. I said “possibly” above because it will be fairly close to the Sun and if there are many clouds near the horizon as there typically are in Iowa, spotting Venus may be difficult this month. Jupiter will be easy to spot by 9 P.M. Technically, Jupiter is among the stars of the constellation Ophiuchus (pronounced: oh-fee-oo’-kus) but it looks like it is part of Scorpius, a little above and to the left of the star Antares (pronounced: an-tar’-ees) which is reddish colored star that marks the heart of the Scorpion. Jupiter passed opposition with Earth a while back, but it is still big and bright in a telescope, and even 10X35 binoculars will reveal Jupiter’s bright Galilean moons. Finally, Saturn remains stunning as it wanders among the stars of Sagittarius this month. The Moon will pass very close to Saturn on Sunday, September 8th. They will be closest a little before 9 A.M. and will make a beautiful sight in a telescope if the skies are transparent enough. Let’s hope for clear skies Sunday morning, September 8th - I’d love to get a picture of them through the telescope. If I do, I’ll be sure to share it with you! Equinox occurs at 2:50 A.M. on Monday, September 23 - Fall officially begins! Remember, find a night or two this month to just keep it simple and get out, relax and enjoy the magnificent heavens created by our Lord to declare His glory. Clear Skies!

Article Photos

Pictured is an image of IC5072 - The Pelican Nebula. This is a stack of a total of 27 5 minute exposures. I took the first 5 on July 23rd then clouds cut the session short. I took 22 more on July 29th for a total of 2 hours and 15 min exposure time. This is about the center 60 percent of the original image because I had a problem with ice crystals forming on the imaging sensor and rather than try to ‘fix’ them, I decided to just crop them out. I may go back some time and see if it is just a few images with crystals and just not stack them - we’ll see.



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