March 2014

Tony Martinez

                                       Tony Martinez

Each month I will describe sights of interest in the night skies of South Carolina. These sights will be broken down into three sections; what you can see with the naked eye, with binoculars, and with a small telescope. The best time to view the night sky is at and around the times when the Moon is not visible, what is known as a New Moon; which due to a rare timing, there are two New Moons this March; March 1st and March 30th. For March, your best viewing nights will be from March 1st to the 6th, and the 21st to the 31st. The Star chart below is set for Florence, SC on March 15th at 9 pm.

wholeskychart March

Observing Accessories Part 2:
The accessories I discussed last month were the minimum required to start an astronomy hobby. The list included star charts, planisphere, astronomy observing books, camping table and chair and red lights.

The following list moves you from a casual observer to a more dedicated amateur astronomer.

Accessory Holder/Case:
As we acquire some of the items I will list below, carrying them to the observing site becomes cumbersome, and also, it is easy to misplace items in the dark. A typical accessory case is made of a hard metal or plastic shell, and contains soft foam with various cutouts; see image below.


The foam cutouts will hold various eyepieces, filters, batteries, small tools, lens cleaning supplies, compass, small level, red dot finders, etc.

  • Eyepieces – You may only have a few now, but if you enjoy your new hobby, they soon will become many.
  • Filters – Help you see low contrast objects such as planet features and nebulas. They also are quite helpful for lunar observing.
  • Batteries – Everything seems to use batteries; don’t forget to keep some flat disk batteries; they are usually used in red dot finders.
  • Small tools – Get a multi tip compact screwdriver; see below. Also small pliers.

Screw driver

  • Lens cleaning – An obvious need for all optical equipment. Make sure the solution and cleaning wipes are for optical glass; do not use substitutes.
  • Compass and small level – These are needed if your telescope is on an equatorial mount. I will discuss equatorial mounts in a later column.
  • Red Dot finders – I have discussed these in earlier columns. They are great finders, but when you take them off your scope, they can easily get damaged; keep them safe in your foam accessory case.

I personally use two accessory cases. One similar to that described above and a second case that primarily holds the lenses I am likely to use on a given night. This case can be worn on your waist; see below. Note this case also has many pouches for other small accessories and tools.

Case A final thought on accessory cases. Although I have yet to use one, some of my astronomy friends love to use a fishing vest when out observing. Fishing vests are filled with pockets that can hold many of your astronomy accessories and tools.


Green Lasers:
In addition to Red Dot finders, green laser pointers have the potential of being the best way to aim your telescope. Green lasers are most used as a teaching tool. These lasers appear to reach up and “touch” the stars; therefore you can use them to trace out constellations or point to any object in the night sky. However, they also excel as a telescope finder. The image below left shows a green laser installed in a mount, which can then be attached to most telescopes. The image on the right shows how easily you can use these lasers to aim your telescope.

Red Dot

Note: When using a green laser do not aim it at people, houses or planes. Also, many groups will not allow it to be used at star parties because it interferes with people involved in astrophotography.  At ScienceSouth events, we ask that only ScienceSouth scientists use any green lasers.

Some people may feel that a laptop is an expensive astronomy accessory; however, most households now have one or more laptops or tablets available.  For most tablets, there are various free astronomy apps that will help you find your way around the night sky. My personal choice is to run the astronomy program “Starry Nights” on my laptop. This is a powerful astronomy program, and you can easily find any astronomical object; if your telescope is capable of seeing the object, “Starry Night” will find it for you. This program is user friendly, and you are able to set up the program so that what you see through any telescope or binocular will match exactly what you see on the laptop.

Final must have accessories:
Number one – Duct Tape.  Number two – Super Glue.  These two items have solved many of life’s problems.

Naked Eye Sights: Continue to enjoy Jupiter in Gemini, and the still visible winter sights; Orion, Taurus, Sirius, and the Pleiades Cluster.

Binocular Sights (7 to 10 power):  Another great month to view Orion nebula, the Pleiades and the Double Cluster between Perseus and Cassiopeia.

Remember you can easily see Jupiter’s four Galilean moons with 7 to 10 power binoculars. A great web site from the magazine “Sky and Telescope”  will show you the exact positions of Jupiter’s moons; see below. You can set the view for the type telescope you are using.  The view below, direct view, is how the moons would look through binoculars. The time may be a little confusing, because it is set for UT (Universal Time). As March begins, the UT is five hours ahead of us.  In the image below, note the date, and the time 00.59 UT is one minute to 1 am; subtract 5 hours (-5) and this shows the exact positions of Jupiter’s moons on March 1st, at 7:59 pm.  Beginning March 9th, you subtract 4 hours.

Moons of Jupiter

Telescope Sights (60-100mm):  Try again to see the Jupiter’s atmospheric bands and check out the positions of the four Galilean moons.

See you next month!


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