The Texas Star Party - Advanced Observing Program 2011

Proximity -   Friends of Friends


By Larry Mitchell, Houston Astronomical Society


The T.S.P. Advanced observing program was initiated to educate and challenge observers to locate and observe those objects they might have considered too difficult, if not impossible, to find beforehand.   We are all better telescope technicians and observers than we think we are, and with a small degree of confidence and patience along with good optics, almost anything is possible.   


There is no better place to push the visual limit than under the dark transparent West Texas sky.  Too often observers stop at the “NGC Limit” and never try to locate objects that begin with names like Abell, Minkowski, Zwicky, 3C, MCG, or MAC, etc.   For want of a better title I call it Name Intimidation, which is nothing more than becoming overwhelmed by the seemingly exalted difficulty of the object merely due to its name.   If I asked someone to find Markarian 1376, they might not even make the attempt, but if I then told them it was also known as NGC5506 and that it was a bright galaxy in Virgo, they just might decide to give it a try.   Many of these objects just sound difficult, and most can easily be seen with average sized telescopes in the 12 to 18 inch aperture range.   At this point, please let me make something perfectly clear - You Do NOT need a 36 inch Telescope To Visually Observe These Objects. 


This year’s list should be one the most pleasing and rewarding observational lists in the entire advance program. All of these objects are located very near to one of the brightest and most spectacular objects in the sky – A Messier Object. Very often people observe these wonderful objects and pass right by the fainter, but no less interesting, objects that o ften are in the same field of view. The observer just does not know they are there. Or conversely, many observers, and myself, frequently pass up these bright objects in favor of more difficult objects, the kind I list out every year. These “friends” may be distance background objects or they may be objects in the act of interacting with the larger body, much like the Sagittarius Dwarf Galaxy is presently being absorbed by the Milky Way. As with all things in the universe, each has a story to tell. A really nice feature of this year’s program is that if you do not visually see the target, you have at least observed one of the finest objects in the heavens, the nearby Messier galaxy, nebula or cluster.


These “friends of friends” are best located by careful and precise star-hopping. It is imperative that the observer know exactly where in the field to look when the object is located, especially if it turns out to be truly “light challenged” in their particular telescope. Use the provided star charts to pinpoint the object. Many of these objects are small and faint even in large telescopes, so try both low and high magnifications. By using a combination of averted and direct vision and knowing precisely where to look, along with a microcosm of patience, chances are the target(s) will be seen. Many of these objects are at first not apparent in the field, but with study something gradually begins to appear, until finally the observer easily views the target with direct vision. The standard rule is if you are being honest with yourself and you think you see the object at least three times, then you probably really did see it. Log it and go on to the next object. But first please take a moment to contemplate what you have just seen. The star charts have some notes about the object, so please stop and reflect about the wonderful event that is taking place right before your eyes, millions of years ago and millions of light years away, and how you are one of the very few people on Earth privileged to have ever seen it. Many of these objects are millions of light years distant, so these objects are faint.


The Proximity List is difficult, but certainly well within the range of almost everyone who desires an Advanced Observing Pin from the Premier Observing Star Party…..the TEXAS STAR PARTY. Of the 55 objects listed 15 objects have NGC designations.


1.              Any telescope may be used or any combination of telescopes.

2.              Computers are allowed, but location by Star-Hopping is preferred.    The only way to know where an object is in the heavens is to go and find it – Star Hop and be Educated.

3.              An Advanced Observing Pin will be awarded to those who successfully observe and log any 20 of the listed objects during the Texas Star Party.

4.              Negative observations DO NOT count.

5.              Observation programs from previous years may be completed for appropriate pins.

6.              Observations may be turned in to Larry Mitchell.  


To those of you who only complete part of the list, but who have worked hard at it, you have successfully completed the spirit of the program.   You have improved your observing skills, learned something about the night sky and hopefully enjoyed yourself.  And you can always get that observing pin next year.   Many people have enthusiastically expressed how amazed they were at themselves, and that they had no idea they could locate and observe these “types” of objects by themselves.   


THIS  IS  WHAT  THE  PROGRAM  IS  ALL  ABOUT                                      


I hope you enjoy this challenge and that it gives you a new sense of enjoyment and confidence in your abilities to successfully view this magnificent universe that we all live in.   These “friends” have been visually observed by VERY FEW people. This year I re-learned my appreciation for these often overlooked but magnificent Messier objects and I hope you will do so also


Good Hunting  -  Good Observing -  Good Times

Larry Mitchell – Houston, Texas


Click Here to see TSP 2011 Advanced Observing: Proximity - Friends of Friends

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Last Updated April 11, 2011