PeGASus Newsletter #6 – June, 1987


It was just a short while ago that I took part in the Astronomy course at CNC, and now I hope not only to become an active member of the Prince George Astronomical Society, but to try and improve it as well. As I love to write, I thought nothing could be more fitting than taking over the task of putting out the newsletter. And so, with great enthusiasm, I have done just that. Now, working with our president Bob Nelson and other executive members, I hope to make it not just a newsletter, but a publication. My first step was to name it ‘The Local Group’, something only an astronomer can appreciate, but that was just the beginning. In addition to features found in the original newsletters you will find more news and information, plus other goodies. Everything is being done with you in mind–we want the Society to be the best that it can be! If you have any suggestions, ideas, or simply comments, then call me at 962-2797, or Bob at 563-6928. We hope you enjoy The Local Group!

Paul Ingraham

“What is inconceivable about the universe is that it should be at all conceivable.”

– Albert Einstein


A good deal of progress has been made in fixing up our observatory in the last month or so. We have managed to fix a loose mortar, repaint the building, repair the squealy lower shutter, paint the track for the lower shutter, put touch-up paint on the telescope, and repaint the porch. The upper shutter is in the process of being serviced, hopefully making the observatory completely squeak free with the exception of the mice. Those responsible for these accomplishments are Brian Potts, Gail May, Jon and Peter Bowen, David Sundberg, Jim Failes, Alan Pretty, Paul Ingraham, Bob Nelson, Eric Hoogstraten, and Jim Livingstone. If I have forgotten anyone, please acknowledge our thanks and blame it on an editorial blooper!

Although late sunsets and early sunrises make this time of year difficult for astronomers, some of us have been up there under the stars this month. The sights are spectacular! We encourage you to call if you want to go!

 July Skies

As any Prince George astronomer will tell you, May, June, and July are not exactly prime time for backyard astronomy. For roughly a month both sides of June 21st, the summer solstice, serious amateur astronomy is quite limited. However, the sights are there for those of us who can stay up late enough. Sagittarius, the richest region of the Milky Way, is climbing into the southern sky Cygnus, perhaps the second richest region of the Milky Way, will be nearly overhead soon, and there is no excuse for missing it constellations making their first appearance for the year are Scorpius, Capricornus, and Aquarius. Look for M8, the Lagoon Nebula in Sagittarius, and the Coathanger Cluster in Sagitta. Also in Saggita is the Dumbell Nebula, and further up in Lyra, the Ring Nebula. All beautiful sights!

The planets visible are: Saturn (a truly stunning sight in the 24″) in the south, Uranus, and Neptune. Mars is visible but not very spectacular at the moment, and Jupiter is rising in the east at 2 AM. Jupiter is also spectacular, but it will be better in the fall when it climbs higher in the sky. Mercury comes within 5 degrees of Venus in the predawn sky of July eleventh, and then moves on.

The Southern Delta Aquarid meteor shower will peak in the predawn hours of July 29, with up to twenty meteors an hour at a dark site. The radiant is in Aquarius, in the south. It isn’t the most spectacular of the meteor showers, but well worth it nonetheless.

 A Constellation for the Amateur

In each newsletter I will be writing this section specifically for those of you out there who are new to astronomy and may not have anything more powerful look at the stars with than a pair of binoculars. Each month I will concentrate on a single constellation and point out the interesting objects, how to find them, and what they’ll look like.

Since binoculars are not the best instruments for viewing deep-sky objects, some of the sights covered in this column may be difficult to detect. Remember that your eye literally becomes trained to see these things, and at first you just may not be able to find them. Do not let this discourage you though! Instead of going for the hardest and dimmest objects first, start by finding the easiest and brightest. Since the retina is more sensitive to light on the sides, always use averted vision–do not look directly at the target, but off to the side a little bit. And also remember that it takes at least fifteen minutes for your eyes to become fully dark-adjusted.

This month’s constellation is Hercules. Hercules is a dim constellation, but using Terence Dickinson’s NightWatch, or any other star charts, you should be able to find him easily. At this time of year he is just about straight up, with his legs pointing south. I chose Hercules because though there are only two major objects to be found in him, they are both bright, beautiful, and very easy to find. Those two objects are M13, the brightest globular cluster to be seen in the northern hemisphere, and M92, another bright globular cluster.

M13 — This great globular cluster is a snap to find, lying directly on the line from Hercules’ right shoulder to his right hip, about one third of the way down. It will be marked clearly on any star chart. This should be an easy object to find even with the saddest instrument. Even a pair of 7×20 binoculars I own suffice, though it is dim. Unless you have the eyes of an eagle, any instrument smaller than about 3″ will not be able to resolve individual stars in M13. Instead, it will appear as a fuzzy disc, seeming just a bit smaller than a pencil eraser in an instrument with about 60 mm of aperture. Obviously it will appear smaller or bigger in different instruments. I have always thought the most fascinating thing about seeing something like this in the sky is to know that you are looking at millions of worlds, some of which are probably much like our own.

M92 — M92 is another globular cluster, and quite a spectacular one. Were it not overshadowed by mighty M13 only a few binocular fields of view away, it might be more well known. It can be found just about where Hercules’ left ear would be, and as with M13, any star chart worth its salt will show it clearly. M92 appears much like M13, only it is smaller and dimmer, appearing more like a big, fuzzy star.

Have fun trying to find these objects. They are certainly worth the effort!

The Leading Edge

Astronomy is not a small field–there is always something new and fascinating happening, or being discovered. Interesting new theories pop up continually, and the technology of optics and telescopes grows all the time. This column is for the express purpose of telling you about these interesting things. It will include the newest information available to us, things that are happening right now.

We’ve all probably heard of the latest supernova. That would be the one that all of us missed because it is only visible in the southern hemisphere (roughly–it has been seen from Mexico). However, it wouldn’t have been all that exciting, since it appeared to the naked eye as little more than a brightish star where there had been nothing visible before. Yet for such an inconspicuous thing, it has caused more excitement in the astronomical world than anything in a long while. The last major supernova visible occurred 383 years ago! Information on it is still pouring in, but it seems we may never know just why that insignificant star blew, nor why it is behaving the way it is. It was not normal for it to go supernova in the first place, it is even less normal the way it is defying normal supernova behaviour as we know it. Most novas follow a specific pattern, getting steadily dimmer–supernova 1987A is still getting brighter, and no one knows when it will stop! It is still not even certain what star it was when it was still a star, but the latest guess is that it is, or rather was, Sk-62 202. For the moment at least, this “dramatic” supernova will remain largely clouded in mystery.

* * *

Does it seem like there are fewer and fewer really clear nights? For those of you who can stay up late enough? Well, if that is your suspicion, then you are probably, and unfortunately, correct. A recent study done in major cities over the U. S. (which means Canada is probably not as badly off) shows all too clearly that there are more cloudy days this side of 1950 than the other side. Pollution is, of course, at the heart of this. Stop driving your car!

* * *

The largest telescope in the world to date is Russian, the massive 236-inch Bolshoi Alt-azimuth Telescope. Next to that is the American 200-inch Hale Telescope, more commonly referred to as the Mt Palomar telescope. However, if you thing these are big, you haven’t seen anything yet. New technology in telescope manufacturing will make possible instruments that even the Bolshoi will pale before. This will be done by using extremely complex and precise mirror arrangements that allow the power of two telescopes to be combined into one, almost like a pair of binoculars with one eyepiece. Some of the telescopes planned are the Columbus Project, which will be equivalent to a 445-inch telescope, the W.M. Keck Observatory and Telescope, equal to a 394-inch telescope, and the National New Technology Telescope and the Very Large Telescope, which will both be equivalent to 630-inch telescopes! Some of these are already under construction. The future is coming!

P.G.A.S. News

This being the worst time of year for astronomy in Prince George, and since this is the holiday season, there is not much planned in the way of activities and meetings. Unfortunately our biggest hope for fund-raising, the casino night, will not be possible, but we are pursuing other fund-raising avenues. The next meeting will probably be sometime in September.

 Before 1988 by Bob Nelson

It seems we are always at work on some new project to improve Tabor Mountain Observatory. This column will cover the progress of any of these projects that will, hopefully, be completed before 1988.

In the works at present are several projects, most of which are connected with astrophotography:

  1.  The modifications to my 35 mm off-axis guider are now complete. This device allows you to attach your 35 mm camera to the telescopes 2″ focusser and, with the aid of a small prism, observe a star just off the axis with an eyepiece. Why do we want to do this? Well, for any telescope, the mount, the alignment and tracking gear are never perfect. The image will wander. In addition, atmospheric refraction and flexure in the telescope will do the same thing. If one can observe a star, highly magnified in an eyepiece with cross-hairs, one can manually apply small corrections (called guiding) and ensure a sharp picture. At present, the 35 mm guider accepts camera bodies with Pentax screw or bayonet mounts. If you are interested in using your camera, you can probably purchase the appropriate adapter ring.
  2. Jim Livingstone is making both a 35 mm cold camera (more about that later) and a 1/4 frame 4 x 5″ camera. Interested people will be allowed to use either, after some instruction.
  3. The full-frame 4 x 5″ camera is now virtually complete. I have recently completed the off-axis guider for it (you’d have to see it to understand).
  4. A shutter for the 4 x 5″ camera is being planned that will allow us to take spectacular, detailed pictures of the Moon with the 24″ and have it all in one frame.
  5. Jim and I plan to sensitize or “hyper” some 35 mm and 4 x 5″ film by the fall. Sensitized film is much more effective for astrophotography that off-the-shelf film. It will be available to members at cost.
  6. A pulley and weight arrangement to take the backlash out of the main axis is almost complete. This is essential for astrophotography.
  7. The big project this fall is to be astrophotography. If this name tends to cause you to shy away, relax–it’s easy to get the hang of it. Starting with simple, piggy-back shots, and progressing to through-the-telescope exposures, you should be able to take spectacular pictures of the sky and celestial objects in no time at all. In addition, we hope to be able to develop film on the spot at the observatory so you can see the results immediately. What about an astrophotography contest?
  8. One project that obviously does not deal with astrophotography is the building of an outhouse. Although an outhouse is not a deluxe-model bathroom fixture, it will provide one of the basic comforts of home that the observatory has been lacking for a long time.
  9. The last project in the works is providing power for TMO. At the moment the whole thing is pretty much in limbo, but we are working on it. It seems that the entire thing is like a big puzzle–we have several pieces, but none of them seem to fit. But even this we hope will be completed before 1988, adding just about the final major luxury to the observatory.

Bob Nelson, President