Saturday, June 09, 2007

observing with Mom (Union)

I asked Mom in the late afternoon if she wanted to do a trial run setting up her telescope. I pointed out that we could see 4 planets tonight. She was keen (curiously, she didn't need much convincing).
Instrument: Edmund Scientific 6-inch Newtonian
Mount: equatorial
Method: star hopping
We wrapped up our outdoor chores and got dinner done by 8:45pm. Right on target. I wanted us to be outside at sunset for 9:00pm.

We wheeled the 'scope on the dolly out to the end of the driveway. I explained this would location would offer good sight lines for Mercury, Venus, Saturn, and Jupiter. It proved a perfect spot (although we wanted to shoot out the street light later). We left the 'scope on the dolly.

Spotted Mercury (I think) with the binoculars around 9:35 to 9:40. Mom said she could see it unaided. Good eyes! It was about 10° north of Venus and about 2° down.

Venus was very bright white at 9:45pm. It was about 30° up and a little north of the Golf Club road. The humidity was 60% and it was 14°C. Mom could see the crescent shape. We agreed it was a little less than half.

The air was boiling... Everything was shimmering.

Jupiter was up already, over the neighbour's house.

Spotted Saturn around 9:50pm. From Venus, it was up (8°), of course, and to the left (15°).

Regulus was visible. Mom was particularly interested in the constellation Leo. I showed her the Sickle and the rump of the lion.

At 9:58pm, through the binos, I could see one bright Jovian moon at the 2 o'clock position, a couple of planet widths away. A little bit later I could spot another moon at the 7 or 8 o'clock angle about 5 or 6 widths away.

Looked at Saturn at 10:10pm and saw a bright point 3 ring lengths away (later confirmed this to be Titan). Could easily see the shadow of the rings on the planet. When the air settled, we could just see the Cassini division. And some shading on the planet. The air was generally boiling.

Mom spotted a high flying object around 10:15pm. I followed her directions. Hey, it looked like the ISS. She thought it was an airplane but I assured her it was a satellite. "But it's moving so fast," she said. I pointed out that the space station moves at about 19000 miles per hour! And I clarified that not all satellites are stationary.

(Later checked Heavens-Above and the times and location didn't seem quite right for the ISS. Maybe it was an Iridium flare.)

At 10:30pm through the 'scope could see four moons, 3 to the left and 1 to the right. Despite very dirty air! Could barely make out cloud bands.

(Verified later the moons configuration: Ganymede, Europa, Io, Jupiter, Callisto.)

Alicia, boyfriend Mike, Leslie, and Chuck meandered over for some impromptu sidewalk astronomy! We gave them all a shot through the 'scope. Chuck was pretty quiet but everyone else was rather impressed.

I was trying to get my bearings in the south-east sky. I don't really know Ophiuchus well. But I could make out the top of Scorpius. I pointed out Antares to Mom. It took me a while to figure out that I was seeing Bo├Âtes straight up to the south!

When we wrapped up, around 11:00pm, the humidity was 84% and the temp was 8.7°C. (Once again, I forgot to check for the dew point). My car was coated in dew... I was very tired. Completely forgot about all the good targets, like Vesta...

Shannon arrived home from work just as we had put the telescope away. Still, Mom gave her an enthusiastic 1x power tour of the planets.

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We ran the clock drive the whole viewing session. But it was not tracking properly. At first we were off north. But later when we bulls-eyed Polaris, it still did not follow. As I looked at the geometric mount of the 'scope, it occurred to me that it was too low. It looked around 30°. I never checked this before...

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Hit the lower limit of the focuser with the Meade eyepiece. Had to take out the middle ring to get it to work. This just doesn't seem right.

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Mom was a trooper! She was taking her own notes, gauging distances in degrees. Wild!

She likes my red pen.

She needs a red flashlight though...

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Now, I'm quite sure that was not Mercury but some bright star in Gemini...

Still, we had an awesome session:
  • Mom better learned how to use her 'scope.
  • I shook down the first version of the Edmund telescope instructions.
  • We tested the clock drive (and discovered the mount was out of alignment).
  • We saw 3 planets.
  • We saw 5 moons.
  • We saw a bright satellite.
  • We shared our observations with 4 of the neighbours.
Mom and I were both pretty happy.

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