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«Table of Contents Book Overview and Purpose Purpose Introduction Chapter 1 – Introduction to the Art and Science of Visual Astronomy Waiting for ...»

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The Art and Science of Visual Astronomical Observations, 1E

© 2012 Brian Cudnik

Table of Contents

Book Overview and Purpose



Chapter 1 – Introduction to the Art and Science of Visual Astronomy

Waiting for Nightfall…May 24, 2009

Why do we do these things?

Why it is an Art and how we can be Scientifically Useful

The Science

The Scope of this Book

Ch. 2 - Visual versus Electronic

Visual versus Photographic (or Electronic) Appearance

Pros and cons of visual versus electronic

Book Focus-the Visual Astronomer: Connecting Directly with Extraterrestrial Wonders 18 In Conclusion

Ch 3 – Some General Guidelines


Some (More) Reasons to go Visual

Some Help for the Frustrated Deep Sky Observer

Ch. 4 – Daytime and Nighttime Atmospheric Phenomena


The Day-Night Cycle

Clouds and Optical Phenomena

On Other Worlds

Ch. 5 – The Moon


In General

Through the Eyepiece

Celestial Alignments Involving the Moon--Eclipses

Celestial Alignments Involving the Moon--Occultations


Special Lunar Features and LTP

Lunar Occultations and Eclipses

Ch. 6 - The Planets


The View from the Air

The Physical Nature of Each Planet (in Brief)

How Close Can You Get?







Remote Planets

Chapter 7 – the Sun



Chapter 8 – Minor Components of the Solar System

Introduction and Census







Interplanetary dust


Applications: Asteroids


Ch. 10-Beyond the Solar System to the Nearest Stars

Introduction—Leaving the Solar System

Some Stellar Basics

Binary Stars and Variable Stars

Other Planetary Systems

Ch. 11-Deep Space Objects


Open Clusters & Stellar Associations

Globular Clusters

Emission Nebulae

Dark Nebulae

Planetary Nebulae

Super Nova Remnants

Chapter 12—Beyond the Galaxy



Appendix A: Resources to Get Started or to go deeper

Books and Reference Materials

Resources Online, Including Pro-Am Collaboration Information

NOTE: Cover photo of Saturn’s rings and refracting atmosphere courtesy of NASA Introduction: Book Overview and Purpose Purpose The purpose of this book is to provide the visual astronomer, especially the beginner, a greater sense of appreciation of each object he or she observes. In addition, I want to instill a greater sense of wonder for the universe as a whole, to discover for oneself one‘s place in the universe and the privilege to be able to contemplate these ideas.

Most of the chapters in this book will be divided into two parts, the ―art‖ (named ―appreciation‖) section and the ―science‖ (or ―application‖) section. You may say, ―Sure it may be just a ‗white dot‘, but consider what is hidden in that ‗white dot‘…‖; I want to help with the second by discussing the physical nature of the ―white dot‖, I hope to stimulate observers‘ interests to keep looking. This is the ―art/appreciation‖ portion of the book, which also seeks to share my own passion for these things. The ―science/application‖ part of the book outlines how amateurs who either cannot afford the sophisticated equipment becoming more widely available, or just prefer to use their own eyes to view celestial objects, can make a contribution to astronomy as a science. This portion includes a collection of references to projects and guidelines on how to get started, all of which are geared toward the visual astronomer. The references come primarily from such organizations as ALPO, IOTA, AAVSO, IMO, and others (read on to find out what these mean if you do not know already).

One of the unique features of this book is what I have peppered throughout: for select objects I have included some information that would be useful if you like to consider what it might be like to ―be there‖. In other words, if you were to pretend that you were looking through the port hole of a spaceship rather than the eyepiece of a telescope, how far from the object in question would you physically need to be in order to match the view you get in the eyepiece. Of course one important difference is that we are looking thru air, dealing with ―seeing‖ whereas in space, the object would look sharp and crisp through the port hole, with fine details rock steady. But we can always imagine!

Try to mentally note ―the equivalent distance‖ (what I call this calculation) next time you observe the particular object. This also answers a question I get from time to time of ―how much closer does the object look when you are looking at it through the scope?‖ On the practical side in general, the focus of the ―Applications‖ sections of each chapter is on scientifically useful observations. Key pieces of information will be obtained from online and offline professional-amateur collaborative sources such as the IOTA manual, ALPO online guides, the AAVSO handbook excerpts, IMO notes and others. Links to

each of these organizations and resources may include one or more of the following:

 Profile and focus of each  Organization information  Contact information and resource list  How professionals use the data submitted to each Many of these organizations accept both visual and electronic data-I will focus exclusively on the former in this book. In most cases I will provide the important points, enough to get started and make some beneficial contributions, but I will leave the finer details, as well as specific contact details (as these change from time to time) to these featured organizations and websites. I will also provide my own experience in each area and end the book with a list of more resources to get more information.

Introduction My Own Journey through the Cosmos (June 18, 2012) I will also present, from time to time, some anecdotes throughout the book to show my fascination in the natural order of things in the Earth and the Cosmos. And now a little about my own cosmic journey (some of you may have been at this longer or more intently than I, while others may just be starting out)… I had been interested in astronomy since my early childhood in the 1970‘s. From tracking the movement of the sun, moon, and stars using the shadows cast by (or imagined to be cast by in the case of the stars, since I could not see them directly) each object as guideposts, to peering deep into the cosmos through a 36 inch monster Dobsonian, my journey through the Cosmos has been a fascinating and fulfilling one. I am fortunate to be alive in an age where machines are being sent to other worlds in our own solar system, and other ―solar systems‖ are being discovered on an almost daily basis. I remember with fascination the pictures returned from Voyager at Jupiter in March 1979 and the Saturn encounters of 1980 and 1981. I was a big fan of Cosmos in 1980 and that motivated me to pursue a deeper knowledge in the subject.

With the imminent return of Halley‘s comet beginning in the Fall of 1985, I began to look for a larger telescope than the 2.4-inch (60 mm) refractor I had been using, off and on (mostly off) for several years (1982-1984), and I found the 4.5-inch (114 mm) reflector that I currently still use for sunspot counts. With this telescope, and some encouragement from mentors and the Chagrin Valley Astronomical Society (Northeast Ohio, USA) I began backyard observing in earnest during the summer of 1985. I bagged my second comet, Giacobini-Zinner in July of that year (my first was IRAS-Araki-Alcock, which I easily spotted with 7x35 binoculars in May 1983) and was starting to ―get warmed up‖ for Halley‘s Comet which was only months away from being accessible with my own instruments.

Over twenty five years ago (November 8, 1985) I made my first observation of Comet Halley, and this would be the first of 50 observations over a seven-month period which would make this comet one of the more memorable comets that I have seen. I remember pristine views from Indian Hill Observatory south of Chardon, Ohio, in zerodegree weather in March 1986. The comet emerged into view as the waxing gibbous Moon set, leaving the sky dark for an hour or so before the start of twilight. Halley looked great through binoculars and the telescope, and was just glimpsed naked-eye.

Another view came from New Mexico, under the darkest skies that I have ever experienced near the New Mexico / Arizona border. By then the tail of Halley was mostly behind the head as seen from Earth, and that gave the comet the appearance of being a large gray fuzzy snowball.

I continued to explore comets, planets, and the deep sky for the next several years from the backyard until 1990. Prior to that time, I had collected many observations of comets, all the major planets except Pluto, and many deep-sky objects including most of the Messier objects and many NGC‘s. I have also witnessed five aurora (northern lights) displays.

–  –  –

From 1995 to 1998, I lived in San Diego where I had access to the telescopes on Mount Laguna Observatory (MLO, about 50 minutes‘ drive from eastern San Diego) while pursuing a Master‘s degree in Astronomy at San Diego State University (SDSU). My thesis topic was the comet Hale-Bopp, inspired by the appearance of Hyakutake in spring 1996, the first truly great comet since 1976 and the best comet that I have seen since Halley‘s ten years earlier. The picture that remains is this: laying on the deck of the 21-inch (53-cm) Buller observatory / visitor‘s telescope (right) and looking overhead at a long-comet shaped apparition, with its head in the northern skies and tail stretched more than 60 degrees in length overhead and into the southern skies. I watched thru the 21-inch scope at the nuclear region of the comet as it made its 9.9-million mile (15.8-km) flyby of Earth, moving visibly in only a few seconds.

In addition to the comet work, I also have maintained a regular watch on the planets and deep sky objects, with the best views of the latter being realized at MLO. The combination of dark skies and large instrumentation regularly available resulted in these views, which I documented in the form of drawings and notes. In the Spring of 1997, comet Hale-Bopp (which I first saw in July 1995, four days after its discovery from the NAU observatory during my last night at that facility) made its closest approach to the Sun and Earth and put on the best showing of any comet in almost 30 years.

My wife of 17 years (Susan) and I currently reside in Houston, Texas, from 1998 (after graduating with an M.S. degree in astronomy from SDSU) until the present time (2012). For the first three years of our Texas residence I worked with the Prairie View Solar Observatory, making solar observations by day, and doing amateur observing (apart from work) by night. During most of my time in Houston, I used the Dark Site Observatory of the Houston Astronomical Society, where I made one of the most memorable observations of my life: the first scientifically confirmed lunar meteoroid impact observation during the 1999 Leonid meteor storms. This was thru a 14-inch Cassegrain in the HAS observatory (right, the orange one). This has literally sparked my interest in lunar impact phenomena to include activities such as assuming the role as coordinator of the Lunar Meteoritic Impact Search section of the Association of Lunar and Planetary Observers, writing a book ―Lunar Meteoroid Impacts and How to Observe Them‖, and publishing several journal articles on the subject.

Also since 1999 I have enjoyed many a memorable night at the ―dark site‖, just west of Columbus, Texas; and have participated in several runs to even darker sites for specific astronomical events. These runs included the Texas Star Party in 2003, Fort Griffin State Historical Site (a.k.a. ―Bunkleyville‖) in 2002 (Perseid Meteors), 2005 (included the impact of the Deep Impact projectile into the nucleus of Comet Tempel 2), 2008, and 2010; the El Dorado Star Party in 2007; and a run to SW Louisiana for the best meteor shower I have ever witnessed, the Leonids of 2001 (with 440 meteors observed in a single hour). I have worked through enough Astronomical League Observing clubs to earn a Master Observer‘s certificate, and have enjoyed crisp views of Mars, Jupiter, Io, Europa, Ganymede, Callisto, Saturn, Titan, Uranus, and Neptune (each of these seen as disks, most of which displayed detail of some sort at its best).

I am confident that there are many who have seen more, farther, deeper, and in more detail than I have seen of this great Cosmos of ours, but at the same time I have seen more than many. Over the last 33 years of exploring the universe, I have seen one total solar eclipse, three annular solar eclipses, many lunar eclipses of all kinds, and much, much more. Since the early 1990‘s I have regularly monitored variable stars for the AAVSO (I am up to nearly 20,000 observations submitted to this organization). Since the late 1990‘s my focus in amateur astronomy has been to make observations in a way as to maximize the scientific use of the observation. I am a visual person at heart and most enjoy the intimate connection with the object I am studying, and this is obtained, I feel, through the eyepiece looking directly at the object.

This book is my small contribution to the amateur astronomy community at large and I want to use it as a vehicle (a spaceship?) to share my passion for the science and hobby of astronomy. I want to share the knowledge and experience that I have accumulated over the years along with practical guidelines to help the visual observer make the most of his or her observing experience. These are themes that are frequently revisited throughout this work.

Natural Beauty at all Levels—My Perspective (June 4, 2009)

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