Monday, January 31, 2011

Saturn, ξ UMa, and ISS at last (Blue Mountains)

3:49 AM. Alarm went off. Ugh. Looked out the north bedroom window and saw stars. Was feeling really tired. Thought about whether I really wanted to do this or not. But then I remembered Saturn.

I've come all this way! I better try!

Good morning.

4:01. Started voice recording.

Wasn't sure if the weather server uploading was working or not so I read the weather station console directly. The temperature was -17.8°C with a wind chill of -23. The wind direction was east at 10 km; the 10 minute average was 6. The air pressure was still very high 1034.1 mbars and rising.

Filled the handwarmer and almost immediately it overflowed. Old fluid? Wiped it down. Lit it and it started warming up as per normal. Put it in the breast pocket of the winter coat. A couple of minutes later, it did not seem warm. I felt inside my pocket. Seemed damp? The handwarmer was horizontal. It was not generating heat. I wondered if it flooded itself again. Stupidly, I immediately tried to light it and whole thing went up, with flame around my hand, the warmer, the red bag it was still in. I dropped it in the sink and threw the wash cloth on it. It still was burning. Sheesh. Not good. Singed the bag! Almost lit myself on fire in the early morning as well. That's one way to get the juices going!

Grabbed one of my reusable chemical handwarmers instead. Tried not to trigger it.

4:18. In the GBO. Reasonably good skies. Some cloud on the horizon, all around.

Powered stuff up. Left a lot of things on standby in hopes of clear skies! It didn't take long to get going.

I thought I felt some crystals or flakes on my face on the walk over. Couldn't see anything. I needed to check the conditions, see if it was precipitating. Didn't want snow on the corrector...

Since the local weather page was still not updating, I checked the Collingwood report by Environment Canada. There was a note that said the conditions were not observed. Guess the weather human was still in bed. "Flurries ending early this evening. Cloudy periods with a 30% chance of flurries, becoming clear overnight. Wind north-west 20 km/h becoming light early."

The wind up here was a completely different direction. Weird.

Popped outside to read the sky. Looked good. Didn't feel or see snow. Thought that a flashlight or laser would be handy for testing that but didn't have anything handy.

Opened the roof. It started correctly and ran perfectly. No belt issues, no hopping. Drew the roof closed slightly again from the full open position.

4:32. Considered an email to the Yahoo!Group to tell them to "Get out of bed." That would have been a little harsh first thing Monday... Instead, I said, "Saturn or bust!"

Oh. Just remembered a neat setting I could use in SkyTools3 Pro. Adjusted the beginning and ending times so to further restrict the observing list suggestions given that much of the night was gone. While still in my custom Winter list of Turn Left at Orion, the suggestions offered by ST3 totalled 7, including the Clown Face. Ha! And 6 of them I had already seen. No matter, I headed out to the telescope to view Saturn.

4:40. Wow! Saturn was fantastic. That was despite some Celestron 14" telescope cooling effects. The view was shimmering a bit. But when steady, with the Tele Vue Panoptic 27mm ocular, I could see variations on the surface, hints of cloud bands, bright on the top edge. I don't think I saw the big white storm. When the view was good, the clouds on Saturn looked consistent and even. I think I saw the Cassini Division in the rings. The shadow of the rings was very easy to spot.

It was good to see the rings again at a steep angle. It's been a while. Very nice. Worth getting up early for. Worth the drive.

Very faint point to the right of Saturn, or the rings rather, about 1 ring-width away, a bit less than that. Two bright points to the left in-line. A "winger" further beyond the two, above the plane. I suspected that was Titan.

Checked the moons configuration in ST3. Ensured I had the proper orientation. The right moon was Dione; the left, inner most object, ah, it was Titan. About 3 or 4 ring widths away. To the left of Titan, it was not a moon; it was a double star (primary 8.2, secondary 9.7 magnitudes). The "winger" was a star as well (8.3 mag). Enceladus was in the foreground over the planet. Tethys, Mimas, and Rhea were near the disk of the planet. And probably lost in the glare.

4:52. I couldn't see them naked eye but I knew there were clouds up there. Saturn was fading in and out.

Considered trying to split the double star. The pair was separated by 1.7 seconds of arc. I did not observe this double; I was more interested in the sixth planet.

4:53. Hey! I was able to see Rhea with the 27mm ocular. Even though it was magnitude 9.2, I had to wait for good seeing to tag it. Averted vision helped. Staring right in the middle of Saturn made it easier to see the moon. It seemed a different distance than what ST3 was showing, it seemed tighter.

[ed: ST3 said that it was 6" from the disk of the planet.]

I did see Iapetus, mag 9.2, well beyond Dione. It was above the ring plane. It formed an equilateral triangle with a 12.2 and 12.6 star.

Put in the Tele Vue Radian 18mm eyepiece but the view degraded.

Couldn't see the Direction Indicator marker in the Context Viewer of ST3. I double-checked the settings in the View Controls and the Context Viewer Properties tab. It was already on! I changed it to the horizon mode and then back to equatorial mode. Put it into red light mode. Changed the colours. No joy. Weird... I zoomed out enough such that I could see the FOV circle and the associated West pivot handle.

I was able to verify that west was left, in the direction of Titan, which made sense as I was looking through the telescope top-down.

5:06. The mount went into the meridian dead zone just as I was trying to pan with the joystick. Heard the motor note change. I flipped, choosing a target in Leo.

5:21. The view seemed off... It was steady or steadier: that's seeing. But it was not as bright: transparency. It must have been high thin cloud.

Viewed ξ (xi) Ursae Majoris aka Alula Australis aka Struve 1529. It is supposed to be a fast moving binary star system. A tight double. Almost equal in brightness. Could see the split in the 27mm (at 145 power); but was easier in the 18mm (at 217x). They were a straw yellow colour, identical in colour. ST3 said they were separated by 1.61" (as of this month, it seemed), mag 4.39 and 4.9 with a period of 59.9 years (in a "definitive orbit"). ST3 reported another number, "a" and that it equally 2.54 arc-seconds. I wondered what "a" meant. In SSD, that means the semi-major axis. Or is that a reference to a planet. It was a triple system but the C star was mag 15.

[ed: Another showcase pair recommendation by Haas: "the fastest easy one." Yellow-white. 1.7" in 2004.]

I was surprised where ξ was in the sky, so far below the Big Dipper, on the way to Leo. That put it very near the constellation Leo Minor. It must be one of the back feet of The Great Bear, along with Alula Borealis.

So, the thing to do would be to make measurements of this. I didn't bring any of my measuring equipment. But part of the exercise was to get a sense of where it was in the sky. It will be available into the spring. Hopefully, I'll be able to document it from home as well as the CAO.

ST3 recommended using the Erfle 32 eyepiece with the 4x Barlow, which would turn it into an 8mm view, just under 500x. That would be a lot of glass.

The ST3 observing list suggested going for the White Eyed Pea nebula. Ha ha. What a name. But it was in Hercules and I did not want to reorient for the meridian again. Noticed all the Virgo galaxies in the area...

Hold the phone! Suddenly I remembered that there was a flyover of the International Space Station coming up, due at 6:12! I wanted to try to view it in the telescope. I wasn't planning to record it. A bother to setup. And, again, I did not have a dew heater for the Tele Vue refractor.

I double-checked the details in Heavens Above. The ISS would be coming out of the north-west.

5:44. I downloaded the orbital elements into TheSky6. It said 7 items were imported. I tried plotting the information but weird things happened in TS6. I think the plot feature was trying to show all 7 of the items and one or two of them caused strange lines to be drawn on and dots to fly across the screen.

I tried searching for the ISS by keywords, like Zarya. It didn't work! Weird. Thought I had done that before. I used the browsing feature of the search tool. Ah, there it is. It's kinda funny to find it listed in the solar system category. I guess technically it is part of the solar system. I saw various elements like the Soyuz and TMA craft. I chose the Zarya from the list.

5:49. Looked at Saturn again before slewing away. It was really dim. I wondered if the corrector was dewed up. Er, frosted up.

I checked the corrector plate and saw there was something on it. I think a little bit of frost. Just the beginning telltales. Took the 120 volt hair dryer out.

5:56. The corrector was nice and clear again. The hair dryer worked well. I used the red LED built into the paddle to shed light on the work site.

My first palmtop alarm triggered.

I shut down and restarted ST6. I did the plot feature again and saw the ISS below the horizon in the west. It seemed that it would rise over the horizon in the area of Cancer.

Tried another quick pick at Saturn but the view was very poor. Which I suppose was good. Otherwise it would have distracted me.

My second palmtop alarm triggered.

6:01. Put in the lowest power eyepiece, the Tele Vue 55mm Plössl (71x and 42" field). And targetted the middle of Cancer to reduce the catch-up action.

Off in the east, I noticed a bright region going up high in the sky. Was that cloud and reflected light from the ski slopes? Or can one see zodiacal light this time of year? Hmm. I think the band was sloping to the left. That can't be right for zodiacal light.

It looked rather cloudy everywhere. All around.

Found the moving bullet in TS6 just below the horizon. Started the tracking mode and headed to the observatory. As I looked in the eyepiece, I couldn't see anything. It was a dark circle. I waited for a moment. I should have seen stars drifting by. But then, initially, I was well below the 2 air mass threshold. I continue watching, occasionally shifting the step stool so to stay close to the eyepiece. Oh! There's one. I saw a star zip through the field. Good. That was a good sign. It meant the mount was working at a fast rate. Hopefully this faster rate would be OK despite the temperature conditions and corresponding torque loads. I scanned the field of view looking for something unusual. Nothing. Just the odd star going by. I had no idea if I was on target.

And then, something, something different caught my eye. There in the centre of the field was a dull point. Now many stars were visible, moving together. But this object dead centre wasn't moving. That's it, that's it! The station. The mount was working, everything was working! I was very happy.

The point brightened. Initially there was no detail. But slowly, as it reflected more light, I could see a centre section of some length and against that, perpedicular, another shape, the solar panels. The overall shape was a letter T, capital form, with a little bit extending beyond the top of the T. Not a lot of additional detail. It was growing in brightness still but taking on colour now. It was a dark intense red then orange then gold. Quickly, it turned an intense pure white. Sunrise on orbit! Fantastic!

I briefly lost sight of it, with the pass being low in the north, behind the gamble of the GBO roof.

The mount slowed down and stopped as it reached the meridian. I ran to the computer to flip the mount then returned to the observing floor. The ISS moved into the north-east sky and disappeared behind clouds.

6:13. Wow! WOW! Now that was cool. That was a first for me. I've watched many sunsets on the station; but never a sunrise. It was very exciting to see in the telescope.

I reviewed the visible details from Heavens Above. It started 6:12:42 at 23° elevation in the north-west, max at 6:12:49 still at 23°, ended at 6:15 at 10° in the north-east. The magnitude prediction was -2.

That worked nicely. It's been a while. It was fun though! It showed the orbital data import in TS6 continues to work properly. Selecting the Zarya put it in the centre of the field. It struck me that seeing it in the C14 was revealing. With such a narrow field, as per the SCT design, f/11... Encouraging. It means there should be no issues capturing this on video with our MallinCam.

Funny. That reminded me to grab the camera! I had asked to bring it back to the city for testing with a custom remote control project.

6:22. I returned to the observatory to gauge the skies. I had seen a lot of haze and cloud streams. I saw something that looked like the Milky Way. Going through Ursa Major! Ah, yeah, that's not in the right spot.

Used the Sky Quality Meter. Took three readings: 19.74, 19.80, then 19.82. I believe those are poor ratings. The scale goes from 17 to 23, with 20 in the middle.

Considered the next ISS pass. A 5 minute run. Similar path. It would start at 10°, rise to 22°, then go back down to 10°. Too low to view in the 'scope. The 9 o'clock one would rise to 64 though...

I adjusted ST3 restrictions for the current conditions and it gave me two double star targets, which I had already viewed, and a bunch of planetary nebulae. I didn't think these viable given the sky brightening combined with the clouds.

Spotted Venus in the south-east but it had a halo around it. Oh oh.

6:31. Made a double star list in ST3. But when I looked out the window of the warm room I saw the sky was getting quiet bright. It was about an hour before sunrise.

Targetted the Draco double star HD 172712 aka HIP 91436 aka Struve 2368. Two faint stars close together, very tight. Almost equal brightness. ST3 showed mags as 6.92 and 7.92, the separation was 1.8", in 1998. It was hard to detect colour in the bright sky but they seemed equal. ST3 said that the best time to observe this double would be August! OK. Maybe I'll revisit.

[ed: Haas says: "identical stars... that are amber yellow with flashes of blue."]

6:40. I could only see a handful of stars naked eye. It was kinda silly to keep going.

I started packing up. I closed the roof without incident.

I debated whether I should go back to bed or get an early start on the day. Nap? Or coffee?

Reviewed the ST3 Direction Indicator issue again. The telescope view did show it. Why? Actually it showed the Z-L and N-E indicators in the finder and telescope views respectively. Hey, ST3 turned off the constellation lines again, damn it. I was getting pissed so I shut down SkyTools.

Didn't end up using my chemical hard warmer. Didn't need it.

I had brought a screwdriver out to the GBO so to remove one screw from another magnetic switch, as a sample. ¼" long with the small Robertson drive in a dome head.

6:52. Checked the corrector. It was nice and clear. The brief stint with the hair dryer worked.

6:56. Exited the GBO.

Forgot to check the weather conditions when back in the house. But it felt very cool.

1 comment:

SciDomer said...

Very impressive. I have to see this Paramount method, the software I have used for this on my alt-az goto is no longer supported. A northerly pass will overtax an EQ mount's RA drive because the singularity is at the NCP, not the Zenith.