So, I haven’t posted anything since June 30, 2013. Sometimes things like work takeover life and we have to muscle through it and put the things we love aside and just get the job done. That said, the project is complete and it’s time to resume living again.
As January begins, we’re right in the middle of a dark window so I hope you have been able to get out and do a little observing. Although it has been un-necessarily cold, at least here in the North-Eastern portion of the US, I have managed to get in a few sessions with both of the 90mm refractors.
I’m going to start the year off with a constellation that seems to get little attention. It’s a large but faint constellation in the Northern hemisphere whose stars are no brighter then fourth magnitude. From urban skies, the stars of Camelopardalis are barely detectable and are completely washed out from the bright lights of a city. Probably the reason we hear so little about it.
The name Camelopardalis is a Latin derivation of the Greek word for “giraffe”. Taken apart, it is Kamelos for camel and Pardalis for leopard. Camel-leopard or Camelopardalis (pronounced: cuh-MEL-oh-PAR-duh-liss). The Giraffe was introduced sometime around 1613 by Petrus Plancius, a Dutch astronomer and documented by Jakob Bartsch, a German astronomer 1624. As far as I know there is no mythology associated with the constellation.
As I mentioned, the constellation is pretty faint so locating it can be a challenge under moderately light polluted skies. Camelopardalis crosses the local meridian around 9:00 PM (02:00 UT) on 15 January 2014 for observers living at mid-northern latitudes. You can also locate Camelopardalis by facing north and locating Polaris. Camelopardalis is surrounded by Cassiopeia the West, Ursa Major to the East and Auriga toward the South or, nearly at your Zenith point. One thing I think I should point out here is that while Camelopardalis crosses the local meridian on 15 January, the light of Full Moon will wash out the constellation so try to locate it now or wait until sometime around the 24th to locate it.
For those of us using small telescopes, Camelopardalis is not rich in deep sky targets. In fact, there are no Messier objects within the constellation boundaries, but there are a couple interesting stars, an asterism and open cluster. So, bundle up in layers so you stay warm and let’s get started.
β Cam is the brightest star in the constellation with an apparent visual magnitude of 4.03. β Cam is a double star whose primary is a yellow G-type supergiant with an apparent magnitude of 4.03 and it’s secondary at a magnitude around 8.8 separated by 83” (arcseconds) in position angle 208°. We were able to split this double using a 60mm f/5.8 refractor at 58x and again with the 90mm f/10 at 75x.
Σ Cam, also known as Struve 1694 and 32 Camelopardalis, is a binary star composed of a white A-type sub-giant with a magnitude of 5.3 and a secondary of magnitude 5.8 separated by about 21″ (arcseconds) in position angle 326°. Jeremy Perez from The Belt of Venus writes in his notes: “This was a little fun to line up, so near the celestial pole. Once I got there, I sighted a wide pair of pale blue stars of nearly equal magnitude. I marked them about 45 arcseconds apart with a PA of 305 degrees. Actual values are 22 arcseconds and 326 degrees, so I was a bit generous on the separation here.” A sketch of his observation is shown here at left. We were able to achieve a good split of the pair using the 90mm f/10 at 65x. You can see more of Jeremy Perez observations at his website The Belt of Venus.
Eariler I mentioned that there’s an interesting asterism in the constellation named after Father Lucian Kemble, who was a Franciscan Friar who discovered it and wrote a letter to Walter Scott Houston (1912 – 1933) whom at the time was a columnist for Sky and Telescope magazine. In the letter, Father Kemble described the sight as “a beautiful cascade of faint stars tumbling from the northwest down to the open cluster NGC 1502.” Walter Houston named the asterism Kemble’s Cascade in his “Deep Sky Wonders” column in Sky and Telescope in 1980.
Although this open cluster is listed as magnitude 6.9, its low surface brightness (magnitude 13.1) makes it a challenging target for small telescopes especially under light pollution. We were able to detect this cluster at 37x using the 120mm f/8.3 refractor but counted only a dozen stars. A 6 inch telescope should bring out more stars and observing this cluster from a dark sky location will make it even more appealing.