Another Monday’s (Tuesday’s?? Ack!) musings for the week. TL;DR: My computer is dead, and I totally gained a level in Amateur Astronomer. =D
Sorry for yet another late release! I didn’t even work on this at all yesterday, but I have a couple of excuses: I was/am sick (so I didn’t go to work yesterday), and The Judge is dead again. =( And this time I really have no clues as to what’s causing it. For a couple weeks it’s been shutting dead off in the middle of gaming or other video-intensive situations, and would give a bios beep code indicating video trouble. Now though it won’t start at all – no activity. I’m going to get a power supply tester to see what I can do, but it’s not looking good.
That’s the small news on this list though. In my last post, I mentioned I’d be trying a stellar navigation technique to locate Messier 37, a star cluster in the constellation of Auriga. I am pleased to report that my attempt ended in success! I was able to successfully locate the star cluster and *see* the thing in my telescope.
As I mentioned before, M37 is a magnitude 6.2 star cluster, making it far too dim to see with the naked eye. In fact, none of the stars near M37 were naked-eye visible, at least at my location, so I had to star-hop from the nearest one I could see – Theta Aurigae, which turns out to be a binary star. From there, I had to orient my star atlas to match the sky through the telescope, and use the stars in my field of view matched up with the same stars on the atlas to navigate from star to star (hence ‘star hopping‘) to my destination.
Sounds like a rather simple process, and it really is – though getting my atlas oriented correctly was more difficult that I had at first considered. Another difficulty is that I don’t really know how wide my telescope’s field of view is, which makes it difficult to perform the sky to atlas mapping. After about 30 minutes, though, I got the orientation right, and my field of view just kinda clicked in my head. After that, I spent about 5 minutes navigating to the spot where M37 should be, and I saw… what looked like a bit of a smudge. =P
I checked the nearby stars against the atlas and, sure enough, I’d found my object! Yes, after all that work, I was the proud viewer of a blob – but I was excited nonetheless. I knew what I was looking at, and I knew where the light from that smudge shape was coming from – about 4.4 thousand light-years away.
I was surprised at the dimness of the object, even though I understand the magnitude scale. It’s a logarithmic scale, with higher numbers representing dimmer objects – a mag 3 object is half as bright as a 2, which itself is half as bright as a 1. I had originally planned to see three other objects that night, each successively dimmer than the last, but one look at M37 and I knew the others would be all but invisible.
After my mini-celebration, I pointed the telescope at the Orion nebula, just for kicks, and picked it out easily. My telescope is nowhere near large enough to make out anything interesting in this nebula – not enough light-gathering ability – but I was surprised to see some nebulosity surrounding some of the central stars in the nebula. Then I pointed at Betelgeuse, the star at Orion’s right shoulder. Betelgeuse is a red giant star, is expected to go supernova possibly in the next million years or so. Through my scope it was a brilliant golden color, and I stared at it a good long while. I also surveyed Sirius and a few other stars before the cold sent me inside.
I feel very accomplished. I sought to locate an object that is almost too faint to see with my telescope by using a stellar navigation technique, and I succeeded! I’ve proven myself capable of handling a telescope to some degree, as well as a fairly detailed star map – the one I used shows every star up to magnitude 7. I understand these winter constellations well enough to match the map to what I see and to locate a naked-eye-visible star close to my target to begin my search. These are the basic skills involved in amateur astronomy!