Saturday, January 29, 2011

unexpected observing (Blue Mountains)

After viewing the Iridium and seeing fairly clear skies to the south and east, I got my hopes up. Maybe I could do some astronomical observing after all. I had not expected tonight to do anything, based on the Clear Sky Chart and the local weather predictions. So I was excited settling into the Geoff Brown Observatory.
Instruments: Celestron 14-inch SCT, Tele Vue 101 refractor
Mount: Paramount ME
Method: Go To
6:35 PM. I was with 2 laptops, the Dell with TheSky6 to control the mount, and the ASUS with SkyTools3 Pro planning software. The small floor heater was on. It had been on for a while, since about 4:30. I suddenly remembered there was a switch in the breaker panel for the baseboard heater under the counter. Oops. I energised it. Closed the window between the warm room and observatory proper. Tied up the curtains. I heard ticking: the warm room wall clock showed the correct time.

I had prepared SkyTools3 to list some targets. I had made a custom observing list first using the automatic generator with the "interesting deep sky" option. Then I added my unlogged entries from the (new) Turn Left at Orion - Winter list. 140 items total; the Obvious visibility setting reduced it to 24. I would use the Observed toggle to mark things through the evening.

Plugged in my two red LED keyboard lights. Put the red film on the netbook screen. Ha. Noticed the NASA I Need My Space mouse pad nearby. Handy! Pulled out the wifi mouse.

6:41. Configured a Notepad file on the netbook for additional notes. Hit the date/time stamp keyboard shortcut.

Connected and booted the GBO laptop. Tried to remember the proper sequence for turning on the mount and computer. It slowly came back to me that the mount would crash if the computer was connected to the serial port and then turned on. I would avoid the issue now with the computer already started.

Was also foggy about my GBO computer password. My master password list was in my palmtop and my palmtop was in the house. I remembered a portion of it. Tried a hunch. It worked! Been a while... Or a touch of oldmanitis.

Grabbed the rolled red film sheet from drawer for the Dell. Moose poo on it! Bleh.

6:46. Launched TS6, finally. I was ready to open the roof.

I read Tony's notes from November in the log book I had spotted earlier. Consider his remarks (warnings?) from evening before. Should I or shouldn't I? What was the worst that could happen? I'd have to fetch a come-a-long and some chain... I was ready to give it a try. Eeeeee. Unlatched the top 4 bolts. Back to the roof control panel.

Turned off the dehumidifier. Ooh. It was warmer in the warm room! Nice.

Moment of truth. Hit the Open button. Nothing. Silence. Um. Oh yeah. Checked the right hand sensor. Huh. So today it decides to work. Figures. The magnet was a ways from the switch. Wiggled it closer.

6:48. Moment of truth. Really. This time. Tried again. The motor started running! w00t. With a snap, the south doors unsticking from the frame, the roof retracted.

At 45 seconds in, something clunked! It was loud. Gave me a start. Felt the shock or vibration through the wall into my hand. Wow. What was that?

Tried again. Immediately something clunked again! Oh oh.

Inspected the roof and drive mechanism. Everything seemed OK. In particular, the Lovejoy connection at the top looked good.

Tried again. Now the loud sound started repeating! Much faster frequency. Scary. Did not sound healthy at all. What had I done?

The roof was about half-way open. Well. It would work if viewing things to the south. Especially if I dropped the walls. But I wasn't real happy with that condition.

More importantly, would I be able to close it?! Meh. We'll cross that bridge later.

6:50. Unlocked the eyepiece cabinet.

The sky was great.

6:53. Got a fault on booting the Paramount ME. Sheesh. Now what?! Tried again. A rapid beeping tone, blue LEDs flashing. Sticktion? I declutched the RA and DEC axis screws (they seemed awfully tight) and then gently tightened them. Started up the mount again. It immediately went to a good condition. Linked up the software. All was nominal.

Looked at the ST3 list and decided to view Jupiter. Been a while. The planning tool suggested an 18mm eyepiece. I grabbed it but then considered the 27mm.

I wasn't sure where to keep the eyepieces. Normally, in the warmer months, I would put them on a pop-up table near the 'scope. I was worried about frost. But then I could just keep them covered. As I normally do. What about the temperature. I wasn't sure whether they should be warmed or at ambient, for best performance...

6:59. The roof condition was bothering me. I wanted to talk to Tony about it. That's when I remembered that I had left the GBO phone in the house. Considered texting him but realised it would be too complicated. We would need to be interactive.

Headed to the house for the cordless phone, my eyeglasses case with cleaning cloth, and a cola. Oh. Had not brought my red laser glasses. So retrieving a beverage from the bright fridge would mean I'd have to close my eyes to keep my dark adaptation.

The damn lights from the ski hill combined with the snow made it feel like the Moon was out.

7:05. Returned to the GBO. Plugged in a charger. Phoned the Boss Man.

We diagnosed the problem. I described the clunking problem, said it felt like something was skipping. He said it was in fact. The "timing" belt, the wide belt, with the teeth, connecting the large gear on the main shaft and the small gear on the reducer could skip or hop if there was not enough tension. He directed me to adjust the T-handle behind the small access panel to change the tension on the belt. Turned clockwise until it was very taut.

I described how the drive motor gear was out of alignment with the main gear, that the motor was higher, by about ¼ inch. Tony thought that would be OK. We verified the top Lovejoy coupling was well engaged, with the curved jaws overlapping about 9mm. The Tony said that he and Charles felt that the new roof wheels should reduce the friction to 25% of the current! I closed and opened the roof and observed the action. Easy to do from a step stool viewing through the access panel portal.

Tony also asked me to photograph the interior of the control panel, later.

Once again, these repairs reminded me of certain low orbit missions... Houston, we've got a problem here.

7:20. I opened the roof fully. I was ready to look at Jupiter finally! Stepped into the observatory. No! The skies had clouded over! Crap! So, funny. It looked like my evening was over only have successfully moved the roof. Well, at least I learned more about how the roof motor assembly worked... Very little of the sky was clear.

Before it dimmed behind dark clouds, I saw that the north equatorial belt was still missing.

7:24. Switched the Sony voice recorder to VOR. Thought about using the Cut feature to reduce background noise but realised, testing playback, I didn't need it. (But I'll need to remember to do more dividing as I use VOR, otherwise I loose the time references.)

[ed: Turns out the Line Cut was on the whole time.]

The sky, with the clouds, was looking really sketchy. The CSC showed cloud cover increasing through the evening. At 7 PM the chart showed 60% cloud cover, raising at 9 PM to 70% covered. So sucker holes would be the only option... That would not be fun, even with a powerful go-to telescope. 90% cover through midnight. It looked like it would then drop at 6 AM, and was predicted to lower to 20% at 7 AM. ST3 said sunrise was at 7:38 AM. Saturn would rise around midnight... Be highest at 5 AM. Looked like the evening was pooched. I could sleep then get up early. Ugh. From the warm room window, I couldn't see anything to the west and I couldn't see anything but the brightest stars in Orion.

To better the assess, I popped outside. Not much of the sky was open but now it was fairly clear at The Hunter. Well, I thought, let's see how the go-to mount can do. If I restricted myself to targets in the same general area, kept the hops short, I knew I might be able to see some things. Consulted the observing list in ST3.

Viewed Mintaka. Wide double. Main star was quite bright. The companion was much fainter, maybe by 2 or 3 magnitudes.

Felt weird not having my copy of Sissy's double stars book at hand. I wondered if we had one in the library...

[ed: Nope.]

ST3 said it was a quad system with a variable star component. I adjusted the software for the C14 telescope and eyepieces I had selected, the Tele Vue Panoptic 27mm 2" (145x) and the Tele Vue Radian 18mm 1¼" (217x). Used the Interactive Atlas and Context Viewer to simulate the views.

I learned that A and C components had magnitudes 2.2 and 6.6 (and Position Angle of zero degrees) with an angular separation of 52 arc-seconds. The B star was closer but mag 14 (PA 227). Oh. Maybe too faint in a cooling telescope with less than ideal seeing. Tried to spot the B component without success.

Viewed Mintaka with the 18mm. Still could not draw out the B companion.

[ed: Sissy Haas says, in double stars for small telescopes, that Mintaka aka δ (delta) Orionis is a mag 2.4 and 6.8 system with a PA of 0 and a separation of 52.8 arc-seconds. Turns out that I have already viewed this double star. It had not been noted as logged in ST3.]

7:58. Uh huh. Noticed that the sky was much better. The stars were very bright! Caught a lucky break in the cloud deck.

8:01. Struggled a bit with the mirror diagonal settings with SkyTools. Oh, that's what MD means! Stellarium did not show enough detail.

Tried to understand what I was seeing with Mintaka. Remembered in ST3 to turn on the Mirror diagonal setting in the Context Viewer. But I still wondered if I was totally reading the view in ST3 wrong.

Continued to try to clarify what I was seeing. Used the field of view and mirror options in TS6. Couldn't remember how to do the mirror flip in TS6 at first. And there's no button in the tool bars for it. Compared to ST3. The views were different!

It was really cold. Felt it in my legs. Only had my jeans on. Torso was cool. Not cold. But I was starting to feel it.

8:10. Battery died in the camera, all the power pulled out to fire and then re-arm the flash and drive the screen. Fortunately, it had captured the ice stalactites.

The temperature and humidity in the warm room were 7° and 53%. I didn't think that would be enough to rejuvenate the camera. I put it in my pants pocket.

Next up was the Cleopatra's Eye planetary nebula. Took me a while to search for it TS6. It was then I realised it was on the other side of the meridian. I decided to leave it for later.

ST3 suggested Hind's Crimson Star in Lepus. R Leporis. Used the SAO 150085 designation in TS6 to find it. Wow! Fantastic. Really amazing colour. Initially had the 18mm in and didn't see anything. Switched to the 27mm, focused, wow! It worked better in a field with regular white and blue-white stars! Deep, deep orange. Dark orange. Like an ember deep inside in a campfire! Not a lot of other stuff in the field, faint stars. Great suggestion. Beautiful, stunning.

Set ST3 to show obvious targets giving me a short list of 24 items. Next up on the ST3 list: Nair al Saif.

I checked the time. It was only 8:30! Ha. Early evening. I was freaked out, started laughing. I was expecting 10 or 11. Or midnight! I guess it is because when I'm usually here it is summer and we don't start serious deep sky observing until 9 or 10! Wow. Hours to go.

Oh, then I remembered that I had not yet had dinner. When am I gonna do that, I wondered, briefly. Later!

Suddenly I figured out the source of my confusion with ST3. I realised that the Context Viewer was showing the field reversed two times! If that makes sense. I built a telescope profile with the Left/Right option set to Mirrored. So, then when I was activating the "Mirror diagonal" in the eyepiece hyperlink menu, it was applying the reversing again! So, not reversed! To put it another way, the Context Viewer takes the entire telescope / eyepiece / projection profile into consideration. If you say it presents Mirrored, you don't have to do it later.

It makes sense, I guess. I suppose if you have a 'scope (perhaps a refractor) that you rarely use a mirror diagonal in, then your ST3 'scope profile should not be set with the left/right on. When you want to view something overhead, you pop in the diagonal. Then you want ST3 to show the corresponding view but you don't want to go in and change your 'scope profile; just toggle the MD on temporarily. Man, what a waste of time that was!

8:44. Viewed Nair al Saif, aka ι (iota) Orionis, aka Struve Σ752, near the Great Nebula. A triple. The main star was pure white, the B was pale yellow, the C distant companion a pale blue. C was about 3 or 4 times further away than the B. Interesting object. Lots of field stars in the area. Very nice triple. Lovely. Kind of a little hockey stick. Easily split in the 27mm, lots of horsepower. ST3 said to use the 55mm. Makes sense: it would make the A-B a bit of a challenge.

[ed: Haas says: "Showcase pair. Brilliant yellow-white star with a tiny ghostly speck inside its glow." She's referring to the A-B pair. 11.3" sep, mag 2.9 and 7.0. Stellarium does not show the A-B pair; it has the C star.]

In the field nearby I noted two bright stars. Turned out that they were next on the observing list. They were HR 1887 (the A star, at mag 4.8) and 1886 (B, 5.7); together Σ747. Pale yellow. Very similar. Easily separated.

[ed: Haas reports: "wide white pair" at 36.0" sep, mag 4.7 and 5.5.]

Also nearby was HD 36918. A slightly reduced separation (29") than 1887 and 1886 (36"). They were much fainter (mag 8.0 and 9.4). Also known as Σ745.

Beyond those stars, off to the west, there was nothing. Black inky space.

That was kinda neat. Don't recall that ever happening before, seeing a triple star, and two doubles, in the same field of view. With the 27mm, it was a ½° field.

ST3 showed, with a large circle, NGC 1980, a diffuse nebula, in the area. Perhaps it was surrounding the current view. Would probably need very low power. And no lights from a nearby mountain. I also didn't think it wise to operate the Tele Vue 101 refractor without dew heating gear.

Damn. Frickin' cold!

Tried to view IC 2149. Not sure what I saw. There seemed to be a small, very small, compact fuzzy there, blue perhaps. Merits another look...

Headed to the house for ski pants, a snack, and to log out of my email and social networking page. Took the handwarmer to the house to light (behind sunglasses). Needed the fresh battery for the camera. Took in my leather gloves. Wasn't using them. And they were still damp from the hike in.

I got the handwarmer going and it was already toasty warm as I returned to the GBO. But it was a comedy of errors. My lighter died. It's almost empty of fuel. My cheapo sunglasses broke. One arm fell off. Didn't feel like taping it up at the time. Tried to use the lighter with long neck for the CAO BBQ. It worked briefly and then run out of fuel. Didn't know where a pressurised butane refill tin might be. I looked in the drawers for matches but didn't see any. Was trying to keep my night vision! Couldn't see the ones of the back of the drawer to the right of the stove. Totally forgot I had my own in the supervisor's closet. Grabbed the candle beside the sink and finally got it lit with the last dregs from the BBQ lighter. At last used the candle to light the handwarmer. Crazy. Happy to have it. Put stinky little oven in the breast pocket of the winter coat.

9:10. Lora asked if I was watching scary movies. I replied that I was too busy. I also thanked Phil for keeping his fingers crossed: it worked. I had good skies! Told him to look at Hind's Crimson Star.

9:50. Viewed the Clown Face Nebula, NGC 2392. TLAO refers to it. [ed: This is also designated Caldwell 39.] Grabbed the Radian 10mm eyepiece. Interesting. Could see a circular or spherical shape, not perfect, but close. Hints of a ring upon a ring. A bright centre. A bright star nearby. But that was all I could see. Then again it was in a dirty part of the sky. Glow from the ski hills. Night skier freaks. Cool object. But have I not seen it before?

Considered 63 Gem but I was getting tired of double star objects. Switched to my TLAO - Winter list, wanting closure. Noted that I had not viewed very many items. Noticed also that when I toggled the Observed status some of the items in the list jostled around and moved. The sequence changed. I had it sorted on Optimal. But the logic, for whatever reason, was changing. Distracting.

The telescope mount seemed to be running at a lower speed. I made a note to ask Dietmar if this was normal, given the temperature. (It was, he said.)

Clouds again! This time it looked terminal.

I viewed M1 (Messier 1). After panning I saw a faint fuzzy blob. The Crab Nebula looked large, filling a good chunk of the eyepiece. A third of the 27mm field? No, less than that... I saw many faint stars in the field. The brightest in the area is around mag 9.7. Averted vision helped draw out the nebula. Once again, not an easy object. I wondered if there would be a better time to view this. (ST3 says January is it!)

Stared some more but clouds mottled the view and dimmed the surrounding stars.

Put the handwarmer inside a glove while at the computer.

Viewed θ2 (theta) Orionis. Curiously, Orion was about the only constellation left visible in the sky. Of course, θ2 is near the Trapezium. Immediately noticed the E star in the Trap, between B and A! Nice.

Noted the bright companion, B, to the east of θ2 A, beyond the fainter star in the middle. Saw the C star as per how ST3 was showing it, to the SE of A, two or three times the distance of B. This is about 1'57" sep. and a PA of 135°; the text though describes it as having a 129" sep. and PA of 98. Parenthetically, 1995 is shown. So, 15 year old data perhaps...

It was socked in.

Tried to close the roof. Heard the hum of the contactor not operating. Oh no! It was loud (not quiet as Tony suggested). After a couple of attempts, I succeeded in manually moving the roof from it's starting position, a bit. Felt and heard a light clunk, a tick. Maybe it was stuck, frozen? Is enough friction occurring between the roof wheels under the weight that it creates heat? The manual driving was a slog. The bloody thing is heavy. Tried the panel again. Whew! It worked! That would have been a workout...

Closed up shop. It was a little challenging engaging the 4 roof latches.

I wasn't sure of the outside temp. I kept forgetting to view the Davis station when in the house. I missed not having the station data accessible in the warm room... But I had no one else to blame. It was only after putting on the ski pants and one more layer on torso that I felt OK outside.

It was certainly cold tonight!

The Kendrick dew heater was not able to stay on top of it.

10:34. Parked the telescope. Brought in the 2 eyepieces on the table. Left the remaining eyepiece in the mirror. Did not cover the corrector plate. Turned on the dehumidifier. Closed down the controller computer. Or rather, sleeped it. Disconnected USB keyboard lights.

Packed items for the house: netbook, wireless mouse, case, recorder, pop can, snack bar wrappers, handwarmer. Remembered to shutdown Stellarium before sleeping the netbook.

That was fun.


Had dinner at midnight. Yummy vindaloo!


Used the ST3 angular measure several times tonight. It was very helpful at finding double star companions!


Noticed a solitairy white light on at Cliff's all night...


SciDomer said...

Do we not have a dew cap for the C14?

bla said...

Yes, we do.

Two, in fact.

But it would help if I remembered that, while there...