No December open night

Photo: Christmas Tree Cluster
This color image of the region known as NGC 2264 is an area of sky that includes the sparkling blue baubles of the Christmas Tree star cluster and the Cone Nebula. Image Credit: ESO

Well we give up! The skies and the calendar just are not coming into alignment for a December Open Night! Clouds and inclement weather (of various temperatures) are making stargazing impossible and have been plaguing us quite often this season. And there’s no way we would schedule a public event for Christmas Eve!

So we’ll say thanks for your interest and hope more clear skies come our way next year.

Normally at this point we bundle up the telescope for the winter and schedule nothing until March. If, however, the weather presents us with sufficient notice of good observing chances we may just present a “pop-up” Open Night before spring. We would love to show off the Orion Nebula through the old scope! Watch our Twitter feed and/or check back here after the holidays for any surprises.

At any rate, we hope you will have a safe and warm winter and a wonderful new year. For those who observe it, happy Christmas to you!

And for everyone, here is a beautiful image of the Christmas Tree star cluster, provided by the European Southern Observatory (ESO) to help make the season bright. Enjoy!

Two-panel Moon

Photo: Earth's Moon two days short of Full. Photo by James Guilford.
Two-Panel Moon: This photograph of the Moon, our latest experiment using the vintage Cooley Telescope in astrophotography, shows the Moon about two days from Full. Two individual shots were made using a Canon DSLR in place of the telescope’s eyepiece, projecting the lunar image directly upon the camera’s sensor. Exposure: ISO 400, 1/320 second. Adobe Photoshop was used to “photomerge” the individual panels or frames and edit the resulting image. [Click image to enlarge.]

I see the Moon…

Photo: Moon, Planets, Stars, Observatory. Photo by James Guilford.
Nearly-Full Moon and Stephens Memorial Observatory. In the trees, to right of the Moon, are Saturn (upper), Antares below, and Mars to the right. No, the dome isn’t about to topple – just yet – it’s a fisheye lens effect!
Photo by James Guilford.


We hosted a small group of 16 visitors during the July 16 Open Night but enjoyed the event very much; a group of that size is in the not-too-large and not-too-small range that affords easy conversation and sharing of the observatory experience. I the summertime we usually feature Earth’s Moon. Between summer’s late sunsets, and Daylight Saving Time extending twilight by an hour, the Moon reliably shows up even before the sky is dark! Saturday’s experience was no exception.

Photo: Nearly-full Moon. Photo by James Guilford.
Nearly-Full, Gibbous Moon, captured using an iPhone SE held to the eyepiece of the Cooley Telescope at Stephens Memorial Observatory. Photo by James Guilford.


We viewed the Moon through the Cooley Telescope’s remarkable optics and were rewarded with exciting detail. Moving along as the sky darkened, we turned our attention to Saturn: the planet’s subtle color and distinctive ring system showed good detail, very good at times. We briefly viewed Mars but the Red Planet is rapidly parting company with Earth and has grown small in the telescope’s eyepiece.

Photo: Earth's Moon, featuring crater Tyco. Photo by James Guilford.
Closer View of the Moon, featuring crater Tyco, using a Canon DSLR and the Cooley Telescope at Stephens Memorial Observatory. Photo by James Guilford.


Yes, the “star” of the night was Luna and, once the last visitors departed, we made a few images of our nearest neighbor in space to help illustrate why we love sharing the view!

A big black spot on the Sun today

Sunspot Photo: Photo Info: Canon EOS M3: ISO 250, 1/1600 sec., f/8, 400mm lens. Photo by James Guilford.
Sunspot AR2529

Changing a word from an old song lyric by The Police, there’s a big black spot on the Sun today. Sunspot AR2529 is the dominant feature on our otherwise quiet star. Visible to the unaided eye through solar-safe filters, the sunspot is several Earth-diameters across and roughly “heart” shaped! This image was recorded Wednesday, April 13, at 2:19 PM. The bright orange color resulted from use of a solar filter covering the camera lens.

Here is what says about the sunspot: “Since it appeared less than a week ago, AR2529 has been mostly, but not completely, quiet. On April 10th it hurled a minor CME into space. That CME, along with another that occurred a few hours later, could deliver a glancing blow to Earth’s magnetic field on April 13th.” A CME is a Coronal Mass Ejection wherein the Sun flings plasma from its atmosphere out and into space. CMEs reaching Earth can cause auroras.

Photo (above) Info: Cropped from full frame, Canon EOS M3: ISO 250, 1/1600 sec., f/8, 400mm lens. Photo by James Guilford. Photo (below) Info: Canon EOS 6D: ISO 400, f/4, 1/1250 sec., observatory telescope afocal technique.

Photo: Sunspot AR2529 - April 14 - Through the Vintage Cooley Telescope. Photo by James Guilford
Sunspot AR2529 – April 14 – Through the Vintage Cooley Telescope

Impressive train of sunspots

Train of Sunspots, November 4, 2015. Photo by James Guilford.
Train of Sunspots, November 4, 2015

An impressive train of sunspots has been making its way across the face of our nearest star this week. In the photo above: Designated AR2447 (small group to the left), AR2443 (bigger and darker, near center), and AR2445 (far right), the “Active Regions” have the potential of unleashing flares. In fact, AR2445 was the source of a flare that caused this week’s “northern lights” sighted across northern latitude locations around the world. Now rotating over the Sun’s limb, AR2445 won’t be aimed at Earth for a while — if ever again — but AR2443 has potential for high-energy flares.

Photo credit: James Guilford. Canon EOS 7D II: ISO 400, f/11, 1/1250 sec., 400mm lens with Astrozap film solar filter, heavily cropped, November 4, 2015, 2:22 PM.

Latest solar image

The Sun - October 26, 2015. Photo by James Guilford.
The Sun – October 26, 2015


Preparing for this week’s expected heavy rains and wind, I went to the roof of the observatory to clean out the rain gutters and check the downspouts. Chores done and with the dome open, I made another experiment at solar imaging through the big vintage Cooley Telescope. I found I could focus on the Sun (through a safe solar filter) and, with a Canon DSLR camera at the telescope’s prime focus, recorded a few one-shot images at ISO 400 and 1/500 second. The telescope is a 9-inch refractor with a focal length of 3,327mm. The results appear better than last time but show the apparent effect of atmospheric turbulence: that’s my story and I’m sticking with it! A few sunspots were visible and details of Sol’s roiling atmosphere show up. The photographic technique is the simplest we can use; more sophisticated processes are employed these days to achieve best results. Still, proof of concept is a good thing and getting the image focused is a critical step. I think next time we may try a dimmer subject.

Sunny day surprise

Photo: Image showing granular structure of the Sun's photosphere. Photo by James Guilford, Stephens Memorial Observatory.
Granular Sun – July 20, 2015
Testing out a modified eyepiece adapter today, I had the vintage Cooley Telescope pointed at the Sun. Since everything was set up, I decided to see whether we could capture decent images of our nearest star, near noon on this clear summer day. While the sky was clear, the seeing — quality of the view — was not as good as I’d hoped. Apparently, midday heat was causing the image to “shimmer” in the eyepiece and the photographs reflected that. Examining the pictures on the computer screen, I was disappointed because I saw no details in the several sunspots visible. As I made some photographic adjustments, however, other features came into view: granulation and faculae! The granules, upwelling super-hot cells of solar atmosphere, are easy to see; they give the image above a “grainy” appearance. Faculae are a bit trickier but if you look along the darker right-hand edge of the solar image, you will see some light-colored patches — those patches are faculae! So a bit of disappointment changed to a sunny day surprise.

NOTES: Sunspots in this image are #2387 (L) and #2386 (R). For more information on the Sun’s photosphere and what can be seen there, visit this page at NASA/ Marshall Space Flight Center.

The Hercules Globular Cluster

The Hercules Globular Cluster - M13 Through a Small Telescope. Photo by James Guilford.
The Hercules Globular Cluster – M13 Through a Small Telescope – Click to Enlarge

The Hercules star cluster is one of the telescopic gems of the night sky. It is located in the constellation Hercules. Even in relatively small telescopes, the cluster’s appearance in the eyepiece is that of a globe of diamonds on black velvet. The cluster was discovered by Edmond Halley (of comet fame) in 1714, and is also known as M13, as cataloged by Charles Messier in 1764. M13 is a globular cluster, so designated because of its spherical or globe shape, and is composed of about 300,000 stars, 25,100 light-years from Earth. The stars in a globular cluster are of about the same age, having formed together from the same molecular cloud. The photograph shown here illustrates M13 as it may appear to the eye through the eyepiece of a small telescope — click on the image to enlarge. While larger telescopes and sophisticated imaging techniques reveal still greater detail and beauty in the Hercules Globular Cluster, it remains impressive without those enhancements.

Luna is full of amazing sights

Photo: Waxing Gibbout Moon. Photo by James Guiilford.
The Waxing Gibbous Moon – Night Before First Quarter

Clear skies look unlikely for our planned Public Open Night scheduled for Saturday. So here’s a look at Friday night’s Moon. I captured this with my camera and a telephoto lens and it turned out pretty well. I must say, however, that visitors viewing Luna through the Observatory’s grand old telescope get a much better view than I’m displaying here! Still, we’ll point out a few things here that we would mention if we were looking through the telescope… First, look along the edge of the Moon’s disk as it is contrasted against the blackness of space; note how it’s a bit uneven? The lumps in the disk’s edge are actually mountains and crater rims on the sides of the Moon’s globe! See the “smile” line on the inner edge of the Moon? That line divides the lit and unlit portions of the Moon and is called the terminator. In this, the waxing gibbous phase, the terminator represents sunrise on the surface. As on Earth, sunrise shadows are long and those long shadows and low-angle sunlight bring out details in the craters and mountains (for even greater detail, see this image from last month). The bright ray-lines projecting from some of the craters are light-colored material “splashed” out of the crater sites as they were formed by asteroid hits; they mark newer craters. Also note the central peak in at least one of the craters – material thrust upward as shock waves from collisions bounded back, inward, from the forming crater walls. Old Luna is full of amazing sights, if only we will see them!