Friday, July 02, 2010

Canada Night observing (Blue Mountains)

At sunset, I moved my telescope gear to the CAO Observing Pad so to be able to socialise with the rest of the gang and help Kiron. Phil installed his 15" Obsession with digital setting circles at the west end. Kiron put the Centre's 8" Skywatcher near me. He had various eyepieces including the 2" wide field which had never used. Didn't even know he had... We mounted his new Nikon binoculars, with tripod adapter, to my Manfrotto. Tony fired up the Paramount in the Geoff Brown Observatory.
Instrument: Celestron 8-inch SCT
Mount: Vixen Super Polaris
Method: star hopping
We had moved one of the picnic tables to the centre of the pad. Kiron took one end; I took the other.

I put up my portable umbrella for dew protection. Grabbed a lawn chair from the deck.

I set up my SP-C8 to the east of the table. Tripod, levelled, atop hockey pucks. Rough, eye-ball, polar alignment (turned out to be pretty good). Installed the dew heating equipment. Plugged in my blue extension cord, with lit end, from the centre GFCI to the picnic table, near Kiron's workstation, and offered a plug for his laptop. Plugged in my yellow power bar and put it near my end. It powered the netbook and 120-12 adapter. Eyepieces out and ready to go. Both portable weather stations in the ambient air. Red film installed!

Moving it from the back deck table, I set up the Questar atop our pad table. This would afford views through the little MCT over the evening.

The air was cooling. The clothing layers were put on. There were a few mozzies so I also put my bug suit gloves on.

The sky looked good. It felt fairly dry with no wind to speak of. Venus emerged from the darkening sky followed by more planets. A ragged line with Venus, Regulus, Mars, Saturn, and Spica. Phil started picking off stars. Observing began in earnest.

Venus showed as gibbous in everyone's 'scope. Kiron remarked that it was oval shaped. It was even visible in the Questar.

Titan was quite far from the sixth planet, about 2 ring-widths away, to the east. As the contrast improved, we could see Dione between, close to the rings. Rhea was bright on the opposite side. Enceladus and Tethys tangling near the rings forming one bright point.

Kiron had lots of questions as he was getting started. Phil and I tried to help him out.

Was flitting about between Phil's 'scope, helping Kiron, chatting with Tony in the GBO.

My crude polar alignment was good! On returning to the Celestron 8" after breaks or distractions, I could see I was still on target.

Around 9:30 PM, I started off using my Potter Style log book; later I switched to Windows notepad. It just seemed faster and easier in the dark, since I already had the computer nearby.

I turned to the south to hunt for unseen objects, focusing in the Scorpius region. Consulted my life lists. Ah. Had not seen Messier 62.

I starhopped from Antares. Hey, I found it! It's a globular cluster. It seemed a little irregular, not perfectly round. I don't know why exactly but I wasn't expecting that. Perhaps because I was close to the central bulge. I wondered how far it was, assuming it was very distant, past the hub. Tony and I had a little argument about whether it would be inside or outside the galaxy. I said the globulars were in the halo, not in arms; Tony said they were in the arms.

(Turns out we're both right... Wikipedia revealed that M62 is 23 kly distant. That's about the distance to galactic centre. Using Where Is M13? I was able to visualise the glob's location. Just ahead of the bulge and above. This excellent software clearly shows globs sprinkled everywhere, although most are above and below the arms. Wow, this application is awesome on a widescreen monitor...)

More M62 data: a.k.a. NGC 6266. Officially, it is a DSO of Ophichius, just inside the border between Scorpius. Magnitude 6.6 spread over a 15 by 15 arc-minute region. Again, 22 500 lightyears away.

Kiron wanted to know the time of moon rise. I suggested he use Sky and Telescope's online Almanac. But as I was saying it, I remembered that they had recently restricted access to that tool (they're probably experiencing DoS attacks). A human needs an account now. I accessed the service with my profile... The predicted time was 11:38 PM (based on the Toronto location).

Put the Questar on M13. It took a while to find it, nearly straight overhead. It's clearly there. I'm not sure if I can just barely resolve stars or if that's because I know what it looks like. Phil was not very impressed.

Kiron noticed shaking or vibration in his Nikon binoculars. After some experimenting and testing, I came to believe it was not in my tripod but rather in the adapter. The plastic bino-pod adapter oscillates like a tuning fork! And, to make matters worse, it has a long dampen time! Ironically, it actually helped to touch the binos, to aid in the dampening.

Around 11:45, the Moon rose above the mountain ridge and trees. More than 70% illuminated, it flooded the landscape and sky with light.

12:13. I continued to help Kiron. He was struggling a bit with the path of the planets. I explained that ecliptic is low in summer evenings (but high in the day). I pointed out that the Moon was about 4° above the ecliptic (in an ascending node; correction: northern declination). We discussed the motion of the orbits. I clarified that all the planets we were observing, as we on Earth were, moving counter-clockwise around the Sun. Venus was catching us, but we were "pulling away" from Mars and Saturn. And that we were drawing near or closing in on Jupiter.

12:25. Just viewed Zubenelgenubi, a.k.a. α1 (alpha 1) and α2 (alpha 2) Librae, in my 'scope with the baader planetarium 36mm. It is a very wide double. I tried viewing in Kiron's Nikon binoculars on my tripod. A very nice view. I noted a flying V of stars, all around magnitude 7, above and to the right!

1:11. Kiron was struggling with Vega. I cautioned him about chasing objects directly overhead.

There was also an issue of the finder scope not being aligned with the main tube. That made things very difficult for him. I said that we'd review that in daylight but that it was part of preparation for an observing session after setting up the 'scope: do finder scope alignment, Telrad too (it has one), and collimation, if necessary.

As the sky brightened, I shifted to double stars. I pulled my new Cambridge Double Star Atlas and flipped to constellations crossing the meridian. The CDSA said that Altair is a double! I targeted it. Didn't see anything per se. Started zooming in but couldn't split the white star. I wondered if it was a another wide double. Consulted double stars by Haas. Yep, she says it is separated by 192". Didn't think to put the binos on it...

1:27. I helped Kiron find M4. I said it should be a very short star hop from Antares. He was getting very frustrated. So I tried it and reached the target. I showed him what it looked like. Then I tried to get him to do that starhop, starting back at Antares.

Jupiter had risen!

1:47. I made my first viewing of Jupiter in a long time. Hey, it's only got one band! That was kinda cool. It will make it a lot easier to tag north and south. I noticed one moon way out of line from the others. It was Callisto.

I was tired so I packed up. Covered the SP-C8 with a tarp held in place with bungees. Took the Questar to the kitchen. Put most of the other gear in the car.

The humidity spiked around 78% around 1:00 AM or so. As I was packing up, I saw that it had fallen to 72%. So I didn't really need my umbrella. I didn't see or feel dew on the 'scope. Still, I noticed some dew on the rear window and bonnet of my car.

2:19. I was snuggled in my portabed, winding down, recapping. Kiron was still out there. Good for him.

It was a fairly enjoyable evening. With the Moon up early, it really felt shortened. The seeing and transparency were average. I didn't do quite as much as I wanted. Didn't see any new double stars. But I did view a new Messier. One more off the list. It was good to be back at my 'scope. It was good to observe.


I was struggling a bit with how Stellarium 0.10.5 handles the oculars. The interface is a bit rough. The keyboard shortcut for switching walks through all the combinations on file. That's not really practical.


Through the evening, Kiron kept wanting to use, jump to, the 4mm eyepiece. I encouraged him to use a different approach, a gradual one, of zooming slowly, starting with the lowest power eyepiece. He didn't know the focal length of the Dob so was not aware of the power or magnification.


Phil and I goofed. We were giving Kiron incorrect information for much of the evening. We had assumed that the finder scope was presenting a flipped view (like an SCT). We didn't realise it had a correcting feature! I clued in late in the game while comparing a low-power view to the eyepiece view. Oops!

Still, the eyepiece with the right-angle exit is not as intuitive as a straight-thru, in terms of aiming. And the Telrad, while ready to go, also has not been aligned...

Stumbling blocks. Alas, the path for the neophyte is not smooth nor free of hazards.

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