Monday, August 04, 2008

and then there were three (Blue Mountains)

My third night in a row in the THO with my C8. Incredible, just being able to walk in, turn on the power, and start observing!

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I tried for many minutes up to 9:45 PM to view Saturn. I really wanted to see it. I called out, from the THO, to Randy. "Hey, what are you doing? Your 'scope is set up. Go for Saturn!" He synched on the very young Moon and then spotted the faint ringed planet right away. He was very happy. Still, I continued to scan the sky with my binoculars (while Millie and Phil chatted up the conspiracy-theorising, UFO-believing, astrology-following human-like visitors to the CAO). I wandered out to the pad for some help with Saturn. Phil said he could occasionally see sixth planet naked eye. No joy for me.

I was getting distracted by Jupiter. I thought that at 9:30 or so we were going to see a Great Red Spot transit. I looked closely through the turbulent air. Nothing.

As our argument at dinner determined, the GRS cycles around the giant planet about every 10 hours or so (not 11 like I thought or 9 like Jean believed). This meant my calculations (based on the Saturday night observations) were off by 2 hours. It GRS had crossed the meridian probably around 7:30 PM...

Still, the Jovian moons were in an interesting configuration with Callisto and Ganymede very close together and on the same side as Europa.

The Moon was very intriguing as it sunk into the murk.

Angela arrived. Yeh!

She set up her small Williams Optics triplet refractor on a big aluminum tripod. She noticed that the red dot finder was not aligned. I dug out the hex keys sets from the CAO basement but unfortunately none fit. Probably a Metric vs. Imperial issue. As I returned from the basement, suddenly I remembered (laughing and cursing) I had my own hex keys with me! I had brought them to do pupil dilation measurement (which I had yet to perform). I grabbed an appropriate-sized wrench, we tried it, and it fit! Ang then tuned her finder. Another telescope problem resolved! I'm on a roll.

Phil turned his small refractor to the Lagoon and the Trifid. They looked great. He revealed his secret: he was using an Ultra High Contrast (UHC) filter!

10:57 PM. Everyone on the observing pad was noting the high dew levels. I reported the figures from the display of my OneWorld unit, which I had sitting outside the THO: 99% humidity with a temperature of 13.3°C. Oh oh...

I decided to start out deep sky observing in Scorpius: the sky was very clear there. I went for Graffias or β (beta). I needed to confirm this sighting. It is a very nice double star at low power (with the baader aspheric 36mm). The stars are close. The main is ivory white and the companion is pale yellow. [There colours disagree with Haas's book and my earlier notes. I'm going to have to check it again. And make better notes.]

I star hopped to Messier 6 (aka NGC 6405). Initially, I misread the label in Pocket Sky Atlas as Butterfly Nebula. I did not see any nebulosity... When I returned to PSA, I saw it was the Butterfly Cluster. Ah. Everything looks as it should. There is definitely an evocative shape; I would say M6 looks more like a dragonfly. It is made up of fine blue-white stars, I would say about 40 or 50. There is a bright red star in the field [ed: BM Sco].

Messier 7 (aka NGC 6475) was a short distance away. It seemed to me like a miniature version of the Hercules constellation, the bright stars forming a shape like a man. M7 is a large open cluster. It filled the entire field in my baader eyepiece at 56x.

11:43 PM. I wasn't sure if I had seen Messier 80 (aka NGC 6093) already. So I hopped to it. It is very small, very compact globular cluster. M80 has a bright centre.

Coffee break! I joined everyone in the red-lit kitchen. Ian kept threatening to turn on white lights... As it is, I think the red light over the sink is too bright. There was a brief discussion of a red bulb installed in the fridge later being removed by someone else. I wondered out loud if we could install a switch.

Mmm, two cups.

12:50 AM. I was back at it. I viewed Messier 54 (NGC 6715). M54 is a small, compact globular cluster. [Later research shows is in not in the Milky Way Galaxy. That's kinda cool.]

12:59 AM. I found M55 (Messier 55 or NGC 6809) to be a very large but very faint globular cluster.

2:00 AM. I viewed the globular cluster Messier 75 (NGC 6864). It is very small. M75 was better at 110x.

2:44 AM. I noticed there were a bunch of double stars nearby in Capricornus. First stop: omicron. Two equal pale blue white stars. Medium separation (21"). Haas described them as whitish-gold in colour; but Webb says "white, bluish." Agreed. Oh, an optical double, I see.

2:54 AM. I could not seem to split π (pi) Cap. I tried all powers, including the 4mm i.e. 500x. The light shimmered badly at high magnification. Haas says they're 3.2" apart, which a 75mm 'scope should show. Huh. I'll have to try that again.

Having successfully loaded the "level 6" catalog into Stellarium, I assessed some of the field stars. I believe I'm seeing stars down to 13th and 14th magnitude.

I viewed ρ (rho) Cap. The main star is a bright yet pale yellow. A fainter companion is a yellow. At 90° there is a pale aquamarine star. [This blue star is not part of the system.] I'll need to view this jumble again...

3:07 AM. I pulled the OneWorld weather station in from outside. It was dripping with moisture. I tried to unlock it. Nothing. The backlight did not come on. Oh... so the battery's finally died. I looked the screen: blank. Oh oh. Did something short or burn out with the heavy dew?

Now I'm starting to wonder if the Stellarium catalogs are correct, or rather, accurate. Some of the faint stars are correct but others are completely wrong, i.e. wrong brightness, wrong positions. I should try Cartes du Ciel for these deep magnitude tests. Maybe I'll have to bite the bullet and get some high end software...

Is β (beta) Cap aka Dabih a triple? Bright yellow, bright blue, and dark blue. I think I was using low power... Haas describes this as a showcase pair. But if I'm going to continue to describe multi-star systems, I better keep more detailed notes. Eyepieces, estimated separation, orientations.

Hey, the station is back! Sorta... The display is showing values again. In fact, it shows 99% and 12.3°. But the backlight is still not working.

3:33 AM. I viewed Neptune beside two faint stars. Pale cyan. Am I seeing it in the finder scope? Or are those stars and Neptune merging...? I'll have to read up if that can be done... It must be! If you can see Uranus naked eye!

3:45 AM. I viewed Messier 15 (NGC 7078). M15 is lovely at 110x. There seem to be long arms of stars extending away from the centre. I can almost see a pentagram shape within.

3:50 AM. Tried for γ (gamma) Equuleus. I saw a very wide pair of pale yellow and pale blue stars. [These are not the double star. Haas says 1.3" apart. Well!]

4:03 AM. The weather station is fully-functional again. Wow. That's good. It clearly does not like constant exposure to high humidity.

Wanted to finish with a bang. I don't think I had viewed the Andromeda Galaxy with the new eyepiece. So I headed to M31 (Messier 31) with the 36mm installed. Wow. I sketched it. Now what is that smudge down at the bottom left? [It's M32 (Messier 32), ya goof!] (So, that's NGC 224 and 221 respectively.)



Image adjusted in Fireworks. Inverted colours. Flipped horizontally and rotated.

4:14 AM. Inside readings, from the Oregon Scientific: 77%, 13.4°. It was chilly.

What a weekend!

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