Did you know you can check out telescopes at the Library?

Orion StarBlast 4.5" TelescopeThanks to a generous donation from the Louisville Astronomical Society, LFPL is excited to offer telescopes for check out at the Southwest and South Central Regional libraries. The lending period is for one week and is limited to Louisville Free Public Library cardholders in good standing, 18 years or older.

Signing a Telescope User Agreement at the time of checkout is required. Go to the Library Catalog to reserve one today.

For more information on the telescope lending program, visit:


November in the Sky
By Frank Nelson, Sidewalk Astronomy Coordinator for the Louisville Astronomical Society.

Welcome to Autumn! The cool, clear nights are incoming and hopefully we get some good nights for stargazing before the frigid cold of winter. We also get to set the clocks back an hour which means we can start stargazing earlier! November is a month of transition for astronomers. The rich summer milky way slips behind the sun while the wonders of winter rise very early in the morning. The area of the ecliptic to the south, where the moon and planets are located, is full of very dim constellations with very few bright stars. Fortunately for us, one of the grand wonders of the sky is high above the horizon at sunset to the east and north. It is bright, easy to find with a bit of patience, and a great object to spend some time with under dark skies. Here is how to see the nearest large galaxy to us on earth, the Andromeda galaxy.

Andromeda Galaxy photo taken in Louisville, KY

The Andromeda galaxy is visible with the unaided eye in a dark area with little to no moon above the horizon. I have seen it at Bernheim Forest, The Parklands at Floyds Fork and the Louisville Astronomical Society’s meeting spot in Tom Sawyer Park. At roughly 2 million light years away, it is the most distant object you can see in the night sky without a telescope or binoculars. And we have an amazing, bright, group of stars to point us in the right direction.

Andromeda Galaxy

This is the night sky looking east, about an hour after sunset. Last month we looked at the Great Square in Pegasus to find planets, now we are going to use it to find a galaxy! As you look north-east, Cassiopeia, a small grouping of stars visible even in moderate light pollution, will be noticeable. Cassiopeia looks like a bent “W” in the sky, with one half of the “W” forming an equilateral triangle. This triangle is made of the bright stars Caph, Schedar, and Navi. Navi is a neat star in its own right, so stop and look at it before we go too far. Navi is a very unpredictable variable star. It can be so faint it is barely visible in the city, to brighter than every other star in Cassiopeia. Right now, the star is about the same brightness as Caph and Schedar, but watch it and see if you can detect a change in brightness yourself.

Cassiopeia

This triangle is the western part of the “W;” in November at sunset, these three stars will the highest above the horizon. Use this triangle as a pointer. About three times the distance of each side of the triangle you will find a bright, reddish, star names Mirach. Mirach is the brightest star in Andromeda, and it hides a treat. Hidden in the glow of the star is a faint galaxy, NGC 404 (Computer people and web literate people I leave the jokes to you!). If you have a clean telescope and a clean eyepiece, and a dark sky, try to find this tiny blur of light. I’ll come back to this in a second. Once you find Mirach, follow the yellow arrows through the two not as bright stars “up” away from the horizon. If the sky is dark, you will see a faint, but large, blur. Aim a pair of binoculars at this blur. Or even better, a telescope.

The Andromeda Galaxy is actually three separate galaxies. To the south, in the fuzz of the main galaxy is a very distinct fuzzy ball that looks like an out of focus star, M32. To the north, and outside the glow of the main galaxy, is the extended glow of M110. M32 and M110 are dwarf galaxies similar to our own Large and Small Magellanic Clouds in the Southern Hemisphere. The key to seeing these two fainter objects are using your lowest magnification (40-80x) and letting your eyes take in the scene. On a good night, you will be able to see the dark dust lanes in front of the bright core of the main galaxy. On a grand night of still, clean, clear air and no moon? You will be able to see a scene not all that different from the image I took above from my driveway. Andromeda made me fall in love with observing galaxies. This faint smudge of light is some trillion stars in a spiral larger than our own Milky Way. While Cassiopeia is in the sky, take the time to follow the stars of the “W.” There are over 100 clumps of stars, what astronomers call “open” or “galactic” clusters. Each of the dotted yellow circles is a clump of stars. Most of these are visible in a pair of 10x50 binoculars. With a 4” or larger telescope you will be able to make out detail in the brighter clouds and even see individual stars! One of the prettier areas of the fall milky way is labeled as The Double Cluster, NGC 869 and NGC 884. There are several very red stars in the area that contrast with the bluer stars in the clusters. This whole area is worth spending some time viewing.

The Double Cluster, NGC 869 and NGC 884

And finally, the promised “Ghost of Mirach” finder chart! Put Mirach in the dead center of the eyepiece. Move slowly towards Andromeda, and find a pair of equally bright stars to the north of Mirach. In between this pair of stars and Mirach, will be a fain fuzzy out of focus star that is a galaxy over ten million light years away. Move Mirach slowly out of your field of view in the eyepiece and the “ghost” will be easier to see. Happy stargazing!

The Double Cluster, NGC 869 and NGC 884

For star charts, planet positions and telescope targets for the month of November, please visit the Astro League website. The images in this article are screen captures from the free program Stellarium. Want to learn how to use Stellarium? Come out to our general meeting on November 15, or our public observation events listed on our website. The LAS, along with the Gheens Science Hall & Rauch Planetarium, will host a “How to buy a telescope” talk at the Planetarium on November 8. Come out and ask questions, we are here to help!

Last Updated: 09/03/2019