Thursday, May 28, 2009

A Request for Observing Suggestions

Image Credit: McDonald Observatory

The past few years, I've blogged about a continuing-education workshop I help facilitate at McDonald Observatory. We have 15 high school teachers from across the country who spend five days learning about stellar evolution and white dwarfs and four nights using our 30- and 36-inch telescopes.

The 2009 version of this workshop is coming up in early July, and I'd like to ask your help in our planning for this year. Does anyone out there has some good suggestions of little-known gems of the sky that we might be able to look at through our big telescopes with our teachers? A few pointers of what we're looking for are below. Just stick your ideas in the comments section.

First, some details on the telescopes. The 36-inch reflector is for eyepiece viewing. It is great at collecting light, but has a limited field of view (less than about 10 arcminutes), so open clusters and large nebulae don't look very impressive. The telescope is great for planetary nebulae, globular clusters, and galaxies. For example, we can easily see the spiral arms and dust lanes in the Whirlpool Galaxy. The 30-inch reflector has a wide-field (45x45 arcminutes) CCD camera with broadband filters, so just about any type of object is a fair target there.

  • We are well aware of the Messier catalog and the 8 or 9 planets of the Solar System, so we'd like suggestions outside of those lists.
  • We already target open star clusters as part of the program, so we don't need open cluster suggestions.
  • Because of the dates (July 9-14) and times (before local midnight) of the workshop observing, the Right Ascension range we can easily target is limited to about 14-22 hours. We're a northern observatory, and the effective southern declination limit is about -30 degrees.
  • Colorful double stars or other tight multiple stars are always popular. Due to the size of the 36-inch, bright colorful doubles (like alpha Her or Alberio) are actually painfully bright, so fainter stars would be even better.
  • Please remember that many of our teachers are not amateur astronomers, so many of them are not impressed in trying to see the faintest possible things. I'm thinking flashy things, like galaxies with dust lanes, or interacting galaxies, or planetary nebulae with unique shapes, or compact emission nebulae with intricate details. If you have an idea for a challenging object for the amateurs we will have in our workshop, feel free to submit it, but please mark it as a toughie.
  • I subscribe to Sky & Telescope, and will have issues from May through August with me, so there's no need to copy ideas from there.
You can see a list of what we've taken pictures of with the 30-inch telescope in past years here. (If you want to look at any of those pictures, feel free, but please read the instructions at the top of that page first. Simply clicking on the links will crash your browser! We're going to fix that, eventually.) The picture of the Eagle Nebula at the top of this post was taken by our teachers with the 30-inch telescope.

Thanks for your ideas! Ultimately, we let the teachers choose what they look at, so I can't promise that we'll look at any given object. But we will give you credit for the suggestions!

For more information on the summer teacher workshops at McDonald Observatory, click here.

1 comment:

  1. NO comments?
    I wish I had some but I'm just getting back into astronomy after a long hiatus.