The Observer’s Challenge
The purpose of the observer’s challenge is to encourage the pursuit of visual observing. It is open to everyone that is interested, and if you are able to contribute notes, drawings, or photographs, we will be happy to include them in our monthly summary. Observing is not only a pleasure, but an art. With the main focus of amateur astronomy on astrophotography, many times people tend to forget how it was in the days before cameras, clock drives, and GOTO. Astronomy depended on what was seen through the eyepiece. Not only did it satisfy an innate curiosity, but it allowed the first astronomers to discover the beauty and the wonderment of the night sky.
Before photography, all observations depended on what the astronomer saw in the eyepiece, and how they recorded their observations. This was done through notes and drawings and that is the tradition we are stressing in the observers challenge. By combining our visual observations with our drawings, and sometimes, astrophotography (from those with the equipment and talent to do so), we get a unique understanding of what it is like to look through an eyepiece, and to see what is really there. The hope is that you will read through these notes and become inspired to take more time at the eyepiece studying each object, and looking for those subtle details that you might never have noticed before. Each new discovery increases one’s appreciation of the skies above us. It is our firm belief that careful observing can improve your visual acuity to a much higher level that just might allow you to add inches to your telescope. Please consider this at your next observing session, as you can learn to make details jump out. It is also a thrill to point out details a new observer wouldn’t even know to look for in that very faint galaxy, star cluster, nebula, or planet.
A word about the editing: When we started these back in 2009, I was a hard-core technical writer and I abhorred the use of first person. In technical writing, that is usually a big nono and I took these challenge writeups to be in the technical nature. When our contributors would submit their material, I’d convert all their first person information to third person narrative. Sometimes it would present challenges to make the phrasing less awkward, but I made it work. However, when Rob would present it on the web site, he’d convert them back to first person! After a few years of this, he finally convinced me to go with first person since these were the words of the contributors and not simply dry technical descriptions. Roger, my partner in crime was neutral but saw it both ways and it was up to me to make any changes. I finally relented and realized that though it went against everything I knew about technical writing, these challenges aren’t technical papers! A lot of that stemmed from when we used to quote references in each challenge. We since realized that references were not only unnecessary, but opened us up to legal and copywrite issues. So in each of the challenges below, I’ve not only converted all of the older challenges to first person, I’ve deleted all of the references.
Secondly, you will notice there are no brand names mentioned with few notable exceptions. That’s where I draw the line and refuse to budge. The last thing I wanted to do was turn the Challenge into a TeleVue or Brandon or Zambuto or Meade love fest or product indorsement. There’s enough of that nonsense out there already. I’m also hypersensitive to one particular brand and don’t want to perpetuate that any more than it is already. You can read more about that on my Astronomy page if you care. Equipment brings out the “passionate” people, the politically correct term. I have a less polite word for it, but won’t mention it here. If you want to see what I’m talking about, just go to the Equipment forum on Cloudy Nights and you’ll soon figure out what I’m talking about. For that matter, just look at most of the Deep Sky Observing threads at Cloudy Nights and you’ll see brand names liberally sprinkled throughout almost every entry. That’s not the purpose of this project and never will be. I’ve done my best to edit all of that out. What you get is the size and type of telescope, the length and magnification of eyepiece (if available), and that’s it. I’ve had to compromise with the camera equipment simply because I don’t know enough about it to generalize. Until I do, the model and brands stay in there. In that case, the camera equipment doesn’t usually lead to the crazy arguments caused by other brand names anyway, as far as I know. The Challenge is about observing, not equipment!
The main forum for the Observer’s Challenge is on the Las Vegas Astronomical Society web page at http://www.lvastronomy.com/. However, I’m also presenting it here as an alternative location, cross-pollination so to speak. It’s also available on Roger Ivester’s web site at http://rogerivester.com/.
The Challenges, as presented here and on Roger’s site, are in a slightly different format than what you see on the LVAS site. Rob Lambert has edited them down to his personal preferences and for web expediency for the LVAS site. He used to plug them in as HTML. Now as .pdf versions, he’s compressed them and deleted repeat information. What you get here are the full versions. Each is a stand-alone file so that no matter where you jump into the challenge, you know what’s going on. I’ve also not compressed the images as much (except the images of the contributors) so you can see them better.
They’re presented below in .pdf format. Just click on each one to download it.
THE OBSERVER’S CHALLENGE
OBJECT LIST FOR 2016
April: NGC 3077 – Galaxy – Ursa Major; Magnitude 9.9 – A member of the M81 group. RA: 10h 03.4 Dec. +68º 44’
May: M100 – Galaxy in Coma Berenices; Mag. 10.7; Size: 7’ x 6’ – Very large and bright. Long time Observer’s Challenge contributor, Gus Johnson in April of 1979 visually discovered a 12th magnitude SN in M100. Johnson was given credit for the discovery of 1979C. RA: 12h 22.9m Dec. +15º 49’
June: M5 – Globular Cluster – Serpens Caput; Mag. 6.2; Size: 17’ – “This superb object is a noble mass, refreshing to the senses after searching for fainter objects” Admiral Smyth (1838) RA: 15h 18.6m Dec. +02º 05’
July: M92 – Globular Cluster – Hercules – Mag. 6.5 – Size: 11’ – “Rival of M13!” The late Tomm Lorenzin RA: 17h 17.1m Dec. +43º 08’
August: Chaple’s Arc and the Cygnus Fairy Ring – Asterism – Size 40′ x 40′ – An interesting and fascinating circle of double stars, easily observed with a moderately sized telescope at medium magnification. The asterism fits nicely within a 1º field of view, with at least eight or more double stars visible… RA: 20h 05m Dec: +38º 09′ I made the following pencil sketch using a 10-inch reflector at 57x.
September: NGC 7009 – “Saturn Nebula” Aquarius; Mag. 8.0 – Size: 20’ – On a night of exceptional seeing, a good 10 or 12-inch telescope may show ansae as faint projections of nebulosity spanning 44″ and ending in a bright condensation” David Eicher “The Universe From Your Backyard” RA: 21h 04.0 Dec. -11º 22’
October: NGC 7479 – Galaxy – Pegasus – Mag. 10.9; Size: 3.2’ x 3.5’ – “If your eye is properly dark-adapted, the galaxy should be visible in even a 3-inch telescope, but a 6-inch is better” Walter Scott Houston “Deep-Sky Wonders” selections and commentary by Stephen James O’Meara RA: 23h 04.9m Dec. +12º 19’
November: NGC 206 – Star Cloud or Stellar Association in the spiral arm of the Andromeda Galaxy RA: 00h 40.6m Dec. +40º 44m
December: M74 – Spiral Galaxy; Pisces; Mag. 9.4; Size: 10’ – “This is a difficult galaxy for the 4-inch (Unitron f/15 refractor) but it is easily seen in the 10 x 40 finder” John Mallas “The Messier Album” RA: 01h 36.7m Dec. +15º 47m