Saturday, May 04, 2013

four dozen (Blue Mountains)

It was great being back!

9:00 PM, Friday, May 3, 2013. Had the NexStar 11 GPS up and running. With my eyepiece equipment. In the Tony Horvatin Observatory. I had finished the alignment process. Telescope and mount seemed to be working fine. I had prepared a list of the "unseen" Messier objects, in SkyTools 3 Pro, a short list.

Still did not have the ASCOM driver installed. I resigned myself to using the hand controller only. 

The sky looked good. No clouds anywhere. It was quite windy though, coming out of south east. Wind was 16 km/h. Stars overhead were twinkling. So, not great seeing.

Checked the time remaining on the Sony voice recorder. About 4 hours. So not a lot. Put the recorder beside the computer, hoping I wouldn't bonk it or knock it over.

10:13 PM. Just went for object. M61. Turned the roof. Checked the whole sky, Spica, Saturn, in Virgo.

Put on my eyeglasses strap.

10:18. The spring peeper frogs were very loud. Got quiet for a moment. Then back up to full volume! 

The bulb in the south-east corner was very bright. And at a bad angle. I turned it out.

I checked the view in the eyepiece. Nothing obvious. I panned around but did not see anything obvious. Went to a known star, Spica. It was near centre. Interesting. Off a bit, not a lot. Couldn't remember how to recalibrate, checked the quick notes. Nothing there; grabbed the full user guide. Reviewed the steps about approaching from the bottom left. Yes... but nothing about syncing or calibrating. Found the note about replacing alignment stars. Fine. I anticipated having to do some star hopping.

10:22. Peepers went quiet again. Is it a cycle? Or is something disturbing them? 

Bonked the recorder. Oops. 

10:25. Manuel visited me. Asked him to pocket his flashlight. He was imaging, collecting some data on Saturn. His tracking was good; he was happy with his CGEM. He thought the seeing was OK. Knew that Saturn would reach the meridian around midnight. He liked how it looked inside the THO, suggested I take a picture. He said it felt like a spaceship. Awesome view. He liked my comfy chair for visitors! He took a look through the eyepiece but I wasn't on a particular target.

10:31. Peepers went quiet.

I started hopping, with the baader planetarium 36mm eyepiece (78x), using the charts in SkyTools, and found I was fairly close. In short order I found Messier 61. Centred. Could see some structure, some detail in the arms. Manuel liked the view.

10:33. Peepers went silent. So weird.

"There's nothing more inspiring than a dark sky."

Bumped the power with the Pentax 20mm (and adapter), so 140x. It was a nice view, more detail visible. Then, big power, with the Tele Vue 9mm (310x). Soaked in some photons. Manuel noted the centre of the galaxy.

He asked me about the cool-down time of the 11". I guessed a couple of hours. He wondered if it might be less, being carbon-fiber. [ed: A Cloudy Nights review said 3 to 5 hours! Celestron says its 75% faster.]

10:40. Manuel returned to the Observing Pad. The peepers were in a lull. Then back up to full power!

10:44. Peepers were ramping up again.

Checked the voice recorder. 4 hours left. Decided to turn on the VOR, to conserve space. It occurred to me that now that I regularly use the DIVIDE function of the recorder, I'd still be able to keep an accurate note of the time, even if the recorder paused.

10:45. Discovered I did not have the Pentax eyepiece in SkyTools (for the N11).

M61 is a big object!

Closed the telescope view; opened the Interactive Atlas with the Context Viewer.

Turned off all the red lighting in the THO. Turned off the netbook screen as well. Wanted to better absorb the dim galaxy.

Allergies were acting up.

Wild! Spotted NGC 4301 beside M61, a small faint (magnitude 13.4) round smudge. A bit to the north-east of the large galaxy. Due east of a 13 mag star (GSC 00285-0805).

Heard Tony talking with Manuel on the Observing Pad.

10:54. I was very happy seeing M61 in Virgo. Even though I had to do a little star hop.

10:56. Noted, naked eye, a fuzzy blob in Cancer. Ah, The Beehive. M44. Just to the left of Pollux.

Readied to view M100. Activated the telescope view in ST3P.

Tony visited me. But without treats. Left the lights up for a bit for him to get his bearings.. Said it was very windy. Agreed it was from the south east. And that Manuel was envious.

Asked how the NexStar was working. The go-to performance was OK. No jumpiness. Good tracking. He was pleased that I had fixed it.

He thought the view was funny. Kind of swimming. Like swirling currents or eddies in water, geometric patterns. It did get steady for him. I wondered if there might be some high clouds as well.

Asked how the roof was working. I said it was still a bit heavy at times.

He helped me trace the metallic flapping sound. The floor vent in the window. Tony tried to close it but it wouldn't move. Told him not to worry.

Tony shared that Richard was having a bit of trouble with his guide 'scope. I shared with Tony that Richard had found the east sockets not powered in the GBO observatory floor. I debugged it when I found the GFCI socket tripped on the north wall. Clearly they were daisy-chained. Tony suggested we put stickers on the east wall sockets. Saved Richard having to move. We talked about chores to do tomorrow.

11:20. Tony left. Said he was heading for bed.

Moved the computer from the lectern to the integrated table.

11:34. Ended up on a galaxy but I didn't know what it was. Finally, after panning north, I found Messier 100. I could see the a edge-on galaxy aka NGC 4312. A pair of stars mag 13 (but not a double) beside the thin galaxy.

Manuel popped by. "I'm screwed." The wind was bad, shaking his 'scope. Felt like it was getting stronger. He wondered if he should move his 'scope; I suggested he could just cover it. But he forgot his bungee cords. Richard popped by too. Richard suggested Manuel could set up in GBO tomorrow.

11:36. Noted a very bright star (mag 6.5) to the west of the 4312: HD 107415. Confirmed. So, finally found M100. Confirmed. I knew for certain where I was. I headed south to try to identify the two galaxies I had seen earlier.

South of M100 I had found two galaxies close together, both small, one edge-on, one canted, NGC 4302 and 4298. Widely separated stars lay to the north east, HD 107598 and a Tycho 00879-0048 1. These two small galaxies were about 1½ degrees away from M100. This is where the NexStar had dropped me when I requested Messier 100!

11:41. Added the two little galaxies to my ST3P list. The wind seemed stronger still.

11:47. Had a little look-see of St. Katherine's Wheel (aka Messier 99) since it was so close. It is just west of the two little galaxies. Viewed M99 before. Quite nice in the wide field. Bright stars nearby. To the west is HD 106888. North east, bright star, HD 107170. Double star HJ 207. Neat. Lots going on in that area.

Decided to take a break. And get some jelly beans!

While in the kitchen, I looked at the Davis weather station console. The 10-minute average wind speed was 26. That was 10 higher than earlier...

12:08 AM, Saturday, May 4, 2013. Did the trick again: after the go-to, I did a little pan north, for a bit, about a field or so. Found everything. Centred on a star in the middle of the triangle of galaxies. Ha! There's a very small fuzzy in the middle, NGC 4387. To the north east, Messier 86. To the west, from centre, Messier 84. See M86 and M84, they're obvious. There's a little needle-like galaxy, below them, south, NGC 4388. Another edge-on galaxy, due north of M86, NGC 4402. Wow. Five galaxies right there.

Checked the time left on the recorder: over 3 hours. The floor vents were really oscillating.

12:14 AM. Considered this to be one of the best deep sky sessions in a very long time. Just spotted NGC 4413, a small oval. Just below stars TYC 00880-0904 1 and TYC 00880-777 1. And due south of M86. Spotted the another thin galaxy, NGC 4425, near the star HD 108450. South east of M86.

12:19. The wind had picked up. Getting gusty. Manuel was using a white light out on the Observing Pad. Looked like he was packing up.

Checked the OneWorld portable weather station, which I had put outside the THO, on the other edge of the lower door flap. The barometer ready was 934mb (to which I would normally add 42). [ed: Realised later that the elevation was a factor.] Humidity was 21%. The temperature: 15.5°C. Toasty. Earlier I had taken off my jacket. Nose was running; eyes watering. I pulled the hoody around the side of my face to block the wind.

Traveled east from M86. Arrived at NGC 4438 and 4435. These galaxies looked about the same size to me; SkyTools however shows that they are very different, 4438 being 3 or 4 times larger. They have bright centres. There is a nice gaggle stars to the east, including bright SAO 100120. There seemed to be a bright star over top a fuzzy in the north east. I identified NGC 4461. And then 4458.

12:23. Was winging it. Following the chain of galaxies, following to the north east. Was enjoying using the 36mm. The 56 arcminute field was quite pleasing.

12:25. Saw the large galaxies NGC 4473 and 4477. And, at a right angle to them, the smaller galaxy 4479. Wild. Just wild, all these galaxies.

12:34. Wow. Continuing to the north, I spotted NGC 4459. To the north east, I could see the very small NGC 4468 (mag 13.9) fuzzy. Beyond it, NGC 4474. [ed: Didn't realise it at the time but 4468 was the faintest galaxy for the night.]

12:41. I back-tracked along the chain of galaxies, back to M84 and M86, and then panned south east to Messier 87. I could see the little fuzzies beside it, NGC 4478 and further out 4476, to the west. There was a pair of non-related stars to the south east. And nearly due east, an eye-catching triangle of stars. With the double star HIP 61189 within.

Another big sneeze.

12:48. I began the trip to Messier 49.

12:56. Once again, the go-to function did not tag M49. And when I tried going up, I ended up lost in space. But after some checks, I found my way. The interesting galaxy I was seeing, I identified in SkyTools. Curiously, ST3P called it "the Lost Galaxy." I was lost but now I was found. Also known as NGC 4535. It was really cool. I could see stars within it, er, ahead of it. Wild. Averted vision helped. I could see distinct stars!

I saw the two bright stars to the north, HD 109360 and 109440. And to the west of these stars, and inline, another faint small fuzzy, NGC 4519.

Then I went south. Found a big, bright galaxy! This canted fuzzy was NGC 4526. Exactly between two bright stars, HD 109285 and 109417.

1:08. Went the wrong direction. M49 was to the west; I ended up east. And south. But I stumbled across the very thin galaxy NGC 4570.

1:13. I made a point of panning left or west from the Lost Galaxy and 4526. At last, I arrived at Messier 49. M49 was bright and mottled. To the north east I could see the little fuzzy NGC 4492. And there was a super bright star within 4492.

Spotted the small galaxy NGC 4470 to the south of M49.

To the north east, saw the thin oval NGC 4488.

Peepers went silent for a moment.

1:23. The wind seemed to be up, again. The 10-min average was now 29. And a high reading of 40 was registered.

Richard visited me, while his rig is capturing M101. He thought the seeing was poor and highly variable. But tomorrow night was supposed to be even better. Richard said he had checked "sail flow" forecast and the wind was supposed to drop. We grumbled about firmware and software quality these days. I offered my Canon DC coupler but it wouldn't fit his camera. We heard coyotes. I reminded him that the Moon rises just before 3:00 AM. 1½ hours to go!

Spotted a bright η (eta) Aquarid meteor, low in the west. Really good.

1:43. Double-checked that I was at the two little galaxies NGC 4340 and 4350. [ed: Can't remember how I ended up here. Was I trying for M85? And that the 'scope landed to far south?]

1:48. After a long-ish hop I found Messier 85. And the nearby companion NGC 4394. Wonderful.

Next stop: 88.

2:00. Another funny go-to situation. Was trying to get to Messier 88. Off by about 2 degrees, to the south east. And came across Messier 90 to the north, quite nice, canted, glowing centre, quite large. And to the south M89, face-on, fairly dim. The galaxies were each at the edge of the field. Saw a right-angle triangle of stars near M90. There's a little gaggle of stars in the centre of the eyepiece. At first I thought it a stylised-S, or a zig-zag. Perhaps a Little Dipper, with a pan or handle?

Panned to the west a bit to spot NGC 4531. This confirmed I was in the right area.

2:08. Went too far. I ended up at Messier 91, thinking I was on NGC 4571. Oops! I returned to the bright collection of stars to the north east of M90. These stars contain the multi-star system HJ 2616. Used the bright star SAO 100177 as a marker for the small galaxy. 4517 [ed: oops, 4571] is mottled.

2:14. Quite lovely. Messier 88 is very nice. Jumped up to the 20mm for a bit. Fantastic. Interesting detail. But the 36mm wide was very nice too, with field stars all around. I could see the very tiny NGC 4516 to the north east.

Holy cow. OK. To the last one... Messier 83, just off the border of Centaurus. And I was about 2 hours too late... I wondered what I'd see.

2:26. Viewed 83. So low. Barely detectable, the large round galaxy. I considered leaving it unobserved. I should try again... Tomorrow night. I'd set an alarm so to view it at the best time.

So, while the view of Messier 83 was not the best, it was perhaps the 2nd or 3rd time that I had tried for it. And saw something. Technically, that meant I had viewed every catalog in Charles Messier's famous catalog. Wow. What a feeling. Amazing: 110 objects.

I immediately flew back, in my mind, to seeing the Pleiades and the Andromeda Galaxy in the Muskokas in the late 80s. That probably represents when I first became aware of the Messier catalog and that people used it as a check list.

Now I was wide awake...

46 galaxies! What a fun night.

2:27. Downloaded the Celestron Unified ASCOM driver. Installed it. Configured SkyTools 3 Pro to use it. Still had the cable attached, via the USB adapter. Connected successfully. Tried panning. Added Saturn to the observing list. Then performed a slew. It worked fine!

2:38. Noted quite a lot of settings in the driver, including controls to pan or nudge. Found a sync command.

2:41. Started zoning out. Took that as a sign... Adrenaline wearing off. Started packing up.

Oregon Scientific—inside conditions. Pressure dropping. Rain in 24 hours. Humidity 39%. Temp 15.7°C. OneWorld—outside conditions. 933mb, 26%, 15.4°.


Considered sketching tonight but just couldn't get energised to do it. And the later it went, the less inclined I was.


I didn't realise it at the time but in viewing the arc of galaxies from M84 through NGC 4477, I had viewed the Markarian's Chain. The amazing Wikipedia says "member galaxies include M84 (NGC 4374), M86 (NGC 4406), NGC 4477, NGC 4473, NGC 4461, NGC 4458, NGC 4438 and NGC 4435." Wow.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Messier objects null & void. You were there as an illegal alien.
Renew then you may start all over again from #1.