Posted by: norstarnewengland | March 17, 2010

Star Nights in December and February

Place: Sharon, MA – There have been two star nights in the past few months. Star nights are periodic gatherings in a field at Moose Hill Audubon Sanctuary where enthusiasts with telescopes mingle with people who don’t but are curious about the night sky. There also was a blue moon at the end of the year.

The first one was in mid-December, in the middle of the Gemenid Meteor Shower. We did see some meteors, perhaps six in an hour. Mars was just coming out late in the night, so we were able to view its red surface when it was high enough in the sky.

The second one was in mid-February. There had been another scheduled in January, but it was canceled due to cloudy skies. This one in February started with murky skies but ended up being one of the best nights for viewing. The temperature wasn’t too cold, and the snow was still soft and easy to walk on. Many bodies were seen, including the Eskimo Nebula, several open and globular clusters, and a galaxy or two. Mars was at a position where it was favorably close to the earth, relative to their orbits. The view from the telescope clearly showed white on both poles and dark areas – though specific features were not visible. For me, a personal first was seeing a round asteroid through one of the telescopes. Vesta is one of the larger asteroids in our solar system that is in the asteroid belt and was in the constellation Leo at the time. Just a few nights earlier, from the earth’s vantage point, Vesta had appeared to have thread itself between the two stars of gamma Leo! So, using the maps printed from the Internet, we were able to lock on to it! Saturn came up in the night, and we were able to see it when it was high enough in the sky. A few months ago, the rings were edge on to the earth. This night, the rings were clearly visible though still at a pretty narrow angle.

Another event that happened at the end of December was a blue moon, which is the second full moon within a month. Unfortunately, New Year’s Eve was cloudy in this region, so I didn’t get to see it that night. In 2010, I’ll try to follow and observe it.

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