The scheduled May Open Night looked to be another “no-go” due to weather right up until about 90 minutes ahead of opening. Forecasts had, for days, called for overcast skies and inclement weather, and the day of the event bore that out. Then, defying forecasters and expectations, the sky began to clear. What looked to be another canceled Open Night turned into a decent time to look at Jupiter and the Hercules Star Cluster! With little advance publicity we hosted 10 observatory visitors, mostly local people but one couple drove all the way from Warren to participate.
Though the sky was mostly-clear, seeing conditions were only fair to good. Through the grand Cooley Telescope at about 129X magnification, we were able to observe Jupiter and the planet’s distinctive north and south equatorial belts, the four Galilean Moons shining brightly in space nearby. As the night progressed we observed Jupiter’s Great Red Spot slowly rotate into view and even glimpsed its red color now and again! These were not the best views we have had of the “King of Planets,” but they were interesting, nonetheless.
The second object of the night was the Hercules Star Cluster (Messier 13) which, at first glance, looked like a cloudy smudge in the telescope’s wide-angle eyepiece. Now and again, however, with moments of good seeing and a little averted vision, we gained the impression of “graininess” as perhaps some of the globular cluster’s brighter stars stood out.
FINAL UPDATE: In all, 18 people and one dog took a chance on the changeable skies and paid the observatory a visit. Cloud cover ebbed and flowed, changing Jupiter’s appearance through the telescope. Interestingly, some of the better views of the planet actually occurred when thin clouds dimmed the brilliant planet cutting the glare. Viewers could make out the gas giant’s two major temperate cloud belts and sometimes one or two more! The four Galilean Moons were visible nearly all of the time. Owing to generally poor viewing conditions, the evening was limited to Jupiter only – dimmer objects were not available. The April 22 program will be repeated in May, given clear skies. By the way, before the dog came, a cat arrived with one of our visitors but refused to come inside, so kitty didn’t count!
UPDATE: Saturday, 9:00 PM: Opened when we could see Jupiter through thin clouds but expect the sky will cloud over again before clearing in the wee hours. Check out Twitter feed to the right for updates and closings…
UPDATE, Saturday, 4:00 PM: Forecasts call for partly- to mostly-cloudy conditions tonight. A final go/no-go decision on opening will be made later but, if we do open, we DO NOT expect to be able to see dimmer objects such as star clusters or the comet listed below. More later….
Stephens Memorial Observatory of Hiram College will be open for public observing Saturday, April 22, from 9:00 to 11:00 PM. This will be the first scheduled Open Night of the 2017 season. The “star” of the night will be planet Jupiter, brilliant in our southeast sky. We will also seek out the M3 star cluster and, later, the Hercules Cluster and (with some luck) Comet C/2015 V2. Other objects of interest may also be viewed. Of course, all of the night’s observing depends upon clear skies and those have been in short supply this spring!
Cloudy skies at the starting time cancel the event and, in that case, the observatory will not open. No reservations are required and there is no admission fee for observatory public nights.
The Observatory is located on Wakefield Road (Rt. 82) less than a quarter of a mile west of Route 700 in Hiram. There is no parking at the Observatory. Visitors may park on permissible side streets near the Post Office, a short distance east of the observatory.
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.