President’s Paragraph: May 2016

A Mare's Nest in May?

Virgo Cluster image credit: Rogelio Bernal Andreo/NASA/APOD

Virgo Cluster image credit: Rogelio Bernal Andreo/NASA/APOD

So what can you do observing-wise in May?  Orion and company are rapidly disappearing and Scorpius and companions are just coming over the horizon.  Well, it’s Virgo Season.  In May Virgo is as high in the sky as it’s going to get up here in the mid-latitudes, conveniently between about 10 p.m. and midnight when we most want to be outside before it gets truly cold. 

Virgo can seem to be a mare’s nest of galaxies.  But just a couple of hints:  One is that not all galaxies in Virgo are in the middle of the cluster.  There are plenty of galaxies to pick off around her feet and knees.  And I’ve never had much luck starting off at Vindemiatrix, the standard approach.  I never seem to be going the right direction.  It’s easier to start at Porrima and, moving my way up from there, carefully picking my way across the galactic stepping stones to M61, then M49 and on up slowly slowly to Markarian’s Chain.  Sneak up on that gaggle of galaxies so you don’t scare them away, that’s my method.

But the best method is one I have never tried.  In the Spring 2001 issue of Amateur Astronomy magazine, Ed Harriman published an article called An Idiot’s Guide to the Virgo Cluster.  Arguing that he’s basically lazy and would rather wait for the sky to turn than to chase around after DFOs, he experimented with putting his eyepiece on Denebola in Leo (that’s the end of the lion’s tail) and going off for coffee.  Using a 12” scope with a 32-mm eyepiece and a Telrad, twenty-four minutes later, Bingo!  There was M98.  He describes how for the rest of the night he just nudged his scope up or down a little to catch the Ms and the NGCs as they sailed through his eyepiece.  I’ve always admired that and never had the courage to do it.  I’m not lazy and I don’t want to risk a rare night of spring season observing with experimenting.  But if we’re as fortunate regarding weather in May as we were in April, there should be plenty of opportunities to give it a try.

Don’t forget that we’re in Daylight Saving Time, so if you’re looking for what’s up at 11 p.m., set your planisphere to 10 p.m.  And have a terrifically astronomical May.

May 2nd: Board Meeting
May 6th: Downtowners
May 6th-8th: Maupin Star Party
May 6th-8th: Camp Hancock Star Party
May 9th: OMSI Transit of Mercury Viewing
May 11th: Astro-Imaging SIG
May 14th: Astro-Imaging Class (registration closed)
May 14th: OMSI Astronomy Day Celebration
May 16th: General Meeting: New Member Orientation; Annual Astronomy Fair
May 18th: Astrophysics/Cosmology SIG
May 21st: Telescope Workshop
May 28th: Haggart Observatory Public Night