Editor:Reverend K.C. Beckmann
Volume 1, Number 1
P. Zhao and J. E. McClintock of the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory and A. U. Landolt of Louisiana State University noticed an unusual flare on July 5, 1994 while studying the faint nova, LQ Sagittarii (Nova Sagittarii 1897). They reported their discovery to the Central Bureau for Astronomical Telegrams on IAU Circular 6018. The inital observations described Nova Sagittarii 1897 to be about five magnitudes brighter than it was at minimum. The nova did not brighten or fade appreciably in the next few days. The American Association of Variable Star Observers AAVSO Alert Notice 188 (July 14, 1994) showed the nova to be magnitude 14.3 on July 5.23 UT, 14.38 on July 6.24 and 14.40 on July 8.20.
Nova Sagittarii 1897 was a little known nova which was found by Robert Woods on a photographic plate in 1927. Some sources indicated that the nova reached photographic magnitude 10 in 1897, while Woods indicated that the nova reached thirteen magnitude on Julian Day 14189 (Payne-Gaposchkin, The Galatic Nova, 1957). The author of the AAVSO Alert Notice suspected that Nova Sagittarii may be a symbiotic nova which behaves much like RR Telescopii. RR Telescopii erupted in 1944 and took nearly 1600 days to reach maximum.
Nova Sagittarii 1897 is located at right ascension 18 hours 23 minutes 6 seconds and declination -27 degrees, 25.9 minutes (epoch 2000.0).
When Akihiko Tago, of Japan, turned his 50-mm f/2.8 camera lens to the southern summer Milky Way on June 1 (June 1.647UT), he was surprised to discover a moderately bright nova roughly a few degrees north of the position of the Supernova of 1604, discovered by Johannes Kepler. At the time of the observation, the nova was photographic magnitude 7.0. A night later, Tago again viewed Nova Ophuichi 1994 at magnitude 7.0 (June 2.672)
Within twenty four hours of Tago's discovery, Minoru Yamamoto independently discovered the nova at photovisual magnitude 6.5 (June 2.612UT).
From there, the nova began to fade. On June 3rd it hovered around 8.0 and on June 4th faded to 8.6. Since then it has been slowly fading a little less than a magnitude a week. On July 13.19UT, C. Scovil reported the nova to be at visual magnitude 11.7. Danie Overbeek, a South African amateur observed the nova at magnitude 8.5 on June 3rd and noticed a striking reddish yellow hue to the nova's color. If you wish to follow Nova Ophiuchi's march to oblivion, you may contact the American Association of Variable Star Observers, 25 Birch Street, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02138 and request a variable chart from the AAVSO Variable Star Atlas to observe the nova.
Nova Ophiuchi 1994 is located at right ascension 17 hours 32 minutes 47.56 seconds and declination -19 degrees 17 minutes 41.8 seconds (epoch 2000.0)
In 1988, Dr. Brian Marsden, the Editor of the International Astronomical Central Bureau for Astronomical Telegrams, addressed AAVSO members at a workshop held at AAVSO headquarters.
He described the disappointing absence of American amateur discoveries. He also identifed a possible cause - a preoccupation with bigger telescopes and sophisticated scientific technology. Amateurs are not using these big telescopes to make discoveries.
When we have been entertained with a "bigger is better" philosophy the more you want is not always the more you get. This is certainly true for the amateur astronomer who purchases a telescopic instrument to hunt for nova. Even a six inch rich field refractor simply obscures a nova in a maze of fainter, telescopic stars. A bigger is better philosophy simply handicaps nova hunters.
On the other hand, a simple pair of 10X50mm binoculars will greatly enhance your chances to observe and perhaps discover a nova. Since hunting for nova, I have acquired three different pairs of binoculars. When I began hunting in 1978, I observed with a standard pair of 7X30mm binoculars. This pair could rarely reach 8.5 magnitude on a moonlit or hazy night.
Later, I purchased a 10X50mm standard pair of binoculars which was cast in a heavy metal. They were cumbersome and often forced my arms into early retirement.
More recently, I purchased a light weight, wide angle pair of 10X50mm binoculars which has greatly improved the quality of my observing sessions. These binoculars have permitted me to search a larger area of the heavens over longer periods of time with a smaller, more natural sweep.
A "bigger is better" philosophy will never enhance your chances at discovering a nova. It will only send your arms and enthusiasm to an early retirement. It would be better to spend more time, developing your natural sweep of the heavens with a wide angle, light weight pair of I0X50mm binoculars if you hope to improve your chances at discovering a nova.
Books listed below address some aspects of visual and photographic nova hunting:
The Cambridge Guide to Astronomical Discovery, William Liller, Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1992.
New Horizon in Amateur Astronomy, Grant Fjermedal, New York: Perigee Books, 1989.
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