Saturday, January 19, 2008

Mars, Moon, double stars (Toronto)

Peeked outside after dinner. It was clear! Woo hoo! Wow, the Moon is right beside Mars. It's a beautiful conjunction. Out we go!

Viewed Mars, the Moon briefly, and some double stars tonight. Tried for a Messier but was unsuccessful. Few new equipment items too...


First order of business: I took the 'scope case outside and opened it to let the tube cool (takes an hour for SCTs, doesn't it?). Similarly, I put the new mirror diagonal box on the picnic table and opened it.

Back inside, put some of the dark red cel on the CRT monitor of the Windows XP computer John Smallberries as I ran Stellarium (latest version 0.9.1) and Cartes du Ciel.

Tried a small piece of the dark red cell on the Psion palmtop display. Ha ha. Red and green together...

Fired up red lights everywhere. Turned on the red circuit in the ole' living room lamp: that bulb is fading! It is becoming too yellow, too bright... Screwed in a red bulb in the kitchen stove top vent light. Turned on the bathroom red CFL. In the garage, I screwed in a red bulb and I disabled the security light.

Checked the Pearson airport conditions via Environment Canada:

temperature: -10°C
wind chill: -20°C
dew point: -17°C
humidity: 57%
pressure: 101.7 kPa and rising
wind: west 30 km/h

Put on the long underwear, cargo pants, fleece sweater, RASC-TC fleece pullover hoodie (first time observing!), synth-down winter coat, knitted toque, and leather gloves. I considered thermal socks and my boots but I skipped them. Had my Hot Paws ski gloves with me but I didn't use them. I was perfectly comfortable during the setup (although my hands started getting cold around 9:00PM).


Stared north for a long time. Cassiopeia was upside-down. Or rather, it was M-shaped... I suspected Ursa Major was low, on the horizon. Had a devil of a time getting my bearings. In the end, what I had thought was Polaris was correct.

(Still haven't put permanent markings, pointers towards the NCP, on the driveway.)

Brought AC power from the garage to the custom CLA-splitter-adapter. Ran the mount motor and other accessories. No dew heaters...

I was setup by around 7:15PM and ready to go...

temperature: -9°C
humidity: 23%
pressure: 101.1

(These readings from the CTC. My Oregon had belly-flopped and was showing 7:10PM, -19°C, -11% humidity!, and low battery...)

Aimed at Mars and took a peek. Ugh. The tube was still too warm. Very blurry image. Double images! Headed back inside for a bit.

At 7:36PM, the Williams Optics dielectric diagonal saw first light! No appreciable difference on Mars that I could see at 77x. But then, I think the OTA was still cooling.

The view at 110x power was very pleasing. Good contrast. The polar region of the planet of war was pale. Occasionally could see an inverted V dark pattern below the equator.

Put in the Celestron Ultima barlow (after the mirror, that's the only option now with the WO) for 220x viewing. It teased out some detail but magnified the mediocre seeing.

Housemate Brian came out at 7:45PM. He walked straight up to the 'scope! On a mission. Showed him Mars at 220x, the Moon at 77x, and Castor at 77x. He said he could see the two stars, "no problem." He liked these views very much. Asked how I knew that was Mars. Asked how far away everything was (I told him I thought the Moon was 300 000 km away [it's 400 000], Mars was perhaps 68 million klicks [nope, 105], Castor I just didn't know [52 ly]). He asked what the view of an airplane would be like. He asked how much all the gear cost. Lots.

I increased to 110x on Castor. Spectacular. Great contrast.

It was 8:02PM. Temperature: -8.9°C; humidity: 25%.

After examining Kym Thalassoudis's The Evening Sky Map (TESM) targets for January, I decided to try for some new Messiers. M38, M36, and M37 in Auriga were well placed from my driveway configuration. Would the Moon interfere though?

I thought I had found 14, 16, and the little rhombus of 17, 18, 19, and HR 1732. I thought I had φ (phi) Auriga. But after 30 minutes or so of trying to star hop, I gave up. Maybe I was going the wrong direction... Damn. I felt I should have got that. It was under the "binocular" listing. Oh well.

Well, let's get a new double, I thought. So, I chased down γ (gamma) Aries. Nice! They looked to be equal in magnitude [Haas says 4.5 and 4.6] and colour. White with a touch of blue. A bit more widely separated than Castor A & B [true, Haas says 7.5" vs. 4.2"]. There was a small, faint star in the field at 110x, about 1/3 of the field away (if I remember correctly)...

Returned to Mars. Back up to 220x. Waited for breaks in the atmosphere. I was rewarded, despite the moon light washing everything out, mucking with my night vision, despite the neighbourhood lights, I could see white on the pole and light and dark regions on the surface.

[The Mars Profiler at Sky & Telescope is wonderful.]

No sketches done. Too cold... I'm a wimp.

Orion had cleared the house. I kept catching the Pleiades out of the corner of my eye.

Even though the neighbours had just clicked off the back light, I was done. 9:34PM, I was a little cold, and too mentally tired to conduct more searches. It wasn't just me; the wind had picked up and the 'scope was shaking more.

And even though I've shifted my sleep pattern to quite late, I'm not prepared to stay up late for Saturn...

Last but not least: as I rounded the corner of the house to head inside, there was Sirius, blazing in the south! Good night, Dog Star!


I dropped a wing nut for the triangular accessory tripod tray. I'll have to look for it in the morning...


Tried my red LED pen at the beginning of the session. It was nice and bright but the ink cartridge would not work in the cold conditions. Switched to my Space Pen.


All my lights, flash lights, head lights, etc. seemed weak. I wanted bright red lights to work with. I ended up using the red LED converted desk light for note taking and reading TESM and Pocket Sky Atlas. Used my loupe with the atlas although the batteries were weak in it too!

Tried some of the spare CR2032 batteries in the custom red LED clip light. They all seemed weak. Should check the voltage on these with the multimeter...

Tried the flex-neck custom red LED clip light. No go. Contacts issue with this thing. Took it into the house to fix, properly!

I need more light!


I could not successfully light the new hand warmer. I had bought Ronsonol Lighter Fuel from Canadian Tire over the holidays. It is described as "best for all wick lighters." It will just not ignite with the Restoration hand warmer. I guess it's the wrong stuff. Is it not as volatile as butane? After coming in from outside, I emptied it of the Ronsonol and refilled it with Ultra Butane. Started no problem. Toasty! Incredibly warm, actually. Could have used it earlier...

The thing is stinky though! Lots of fumes (when used indoors)...


I dropped the Canadian Tire portable weather station onto the concrete driveway! Oops! But it looks like it survived. In fact, it was the only working unit, I realised after a time, when I saw that the Oregon frozen at 7:10PM. I don't know what caused it to hang. The cold?! Static? Low battery? The time shown was about the time I took it out of the file box and put it on the picnic table to acclimate.

[Time to replace the 2032s, methinks...]

The CTC unit did OK in the cold weather. Coldest conditions I've used it in. While the display continues to flicker like there's a bad connection, it gave me good pressure, temperature, and humidity readings, and let me keep tabs on the time. I still wish the backlight stayed on longer...

I've got to transfer the operating instructions onto a cheat sheet. I can't remember off the top of my head how to make the backlight stay on.


The neighbours to the west turned on their back porch light for no reason at 9:10PM. That ticked me off. I debated going over and talking to them... But I was angry. A good approach will be to talk to them on another day, during the light of day actually, and talk to them about it in principle, get their buy-in.


Doug shot a fantastic photo (hand held, no less) from Mississauga.

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