Sunday, July 31, 2011

deep observing (Blue Mountains)

Had dinner at a reasonable time tonight. I was ready to go as the Sun set!

8:30, 30 July 2011. With 27mm eyepiece in the Celestron 14" Schmidt Cassegrain telescope, we viewed Saturn, at 145 power. The image was very good. The contrast against the blue sky was very good.

8:58. Just went to 391x with the 10mm ocular. It was a bit soft but the presentation was quite nice. D-ring visible. Equatorial region light yellow. Northern hemisphere dusty yellow. No visible perturbations. The Snake Storm must have dissipated now. Difficult to make out the Cassini Division.

Alex thought we said we could see the Cassini spacecraft. Ah, no.

9:07. Showed Manuel Mercury with the C14. It was a bit murky, low, and the 10mm was too much power. The view was better at lower power. Briefly, I demo'ed the Paramount and TheSky software. How easy it made things. How easy it was to slew. We returned to Saturn.

9:22. Viewed Saturn in Ian's 20" Newtonian. Lovely. More detail. We spotted Dione and Tethys as well.

9:31. With the C14, I observed Alula Australis, aka ξ (xi) Ursae Majoris. Touching blue white double stars. Seems closer than 1.62 seconds of arc.

When I heard Ian W, outside, trying to point out constellations and objects in the sky, I loaned him my green laser.

9:49. Confirmed! I split Jabbah, that is, all the stars in Jabbah I split. The pairs of pairs. The double double of Scorpius. The AB pair is not 90 deg to CD. They were clearly seen despite border-line seeing. Still, I but went to 391 power.

9:54. Once again, I could not split τ (tau) Boötis. The merged stars were shimmering. I had no luck at 391x.

I remembered to check weather conditions. Last night, I had not taken good notes.

0 km/h wind!
72% humidity
101.55 barometric pressure
20.2°C temperature
15°C was the predicted dew point

The Wiarton Environment Canada weather page said the low would be 19. It looked like there's a storm coming...

10:12. I tried to split ζ (zeta) Boo. I went to 391x with the 10mm. I was not sure if i was seeing the split or seeing the diffraction rings. I wanted good, neh, excellent oculars for this. I borrowed Phil's 9mm and 7mm Tele Vue Naglers. Still, I could not tell. Ian W looked too and he couldn't tell either. Damn. So close...

10:23. Just went to Messier object 13, the great globular cluster in Hercules, for Justyna and Kasia. They enjoyed the view immensely. Kiron explained what they were seeing.

Kiron then used a great analog for a spiral galaxy: a fried egg. What a great image! Flat at the edges and bulge in the middle, of course. I'll have to remember that.

10:32. Bugged Phil again. I borrowed his 2" mirror from his Tele Vue NP 101 and transferred it to our TV101. I wanted to have both 'scope functional tonight, so to do low and high power stuff simultaneously. I put the 20mm in the TV. The view was very nice at low power.

10:44. Showed Kasia M57. She liked that. It was lovely in the C14 at high power. Big! And kinda fun in TV101 with 20mm, a tiny little donut.

10:50. I went to HD 144087 and found a faint double, aka Σ1999. These were the D and E stars of ξ (xi) Sco. Off to the side, I could see A and C proper. They were easily split. I noted that they were closer together then DE. I spotted a star near DE but about 7 times further away, almost in line. It was fainter still (SkyTools3 said mag 11). It also helped me learn that that was F! The F star in a sextuple system. Well, then. With the carrot so close, I went to higher power, from the 20mm to the 27mm. Yes! I was able to split A and B ξ! All 6 spotted! Sweet! That was so satisfying.

And in all the excitement, I forgot to note the colours of the stars...

11:11. I had programmed an alarm for when it was quite dark and cooler. Not for astronomy purposes, directly. I got rid of wasp nests on the back porch and under the picnic table. One sleepy wasp tried desperately to sting the forceps.

Visited the crew on the Observing Pad. Manuel was blinding everyone with his laptop. I loaned him the large sheet of red film from the GBO LCD.

He asked for my dew heaters as I headed back to the GBO. Sorry, buddy, I need 'em too!

[Apparently Hero Phil fetched the hair dryer from the GBO to rescue Manny and clear his objectives. I shouldn't rub salt in...]

11:29. I fetched some drinking water.

12:54 AM, 31 July 2011. I successfully viewed a quasar! Wow.

A month or so ago I had done a little bit of research into if it was possible to see quasars visually. And it turned out that there were a couple down in the magnitude 15 range. So, beyond the capacity of my equipment. But, perhaps, with some bigger aperture, it might be possible. I added some quasar targets into SkyTools3.

While initially contemplating viewing the supernova SN2011dh in M51 through Ian W's 20-inch f/5.03 custom Newtonian, it suddenly occurred to me that the big Dob would be the tool of choice for quasar hunting. I asked if he was game. He gave me the thumbs-up!

Ian popped in an Ethos 21mm. I gave him the RA and Dec numbers: 16 4 55.4; Dec: +38 12 1 (J2000). Ian moved the big truss so the digital setting circles showed: 16 4; 38.3. I climbed up the ladder, perched the netbook precariously on the top step, proceeded to starhop around Corona Borealis. And, at long last, I found the nearby stars.

TYC 03061-0695 1 was the brightest star in the field, at mag 10.9. Down and to the left I saw a faint star, J160426.9+381607, at mag 13.1. About half the distance of these two stars and at a right angle I saw another faint star, GSC 03061-0353, at mag 12.7. The two faint stars and the bright star formed a perfect triangle with the faint stars on the short side on the left. The long base was pointing in the direction of the quasar.

To confirm the location, I also observed another right angle triangle, this one was smaller, near the top-centre of the visual field. It was made up of still fainter stars. The top one, GSC 03061-0551 was brightest, mag 13.5. Left and down was J160452.2+380925, mag 14.6. And, finally, below, about the same distance as the first two, was J160455.6+381011, mag 15.9.

The quasar was between these two triangles. I let out a "woo hoo" which perked up the crowd on the Observing Pad. Mickey asked, "Do you have it?" I relayed the news. "No, not yet, but I can confirm I'm in the right location!"

I asked Ian for more horsepower. He installed the Pentax 10.5mm eyepiece. I quickly climbed back up, knowing now, the target would drift away quickly. I confirmed I was still in the correct spot and started scanning. The bright right-angled triangle base was pointing the way; and the faint right-angled triangle was directly above the target. Imagining lines coming from each triangle and intersecting the other was right where it should be... and there it was! A very faint, barely detectable point of light. I noted another faint point, in-line with the quasar and the bright star on the left, almost half-way, J160451.7+381253, mag 15.0, further emphasising I had it.

Confirmed! I was seeing the quasi-stellar radio source HS 1603+3820 at mag 15.90. Yes! [ed: Corrected the designated. It was previously noted as +3829].

The coolest part about this object? It was the quoted light time: 9.4 Gyr! 9.4 billion light years. That's way back in time! Wow.

What a milestone event. It represents the lowest I've ever gone with my eyeballs... It is the most exotic celestial object I've seen.

Finding this one should mean that tracking down 3C 273 should be easy peasy!

Kiron, Mickey, and Ian took looks while I described how to see it.

1:15 AM. Showed Millie and Manuel the quasar.

That was exhilarating! How do you top that?

I took a break.

1:33. I viewed comet Garradd in the TV101 with 27 and 20mm. Then in the C14 with the 27mm. Kiron offered his bins. The field of view included Enif and M15 of course. But it was a back-breaker.

1:51. Kiron was having trouble with Stellarium. He could not seem to search by RA and Dec... I walked him through the process. Pointed out that it instantly changed. Still, with the atypical interface, it is throwing people.

I tried to spot moons around Uranus without any luck.

Getting a little foggy, I was. It was time for a cupcake break.

2:11. I tried to view M102. I saw something. It was super faint, barely detectable. I realised that it was probably about a month late to view this target. And one should start earlier in the evening. I tried the 20mm in the TV. Again, barely detectable.

[I learned later that while SkyTools3 says M102 is NGC 5866, I ended up at a different target! TheSky6 chooses M101! So I don't think I will note this as observed until I view 5866.]

Manuel went to bed. We'll have to train him to stay up late!

Quietly, I told him about our white light rules at the CAO. Rookie!

Did a naked eye drawing of Ursa Minor. In the sketch, I noted a star between and outside gamma and η (eta): HR 6088 at mag 6.0. I drew a star between η and ζ: HR 6034 at 5.7. I was pretty happy about that. In several respects.

That I can see magnitude 6.0 stars now, where 3 years ago I could not see this deep, means that our local light pollution is not dramatically increasing... That said, this is a class 5 sky on the Bortle Dark-Sky Scale, i.e. "suburban." Hrrm.

Seeing mag 6 also meant that Vesta was very likely possible! All right!

2:51. I stared at double star target HD 174005, aka Σ2391 or Struve or STF in Scutum for a long time with the 27mm. The stars looked yellow and blue. Doesn't that mean the star classes would be, approximately, G and O? ST3 says A and G. Am I really screwed up on the colour classification? Haas says "very lemony white star and a tiny bluish turquoise very wide apart." Well, we agree on colours at least.

I also noticed that SkyTools said the system was a triple? I didn't seem an obvious third.

The computer showed Basel 1 an open cluster nearby so I dropped the power to include it.

2:58. I tried again to break it down. But I could not find the C star, even with 20mm.

3:01. Viewed θ (theta) Sge. I enjoyed a nice double. No, wait... triple. Hold it, no... a quad! Wow. The primary is yellow white, B is orange, C has a touch of orange, and D is hard to get colour on. Very nice. Haas describes this target as a triple and "the best sight in Sagitta." Then she goes on to say that A and B are white and C is grey.

3:09. I wanted to tighten up the stars. I put the 55mm in the C14. A and B got very close. The colours seemed to have shifted a little: yellow, dusty yellow, yellow, grey.

3:20. I headed back to Uranus as the coyotes yipped. Still no luck with any moons. I tried the 10mm in the C14 but it was very soft. I dropped to the 18mm. No little moon dots.

Oh oh. We saw clouds coming in.

wind speed 8
hum 77
bar 10145
temp 19.4
dew point 15.3

3:33. The clouds had reached Jupiter. So, we were done.

3:52. I was in bed, pretty tired, but very happy. 9.4 billion years, man! Life probably formed on Earth 3.8 billion years ago. The Earth itself formed 4.6 billion years in the past!

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