Thursday, August 27, 2015

September is ALMOST Upon Us: Suggestions for Cold Weather Gear

      Many thing summer is observing season and it comes to a close come November 1st each year. I am NOT of that opinion. I love both fall and winter observing, and some of the best viewing times come in September, October, November, December, January and February here in Utah. Unfortunately, like with many other parts, this is also cold season. NO, not the cold you get from a virus, but COLD, like below freezing temperatures. My friend Mat and I were out together in around -9 degrees Fahrenheit several years ago, and I have been out at -14 degrees F (my personal lowest taken when I was about to break down at 12:15a.m. one January night).  So, yes, I am a fanatic about cold weather observing and some of the best objects and most challenging objects for deep sky observing happen in the fall and winter months.

     My clothing requirements have evolved as has my observing. Back in September 30th, 2010 I made this post (LINK) on my blog about what I wore cold weather observing. Back then I got a lot of my clothing from Walmart and other clothing stores and a couple of items from Cabelas. My base layer came from Cabelas and did the basic job of wisking moisture away from my body, but there were better options as I later found out. I have given up on the Cabelas base layer and have gone to with HUGE success, Merino Wool Base layers. Now, let me be upfront, back in the day I stayed warm wearing what I wore as I shared in September of 2010, today, my stuff costs more, but I can get by in less layers and be warmer. My Merino Wool Base Layers come from the company Minus 33 (state up front, I get NO compensation from any of the companies I will be mentioning here) and I get the expedition layer for my cold months (basically September through April or May).  I get a mid-weight for the summer. Yes, I wear my base layer even in the summer as it may be hot during the day in the desert, but nights are cold and when I go up to the Unitas Mountains, it can get cold even in July and August at night up there.  Here is what I get from Minus 33:

Summer Mid-weight

The mid-weights I share are in the Big and Tall size. I have now lost 86lbs since June of 2014 and though that is a lot, I have like 70lbs more to go and so I am still a 2XXL(t).  I have an extra long upper body and shorter legs. So this Chocurua Men's Midweight Crew Big and Tall base layer top is $75.99 LINK.  You can find them at Cabelas sometimes, and at Men's Sportswarehouse and on Amazon. I usually buy mine through Amazon. I also have found my size on Amazon in the green below, and since green is my favorite color, I have gotten them in that color as well. Usually I stick with black though. 

The Yukon Expedition crew neck top in Merino Wool comes in at $95.99 LINK and yes, both are expensive but I can tell you that I use them, and when used with the proper layers, your core body is kept nice and warm. 

On my base layer for my legs, for winter I get the Katmai Men's Expedition Bottom and they come in at $95.99 also.  Again, expensive but man, toasty warm and worth it in my book. I'll state here with your base layers, you don't have to go this route, other base layers are cheaper and probably work sufficient, but the Merino Wool is soft, absorbing, warm and wisks better than any synthetic material I have used.  Here is an image of the Katmai Men's Expedition Bottom.  

In summer I use the Minus 33 Kancamagus Men's Midweight Bottom and I can use the regular sizes now (I do have to roll up the bottoms or tuck them into my wool socks as I am only a 29 inch length in my legs) and they come in at $65.99 LINK. There are a variety of colors and options if you go to the link/site of Minus 33 and per above, these are green. 

Last thing on my base layers. I have often just used my mid-weights in the cold months and in the summer and they have been more than sufficient for me. Now that I have a few extra dollars, I have two sets of each and if needed, I would not hesitate to wear the mid-weight base layers here in the winter. 

     One of the most important part of your body to keep warm in cold weather, and especially in observing because your not generating heat in this hobby, is our feet. I begin by putting on a base layer sock that will wisk moisture away from my feet. I specifically use Terramar Adult Thermasilk Mid Calf Sock Liner. I found mine at Amazon and usually order them for $7.99 plus shipping. Two pair will last me a full year or sometimes two years depending on how rough the winter is and how rough I am on them. Here is the LINK to the base layer socks at Amazon. No matter what base layer sock you use, and I do recommend one of silk here, you will need them if you want to be out for three to five hours in the cold of winter. Here is a link to Terramar's web site where the socks sell for $17.99 LINK

     Next over the base layer socks I wear wool socks. I have purchased and used wool socks from Cabelas and Sportsmen Warehouse and they are cheaper and do the trick. However, again, I am in love with Merino Wool and use the Minus 33 Merino Wool socks.  Minus 33 sells their socks for $13.99 and they claim they are thin, they are not. Like any wool sock they are thicker. I have doubled them up though when going tubing and used in my snow boots and yes, they do keep my overly warm doing that. Really no need for that as a base sock and this wool sock over your feet will keep you plenty warm and toasty. LINK

     Before I leave socks I do want to mention that for your feet and for about $60.00 or so, you can buy heated socks that yes, they do keep your feet wonderfully toasty, as long as the batteries last. Cabelas sells a pair at this LINK for $59.99 right now.  You can read about these over there. Cool. 

     Over the socks now must go shoes, well, in our case boots. I have two boots that I will use, depending. My first boot is a general winter boot I use to snow blow, walk, and to observe IF it isn't too cold. They are the Columbia Me's Bugaboot Plus II Omni-Heat boot. It is a serviceable boot, with good flexibility once it is broken in and does the job. This boot will run you $130.00 over at Columbia LINK. My normal shoe size is a 12 EEE, so for the boots I wear observing and for in teh snow, I go up to a 13 EEE or a 13 1/2 EEE. This extra room allows room for my socks and allows the blood to circulate through my foot, while still providing comfort and control by my feet. Cutting circulation off to your foot by having a boot that with the socks is too tight, will result in cold feet and usually ends the observing session. Big is your friend in winter (but not too big). 

      My main winter boot though is the Sorel Caribou Boot.  Sorel is known for their cold weather boot and this is what I wear into the desert in the winter when I need warmth on my feet. Sturdy, well made and made to last my last set went 10 plus years before 2 years ago I replaced them. I also do own a Kamlik Alborg boot that looks the same as the Sorel in the picture and I like that boot just as much. I don't think anyone can go wrong with a Sorel or Kamlik boot on their feet while observing if they have the right socks on to match. Make sure your boot fits and isn't too tight. Comfort is important. 

     The layers I now put on my legs on top of my base layer haven't changed a whole lot. Over the base layer goes a flannel lounge pants that help to absorb moisture and still keep me warm.  Cabela's Flannel bottoms are great for these LINK. I want to mention that I tend to wear clothing that runs a little big on me while observing. This allows air to get captured between the layers and aids in maintaining warmth. 

     On top of the flannel lounge pants goes a nice and comfortable fitting pair of wool pants. I just had to purchase a new pair from my weight loss but the price is extremely worth it. Expensive, VERY expensive as you'll see but man, I sweat sometimes on my legs when observing! These were $172.49 on sale at Cabelas and they had my size so I ordered them. LINK

     Now I also own some snowmobiling/ski pants that I will also wear over the base layer and if I think it is really cold, I might wear fleece sweat pants over the flannel just to add a layer of warmth before I put on the pants. Usually though, the base layer, the flannel lounge pants, the wool pants or another warm pant that go into my hunting bibs that I wear are enough to ensure my legs stay nice and warm. 

     On my torso I wear my base layer and then I always put on a long sleeve cotton tee shirt that is extra long, and this allows any sweat that comes off my torso, to be  absorbed by the cotton in the tee shirt. Do NOT put cotton next to your skin though. You will get very cold as cotton will absorb your sweat and not release it, making your body core COLD.  Over that I place a nice warm Henley type shirt, LINK  about $40 or several hunting shirts I have that are long sleeve and made from flannel from Cabelas and are larger in size(no link, not sold anymore).  Over that goes a nice  Wool Sweater again a little larger in size, LINK  $80.00; and finally a really good North Face or Columbia Fleece ($80.00 plus).  Over that goes a winter parka which fits good with the layers on under it, and that cost me about $150 on a winter close out from Cabelas (I got two different ones, one made for fishing in extreme cold and one a hunters parka) and then my hunting bibs LINK that will cost between $150 to $200. Both parkas have draw strings on the bottom and an excellent hood that can be drawn taut.  Lined pockets are a must also on both parkas. That is a LOT of money to outfit for observing, but I continue to go to a dark site and there is no house to run inside to to warm up. I need to be warm and dressed warm in case something happens and I have to survive the night. In addition with this layer approach, I do not get cold. 




Hunting Parka (warm down below -50 degrees F; not sure but it is VERY warm) Cost $200.00. What I like about my hunting parka is the hood and the high neck that protects the neck from exposure. Pockets are lined and warm and it has a draw string on the bottom to cinch up the coat so no cold comes in form the bottom.  Wrists clamp down also to keep cold air out of the arms. Both Parkas are somewhat loose when no layers are worn and are perfect with layers with some room in them still. 

Cabela's Men's Tourney Trail® Parka with 4MOST DRY-PLUS (REALLY WARM, normal cost was $250, closeout $120). I LOVE this parka!!!!! It is made for fishermen on the cold, frozen ice covered lakes or for those at sea. It is insulated and warm down to well below zero.  Pockets are HUGE and the wrists clamp down.  Hood when put on will form a bill to protect the face or glasses from rain or snow while keeping you warm and forms a natural black hood to steer away any ambient light. I LOVE this jacket and it is so warm.

     One thing I want to mention is that in no case do I recommend wearing a base layer with jeans over them, even in the summer. Jeans are made of cotton and they do NOT hold in heat. They will absorb but they will not hold in heat. They would need another layer over them but I don't believe that jeans are thick enough or made of the right material (cotton) to wear as an outside covering. You risk not staying out to observe, or if you do, hypothermia (see this LINK for the risks of pushing it too far in the cold and what to do if you do go to far). If your going observing, even in the summer, having too many layers is a better problem to have than too few or the wrong ones. In summer I wear my base layers, a tee shirt that is long, a long sleeve fleece shirt and Columbia Fleece Jacket. I have a nice down coat to go over that if needed. On the legs are a base layer, a pair of flannel pants, then a pair of nylon pants (and if it is cold, a pair of fleece sweat pants).  Base socks and wool socks and boots or half boots are on my feet. Usually I do not need gloves, though I have them and a hat if needed. 

    My head is one of the most important things I have to cover up on, and I usually put on a hat the minute I get to my observing site to keep myself warm.  After setting up and putting on the parka and the bibs, I put on a baklava. I use a Minus 33 Expedition Balaclava as shown in this LINK. Cost is $30.00 but I have one and I can raise it up to cover my mouth and nose when not observing, or lower the part over the nose and mouth so I can breath normally and not fog up my eyepiece while observing. 

     I have a pair of gloves, actually several pair that I use. I always start off with my hands in silk like base layer and a pair of hunting gloves where the fingers and thumb can be exposed. IF and it usually does, get to the point my hands or fingers are getting cold, I have a second pair of hunting gloves that allow me to still feel and move metal and plastic objects quite easily that I got from Cabelas for $55.00 on sale. Last if the cold penetrates there I have a pair of hard core gloves from REI that I wear when snow shoeing that really keep my hands warm, though I may lose some slight mobility with them. IF I KNOW it is going to be down right cold, I just start the night setting up with the first pair of gloves, set up and then switch to the REI gloves.  Cost for the REI gloves was retail of $130.00 but I got them at the end of the season for $60.00.  

     A few other items to mention. One when observing in the cold, take water, drink water, lots of it. You can still dehydrate out at a dark site and your body needs fluids and lack of hydration will help lead to hypothermia. Bring a warm thermos and yes, invest in a thermos that keeps things hot and cold ($40.00 or so) and have hot chocolate, coffee, tea, soup (I recommend soup big time) or whatever warm drink you prefer. I recommend staying away from too much caffeine though as I find it interferes with my observing. I highly recommend no alcohol if your at a dark site. It really doesn't warm you up, drains the body of fluids and you don't need or want to drive home tipsy or drunk. Have some high energy food to eat every hour as your body needs that to keep the body generating heat. Cold weather observing is NOT the time to be faithful to a diet by skipping food (in truth, a healthy diet has you eating more small meals). 

     Another item that will take up space, but that we have taken to our winter dark site observing is the Dyna-Glo Single Top Infrared Propane Tank Heater. Here is a picture of it. 

     You will need to bring both the heater top (it is in a box and I recommend you keep the box and store it in there for transport, but transport it after you have cooled it down), and the propane tank. We set it up on the opposite site of a car where it won't impact observing and if someone really gets cold, we light it up and in 3 minutes it is toasting and your warming up. You'll kill your night vision but that can come back. It is nice to have the option of warming up.  You can find the heater (top part) at Home Depot at this LINK

     Other items I take in the fall, winter and spring are my dew heaters and their battery power source. Yes I live in Utah, yes I observe in a desert but come fall, dew can hit and hit with a vengeance even out here. Doesn't happen a lot where I observe but it can and if I run my dew equipment, I never have a problem. Make sure your car battery is up to snuff before heading to a dark site and take a good vehicle so you know you can go out and come back. It is essential, and one should do this whenever one observes, I do, but tell a loved one, spouse, friend where your going exactly and when you should be back. Keep towing stuff in your vehicle if you can tow just in case someone in your party gets stuck. It is nice and makes for a great memory of helping a friend get back home on a cold night.  

     So there you go. An update and yes, a costly one, for what I now wear when I winter observe.  I don't camp over as it gets cold and I can be out observing in the eyepiece after November 1st by 6pm and be home and unloaded by no later than 12a.m. when winter comes. I don't stay out late. I arrive by 5pm and set up, cool down and start observing at 6pm and end about 10pm or 11pm. I then take down and load up and drive home, never too tired. That is why I LOVE late fall, winter and early spring observing. I can get in more sessions and still not wear myself out and get to work and give one hundred percent the next day if not more because I am so relaxed and refreshed from observing. Keep enjoying the wonders of the night sky! 

     I do want to share a link about winter observing from the Saguaro Astronomy Club's website that they recommend for clothing. LINK. Great information there as well.  Good reading and keep enjoying the wonders of the night sky! 

EDIT: A few more items: Hand warmers. 

They work when used inside my glove and if I use a piece of velcro (the kind you use to bundle electrical wires together; they look like this: 

I use one of these, or two linked together to secure my hand warmer to my palm and that really helps keep the warmth where I need it.  I also picked up for fun at the cost of $1.99 at the end of last winter these Tote Battery Powered hand warmers and I have to say and admit, what started out as a joke, ended in the fact that they really work, generating more heat than a hand warmer packet and because they run off a AA battery a a 10 olm circut they generate a lot of heat. They are bulky but they do work. Again, using Velcro to strap these on between my base layer glove and my outer glove helps. I find I use them the most though in my pockets where I can warm my hands with them, or keep an eyepiece free from dew. That is perhaps there best use, or keeping them in the eye piece case while observing with the lid down.  You can also put a hand warmer packet in your pocket for the same purpose or in the case and that works. A Hot Hands warmer works with a rubber band on the side of a Telrad or Rigel Quickfinder to keep them from dewing up also.  

     On my telescope I use Kendrick Dew heaters. I have a heater for the stem of my secondary mirror to keep that from dewing up. I also use Kendrick Telrad and Finder Scope heaters to stop my Telrad, Finder Scope and 1 1/4 and 2" eyepieces from dewing up. You can see Kendrick's options at this LINK. My friend Mat has made his own and they work wonderfully.  For my controller I use a Thousand Oaks Dew Heater Controller that I have owned for about 5 years now and it works like a charm. It turns on automatically after I set when to turn on on the dial, and then turns off if the unit detects that the temperature is getting too high. Love that item!

     For power I have two options. First is a Instaboost from Lowes that retails for $69.00.  The jump start clamps leave something to be desired, and need an upgrade, read the reviews but overall for powering my dew heater and controller, this is a champ and works well (has for me on two occasions and didn't need a recharge after both times).

I also have now this 5 in 11 Power Pack from Harbor Freight for about $99.00.  I like that it also has a USB port on it, DC and AC charge outlets and can jump a car if needed.  I take this with me in the car when I go cold weather observing also as a back up and for the car in case I need to jump it (never have needed it).  

NOVACC has a wonderful site that offers similar advice to mine at this LINK. I recommend that you also review that site. Observing in the cold can be challenging, but if prepared and done right, it is truly amazing what the fall and winter skies harbor for those looking up to capture the wonders of our night sky. 

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Observing Report August 15th to August 16th, 2015; FR006 Site Jay's Favorite

     Boy, how time can fly by! I had hoped to get back out the week of new moon as the crescent moon rose, but northern Utah got inundate with smoke from the fires from Washington, Oregon and California.  You can see from the image below taken from the side of a highway near my home how thick the smoke was (those mountains should be clear and easily seen).  Thus this prohibited me from loading up and going out another time that week.

     However, on the evening of August 15th, 2015 though, I was able to get out and go observing prior to the arrival of all that nasty smoke. I was late getting out and to be honest, expected on a Saturday to not really find a good spot out at my favorite local location. I got out around 4:30pm and had a wonderful ride out to the forest land south of Vernon, Utah.  I played no music this day and simply enjoyed the drive, looking at the scenery and anticipating observing that night. I firmly believed that this night I would only have my friend Allan observing with me and as I enjoy his company a lot, I looked forward to that also.

     I drove out to the T intersection at the end of the dirt road leading out to either the Vernon Reservoir or to the other land and forest roads. I turned right and drove down to FR006. I hadn't seen anyone camping when I drove out so I had a hope that I might find site 1 clear, but it was the opening of the bow hunt for deer and elk and I thought I would face a lot of traffic out there. Sure enough, on the corner of FR006 and the dirt road I was on, there were some hunters set up with a tent and campsite. I drove up FR006 (or down since I was heading south) and as I approached Site 1, sure enough, it was occupied. Just past site 1 I saw a new set of campers, disperse camping in an area that had never had campers before and so I continued my south bound trek. I crossed the cattle guard and then BAM!  The site right after the cattle guard was unoccupied and more importantly, the site behind it, a good ways off the road and with a lot of open space was wide open. This is my favorite location as the Juniper Trees block the very few stray lights from Vernon.  I scrambled into my favorite site, picked out my location and unloaded.

     The image above and below shows my favorite observing site/location out on the Forest Land off of FR006, that I call Jay's or Jay's Favorite.  You can see from the images the skies were just perfect with just a couple of clouds that disappeared over the mountains as night time fell.

     I parked the Outback, where a tree in front of it would offer shade when the morning sun rose ove the eastern mountains and hills.  I found a good level spot and unloaded my equipment. Out came the ground cover, a mat used for tile floors that is carpeted on top and rubber underneath. Then came the 17.5" dob, or what I am now calling my 17.5" "Zwicky" Dob in honor of Fritz Zwicky.  (I have named my 14" Dob the 14" "Piazzi" Dob after the Italian Astronomer of that name, and in honor of my son who lived in Italy for a couple of years: see this LINK for a history of Piazzi). After setting up the Zwicky, I set up my observing chair and other items, realizing that I had not loaded my table. Luckily, Alan shared his with me so that worked out well.

Above you can see the Outback (after I had unloaded, I rolled out the memory foam mattress, air mattress, pillow and connected up my cpap so I was ready to go when I turned in LATE that night). 

Here is the few of the Zwicky and the back of the Outback. I have my eyepiece cases open up on top of my memory foam and my observing shair ready to go. 

A few of the Zwicky looking back toward's Alan's car and my observing chair in the foreground. Clouds to the north didn't affect us. 

The 17.5" "Zwicky" set up and cooling. Small step ladder ready to go. I have to say, that even though I like the light weight of the step ladder, I prefer my three step ladder better and will be adding a half step to it also.  

     This is Alan's 5 inch Vixen R130Sf refelctor and Porta II Mount package. Sky & Telescope has an excellent review of this scope in their October 2015 issue on pages 60 to 64 by Gary Seronik.  He sums up what I believe my friend Alan would say, the plastic focuser needs an upgrade; the mount can and probably should be upgraded but the mirror and views this little scope puts up are wonderful! When I looked, the views were clear, crisp, clean and sharp, and it holds collimation well and a quick star test should a very good mirror. I would upgrade the mount perhaps to an Explore Scientific Twilight II mount or I and put a moonlight focuser on it and this would be a keeper scope! 

      Sunset, twilight approaching, one of my favorite times in the field. This was taken by my friend Jorge Guiterrez who joined us this night (so glad he did!). 

     I had a really good night this night, observing 18 objects and sketching the following objects. Most objects were galaxies in Hercules that I saw and felt they were small enough or lacking detail to not sketch. These are the ones I did sketch. The sketch is on top, the STSci Image is on the bottom for comparison. 

STSCi Image of NGC 6106

 1. This is NGC 6106, a galaxy in Hercules.  11:09 MDT/5:09 UT; August 15th 2015; FR006 Site Jay's Fav.; SQM 21.80; Clear, Mild, Antoniadi II; 17.5 Swicky Dob; 27mm Panoptic; 10mm Pentax XW; Type II Paracorr.

The galaxy appears oriented SW to NE. A faint fuzzy with the outer portions of the galaxy faint, almost just a smear. Averted vision shows a bright inner core region and a possible stellar nucleus.

2. NGC 7217; 4:00a.m. MDT; 10:00 UT; August 16th 2015; FR006 Site Jay's; SQM 21.77; 17.5" Swicky Dob; Antoniadi II; Clear, Mild, Slight Haze starting to build (beginning of that summer smoke); 10mm Pentax XW; Type II Paracorr;

NGC 7217 is a somewhat large and diffused round galaxy.  It has an evident outer halo and a brightening inner core region.  The size of the galaxy diffuses the light/surface brightness. Fun object to observe.

3. NGC 7680; August 16th 2015; 3:08 am MDT/9:08 UT; SQM 21.77; Antoniadi II; 17.5 Swicky Dob; 20mm, 14mm Pentax XW; Type II Paracorr;

Easy star hop and this is a very faint galaxy.  No structure is evident though it is somewhat roundish in shape, with some elongation. No brightness at the core.

5.  NGC 7805 & NGC 7806; August 16th 2015; 03:40am MDT/09:40 UT; Antoniadi II; SQM 21.77; 17.5" Swicky Dob; 10mm Pentax XW, 20mm Pentax XW; Type II Paracorr; 

NGC 7805 is in the sketch, the upper or top galaxy and is the brighter of the two galaxies.  It has a stellar core that is evident and a bright core inner region. Round in shape. 
NGC 7806 shows a bright stellar core also and a bright core region, no other structure is seen in this galaxy.  Nice pairing and an enjoyable one. 

     6. NGC 7331 and the Deer Lick Galaxies in Pegasus (NGC 7336 top of the deer licks; NGC 7337 farthest right in the sketch and below NGC 7337; NGC 7335 just to the left of NGC 7337 and bove the left part of NGC 7331; NGC 7336 next to the second star and diagonally up to the right from NGC 7335).  August 16th, 2015; 01:30a.m.MDT/ 0730 UT; SQM 21.78; FR006 Site Jay's; Antoniadi II; 17.5" Swicky Dob; 7mm Pentax XW, 10mm Pentax XW; Type II Paracorr; 

Wonderful views of NGC 7331 in Pegasus with the Deerlicks easily visible at direct and averted vision. Averted vision let me hold them in focus in my eye.  NGC 7336 was the exception and that only came out with averted vision.  NGC 7331 has a very bright inner core region, with various degrees of brightness that fades as you observe out from the core.  The western edge I believe, the one near the Deerlicks is brighter and more defined. Possibly showing some structure in this area but I wouldn't bet on it.  The Deerlicks show no structure or details, just faint fuzzies.  NGC 7331 appears tilted to me as I observe and sketch it. 

7. NGC 6992 and NGC 6995 the Eastern Veil Nebula in Cygnus;  August 16th 2015; 11:52pm/05:52 UT on August 17th, 2015; Antoniadi II; SQM 21.73; 17.5" Swicky Dob; 27mm Panoptic, 30mm ES 82 degree; 35mm Panoptic; 17.3mm Delos;  Type II Paracorr;

We had such stunning views of the eastern veil nebula as Alan can attest to, that I had to sketch it. The filaments really did pop out like this and it was just a gorgeous view. The top sketch is the actual sketch, no adjustments made. The bottom sketch reflects a increase in contrast and a reduction in brightness (I just can't seem to make my camera take the image I want and that reflects in accuracy the sketch; the sketch looks a ton better).  Anyway, wonderful object to sketch as it climbed to zenith and through zenith.  You can decide which you prefer and let me know if you want.

     Another shot by Jorge as twlight begins to end and the Milky Way is revealing her majesty to the camera.

     That was it for this observing run. I hope in September the weather calms and I can get out two times to observe. There is nothing like it and I can't wait! September and October can be some of our best months though it does get cold at night and I"ll need to wear by bow hunting bibs and coat to keep warm. I LOVE fall and have some wonderful objects to go after to both observe and sketch! Keep enjoying the wonders of our night sky!

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Is Messier 57 Really, I mean REALLY The Ring Nebula?

     Early on a Saturday morning and I was going through some older Hubblecasts on YouTube when I saw this one on the Ring Nebula. Messier 57 is a favorite target this time of the year for many amateurs and I found Dr. J's insight into its true shape really interesting. More like Messier 76, The Little Dumbbell, if the perspective was changed. Enjoy this!

     Dr. J provides a wonderful view of how we get white dwarf stars in a general basis. There are in general two white dwarf star types found. The first is for those stars that are 4 solar masses or less, down to the mass of the Sun, perhaps .5 the mass of the Sun. These stars end their lives as carbon-oxygen white dwarf stars as they use the triple alpha process to fuse helium into carbon and oxygen at the core.  They stop there as they do not have the capacity to burn oxygen into neon. As they approach the end of their lives, these stars (a vast majority in the universe) will on the Hertzsprung-Russell diagram be on the asymptotic-giant-branch as reflected in this diagram under the green AGB branch which takes off from the 2 solar mass star.

from: "Stellar evolutionary tracks-en" by derivative work: Rursus (talk)Stellar_evolutionary_tracks-en.PNG: *derivative work: G.A.SStellar_evolutionary_tracks.gif: Jesusmaiz - Stellar_evolutionary_tracks-en.PNG. Licensed under CC BY 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons -

     These stars per above, that fuse helium into carbon and oxygen will end up as red giants and at the end of the ASB cycle will be comprised of a outward hydrogen burning shell, followed by a helium burning shell and a carbon and oxygen core. These stars (like our Sun) will then through stellar winds throw off their hydrogen and helium shells and form a planetary nebula while retaining only that earth size carbon oxygen core. The more massive the white dwarf, the smaller its size will be.

   For stars that come in between 4 solar masses to somewhere around 8 solar masses, they are capable of burning hydrogen into helium and then ignited helium into carbon burning producing oxygen-neon-magnesium in the core. However, these stars never become hot enough to ignite neon burning so the result is their core becomes a oxygen-neon-magnesium core, and thus they leave a oxygen-neon-sodium-magnesium white dwarf.  Their outer shell is thrown off via stellar winds, sending the hydrogen, helium and carbon shells out leaving just the oxygen-neon-magnesium white dwarf. Then for somewhere between 10,000 to 50,000 years, the planetary nebula is lit up by the  ultra violent radiation coming from the white dwarf. As the white dwarf cools, the planetary nebula becomes fainter as the radiation doesn't light it up until the planetary nebula fades into the interstellar medium.

     If a star is around 8 solar masses or greater (initially, it can most likely become under 8 solar masses slightly as it goes through its evolutionary stages) it may ignite neon fusing and then continue fusing heavier elements until it reaches iron, at which point the star will end up in a supernova explosion.

     The takeaway from this video for me is that how we view a planetary nebula is really relative to how we view it from our perspective and line of sight from earth! That helps us to determine its shape. I have to wonder if any study has picked up not only on the elements and nature of the elements in a planetary nebula to cause its shape, but if taking a basic planetary shape and changing it via a computer model to reflect how different planetary nebula may look if our line of sight and thus our perspective were to change. Cool thought! Keep enjoying the wonders of the night sky!

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Where to Observe the Perseid Meteor Shower in Salt Lake City: August 2015

     A few people have inquired of me where to go to observe the Perseid Meteor Shower this August. Well, there are some good and decent sites around the Salt Lake Valley that I could recommend, then some down in Utah Co. and then some other locations.

     I am not going to recommend my observing sites as for someone just wanting to observe the meteor shower I feel they are too far out. I intend to be observing either later this week or this weekend.  I enjoy a shower, but I enjoy observing more.  So here are some local sites that are a little bit out of the way, but ones I would recommend.

1. Out pass Guardsman Pass on Public Lands.

The first one is just pass Guardsman Pass up Big Cottonwood Canyon. You have to be careful driving up here, the road snakes a LOT and there are bicycle riders up here and others. After you climb up pass the ski resorts, the road turns to dirt as you can see in this picture:

The road is safe and most sites will tell you a family car can handle, my Outback, no problem. Just drive safely here. You can see after you come down from this vantage there will be places to pull over and you can do so. Some of the land is National Forest land, some is private land so I would stick to the area next to the road. Great views are available up here if your willing to take the drive. Heck, before coming up you can spend the day hiking in the canyon or doing a zip line or summer Ski Resort roller coaster ride before heading out to see the Perseid's. Here is a light pollution map of the area so you can see what light pollution will impact your view.

2. Solider Hollow or Wasatch Mountain State Park.

      The next area off the beaten path at night that I recommend to get away to if you want a decent chance of seeing the Perseids is Solider Hollow up by Midway/Heber City in the Heber Valley. You can see from the map to get there you simply come up Provo Canyon like your going to Heber, turn left to Charleston Road, then left to Tate Lane.  There are some group sites and picnic areas in the Wasatch Mountain State Park which has a pdf of the park and a map at this LINK. IF you are by the water, bring mosquito repellent as they are out. This is a wonderful site to have a picnic, camp IF you want to and there is an open camp site and enjoy the meteor shower.  Perhaps leave early in the day, come up the Alpine Loop, take in a relaxing Chair Lift Ride at Sundance and then come up.  That makes for an tremendous day! Good date for married couples or people dating also. 

Here are some images of the area. Plenty of gorgeous skies to site back and view the shower from! 

Maps of how to get there and light pollution impacts. 


3. Five Mile Pass Area and Pit n Pole

     My last area is made up of two or three areas, all close together. It is an area at Pit n Pole that I will observe at, and if you go all the way to the Pit n Pole, thee site is dark, with wide open horizons. If you are sitting back you will see the shower from here.  Five Mile Pass where the ATVers and Motorcycles are is also a good place or the area just south of it off the dirt road that leads south to one of the open places. Not as open as Pit n Pole, you'll have campers on the weekend but still a decent place to go and see these. Here is the map of the area and their locations. Go out SR 73 pass Cedar Fort and Fairfield, and then out to Five Mile Pass.  Follow the map (if you go to Pit n Pole there is a road just pass 5 Mile Pass where Hwy 73 turns north toward Tooele and you turn left there. Follow that for about 9 miles and there will be a major dirt road on your left near PR 003 marker. Follow that up to the first right, head out to the Pole and your there. Be careful, the road to the Pole is bumpy. Here are 6 year old directions from my blog on how to get out to Pit n Pole. FYI, the road was turned into dirt and ground up asphalt a couple of years ago as an FYI.  LINK to directions with pictures. You can see how wide open this location is. 

   There you go. Three sites I would go to to relax and observe the meteor shower! IF you go, please do the following. Dress in layers, with the ability to put layers on. It gets cool to cold in the mountains and the deserts of Utah even in the summer.  Take if possible some chairs that lean back, yawn chairs for example, and a good hat if it is cold, some food, water and other non-alcoholic drink (your driving I assume home) and a few friends you enjoy being with. Then go out and just enjoy the night. No equipment is needed just your two eyes. IF you have to bring something then take a pair of binoculars. I promise though you'll miss some if your looking through them.
I hope this provides a few ideas of how to enjoy the Perseid Meteor shower this August of 2015! May the wonders of the sky amaze you! 



Just thought I would share one more area to observe. This is up at the Little Mountain site in Emigration  Canyon.  You can find that location from this map at the Salt Lake Astronomical Society. LINK.  Though there is light pollution from this site you should still be able to see the Perseids.