Sunday, May 17, 2015

lucky viewing (Blue Mountains)

6-ish PM, Sat 16 May 2015. Skies were looking very good. I decided to set up a 'scope in the THO in the event that it did fully clear. If it didn't, oh well, I'd move stuff out on Monday morning...

Peter helped me transport the tippy Celestron NexStar 11 atop the wagon from the house to Tony Horvatin Observatory. Once inside, he also helped me set it up. I gave him the 10¢ tour.

The N11 booted up OK. Yeh. But I didn't think it got a GPS fix. I had to enter the time. Later, when I rebooted, I had to enter the date as well. Looks like the GPS unit and/or battery is pooched. I ran through the alignment process quickly. All went well. I hibernated it.

Installed the Darrow Donation 38mm 2" eyepiece into the donation 2" SCT mirror. I'm planning to use, shake down, this equipment this weekend. I am expecting the 38 to offer some good views.

8:27 PM. Popped into the THO to begin the evening setup. Had the ASUS netbook computer, astronomy case α primus and ε. Readied the Sony ICD voice recorder. Battery level looked good. But I remembered the extra batteries in the house.

9:30. I returned to the THO to finalise my setup.

Tried to connect to the network via the hard line but it was not working!?

9:34. Fired up the Sony voice recorder. Good battery indication.

Tried aligning the NexStar 11. Reviewed the quick notes in my reference guide. Went to Venus.

Went to Jupiter.

Recorded a big yawn. Made a list for my house trip with coffee and serial cable.

10:00. Returned from house visit, and bio break, with two TVO folding chairs, cable, and coffee.

Considered re-aligning. Checked my quick notes. It didn't say anything about "east." I thought you were supposed to choose a new star in the east. I verified that in the full manual. Any star, or planet, in the east, would work. OK.

10:08. Re-aligned the 11-inch and then issued a slew for the Beehive, aka Messier 44 (M44). Testing, testing. It plunked me in the middle of the open cluster. Nice. Thank you. Viewed in wide field 38mm eyepiece. Open cluster. Meh. Not a big fan of... Long pause... Huh. Some double stars are in there perhaps.

Configured SkyTools. Told it I would be using my baader planetarium wide field eyepiece on the N11. I assumed there would not be much of a difference in the field of view.

In the middle of the Praesepe cluster, I saw the Arrow Head thingee and The Line. The line was made up of 39 Cancri and HD 73666 and HD 73617, pointing almost straight down, or north-west. The arrow head was pointing south-west and was also made up of some bright stars including HR 3428. I thought I saw a double star in the telescope so I looked to SkyTools to check. I turned on the Companion labelling. Oh! Interesting.

Looked at the bottom edge of the arrow head. Verified HR 3428. I saw a bright yellowy star, the primary. Spotted B, close. It was much, much fainter. First impression was orange. Nearby stars formed a loose triangle with 3428. The C and D stars. C is yellow or greenish. D is much fainter again, blue or grey in colour. HR 3428, aka Σ1254 (Struve), is a quadruple star system! Neat. Wasn't expecting that. Added it to my observing list. Huh. No logged flag. All right, some new stuff off piste.

10:14. Decided to reconfigure the space with the computer on the mobile cart, like last year, so I could have SkyTools right beside me at the ocular. Attached the red LED keyboard light. Switched on wifi mode in John Repeat Dance. Moved the recorder closer. Used one of the metal folding chairs as my observing seat.

Mmm. Coffee.

Examined the point of the arrow head more closely. Something going on. Three bright stars form a squished triangle. Part of a 5-star system with HD 73618 as the leader. Turned out that the most north-eastern star was the primary. The B and E stars were very close to the primary, and faint, according to (the old data in) ST3P. Probably not easy to see, I guessed. I didn't feel like swapping eyepieces to check. C, above or south, pure white, and D, to the west-south-west or right, an intense yellow, were obvious. There was also a star due west of 73618, a field star. Added to my observing list. Looked again: no telltales of B or E. Huh. D is much brighter than A. ST3P confirmed (while hovering over the stars in the Interactive Atlas): D is magnitude 6.6 while A is 7.3. Cool.

East from the tip of the arrow were a couple of bright stars. Oh. The primary, the most eastward, was ε (epsilon) Cancri, aka 41. Off-yellow, beige colour; companion was maybe a light blue. Added to observing list.

10:32. Check the battery level on the recorder. OK. The alkalines were working fine.

Tried to check the weather conditions but I did not have an active wifi connection... Dang.

Looked at the very squished triangle to the south-west. Saw the primary HD 73449. A triple according to ST3P. The A star is faint, much dimmer than a lot of the other stars in the cluster. A pale yellow; B is a good amount dimmer, pale or soft orange; C is about the same brightness as B, bluish. Or orange? Unrelated field star off to the right, to the west, much fainter, mag 11. SkyTools says the primary is mag 7.4. Huh. B and C are mag 9.3 or 9.4. Added to the list.

I heard Millie coughing continuously from the GBO perhaps? Hope she's OK.

I heard a car coming in. The group was back from the fireworks, I gathered.

Explored the long thread, the big, long, and loopy L. The software showed companions with Q and S labels. Wow. Identified 39 Cnc in the middle of the craggy line, a pale yellow. To the south-east was the B star, a titch whiter. Very slightly fainter. [ed: ST3P says A is 6.4 and B is 6.6.] I could see the R star, also known as BUP 120R, at mag 12. Q was to the east of the A and B stars, blue or green, much fainter, about the same brightness as P which is to the north. [ed: ST3P says Q is 8.8 and P is 9.0.] S was fainter than P. [ed: S is 10.1.] Beyond S was HD 73574, unrelated, it seems. Fascinating pattern. Neat. Nutty.

[ed: Upon reviewing double stars for small telescopes by Sissy Haas, I learned that I had viewed the double she calls 39-40 Cnc. Star 40 is what SkyTools labels as 39 B or HD 73666! I.e. a low-power pair on the edge of the Beehive.]

10:43. Set up for telescope control. Connected the USB-serial cable. Checked the assigned port. The Prolific landed at COM 5. Switched to Real Time mode in ST3P. Verified the communication port in ASCOM. Tried connecting. Oops. Forget to plug the USB-serial cable to the hand controller cable. Made a successful connection. Switched to my weekend observing list. The hand controller mini window popped up and I tried a direction button but a bunch of error dialogs popped up. Tried slewing. It failed. Discovered that ST3P thought the 'scope was parked. Switched it to tracking mode. Slewed with success. Synced on the object. Wow.

Turned on the netbook radio. Surfed to the weather portal for the Blue Mountains. Noticed a very patchy Clear Sky Chart. Checked the local CAO page. Ugh. The data was old... 7:16. Crikey. Has the server failed again?! Wind direction NNNE. Humidity 53%. Barometer 1026.1. Temperature 9.6°C. Dew point 0.4.

11:01. Nikki texted me to my phone! Once I remembered my password, I logged into Facebook so to chat. Told her about the good seeing and the handful of member cancellations. She sounded forlorn.

Tried to slew. Didn't work. The software said it started and then immediately said it ended. Weird. After a couple more attempts, I rebooted the mount. Still didn't work.

11:11. Heard Peter on the Observing Pad. He had just spotted Saturn. He popped over to say hello. Wondered if I was alive. We looked at Saturn over Scorpius. Chatted about the fireworks.

The pointing problem was clearly an issue with the computer hardware and/or software; when I used the NexStar hand controller, it worked fine. Tried restarting SkyTools. No luck. So I rebooted the computer.

11:25. While rebooting, I looked at Saturn. Lovely. Four moons. Had a hard time determining the ring orientation. Which side was in the foreground? The cloud bands were very clear. Cassini Division was easy. Pretty good view.

Promising. Saw the flashing X in the right area in the Interactive Atlas. That fixed it, the soft boot. Finally!

Re-examined the ringed beauty. Tethys above, to the east. Dione was about the same distance away, so to the west. Rhea was a bit beyond. Dione and Rhea pretty close together, to the west. Iapetus was about 2 to 3 times further away than Titan. Or Titan was one third of the way.

Almost midnight. One third of the way through the night... Checked the battery level on the recorder: about half. Dimmed the THO lights some more.

Chose the Whirlpool, aka Messier 51 (M51). The galaxy was at the edge of the field. Good go-to performance. A good view. Quite cool. The companion was to my left. Arms swirling with averted vision. Quite big. Beautifully framed in the 38mm. Wispy stuff going off to the right, off the primary. Bright star, HD 117815, at my 11 o'clock position, mag 7.1. Between the star and the galaxies was a flattened triangle with stars TYC 03463-0058 1, TYC 03463-0348 1, and TYC 03463-0587 1, all around mag 11.

I wondered if the field of view presented by my 36mm was slightly wider than the 38mm eyepiece. Very similar...

Decided to stick with targets in the 'hood, in the constellation, or area, so to avoid turning the roof (a lot). I had 5 targets in Canes Venatici.

Headed to the Sunflower or Messier 63 (M63). Near the centre, a good slew. Why is this called the Sunflower, I wondered? Diffused, soft, oval. Uniform, it seemed to me. Canted. Spotted two bright stars below (west of) the galaxy, HD 115270 at mag 9.3 and TYC 03024-1166 1 at 10.9.

Noted the double star at the 2 o'clock position, HJ 1230. Wow. SkyTools says the primary is 10.5 and its companion proper is 13.1. I didn't think the B star that much fainter than the A and field stars. They seemed the same brightness. There's a field star, almost inline with A and B, GSC 03024-0621 at mag 12.7. All blue? Neat.

Heard people chatting outside, including Marko.

Felt like it was getting cooler. Glad I had my winter coat on. Legs were fine, with long johns. Put my toque on.

Slewed to HD 114146 in CVn. Oh. Super-tight pair. aka Struve 1723. Primary was green or blue or aquamarine; companion was orange. About 1 magnitude difference, I thought. Nice double! ST3P says: mag 8.4 and 10.4 and 6" apart. Also spotted the nearby faint stars, GSC 03022-1595 at mag 14.1 and J130822.2+384421 at 13.6. Also noted J130826.3+383900 to the south, mag 13.6 again. CVn 15 and 17 were the bright stars at my 2 o'clock position.

Saw a triple of super-faint stars to the north-east.

12:07 AM, Sun 17 May 2015. Identified KZA 42. ST3P said all the stars were magnitude 12, in the Object Information box. I thought they were fainter than that. When I did the hover in the atlas, the magnitudes showed as: A, 12.7; B, 14.6; and C, 14.1. Took averted vision to get the B star. I found the C star easier to spot. Made sense. Nutty. Crazy faint.

The no-name eyepiece degraded badly off-centre; it was very crisp in the centre region.

Noted star 15 nearby. On my View Again list. I considered that 15 and 17 must be a binocular target. It shows as a triple. Actually 17 is the primary with 15 as the B star. The C is very close to B. Tried increasing the power with the 12mm (and the 1¼" adapter). [ed: ST3P shows the B-C separation as 1.2".]

12:16 AM. I thought the view soft. Grabbed my Nagler 9mm. Collimation off a little. I was not getting good diffraction rings... Wondered if the mirror diagonal was not square. Gah. Turned the roof a bit. Could not see the companion. ST3P says they are more than 3 mags different. Adding to the difficulty. Zoomed in tightly in the software to learn the angle. Still no joy.

12:27. Headed to NGC 4656. Aah. Fantastic. Can't believe I've never looked at this "needle" galaxy before. For me, up and down. Tried to corroborate my position with bright stars... Wasn't finding them... Where was TYC 02531-1915 1? It was supposed to be above the galaxy...

Hold the phone. I was on the Whale! Oops.

12:29. Heh. Confirmed. The slew dropped me near the Whale galaxy (or NGC 4631 or Caldwell 32) and I kept seeing a blob nearby, particularly with averted vision, to the left. That was NGC 4627, of course. Saw the bright star to the left (north): HD 110464.

Satellite went through, to the left, or north. Brighter than the HD star.

Considered that 4656 was just outside the field. Synced on the Whale. Slewed to the cursor. There it is. Is that the Hockey Stick? Immediately I saw a hook at the end! The hook in the galaxy was on the north-east end. Neato. Can't believe I've never looked at this one before!

[ed: Curiously, SkyTools does not show that the "hook" is another galaxy, NGC 4657. It is however noted, and shown, in SkySafari Plus.]

Saw the star PPM 76706 to the east or above and TYC 02531-1915 1 to the north-east.

Saw the lights of Peter's truck. He was packing up, it looked like.

Slewed into Coma Berenices to NGC 4414. Oh. A little tiny thing. Small spiral with a bright centre. Hints of arms.

12:42. Tiny little spiral. Neat. NGC 4414 is "finest" list. Huh.

Bright star down at the 5 o'clock position HD 108078. At the top, I saw some doubles.

Spotted the LDS star, to the east of the galaxy, LDS 1310. I wondered if the A star was merging with the GSC 02528-0431 very nearby to the south. The one in the middle was a titch brighter. LDS 1310B I had no trouble with. And then there was a field star below, GSC 02528-0521, at mag 13.2. No problem there.

Saw LDS4211A to the north of 1310. It was pretty bright. I saw the B star, which was east of A, about a magnitude or so fainter. [ed: ST3P says A is 11.1 and B is 12.9.]

Considered 17 Comae Berenices. Uh huh. Perfect for binoculars. Primary is super-bright, beige. The companion looked blue or green. Noted the very bright stars in the field: HR 4750 to the north, HD 108805 to the north-east, HD 108486 to the west. That would be interesting in binoculars, 5 stars; of course, the A and B would draw close. Checked the details. Yikes.

[ed: 17 Com was on my View Again list but I'm not sure exactly why. 17 was not on my life list. There was no checkmark in Haas's book...]

B has a companion that is very close but 7 magnitudes different. Wow. I did not see the C star, no way!

12:54. Slewed to the Black Eye aka Messier 64 (M64). Ooh. A ring, or a C-shape, arcing around the centre of the galaxy.

Peter dropped by. He was done, dewed out. I invited him in to have a look through the 11" SCT. Asked if he could see "the shiner."

I looked outside. Wondered if there was some aurora. Or cloud to the north-west.

We talked about the pros and cons of the THO. He got a little disoriented when I turned the roof. He liked the size.

Asked what he looked at: Mercury, of course; Saturn, of course; moons around Saturn. He did his "sky tour" as per the hand controller.

I wondered if we should have some complimentary dew wraps up at the CAO... Soft foam. With Velcro to accommodate different dimensions.

Slewed to NGC 4710 in Com. Tiny, edge-on galaxy. [ed: ST3P says it is a lenticular.]

We discussed the donation equipment. They had some trouble with the mirror diagonals.

We discussed issues in making observatories at the CAO remotely operable.

Gave a SkyTools demo. Used 35 Com for the next target object.

We discussed multi-star systems, types, and classifications. Descriptions like "peanut" or "figure-8."

Peter viewed the double. Asked his impression. He thought the bright one yellowish. Companion is greenish. 2 o'clock position. "An 1/8th of an inch away." He wondered about other star, if it was really far away. I reminded him that the B star was "on top" of the A, one arc-second away. He had another look. He felt the primary was not round.

I noticed the peepers going through their late-night on-off cycles.

1:30. I heard a screeching cat—er, the GBO roof being closed.

Slewed to NGC 6535. Turned the roof. Oh. Super-tiny, according to SkyTools. Synced on nearby star then slewed again. Faint. Not a galaxy; a globular cluster. 46 000 light-years away.

1:55. Interesting. I didn't trust my first impression, that it didn't look like a galaxy. I thought I saw stars in it. Initially, my first impression was that it was an open cluster.

Suggested Saturn. Had to relax the filters to see it on the planning list. Oh, in Libra, technically! Slewed. Nice. Shifted slightly. Lots of moons. Better than it was before. Colourful! Six moons. Iapetus was way out. Three times further out than Titan. Peter spotted something between Titan and the planet: that was either Dione or Rhea. Tethys was bottom-left, easy. ST3P showed Enceladus and Mimas almost touching. Peter, with averted, was certain he saw something at the 2 o'clock position. Planet darker. Ring on the left is in the foreground. Polar cap looked quite dark.

Peter spotted Dietmar heading to the house. Done, perhaps.

Peter offered to bring his WO mirror and Tele Vue eyepiece; I said we could use mine. I fetched my Williams Optics dielectric and Nagler Type 6. The seeing was good. Should give a decent view of the planet... Holy fire truck. 200+ times was good. Seeing was quite good! A little softer but a very nice view. Could not see those other moons. I couldn't.

2:29. Peter, tired, departed.

Checked the whole sky for my next target area. Slewed.

2:33. Chased the double φ (phi) Virginis.

Spotted a triangle to the east. Almost an equilateral.

Stumbled across an interesting tight double, blue and orange. Very faint, mags 9 and 10. NNE of φ. SAO 139964.

Back to phi, aka Σ1846. Super-bright. Wow. Yellow or beige primary. And the orange companion was straight down, much fainter, very close, maybe 3" away. SkyTools said 5" and very different magnitudes, 4.8 vs 9.1. Very challenging at the low power. Had to wait for good seeing. Below, toward the triangle, or the east. Pretty cool. What a great target.

A and C were widely separated, oriented N-to-S. ST3P said 15.8! I could not see it.

Felt tired. Parked the 'scope. Prepared to leave the THO.

2:48. Shut down the recording.


What a great evening! We were not expecting decent conditions for really any evening. So this was a wonderful treat. It was real good to be back at the CAO and in the THO and using the powerful N11. Everything worked very well. I was really happy to see so many interesting objects. Mercury was cool; Saturn amazing. I was glad to have a bit of solo time to do my thing. Got my photon fix.


Asked Greg of Skyhound about NGC 4657: he's not convinced it is a separate galaxy so he doesn't show it. He did assure me, however, that a search will yield 4656.}


I don't know what happened exactly with my notes, the life lists, etc. but I have, indeed, viewed the strange galaxy NGC 4656. In fact, I imaged the Hockey Stick back in June 2014!


Stellarium and others refer to the Hockey Stick as the Crowbar.

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