Saturday, March 26, 2011

winter list targets (Toronto)

With a second clear evening coming up, and the telescope gear still near the porch, partly assembled, I was keen to get out there.
Instrument: Celestron 8-inch SCT
Mount: Vixen Super Polaris
Method: star hopping
That said, I didn't want to... complicate matters. Keep it simple, yes? No fiddling with video gear tonight. Back to basics. Let's just do simple, basic, normal visual observing. Been a while.

And I had a great time! Especially once I put the dark screen up!


7:40 PM, 25 Mar 2011. Started early preparation steps. Once again, breaking up the process so it wasn't too much at once. Allowed me to go slow, double-check, avoid mistakes.

I put the Celestron telescope tube (and mount) outside to begin cooling. The 8" tube and mount were still attached to each other, from the day before. Laid down a towel and set it atop the deck box. It was a bit slippy. I positioned everything hoping it wouldn't slide off! Covered the assembly with another towel.

Roughly facing north, I put the tripod out. All the electrics where still attached, Kendrick dew heating system, Vixen motor drive. It would be quick to integrate everything.

The repaired street light was so bright last night! It was a completely different experience... Like I was on a stage! With studio lighting! Well, not exactly, but crazy bright. Too bad there wasn't some way to shut it off.

I started to entertain the idea of putting up a blind. Rummaged around for some tall or long poles or rods. Found a long wood pole leaning in a corner of the living room. I forget where it is from, perhaps an old push broom. Then I took a handle from the floor mop. A bit shorter and thinner but it would work. Put them near the door. For an opaque fabric screen I checked my queen-sized duvee covers. Ah ha! The black one! Forgot about that.

Prepared an observing list in SkyTools with the primary choices being the unlogged items from my (detailed) Turn Left at Orion winter list. I was particularly interested in finding the Winter Albireo! Set the observation status of logged items to observed then adjusted the filter to suppress the previously observed items. Added up to about a dozen targets. I threw Saturn in as well.

I installed red film sheets on all the computer monitors and activated red LED lights about the place.

Nancy settled into my bedroom, curled up at the end of the bed. Probably still stinging from his recent sojourn...

8:53 PM. I now had the optical tube assembly, with mount, installed on the tripod. Did a rough polar alignment. I still had the Vixen flip mirror installed from the previous evening. I swapped it for the Williams Optics 2" dielectric mirror. The dew heaters from the tray were reinstalled. As I wasn't pressed for cigarette lighter adapter ports this evening, I added the finder dew heater. The motor controller was connected and powered.

Dropped in the low power baader planetarium eyepiece.

Ready to go!

Checked the charts for HR 2764 and saw it was just above the rump of the Big Dog. When I examined the SkyTools3 telescope chart, with wide-field, finder, and eyepiece panels, I felt a little intimidated. As much as I want to employ the new high-speed method of "star hopping," I didn't see a lot of bright stars and useful sign posts above Canis Major. How difficult was this going to be? Would I have to switch to classic, traditional star hopping (in little jumps)? Would the tree branches mess me up?

9:23. I aimed the telescope in the general above the hindquarters of CMa, about the same distance above δ (delta) that delta was away from ε (epsilon). Looked through the Orion right-angled finder scope... Hey! I noted a tiny, colourful pair of stars in the field of view. I had stumbled across an amber and pale blue star. By sheer luck, had I centred on the Winter Albireo?!

I headed indoors to compare the stars in the ocular to the ST3 software.

While at the computer, I checked the Environment Canada conditions (at the main airport):
  • temperature was -7°C, but with the wind N at 24 km/h, gusting to 35 km/h, it created a wind chill of -15
  • pressure was 102.0 and rising
  • the humidity was 60%
  • the predicted dew point was -13 but probably the wind would keep frost at bay
The computer view seem to correspond to what I was seeing. Returned to the 'scope to compare once again.

9:30. They were the same! Ha ha. Skip finder view, skip regular star hopping, go directly to star. I confirmed it is the Winter Albireo. Cool.

I reconsidered the colours. Amber was too strong a word. The primary was definitely orange. Citrus? If I remember correctly, the main star in Albireo, "Summer Albireo," was yellow.

These two star were wide apart. They did not seem as tight at those in Cygnus. It would be interesting to compare them simultaneously... Can only do that in software!

I added Albireo to the SkyTools observing list so that I could set them against each other. Ah. So, β (beta) Cyg is listed with a 34 arcsecond separation, 8" wider than HR 2764.

Definitely worth it, this beautiful pair, also know as HIP35210. But a little off the beaten track.

It was a little funny how I stumbled on it.

9:50. Observed NGC 2362, a beautiful little open cluster, just beyond 29 CMa. I was still using the 36mm eyepiece. I noted fine blue white stars in a rough triangle shape. There is a main star in the centre of this group. It appeared to have 2 faint companions near it, in a perfectly straight line. [ed: aka Caldwell 64.]

I learned that main star was τ (tau). Those two companion stars were mag 9.8 and 11.2.

10:02. I viewed Alnitak. It came from the TLAO list as a double star. It showed in ST3 as a multiple and variable. I saw a faint star, widely separated. I was still using the low power ocular. Was this the companion of the double star?

ST3 informed me that the magnitude 9.5 star in fact one of the companions. Alnitak or ζ (zeta) Orionis was a triple and I was looking at the C star at 57" separation. But I couldn't see the closer one. ST3 said it was only 2.2" away. Oh, rather tight... OK. Let's try!

10:20. I successfully separated the B star from A! Yes! But I had to use 222x to do it. The Tele Vue Nagler to the rescue. That the B companion is bright (ST3 says mag 4) helps too.

Funny, back at 55x I thought that the primary was not round. It became a peanut at 77x then two stars touching at 111x.

The colours of (Struve) Σ774 emerged in the 9mm as well. I thought the primary was white-blue, B dusty yellow, and C simply grey. Sissy Haas describes the colours as yellow and silvery yellow. But she does not say which stars. Haas also notes that B is 2.6 seconds of arc from A.

It was upon reviewing double stars for small telescopes that I noted a check mark beside ζ. That meant I had previously viewed it. Huh. Checked my double star life list. Yep. Noted. When? Why had I not marked it as observed in SkyTools? Dug through the old notes and learned (recalled) that I had viewed the AB pair 3 years ago, by accident... So, it proved a worthy subject.

The next target was a suggestion from a different ST3 observing list, one I had imported, called TAC Eye Candy, prepared by Smith, Dillon, and Jardine (from The Astronomy Connection). I headed up from Betelgeuse. Hey, turn right at k (aka 74) and 73 Orion!

10:45. I enjoyed NGC 2169. SkyTools calls this 37 Cluster. That's an odd primary name. Just below (or south-west of) ξ (xi) and ν (nu), forming the apex of an (up side down) isosceles triangle, Collinder 83 is a very small and compact grouping of fine blue-white stars. There seemed to be two distinct V-shapes at right angles to one another. That was a nice little find.

I was feeling a little low. I started drinking water for a boost.

I starhopped, using the classic method, from Sirius, pretty well straight up, pausing at θ (theta) CMa, and continuing toward the zenith, departing the Big Dog for the Unicorn. I found a little rhombus cornered with HIP 33534. A bit further up I landed on an L-shape of stars with HIP 33729 at the apex.

11:19. I viewed M50. It was a large object, filling most of the field of the 36mm. I saw what appeared to be a funnel or cone shape. It was a pleasing object to view. More fine blue-white stars would appear the longer I looked.

This object was also not noted as logged in SkyTools but I found it showing in my Messier life list with an asterisk. That meant that I had wanted to view it again. Done!

Felt myself winding down.

11:27. I decided to try my screen experiment... I attach the poles to the railing with Velcro straps, two each, so that they were about 6 feet apart. That covered a good chunk of the south railing. I hooked the duvee cover over the left pole and wound it around the right. Everything stayed put although it was drooping a bit in the middle. This just might work.

11:43. Wow. The black blind was really nice! With the fabric about 3½ to 4 feet above the top of the railing, it blocked the street lights but still afforded views of objects fairly low (for what it is worth). If higher, it would block the reflection of the street light from my kitchen windows. The overall effect was stunning. The level of darkness it produced on the deck was surprisingly good.

What an improvement! And I was only blocking a portion of the light. I wondered what it would be like with a complete wraparound barrier. I took measurements (9'0" x 7'9")!

I hadn't considered it so formerly. On my deck, I can do whatever I want. I can build a full light blind and enjoy using the porch for astronomy fun in the city. This was not something that I could have done at my old place per se, in the shared back yard, shared driveway, at the back of the house. Wow. This actually might prove better than I had hoped!

I took another look at M50. The open cluster was dimming. Not surprising at 18 degree elevation.

I decided to go for one more object: 63 Geminorum. Another multiple star system. A triple according to TLAO; a quad as per ST3.

12:01 AM, 26 Mar 2011. I spotted the AB pair of 63 Gem. The companion was faint (mag 9.5) and at approximately a 90° to another faint star mag (10.5), which was twice as far. That was the C star. Double-checked the positions and separations in SkyTools. Learned that the AD sep. was much closer at 3.9". Doable. Particularly given that I had split the 2.2 (or 2.6) pair of (albeit brighter) stars in Alnitak.

12:07 AM. I could not split A and D. Perhaps it is because the primary is mag 5.2 and the second star 9.3.

Haas only discusses the 63 AB pair. She notes the following: "Fantastic contrast." Smyth says, "Pale white, purple." Wow. I forgot to note colours but I sure didn't see purple.

Went for another look.

12:08. No luck star splitting.

I did see something else interesting. I wondered if I had found a fast mover. There was a very faint star between A and C. ST3 shows a mag 12.6 (admittedly poor quality) star nearer A; but I'm seeing a very faint star nearer to C. The position is very different that SkyTools; curiously, Stellarium seems closer to my view (and notes the star 11.9). I'll have to get digital surveys. Maybe make my own image!

I know I had said "one more." But I suddenly remembered that Saturn was rising high...

12:28. Just viewed Saturn. The seeing is really good! Spotted Titan off to the right. Went inside to warm up and check moon positions.

Checked the Environment Canada conditions: -8°C. The wind had died down.

12:43. Increased the power. Saw (mirror-revered) Titan (right), Rhea (left), and Iapetus (far left). I could not see any of the other moons. I tried to probe deeper but the eyepiece was cold (I forgot to take it inside) and kept fogging. The tree branches were also in the way which was annoying. I think I was very tired.

I packed up rapidly (again).

12:44. Everything (sensitive) was back inside.

That was a great session! It proved very enjoyable, doing basic, direct visual observing. It was very satisfying getting a few items crossed off.


Checked 63 Gem in the Aladin previewer with the Simbad data using the coordinates 07 27 44.3634+21 26 42.891. The view closely matches what I was seeing. Looks like the SkyTools data is a bit off.


The 37 Cluster is also known as OCL 481.

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