Welcome back to another fascinating year of astronomy in the Yukon. Bad weather this fall has made it a tough go for Yukon amateur astronomers. But let’s back up a bit and catch up on the summertime happenings.
In July, our astronomy club, Yukon Night Skies, participated in the Canada Day Parks Promotion. I wondered how my computerized telescope mount would track the sun, not something that I usually do.
After ordering new solar filters for may 20×80 binoculars, my little Borg refractor and a new filter for my eight-inch reflector, I presumed I was ready to go.
The first problem was that the only solar filter that arrived was for the eight-inch reflector. The second problem was that the clouds were moving in that afternoon.
So what did we see?
We were able to see a perfect white circle of light that was totally devoid of any detail. For two days before the Canada Day promotion and for 49 days afterwards, there was not a sunspot to be seen. All the same, it was fun to introduce everyone to all the new telescopes and the neat gadgets we all love to fool around with.
People from Europe and locals, alike, had a great time, and we added some new members to the club ranks. And yes, the computerized mount tracked the sun nicely.
As August approached, the weather offered only brief glimpses of those amazing Yukon Night Skies. There were a few mornings, usually around 2 a.m., when a large opening in the clouds overhead would appear.
With my trusty 10×50 binoculars and 30 minutes of time, I was able to see the Andromeda Galaxy, the globular cluster in the constellation Hercules, the double star cluster and a couple dozen more deep sky treasures. Of course Jupiter was low in the south, presenting an interesting target in any size telescope, with her four orbiting moons and cloud belts.
Also, this summer, a giant chunk of rock ploughed into the planet Jupiter. It was so big that it disturbed the visible cloud layers, and a small smoky-grey patch formed. My 14-inch telescope could barely make out the grey patch and you could definitely see that this was not part of the normal cloud bands. Due to weather I only had a few chances to view this amazing planetary spectacle.
As September approached, there was no reprieve in the weather as we were skunked out the first two Saturday nights in a row. Being that the weather was not co-operating, I found myself heading to Miles Canyon Lookout Point on a Sunday night. This is a rare event as one has to work in the morning and, as I found out later in the day, I would be working that night as well.
The night sky had finally released its hold on the clouds and opened up. Galaxies showed dark dust lanes that usually remain hidden from view except on nights of exceptional viewing.
Globular cluster M13, in the constellation Hercules, was easily resolved to individual pinpoints of starlight at low power and filled the eyepiece at medium power. Using a special filter called an o-3 filter, the Ring Nebula formed a perfect smoke ring, and even hints of the central star were glimpsed – truly a rare evening of observing.
This last weekend turned out to be loads of fun and good viewing. It started out with all three weather forecasts agreeing that it would be clear, with transparent skies. Quickly, I sent the Astro Alert e-mail to let everyone know we were heading to Miles Canyon Lookout Point and that it should be a dandy evening of viewing indeed.
On the way down the Miles Canyon road, a porcupine greeted me, and upon arriving at the observing site, a fox was nosing around. The skies were already clear and, after setting up all my gear, I finally had a chance to take in the night sky.
The Milky Way was bright, high overhead, and the Double Star Cluster and the Andromeda Galaxy were easily seen with just the eye.
After taking in some of my favourite deep sky targets – nebulas, star clusters and galaxies – I decided to see who had come to play in the night sky. Tonight was a full house as most of the crew showed up and were prepared for an evening of serious viewing.
To say there was a wide assortment of equipment was an understatement indeed. Refractors, from two and a half inches up to six inches, presented views that brought a sense of wonder. Binoculars, from 8×32 all the way up to 25×100; a 14-inch and an eight-inch reflector. All the different varieties of mounts, eyepieces, finders and star charts, were there to play with. What fun!
Deep sky observing is much more interesting when you are able to see a galaxy or star cluster in a variety of different telescopes and eyepieces. Different telescopes present different views depending on what kind of object that you are viewing. For example, a big refractor, say a five- or six-inch, gives staggering views of Jupiter, but when you are viewing faint nebula or galaxies, the 14-inch Dobsonian telescope is the telescope of choice.
What a wonderful variety of deep sky targets. The Andromeda Galaxy filled the eyepiece and its two companion galaxies looked larger and showed more contrast than usual. The inky black Yukon Night Skies were making for one of the better views of this usually ho-hum galaxy.
There was no need for filters to enhance the view, as the skies were as transparent as I have ever seen. The Ring Nebula formed a perfect circle with well-defined edges in all telescopes. The famous double star, Albireo, in the constellation Cygnus, was a perfect pinpoint, blue and gold.
We cruised the night sky for a couple of hours with little or no cloud before we had to call it a night. My only wish was for totally clear skies so we would be able to hunt longer. Nights like these make you appreciate astronomy and the Yukon – a match made in heaven, indeed.
Take some time to head outside and enjoy those amazing Yukon Night Skies. The weather is still comfortable, and the autumn night skies are clear, making it the perfect deep sky observing conditions.
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.