Friday, July 20, 2012

finding Pluto

I have a bunch of astronomy-related things I should've blogged awhile ago, but I haven't had time to edit the related images yet, so that'll have to wait even longer. In the meantime, reporting from the Golden Gate Star Party, near Adin, CA...

I found Pluto! Which is just barely visible in my ten-inch telescope, at magnitude 14.04. Right now it's near the center of the galaxy and right on the edge of an open cluster, so there are literally hundreds of stars in the field of view, and you have to pick out just about the dimmest of them, and that's Pluto:

Which one is Pluto?

That one, of course!

You'd think (or at least, I thought...) that the incredibly rich background field of stars would make it really hard to pick out Pluto. Actually, though, since I had a very good finder chart (just like the images above) that I printed from Stellarium (awesome free software with libraries of stars you can download up to any limiting magnitude you could want!), I could use those hundreds of stars as a super fine grid to look exactly where I was supposed to. And after staring just next to that spot for about 15 minutes, I'd held Pluto in steady vision for about a cumulative total of one minute, but that was good and consistent enough to convince me it wasn't my imagination. Victory! I certainly couldn't have discovered Pluto in that manner, but I only wanted to find it, so good enough.

(If you are inclined to ask "So why are you so excited to look at a tiny barely-visible dot, amongst hundreds of other dots?", I unfortunately can't answer that; you're just not the target audience :)

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