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Thread: Observing under heavily polluted skies

  1. #1
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    Default Observing under heavily polluted skies



    I guess that my post here is to ask the following and get some encouragement:
    -- What are reasonable goals/targets overall for my situation and current equipment?
    -- Offer up any seasonal breakdown for goals, if you can.
    -- With that in mind, should I stick primarily with moon/planets from my home base?
    -- What DSOs are reasonable at this time of year or in coming weeks/months?
    -- I don't know much about double stars. What is the appeal, as it just seems like you are making one bright spot into two. What double stars should I consider and what is a probably limiting mag?


    I am still a novice observer with limited equipment.
    It looks like tonight the rain here in the Pacific Northwest of the US (45.5 degrees latitude) will let up with more rain in the forecast.
    There have been breaks in the clouds a few nights recently and I have been able to get out from ~ 2130 pm to 2330 PM.

    My last session out a few nights ago in the backyard was a disheartening experience.
    The seeing was probably fair, but I am not a great judge nor certain how to gauge.
    It had been raining earlier in the day and there were still clouds out but with enough breaks to make it seem worthwhile to keep observing, at least up until ~ 2330.
    I was out with a 6" f/8 Orion SkyQuest dob .
    With considerable effort, I managed to find the Beehive with the 6" and as a haze with 10x50 binoculars.
    I also have a borrowed 8" SCT go-to scope, but it is an older scope and the go-to and tracking features are not reliable.
    On clearer night, I have had better luck.
    I am not familiar with Cancer enough to know the stars, but just glanced at the Wikipedia entry and see that it is among the dimmest of constellations.
    To find the Beehive, I am sort of wandering around midway between Pollux and Regulus. I have a Telrad with the two volume set of laminated Messier Telrad finder charts.
    I tried to find any of the Messier Leo Galaxies, hopping between Regulus and Denebola and using the stars south of Theta as guides, but no luck.
    Under dark skies, I have been able to find some of these galaxies.
    I was primarily using a 35mm Plössl, but also a 32mm and 25 mm.
    I am almost certain that condensation on the mirror was a limiting factor, as even Jupiter started looking blurry.
    How do you control for condensation on a small dob mirror? I am considering cutting a hole in the side of the 'scope and mounting a small battery powered fan.

    Typically the Hercules Cluster is not too touch to find from my backyard.
    On a clear night recently, I saw M81 Bode's Galaxy. This was found after the aforementioned Go-To SCT went looking for M82. I could not see it, but did see the bright M81.
    Since then, without the Go-To feature, it has been tough to locate given the limited stars nearby to hop around. Again, it is sort of a point the telrad and hope for the best.
    Maybe I need a better finder scope, or just a better scope in general?

    The city recently "upgraded" the streetlights to blue-ish LEDs and one shines way too bright on the prime area of my ward for observing.
    I am stuck moving further back into the shadows, under an enormous Douglas Fir that I love during daylight hours. It really gives my corner lot in the middle or a large city a great rural feeling. The nearby chicken coop and the garden boxes on the side yard help too.

    The best area of sky in my yard is towards the west, so recently Auriga, Gemini, and Leo.The northeast is blocked by trees. Due south is blocked by the house. I have an areas to the southwest, where it has been easy to see Jupiter. This has been a fun target the past few weeks and I enjoy watching Jupiter. A new eyepiece (ES 6.7mm 82degree) is going to be here tomorrow.

    Thank you!

    Daniel
    Last edited by Gaff; 04-30-2017 at 04:54 PM. Reason: typo

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  3. #2
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    Default Re: Observing under heavily polluted skies

    Hello Daniel,
    I can't be sure you will be able to see most of the galaxies in the Messier list with your 6", but you still can see the open clusters, globular clusters and some others DSOs. But the list does not end there, there is still lot of OCs more to see, double stars, carbon stars, asterisms so you will have lot of fun.

    I started with a 4.5" in Bogota and by starting to sketch I realized that enhanced my skills to see dim stuff. My binoculars (15x70) became later my main tool of stargazing, simply because I could take them to dark skies with ease.

    Don't stick to planets and solar system, there is a lot that you can see from your home. Most important...avoid direct lights. Start with OCs and GCs, then try to get some galaxies like M81 and M82. Leo triplet can be though under bright skies but I have seen it even with my 10x50s binoculars under Bortle 4 skies. I can say...keep trying and try every advice to will get from here.

    Good luck and keep us updated with your reports!
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    Default Re: Observing under heavily polluted skies

    Hello Daniel,

    there are 2 ways helping under the urban skies, besides leaving for better skies, of course.
    1. Very high magnifications (150x and more) to dim the sky background and to make visible:
    double stars, bright open clusters, bright globular cluster
    2. Narrow-band OIII filter and medium magnifications (50x - 100x): bright planetary nebulae, bright diffuse emission nebulae.

    Regarding the galaxies, choose those with the high surface brightness, and try the high magnifications.

    Hoping this general recommendation helps,

    JG
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    Default Re: Observing under heavily polluted skies

    Daniel,

    Actually you seem to be progressing fairly well. Star hopping skills take time to develop. Hang in there and don't get discouraged but don't let star hopping frustration led you to abandon astronomy. The fact that you can see galaxies indicates you have site dark enough to see a lot of objects. Regarding the street light; have you considered making a light shield? You will be surprised that once you cut the direct (trespass) light how much more you can see. I don't know your back yard but a rope between two trees and an old blanket works great as does a PVC pipe frame with plastic sheeting made from plastic trash bags and duct tape. BTW, light pollution filters will not work for LEDs.

    There is nothing wrong with using a goto telescope and never developing any star hopping skills. The down side is you will be dependent upon a goto mount to see the night sky and goto telescopes do malfunction from time to time. With the 8SE and other goto telescopes, it is very important to accurately center stars in the eyepiece when you align the scope for the night. A retcle eyepiece works great. If you do not have one, simply defocus the telescope until the alignment star makes a huge white dot with a big black dot in the center... this will help you better judge when the star is centered. Also don't use planets or the moon as an alignment object.

    Regarding double stars. There is much more to amateur astronomy than simply viewing or photographing DSOs. Many people like the challenge of pushing their equipment to see well it resolves difficult targets. On the other hand, many people don't. Other activities such as measuring variable stars brightness, observing and recording meteor strikes on the moon, occultations, hunting new comets, etc. interest people and offer a way for amateur astronomers to actually advance the knowledge base of humanity.

    Again, hang in there. Summer is coming soon with its wealth of bright nebulae, etc.
    Last edited by sxinias; 04-30-2017 at 06:38 PM.
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    Default Re: Observing under heavily polluted skies

    Daniel, nowadays I observe mainly from my front driveway Bortle 8-9 urban skies, where I'll use the brightest naked eye stars to star hop to my desired targets. For example, to get to M44 (Beehive), I'll use Castor or Pollux in Gemini to star hop to the constellation Cancer, which is invisible from my front driveway. The neighboring apartment has its parking lot lights on all night. I use a dark cloth which I drape over my head as a light shield.

    I learned how to star hop using an Orion Funscope 76mm tabletop Newt at an elevated urban park. The great thing about it was it gave low power (15x & 30x) wide field views, so it was easy to follow the star charts using it to find bright DSOs. After 4 months, I bought a slightly bigger scope and the Funscope was history.

    I use a 4.5" F/7.9 scope from my front driveway to seek out asterisms and brighter open clusters.

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    Default Re: Observing under heavily polluted skies

    The trick is to keep trying out there. One suggestion I have is to drape a towel over your head at the eyepiece to keep out extraneous light from neighbors, streetlights, etc. This allows your eye to become fully dark-adapted during your session. This really helps with galaxies. Star-hopping is an acquired skill, you will get better over time. I would say that with a 6" in fairly light polluted skies you will be able to see all of the Messiers. Another good resource is the book the Urban Astronomer's Guide by Rod Mollise, who is a member of the Forum. It covers lots of tips and tricks to maximize your observing experience under light polluted skies. I have a copy and it has been quite valuable to have.
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    Default Re: Observing under heavily polluted skies

    Hi Daniel,

    I live in a city that's not overly big (only about 100,000 population), but they do love their lights, and I live only a couple blocks away from a couple of public baseball diamonds where the lights actually illuminate the roof of every house on my block and are left on all night every night. So I can feel your pain of observing in a LP area.

    Finding objects with a Telrad in these conditions can be tough. I can barely see a few of the stars of Cancer with averted vision, but they disappear completely with direct vision. It's difficult to aim a Telrad accurately with averted vision.

    I found that using a combination of finder scopes has helped me tremendously. I will use the telrad to get me to the nearest star I can see with direct vision, and then I will use my 8x50 RACI (Right Angle Correct Image) finderscope to "starhop" from star to star until I get to the correct field.

    There are still a lot of galaxies that my scope would be able to pick up in dark skies that I can't see from my back yard, but at least now I know I'm looking in the right spot for them.

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    Default Re: Observing under heavily polluted skies

    Hi, i am in Cape town South Africa +-34deg S. I see the clusters, Jewel Box, Omega Centauri although its just a puff of candy cotton, M6, M7, the Eta Carrina showcase Nebulae and clusters (quite spoilt in the southern hemisphere aren't we). But I havent been able to spot any galaxies! I thought its due to the LP, i do live in a suburban area. I guess its probably due the limitations of my rather old 127mm bird-Jones type reflector (bought cheap at pawn shop). the EP's arent too bad 20mm Super Plossl and a GSO 32mm. I made a dew shield about 15cm deep on top of the OTA to shield perriferal light from the street lights and neighbours yards. I like Helicon64's suggestion to drape a towel over my head and will try that. I dont know what else I could try other than saving up for more apperture. Thanks for all the posts. Ray.
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    Default Re: Observing under heavily polluted skies

    The thing that most revolutionized my observing -- and the ability to find deep space objects -- was the marvelous guidebook Turn Left at Orion.

    It shows you how to find the Messier objects and a slew of other interesting sights, include drawings of where they are, what they look like, and how to use pointer or marker stars and patterns to find the object.

    It also includes some scientific information about the objects as well as sections on equipment, observing tips, a guide to the Moon, etc.

    The other good investment for many people is a Telrad-- a device that projects 3 circles on the sky -- 4 degrees, 2 degrees, and 1/2 degrees. It makes it easy to star hop from visible stars to the objects you are seeking. There are many, free, online Telrad charts.

    Even in semi light polluted skies, it works well as you can step off, say, 2 Telrad fields from a bright star to find the DSO.

    Hope that helps someone!
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