Vincent Safuto’s Weblog

Notes and observations

Observations from Gainesville on the longest night of the year

There are times in amateur astronomy when it all just comes together. Thursday night was one of those times.

The winter solstice arrived after midnight Thursday, signaling the shortest day of the year and the beginning of winter, but here in Florida the weather felt more like the first day of autumn. Still, it was “severe clear” all day and as the shadows lengthened around 5 p.m., I could see that it was going to be a great night for astronomy.

This was all supposed to happen in St. Augustine, but a change in “status” led to me setting up my telescope downstairs from the condo. With the new laptop running Stellarium but not controlling the telescope mount, I was ready for darkness. Aligning on the stars was a snap, and soon I was grooving to the wonders of the Andromeda Galaxy (M31) and even saw one of its companion galaxies (M110) after it got darker.

I also tried a bunch of deep-sky objects, including some open clusters, and had good success with my old friends, the Double Cluster in Perseus.

The planet Jupiter was, as always, radiant, with the four Galilean moons easy to see. The way the planet is aligned with Earth now, the moons circle Jupiter but don’t disappear behind it. Thanks to Stellarium, I was able to see how this was happening, showing why it’s good to have the laptop, even if it’s not moving the telescope.

I also got a look at Uranus, but then finished off the night with M31, then packed it all away. I was done by around 8 p.m. In the summer, sometimes I cannot even get started until 8:30 p.m., so you can see how the time change and the solstice changes the amount of light we have.

It was another successful night, and I’m glad I took the time.


December 23, 2011 - Posted by | Observations with Vinny | , , , , , , ,


  1. Thanks for the observation notes. What is the aperature of your scope? You observed near your condo? What degree of light pollution was there? Most definitely it is a special session that allows for satisfying observing to be done at a time in the evening when in another season you have hardly begun. Also, what is “severe clear” weather?

    Comment by Duane Dunkerson | December 26, 2011 | Reply

  2. The telescope is an eight-inch Celestron 8 SCT that I bought in 1986. I bought the mount in 2010. Light pollution in my part of Gainesville is a problem, but it’s not severe. As for “severe clear,” that’s a bit of a joke from aviation used to describe a day when there are no clouds in sight and the sky appears to be especially transparent.

    Comment by Vincent Safuto | December 26, 2011 | Reply

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