What’s Up this Week: November 20 – November 26, 2006

Greetings, fellow SkyWatchers! We start off the week with New Moon – it’s time to galaxy hunt! Are you Abell? If you have a small telescope or binoculars, it’s time to rock with the Queen as we begin exploration in Cassiopeia. Cross your fingers for clear skies, because…

Here’s what’s up!

Monday, November 20 – Today also celebrates another significant astronomer’s birth – Edwin Hubble. Born in 1889, Hubble became the first astronomer to identify Cepheid variables in M31 – establishing the extragalactic nature of the spiral nebulae. Continuing with the work of Carl Wirtz, and using Slipher’s redshifts, Hubble calculated the velocity-distance relation for galaxies. This is known as “Hubble’s Law.”

Tonight is New Moon, and what better time to celebrate Hubble’s achievements? For smaller scopes and binoculars, return and enjoy the Andromeda Galaxy, but for those out there with a large scope that really like a challenge?

Then let’s dance…

Let’s head out 260 million light-years away, and about 3 degrees west-northwest of Beta Triangulum for galaxy cluster Abell 262. This huge, challenging group is extremely faint and includes NGC 703, NGC 704, NGC 705, NGC 708, NGC 709, and NGC 710. Although there are more than a hundred galaxies in this group, the most dominant is 13.7 magnitude elliptical NGC 708. Possessed of a Seyfert Active Galactic Nucleus (AGN), this galaxy may contain a super-massive black hole that allows it to devour its companions. While most of these intensely faint galaxies are ellipticals, magnitude 14.6 NGC 705 may be a spiral, and NGC 709 lenticular. To capture a handful of these galaxies is truly an accomplishment.

Tuesday, November 21 -Tonight let’s honor the south and head for Fomalhaut – Alpha Pisces Austrinus. Due south by around 7 degrees is a “stepping stone” series of three 10th magnitude galaxies. The first is a fairly small, 10.0 magnitude elliptical galaxy – IC 1459. Another 6 degrees further south is magnitude 10.4 NGC 7410. This uniformly illuminated tilted spiral shows little sign of structure. A little less than 4 degrees further south will bring you to 10.5 magnitude IC 5267 – a near face-on spiral that appears as a very pale oval. Now return to Fomalhaut and head east-northeast a little more than 3 degrees for NGC 7507 – a small, 10.4 magnitude elliptical galaxy. Happy galaxy hunting!

Wednesday, November 22 – Tonight let’s use binoculars or small scopes to go “cluster hunting” in Cassiopeia.
The first destination is NGC 7654, but you’ll find it more easily by its common name of M52. To find it easily with binoculars, draw a mental line between Alpha and Beta and extend it about the same distance along the same trajectory. This mixed magnitude cluster is bright and easy.

The next, NGC 129 is located almost directly between Gamma and Beta. This is also a large, bright cluster that resolves in a small scope but shows at least a dozen of its 35 members to binoculars. Near the cluster’s center and north of a pair of matched magnitude stars is Cepheid variable DI Cassiopeiae – which changes by about a magnitude in a period of a week.

Now head for northeastern Epsilon and hop about three finger-widths to the east-southeast. Here you will find 3300 light-year distant NGC 1027. Seen as an attractive “starry patch” in binoculars, small scopes will have a wonderful time resolving its 40 or more faint members.

Thursday, November 23 – Tonight in 1885, the first photograph of a meteor shower was taken. In 1960, weather satellite Tiros II was launched. Carried to orbit by a three stage Delta rocket, the “Television Infrared Observation Satellite” was about the size of a barrel. Operating for 376 days, Tiros II sent back thousands of pictures of Earth’s cloud cover and was successful in its experiments to control orientation of the satellite’s spin and its infrared sensors. Oddly enough, on this day in 1977 a similar mission – Meteosat 1- became the first satellite put into orbit by the European Space Agency. Why not try observing satellites on your own? Thanks to many on-line tools and services from agencies like NASA, you can be alerted by email whenever a satellite makes a bright pass overhead!

While you’re out, see if you can spot the slim crescent of the Moon hanging briefly on the western skyline just after sunset.

Tonight let’s return to Cassiopeia for a small scope study of two open clusters in the same field of view. Starting at northwestern Beta, look less than two finger-widths northwest for pair NGC 7790 and NGC 7788. Southern NGC 7790 is a fairly large 8.5 magnitude cluster composed of two dozen scattered, faint stars. Northern NGC 7788 is roughly half the size of its companion and slightly fainter. Containing faint stars of mixed magnitude, at high power a small scope should resolve out an arrowhead-shaped region in this cluster.

For binocular observers, head out to the “Double Cluster” and look only a finger-width north. Like many fine deepsky studies which accompany grander partners, you’ll find Stock 2 surprisingly impressive. This degree-wide magnificent cluster is often overlooked, but tonight appreciate its many magnitudes and delightful asterisms.
Friday, November 24 – Tonight let’s begin our adventures on the Moon as we take a much closer look at the southeastern edge of Mare Crisium. To the southeast, you will spot large crater Condorcet. Due east of Crisium, you will see a smooth, dark area near the limb – Mare Marginus. Continuing south of Marginus you will see a very elongated, on-the-edge feature known as crater Jansky, bordered on the inside by Neper. Return again to Crisium and look for the blank, grey oval of Firmicus to the southeast, just before you meet Mare Undarum. Note the fine central peak in Firmicus!

When the Moon sets, let’s head northwest of Gamma to Kappa Cassiopeiae for two open clusters which share the same field of view to its north. The western NGC 146 is tougher to see as an actual cluster but has a pair of brighter stars in its midst. Eastern NGC 133 is less populated, but its overall population is slightly brighter. Both are moderately concentrated.

Saturday, November 25 – Let’s begin again on the lunar surface as we head for our marker crater north of Mare Crisium – Cleomides. To Cleomides’ east, begin by identifying Delmotte, and to the northwest, Trailes and Debes. Now head south again to Crisium on the terminator and trace the long frozen wave of lava along its west bank known as Dorsum Oppel. Did you catch the two small punctuations of Swift to the north and Pierce to its south? When you reach the central point of the western shoreline, look for Promontoriums Olivium and Lavinium. It’s easy to catch the sharp, small crater Picard to the east, but did you spot the ruins of Yerkes between them? Or, even tinier Curtis east of Picard!

Tonight let’s travel about a finger-width southeast of Delta Cephei for new open cluster NGC 7380. This large gathering of stars has a combined magnitude of 7.2. Like many young clusters, it is embroiled in faint nebulosity. Surrounded by a dispersed group of brighter stars, the cluster itself may resolve around three dozen faint members to mid-aperture.

Sunday, November 26 – Today in 1965 marks the launch of the first French satellite – Asterix 1.

Tonight let’s go to the southern lunar cusp to identify two small, but very nice craters. Using previous study Fabricus, continue south and look for the pair connected side to side – rather than end to end. This is crater Watt with Steinheil intruding on it. Remember the distance traveled south from Fabricus to this pair, and extend that distance even further south. Seen on the limb is crater Biela. If conditions are stable, you might pick up a tiny black point in Beila’s west wall – Biela C.

Tonight turn your eyes towards 1000 light-year distant Delta Cephei, one of the most famous of all variables. It is an example of a “pulsating variable” – one whose magnitude changes are not attributed to an eclipsing companion, but to the expansion and contraction of the star itself. Discover what John Goodricke did in 1784…you can follow its near one magnitude variability by comparing it to nearby Epsilon and Zeta. It rises to maximum in about a day and a half, yet the fall take about four days.

May all your journeys be at light speed… ~Tammy Plotner with Jeff Barbour.