April 2021

Messier Column - May 2021

Original article appears in GuideStar May, 2021.

By Jim King

The birth of the messier catalogue: Without question, the messier catalogue contains some of the most spectacular deep-sky objects visible in small telescopes, but their inclusion is largely circumstantial.  Messier never intended to create a list of the most spectacular objects in the heavens. His was a catalogue of “comet masqueraders” as the late comet discoverer Leslie Peltier called them.  Messier started the list in 1758 after he encountered a stationary fuzzy patch near Zeta Tauri (M1) while he was looking for the Comet of 1758.  As David Levy notes in Messier and His Catalogue, “Realizing he had been fooled by the sky’s version of a practical joke, Messier began to build a catalogue of what he called “embarrassing objects.”

So, we benefit from his somewhat painful, though eye-opening (pun intended) experience.  We are in the middle of the early spring section of Messier’s works.


M48 Open Cluster (2) Easy

The most intriguing “missing” Messier object, M48 is now believed to be NGC 2548, a knitted stellar gathering of about 80 stars between magnitude 8 and 13 located in a rather inconspicuous region of Hydra where it borders Monoceros.

AP Corner – May 2021

Original article appears in GuideStar May, 2021.

Measure Your Imaging System

By Don Selle


The age-old astronomy curse which promises that a new telescope will bring cloudy skies (the bigger the OTA the cloudier for longer) applies not only to visual observers but to we astro-imagers too. Whether (pun intended) this curse is real or generated by our selective memory really doesn’t matter. The reality is that clear transparent moonless nights are a limited commodity, and we should stive to use them as efficiently as possible. Developing and consistently following an imaging workflow is a good way to do this.

It doesn’t matter if you are just getting into astro-photography or if you have been at it a while, it seems almost inevitable that you will acquire new equipment (remember – there’s always an upgrade!). Becoming familiar with and measuring key parameters of your equipment, can and should be done during cloudy or moonlit nights when conditions are not very favorable for actual imaging.

Field of View

Original article appears in GuideStar May, 2021.

Volunteer and Pass it Forward

By Don Selle



“We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.” – Winston Churchill

It was not so long ago that we “seasoned” astronomers were lamenting the greying of our hobby, which for many is more than just a pastime. Additionally, we came to realize that our “community” was not very diverse by measures other than age, as women and people of color were (and still are) under-represented.

Shallow Sky Object of the Month: Stargate Asterism

Original article appears in GuideStar May, 2021.

by Bill Pellerin

Originally Published in the May 2016 Guidestar

Object:  Stargate
Class:  Asterism
Constellation:  Corvus
Magnitude:  6.6 (brightest star)
R.A.:    12 h, 35 m,  59 s
Dec:    -12°  03’ 09”
Size/Spectral:  About 6 arc minutes
Distance:  35.9 ly
Optics needed: Small telescope

The first time I ever heard of the Stargate asterism was when I picked up a copy of John Wagoner’s 2013 observing list at the Texas Star Party. It seems that the asterism was mentioned earlier by the well known observer Philip Harrington in a May, 1998 article in Sky and Telescope magazine. (John may yet be the originator of the name, though.)

That’s not the earliest identification of this star grouping, though. I have written about the Struve dynasty of double (and multiple) stars in the past. In 1832, Otto Struve cataloged the pairs AB, AC, and BC. Additional pairs were cataloged after Otto’s death, but clearly he saw the collection of stars quite early on.

Virgo’s Galactic Harvest

Original article appears in GuideStar May, 2021.

This articleNSN.png is distributed by NASA Night Sky Network

The Night Sky Network program supports astronomy clubs across the USA dedicated to astronomy outreach. Visit nightsky.jpl.nasa.gov to find local clubs, events, and more!

Virgo’s Galactic Harvest

David Prosper

May is a good month for fans of galaxies, since the constellation Virgo is up after sunset and for most of the night, following Leo across the night sky. Featured in some ancient societies as a goddess of agriculture and fertility, Virgo offers a bounty of galaxies as its celestial harvest for curious stargazers and professional astronomers alike.

Virgo is the second-largest constellation and largest in the Zodiac, and easily spotted once you know how to spot Spica, its brightest star. How can you find it? Look to the North and start with the Big Dipper! Follow the general curve of the Dipper’s handle away from its “ladle” and towards the bright orange-red star Arcturus, in Boötes – and from there continue straight until you meet the next bright star, Spica!  This particular star-hopping trick is summed up by the famous phrase, “arc to Arcturus, and spike to Spica.” 

UBarU to host 5th Annual Star Party Sept 3-6, 2021

Original article appears in GuideStar May, 2021.

IDA.pngThe UBarU Star Party (USP) is being held over Labor day Weekend Sept 3-6. UBarU is a an IDA-designated Dark Sky Park and is a four-hour drive from Houston in Mountain Home, Texas. Want to hear firsthand about this newer star party that’s so close to home? Contact Rene Gedaly at [email protected], and be sure to ask about goats in trees.

Rates & Registration. Everyone attending must register and purchase a registration ticket. Registration includes access to all programming and activities. Early bird Registration ticket prices are $50 for adults and $25 for children 6 to 18. Please register at http://ubaru.org/home/starParty if you would like to participate in-person. 

Meals & lodging available in bunks, private rooms and cottages as well as camping options. Don’t wait too long as spots are going fast. See the UBarU website for all the details. You can also email Robyn at [email protected] with questions or if you need help registering.   

Evening star gazing and presentations in the afternoons are part of the programming along with opportunities for independent hiking, swimming, and resting while on campus. If you’re lucky, you might spy goats in trees.

Asterisms – Kemble 2, Mini-Cassiopeia, Alessi J18350+7223

Original article appears in GuideStar May, 2021.

By: Steve Goldberg

Asterism: a grouping of stars that form a recognizable pattern.
Constellation: Draco
Right Ascension: R.A.: 18h 35m 00.0s
Declination: + 72° 23' 00"
Magnitude:  7 to 9
Size: 20’
Found in the constellation Draco is an asterism of stars in the shape of a “W”. It is officially called “Kemble 2”, but is sometimes referenced as a “Mini-Cassiopeia”.
It is located near the star Chi Draco, in the “bend” of Draco the dragon.

This was first named by Father Lucian Kemble in August, 1994 in a note to astronomer Arlid Moland. It was Moland who gave it the “Mini Cassiopeia” name.  Independently of Kemble and Moland, Brazilian amateur Bruno Alessi cataloged this object as Alessi J18350+7223”.

(This history taken from the book “Star Clusters” by Brent Archinal and Steven Hynes)


Challenge Object - May 2021

Original article appears in GuideStar May, 2021.

by Stephen Jones


Hubble Space Telescope (HST) image of NGC 4449.

NGC 4449 – Irregular Galaxy in Canes Venatici

RA 12h28m11.4s Dec +44deg 05’40”

Size 6.1’x4.3’ Vmag 10.0

This month as we continue through galaxy season we’re going to take a look at one of the most unusual-looking deep sky objects in the sky.  NGC 4449 was discovered by William Herschel in 1788.  It is an irregular galaxy, very similar in morphology to our galaxy’s companion the Large Magellanic Cloud. It is also known to be undergoing a large amount of star formation, likely triggered by whatever disruption caused its extremely distorted appearance. Curiously, John Herschel actually thought (mistakenly of course) that he had resolved the galaxy into its individual stars. 

Visual Challenge Object April 2021 - Hickson 44

Hickson 44 – Compact Galaxy Group in Leo

RA 10h18m05.7s Dec +21deg 49’57” (position is for NGC 3190)

NGC 3190: Size 4.4’x1.2’ Vmag 12.1

NGC 3193: Size 2.0’x2.0’ Vmag 11.8

NGC 3187: Size 3.6’x1.6’ Vmag 13.4

NGC 3185: Size 2.3’x1.5’ Vmag 13.0


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