Friday, March 23, 2007

varied session from backyard (Toronto)

After beer and wings with Ken, I rushed home to view Saturn. I was very interested in getting cozy with the planet and its big moons, having recently had a taste. I really wanted to observe the movement of the moons over time: both on a long time scale, i.e. from Wednesday, during the RASC TC city observing session (COS); and over a short time, i.e. a couple of hours, from my backyard.
Instrument: Celestron 8-inch SCT
Mount: Vixen Super Polaris
Method: star hopping
When I left Ken's home (he said he studied astronomy at school!), Venus was bright, the Moon's crescent was intense, Saturn was tan coloured in the south-east, Sirius was sparkling, Procyon had just appeared, and almost all the main stars of Orion were visible. I got home probably at around 8:15 and set up, in front of the garage, rather quickly.

Moons of Saturn: At 8:59, I sketched the configuration, also noting the direction of right ascension (is that west?).

I kept coming back to Saturn, through the evening, to note any changes in the pattern. But I didn't notice anything significant (not like Jupiter last summer). And I struggled with my Procyon X software presentation. It seemed off. I wondered if it was a DST issue. Or perhaps I'm misreading the orientation...

After checking with Cartes du Ciel, Sky & Telescope, and RedShift, I can confirm that I saw the moons Titan, Tethys, Rhea, and Iapetus. Possibly, I saw Hyperion, but it was very, very faint. I'm not 100% certain. Also, I could see Titan through the viewfinder—interesting!

I never saw Dione, Mimas, or Enceladus. They were not occulted but I gather the glare of the planet and rings (and our dirty air) prevented me from seeing them...

Trapezium: I decided to re-examine the stars within Messier 42 (M42), before Orion dipped much lower. I'm not sure why I did this exactly. Did I believe I'd be able to resolve the other double stars? Even with the Celestron barlow, I'd only be able to produce 220 power... OK, scratch that; move on.

I thought that I should discover one new object tonight. I argued with myself about pursuing more targets but I knew that I needed to keep the plan simple, the objective list short, to remain positive, keep my satisfaction high. I fetched my print out of the Celestial Objects page of the March document.

M35: I consulted the Celestial Objects list. I decided to try tackling a target from the binoculars section. I noted the Auriga open clusters but had already dismissed these with that constellation low and setting. Gemini was still high up though. Ah, there's Messier 35, another open cluster, at the foot of the twins. As I read this, I remembered hearing about this at the COS. I hopped, via ν (nu) then μ (mu, aka Tejat) then η (eta, aka Propus) together with 1, to the cluster using my Tirion atlas.

And, at 10:30 or so, I sketched a number of the bright stars. I didn't try to count them but my gut feeling is that I could see 100 or so stars.

I did not notice the faint neighbour, NGC 2158, nearby.

At 10:24, the humidity was 55% and the temperature was 1.5°C. There was no wind tonight.

γ (gamma) Leonis: One more! I decided to try one more target from the Celestial Objects list, this time from the telescope section. γ Leo is described as a "superb pair of golden-yellow giant stars. Mags 2.2 and 3.5 with a separation of 4.4". I stared at the Tirion atlas again to get my bearings and swung the OTA around. Wow! What a beautiful pair. I can't remember the author now but he said that some doubles, while monochromatic, were still stunning. That was certainly the case here. A very close pairing and each was a sparkling warm golden colour, one slightly smaller than the other.

It was 10:50, 1.9°, and the humidity had risen to 59%. Orion was falling into the horizon; Arcturus was rising over the neighbour's house. I was feeling a little tired. And I wanted to finish on a positive note.


A lot of things worked out this evening. I remembered to use my eyeglasses straps. I remembered to use a lanyard for my pen. I sketched objects seen in the eyepiece and documented some facts. I remembered to use my "new" log sheets. Everything went pretty smoothly.

That said, I definitely could have used variable height seating tonight. While viewing Saturn, I had to bend over a bit. That was hard on the back. So I stood with my feet wide apart. Later, when viewing γ Leonis, I had to lean forward on my portable stool.


Noticed that my new log sheets are pre-dated for 2006. Gotta print some new ones. Done.


Low battery indicator appeared on the Oregon Scientific eb313hg portable weather station. Again! Was is July or August (ed: early August) I got my free replacement set? I'm gonna have to visit The Source once more...

This time, the batteries lasted 7½ months (the first time only 4½).


Found the DEET bottle on its side in the bottom of the "astronomy box." On removing it, I noted some viscous fluid. Looks like it has been leaking. I cleaned up the box. And I must remember to put the DEET in a ziploc.


I found a number of items in the astronomy box that, it seem to me now, should not be here. Or that I should not lug around during every stargazing session. This included the Pentax camera t-adapter, the old Pentax extension tubes, the DEET, and so on. These are specialty items that I should only transport when required. This will help reduce the weight of the box or let me carry more relevant things.


Given that I was doing astronomy in my backyard, I should pull out all the stops next time... Use the loaner light table/box from Mom. Use my new desk lamp (halogen converted to red LEDs). Use my new AC-to-12VDC CLA power supply (Mosquito 2 ampere adapter from Active Surplus). Use my new Noma GFCI power bar. And take a laptop outside to wirelessly hop on the 'net!

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