Monday, June 2, 2008

Curiouser and curiouser

Took the big, dumb telescope out again on Friday, to use it for what was it is really designed for: galaxy hunting. So far I’ve only used it as a backyard scope for planets and the splashier nebulae, but this time I drove out to a state park for maximum darkness, and went by myself so as not to have kids pulling at my shirttails every few minutes and dropping tiny pieces of cookie into the telescope. Again. I’m learning that astronomy, like writing, is a rather solitary pastime.

Not that I’m complaining.

Warmed up by looking here, at the middle star of the handle of the Big Dipper. It’s actually 2 stars, Alcor and Mizar (actually, it’s six stars*; but keep reading). I’ve read that American Indians used to test the eyesight of warriors and hunters by seeing if they could see both stars separately. I can’t. Peer down into the rabbit hole and you’ll see that it’s not a double star but TWO double stars, four stars altogether, and I was able to make out three of the four stars very clearly. Pretty cool. The colors are very pretty.

*I just read while looking for the picture that it is a six star system, not four, as both Mizar and its companion are double stars too. That rabbit hole goes down as far as you want to travel.

About then the wind blew down my collapsible chair, and dumped the beer in the cupholder, leaving me with only one left. I almost cried. Thus I learned Clowncar’s First Rule of Star-Gazing: Bring Extra Beer.

The two galaxies below were the find of the night (M51 and NGC5195). I tried to find then on my own but gave up after a frustrating half hour or so, and plugged in the star-finder (my telescope is dumb, but still smarter than I am). It doesn’t move the scope, but after you align it to 2 stars (you center it on the star and then tell it what star you’re centered on), it will guide you to whatever you wanna see with two arrows and the number of degrees you have to move the scope. Zero out the two arrows and you’re pretty close.

This is the Whirlpool Galaxy (M51) and a companion galaxy (NGC 5195). They are gravitationally bound, meaning the Whirlpool is slowly eating up NGC 5195. You can find this just below the handle of the Big Dipper, and if you have dark skies can find them pretty easily with binoculars. In a telescope they are truly spectacular, filling up the entire field of view at high power, with hints of the filaments and dust lanes clearly visible. Wow. I should point out the detail was nothing like the detail in the photo I've posted, which was taken by the Hubble.

Next up was the Black Eye galaxy. Not quite as stunning as the Whirlpool, but still pretty freakin cool. The Black Eye part is from dust clouds. I couldn’t see much detail, but was able to make out the “black eye” in the middle.

Down the rabbit hole again: the inner ring of this galaxy revolves in one direction, the outer ring in the opposite direction. The closer you look at stuff out there, the weirder it all gets. Or, as Alice once said, knee-deep in Wonderland, ”Curiouser and curiouser.”


Maggie said...

Well at least we can take comfort knowing we are the center of the universe.

Right? ;)

Gordo said...

I really have to get a decent 'scope. I'm too lazy to drag my ass in to the observatory at work. Much easier to take the scope to the cottage and peek there. Closer to the beer, too. :-)

Eric Shonkwiler said...

That's pretty wild, about the Indians. I wonder, if you couldn't, did they put you in accounting, or something?

Eric Shonkwiler said...

I also wonder, why it is, I felt like using so many commas, in that last comment.

meno said...

This reminded me of when my dad used to take us out stargazing. He'd tell us all the mythological stories that went with each constellation. I loved it.

Also, because you asked and i am too lazy to retype it all, here is the "i" story.

Irrelephant said...

Major kudos over the use of Carroll. Alice's innocent little line is my mantra these days, often said with a small, wondering smile. The day the world stops offering up mysteries for me to pore over is the day I need to be dropped in a hole and have dirt thrown in my face.

Jo said...

I love that line from Alice. And I'm glad you mentioned that bit about the Hubble...I was going to run out & buy a telescope just to see all those swirly sparkles...and you know I would have been grumbling, That Clowncar, all I see are these dots! Mfdkljff!

Willie Ziebell said...

Fascinating. I have a latent and underdeveloped love for astronomy.

In the sixth grade, my Science teacher, prepared for an imminent meteor shower, organized an after-hours teacher-parent-child sky-scanning party at the middle school. Amazing (both the celestial display and my teacher's dedication and love for his job). The show was pleasing enough to the naked eye, but expensive-for-underfunded-schools telescopes were assembled to look at distant points of light.

What fun.

Clowncar said...

Mags, nice to see you again. I take odd comfort in being a meaningless speck of dust, far off on the sidelines.

Gordo, you have an observatory at work? Where do you work again? And why don't they understand how essential a cold frosty malted beverage is to enjoying astronomy?

E, if you failed, the eyesight thing, they probably, made you, a publicist. Or an, agent.

Meno, glad to hear the "i" backstory. And I'm glad your Dad created such nice sky-gazing memories for you.

Hey, Irr. Alice rocks. And you are right, mystery is all.

Jo, I would have felt horribly guilty to have you go out and get a scope bigger than you are only to see globs and smudges of light. Go out and spend the money on something useful, like ninja throwing stars.

Hey there, Willie Z. Nice of you to stop by. Sounds like a great teacher. My love of astronomy was pretty latent too, til I moved out west from NYC and was able to actually see the stars.