Monday, July 4, 2011

Chicago Astronomers Enjoy a Dark Sky at Conway Observatory June 28-29, 2011

So many times I have to leave Adler star parties early to go to work, but last Tuesday I left to spend the rest of the night observing at Conway Observatory. New Chicago Astronomer Tom Lee has been taking an astrophotography class there at my suggestion on a Chicago Astronomer discussion board. Tom has had an interest in photography for some time, and was looking for something new to try. While he doesn't yet have a telescope, he's been coming out to Chicago Astronomer star parties, and learning astronomy and astrophotography through the CAS class.

 I told Tom when he started his astrophotography class that I would try to join him after the class ended for extended observing. Tuesday was my first chance to get out there when the class was over, so I felt I owed it to Tom to be back as early as possible. (And, of course, I wanted to get under a dark sky with a big aperture scope). I parted ways with Joe and the guys, and Bill followed us back to the Hoosier state for a few hours of great observing.

One of my biggest hopes for the Conway session was to be part of a Chicago Astronomer team imaging the M51 supernova using the 6” refractor at the new Hunter Astrophoto Lab. When we arrived, however, Calumet Astronomical Society President Chris Brownewell and another Tom were working to adjust the polar alignment on that telescope. Hillary, Tom, and I showed Bill around the observatory before getting down to some deep sky viewing.

I opened the roof for the 16” observing deck while Bill and Tom staked out spots on the concrete pad below. I admit I went with some easy targets, but the point was to be viewing for as long as possible, not tracking down especially faint fuzzies and star hopping. Here is what I remember targeting in the 16” telescope:

M57- Low and high power views, and with a light pollution filter. This ain’t no faint smoke ring out here.

M8- The M42 of summer, looking great from binoculars to high power eyepieces. I regret not trying to filter it.

M70- One of three easy globular clusters along the bottom of the Teapot.

M69- Between M70 and M54.

M54- The easternmost of these 3 globs. Nice and compact; my favorite of the three.

M4- The Antares glob. Just by being so close to my favorite star, it should be my favorite globular. It’s a very loose cluster, though, and I’m fond of tight, spherical globs.

M31- First time I’ve seen it in the 16”. Felt like I could reach right across those 2.5 million light years.

Jupiter- Best look yet at the Jovian system this summer. SEB was definitely back in full force.

I was also observing from the ground with my 6” Dob, and my 16x50 binoculars were passed around more than a few times. Three and a half hours flew by like mere minutes. At 3:30 AM it was time to start shutting down for the night. By the time we were ready to leave 20 minutes later, Luna surprised us over the northeastern treeline. Twilight was already washing out eastern stars, so I think we exploited the night almost to the fullest.

Thanks to Bill, Tom, and Hillary for hanging out well past their normal bedtimes. For a session that sprung up kind of at the last minute, it was a good one. Both at Adler and at Conway Tuesday night/Wednesday morning, I had rather short observing lists. That’s okay, because spending time with friends was the most enjoyable part.


M8, Lagoon Nebula. Photo credit: Bill Chiu.


Trifid Nebula. Photo credit: Bill Chiu.


M22. Photo credit: Bill Chiu.


M27, Dumbell Nebula. Photo credit: Bill Chiu.


Double Cluster in Perseus. Photo credit: Tom Lee.




Left to right: Tom, me, Hillary, Bill. All group picture credits: Tom Lee.


  1. Hi Paulie, looks like a great evenings viewing.

    I like your description of M31 " Felt like I could reach right across those 2.5 million light years"...
    .....must have been great to use that scope..

    That Dumbell Nebula picture came out well...

    An evening to be remembered.... :0)

    Clear Skies


  2. That is one AWESOME looking telescope! Nice!

  3. What a fun evening Paulie! Glad you got to take in some serious photons. It is indeed a good time to take in familiar sky friends with a bigger eye!

  4. Man, I love that telescope. I'm getting spoiled by it. Viewed Jupiter at home in my 6" Dob early Sunday morning and was like, "Is that it?" Aperture fever strikes again...