Saturday, July 10, 2010

ISS flyover up close, an old Moon (Blue Mountains)

At 9:13 PM, we were all setting up for the evening. A bunch of people were on the E.C. Carr Astronomical Observatory Observing Pad. I was getting the Geoff Brown Observatory Paramount ME, Celestron 14" SCT, Tele Vue 101 refractor ready. Dietmar was getting his imaging rig configured, with his laptop near the telescope.

I responded to Grace's text on ISS flyover time and location.

9:28. Grace phoned the CAO. She hadn't received (or checked for) my text message. Once again, I relayed the details for the International Space Station flyover. She and Tony were down at the Ontario Science Centre for the Summer Star Party. Guy and Sara had called a No Go based on possible cloudy conditions but the indoor portion was still proceeding.

I showed Dietmar the ISS tracking set up in TheSky6 software. It's pretty easy. It will be good for other operators to know.

9:46. Kiron arrived from the city. Once again he brought the Centre's loaner Skywatcher 8" Dobsonian. He asked to borrow my extension cord; I had it ready for him. He also brought his binoviewers! Good thinkin'.

10:04. Wow. We just watched the 9:56 ISS flyover. Naked eye and in the TV101 and C14 eyepieces. Phil thought the view in the TV was better. We saw the individual solar panels! An overall H-shape, fairly clearly defined, with the outer panels connected by white structure. Unbelievable, incredible detail. The colour, brilliant coppery-dark gold colour of the solar panels, was striking! Fantastic! Everyone enjoyed that. Even I was stunned by the amount of detail. I was very pleased that the operation of the Paramount. Incredibly accurate tracking...

I had not had to set up the camera on the Tele Vue in time for the pass. So I started working on MallinCam. Reviewed Tony's handwritten notes.

I had to add the 2" mirror diagonal to lengthen the light path.

Tony suggested recording it... perhaps with a video camera on the monitor. Not a bad idea. But this first run was a trial to see if the tracking even worked. Perhaps for the next pass I'll have the camera ready.

10:26. Ralph arrived. With lemon meringue pie! Always thinking of the membership, that's what I like about Ralph.

He just reported to me that the TV101 and C14 were out of alignment. So I spent some time aligning the refractor along the SCT. Took a while but I finally got it. This made the eyepiece view correspond to the camera/monitor view.

This also allowed us to gauge the power and field of view of the camera: 145 times and 0.75 degree.

Wandered to the pad to see how everyone was doing. Kiron called me over. He had previously downloaded and installed Virtual Moon Atlas but there was some sort of problem. When he showed me the screen, the moon image was not visible. It wasn't a completely black screen; the labels were there. But the moon disk and grid lines didn't show. Perplexing. I asked about his computer OS and learned he was using Vista. Ah ha! There's the problem! We resolved to investigate the issue in the day...

11:10. Steve wandered into the GBO as I was still tweaking the camera and C14. He took a look at M51 on the monitor and through the eyepiece. Enjoyed the view. It is impressive what we could see with the MallinCam.

11:15. I took a couple of SQM readings: 21.04 was the average, straight up.

I was trying for M94 and M64 when my alarm went off!

11:35. We just watched the second ISS flyover. While short, it was good. We got a slightly different orientation, of course, of the structure. We tried using the MallinCam this time but, unfortunately, couldn't see detail on the monitor. The camera was overwhelmed. That was partly my fault. I goofed in the configuration, forgetting to turn off the integration on the camera. Also, the whole event snuck up on me... I'll need to set an alarm further ahead to get everything ready...

I parked on the Owl Nebula, M97, while Ralph and I took a break. Just barely visible on the monitor. Mmm, pie.

12:13 AM. Back from break. Dietmar checked his latest image but it's got tracking or trailing problems. He wasn't sure why. He showed me the tracking deltas on the dimmed laptop screen and they looked OK.

1:17. Did a bunch of testing with the MallinCam so to get a sense of good targets to show in the future, at public events. M101 is too faint. But M81/82, 51, 31/32, 57, 10, and 27 are great!

Bode's and The Cigar can just fit on the monitor. We need to turn the camera to put each galaxy in a corner of the display. Amazing, you can see that big dark lane in the foreground of M82.

The Andromeda Galaxy is huge, of course. But turning the camera to an optimal orientation and shifting the mount slightly lets one see the companion to the great galaxy. We could see dust lanes on the monitor. Wow.

The 14 integration setting on the Dumbbell works really well!

Dietmar, Ralph, and I discussed the light path length with the Tele Vue 'scope and the MallinCam. I had used the 2" mirror to get it to work. Dietmar said we really should have photo extension tube, 2" diameter, so to eliminate the mirror but improve the focal path length. He loaned us his Williams Optics accessory. It worked well. He needed to position the focuser out approx. 2". There was still room to focus in and out. This will be a good config.

We also tried Dietmar's 0.8 focal reducer in an effort to decrease the size of the image. Unfortunately, we couldn't reach focus. We racked all the way in but it was not enough.

1:30. I viewed M40. The simple double star in the catalog. What many describe as one of the "mistakes" by Messier. Sadly, it is not even that interesting as a double.

I spotted a small faint nebula nearby (NGC 4290, mag 12), forming a triangle with a bright star. Oval shape. For a moment I thought I could see the other, smaller fuzzy, 4284 (mag 13.6). Others took a look: they could only see 4290.

Pulled my book Turn Left At Orion for some additional targets. Started going through the summer list... I've done a bunch of these already. But I started reviewing the "also in the area" notes.

I tried viewing ζ (zeta) Bootis but could not split it. Consulted double stars for small telescopes by Sissy Haas and she said the stars were 0.7 seconds of arc apart. Ah. Tight.

2:25. Dietmar used the SQM. He got 21.04, like I did.

Kiron was playing tour guide for Bob and Margie. They had arrived some time earlier, for a quick visit, and had spent time on the Observing Pad. Grilling the operators. Taking peeks. Kiron brought them into the GBO, which they had not seen in full operation. We looked at Jupiter and Uranus. Kiron, over my shoulder, spotted a comet in the area, on TheSky6 screen. I cautioned that could be old data and that I had not updated it. We targeted the comet Temple object according to TheSky6 software but there was nothing to see in the eyepiece. Bob wanted to see the Milky Way through the telescope. I thought that a little odd but parked on a few dense regions. We suggested binoculars were better for that sort of thing. Margie guided Bob from the observatory, through the dark parking lot, and a short time later they headed back to the city... The NOVA grads still don't have binoculars or a telescope.

3:06. While in Lyra, I viewed (Struve) Σ2470 and Σ2474, the other "double double." They fit in the 55mm (71x) and then the 32mm (122x). I found them angled in the same direction, almost exactly. They were also very nearly equal in terms of separation. The one pair (bottom right, 2474) seem equally coloured, a light gold. Haas says "yellowish white." The other pair were different: the primary was pale blue white; the secondary was a slightly darker blue. Haas says the "primary is pure white." 2474 is slightly wider. Haas says 2470 is 13.6" and the other 15.8". Haas says they are optical. That's fascinating, similar angles and separations.

3:19. Viewed β (beta) Lyrae again. Doubles everywhere! Primary is brilliant white star, very intense. Quite some ways away (in the 32mm) is the secondary, a pale, fainter star.

3:34. Viewed ζ Sagittae (again). An attractive double star in the 32mm. Primary is white; secondary looks white as well but is pale.

Guys came rushing in regarding a dark spot on Jupiter. We put The Beast on it. I checked the software apps. Stellarium and TheSky6 didn't offer much. So I checked the Sky & Telescope javascript tool. It's Callisto's shadow. Easy to pick off in the C14. It was to end in a few minutes. Steve described it as a little "bite." That was kind neat.

We discussed the Moon rising. I had thought it 3:11 at the time (it was 4:11). And then it had to rise over the hill and trees. People packed up as we waited. I got the Point-And-Shoot camera ready on the tiny table-top tripod. Did some bracketing.

5 AM ish. We all watched the Moon rise. It was 28.1 days old. That marks a career oldest moon for me.

FujiFilm FinePix J20, fireworks mode, 1/2 sec, ISO-100, f/5.6, focal length 19mm (near top end of optical zoom), 5:08 AM, mini-tripod tabletop mount, 10 second timer

Worth staying up? I thought so...

5:16. Looked at Jupiter before shutting down. Very nice contrast now, easy to see clouds bands, festoons, and the GRS.

The Moon was amazing one last time as the sky brightened.

I closed up the GBO.

Everyone left standing headed to bed. Good night. Good morning!

I took some antihistamine...

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