Saturday, May 07, 2016

star trails, mu Dra, a comet, galaxies (Blue Mountains)

8:20 PM, Friday 6 May 2016. Started recording with the Sony IC voice recorder.

Wanted to capture star trails from within the forest. Reviewed how I did my star trails from 27 Aug 2015. Found the data: f/5.6, 30 seconds, ISO 1600, daylight, RAW. Didn't know the interval. Looked on the John Repeat Dance computer for the images but they weren't there ('cause I had offloaded them a few months back).

Left the THO.

Ian W set up his big Dob on the east end of the Observing Pad for all to use. I was hoping to have a go at mu Dra and 78 UMa.

Made a check list of things to take up the hill. And do. Camera body and lens and big tripod, of course. Battery grip with two batteries. Spare batteries. Elected to not take a dew heater--didn't look like I'd need it. Grabbed an incandescent bulb flashlight from the house, so to paint the trees later. Intervalometer. Fresh AA batteries for the intervalometer. Programmed camera and trigger. Bug suit...

9:00 PM. Returned to the THO. Prepared photographic gear.

9:11. Did a trial imaging run to ensure that a 3 second gap would allow time for the RAW image to be saved. No problem.

9:29. I had finished the alignment of the NexStar 11 with the hand controller. Used Capella and Arcturus. Aligned the finder scope (after the fact). Readied the netbook connection to the 'mount via the USB-serial adapter. Double checked the port: COM 4. Yawned--oh, not good. Activated Real Time mode. Changed to the Celestron driver, changed the port. Connected. Hand controller buttons popped up. Checked the Interactive Atlas. Decreased the number of stars. Spotted the flashing X on Arcturus--all right! Rotated the 'scope with the computer controls. Slewed to Jupiter.

Ian popped by, curious about the Jupiter events timings I had remarked on earlier. Confirmed in SkyTools. I said the Great Red Spot would be at the meridian around 11:30 PM. Io would be ingressing with the planet disc around that time. And the shadow of Callisto should be visible then too! Io's shadow as due at 12:45 AM... Fun. He had collimated the 20" and it was making a better viewing.

Finished my panning. Then slewed. Couldn't find the N11 Quick Reference Guide I had made! Not in the box of N11 accessories. Who the hell moved it? And where? I wanted it for the "trick" for improving alignment. I used Right and Down buttons. Was off target a bit, not too bad. {ed: Nope. Up and Right keys should be used.}

Turned out the red light bulb over the desk. Too bright. Particularly with the cracks in the paint.

Used the computer controls to nudge into alignment. Sped up the movement. A bit fiddly with the computer in the corner... Centred on Jupiter.

9:43. Bumped up the magnification. The view was fair. I wondered if the 11" needed to be collimated again. With the 2-to-1¼" adapter. Tried the Pentax 20mm and then the Meade 18mm.

Decided to using the rolling cart, so to have the computer near me. Moved the computer to the bottom shelf. Wondered about something thin, like a book, to elevate the computer--nothing nearby.

9:49. Prepared a Notepad file, just in case. Saved it with a typical filename.

9:51. Hit the Divide on the recorder. Checked the space remaining: 18 hours. Put the recorder beside the computer.

Looked up. Sky was getting dark. Lots of stars visible. Oh. I could see all of Leo. Jupiter below. Near the rump. I recalled it was more to the right earlier in the year.

Marked Jupiter as observed even through there was lots more to do.

I also wondered about how many shots I had captured before. Read old notes. Ah. I had used a 5 second gap. Looked like I had started around 11 PM and finished just before 4 AM. Wow. Five hours of data... The arcs were a pretty good length. Maybe a little long. And suddenly it hit me. It was simple math. A 1 hour imaging run would produce a 1 hour long arc (on a 24 hour clock face, i.e. half the arc as on a normal clock). Decided to aim for 2 hours. Checked when astronomical twilight would end: 10:30. About half an hour.

Headed to the Pad to have another look in Ian's rig.

10:06. Mr Wheelband was busy. Probably preparing his imaging run. With Ian's 'scope, I decided to go to μ (mu) Draconis, by star hopping. Checked the position in SkyTools. Set the Interactive Atlas to Horizon mode. μ was above the head of the dragon, somewhat inline with β (beta) and γ (gamma), a bit to the left. A slightly stretched triangle with β and ν (nu).

At the big Dobsonian, I got really disoriented. I didn't know it at the time but I was aimed at Cassiopeia. Stumbled across a colourful wide pair, deep orange and deep blue. Possibly WZ Cas. It looked familiar...

Let Katrina know I was leaving the grounds...

10:20. Returned to the THO to grab all the camera gear. As I walked down the driveway, a number of interesting thoughts and realisations emerged.

I had never done this! I had never ventured down the driveway at night. It was a very neat view as the northern sight line opened up, bay off in the distance. Perhaps just having a camera down here would be interesting.

The stars ahead I suddenly realised were those of Cassiopeia. Oops. I looked to the north-east. Oh ho. There was Draco. I had been completely off with Ian's reflector. Damn. No wonder I wasn't seeing what I was expecting. Oh well. I'd try again later and the target would be higher so it would all be good.

As I started up the hill, I noted the hydro line. Ideally, I didn't want it in the photo. I considered finding and setting up on the trail proper. In complete darkness, I wondered how I would see the Margaret Paull side trail. I didn't want to use the flashlight. Happily, the trees to the east started to close in and formed a nice V-shape. Neat.

Set up the camera and did some test shots. Set the lens to f/5.6, near infinity. Could see stars in the photos.

Suddenly heard an animal. It was fairly close. And seemed to be getting closer. Did two little half barks/snuffles. Then one full bark. A dog?! Surely not a dog. A coyote, I wondered. It sounded bigger. A wolf? When I mimicked the sound, it did not seem to react well. Was it getting more aggressive or bold? So I started making bigger noises and stomping my feet. It continued snuffling. When I shone the light on it, spotting it's two eyes, it began its retreat.

Tried some painting with the flashlight. It didn't seem very bright. Resolved to bring a bigger, brighter flashlight. Initiated the intervalometer and headed back down the hill.

Saw Mars rising. Incredible colour.

Let Katrina know I was back.

10:48. Met up with Ian on the Observing Pad. Explained where μ was. We chatted about possible animals in the woods.

11:04. In SkyTools, I simulated the view in Ian's telescope with his 21mm eyepiece.

11:09. Left for Ian's rig again.

Finally got to mu. Ian thought them in a 9-to-3 orientation. I saw two bright stars off to the side. Reoriented the image in the software.

11:20. Headed out again.

We tried again for the C star. Neither of us were certain. We had seen, to the south or left, GSC 03890-0424 at magnitude 12.8 and GSC 03890-0488 at 13.3. I also saw, at a right angle to the aforementioned stars, the faint star J170527.5+542253. Magnitude 15.5! We considered that it has moved. Or dimmed significantly. I wondered how to go about letting people know...

11:51. Checked the stars in ST3P.

Had another look at Jupiter. Nudged the N11. One moon was gone. Saw the shadow, top edge. Saw the Red Spot dead centre. Orange. Increased power. Put in the Meade orthoscopic. Looked for more shadows. Nope. None.

11:58. Seeing went steady. Very nice in the 18mm.

Checked the recorder. 17 hours. Good battery.

Southern belt thicker than the northern. Not quite twice.

Rejected VZ Cancri. Could not remember why I had Polaris on the list.

Jelly beans!

Just remembered the technique of staying in the same general area while in the THO so to minimise turning the roof. Sorted by constellation. Checked all the targets and viewed the IA chart with the checked items. Noted that comet 9P/Tempel was nearby. Slewed. Analysed the field. After panning a bunch, I reslewed to the comet.

12:14 AM, Saturday 7 May 2016. I saw it! A faint fuzzy to the south-east of star HD 101241.

No... It was a galaxy that I was seeing. NGC 3801. The galaxy, for me, was almost due left of the star HD 101485. 3801 is almost inline with this star and 241... slightly down. Canted. North-west through south-east. Pretty small in the 36mm.

Checked the time. 12:16 AM. I planned to fetch the camera in a few minutes. I had one of the Rayovac super-bright LED flashlights this time.

I wanted to sync the N11 to ST3P--couldn't remember the procedure. Considered copying my QRC telescope guides to my blog, after converting them to HTML. Then I could view them in white-on-black. Searched for the guide on the old ASUS netbook. With one eye. Couldn't find it. {ed: Copied.}

12:21. Left to get the camera.

Camera was working fine when I reached it. Did some painting with the LED flashlight in the last four frames. Left the camera on and the intervalometer running as I put the lens cap on. The petals seemed to dislodged. Secured the cap. Then beat it out of there! No drama this time.

12:58. Back. Had looked for 9P/Tempel in Ian's 'scope. No problem. We spotted NGC 3802 as well. Cool.

As Ian walked by, heading to the trailer, he apologised in advance for the 4:15 alarm he was going to set.

Searched the blog for "skytools nexstar sync." Found a few entries. May 3rd, 3 years ago. Weird. Exact same situation: NexStar 11, in the THO, my eyepieces, computer, SkyTools. Found remarks about syncing but no specifics, unfortunately.

Katrina popped 'round. Packing up the C14. OK.

1:20. Did a sync process. Used the SYNC TELESCOPE TO CURSOR after right-clicking in the correct spot in the chart. Tested it with a random star. Slewed back to 3801. It worked! All right. {ed: Documented it in the companion SkyTools tips page.}

Slewed to NGC 4437 in Virgo. Turned the roof. Whoa! A crazy thin needle!

1:24. Super thin. Neat. Big. Seemed brighter to the west side (or up, 11 o'clock). Bright star in the foreground, right over top the galaxy, TYC 00289-1220 1 at mag 10.9. Saw the star to the south. GSC 00289-0774. Faint mag 13 stars in the area.

[ed: While SkyTools 3 Pro refers to this galaxy as NGC 4437, it is typically labelled as NGC 4517. One of the erroneous and confusing NGC catalogue entries...]

Yawn. Tired. Cold. Needed another layer. Had forgotten to put my long johns on.

Katrina debriefed me before hitting the hay. Richard was still imaging in the GBO.

Checked the weather conditions, from the Davis Instruments unit, as of 1:16. Ten minute average wind speed, 8.0 km/h; direction, SSE; current wind speed 8.0; high was 17.1; humidity, 54%; barometer 1007.9 hPa; outside temperature 12.0°C; wind chill, 11.3; dewpoint 3.0. Great conditions.

Considered walkies but I was tired.

Considered getting a heater.

An entry from my observing list showed nearby: PGC 41121. Slewed. Didn't see anything... Strange. Oh. It was just a marker for a quasar. Right! I had done that for my observing list sharing for The Sky This Month talk. For SkySafari.

1:37. The quasar 3C 273.0 was easy. Noted star PPM 158889 to the south-east, and GSC 00282-0238 in between. Spotted GSC 00282-0337 very near the quasar.

Headed to another NGC. NGC 4699. Another fuzzy. Kinda round. Face on. Bright centre. Kind of in a diamond with 3 stars.

1:40. Late. I considered wrapping up.

Panned a bit. Confirmed the field. Pretty small, the galaxy. I thought I could see swirling patterns.

Commenced the shutdown. Hibernated the mount. Slept the computer.

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