Saturday, July 05, 2008

14 Messiers (Blue Mountains)

From the Tony Horvatin Observatory (THO) building at the Carr Astronomical Observatory (CAO), I easily and comfortably viewed many deep sky objects, double stars, satellites and meteors, and a couple of planets. I could get used to this!

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I meant to leave Toronto early, for several reasons. One was to enjoy a leisurely drive north, avoiding the cottage-hungry hordes. This would also afford time to try alternate routes, perhaps pass through Creemore (for suds from the source) or Schomberg (to visit Perceptor). And finally, an early arrival at the CAO would allow me to call "shotgun" on the THO.

The THO is a small structure with a rotatable roof. In a way, the little brown building is like the large domed observatories used by professionals. But the base of this building is square and the roof is a half pyramid. Two panels open in the roof to reveal the sky. The roof is light enough that you can rotate it with a good push. I've seen Terry use this space for his all-night observing sessions and I wanted to try it. I assumed it was available on a first-come, first-served basis...

I woke at 11:00 AM.

Damn! Already late!

I quickly packed clothing, toiletries, and some food stuffs. Fortunately, most of my observing gear was already in the car, from earlier in the week. Fed and rubbed the cat. And I was on my way.

Made a quick pit stop in Mississauga to grab Malcolm's spare laptop computer. I was going to use it primarily to test my Stellarium landscape photos.

Traffic was good. Huh. What a sec'. No traffic, zero cars, would be incredible. The moment there are other vehicles, it's not good, I suppose. But that's another blog...

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I was the first to arrive at the CAO site. It was around 3:15 PM. The chain was still up at the gate. All right! That means I automatically get the THO! I drove directly to the squat building and unloaded all my observing equipment and supplies in front of it. Staked my claim. Then I moved the car near the house. As I was unpacking food stuffs and the sleeping bag, Bev and Ian pulled up.

In a few moments, I had the keys to the THO: I moved in!

Oh, oh. Some hornets had beaten me to it. There were 5 or 6 little nests under construction, guards nearby. I gingerly opened the roof's top panel from the inside. Fortunately, I did not upset the little critters. If a few of the parents had come after me, I might have resembled a pinball... From the outside, I opened the lower panel. Gradually, I was able to knock down all the nests from the roof and lower panel. I would leave the top panel for night time, when the small denizens were sleepy.

I took advantage of having 2 portable weather stations. I put one deep inside the THO so to monitor the indoor conditions; the second I rested on the sill of the roof port to gauge the outdoor temperature and humidity.

I also set up Eric's PST 'scope. But absolutely nothing was going on with the Sun.

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After enjoying a slim lunar crescent (almost exactly 2 days old) and the nearly straight line of Saturn, Mars, and Regulus, from the new deck, I retired to the THO to begin observing. As I walked to the personal observatory, at 10:30 PM, a meteor lit up the sky. Wow! That was a long one. Travelling north-east to south-west, it left an incredibly long ion trail.

While it was still up, I targeted Saturn. It was murky. I assume it was Titan to the right (mirror-reversed).

I started fiddling with the laptop to get Stellarium up and running. But something seemed terribly wrong. As I adjusted the landscape position and orientation, it occurred to me that it was acting very differently than how it had on my home computer. Something with the control panel, the regional settings, maybe? Or a time zone setting? OK. Let's not get caught up in this now, I thought. Fix in in the day time...

11:52 PM; inside temperature 11.4°C, humidity 63%. As I looked up in the sky, I noted the gaggle of small stars between, Leo and Boötes. I pulled out my Pocket Sky Atlas to zoom in on the stars of Coma Berenices and centred on the equilateral triangle built on 12 and 13.

It took a moment to get my bearings but I found Σ1639 (just as a satellite went through the field). The main star was yellow; companion was quite pale. Hard to tell the colour. Haas says they are 1.7" apart.

12 Com itself was pleasing, a wide pair of stars, yellow and orange. Haas says they are 65" apart.

OK. Let's get some Messiers! What's nearby? M5...

Messier 5 is a beautiful globular cluster, with an almost spiral structure to it. It has a rather bright centre. It is made more interesting with the bright star 5 Serpens Caput nearby.

I observed the small and very faint NGC 5838 galaxy near star 110 Virgo.

1:05 AM, 11.2°C, 66%. Viewed δ (delta) Serpens Caput. Tight double. The main is white; the companion is straw-coloured.

Headed over to Ophiuchus. Marfik or λ (lambda) Oph is another tight double. Haas says 1.6" apart. I used this star as a jump point...

1:18 AM. Star-hopped to Messier 12 (M12). This is attractive at low power with various field stars. It is smaller than M5 but has a bright centre.

It was a short hop to Messier 10 (M10). Wow. A wonderful globular cluster, very spherical. These things are so pleasing in a dark sky...

Headed over to the other side of the constellation and viewed IC 4665. It is a big open cluster, pleasing in the 7x finder scope. It would make a good dark-sky binos target.

1:44 AM. I hopped down to Messier 14 (M14). It is very compact, densely packed. I found it hard to see individual stars...

Stuff near toward the centre of galaxy was calling... I centred on Kaus Borealis or λ (lambda) of Sagittarius as my launch pad. Popped into Messier 22 (M22). Beautiful. Huge, compared to the previous GCs. Good to see again.

2:14 AM, 11.8°C, 66%. Headed over to Messier 28 (M28). It is very small, fainter globular cluster. I can see how some people might think these subjects are comets.

I noticed a cluster of 2 double stars and a single near λ. It was fascinating to view these 5 stars close together. HP 90478 A appears as a single; HP 90576 and 90575 are on top of one another; and HP 90510 A makes up another pair. I wonder if these are opticals. Or a little open cluster.

As I started moving back to the celestial equator, I passed through Messier 8 (M8). It too was good to see again. The lagoon was quite dark in the middle, very clearly visible.

A short distance away was The Trifid. Messier 20 (M20) was interesting but it was hard to see the dark rifts. There were a gaggle of stars surrounding the pale cloud. In the centre, I could see twin, small stars, slightly unequal in size.

Very proximal was Messier 21 (M21). It showed as a sparse open cluster. It looks like it is made up of about 200 stars.

The "star cloud" Messier 24 (M24) leaped out of the dark sky in the finder scope. Another good binocular subject.

2:43 AM, 12°C, 66%. Observed Messier 25 (M25). This is a very large open cluster. It filled the entire baader low power eyepiece. Mostly fine blue stars. There was a notable orange star in the centre.

I was going to for M18 but I got a bit disoriented... I stumbled into the Omega Nebula, Messier 17 (M17). It is a very unusual shape. It made me think of a scorpion at first with a bright long body and crescent shape at the end surrounding a dark pool. Or perhaps a bird on the water. The cloud portion was surprisingly bright.

Messier 18 (M18) on the other hand was a very small OC.

I continued to Messier 16 (M16). I found it very difficult to see any clouds, the brightness of the stars overpowered the scene.

I viewed Jupiter. It was incredible. All four moons were visible. I could see many cloud bands. Wonderful but almost too bright... I was so dark-adapted though that it blew out my vision in my left eye!

3:21 AM. I moved quite a distance this time. Centred on Sagitta, δ (delta) in the middle. I noticed ζ (zeta) Sagitta was a double. The main star is pale yellow; the companion is faint, perhaps orange or blue. It changes colour as you stare at it...

It was a short hop to Messier 71 (M71). It is a very small, faint GC. It occurred to me that it must be really far away, as we look through the plan of the galaxy.

3:49 AM. Hey... I'm close to Capricornus. And that means there are planets nearby... Fired up my Neptune tracking map. I think I found it. Very small though...

OK. Let's finish with something interesting. θ (theta) Serpens Cauda, aka Alya, was a nice double, 2 identical white stars. Funny, the notes in Haas's book say, "They seem like a pair of eyes..." The same thought occurred to me.

I'm done. The "outdoor" temperature reading is 9 and I'm feeling a little cool.

4:10 AM. I was back in the house. I was tired, sore, but really satisfied.

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Observing from the THO is absolutely fabulous! You're out of the wind. Extraneous light is blocked. It is a couple of degrees warmer than outside. It will probably be warmer if I close the floor vents. It is a bit less humid. And, of course, you're protected from the coyotes.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Great reading about your observing session! Makes me wish I was up at the CAO, instead of being back in the big smoke.

Oh, and about the wasps, let me know if you would like me to pick up some of the Waspinators from Lee Valley:
http://tinyurl.com/5wpdvo

Leslie saw some little wasp nests on the deck too.

Katrina