Saturday, September 11, 2010

planets and Messiers (Mew Lake)

6-ish, Fri 10 Sep. Went down to the beach early. There were lots of 'scopes set up (Lillian said over 50 by night's end). Phil had his Obsession, Kiron was with one of the Toronto Centre's 8" Dobs, Stuart with his fork SCT, Adam-Bob had his Tele Vue 85 refractor, Sue and Erich with the SkyWatcher refractor, Katrina has her collapsible go-to Dob.

The corrector plate of my C8 looked amazing. I was so happy. Other were surprised that I had taken it apart...

Put my LED blinkies on, bottom of the tripod legs, for crowd control. Set up the picnic table and umbrella. Then fired up the netbook with red film.

Answered a number of questions of an early guest.

Viewed Moon, Venus, Mars. The Moon was extremely pale through the Celestron 8" SCT. The seeing, so low, made for poor viewing.

8:01 PM. I started my audio recording. Geese squawking.

Jason dropped by the beach. Met Jason's friend Jeff. Whoa. Tall, 6'5"! How did they fit in that tiny car?! Jason didn't bring his 'scope. Hmmm. 'Cause there was no room left! He did bring his (soon-to-be-illegal) green laser. 200mW (like mine). $50 on the web. "Use 'em if you got 'em." We compared beam brightness and found them the same. And, no, we didn't cross the beams!

Jason asked if there were any Iridium flares. Nope.

Put my glasses strap on. I found that my eyeglasses fogged if I took them off for a while. Could see my breath on the air—not from the cold either. Need dew heaters for my eyeglasses!

A gaggle of geese were munching away at the shoreline. They flew in front of Venus at one point. Sounds like they went through the field of view of Adam's 'scope. Phil said, "Ah, the Flying Geese Cluster."

While checking Stellarium, I noticed that Mars was nearby. Up and to the right of Venus. 6° away from Venus, 30° angle up from the horizontal, to the right. I wondered if I might be able spot it in the finder scope. Didn't see it at first.

A visitor spotted a bright star. Adam-Bob clarified that it was Arcturus in Bo├Âtes, a red supergiant star. He pointed out Vega and Deneb and Altair. Began his alignment.

The Japanese tourism contingent (rather, the Tenmon Guide astronomy magazine team) was around, interviewing people, photographing astronomers and the Milky Way. They were shown Venus.

8:08. Someone said they could see Polaris. I spotted it. Just to the right of the pointy tree. I had the Super Polaris mount pretty close, based on my earlier magnetic alignment. I also had to tune the latitude slightly. Helped Adam-Bob find the North Star, with my laser pointer. Erich too.

Phil had his white parka on. Tracy liked it. "We're gonna need it tonight," Phil said. My red winter coat was ready to go...

Reacquired Venus. It was shimmering badly. Very colourful.

8:13. Found Mars in the telescope. 55x. Tried to sight naked eye. Hard to see. Came and went. About a finger width above the tree line. Stuart also thought I said 30 degrees up.

Stuart took a look through the eyepiece. "A little blurry dot." Indeed. About 2 AU away. He headed off to do his alignment process, now that a good number of stars were appearing.

A guest came by to view Mars. I offered a view. Explained it was very far away. She asked about the shape of Venus. I explained that Galileo saw phase and how it intrigued him. "I didn't know that," she admitted. Then asked "How strong is this?" I had the baader eyepiece in, so I shared that it was 55 power.

Someone asked about the ISS pass. I couldn't remember the exact time. I knew it was a 6 minute pass. I noted that I had an alarm programmed in my palmtop with a 10 minute warning.

8:18. Erich found the tube of his refractor already wet. Phil said, "Man, it's dewy."

8:19. Viewed Albireo. Showed my guest. I shared some double star facts. At the eyepiece, she said, "Oh, that's cool." She assessed the colours as pink and blue. I pointed to it, in Cygnus, with the laser beam.

I think I heard a cat in the background (time stamp 18:06 and 18:09)...

Pointed out Mizar and Alcor. She could vaguely see them. She thought that cool.

She asked me, "How did you get into this?" Interesting question. I talked about my early interest in science. The simple answer though I forgot to share: "Mom."

She asked about the cost of telescopes. I told her about finding my SCT on consignment. But I pointed out the society's Dob, an excellent and inexpensive starter 'scope. Simple, easy to use, cheap. She said she wanted to get one.

Kiron showed up. I asked him if he remembered his pants. I asked him if he remembered his toque. He reported he was good to go!

Got out my red flashlight. Attached the lanyard.

8:23. Suddenly remembered the fuse for Katrina. I had my 5 amp "backup" spare. Helped her install it in her Kendrick dew heater type IV controller.

I had spread my gear everywhere. I cleared off half the picnic table for Kiron. Phil had decided, at the last minute, to bring his own table, the aluminum unit from the camp site. So we had lots of space for stuff.

We discussed comet Hartley. I reminded Phil that it was "up," that is to say, near Andromeda and Lacerta. I think Adam-Bob was trying for it too. Phil's paper printout disagreed with my Stellarium presentation. Phil and I didn't see it.

Sue and Erich finished their telescope setup with help of a friend. But seemed to be struggling with their polar alignment. Sue said, "This is a good place to get help."

8:28. I enjoyed Albireo. I noticed a lot of field stars! The view looked quite good. Very clear. Amazing, in fact.

It occurred to me that the view was very good. Clear and crisp. As a result of the corrector plate cleaning, I assumed!

And the stars... they were round and crisp at good focus. In other words, the collimation looked good. I defocused and saw good, concentric diffraction rings. Woo hoo! No need to fiddle with it. Phil said I should leave it. Done.

Someone asked when the next shuttle was. Phil and I interpreted this as the flyover; but they were interested in the next launch—so to go to Florida to watch it.

Kiron asked if he needed to change the location in Stellarium. It didn't really matter unless he was doing detailed planetary.

I wondered how the yellow-blue pair would look in the binoviewer, suddenly remembering I had the evaluation unit with a pair of 20mm wide angle oculars.

Kiron grumbled about car headlights... He was facing right into them.

8:32. Adam-Bob complained briefly about all the laptop people. He asked Kiron if he could turn his monitor. Some irony in that...

Poor Kiron getting really upset with Stellarium. Said he was having persistent font problems on the display. I recommended he launch it without the OpenGL option. Not through Explorer. Had to show him where that was in the Windows (Vista) Start menu system; he kept launching it from the "historical" menu.

I unpacked the binoviewer components. Heard something fall on the table. Put the eyepieces in. Hey! There's a screw missing. Ah. That's what fell out.

Sue discussed her fall. Said it was a gentle fall. Treating it kindly. Was getting used to using her left hand.

8:43. Tried the binoviewer. One of the eyepiece screws fell out. I thought they looked chintzy. Not enough meat in the metal... If you undo it 2 or 3 times it falls out.

Oh, oh. You need dual heaters for a bino viewer! It really is twice as expensive.

Kiron said his does the same. He also complained about the screws being close together on the inside but I pointed out that the shafts can be turned.

I offered to move stuff around for Kiron, so he could put his back to the parking lot, but then I forgot. Oops. Maybe it would not have mattered, in the end, as someone over near site 113 or 114, across the lake, left their car headlights on...

Wow. It was really different looking through the binoviewer. Hard to describe. 3D? There did seem to be some dimension to the view. It was fuller. Somehow.

Adam-Bob shared that this was his eighth AAA. In a row.

8:44. My palmtop went off for the 10 minute warning of the ISS. I relayed the starting point, elevation, direction.

Kiron asked where the North Pole was. I showed him but he then said that the Pointer Stars didn't point directly to it. True. But it was close. He asked where the Little Dipper was. Green laser again. He got it. I suggested that use the dim stars in the constellation to rate his naked eye mag limit. Possibly he'd be able to see to mag 6 or 6.5.

Kiron said he was going to get his Heavy Duty Toque out. The one he wore in the Himalayas.

He found the Telrad dewing up. Without a heater, I suggested covering it when not using it, perhaps with a hat, glove, piece of fabric. Everything will dew up instantly, I warned.

Phil said the stars were shimmering. Complained about the dew. He wondered if the mirror was still cooling.

8:51. I spotted the ISS. I pointed to it with the green laser. I shared that it would rise to 56° and would reach mag -3.5. Only one pass tonight. I heard one nearby operator tracking it in their telescope. Viewers could see the solar panels. When overhead, it was 350 kilometres away; when we first spotted it, it was 2000 km away. Reminded everyone that there were 3 people up there. And a working cooling system. A viewer noticed it turning red as it faded in the west; ah, the same effect terrestrial sunsets.

8:57. Adam-Bob complained about bright lights across the lake.

He viewed Kemble's Cascade. Tagged it quickly.

8:59. Kiron asked for help with the Telrad: it was dimming out. I wondered, at first, if it was just his alignment behind it. He assured me that he was comfortable with that. As I looked at it, it dimmed. Ah ha. Some sort of electrical problem. We pulled the battery cover. The battery holder was covered with Scotch tape. As Kiron held my flashlight, I removed the tape, hoping to spin the batteries. Then we found a piece of foil. When I removed the final piece of tape, a wire came loose! It looked like someone broke the wire and then jury-rigged it. What a mess! Kiron retrieved some electrician's tape so we could temporarily get it working again. I was cursing like a sailor (unfortunately) while there were kids still around... Not good. I suddenly remembered that Phil had his soldering kit. We could correctly fix it tomorrow.

Sue was visited by a very young guest. She exhibited tremendous knowledge of the skies. Cute kid.

9:08. Put my RASC toque on.

As Phil showed guests M57 (Messier 57, the Ring Nebula), they asked who we were, if we went to university for this. "We're amateurs. It's a hobby!" I shared that I had taken a university course but it was all math. Took all the fun out of it. We never looked through a telescope during the entire course.

I viewed my computer notes (with a sinking feeling that they were out of date) and decided to examine Messier 9 near Ophiuchus.

Some guests came by but I was in the middle of the star hop.

The stars, in the finder scope, were dim. Mind you, the target was low.

Reviewed Stellarium and SkyTools. Sabik, eta.

One of Phil's guests said, "So, have you been to the Dunlap." Phil replied, "Yeah. We run it."

The recorder stopped. I had used up all the available memory... Struck me as a little weird but I moved on.

9:28. I discovered that I had let the finder scope dew up. Damn it! Got distracted at some point and left the caps off. I had been good up to that point. I tried using a hand warmer pack but it did not seem to work. I moved the eyepiece heater to the finder objective. Took forever to clear it. OK. Maybe 30 minutes. What a waste of time.

9:30. Humidity 88%, temperature 10.0 deg C.

10:31. Viewed M9 for some time. Tried to correlate the view on the computer.

Horvatins arrived the beach. I gathered they had been in the park for a while and had set up camp already. Good to see/hear them.

11:18. So frustrated. White light everywhere: from the parking lot; from the camping sites on the far side of the lake. Half my eyepieces are fogged. I had lost a lot of time clearing the finder scope. Was upset that the loaner Dob was not ship-shape. Cursed up a storm (oops, didn't mean to be so crass at a family event). It occurred to me that I really need dew heaters for the finder scope. Could use dew heating for the eyepiece case! The vault toilets stink. We could smell them on the beach. Dejected, I thought seriously about packing up.

11:33. ST3 suggested the Pinwheel, M33. I found it! Huge. I could see arms faintly. Adam-Bob said Messier 33 is filled with star-forming regions. He kept talking about the active area NGC 604. I think I saw it...

Phil looked at the Spindle Galaxy.

12:12 AM Sat 11 Sep. Been on NGC 891 (Caldwell 23) for a while. Tried all the eyepieces. The 9mm was too dark. I enjoyed the wide fields. Just tried Phil's Pentax XW 20mm. He said it was first light. Wow. Wikipedia described it as "visible in small to moderate size telescopes as a faint elongated smear of light with a dust lane visible in larger apertures."

12:40. Viewed M74 (Messier 74). Very faint. Tried 36mm and 20mm. Wikipedia says that "the galaxy's low surface brightness makes it the most difficult Messier object for amateur astronomers to observe." No kidding.

Before packing up: 98%. 5.7 deg C.


Late, I checked the old Century Booster battery which Kiron was using to power his laptop. It read "empty." Once again, not responding well to the cold.

I threw a hand warmer in the bag.


At one point in the evening, I heard new member Jenna had arrived. I didn't meet her but Phil and Katrina and Tracy helped her get her bearings. She had rented a car and cottage. It was good that she made it.


Thinking back, I had no power issues. And that is awesome!

The gel-cell battery appeared to hold up well for the evening. With 3 heaters this time (8" objective, 2" eyepiece, tray sheet)! The charger reported it low the next day but hey. That's OK. I didn't touch the second battery.

And the Eee PC netbook! Wow. It went all night. Mind you, it kept timing out, which was annoying. Still, it worked great. While the batteries may not be pumping out 9 hours any more, 5 or 6 is plenty!


Wait a minute. I remembered the Sony voice recorder run out of space. Why?!


It was not a good idea to put all the eyepieces in the triangle tray under the mount. Yes, handy; but exposed to the air, they will dew up. Phil immediately puts oculars he's not using back in the case and closes the lid on the case. Blocks the sky.

Phil also has a towel with his gear. He flips it over his charts and other gear to keep them out of the dew and dry.

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