Thursday, December 27, 2007

Review of Observations 2007

Staring next month, we have been keeping records of the objects seen each month for 1 year.

What I intend to do is draw up a table of the objects we have seen each month, the likleyhood of seeing them (weather) and any other difficulties and successes we have had. (For example worst month for mosquetos!)

These past results can then hopefully supplement the monthly newsletter as an aid to what we can see each month as it comes around again

Wed 12 Dec 2007 Pedros Castle

Nick and I arrived early at 6:15 to find the gate still locked and the weather looking increasingly cloudy. After a bad run of recent meetings I guess we were both keen to make this a successful meeting.

The Arrival of Durty Reids during the summer (taking over the small under used restuarant at Pedros) has some potential on nights like these - perhaps an Astronomical Pub Quiz? However as soon as we got the gates open we had one enthusiastic visitor already waiting for us to finish setting up the scope.

The game of "Chase the object though the shifting clouds" then commenced. The moon was a difficult topic!!

Slowly but surely the cloud cover cleared and more people turned up.

Richard was very enthusastic on his predictions for an Iriduim Satellite Flare at close to 7:00PM. Amazingly it happened and it was really very bright. The prediction was for Mag -8 , it certainly shone brightly through the cloud cover. An excellent object for the evening.

Other objects bagged as the night progressed were
i) Comet Holmes now fading rapidly but easily spotted through binoculars
ii) Andromeda Nebula
iii) Pliedes
iv) Double Star Alberio
v) One meteor ( spotted by me - Chris)
vi) Orion Nebula

and finally low in the East

vii) Mars, though still a dissapointingly small disk even through the 10 inch

So a successfull meeting ( in that it happened) , but tampered by the moving cloud cover. Highlight definitely the Iridium Flare.
8 Objects in total but several revisted as visitors arrived

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

October and November Meetings

The weather these last two months hasnt exactly been THAT bad, after all it is the rainy season. Some nights have been relatively clear, enough for the meeting to have gone ahead, but of course, that wasnt the case on the two nights in question for the October and November Meetings.

Astronomically, Comet Holmes appeared lierally from nowhere in the Constellation of Perseus, I observed it on several occasions, once with the Societys 10 inch , it was very good in Binoculars too. I estimated it to be around Mag 2 but last night (13th) it seemed to be fading. No tail and not too much detail but a superb large "fuzzy" object.

Hopefully the weather will be much improved next month

Thursday, September 20, 2007

September Meeting

On arrival at Pedros at 7:00 PM the sky was quite cloudy, The moon was almost hidden, and although Mercury was predicted to be visible too there was little chance of seeing it. Along with the mosquetos it didnt promise a good evening.

However a few human visitors did arrive and increase the local population.

Jupiter came visible now a striking object as the sky to the South cleared rapidly.
As Nicks newsletter promised, Sagittarius and Scorpio were clearly visible.

A mini Messier hunt then started, looking at

M6 The Butterfly Cluster and M7 Ptolemys Cluster
These are two open clusters located just North of Shula, one of the two stars in Scorpios Tail)

M8 ( The famous Lagoon Nebula)
Discovered by Luck, the open cluster NGC 6530 helped us to indentify M8s nebulosity. Its terms of the teapot anaology it is meant to be where the steam would appear ut of the teapot.

M22 and M28 two Globular Clusters near Kaus Borealis
These are a striking pair of clusters, M28 is particulary a small fuzzy object! Its "teapot" location is not in the sky manuals and books in the way I described it on the night but I chose to describe its location as "top of the pot" ! It will help me in future anyway.

M28 is a mere 15,000 light years away. M22 is much nearer only 10,000 light years but it can be seen as individual stars

The nebula were more difficult to find than normal as the telecopes Telrad Finders' battery had gone flat.

Finally Alberio in Cynus is of course a lovely double star to finish off with.

At the end of the evening eyes looked towards rising Andromeda, but there was too much haze in the North East

Next month will prove the start of a new era. The Castles restuarant is now the new "Reids at Pedros" , Im not sure of the impact a local "bar" will have on the meetings, we shall see!!

Sunday, September 9, 2007

August Viewings

Unfortunately bad weather caused the months meeting to be canceled, although on this occasion Nick and George turned up to a 100 percent cloudy sky, it had been perfectly clear only half an hour before.

Otherwise the weather has been somewhat mixed, both Hurricanes Dean and Felix were a major influence! Being a relative new comer to the Island, it certainly seems to me that there is a period of exceptional clear weather before the approach of a tropical storm, not that there is a moment to relax and enjoy it. Both a lunar eclipse and the Perseid s passed me by due to cloudy weather, unless anyone else had better luck

Monday, July 23, 2007

Beginners Guide to Astronomy

By special request I was asked by Nick to put some notes together on the various literature availble for someone "starting out" in Astronomy...

Astronomy: A Beginners Guide

Introduction: what on Earth are you trying to do?

The notes below are only my opinion- Astronomy is a BIG topic (only one of which is the study of the entire Universe) and it has many followers all with their own thoughts and ideas.

The first foot hill for any person to cross is the difference between Astronomy and Astrology. Most times it’s just a bit of confusion on the spelling (or perhaps like my Mother-In-Law I think she does it deliberately to tease me). Astrology is the belief that patterns and alignments of “Heavenly Bodies” can predict peoples lives. Astronomy is the science and study (even at a modest level) of the Universe including the stars, planets, galaxies and well… all the rest.

In my mind there are two general areas for the beginner to explore.. One I call Armchair Astronomy see later) and the other I call “hands-on” or “practical astronomy”, also sometimes called Amateur Astronomy (a somewhat outdated term these days) and even Deck Chair or Back Yard Astronomy. No matter this is simply getting outdoors and looking at the Night Sky and understanding a little of what you are looking at.

Finding A Guide to the night Sky

If you have already made it to one of the regular Astronomy Meetings then you have already started and I now assume you want to know a little more about actually pointing to objects in the night sky and perhaps saying authoratively to friends and relatives that that star is actually “Venus” . If you haven’t then we meet at Pedro Castle monthly usually a few days past the “New Moon” Check the local press for details or the website at

In terms of equipment you do not need anything other than your eyes and possibly on Cayman some anti mosquito repellant. Binoculars are useful but Id certainly not rush out and buy a telescope without taking to others and thinking carefully what you want to do and how much to spend. All you essentially need is a dim light of some kind ( preferably red) and a map or chart for that evening and latitude.

If you want to buy a book or magazine the unfortunately the choice here can be limited at times, but the best place to start is probably with one of the regular monthly magazines.

By far the best in my mind of what’s available is “Astronomy” which contains for each month a guide of where the planets are together with star charts for the month. It is a little technical but not anything as much as Sky and Telescope, which really does take itself seriously. Both Magazines have charts for Mid Latitude Observing Sites which is not quite the same as Cayman (20 degrees North) but close enough.
Another magazine “Night Sky” is sometimes available; this is aimed at the beginner in Astronomy – published by Sky and Telescope. If you are new to Astronomy and you see this- buy it!

The Web sites to both of these magazines are pretty good too.
A good “Intro to Astronomy” can be found at as well as The Sky and Telescope site also has an interactive Star Chart for your latitude and longitude so that you can print off exactly what you will see.

There are many other sites on the Internet worth looking at and playing with . eg will give you simple maps plus predictions of when you can see satellites for example the ISS ( International Space Station)

A few books ( a personal choice) worth mentioning These have maps for the whole year and include more detail on the Moon, planets and the various “fuzzy objects” to be observed, with and without telescopes

i) “Turn Left at Orion: A Hundred Night Sky Objects to see in a Small telescope” by Huy Consolmagno. OK you need a telescope but it’s a lovely book to read . A good amount can be seen through binoculars too

ii) Anything by Wil Tiron. Wil has in my mind breathed new life into the art of drawing star charts, some of which (like road maps) can be over crowed and hard to follow. Wil’s maps seem very easy to read. At the more serious end of his work is The Cambridge Star Atlas, on my Christmas list (with many other things!)

iii) “The Stars a New way to see them” by Hans Augusto Rey. An old book with an endorsement by Einstein! But Like Wil he changed the way constellations are portrayed and make the night sky much more readable. Only eyes needed for this book and Rey has a good sense of humor.

iv) Another means to get a chart of the night sky is to get a Planisphere (see Amazon for an example) remember to get one which covers around 20 North

Finally to the Internet again for webcasts on what to see .From Miami is a series of short weekly lectures Jack is a real eccentric but what’s useful for us here is that Miami isn’t too far north so much of the latitude specific items are also true for Cayman as well.

And talking of eccentrics and being from the UK – there is of course the Sky At Night, the longest running TV Program on Astronomy on the World, hosted by Sir Patrick Moore. Past episodes are available on the Internet though of course it is based for audiences at approximately 50 degrees north

Arm Chair Astronomy

And finally Arm Chair Astronomy- useful for rainy nights or when the mosquitoes get too much to handle, I suspect anyone reading this will be doing this already- watching some of the Science Channels and Programs on TV and reading a number of books (science fiction even or perhaps some of the books and magazines already mentioned) . Arm Chair astronomy is reading about topics as diverse as Black Holes and Caves on Mars. However you will need some guidance to pick out the good from the trash (and on the Internet of Course, there’s plenty of that. is perhaps (again) another somewhat esoteric Website for a first choice but its honest enough and clears up the truth and fiction behind all those wonderful stories like the “Lunar Landings Moon Hoax” and the “Face” on Mars.

What ever you do have fun- the NASA Channel at times is as exciting as paint drying on a solar panel array – flip to something else!! And remember watch out for the "Bad" stuff.. for example in Star Wars – spaceships do not make swishing noises!

Chris Cooke

July Viewings

Held on Tuesday 17th, 7.30 p.m. at Pedro Castle. Usually in the Summer Months many members are on vacation. However there seemed sufficent numbers this year to plan and go ahead with a meeting in July. Quite a few people turned up in the end!

The sky was partially cloudy but with good view to the South especially Scorpio, the "teapot" in Sagittarius and Centaurus. It was verm warm however and the mosquitos were busy. The sky cover was also slightly hazy However the Southern Cross was no longer visisble.

Although not quite dark at 7:30 , The Moon, Venus and Saturn ( just ) were visible in the West with Jupiter in Scorpio which was clearly seen to the South East .

Venus now has a very destinctive crescent - No Ashen light seen (!) though the Moon clearly had "the New Moon on the Old Moon's arms"

Objects seen tonight (other than the previuously mentioned Moon and Planets) were Omega Centauri,M7 ( in Scorpio), Alpha Centauri and the "Coat Hanger" in Cygnus. This is actually an asterism (ie line of sight effect) rather than a cluster of stars.

Two satellites were spotted throughout the evening

Even at 8:30 people were still turning up. A busy night!!

Monday, July 9, 2007

June Viewings

Monday 18th was a cloudy day, but the evening was clear. Four bright children,and their attendant adults, kept me busy answering their intelligent questions about the sky. We had a good view of Venus, Saturn and Jupiter, with one of the girls saying she could see the Red Spot. Quite possible, given her sharp young eyes.
The Jewel Box and the Omega Centauri cluster were still visible,and I was pleased to find the latter easily.

Friday, May 25, 2007

May Viewings

The Southern Cross, Crux, is now visible in the southern night sky. I had a wonderful view of it the Thursday before the viewing when I was out on a boat in the North Sound. The stars and planets were reflected in the still water, and I could not restrain myself from pointing out to my companions the most obvious sights. I'm not convinced that they were totally interested.
However, the four people who turned up for the viewing session, plus myself, Richard and the security guard, were all enthusiastic.
The night of Sunday 20th followed a very rainy day. To my surprise the sky was clear, and the seeing through the telescope crisp, even though the night was humid and the telescope was dripping moisture by the end of the session.
The three visible planets were the dominant objects of our attentions.
Venus showed a definite phase, Saturn was visible in all its glory, and Jupiter, when it rose, rewarded us with a view of the four Galilean moons ands the planets atmospheric bands.
Tim found the Jewel Box, NGC 4755, a globular cluster in Crux, split some stars, and later guided us to the Omega Centauri Cluster,NGC 5139, a glorious sight through our 10 inch Dobsonian.
A rewarding evening that I had not expected to happen.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

April Observations 2007

Without doubt Venus has dominated the evening sky for most of this month and this was particulary so on the evening of April 19th at the Societies Meeting at Pedro Castle.

On this evening the 2 day old Moon and Venus were quite close together. Aldebaran appeared much less brighter than expected and the Plieides were even harder to pick out .

The evening was well attended with ages from 7 to 70+! Over 20 people were present at one point . A blanket also turned up but this was for lying down on rather than for warmth!

After the evening grew darker there was still a fair amount of haze which limited how faint we could see.

The Moon was a pleasent suprise in that the meeting is usually held on the 3rd day after full Moon. This time we saw three bright craters semi illuminated , particulary Vendilus which has a central elevation.

Other objects which were seen easily tonight were the Orion Nebula and of course the M41 Globular Cluster near Sirius

Saturn proved a challenge due to its very high elevation. The Societies 10 inch Donsianain struggled a little not only to keep the planet in th eyepiece but also to keep pace with the sky's movement. Nick deserves a gold star for effort in finding Saturn !

However inspite of these difficulties the queue to see the planet was very long and Saturn was to many the highlight of the evening . Two of Saturns moons were also seen

Richard pointed out the False Southern Cross, we may just see the real one next Month!

One unknown faint satellite (mag 3?) was observerd, initially overhead then fading into Earth Shadow in the West

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Observations March 2007

Firstly on March 3rd was a spectacular Lunar Eclipse. The moon rose at around 6:30 PM Local time but due to the haze close to the horizon wasnt seen untill some 20 minutes later. The reason was that at moonrise the moon was in total eclipse and was dark ruddy brown in colour. At the meeting (22 March see below) there followed a discussion on how the disk became brighter at the point closest to the horizon and not as intuatively expected from the top down

On March 22nd to Meeting At Pedro Castle attacted a good crowd (20+?) all evening inspite of poor cloudy conditions at the start of the session

Observing started with the Moon and Venus, this time trying to pick out the phase of the planet which was possible using a dark blue filter. A bright meteor was spotted at around 7:30 PM heading South West and below the moon. It may have been a Leonid

As the cloud cover lifted the Orion Nebula (M42) and the M41 Globular Cluster were observed

Richards satellite predictions came up trumps when we saw a Mag -3 flash from an Iridium Satellite (Iridium 53). The flash laster for several seconds.

Saturn finally became visible, Using the Societies 8 inch scope as well as Saturns rings, several faint bands were seen on the planets disk as well

A good evening including a fine musical rendition of "Come Take a Trip On My Airship" by Charles Lindbergh Eden

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Observations February 2007

This Months meeting was held on Tuesday 20th Feb 7:00-9:00 PM

The sky was about 40 perecent cloudy but cleared slowly, however the sky still remained quite hazy.
The only telescope involved tonight was the Societys 10 inch Dobsonian - a pair of binoculars were also used

Objects seen tonight were in order

A 3 day old Moon
Saturn with 4 satellite moonsOrion Nebula (M42),
M41 a nice Globular Cluster near Sirius
The Crab Nebula (M1)
Andromeda Galaxy (M31)
The Beehive Cluster (M44)
Scinitillation Of Canopus close to the Southern Horizon
and for a finale another look at the Moon

No artifical satellites were seen , most likely due to the hazy conditions.

In particular however Saturn looked spectacular, 4 Moons being clearly visible.It would be worthwhile next month to attempt to name them and possibly observe any changes between the start and the end of the evening

The most challenging object was the Crab Nebula almost directly overhead in the Sky.

We found the object by using a small personal organiser program and a set of azimuth and elevation markings which were fixed around the base of the 10 inch scope.
Once the object was found we dared not move the Scope!
The object appeared as a very small faint ellipitcal blob at 30x maginification

The Andromeda Nebulaa was quite hard to find, it was well to the West and hidden in the haze of lights from George Town. This time it was spotted ( just) in binoculars and the 10 inch scope was "steered" by following the paths of the laser pens pointed in the rough direction.

For the record the information I used to create the templates for the scope are available at


Sunday, January 28, 2007

Observations Jan 2007

Mondays Meeting on Monday 23 January (Heros Day- Bank Holiday) was well attended. The day had been particualry clear but by 7:30PM significant cloud cover had appeared.

If the cloud present at 7:30 had been the same at 6:00 PM the meeting would have probably been scrubbed.In any case we were lucky that night as seen on the objects we saw below.

Equipment Used
Societys 10 inch Dobsonian
1 set of equatorially mounted binoculars supplied by Mike
1 set of binoculars on tripod Mark
Sateliite Predictions by Richard

Objects Seen- More or less in order

3 Day Old Moon
Orion Nebula (M42)
The Pleiades star cluster, (also known as the Seven Sisters and M45)
2 Meteors
Various Sateliites but especially the TRMM i.e the Tropical Rain Monitoring Mission.
Andromedia Galaxy (M31 or NGC224)
M41 A Nice Globuar Cluster nor far from Sirius
Canopus light refraction patterns low on the Southern Horizon.
Saturn ( rising just before 9 PM)


The Meteors were interesting in that they were bright - the one I saw was travelling West towards Cassiopia, Any ideas? I thought perhaps it might be a "Alpha Hydrid", there are no significant showers in January that are visible to us at that time .

Canopus is not visible from more Northern Latitudes so it is of some interest to vistors from those latitudes, eg UK, Canada and Northern US

One question raised at the meeting was that light seen that night from M31 took 2.5 million years to arrive so just what did the earth look like then?
Well hold your beath, (literally) because the Earth was at the start of the Proterozoic Era . The only life (?!!) at this time was algae slime, some of which had started to photosynthesize, thus only just beginning to add oxygen into the atmosphere,

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Observations Dec 2006

The Meeting at Pedros Castle on the 27th of Decemeber was Cloudy .
However December wasnt all bad news!

On the 13th the CUC kindly provided a lights out moment which coincided with the Gemind Meteor Maximum. I saw 6 in all but its possible some people could have seen many more.

Chris Cooke

Observations Nov 2006

From the AGM held for the first time since Hurricane Ivan, It was decided to start a record of past observations made at our Monthly meetings– this may be helpful in deciding what to look out for in future years! True to form November’s meeting at Pedro Castle on the 26th was cloudy – but a one event this Month is worth a mention to get things started.

On November the 8th a rare transit of Mercury occurred, a day time event which was based at Smiths Cove on the Iron shore. Visibly was very good with only some partial cloud cover. Both Mike and I bought telescopes with suitable solar filters – Mike Whiteman also bought his small Coronado PST with H Alpha (Hydrogen) filter. A toy worthy of any on an Astronomers Santa list! The scope showed a large prominence which was not visible in the other scopes. Mercury was in fact a very small object dwarfed by Sunspots.

Here is a photo I took on the day, very poor quality yet quite remarkable what a simple digital camera can do – taken straight through the eyepiece. There is a sunspot visible upper right in the picture. Mercury is hard to find! Can you see it?