Star Gazing Nights – December 3: Breaks in the Clouds

More than a dozen people came to the December Star Night, meeting with a dozen astronomers who had binoculars and telescopes. Clouds overhead partially obscured the view, but where the clouds broke, people were able to see several winter sky objects. Here are some highlights.

The Pleiades (M45 as designated in Messier’s Catalog) is an open cluster (a loose, irregular grouping of stars that usually have a common origin) in the constellation Taurus.  The stars in the Pleiades are in a shape like a small pan. In mythology, the Pleiades are known as the “Seven Sisters,” nymphs who were the daughters of Atlas. Orion pursues them, even to this day in the night sky, but Zeus, in the form of Taurus the Bull, blocks and protects the nymphs from Orion.

image from Wikimedia Commons

The Andromeda Galaxy (M31) is a spiral galaxy very similar to the one that our sun resides in, the Milky Way. It was difficult to see with the naked eye that night, but thankfully we had binoculars and telescopes on-hand to aid our viewing.

Andromeda Galaxy as seen by NASA’s Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer

The Orion Nebula (M42 and M43) is a cloud-like fan-shaped object that is made of dust clouds in our galaxy. It is visible with binoculars as a small, fuzzy cloud. Most telescopes also resolve the four stars (referred to as “The Trapezium”) within it.

image from Wikimedia Commons

Recently, I heard on Science Friday on National Public Radio (NPR) a list of science-related books. The Glass Universe, by Dava Sobel, is a book about women who, as human “computers”, i.e. math whizzes, devoted stargazers, aided Harvard Observatory in Cambridge, MA. They made significant contributions, including the creation of a system to classify stars that is still used today. Also, the movie, Hidden Figures, about minority women “computers” at NASA, was just released. If anyone has read the book or seen the movie, drop a line to Moose Hill and give your review!

Finally, ever curious, I decided to take apart the eyepiece assembly and telescope mounts on one of my scopes to understand how they fit together. The telescope itself was not touched – this should only be done by those who know what they are doing (I don’t!).  The photo below are the unassembled components. Now I just need to put it all back together in time for the next Star Gazing Night….

…which is January 27 at Moose Hill. This free program is cancelled if sky conditions are cloudy/milky or in the event of deep snow/extreme cold; call Patti at 781-784-5691 x8103 after 6pm the night of the event for a recorded message concerning the status of the program prior to attending. We look forward to, hopefully, clear skies and to seeing you there – dress warmly!

Please note that some information was taken from A Field Guide to the Stars and Planets, by Mentzel & Pasachoff.

Thank you to Craig Austin for this Star Gazing post. Craig is often present during Moose Hill’s Star Gazing Nights, along with a few members of the Astronomical Society of Southern New England, and other local amateur astronomers. We are grateful for those who share their scopes and knowledge with anyone who is interested in learning more and seeing the night sky from our open field.

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