Thursday, April 04, 2013

hit the targets, mostly (Toronto)

An objective this evening was to better learn the GoToStar system. To try some different approaches. Deepen my understanding.

1:04 PM, April 3, 2013. Checked the time remaining. 6, er, 7 hours of time on the Sony voice recorder.

7:17 PM. Prepared the netbook. I was in red light mode. Shut the screen saver off. Started Notepad, as backup.

7:19. Had the observing list in SkyTools built. Checked the weather...

From Environment Canada, for Toronto. The current "quick" conditions were mainly sunny and 0°C as observed at Toronto Pearson Int'l Airport at 7:00 PM EDT Wednesday 3 April 2013. The detailed condition report was mainly sunny, 102.8 kPa and rising, visibility was 24 km, 0.4°C, dewpoint predicted at -9.0°C, humidity 49 %, with brisk wind, WNW, at 26, gusting to 41 km/h. The "quick" forecast for tonight was clear and -4°C as 3:30 PM. The detailed prediction was clear, wind northwest 30 km/h gusting to 50, becoming light this evening, low minus 4. And Thursday was to be sunny, windy, with a high of 10!

I checked the Clear Sky Chart. It showed no cloud cover from 4 PM through tomorrow night or value 10! The transparency prediction from 6 PM to 5 AM was 3, average. The seeing from 7 PM to 9 was 2, poor; from 10 PM to 1 AM was 4, good; and from 1 AM on 3, average.

7:31. Mounted the OTA. Put the red film on the John Smallberries monitors. Moved the USB kit with extensions to the kitchen.

8:21. Moved into the kitchen with John Littlejohn and the mouse. And the voice recorder. Noted a couple of things with the GoToStar.

I had forgotten to reprogram the hand controller for "home." It was still in the weird test location for Australia. I was getting unusual alignment star suggestions. I reset it. Checked the time as well and noticed the date was off. And reset the time zone. I was still light out when I tried to align.

When I tried doing the "easy" alignment, the first choice in the submenu. It's unusual, different from the other alignment processes. First, it does not say to start from the park position. It simple says "Jupiter." And, if I remember correctly, when hitting ENTER, it says to centre Jupiter. I am assuming one is to slew to suggested target. But then it gives that strange message again: "Telescope now horizong below." On a hunch, I panned away from Jupiter and choose the SLEW menu and Jupiter. But it started going off in a weird direction. Clearly not right. It was also not tracking. And I could seem to turn it on; the STOP button did not respond. With the "horizong" message reappearing. I'm doing something wrong; it is not working right.

So, I reverted to the "classic" one-star method. It was dark enough. Set Dec to 90. Eyeballed the RA shaft to vertical. Aligned on Aldebaran, which was far afield at first, centred on it. No error or RA report. Slewed to Jupiter. Boom. In the centre of the eyepiece!

Enjoyed the view of Jupiter. Low and high power. Seeing was fair to good. Noted one moon was missing. Also noted the precise positioning. One moon to the west, then Jupiter, and the other two moons to the east, all equally spaced. Cue Also sprach Zarathustra.

8:35. Checked my Google astro calendar. GLOBE at NIGHT running. Third quarter Moon. Io shadow on Jupiter—ooh! Checked the pre-made SkyTools list. Spent a moment reconfiguring. But in the Interactive Atlas and the Context Viewer and saw Io was in front of the planet now and the shadow event was coming up soon, around 9:06.

8:39. Viewed Jupiter again. Returned to the 9mm. A little soft. Looked like the planet was tangled in the tree branch and would remain that way for the balance. Could see a good amount of detail on the surface.

Bonked my head on the finder scope! Ouch. See, you can get hurt doin' astronomy.

The hand controller movement buttons seemed to be in a good orientation. In the sense, that the left arrow moved left and the right arrow moved right. The up and down were reversed. But still, I had a strong sense of left and right buttons moving west and east in the view; and up and down moving north and south (or south and north). Helps when you're looking at a planet, I guess. 

West to east: Europa, Jupiter, Ganymede, Callisto.

8:41. Opened Night Planner: sunset was at 7:50, twilight due at 9:27.

8:47. From the kit, got out the long USB extension cable and the female-to-female adapter. I wanted to extend the computer control line running from the computer in the kitchen to the hand controller on the deck, knowing a passive USB cable might not work. Put the extension between the USB port and the serial-USB adapter. Heard the beep-boop confirmation. A good sign. Threaded it past the window screen.

8:49. Made a loop outside. Velcroed the data and controller cables together.

8:52. Seeing was sketchy. Fluctuating rapidly. But when it went clear, it was stunning. So I just waited. Really good. 9mm still in. Good detail in the north and south equatorial belts. Noted the north tropical zone, very white, before the north tropical belt. The NTB seems thicker than normal.

SkyTools 3 Pro showed the Io was in front of the SEB. I wondered if it might be possible to see the moon in the foreground against the brown belt.

Unpacked the red flashlight. Put my leather gloves on. 

8:57. Lovely view. Gets nice from time to time.

Moved the recorder, out of the way of the mouse.

Checked the Night Planner again. Oh! I didn't realise it but the Great Red Spot was also going to be visible tonight. A double whammy. Noted the ingress times for the shadow, 9:03, and the GRS, 9:05. Transits, shadow, 10:09, GRS, 10:36. The shadow will be faster.

[ed: Missed that note in my online astro calendar... I did show Io's shadow and the GRS. I think it was even an event I noted in my presentation!]

8:59. Headed to the telescope. Wanted to see it happen! Took the recorder out. Considered where the shadow would appear: it should be on the east edge, I figured.

9:01. The air clarity was very steady. I was seeing vibration (or shock) in the eyepiece as vehicles drove through the intersection! Strange. And occasional oscillation from wind gusts.

Very strong sense of the limb darkening on the east side. Seemed to be a bluish colour.

9:03. Spotted the shadow. Just a nibble. Right on time! In-line with the SEB. A little tiny bite. Cool. It looked really good at 222 power.

The mount tracking was quite good! Which was particularly interesting—given that I did not do an official polar alignment. And had used the "basic" alignment...

9:04. The shadow seemed elongated. I thought of the "tear drop effect" during the Transit of Venus. I wondered if the same optical effect happens with shadows...

9:05. The shadow was fully inside the limb. Nicely formed black circle. I wondered if I was seeing the Great Red Spot! The South Equatorial Belt seemed to stop short of the shadow, there was a gap, lighter, then the shadow.

I was sensitive to the traffic going over the bumps or seams in the pavement... Like a frickin' highway in front the porch.

9:08. The light region ahead of the shadow did not seem to be there anymore. Wondered if the GRS was in the other belt. A moment later, noted some chroma. Red on the west edge; blue on the east. Particularly pronounced on the moons.

9:12. Switched to my right eye. Such a different impression. Brighter. More yellow. After a moment, I could see the shadow. Same focus. Still was not certain about the GRS. After a couple of moments, went back to the left eye. It just feels better.

9:15. Took a break. Got some water.

9:16. Still breezy. Tracking was still good. Waited for a clean view.

9:17. To the right of the moon shadow, there seemed to be a light region. It was like the SEB just stopped. It was obvious when compared to the NEB. The NEB went all the way to the limb edge. It was almost like the shadow punctuated the end of the south belt.

9:19. The seeing was good. Offered good detail of Jupiter's surface.

I shifted the observing chair slightly to get more comfortable.

9:22. Someone walked by with a blunt... Or it was the neighbours who were chatting nearby. It was a neat visual effect with the belt, the shadow, and the limb. I really enjoyed that. Decided to move on. Popped in the low power 2 inch. Took one more peek. Could not see the shadow. I was feeling a little chilled.

9:29. Returned to the telescope after adding another layer above and below.

9:34. Tried to connect SkyTools but then realised, when it failed, I probably had a port number problem. In fact, it was off. Set the ASCOM SkySensor 2000 PC V6 driver from COM 2 to 5. It connected. Yeh. Reloaded the Interactive Atlas and saw the blinking X mark for the current pointing location (over the + cross-hair for the current software target). The long cable was OK!

9:36. Chose FU Orion (what a name). Variable star. Slewed.

Wasn't sure I was on the correct target. Thought I was seeing a very dim red star... Double checked the field of view in the software and returned to the ocular. It still didn't look right...

9:45. Oops. Suddenly realised I had the software set wrong. It was on the 9mm view while I was using the 36 in the 'scope. Verified! Ha. I had landing on it, looked at it. Right in the centre. The goto slew had been perfect.

9:47. Orangey. Quite dim. ST3P did not seem to note the period. Distance unknown. Learned that FU varies between (V) magnitude 2.55 to 9.45! Wow. Pretty extreme. I guess I was seeing it at the low point... Compared to the nearby stars. Brighter than the stars to the north, TYC 00715-0002 1, which is mag 10.6, and a little brighter than the one just to the east of the aforementioned star, TYC 00715-0013 3, at mag 11.6.

Noted the stars to the south that looked like doubles. ST3P said they were all singles...

9:51. FU Orionis seemed to be about the same brightness as HD 247301, a magnitude 9.9 star, a non-variable star. Thought I could see a little triangle of stars to the south-west. TYC 00715-0123 1, at mag 11.3. And NSV 2608, a suspected variable. ST3P only showed the photographic magnitude, 10.9 to 11.8, in the Object Information box. But 10.7 was shown in the IA chart. Saw TYC 00714-0203 1, mag 10.6.

I took a look at nearby, bright HR 1987. Sounded familiar... ST3P notes it as a multi-star. I did not split it, in the low power eyepiece. Not obvious. Or different magnitudes? Yes, ST3P said they were different by 5 magnitudes.

Next up was HD 36073. A multi-star I tried split the another night... I wanted to split C and D. And A and B, if lucky!

9:58. The "spinning top." But the stars seemed much dimmer tonight! Could barely see the stem stars (mag 10.9 and 10.2). Weird. Extinction? Cloud? Saw the A star, south of C. 56". Right. But I had not seen B or D...

[ed: At the time I did not realise I was viewing 45 minutes later than the other night.]

Too late in the season...

10:04. Was the sky off? I could not split C and D. Merged. Soft. Hard to focus. Refocused the view using HD 35985. Could not see the B star, no way. Too low. Too dim.

Skipped the next few variables...

10:08. Slew worked well. In the centre of the high power eyepiece. Very good goto accuracy by the GoToStar. Viewed ξ (xi) Orionis, up in the Hunter's right arm. Bluish-white star. Reminded me of Sirius.

Noted the collimation was still off.

With the 9mm, noted TYC 00742-1423 1 to the west, mag 9.2. Opposite ξ (mag 4.5) I saw a star, about a 1/3 or a 1/4 the distance. ST3P says this is GSC 742 1743 at mag 14.2. Not possible... (albeit poor quality data). To the north, I noted three stars, in a east-west alignment: TYC 00742-1679 1, 1623, and 1649, between 10.6 and 11.1. According to SkyTools, none of these belonged to xi. The B, C, and D, companions to ξ are to the south. All around magnitude 12. A very tiny triangle. I went to look again.

10:15. With averted vision I could just barely see B, C, and D stars. But it was borderline.

I saw a star to the north-east of xi. About the same distance as the B, C, and D. Not shown in the software. I'd have to check Aladin...

10:23. Decided ξ Ori requires another look. It should be viewed earlier in the year, when constellation is higher. [ed: Viewed again Feb 2014.]

[ed. See note on the ξ E star.]

Chose 15 Monocerotis. Near the Cone Nebula. In the middle of the star cluster NGC 2264. aka the Christmas Tree Cluster. Wow! Now that's a multi-star system. ST3P showed stars up to the letter U! Huh. Almost out of letters in the alphabet.

10:27. Very, very interesting. Lots going on in the 9mm! Saw C (mag 9) to the north, J and H, to the south, which were about the same separation as G and F, to the south-west, from each other. Saw L and M to the east, equally bright. Saw K to the north-east. Did not initially see the B star.


Holy cow. A 21-star multiple star system. That's a first.

Saw the triangle of stars well below 15 Mon, to the east. That is a different multi-star system, centred on HD 262066. The A, C, and D stars were obvious.

10:36. On second look, I could not see 15 Mon B. 2.9 seconds of arc apart, so should be possible. Three magnitudes different. Spotted I, near H, with averted vision. Didn't see E.

Viewed V684 to the south-west of 15 Mon, yet another multi-star system. I saw B to the north-west; opposite, and further away, D.

10:41. Between 15 Mon G and F and V684, viewed variable star V642. Huh. Varies over 18 hours. Fast. Saw a star to the north of G and F, forming a pointy triangle. Didn't know if it was 15 Mon E (mag 11.5) or V343 (ranges 9.7 to 11.2).

10:45. Found the U component! Holy. It is mag 12.6. Beyond C, to the north. Weird. Didn't see D, at mag 12.5. Still couldn't see E. I found note that said E is a suspected variable. Ah. So maybe it's there... but hiding! Still couldn't split A and B.

The vibration induced into the telescope during focusing was bothering me.

10:49. Spotted the star 15 Mon O. Did not see N. Wondered if I saw E, for a moment...

Re-examined the star between V642 and the V684 components. I had misread it before. It was in-line with the V684 D; not A. So, in fact, this was V590 aka E! Noted dim C, aka V780, to the west of V684 A. Yes! All elements observed!

I was very inclined to sketch it. Sketching would challenging but very interesting. Maybe even faster, in the long run. But I didn't like the temperature.

10:58. Checked the OneWorld portable weather station. 1021 mbars, 20%, -1.2°C. Cold.

Panned the area near the Cone. Or quite far... Did not see any nebula...

11:20. Back from break and some hard candy. Relaxed the filters in ST3P, which offered up some galaxies.

11:24. Viewed HR 2485. The A and B stars looked equally bright, same colour, white, in the 36mm. Very close. Just split. Cool. Moth-eyes effect. Spotted the faint C star, well away, slightly to the north, almost in-line.

My neck and back were tense. I was scrunching. Due to the cold. Had to force myself to keep my shoulders down.

11:28. Slewed to NGC 4656, a super thin galaxy. This would cause a meridian flip. I wondered how the GoToStar would do.

11:31. Couldn't see anything... But then, I wasn't sure I was in the right area... Started checking. Moved the observing chair to the west side of the deck.

11:46. Went to Collinder 256, with 17 Com, to get my bearings. But continued to struggle.

11:54. Finally figured the orientation after centering on the multi-star 17 Comae Berenices and spotting 16 (surrounded by a triangle of stars) nearby. West was up. And that meant NGC 4494 was in the field of view, below.

And it was also apparent the pointing issue: the software showed the mount was aiming in a different part of the sky. I wondered how to sync things... But first, I wanted to see if I could see the small, magnitude 10.7, face-on galaxy.

12:08 AM, April 4, 2013. I saw it. I saw the galaxy. But it sucked. It's just not a good target to choose in the city. And the transparency prediction, at average, was a warning...

Wondered if the goto issue was due in part to flexure, "weak" alignment. I wondered if I should sync. But should I do that on the hand paddle or use the software. I decided to try it in the software. Clicked the Sync button in the Real Time and received the error, like before: "the ASCOM Vixen SkySensor 2000 PC driver failed to complete for some reason." When I reconnected and regenerated the chart, the X was still in the wrong spot. So I tried Sync telescope to cursor in the IA chart. Reconnected. And it looked fine this time.

12:16 AM. Slewed to 4656 in CVn... Verified the Context Viewer was in the right orientation, west up.

12:20. The OneWorld reported 1021 mb, 24%, -1.9°.

I was seeing the T-pattern of stars, near the target galaxy, and the nearby Whale. And that meant the slew, after the sync, worked. Interesting. That suggests a flexure or slop issue in the mount. A hardware issue.

Put on the big red coat for warmth. Put on the red goggles before opening the fridge. Grabbed an apple for a snack.

12:29. Added the "missing Messiers" to the observing list.

12:37. Nope. No joy. Could not see 4656. Could not see the Whale nor its companion. Put in the 9mm and just got lost.

Considered M49. Low. Mmm, no. M87. OK. Slewed.

12:44. Sort of saw Messier 87. Big pale faint light grey blotch. I didn't think this was good idea, chasing faint fuzzies, now, tonight.

12:47. For one last slew (test), I went to Arcturus. It was in the finder. It would be in the low power eyepiece. So, not bad.

Tired.

12:53. Slewed to Izar, last target for the night. Couldn't split it before it went behind a tree branch. Sent the mount to the park position.

Hold the phone... Saturn would be up! Slewed from the parking spot.

12:56. Nice. Great angle. A few moons. It's gonna be fun, this spring... Back to park.

Goofed again, turning off the hand controller first. The ASCOM driver started looping. And then SkyTools imploded. LIFO!

12:59. Weather station in. 1020 mb, 27%, -2.5°. Shutdown and tarped the 'scope.

So, the evening did not go as I had (loosely) planned it. I had considered trying some different alignment techniques with the GoToStar. But the one-star method was working so well (um, well until the meridian flip), that I was just rolling with it. Again, without a polar alignment! I had fun. Io's shadow as entertaining; 15 Mon was incredible.

Next time, I'll do the opposite, a 3-star. And the correction cycle.

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I kept putting the hand controller in the slot of the north leg, just on the triangle tray support. It fit nicely. I didn't bonk any keys. Still, it was a little awkward. It needs a hook or a holder. Or hook'n'loop. Now that I've taken it apart I have a sense of what I can do. Perhaps a simple hook. Or eye.

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Noted both the 9 and 36mm eyepieces had smudges. Need to be cleaned!

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Recorder is filled again...

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