Friday, August 03, 2007

observing notes (Union)

Spent the afternoon, despite the incredible heat, and bright Sun, setting up and getting ready (I even remembered to look up the dew point temperature from Environment Canada). It occurred to me, late in the precedings, that if I wanted to spot Saturn or Venus, I would not be able to do that from Mom's back yard...

At 8:30 PM, binoculars in hand, I was at the foot of the driveway, watching the Sun descend into the distant trees. I had a Grolsch to keep me company. And I had a FRS radio so to let Mom know if I spotted anything.
Instrument: binoculars
Mount: hand-held
Method: star hopping
It's a good thing I did not haul the massive Edmund out to the street...

I think that at the moment of sunset, Saturn was a mere 7° about the horizon; Venus was lower. The tall trees off to the north-west were shielding the horizon. Oh well.

Turning south, looking over the house and garage, there was Jupiter. OK. Forget those other planets. Time to test the SD-1 on the MT-1!
Instrument: Celestron 8-inch SCT
Mount: Vixen Super Polaris
Method: star hopping; Vixen tracking
Mom radioed back that she'd join me for a look at the fifth planet.

The North Equatorial Belt stood out in the low contrast. The moons looked great. There was a very bright field star. She asked me which ones were which. Despite my preparations, I did not have the palmtop or laptop outside yet. Mildly concerned with the dew being heavy, I think. I considered pulling the Observer's Handbook but deferred the question.

I sketched the orientation to look up later. (Later, I learned that Ganymede and Europa were to one side, Io was close to the other side of the planet, and Callisto was further out still. And the field star was SAO 184450).

In a way it was anti-climatic. But I could tell the controller and drive were working. It's funny because, in the eyepiece, nothing should happen. So, my telescope, for the first time, was tracking a planet. Very cool.

Mom reported that my palmtop was beeping madly. It was the International Space Station fly-over reminder alarm that I had programmed earlier (after checking Heavens Above). We readied ourselves in the back yard. The ISS showed up on schedule at 21:21, in the south-south west, flew just under Antares, and arced to the north-east. It was a long run! Mom really enjoyed that and was impressed at how bright it was.

I presented Mom with her new observing chair (from Getgood). I showed her how it worked and we used it at my catadioptric. She was thrilled. Then she immediately considered how she could use it at some of her events where she needed a portable seat. It's a hit!

We had a brief discussion as to the orientation of Jupiter's moons and our solar system plane. Mom wondered why all the planets (the ones that haven't been kicked out anyway) travelled in the same plane. Why do they not follow more 3-dimensional paths, going any which way? It is a good question...

At 9:42 PM, the humidity was 68% and the temperature was a pleasant 19°.

I settled in for a long observation of Jupiter with driven 'scope and observing chair. And all I can say is: wow!

I've never seen so much detail before. I worked at 110x for most of the observing. The air was remarkably stable for most of the time. I could see a dozen belts on the planet. A dozen! I could see details in the clouds. And, for the first time, so clearly, I could see the Giant Red Spot. It was easy. Easy!

It is like auto racing. Worries chew up "tenths." Not having to manually turn the 'scope, freed up some of my brain power. Not having the visual distraction of the field shifting in the eyepiece, freed up some brain power. I could concentrate on the planet. I could relax. It was incredible.

I decided to watch the passage of Io. I checked RedShift to see if it was going in front or behind. Sadly, behind. Still, I settled in to observe the occultation. Ironically, at the moment of contact, the air exploded into turbulences. Alas, when it cleared at 10:01 PM, Io was attached to the disk of the planet.

Now, I wanted to do some deep sky. I used RedShift to eyeball some targets and tried to find them. But, somehow this was not working satisfactorily. Probably, again, it is that old RedShift does not show stars down to 13 or 14. The brightness of the laptop screen is a factor too even though I was running with my "dark adaptation" colour scheme. Also, I think that this is a different direction or approach than what I have been developing this year.

There was some cluster that I located. But I could not identify the location.

After I put the laptop aside and pulled out Mom's Tirion white charts, it was smooth sailing, star hopping, targeting, zooming in.

I studied Messier 8 (M8), the star cluster and the Lagoon Nebula, in Sagittarius for some time. Immediately, it revealed a couple of luminosities near an open cluster of a couple dozen stars. Later I sketched it.

The sketch here is inverted (black-white), flipped laterally (for mirror presentation), rotated slightly.

My alarm went off again. I was ready for the next ISS pass. However, I had not noted the starting point. Oops. That data was on Mom's iMac and I did not want to go into the house and blow my night vision. So, I scanned...

Fortunately, I was facing due west when it appeared. Fainter this time. Another really long run, passing through the Big Dipper's pot, and fading out in the north-east. I lost sight of it in the distance at 11:00 PM.

Humidity 69%; temp. 16.7°.

I was starting to feel tired. It was partly that I had awoken today especially early (brain running wild). It was partly the intense heat during the day. And a dash of sore muscles from lots of lugging. Still, I pressed on.

I observed Messier 22 (M22) (the "Sagittarius Cluster"), a globular cluster. It was pleasing, good detail. Hundreds of tiny stars. They were loosely packed, I thought. The centre was not as bright as I expected. Not the classic GC with spherical structure and increasingly bright intense centre. That said, it was sitting pretty low in the sky.

I thought about the centre of the galaxy...

OK. Now I was really tired. But I saw Delphinus up high and I had heard there were some good double stars in it. In fact, when I pulled the Tirion chart, I was surprised to see that almost every star it the little constellation was marked as a multiple. Wow.

Haas sounded impressed with a faint double in the same field as γ (gamma) so I headed there. At 77x I was able to see both, γ and Σ2725. γ was a bright tight yellow pair, very pleasing, and there, a little ways away, was a faint tight pair, at a different orientation but about the same separation. I thought the faint pair looked dark orange and pale sky blue. Reminded me a bit of ε (epsilon) Lyra.

It was 11:38 PM and the humidity was climbing from 78% while the temp. at 15.3° was close to the dew point.

Tried for the Andromeda galaxy, Messier 31 (M31). While I could periodically see it unaided and easily spot it in the 'scope, it was washed out. Sky glow from St. Thomas!

One more target, before I call it quits... Something in Ursa Major. How about Messier 102 (M102)? I looked and looked and looked. No good. Couldn't find it.

At 11:50 I was done. That was good timing. The humidity was now at 88 and the temp. of 14.8 was below the dew point. I could feel everything getting damp. And the Moon was rising above the trees.

I packed up the expensive gear. Wrapped the 'scopes. And crawled into my tent.

I am so happy. The motor drive is fantastic. Shortly after getting my 'scope, I felt I wanted this. But, at the time, it was too expensive. It's been a long wait but worth it. I did not expect the significant jump in visual clarity! I'm looking forward to improved sketching. And it's gonna be a joy with other people too. They'll see more. And I won't have to baby sit the 'scope.

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