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Roper Mountain Astronomers

Bare Dark Sky Observatory Edition 5

May 23, 2020 1:49 PM | Anonymous member

Star Gazing Guide

May 22-28, 2020

Bare Dark Sky Observatory

Greetings Fellow StarGazers!

It’s hard to believe we’re closing in on summer. The nights are getting warmer, which makes for even more motivation to get outside under a star-filled night sky. The Bare Dark Sky Observatory is still six weeks away from re-opening, but our initial July 10 & 11 community evening events are filling up fast. While we usually allow a capacity of up to 25 people per event, we have opted to cap them at 20 for the time being. At that number we believe that we can safely adhere to the social distancing guidelines. Click HERE for access to BDSO tickets through Eventbrite.

What’s Up

Most seasoned amateur astronomers will tell you that May is kinda one of those transitional months. The planets aren’t coming into view until the wee hours, and the most fun deep sky objects require a telescope. However, a pair of binoculars and a comfortable lawn chair can definitely make for some memorable star and constellation hopping. Side note: Finding objects by “jumping off” nearby stars is called star hopping, and is a great way to learn the night sky without a computerized telescope. We suggest you keep your favorite night sky app or sky map close at hand. The good news is it looks like we’re in for a special treat …

Comet Swan Update

In last week’s Star Gazing Guide we mentioned the arrival of Comet Swan (pictured below) as it continues to make its visible journey into the northern hemisphere. Hopefully, several of you will make an effort to check it out. Our first best opportunity to see Comet Swan may be an hour after sundown beginning Monday, May 25 as it cruises through the Perseus constellation towards Auriga in the northwest sky. On May 27 Swan will reach its perihelion (closest point to our Sun – 40 million miles) and will supposedly reach its optimal brightness. If you miss seeing it in the early evenings, try catching it about an hour before sunrise in the north-northeast sky. Hopefully, you will see a nice green fireball with a long blue-green coma or tail of gas and dust. We would love to hear about any sightings and see any photos that you can share. As a heads up, comets are very unpredictable and Swan may deliver a surprise or two. In other words, it could brighten beyond expectations or quickly fizzle out on us. While telescopes and binoculars should provide easy viewing of Comet Swan, we’re hopeful for some rare magnitude 4 or 5 naked eye vistas. The last naked eye comet sighting in our area was Hale-Bopp back in 1997.


One major class of deep sky objects is star clusters. Star clusters are basically groups of stars that come in two distinct types: openclusters and globularclusters.

Open Clusters are loose groups of several thousand stars or less. Many can be easily seen with the naked eye, like Pleiades (M45), and the Beehive (M44) (pictured below) in the constellation Cancer. Some are so easily seen that our BDSO guests will notice them before we even point them out. Those with telescopes usually find that viewing open star clusters with lower power eyepieces is preferable to higher power eyepieces because the wider field of view helps us see the most stars. Furthermore, binoculars help us more easily see the entire star cluster.

The stars in an open cluster are similar in age since they form out of the same stellar nursery within giant molecular clouds. So far, over a thousand open clusters have been discovered. One open star cluster (which is actually a constellation) you might want to check out with your binoculars is Coma Berenices, located next to Leo the Lion. The story behind Berenices is worth looking up since she was an actual Egyptian queen whose beautiful blond hair was sacrificially cut off to make good on a promise when her husband returned victorious from a war against Syria. Folklore has it that it was Berenices’s locks of hair that Zeus supposedly decided to display in the night sky for all time.

Globular Clusters are immense groups of stars tightly bound by gravitational attraction. Besides Saturn, Jupiter, Moon craters, and the Milky Way, viewing globular clusters is also a major crowd-pleaser at BDSO. Although several theories exist, the origin of globular clusters still remains a mystery. Many globular clusters can be spotted through binoculars, though very few with the naked eye. Since these clusters contain from ten thousand up to several million stars, without the magnification of a telescope most resemble blurry fuzz balls.

Our favorite, which is pictured below, the Hercules Great Globular (M13), is considered by many to be the most spectacular globular cluster visible in the northern hemisphere. It is only second in popularity to Omega Centauri, the largest globular cluster in the Milky Way which is only visible from the southern hemisphere. If you can find the Hercules constellation, either with a sky map app or otherwise, then M13 is pretty easy to locate. It sits about one-third of the way between two bright stars in the easily recognizable “keystone” trapezoid-shaped asterism, often referred to as Hercules’s head. Currently, M13 is in the top side of the keystone, but because everything moves over the course of the year it can be helpful to remember that M13 is always on the westernmost side.

As we close this edition, we leave you with this thought: Every star you gaze at in the night sky has incredible stories, mysteries, and histories to tell. As your eyes dance from one star’s point of light that left in 50 B.C. while Cleopatra sailed a moonlit Nile, to another star that winked at you from the 15th century as Leonardo da Vinci was painting The Last Supper … remember to seize the moment with awe and wonder.

The renowned writer, Alan Moore, has suggested, “All we ever see of stars are their old photographs.” You think about that …

Keep Looking UP! 

Jeremy & Steve

BDSO Staff



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