The second Yukon Night Skies Star Party was fun and eventful. The skies cleared for a short time to give us some good viewing.
As spring moves forward, our observing time becomes later and later each evening. The night sky is now only starting to get dark at 10 p.m.
Better to be safe than sorry, so I am getting my astronomy gear ready at 7 p.m.
Arriving at the Grey Mountain Lookout point after 8 p.m. was fortunate timing. The evening sky was impressive with a wonderful sunset in progress.
It was worth taking a few quick sunset pictures before setting up for the evening night-sky adventure. The sky was definitely clearing to the south and the wind was a bit stronger than I liked, but we will wait and see what happens.
The first star of the evening, to be seen, is Capella in the constellation of Auriga, followed by Polaris, the North Star. The North Star is important to any amateur astronomer with an equatorial mount because their mount must align to it in order for computers to know where they are and for the tracking motors to operate properly.
It is now 10 p.m. and the computerized eight-inch telescope is all set to go exploring the Yukon Night Skies. We will of course start at low power and, hopefully, if sky conditions permit, be able to move to high-power observing.
The little Borg refractor only takes a few minutes to set up and it is ready to go. Again, we will start at low power and wide field.
Now comes the 14-inch Dobsonian telescope. In comparison, it is by far the most simple. It usually takes more time to pour a cup of coffee.
A small group of people have showed up and we are scampering around under telescopes. The first and most-obvious target for the evening is Saturn, which happens to be up nice and high off the horizon. It is in perfect location in the sky and, as long as those thin wispy clouds disappear, we will be able to enjoy a full and eventful evening.
Upon turning around to get another eyepiece, I accidentally pull the power cord out of my eight-inch computerized mount. Realizing that wispy tendrils of cloud were beginning to encroach our observing site, I decided to shift all of my attention on my 14-inch Dobsonian.
This was the right decision as the views were great. Yes, they could have been better by having no cloud present. Saturn and her edge-on rings looked sharp and well defined.
By using the bigger telescope, you get a larger view, and now we could see two of Saturn’s small moons, very close together, in a vertical row. The edge-on rings look real fine with this telescope and all this was easily seen using low power, a mere 100-power eyepiece.
While I was in the neighbourhood checking out Saturn, I thought I would take a look for one of my favourite targets, the Leo Trio. The view of all three galaxies floating in the eyepiece is truly a magical view. We were not to be disappointed as all three galaxies were easily seen.
Another galaxy group, M81 and M82, are suddenly in an open patch of sky. Quickly, I spin the big Dobsonian telescope around and line up my Telrad finder. The view is spectacular as the two galaxies float in the eyepiece.
In another telescope, the Hercules Globular star cluster can be seen rising off the horizon. This is the most-spectacular globular cluster in the northern night sky and, on a clear night, it can be seen easily with binoculars.
We usually do not observe targets so close to the horizon because you are looking through more atmosphere, and more atmosphere means more distortion in your view.
I quickly moved over to my big telescope and aimed my Telrad finder at the great globular cluster – only to find that the clouds had moved in, washing out the view.
The real importance to seeing Hercules, rising into the sky, is the constellations that follow: Cygnus with its endless star clusters, star chains and nebula.
Also making an appearance, close to the horizon, was the constellation of Lyra, which holds another spectacular cosmic jewel, M57, the Ring Nebula. A perfect smoke ring floating in space, always an excellent view. Even with the Ring Nebula so close to the horizon, the sight was exhilarating.
One last deep-sky target to check out before the night’s observing session ends: the famous Double Cluster. Normally, this double star cluster can be seen with the unaided eye as a fuzzy patch directly below Cassiopeia in the constellation of Peruses.
This evening it was not visible to the unaided eye, but I thought that I would try it anyway. I am glad that I did; the view was excellent, with stars spilling over the edge of the eyepiece. Stars were sharp, well-defined and made you think of wet diamonds on glass.
What a truly wonderful way to end an evening out under those amazing Yukon Night Skies and, as I was leaving, a little Northern Light action showed through a small hole in the clouds.
The Grey Mountain Lookout Point seems to be working well for everyone, and the road is in excellent condition, so we will keep trying to get up there every Saturday night that it is clear.
Welcome to all the new members, and thank you for your e-mails. Remember, send an e-mail to [email protected] and your name will be added to the Astro-Alert e-mail list. This will keep you informed as to when and where we are going out for our next adventure into the Yukon Night Skies.
So take some time on a Saturday night and come on up to the observing site and check out those Yukon Night Skies for yourself.
Clear skies, from James “Deep Sky” Cackette.
James “Deep Sky” Cackette can be reached at [email protected]. See his photo adventures on Facebook at Yukon Night Skies.