Warmer temperatures motivate and promote amateur astronomy in this marvellous northern land in which we live.
For example, my favourite in-town observing site is the Miles Canyon Lookout Point. This remarkable observing site is opened by the City of Whitehorse on the first weekend of May, just a few weeks before the sun is up all the time.
Doesn’t seem fair does it?
So what makes this lookout point such a great observing site? Like all things great, observing sites included, there are criteria, or lists of preferences that make observing a much more rewarding experience, while keeping the aggravation level to a minimum.
The canyon lookout point has many of these most desirable points, starting with a reasonably short, 10-minute drive from home.
A large clearing with an unobstructed view to the south, and any city lights are shielded by a wall of trees to the north, as we are usually surfing the great southern regions of the night skies.
Saturday night arrives and we are ready for the “Miles Canyon Experience”.
Arriving at the canyon lookout point shortly after 10:30pm might have been a little presumptuous, as the first star was not visible until midnight.
I was, however, treated to a rather beautiful Yukon sunset, with a couple of ducks flying across the crescent moon, my reward for arriving early.
It is now about 1:00am. All the gear is set up, aligned, tested and ready to go. Wow! “So many stars and so little time” Where to begin?
Starting with a quick view of Saturn, just to get a sense of the quality of air and the night sky transparency, consumed the next 20 minutes.
Having a tracking mount that will follow objects across the sky really helps for high-power critical focus.
Also having a 14-inch reflector, and a little high-quality refractor set up allows you to see the planet at high power for detailed views of Saturn’s rings and moons, while low-power views present Saturn nestled in the local field of stars. All you have to do is walk from scope to scope and enjoy the sights.
The crescent moon was up in the night sky for a few hours before descending below the horizon. This gave me a chance to try out some new camera tricks using a 76-mm Borg refractor and my trusty Canon 50D digital camera.
This time we are using a reasonably heavy duty camera tripod. Though the moon was not in the highest in the sky, it still made for a premium target for such a small setup.
After the moon had set it was time to go visit all my favourite cosmic tourist destinations like the Ring Nebula, and the Hercules Globular Cluster.
Next off to the constellation of Cygnus, with the Milky Way running through it like a great river of stars. Star clusters and chains abound here. This is a super rich region of space that anyone with a humble pair of binoculars can enjoy.
With three telescopes and two pairs of binoculars, it is impossible to drag yourself away from exploring this beautiful region of space.
After an hour or so of exploring the Veil Nebula and Dumbbell Nebula, I cruised across to visit an old friend, the Coathanger Cluster.
This cluster of stars gets its name because it looks like an upside down coat hanger floating in space. Easily seen in binoculars, it is also very easy to photograph.
Next, it is over to the Virgo Cluster of galaxies. Once again I was not to be disappointed. By this time it was around 2:30 in the morning and the sky seemed to be at its darkest, presenting the most detail and contrast possible at the eyepiece.
There are so many galaxies visible in the eyepiece at one time, that you can easily get lost. This makes for great explorations into new regions of space for the amateur astronomer – quite exhilarating, if I don’t mind saying so myself.
Time check reveals that it is a little after 3:00am and the horizon is staring to brighten with the eventual oncoming of our own local star.
No visible morning planets, so I might as well begin the arduous task of packing up and heading home.
With the onslaught of summer and little or no dark skies, what is a northern astronomer to do? Keep an eye out for planets and the moon, as they are bright enough to be seen at dusk and dawn.
The other option is to head down south and attend a Star Party. Several local astronomers, myself included, are heading down to the Mount Kobau Star Party, outside of Osoyoos, BC.
And the best option is to explore solar viewing. The sun is always there, easy to find and, and with today’s technology, equipment is very inexpensive.
Have a great summer and we will see you in September for more great cosmic journeys of exploration in those amazing Yukon Night Skies.
James “Deep Sky” Cackette can be reached at [email protected] or on Facebook at Yukon Night Skies.
James “Deep Sky” Cackette can be reached at [email protected]. See his photo adventures on Facebook at Yukon Night Skies.