Sharing tips and techniques to help amateur astronomers get the most out of light polluted skies.

Star-hopping tutorial 3: Star-skipping to M11

Star-skipping from Altair to M11This the third in a series of tutorials intended to develop basic star-hopping skills. The focus of these tutorials is not on finding particular deep sky objects, but rather on using hops to selected objects as a vehicle for illustrating star-hopping techniques.

This lesson introduces star-skipping—a way to skip across large areas either to speed up a long-range star-hop or to get across areas that lack stars suitable for traditional star-to-star star-hopping. The star-hop from Altair to M11 provides a perfect example of where this technique can be useful. Altair itself is bright enough to be visible even in heavily light-polluted skies. But light pollution combined with summer haze and M11's somewhat low position on the horizon often leaves few other stars visible for star-to-star hopping. The best way to get from Altair to M11 is to “skip across” such barren areas to the brighter stars...

Other tutorials in the series: Lesson 1, Lesson 2


Bright Nova in Sagittarius

A bright nova in our local galaxy was discovered on July 7th by Koichi Nishiyama and Fujio Kabashima and has been assigned the preliminary name of PNV J18202726-2744263 or Nova Sagittarii 2012 No. 4. It is currently at magnitude 7.7, putting it well within reach of urban astronomers using only binoculars or small telescopes.

It is located between Sagittarius' teapot's spout and top, so it will be somewhat low on the horizon for mid-latitude northern observers. Add hazy summer nights, light pollution, and an area crowded with lots of Milky Way stars, and you may not find it so easy to locate this nova. To assist you, I've generated a complete set of AAVSO finder charts.



Urban Orion

The constellation of OrionOrion is not only the best known winter constellation, but it is also a great urban constellation. Thanks to its distinctive arrangement of rather bright stars, Orion shines through in heavily washed-out skies, even when few other constellations can recognized. It is also the home of the Great Orion Nebula (M42) big, bright, and easily visible even in washed-out skies. However, M42 is only the most famous of many interesting astronomical objects in Orion. And best of all for urban astronomers, quite a few of Orion's objects—like the constellation itself—can be enjoyed in light-polluted skies. Here is a run down...


Another Urban Supernova

SN2011fe on DSS image of M101Amazing! Another supernova within reach of urban amateur astronomers has appeared in galaxy M101 in Ursa Major. Supernova SN 2011fe (also known by its preliminary name of PTF11kly) is already brighter than SN 2011dn at maximum. As of August 28th, it had reached magnitude 11.7 and was still brightening at roughly half a magnitude a day. Some predictions have SN 2011fe potentially surpassing 10th magnitude, making it a fantastic opportunity to view a supernova even in small telescopes. I've generated some finder charts to help you see SN 2011fe; however, you have to act fast if you want to see this supernova...


An Urban Supernova

Supernova SN 2011dh in M51A new supernova, SN 2011dh, has appeared in M51 that is at this time (June 2011) visible from typical urban and suburban skies using moderately sized telescopes. This is a unique opportunity to see a star from another galaxy without having to travel to a dark-sky site. It is rare for an extragalactic supernova to appear as bright as this, and even rarer for it to appear in a relatively well known and easily located galaxy such as M51. And not only that, but it is well position for observing in the early evenings, making it an easy target in later June when the moon is well past full. Even with a nearly full moon, I've found SN 2011dh easy to see with my 10 inch Dob. I've generated some finder charts to make it easy for anyone to locate this supernova....


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