Saturday, July 09, 2011

occultation hell

Tonight I planned to set up the occultation gear in a "dress rehearsal." With Denis's equipment configured and connected, I could show Phil how to record the Iolanda occultation which was to occur Saturday night while I was at the Farmer's Pantry. Once hooked up, I could locate the target star and, hopefully, program it into TheSky6, simplifying the process for Phil.

I put the StellaCam in Tele Vue 101 telescope. I could not find the target star in TS6 by the name, TYC 5091-00259-1, from IOTA. So I used SkyTools3 to find another star, a brighter star, in the area. Then, essentially, I star hopped to the target. I verified I was in the correct location.

1:41 AM. I looked at the monitor display of the region. I could barely see target star with integration 4 setting and high gamma. WTF? That was not a good sign. But it didn't make sense. Why would an 11.7 magnitude star be so dim? I really didn't want to use an integration setting beyond 2 or 3. Was it an aperture problem? Hmmm.

I moved the video camera into the Celestron 14" SCT focuser. Double checked I was still on the target star. Checked the video screen. It was better. I could go to integration 3 and set the gamma to low (i.e. in the middle).

OK. I knew that I was late. I had intended to do a sample recording at the exact time of the event, 11:07 PM. Here it was, hours later, and the star in Ophiuchus had dropped a bit lower in the sky. But, hey, it was still 30° up. At or above the 2 air mass threshold.

I was not happy with the brightness (or lack thereof).

1:52. While visiting Phil on the Observing Pad, I asked that he drop by the C14, when ready. I said I was ready to give a little tutorial on the occultation process. He said sure. Phil came looking for me a short time later. He found burning string in the GBO but no Blake. I was at the MODLs with Dietmar. We trundled back to the big 'scope.

I gave him a quick run down on how to record an occultation. He suggested I simply leave everything hooked up. Well, I was OK with it, if everyone else was. That would make it pretty simple: power up the occultation rig with one of my 12V batteries; power the mini LCD; verify the Kiwi and GPS were working; power up the camera; set the A/V mode on the camera; start recording; slew the 'scope to the target area; recording for 10 or 15 minutes. I promised to make notes, a quick reference guide.

So, the remaining task was to see if I could return to the target area using a pre-programmed position. In SkyTools3, there's the nice skymark feature. Maybe there's something like this in TheSky6 but I thought that simply using RA and Dec would work. But it became unclear to me to know where the telescope was now. I wanted to record the coordinates of where the telescope pointer seemed to be. That itself took a bit of time to determine. I captured the RA and Dec values. Then I left the target area.

Having recently the menu command in TS6 to move to a position by these values, I entered the ones I had noted. The 'scope slewed. I looked at the Oslon 7" screen. And saw different stars. Huh? OK, maybe it was off a little. I panned slightly left and right, top and down. To see nothing familiar. I was lost.

I spent the next hour trying to get to the target star. And simply couldn't find it. No joy! And it made absolutely no sense to me. Maybe I was seeing things wrong, not getting the right perspective. But the excellent field rotation options in ST3 let me adjust for what the camera should have been capturing. I kept coming back to that I was simply in the wrong area, so continuing panning, moving further outward. I knew it was partly that the TPoint model is not accurate enough, that there were not enough points. Perhaps the original RA and Dec I had noted were wrong, that I had misinterpreted the numbers.

Millie joined us in the observatory. It was impetus to give up the search. Serve our members; stop dicking around with completely consuming solitairy pursuits. I needed to step back. After viewing Jupiter and Uranus, I returned to the area, again. I was not seeing the target stars. I wondered if I should switch the camera back to the Tele Vue, get a wide field again, and reacquire.

When, a thought emerged... No. Stop. To hell with it.

4:30. I started to pack up Denis's kit. I decided to cancel my attempt to record Iolanda. I would let Phil know, in the morning, that he was "off duty." I wouldn't ask him to undertake this.

It's too crazy. It's not fun. The thought crystallised. I'm going to quit occultations.

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