Sunday, March 17, 2013

made the Super Polaris smart (Toronto)

Wasn't interested in chasing comet C/2011 L4 again but the very clear skies meant I could do a full test of the GoToStar IDEA hand controller and motors on the Vixen Super Polaris mount. I was tired, and thinking about the week ahead, but considered that I could do a quick test. That the telescope gear was half-assembled in the living room suggested it wouldn't take too much effort. I decided to go ahead.

I moved the tripod from the living room to the porch. I gently moved the mount, with exposed motors, outside. Fortunately, I still had a long extension cord in the kitchen: fished it out the left window. Connected the NOMA GFCI. Reattached the one OTA ring to the tube, loosely. Mounted the 8" OTA and then tightened the ring. Grabbed the hand controller and power adapter. Aligned the tripod to the two visible marks on the porch; didn't bother to check the polar alignment.

Turned on the motors but realised I didn't have an eyepiece ready. And I had not aligned the finder scope to the SCT. Slow down cowboy. Also had to fetch the Dec axis release handle.

With the final bits in place, with everything aligned, I fired up the system. Did a quick one-star alignment with Aldebaran.

8:53 PM. Holy cow. The Vixen is now smart! The GoToStar system works! It frickin' works! I slewed successfully to Jupiter then Messier 42! I noted the 4 bright stars in the Trapezium and θ (theta) 2 nearby, in the string of 3 stars.

Returned to the office (slash warm room) to find a decent target (with SkyTools 3 Professional) on the other side of the meridian.

9:05. I slewed to the Beehive and centred on it, as best as possible, despite tree branches. Wow.

9:08. I quickly checked the weather conditions via my Toronto weather portal page. The current conditions were noted as clear at -5.4°C. The prediction for Sunday night was "A few clouds. Low minus 7." And they were calling for snow on Monday. Damn...

9:19. I tried the "sync to target" feature in the hand controller and then went to the Winter Albireo by SAO number. Boom! There it was. Amazing. That, ordinarily, is a very challenging target by star hopping.

It occurred to me now, while set up, and with everything working so well, I might try for some real targets, objects not viewed before. The Virgo cluster Messiers were out of the question, unfortunately. I decided to try for some items from the RASC "coloured doubles" list.

9:27. Viewed double star 30 Tauri. I thought the pair yellow and orange in the 36mm. They were very different magnitudes.

[ed: Didn't discover until later this is the first log entry for a double in Taurus!]

9:35. I switched to the 18mm ocular. The pair still looked yellow and orange to me.

9:40. It occurred to me that syncing on the current object before moving would be a good (sneaky?) way to keep the goto performance high.

I viewed χ (chi) Tau. It was double the separation of 30. The secondary was fainter still. Perhaps 1 or 2 mags? And they seemed to be yellow and red?

ST3P confirmed my impression of the separation. But the software said the secondary is brighter! Strange.

[ed: I may have mis-read that. Upon review... In the Interactive Atlas or Context Viewer, hovering over the A and B stars shows 5.4 and 8.5 respectively. The Object Information panel shows the AB pair as 5.38 and 7.6.]

Also, the author said the stars were yellow and green! Huh?! Green?

9:46. I dropped back down to 36mm. I enjoyed the view more, with the stars closer. It was a nice separation. But I still did not think the companion green. It was behind a branch though...

It occurred to me that I was not fully dark adapted so that might be affecting my impression of the star colours. I had not put the red screen film on the computer monitors. I had not put up porch light shield...

9:52. I went to the next pair (forgot to note). They were widely separated in 36mm and almost exactly same! I.e. almost the same brightness and almost the same colour. The primary I thought yellow with a hint of orange? The secondary was perhaps white or blue-white? They were almost the same sep almost as the previous stars.

[ed: Σ627 aka Struve 627 or HR 1610.]

9:55. This goto is a game-changer. This can generate a lot of time. Less time hopping; more time at the eyepiece. Immediately I thought that this time can be converted. Now I can sketch more, noodle more, consider colours, estimate distances and sizes more. Evaluate magnitudes. Wow... I still couldn't quite believe what I was seeing: the old trusty Super Polaris moving about like a modern goto mount.

I really was intrigued by the idea of the time savings. And I didn't even have the computer connected!

10:02. Tried to go to 38 Gem but I didn't see it in the eyepiece. But it looked like, in the finder scope, the quarry was behind a branch.

10:05. Checked the full Environment Canada web site.

The current conditions were clear and -6°C as observed at Toronto Pearson Int'l Airport as of 10:00 PM EDT. The details were clear, 102.7 kPa (and rising), with visibility of 24 km. The dewpoint was -13.5°C. Huh. Ah, that's because the humidity was 55%. The wind was from the NNE at 13 km/h which made for a slightly wind chill, down to -11.

10:06. I was feeling a little torn. It was a beautiful clear night, the humidity was low, the skies looked pretty good. And the 'scope was working incredibly well! But I was tired.

Tonight was, at the outset, an experiment.

One more look, I decided, and then I'd pack up.

10:18. I don't know if i missed 38 Gem... But I stumbled across nearby HD 51502. I spotted a little triangle of stars in the finder scope. Turned out it was a quad system! It had a yellow primary, yellow secondary. The tertiary star was orange. The dim D star I thought orange-red. Neat!

OK. Done.

10:27. Completed a rapid teardown.

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