Farewell Mammoth

Yellowstone, my home away from home

Hey there, I’m Nick Anderson. Simply put: I’m an astronomy student by day and amateur astronomer by night. Astronomy is more than just a casual interest for me; it is my passion. Ever since I was a child, I’ve been fascinated with the stars, the planets, and our place in the Universe. It wasn’t until after reaching college that I finally got a telescope, one of the greatest decisions in my life.

Since entering the world of amateur astronomy (June 7, 2011), I’ve kept a strict journal of essentially all my observing sessions. This website features some of the logs I’ve acquired over the past couple of years, focused particularly on the deep sky (galaxies, star clusters, and nebulae). It should hopefully serve as a useful database for gauging what details (yet alone objects) can be seen in modest-sized instruments. All of my observations are accomplished manually by traditional starhopping methods using my Orion XT8 SkyQuest Dobsonian reflector, 10×50 Orion Scenix binoculars, or even just the naked eye.

At the Very Large Array (VLA) in New Mexico

At the Very Large Array (VLA) in New Mexico, one of the world’s premier radio astronomy observatories

In regards to professional astronomy and academia, I find myself particularly drawn to cosmology and general relativity. In particular, topics such as the accelerated expansion rate of the Universe, Type Ia supernovae, black holes, quasars, the cosmic microwave background, and dark matter all fascinate me. In 2014, I was especially thrilled to take part in my first undergraduate research project involving quasar outflow, where I examined the velocity spectrum of an extremely infrared-luminous broad absorption line (BAL) quasar featuring blueshifted molecular gas relative to the quasar’s expected recession velocity. In 2015, my research involved mining the Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS) database in the effort to examine the far-infrared properties of BAL quasars in connection to its effect on star formation.

I hope you enjoy perusing my website, and please feel free to email me or post comments with your questions and/or feedback.

May the clear skies be with you,

-Nick Anderson

A daytime scenic view of the mountains of Giles County, Virginia near my favorite observing site

A daytime view of the mountains near my favorite observing site in Giles County, VA


How to stay updated (without the spam)

Staying updated is easy, and all that’s required is an email address! Below are instructions on how to get this configured.

  1. Poke the “Follow” button (shown below) at the bottom-right of the browser window
  1. Enter your email address
    (You can stop here if you like, but you’ll receive an immediate email for every post!)
  1. Go to this link for subscription management
  1. Under “Manage Your Subscription”, enter your email address again (cropped screenshot below)
    Manage Your Subscriptions
  1. Then check your inbox for an email titled “[Subscribe] Your Subscription Details”
  1. Click the link within the email
  1. You should see my website listed on this page
  1. Under the “Delivery Frequency” column, change the value to “weekly”
    Delivery Frequency
  1. Then give the “Save Changes” button a smack
    Save Changes

And that’s it! You’re all set to receive a weekly email on my latest posts.


Astronomical League observing awards I’ve earned:

  • Messier Program—Regular  (completed Aug 28, 2011)
  • Messier Program—Honorary  (completed Dec 11, 2011)
  • Caldwell Program—Silver  (completed Jun 26, 2012)
  • Venus Transit Special Award  (completed Dec 31, 2012)
  • Local Galaxy Group & Neighborhood Program  (completed Mar 22, 2013)
  • Planetary Nebula Program—Basic  (completed Apr 5, 2013)
  • Herschel 400 Program  (completed May 09, 2013)
  • Lunar Program  (completed May 25, 2013)
  • Deep Sky Binocular Program  (completed Sep 04, 2013)
  • Binocular Messier Program  (completed Sep 08, 2013)
  • Planetary Nebula Program—Advanced  (completed Oct 01, 2013)
  • Double Star Program  (completed Nov 01, 2013)
  • Solar System Observers Program  (completed Nov 03, 2013)
  • Master Observer Award  (completed Nov 03, 2013)
Master Observer

“Master Observer” Award Pin


9 comments on “About

  1. Like I said the other day, I really like this sight. This will give me some guidance on how to approach each observance and what to potentually look for, during my observation. As I have been searching the sight, I noticed you interpreted the size of most of your objects posted in arcminutes. I am curious how and what tool you used to come to this conclusion. I understand the idea behind the measurment of degrees of elevation, however how would I measure the size of the observed object.
    I also have a suggestion, which may take this sight to a new level. Have you thought of providing some teaching points, such as Astronomy Fundementals, or providing some how to’s, as many new observers may find interesting and profitable to use for their observations. This would assist those, like myself, in understanding the basics of this amazing hobby and most likely keep them coming back, just a suggestion.


    • Thanks Mark, that is an excellent suggestion. Rest assured that there will be a lot of new content in the coming months, particularly once my spring finals are finished. One of the big ideas I have for the future is developing a “general astronomy FAQ” page. Right now I’m working on structuring an “objects by constellation” tab, which should hopefully be ready later this week.

      To answer your question on estimating sizes at the eyepiece, it is a skill that comes with practice. I started out as an observer by comparing each object at the same power to a mental image of M57, which is about an arcminute in size. Eventually it sunk in, no less than how you might hold up an object and be able to estimate its size in inches or centimeters. Of course, the indefinite boundaries of many objects makes this a bit less simple.

      Now I can only use that method accurately for objects up to about 15 arcminutes in size. For larger objects, I rely on my eyepiece’s field of view. For example, let’s say you have a FOV of about 1 degree (60 arcminutes); if you mentally divide the FOV (along an axis running through the center) into sixths, you’ll know roughly what 10 arcminutes is. It’s worth noting that essentially all of my measurements above 15 arcminutes are rounded to the nearest 5 arcminutes, and often have a range.

      Just try your best at it and perhaps also consider “calibrating” your measurements by using field stars that have a known apparent separation (e.g. three-quarters of the separation of two stars 8 arcminutes apart = 6 arcminutes).


  2. Thank you for your quick reply. I know this will take time and I look forward to sharpening my skills. Best wishes on your upcoming finals, I am glad I am over with that, although very rewarding, tests simply suck. I graduated, with honors in Project Management last year, so I know your concerns.


    • Yes I do. Having both a 2x and a 3x Barlow has allowed for a lot of variety in magnification from just three eyepieces: a 25mm, 12.5mm, and 7.5mm. In my XT8, this would otherwise yield only 48x, 96x, and 160x, but instead I can achieve 8 distinct powers: 48x, 96x, 144x, 160x, 192x, 288x, 320x, and 480x. A Barlow is a great way to “double” your eyepiece collection.


  3. Ok, that is good to know. I have a Barlow x2. I also have a 35mm, 30mm, 25mm, 17mm, 10mm, 9mm, 7mm, and a 5mm. None of which are a TMB. I am looking. To get one of these soon.


  4. Ok, your probably thinking I’m a stalker, but I am not. I am just simply enjoying the art of astronomy. After continuing to research and taking in some observing myself, I have come across a term that I have seen you and many others use, TRANSPERANCY. In respect to the observation, what does this have to do with astronomy. As I have to admit, I have adopted some of your observation logging techniques, along with my own. I must say, I had an excellent observation time the other night, before the storms started arriving. Mars was a great treat. I use a Zhumell Z10.


    • No worries Mark. Glad to hear you’re not only enjoying the website, but that it’s already improved your techniques!

      There are four main criteria that observers look for when evaluating the conditions: cloud cover, sky darkness, seeing, and transparency. They can each be a bit subjective.

      Cloud cover will undeniably have a major impact on observing, particularly for the deep sky. Often there is some correlation to transparency, which describes the degree to which light waves are able to pass through the atmosphere. When there are particles in the atmosphere with some level of optical opacity (fog for instance), it obviously diminishes the sky’s transparency. It is in fact possible to have a sky devoid of clouds but still immersed in a haze.

      Seeing is also an artifact of Earth’s atmosphere, caused by the turbulent molecules that distort incoming light waves. In conditions of poor seeing, through a telescope it will often look like you’re peering through a car’s exhaust fumes. Star can look “wobbly” and the finer features on objects such as planets will be all but invisible.

      Sky darkness is probably the trickiest of these four criteria to gauge, as it can be affected by both artificial and natural light sources. There are many methods to go about this. One can attempt to make naked eye limiting magnitude estimates, which I personally find too tedious to do for every observation (though I have a good feel for what I can expect from each regularly-used site). I instead use the same light pollution index “color” for each site (generally taken from a light pollution map), then note other impacting factors: skyglow, light trespass, Moon, twilight, etc. Some observers have what is known as a “sky quality meter” to evaluate a site’s darkness more quantitatively, but even then it’s not entirely definite (e.g. the background sky is brighter when the Milky Way is up!).

      For cloud cover, I generally include a simple estimate of “clear”, “mostly clear”, “partly cloudy”, “mostly cloudy”, or “cloudy”. For both transparency and seeing, either I rank from a scale of 1-10 (with 10 as best) or, in certain cases, I instead use a 1-5 scale with the keywords: “poor”, “fair”, “average”, “good”, and “excellent”.


  5. Thank you, once again for your response to my ever wondering mind. As we approach the weekend and a hopeful clearing of the stormy skies, I am looking forward to placing some of these observing tips to work. I am prepping to go through the Messier catalogue and hone in on my observing skills. I also am really looking forward to the arrival of Saturn. This year I want to do some analysis on the rings, more so than last year.

    Liked by 1 person

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