Sunday, May 05, 2013

a little bit of everything (Blue Mountains)

7:54 PM, Saturday 4 May 2013. The peepers had started.

Spent some time at the computer, thinking about what I want to do for the evening. Heh, now that I didn't have to chase any Messiers!

Reviewed NexStar materials along with my observations and things-to-do in Evernote.

Built a new SkyTools 3 Pro observing list. With some old favourites. And a couple of new quarries.

Chatted with Tony's guests after he showed the THO. Didn't look they were dressed properly.

8:52 PM. I wanted to test the Powermate and PTR with the Canon. It should give a similar experience as would my C8.

I wanted to revisit Messier 83, early, and the best time to do that would be around midnight.

Wanted to try things with the NexStar, shake it down, to improve alignment, and go-to performance. For example, trying the SAS program, for choosing better alignment stars, by some mathematical means (but I forgot the particulars). Do the compass and altitude calibrations (which I had not done last night). And to immediately change one of the alignment stars with a new star in the east. I thought that when I did that before it has worked well.

And I wanted to sketch. That would be fun. Considered M86.

The skies were supposed to be better tonight.

I realised this was an ambitious plan for the evening.

And if I was going to hook up the camera, for testing, maybe I could do some actual imaging!

I wondered if I would get field rotation in the NexStar. I think you do, in any alt-az mount.

I heard people talking outside. Tony's group?

Leveled the tripod with a long spirit level. Redid the GPS alignment. Carefully set the date and time. Did the calibration steps.

The frogs were incredibly loud.

9:13. Went to Jupiter. It was in the low power eyepiece. Good stuff.

Had trouble connecting SkyTools until I realised the software thought the mount was parked.

9:20. Slewed to Meissa. OK again. In the field.

Put on my music. Some good Boards of Canada.

Manuel popped by and said hello. He was waiting for the guests to depart... Sounded a little irked. And now I was wondering about my advice, urging him to set up in the GBO. Hrrm.

9:48. Tried to view a planetary nebulae. The Ghost of Jupiter. I could not see it. Checked the software. Not dark enough.

Tony dropped by. The guests from the Pretty River school, including Mara and Geordi, were just leaving. He said they were pretty excited (no pun intended) and wanted to arrange a future visit. They were suitably impressed. I asked if he had them sign the guest book. Oops.

10:08. Looked at Saturn. I could see a few moons. Dione to the south west. Rhea to the south. Something to the right, east, just off the ring, either Enceladus or Tethys. Well beyond was Titan.

10:14. Went from the 18mm to the 9mm, I thought I could see the two moons. Seeing went bad. Then worse. I made a note to return later. The night was young. The amazing planet was still below the 2 air mass.

10:37. Did the GLOBE at Night evaluation, using Leo. Chose the second darkest rating, 6, versus the darkest, 7. Noted a field for the SQM reading. Used our unit. Took readings from 21.11 to 21.15. The form requested the SQM serial number but I didn't know where to find that. Offered to send it later, upon request. I took a screen snapshot for my result.

10:40. Tony had left the parking lot lights on. I let him know but he was watching TV. So I shut them off while retrieving the Sky Quality Meter.

Reviewed the process for replacing an alignment star.

10:48. Replaced an alignment star. That procedure wasn't in my Quick Reference Guide (although I was sure I had updated from version 1.0).

Headed to Markarian 132 (aka PGC 29013) in Ursa Major.

11:01. I could not see the object. But then when I checked the chart in ST3P, I noted it was very small! And magnitude 14.5. I decided to mark it as unobserved. Headed to the next target.

Alarm went off. The Psion reminding me to prep for M83.

11:16. Found it very strange how field of view is changing. I didn't know where west was. Slowly, I realised it was down, for the current orientation.

Was sure I found Holmberg II (aka Arp 268), an 11.2 magnitude galaxy, very faint, very soft. ST3P said it was an irregular galaxy. I looked for other things in the 'hood. Perhaps the bright stars to the right or south?

11:18. A little triangle of stars, above, really faint. Verified it with TYC 04377 2664 1. I found the bright stars to the right, including HD 68435, mag 7 star. Seemed to be a sprinkling of stars around or in the galaxy. Very faint, structure. 11.2 mag. I thought it really hard to see. Weird. Another irregular galaxy. It was almost straight up! Crazy.

Reviewed M83's height path in the SkyTools Night Bar. I should view it in about 30 to 45 minutes. I added the priority flag in the list.

Cleared the previous status indicators.

Decided to go for the Cigar.

Manuel turned on his car lights. I asked him to turn them off. Sheesh.

Tony visited again. He took a look in the 'scope. Thought there was a bit of green tinge. Quite bright. I centred it for him, using the controls on the computer. He enjoyed the view but had never heard M82 called the Cigar. I panned a bit, from the computer, to include M81. Tony liked the contrast.

Reported to Tony that the 'scope was working well.

Noticed I had some significant cable wrap. Unwound the cable from the tripod. Realised I had never programmed the cable option.

Tony told me he had to move Manuel's mount having chosen a poor location on the floor. While doing so, they found the tripod was not secured, not tight! Of course, Manuel had to redo his alignment.

He also reported that Richard had been imaging. But the software didn't save images. Doh!

Tony suddenly developed the hiccups. Ha!

Asked Tony if he wanted to look at anything. M51, the Whirlpool. Added it to my list. Slewed, hit it. Had to adjust the seat very low. Tony liked the contrast. Something fast went through—he thought it a meteor. I checked the orientation: east to west. He reported a lot of detail in the galaxies with averted vision.

It was close to midnight. I slewed to M83. Monitored the cable. I let Tony turn the roof. He did it from the outside, thought it turned nicely. He said it was windy out, chilly.

Nothing in the field. Checked the chart. I was off a little.

We checked the vibration on the concrete pad and the wood floor. Tony thought it touching somewhere.

I still did not see galaxy. Went to γ (gamma) Hydrae. Synced and reslewed. "Beauty," Tony said. I checked the altitude: 15°. Pretty low, pretty mucky. "How did Messier see this?!" Tony wondered. Indeed.

Something zipped through the field for me while soaking up photons. Another meteor? Tony said they had seen a lot tonight. I reminded him we were near the peak. Oh!

We talked about reflectors on the planet walk posts. I offered to bring some plastic reflectors from home...

12:15 AM, Sunday 5 May 2013. I suggested the Ring Nebula. Viewed in lower power. Tony did his Homer "donut" impersonation. Good one. I bumped the power, with the 20mm.

Headed to the house for a coffee break.

Reviewed the peak date for the η (eta) Aquarids. According to the Observer's Handbook, today at 1:00 AM. Uh huh.

12:55 AM. Returned from the break. While walking from the house, noticed the Altair and Tarazed in the east. Then Cygnus. Then I noticed the Milky Way horizontal or parallel to the ground. About 30 or 40 degrees above the horizon. Pretty cool. Called Tony out to take a look. He was surprised to see Scorpius rising.

The stars in the east seemed brighter, clearer. The transparency must have been better.

1:04. Viewed the Blackeye. Had to pan up and left a bit. Could see some detail in it. Shells. Very faint stars to the north.

Slewed to Camelopardalis.

Tried syncing and slewing a few times without success. Changed an alignment star.

1:30. Checked the remaining recording time: 1 hour. Unwrapped the cord from the tripod.

Noticed that go-to's with the controller were OK, pretty well centred; the software didn't seem to match, despite the sync. The flashing X seemed to be getting worse. The software didn't know where the telescope was pointing. I wondered if I should break the connection.

1:42. When I disconnected and reconnected, it was bang-on!

Hit it this time. Yes!

So, learned something important here. The hand controller was very reliable. But until I disconnected and reconnected, the software was going away. Getting worse. So somethings awry with SkyTools or the ASCOM driver. But it was easily fixed...

Oh. Forgot that I had the Pentax in. Quite big. To the north east end, there was a bit of a hook. A strange appearance to it.

1:45. Seems to be brighter on the north east end vs the south west end. Dropped the lower eyepiece.

That suggested I could pan to the west, and catch the galaxy, which was the Whale.

I used the ASCOM hand controller tool on the computer and saw the X move in SkyTools.

1:51. Quite lovely. Viewed the Whale (NGC 4631, Caldwell 32) and its little companion, NGC 4627.

Moved to the Cocoon and its small companion, NGC 4485. Ooh. Neat. A very interesting galaxy. Finally a subject I was interested in drawing.

Got out the sketching gear. Three pencils, H, HB, B. My nice notepad. Deep red light with head strap.

Used the camera's lens hood to draw a circle.

Set to work.

2:24. Finished the sketch of the Cocoon galaxy. Enjoyed that. Not feeling great at the beginning. Worked out OK. Tried to add as many stars as I could see. I hoped it would turn out well.

Thought about the sketching night, Stu, et al. For the first time, thought about the process in terms of sketching quickly, crudely, but making detailed notes, so to redo later...

Next. I wanted to conduct the camera test. Ensure the Powermate and PTR would work correctly with the Canon EOS and an SCT. All the while, I wanted to keep it simple: so no computer connection or computer camera control. I'd adjust the camera directly.

Slewed to π (pi) Boötis.

Attached everything together.

Starting shooting some long exposures to focus... Was not seeing anything. Realised I needed an extension tube. Headed to the GBO.

Centred with the eyepiece.

Moved the computer nearby.

2:52. Made a point of getting the star dead centre.

At last I could see it.

Activated the camera timer. Shot a bunch of frames adjusting the exposure. Started at 15 seconds.

π Boo A and B are the bright bluish-white stars in the centre; the dim C star (yellowy-orange) is a little ways away, to the bottom left, or 8 o'clock position. North is bottom-right; east is top-right.

3:07. Confirmed everything worked. SCT, visual back, rotatable thing, extension tube, Powermate, PTR, Canon EOS t-ring, body.

Usual challenges: focusing. [ed: Forgot to focus with the viewer finder first! Duh.]

Getting a decent split. I didn't think I could proceed with actual data collection without know more about the process..

Consider just having some fun, still shooting, but at a wider field. Maybe to get some colour. I removed the 2x and refocused.

Shot light frames.

3:27. Finished shooting the darks.

Put the visual equipment back in.

3:30. A good night. Fun objects. Enjoyed some music. Got quite a lot down.

Disconnected the software. Did a quick shutdown for the THO. Capped the OTA. Removed the USB cable.

3:36. Checked the outside conditions: 973mb (uncorrected for elevation), 32% humidity, 13.0°C temperature. It had risen a bit.

Turned the roof to home. Locked it. Closed the lower flap; then the upper.

Disconnected the various power cords.

3:40. Indoor. Rain in 24 hours Pressure steady. Humidity 40%. Temp 13.1.

Packed for return to the house: Manuel's data cable, the netbook, the recorder.

Tomorrow... I'd pack up the rest. Sadly.

3:43. From the parking lot. Spotted Delphinus. Aquila up really high. Milky Way much better. Ophiuchus. Scorpius completely up. Good transparency down low. Could see almost all the stringer. Perseus was climbing. Hello Summer!


Wikipedia link: pi Boötis.

No comments: