Sunday, May 08, 2011

spring targets (Blue Mountains)

With the C14 and TV101 (atop the Go To Paramount ME) to ourselves and surprisingly good skies again, Ian and I did a bit of observing of spring-time objects, accepting suggestions from SkyTools3 and Turn Left At Orion.

10:50 PM, 7 May 2011. We revisited the Ghost of Jupiter, aka NGC 3242 and Caldwell 59. Tonight, I went up in power with the 18mm. But I don't think it improved the view. Ian couldn't see anything: he had been looking at the waxing crescent Moon in the battleship binoculars.

10:54 PM. We checked out the Spindle Galaxy, aka NGC 3115 and Caldwell 53, in Sextans. Oh. Nice! It presented as a nearly edge-on galaxy with a bright centre. It was fairly large in the 27mm ocular (at 145x).

11:08. I wanted to look at some colourful stars, perhaps some deep red variable stars. A suggestion from ST3 was R Coronae Borealis or SAO 84015. I directed the Paramount to the proper location but there didn't seem to be anything there... Was it a variable star at the low period? I checked SkyTools. And mis-read the Object Info dialog, thinking it was not variable. Weird. Nothing interesting in the field.

(It is a definitely variable. Wikipedia says it can "fade by several magnitudes at irregular intervals." Closer examination of ST3 shows it ranging from 5.7 to 14.8.)

We went to M13, the great globular cluster. Sweet. And that told us the 'scope was working, the eyepiece was working, the mount and software was fine. Oh well. I'll need to revisit that object later. Does seem odd as it is suggested by ST3 as an "interesting star."

Ian headed off to bed.

I too was feeling a little tired. Despite my light afternoon nap. The nap helped, to be sure. The scratchy throat I had started to feel didn't seem to be a significant issue. Overall, I was feeling pretty good! So, I decided to press on.

I switched the SkyTools software to display my spring TLAO list. And there was a good number of unlogged items!

11:25. I just viewed the double star in Cancer. It's called as ι2 (iota-2) in TLAO and Σ1291 or STF1291 in ST3. It's also referred to as 57. I saw light orange stars. TLAO describes the ι2 stars as yellow. I could split them with the 27mm but not with the 55mm (71x). They seemed equal brightness and equal colour. Even with the 18mm (217x).

(I didn't realise that I had already viewed this target. First viewed ι2 on 25 May 2008. For some reason, I had not noted it in ST3. I learned later that I had a log entry on the A star, the primary, 57, but my custom TLAO observing list included the B star, and there was no log entry on that... A "quirk" of ST3 that it binds log entries to a specific star.)

ι2 is not to be confused with ι1, which is 2.5° away. I think, at the time, I was a little confused by that also... (I first viewed ι1 on 5 April 2008).

I needed more coffee... I headed to the house for a break. Took some Advil. Oh, and some cookies.

11:34. As I stood on the back deck surveying the sparkling dome overhead, I noted a bright meteor in the ESE. I was a little surprised at the slow speed and long duration. It went through Ophiuchus, travelling vertically. It went nearly straight down.

Going the wrong way for an η (eta) Aquarid...

11:49. Wow. I just observed ζ1 (zeta-1) Cancri aka Tegmen (or Tegmine). It is a triple system with a tight double. I used the 18mm to looker closer at the tight pair. Then I tried the 10mm but the seeing (and sky altitude?) was poor.

(Another one I had already observed... It was definitely not noted in ST3. But that's because of the tight pair in the triple, having not split them well, on 1 March 2009.)

11:56. I tried to split φ (phi) Cancri without success. I wondered if it was too low. I used up to the 18mm. The main star was a lovely orange though. That was weird because it is a medium-tight pair...

[Did I go to φ1 by mistake? Perhaps I entered or selected the wrong object in TS6. I had intended to view φ2. An argument for using one computer to drive the 'scope! And, once again, it turns out I had already successfully viewed this pair, on 11 Feb 2010, from the back yard... I don't know why ST3 was not updated. Nor was there a check mark in the TLAO book...]

12:00 AM, 8 May 2011. Midnight! I examined HD 74348 aka Σ1266, in Cancer. It is a wide double (TLAO says 23" apart). The main star is yellow; the companion orange. Both stars are fairly faint. ST3 says mag 8.7 and 10. This pair is not noted in Sissy Haas's double stars for small telescopes book.

12:04 AM. Awesome! 54 Leo is very cool. It is a pair of bright stars, the main is white, maybe with a touch of yellow, and the companion is much fainter, but still bright, and with a hint of blue. This would be a good showpiece pair, for star parties. Easier than Porrima! Easily split in 55mm.

Haas describes the binary system as "banana-yellow... and... sapphire blue." Banana-yellow, ha ha, I like that one! Webb says, "greenish white, blue." Dude, clean your specs.

12:11. Wow. I finally saw the famous variable star Y Canum Venaticorum aka La Superba. It is amazing! It is like an ember in a fire. The colour is deep orange. Should have showed this one to Ian. The rich star is all by itself in a high power eyepiece, there are not a lot of other stars around. Perhaps a low power ocular (or binoculars) would mix it into a field of white and blue stars...

12:20. I viewed Messier 65. It was nice, a canted spiral. It looked mottled on the one side. Is it asymmetrical? I should look at some images... oh, no internet! It was very nice in the 27mm.

12:26. I saw, on the computer-screened star charts that M66 was nearby. So, I used the joystick and simply panned around for it. I found it below. Not too far away. It seemed more disorganised, more mottled. Is it perhaps bigger?

Grabbed the joystick again and panned around. I found I could just fit 65 and 66 in field with the 27mm. The eyepiece true field of view I had calculated to be 29 arc-minutes. That's pretty cool, these two galaxies a half-degree apart. Oh ho, I saw that 66 was brighter! And it seemed to be less tilted, more face-on to us, yes?

I dropped in the 55mm. That made a very pleasing view, these two Leo galaxies. It occurred to me that this view would be nice to sketch... with the different shapes and sizes and brightnesses and the handful of field stars. Another day perhaps.

(This is in the area of the Leo triplet. Where was the third one? NGC 3628? I must have missed it.)

It was really dark now. The moon was setting. The sky was darkening; the inside of the observatory was dark. Finally.

12:34. I viewed M94. This felt like almost the best time of year to view it. I remembered trying last August. Now it was almost straight up. Even then, overall, it was faint in the 55mm. The face-on spiral galaxy looked good in the 27mm, with a super bright centre. The centre seemed star like (or is that a star?). I noted a little Sagitta-like asterism nearby. I threw the 18mm at the distant island galaxy and I could start to see mottling and dust in disk. It was good to finally get a piece of that faint fuzzy!

12:47. Time for a planet... The "star" of the show: Saturn, of course.

I saw Titan above the ringed wonder. There were two moons above and close to ring (Dione outside and Tethys inside). There was another moon below, close to ring (Rhea). Something was hovering in and out of view, about same distance as Titan, in line with rings. Was it Hyperion?

12:50. I kept soaking up photons. It paid off. I was able to see Enceladus, near Rhea, inline with the rings.

I found the dark edge in foreground of the rings, the leading edge of the rings, really interesting. It was very pronounced.

I could easily see the Cassini division inside the rings with the 18mm.

I thought the seeing really good.

But I couldn't see Mimas. I tried and tried.

It felt damp outside, at the telescope. I checked the warm room conditions. The humidity was 54% and temperature was 13°C.

I wanted to stay up more but with possible cold symptoms I didn't think it a good idea to push it.

It was a shame though. It was turning into a beautiful night. And an all-nighter might have afforded views of a gaggle of pre-dawn planets... I closed up the observatory.

I didn't have any problems with the roof at all.

Inside, ready for bed, at 1:54, I checked the outdoor conditions on the Davis weather station:

5.8°C temp
83% humidity
pressure 101.51 and rising

I enjoyed that session. Got a bunch of checkmarks into the spring Turn Left At Orion list.

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