Thursday, June 22, 2017

celebrated the solstice (Bradford)

After dinner and dishes, after hauling the bins to the curb, we ramped up to have a fire, partly in deference to the solstice.

While Rhonda readied the fireplace, I grabbed some lawn chairs, moved the little table between them, and took in the pretty sky. Fired up SkySarari on Ananke, saved the settings for the recent eclipse demo, switched to a clean saved profile, and activated red light mode.

Jupiter was bright. Rhonda IDed it quickly.

She pointed up near the zenith. "Ar... Ar..." I gave her a hint: "Arc." Arcturus. Right on. I saw many of the stars in Boötes. In the east, just over the coniferous trees, I saw Cygnus climbing. Was curious if I'd be able to see the Milky Way from my (new?) backyard.

The sky was still bright. Rhonda could see remnants of the sunset in the north-west. The longest day was ending...

The Big Dipper was just over the house. Pouring out all its water.

We tried my SkySafari app for a bit. I had to turn off the tilt function as it did not seem to be working right.

I fetched my green laser pointer.

Rhonda pointed to the bright blue-white point high in the east and wondered if it was Spica. I said Spica was gone; it was Vega in Lyra. Highlighted the nearly perfect equilateral triangle including Vega and the Double Double.

10:30 PM. No Milky Way yet.

I took in Ophiuchus, Serpens (Caput), and Corona Borealis. Noted Altair and Tarazed rising. Tagged Saturn in the trees to the south. Rhonda saw it when she shifted.

Corrected a previous error: Spica was in fact still up. Below and left of Jupiter. Rhonda observed the star.

Rhonda had a scathingly brilliant idea and returned a short time later with two mugs of lovely, lovely St Peter's Winter Ale. Sooo good.

warm fire by Rhonda

Lume, 4mm, Open Camera, f/2.8, 1/20 second, ISO 74 (auto), daylight white balance, Paint.NET.

10:59 PM. Shot a number of photos of the fire with the alcatel smartphone. Rhonda suggested a GIF but I could not find such an option in Open Camera nor the default app. [ed: Really should have used a DSLR with wide angle to get fire below and fires above.]

Stared nearly straight up into the body of Hercules. I wanted to tag Messier 13. Initially I was looking between π (pi) and ε (epsilon). Oops. SkySafari showed I needed to search between η (eta) and ζ (zeta) [ed: the long edge.] Couldn't see it.

I grabbed the SQM box, pad and pen, extinguished the deck lanterns, and returned to my lawn chair.

11:45 PM. Took some readings with the Sky Quality Meter on loan.

First reading, to warm the unit: 19.53. At the zenith:


with a temperature of 18, one beep on all occasions.

Rhonda suggested I try from the south-east corner of the lawn, in the shelter of the trees. I aimed slightly north-west of the zenith, 10 or 15°.



One time I accidentally dropped the unit down while it was still reading, and as I looked at the display, it scanned the black silhouette of the tree behind me, beeping a second time. The value was 20.54. Nope.

Discussed the sometimes rotten luck we have in RASC Toronto Centre. This week was the designated Dark Sky Observing session window. Monday was a no-go due to the intense weather. They scrubbed Tuesday. Tonight was perfect but it was the planned Recreational Astronomy Night meeting. And tomorrow looked to be bad conditions again. Many a meeting have run with clear dark skies overhead.

The fire died down. All of Cygnus was visible over the tree line. With the pointer, we outlined the wide wingspan. I also highlighted the classic diamond kite shape with the bright stars.

Rhonda asked about the dim little parallelogram of stars down and right of The Swan with another faint star to the right. Well spotted, that was Delphinus the Dolphin.

I asked rho if she could detect the wide pair of the Double Double. She was not sure, fuzzy to her eye. I thought I could see the split. They seemed to be oriented left and right for me and if I extended a line from them, it ran between Vega and ζ. I checked the planetarium app on the Android tablet and zoomed into Lyra. The main double appeared. The angle was close to what I had felt.

We examined Ursa Minor. We found all the stick-figure stars for the Little Dipper including dim (magnitude 4.95) eta at the bottom of the pot.

I traced sinuous Draco.

Cassiopeia was higher. When Rhonda considered going to the street to see the full constellation, I proposed the south-west corner of the lawn, near the shed. She was happy to see the upright W.

Pale beige Saturn required us the stand in the north-east patch of the lawn.

I wondered where Scorpius and Antares were. Kept looking south. Near the house, I spotted an upright line of three stars in a gap in the trees to the south-west. Libra? No. Then I spotted a faint naked double down and left of the top star. Ah ha! ω (omega) Scorpii! [ed: Not nu.] The three pincer stars. But where was Antares? As we bobbed and weaved, we found the orange star hidden behind branches.

We stood together, close, taking in the wonderful sky in the warm still air. All of Aquila was visible from this vantage which I outlined for rho. I kept looking straight up at Hercules trying to coax out M13. Asked Hawkeye if she could see it. Nope. I knew where it was now but didn't feel I was truly seeing it.

I kept trying to cleanly pull out the Coathanger asterism to the west of Cygnus. It was at the edge of visibility.

Traced the little arrow-like constellation of Sagitta. [ed: At the time, I called it Vulpecula. Oops.]

Rhonda thought she saw the Milky Way. Running through Cygnus toward Aquila. I said that was right. There was a very faint glow, to my eye. I had no doubt that with more time at dark adapting and letting it rise higher, we'd see it better. But it was late. And a school night.

The fire had put itself out. We gathered our gear, empty glasses, and headed to the house.

Reminded rho we needed to take down the pinhole camera. She asked if aluminium duct tape would be OK. Quite good. She shuttered the can. I gently shook the cylinder near my ear. No water, yeh! We're anxious to see our solargraph result...

Removed the batteries from the bright laser after letting Tucker have one more go. Packed my long sleeve shirt and cap in the bug gear bag. Spotted my cheapo binoculars on the nearby cabinet. Oh! One more look!

From the deck I spotted the great cluster in Hercules, just down from η, one-third of the way to ζ. Adjusted the right diopter of the Bushnell glasses. Better now. A little round fuzzball. I could see HD 150998 to the north-east (magnitude 6.85).

Shifted east to take in Saturn. A bright oval with some faint field stars to the east. Nice.

What a special evening! Somewhat impromptu Rhonda and I recognised the solstice with a warm fire, a fine beer, few bugs, under a canopy of stars, satellites, and planets. An anniversary of sorts for us.

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