Annotated finder chart for Omnicron Cygni. Original chart from TUBA
These last nights, though brightened by the full moon, have been clear, cool, and relatively free of bugs and so as tends to be the case this time of year I find myself drawn to spending more time under the night sky.
Moonlit nights are a good time for observing double stars as the brightened sky does little to diminish their beauty. Out I went with my 60mm scope and copy of Double Stars for Small Telescopes to explore Cygnus.
With Deneb (Alpha Cygni) shining bright near the zenith I pointed my telescope roughly towards the tail of the swan and looked through the 6×30 finder. I was surprised to see what appeared to be a wide double star with a striking color contrast.
Enhanced image of Saturn eclipsing the Sun taken in 2006 by the robotic Cassini spacecraft. Courtesy NASA/JPL.
There’s something special about seeing Saturn in a telescope. Sure, viewing any of the planets is pretty great – the telescope reveals an object that to our eyes appears to be a star is actually a disc, a whole ‘nother world. It’s enough to get any observer’s heart pumping.
But then there’s Saturn – it’s not just a disc. Currently when viewed at very low powers the rings form much of the visual bulk of the planet, giving it an oval appearance with a hint of dark separation between the planet and its rings. What a surreal viewing experience to see this strange, wonderful object hanging in space.
With Saturn rising shortly after 7:00 PM and setting around 5:00 AM, now is a good time to view the planet, which is a showpiece in even small telescopes. For the best view, try to catch the planet as high in the sky as you can – currently it reaches maximum altitude around midnight. At my 40°N latitude the planet only gets up to ~30° so the atmosphere can make high power viewing difficult but still worthwhile. I was able to take advantage of a recent clear night to view Saturn with both a 60mm refractor and the Celestron FirstScope.
If the dim star from which Nova Sagitarii 2015 No. 2 originated was charted in the Pocket Sky Atlas, it would be hidden under the “U” in “Sagittarius”.
By the end of March I had pretty much written off seeing Nova Sagittarii 2015 No. 2.
In Sky & Telescope’s oft updated article on the nova, Alan MacRobert refers to those unwilling to get out in the cold, pre-dawn hours as “slug-a-bed”s. Yeah, that’s me. My interested peaked about the same time as the Nova’s brightness in late March, then faded as the next day it dropped below magnitiude 5 and appeared to be on its way out completely.
Orion – The Hunter in early Spring. With the exception of Castor, all of the double stars visited during this session can be found in this photo.
When you think of night sky object classes within the grasp of the common 60mm refractor double stars often end up near the top of the list. Like the Moon and planets, many of these multiple star systems are bright enough to cut through light pollution making them easy to view from wherever you happen to be. There are some spectacular double stars in and around Orion and Late Winter / Early Spring is a good time to view them.
I was pleasantly surprised to learn that Ganymede was currently in the middle of a transit. Even better, the Great Red Spot was just appearing on the Eastern limb. I grabbed my smallest aperture telescope that takes interchangeable eyepieces, a 60mm refractor, and headed outside.