Saturday, May 24, 2008

Saturn, Mars, the Beehive, and clouds (Toronto)

All day I was thinking about observing! My computer classroom had large windows showing the north-west horizon. From the eighth floor, green vistas rolled into the distant escarpment. I watched clouds bumble across the deep blue sky through the day.

When I got home, I immediately began to set up (forgetting to eat dinner). I set the telescope up on the spot, the place where I had shot my recent omnirama from.
Intrument: Celestron 8-inch SCT
Mount: Vixen Super Polaris
Method: star hopping
Evan came outside to play. The inquisitive 4 year old had many questions for me. I was ready to go at 8:00 PM.

Tonight, I had decided: no plan! Using Stellarium—with the new accurate landscape—I would just see what I could see. Whatever was clearly visible and rising, that's where I would aim. I would only go for objects in visible constellations.

Without aids, I tried to spot Mercury around 8:45 PM. No luck. Probably too low now.

I eyeballed Saturn at 9:05 PM and quickly swung the 'scope to it. The view was beautiful in the 36mm. Immediately, in the low contrast, I could see 3 moons! There was one on the left side (mirror reverse orientation) about 1 ring-width away (Rhea). On the right, a ½ rw away was a fainter moon (Tethys). And Titan was clearly visible to the right about 4 or 5 rw away.

9:25 PM, 47% humidity, 14.7°C. The seeing was really good at times. At 110x I could clearly see the shadow of the planet on the rings, the North Equatorial Belt, and even the Cassini division. What an amazing planet.

I found I was sliding down in the seat of the Big DOC observing chair. With the multi-coat finishing, it is very slippery. Also, the seat has flexed a little, tilting down. I'm going to have to figure out a solution. Maybe a shim to angle the seat up? Or a cushion or pad on the seat?

Clouds from the north were threatening. I saw them early when trying to spot Mercury. In fact, even at that point, they may have blocked it. Regardless, they are moving south. I knew they might kibosh the whole evening...

9:42, 48%, 14.5°. Is Mars leaving the Beehive? I wondered. I sketched the view presented by the 36mm 72° eyepiece. Mars is the large point at the top. There was a little pale star very nearby. Stellarium says it was very near HP 42673. Cartes du Ciel says it's HD 73974 SAO 80361 BD+20 2185.

Very picturesque, the orange planet amidst blue stars.

"Hey! Why's everything getting dim?! Oh, oh, the clouds have arrived..."


When I returned outside around 10:05 PM, I was joined by a house mate and his girlfriend. As they fired up their BBQ, I showed them Saturn. They were very impressed. But then, Saturn is such low hanging fruit! I cranked up the power and pointed out details. They had lots of questions for me. Genuine interest in the stuff. He's a photographer. Still does some film; has a Canon 20D! They have a good sense of scale, our place in the Universe. They recommended the film Baraka; I recommended Koyaanisqatsi (which they had never heard of).

I showed them Mars in the Beehive before the clouds returned. The whole sky was covered at 10:34 PM.

I almost quit. But I ventured back outside after midnight and the clouds were almost gone...

12:20 AM, 54%, 12.9°. Decided to try for some double stars in Boötes.

I noticed, according to the Pocket Sky Atlas, ζ (zeta) was a double. I put the wide field eyepiece on it. There are a lot of little stars here, around 10 to 12 magnitude... I zoomed into the centre bright star. Looked like a single to me. Checked double stars for small telescopes and it made it sound like it is a very challenging target, at 0.7" separation. [ed: The closest pair I had seen was the Lyra Double-Double pairs, each around 2.1".] Haas said one needed 500x to split it! I couldn't recall where I put the 4mm so I could only get 220x... I resigned to count it as a miss. Next?!

ξ (xi) was very interesting. The main star is yellow and the companion is a dark orange (this agreed with Hartung's description is Haas's book). A nice colour contrast. It was a little hard to find with the SCT at zenith. Not a lot of bright stars nearby. But the star hop was worth it. Very pleasing separation at 110x.

12:44 AM. I tried Σ1687 (found in the PSA). This was not documented in the Haas book. Did I see a quad group?! Maybe my eyes were getting tired. Certainly the main star was yellow. Below was a dark blue star. But left and right, I kept thinking I was seeing very faint stars!

[ed: Possibly I was looking at 35 Com... It is described as a "good triple." Close orange-yellow stars and a distance "cobalt" blue companion.]

[ed: I should go for some triple and quad multiple stars. That would be cool.]

Around 1:00, I tried for the Black Eye Galaxy (M64) in Coma Berenices. I think I found it, a smudge, a low power. But at higher powers I could not make out any detail. Drag.

1:09. I found M53, the globular cluster. Once or twice the seeing went razor sharp and I could see individual stars. Otherwise it was a faint blob, smudged. Near 2 stars, around magnitude 9.

1:14, 59%, 11.9°. I decided I was done, despite a pleasant temperature. The sky seemed washed out. It must have been the rising gibbous moon...

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