Saturday, March 30, 2013

full run with GoToStar (Toronto)

12:36 PM, March 29, 2013. Moved the tripod and observing chair to the porch. Attached the pre-assembled mount to the tripod. Will need to be levelled—it's tipping to the north. Snaked the extension cord out the south-east windows. Connected the GFCI power bar. Fired up the checklist...

4:53 PM. Moved a spare, or unused, LCD panel (the hp) to the kitchen. It would offer a larger screen than the netbook's built-in. Created an observing list in SkyTools 3 Pro with about 25 targets. Some were not "real" like Polaris and the Moon. Deep sky, variable stars, double stars, pulling from various sources. About 10 items I had looked at already.

6:00. Put the optical tube assembly outside to cool.

7:04. Started logging in Evernote. Thinking that I'd be back and forth between computers in the kitchen and the office...

When the Sun was done, mounted the optical tube assembly to the Vixen mount.

7:25. Computer set up in kitchen. Needed the keyboard lights. Red cellophane was on the monitor. Checked the time on the recorder: it was fine (left in DST I guess). Set the time on the stove. Had candies ready to go. A glass of water. The red goggles.

7:27. Switched SkyTools into red light mode. And remembered why I didn't like Evernote: it does not follow the Windows colour scheme; the note background is always white. Set 1024x768 resolution. When higher it went into a panning mode. Started logging in Notepad—on the netbook directly. On John Littlejohn. Where I'd be working most of the time. And just in case there were any issues...

7:28. Tested the snip feature on the voice recorder. The SkyTools blank window thing wasn't completely covering background. But it was pretty good.

7:30. Connected the USB-serial cable to the computer. This cable ran out the right-hand window, across the deck box, to the hand controller, which was hung off the north leg.

There were some big fluffy clouds. Launched Firefox so to check the weather conditions. Cleared out old tabs. Loaded my weather portal page. Checked the GEOS NOAA infrared black and white loop. There was still the streamer coming straight from Meaford. Visited the Environment Canada Toronto page. Low: 2. Dewpoint: -3. Humidity really low at 43. The Clear Sky Chart looked very good.

Moon is 91% lit. To rise after sunset, around 10:45? 3 hours between sunset and moonrise. Complete darkness from twilight to moonrise offers about 1.25 hours.

7:39. Headed out to try a day-time alignment. The sky was still fairly bright but I wanted to align the GoToStar system. Powered the RA motor.

7:46. Hunted for Jupiter. Tried SkyTools's Overhead Sky chart view with the grid lines displayed.

7:53. Checked the telescope setup menus. The location looked OK. But the date end time was off. Huh. Weird. Is this the indication of a battery problem?

I chose the "easy" method and simply showed information about Jupiter. No instructions. I took that to mean that I was to manually position on Jupiter. OK. So where's Jupiter?

I tried to find the planet. Scanned the skies, as people below walked and cycled. Fetched my binoculars. Started up Stellarium on John Smallberries.

Heard some boys say something about "telescope." A woman walking by said "Hello!"

When I checked the Sony voice voice recorder, I found it reporting that the memory was full. Damn. I shut it down. It was a good thing I had Windows Notepad ready...

It was getting cool. I still was in a t-shirt, sweats, and sandals. I put socks and sneakers on.

7:59. Found Jupiter. It was obvious! It was higher than I had originally expected. More to the north. Stellarium had helped. Put the binos on it briefly. OK. Now...

Moved the telescope to the planet. A message appeared on the display: "Telescope now horizong below." Huh? What the hell does that mean? Telescope now below the horizon? Or rather, object below the horizon? That was confusing. I rechecked the controller settings. When reviewing the date and time settings, I wondered if the offset from UT was wrong. I changed it from 300 minutes behind UT to 240.

8:27. I installing the light blind while the mount tracked Jupiter. Slight drift was apparent in the baader planetarium 36mm 2" ocular. OK. Ready to go, full steam ahead!

8:32. Slewed with SkyTools 3 Pro with Real Time mode. So cool. A little off-target though... There's still something wobbly about the alignment.

Chose Betelgeuse from the prepared observing list. Enjoyed the lovely orange colour. This was on the list tonight as a double star candidate. But other things caught my eye...

I noted a double of faint but equally bright stars (between magnitude 8.5 and 9.0) down at the bottom-left of the field, er, to the south. That was HD 39758 and 39759. I also saw a right angle triangle of stars at the top-left. Later, it occurred to me, they looked like a backwards question mark.

8:43. I dove deep into α (alpha) Orionis. I could clearly see the E component of Betelgeuse. Cool. According to SkyTools, it is the brightest companion, at mag 11. It is also noted in Haas's book. I didn't think I'd be able to see the B star, at mag 14.5. But the C (14.2) and D (13.5) stars were worth going after. I popped in the Meade 18mm orthoscopic 1¼" eyepiece.

8:46. I tried again for C and D stars. Nope.

The goto performance of the IDEA GoToStar system was off a little. Plus I was seeing drifting. The later was not at all surprising given I had not done a proper polar alignment.

I remembered the polar alignment "feature" in the hand controller. I was curious about it. I wondered if it would help. I checked the computer for documentation but didn't see anything. Sheesh. Had I not downloaded anything? Was there not an official manual? I recalled some web pages... Why had I not captured any of this? Maybe on another computer? I didn't know where it was. Or was there nothing available?

[ed: I don't know why I didn't think of it at the time, looking on Smallberries. Could have looked through the network...]

In general, after slewing to the "target," I had to manually adjust the position, homing in on a bright object shown in the finder scope, hoping that was the preferred object.

8:59. With a bit of luck I arrived at 119 Tauri. It is a pleasing orange star. It found its way into my observing list, one of three selected entries from "Ahad's Red Stars" list. It is a variable. ST3P said it fluctuated over 165 days. From mag 4.23 to 4.54. Huh. Not much of a change. I didn't bother to compare it to nearby stars... Meh.

There was, however, a very neat double nearby, to the west. The grouping, at this low power, made me think of a toy top with TYC 01301-0527 1 and TYC 01301-0603 1 as the handle used to spin it. In fact these two stars might have been a very wide double. Roughly in the same alignment, it was the bright pair to the east that teased.

9:11. With the Tele Vue Nagler 9mm installed, I dove into HD 36073. The A and C stars were same colour and brightness (ST3P said 7.6 and 7.6), widely separated (at 56.3"). I couldn't see B but then it was super faint (13.6) and fairly close (10.7"). And I couldn't split C and D; I should have been able to (at 1.4 seconds of arc).

Haas labels the AC pair h3275 while ST3P does not show that designation. She also says the secondary is dimmer at mag 8.2 while her description says, through binoculars, a "close pair of white stars, nearly alike."

I decided to not log this as seen in SkyTools, so to have another go at split C and D. Or in darker skies, tagging B.

9:18. To the west of 36073 was HD 35985. ST3P showed that this was a double as well. I think I split them. Very tight. Different mags. SkyTools concurred: mag 6.7 and 10.4; 3.2" apart.

The tip of the spinning top, to the south, appeared a single faint star. SkyTools, again, showed this was a double. But I couldn't split HJ 3274A.

Tried again to split HD 36073 C and D without success. The weird thing was that I could see a number of mag 13 to 14 stars between HJ 3274A and HD 36073!

9:25. When I returned to the ocular, suddenly I was able split HJ 3274A! w00t! Easy. Two equally bright stars although pretty faint. About 90° to C and D. Averted vision helped. Had the air improved?

Still I could not see B. Or split C and D.

I stared for a long time at HD 35985. If I had to guess, I thought the companion was to the west. The software showed it in an north-west orientation...

I wanted to have another go at aligning the mount. I didn't like struggling with each target. It was not much better than star hopping. So, parked it. Put the time zone offset (in the location menu) back to 300 minutes behind UT versus 240. I realised the 240 was wrong, given the daylight saving time option in the date/time menu. And this explained way slews were off by 10 to 15°.

Without the manual, I was guessing that after a two-star alignment, the hand controller was telling me how much the mount alignment was off. And how I needed to adjust it. But I was puzzled. Why was it off so? Off by about 1 degree? The tripod was level. I had checked Polaris (albeit, still crudely).

I'm not convinced the sync command on the hand controller is doing anything...

10:14. I checked the OneWorld portable weather station. I had taken it outside in the early evening to acclimate. Now it was sitting atop the covered barbecue. It showed 972 mbars (to which I have to add 42; so 1014) pressure, 20% humidity, and 5.3°C.

10:26. At last. I was on a star.

10:47. I finally found Wasat aka δ (delta) Geminorum. The primary is white, maybe blue white. The companion is red or orange. They were very different brightness. Around 4 to 5 magnitudes. Haas thought the primary yellow or orange. My assessment of the companion's colour matched Smyth.

I could see this small asterism nearby, which reminded me of Delphinus, specifically the head of the dolphin, to the west. At its tip was a mag 13.9 star. Whoa. Faint.

11:04. Nailed it, Castor. The goto was working better. This was after I tried the sync on ST3! That said, it errored out and disconnected... But when I reconnected, it was correct! Weird. I'll take it!

Castor was so lovely. A and B incredible on their own. The C and D stars forming a right angle. Not perfect right angle; slightly opened. There was another star nearby, GSC 02457-0927, which together made me think of Cygnus. The rump of the swan.

α Gem is a fast-mover. I should measure it...

11:14. Went to the next object. The goto was off again. I tried the "sync to cursor". Again it failed. But when I reconnected it was synced and the next goto was good!

Viewed HD 46136 aka 20 Gem, a suggestion from the RASC Coloured Doubles list. Saw a wide pair, faint stars, but nearly equal brightness. I looked hard. Were they blue and green? The RASC list describes them as yellow and blue. Huh. They seemed more alike to me.

Here comes the Moon, I thought. I saw it over the neighbours roofs to the south-east. Yellow and big.

11:29. Ah, a good goto. Landed on 38 Gem. Yellow-white and orange. Fairly tight at low power. The distant, mag 10 C star was obvious.

I thought C was inline with A and B while ST3P shows B inline with GSC 00760-1284. Could it be that the B star is moving to the south or clockwise (in my FOV)? Is it a fast mover? Or is there old data in ST3P?

[ed:  I didn't notice it at the time but SkyTools shows that AB has a known orbit of 3190 years and the data was updated in February!]

11:45. The goto was off a bit again but I found Gliese 273. From my red dwarf stars list. Very faint. ST3P says it is 9.8. I found it hard to detect any colour. Maybe a hint of orange. Ooh, 12 light years away. That's cool.

11:56. Moon was getting bright. Hate the Moon.

Viewed Tegmen. The A and C elements were obvious in the low power ocular. I saw an upside-down house with TYC 01381-1436 1 as the peak. In the house, the bright star to the east was the D companion. The dimmer star to the north was E. I saw G to the north west, at a right angle to E, about the same distance that E was from A.

Tried to see the B star. No joy even at very high power. It's possible, theoretically, with a 1.1" separation and similar magnitudes (delta 1). I wondered if it was in "the noise."

The 'scope's collimation is definitely off. It is visible above 200x.

Still, that was very neat. I hadn't logged the E or G stars with ζ (zeta) Cancri before!

12:06 AM, March 30, 2013. w00t! Back at the eyepiece, even though I was losing my mojo. I split AB! In the Nagler. Nearly equal brightness. Super tight. Often touching. But occasionally I had two distinct dots. Easily lost in the diffraction rings. Same colour, both pale yellow. C has a hint of blue.

12:21 AM. OK, Moon. You win. I parked the mount. Tarped the telescope.

I checked the weather station. The temperature had dropped 1.5°.


At some point I viewed 26 Aurigae. But I didn't seem to record any notes!? But I remember looking at it! Sheesh... I added it from the RASC Coloured Doubles list.


Turned the hand controller LCD back light down to its lowest level. Much better as I grew adapted to the darkness. Keyboard back light was already at lowest.


Polar alignment feature showed a circle with a line. I think it is showing the position of the North Celestial Pole in relation to Polaris...

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