Saturday, August 19, 2017

viewed showpieces (Merritt Reservoir)

I had packed various items for dark sky observing. The netbook was charged and ready. My SkyTools list was prepped. The big metal tripod was in the truck in case I need another platform. Loose items were in the little corrugated cardboard box. I had my red goggles. And my Sony audio recorder with charged batteries was coming along.

I suited up. I assumed it would cool off so I wore long pants, my long sleeve shirt, my RASC hoodie, and planet socks from Rhonda. I packed my jacket and gloves and toque.

7:24 PM MDT, Friday 18 August 2017. We made our way to the Snake River site. I travelled with Ian and Phil; Katrina, Dan, and Chris were in the other vehicle. We headed to the top of the hill by the Snake River area in Merritt, the location of the Nebraska Star Party.

Helped Ian unload the big and heavy rocker box from the cargo bay.

I asked for permission to run the audio recorder.

7:44 PM. Humidity was 20%. Nice! The temperature was 27.4°C. For now. The Sun was up. But soft, coloured, presumably from particulate.

Katrina relayed that Lachlan wished us luck on Monday. I overheard that Fred was heading to Thunder Bay for some R&R and fishing. Katrina pointed out that excellent fishing could be done at the reservoir. She wanted him to "feel the FOMO."

A dog barked in the distance.

setting up the big Dobsonian

Photo of big Dob. Copyright © 2017 Katrina Ince-Lum. Used with permission.

Ian and Chris set up the 20" home-made Dobsonian with Digital Setting Circles. Phil and Dan set up the 15" Ultralight Obsession with DSC. Tony and I had our camera gear.

Ian noted some "sweat" on the mirror and started his mirror cooling fan. Phil attached the Argo Navis.

Chris and Ian chatted about the building of his Dob. Ian did essentially all the assembly; he did buy the truss tube sockets.

Katrina emptied the rental car so the boot light wouldn't bother people.

Dan wondered if the strobe on the distant tower was going to switch to red. I had never noticed that feature before. In short order it switched colours.

It was a bit windy as the Sun set.

Ian thought for a moment he had forgotten the DSC brains but then found the Sky Commander box. I set up SkyTools on the table

Chris asked about differences between SC and AN. Ian chose Sky Commander for its support of equatorial platforms (I thought Argo Navis did that; maybe it didn't at the time). That said, Ian thought AN the better product.

A vehicle travelled along the park road. We turned away from the headlights even though the sky was not fully dark.

The mosquitoes found us. That didn't take long.

Katrina photographed the sunset as Chris spotted Jupiter.

8:07. We spotted a satellite heading east. It was not the ISS; Chris said it wasn't due until 4 AM. He thought it might have been the Chinese station. As it faded, I tried to direct Katrina to the right part of the sky. It was above the big tree about 20 degrees up. Then I lost it. Chris followed it a bit longer.

I asked Chris to help me see Saturn using Antares. The western sky grew very colourful.

Phil grabbed Ian's laser collimator but found it didn't fit. They accommodated.

Ian found he was getting a poor view. It was swimming. But there was something else. Chris said the moons looked like triangles. Ian discovered that the secondary had rotated a bit. They fix it and continued collimating. It was soft given the elevation and air quality. They said the view was better optically but murky.

Another car came in. Then a third one. It reminded Katrina of Mew Lake, seeing the cars far off. Here, there were no trees to block headlights. There was not much we could do about it except close our eyes and wait. Look away. Look away.

The mosquitoes was intensifying. Tony needed some repellent so I handed him one of my spray bottles. Katrina borrowed some too. Phil thought the mozzies terrible

Phil wanted to start his setting circles alignment process. Vega was straight up. Deneb, Arcturus, and Altair were visible.

I tried the little red LEDs from Rhonda. Cute. We could see the pulse modulation when they were moved fast. I was a little surprised by the fairly heavy wire. I strung it along two tripod legs. Would they be too bright for us? Phil asked me if I thought them excessive... For us? Yes. But they will be fun at a public star party.

Katrina started up Tony's LED lantern. Initially it starts in white but then can be switched to a fairly good red colour. It is rather bright though. She collapsed it as low as possible to reduce the light cast. It rested on the work station table.

We noted other people setting up telescopes in the area. Some were using a lot of white light. But then it wasn't really dark yet.

Ian started up his DSC and set the date (August 19).

We were surprised to hear someone at the other camp was running a generator. Katrina said Merritt had a rule. Ian said most parks had a rule at darkness.

When looking through his 'scope Ian said, "What is going on here, Chris?" He thought the view was still poor. He investigated and reported that the primary mirror had moved. He surmised it occurred when the telescope was tipped far forward. Then it had "jammed up" and required some more efforts to fix it. He and Chris worked on it.

Another car travelled the road. Some one else set up on the grassy knoll to the north. Then a truck went by.

A mosquito bit Katrina through her pants. I had remembered to spray my knees. Chris said gloves with removeable fingers would be helpful. I was running out of bug juice spray but I had a new tube of lotion.

8:30. I asked when the -10 magnitude flare was due. Chris said 9:49 but we wondered the effect of the time zone proximity. If we had things set right, it would be in about an hour. It was materialise in the north, about 20 degrees up.f

Dan and Phil continued to align. They found the planets were off a bit due to date/time. But when Phil realised the stars were off, they elected to redo the alignment. They also adjusted the Telrad.

Ian viewed M57. He was ready to go.

The wind jostled his big 'scope.

8:42. There was some discussion of targets. The Ring and the Dumbbell would be good in these dark skies. Ian suggested looking at the classic eye candy to see how good it was. Chris wanted to view the Pinwheel and Cocoon, Heart and Soul. Ian suggested the Bubble in Cas, a bunch of things in Sgr, later some galaxies. Ian wanted to view NGC 253 again as his timing never worked at OzSky. Chris said he could look up object IC and NGC numbers with his smartphone. Ian had brought his books including the Arp one. I could use SkyTools.

We checked astronomical twilight time: it was between 10:00 and 10:30.

Some guys from Michigan visited: sons Parker and Jason, dad Ed. He was setting up his Tele Vue 76 for the evening. They are heading to Lusk, Wyoming, a friend's ranch. Ed said he thought there'd be more astronomers at Merritt.

We asked if he knew who the generator guy was. He too had heard him all night. Guessed he was a fisherman.

Chris interrupted us. Said the Iridium was due in a few minutes. Or 1 hour and a few minutes... If SkySafari was right, it would be -10, and would show in the nose of the Great Bear. I reminded people the reservoir was split by the time zone; Ed echoed this.

Ed and Ian talked about home-made 'scopes. Ed was curious the weights. The mirror is about 60 pounds; the rest about 80 or 90. Ian said he elected to leave the wheelie bars are home knowing he would have "strong men" to help. Pfft. Ed had built a 16" and 13" with Kriege's book. He built a "water heater" one. Ian shared that his mirror cost around $2800 to $3000.

Iridium 59 flyover

8:49. Katrina spotted the flaring satellite first. Iridium 59 put on a good show. Chris was happy.

I screwed up Tony's lantern. White light, ah!

Ed asked how we heard about Valentine. Ian knew about the NSP. Ian talked about the Sky and Telescope tour. Ed hadn't heard about Glendo.

Ed referred to the Eclipse Orchestrator program. It worked with a GPS, was compatible with Canon and Nikon, provided audio prompts, triggered the shutter, and used scripting. There was a free version and a $100 full version. He also mentioned a similar Mac app. We shared that we were using the SET app.

[ed: Moonglow Technologies makes Eclipse Orchestrator. I think Ed referred to Solar Eclipse Maestro for Mac OS X.]

Phil viewed Saturn. Ian offered a view of Saturn and its moons. He loaded in a more powerful eyepiece and Ed and the the boys looked. One said, "So cool," while his father described features of the ringed planet. Purportedly it was not a bad view despite being low. There was a lot of detail when steady. Chris IDed the moons and shared Titan was above. They could see all but Enceladus. Dione was just below the planet. Ian saw many moons.

Ian talked to Ed about the RASC Toronto Centre's observatory. Ed said his skies at home were fairly good.

The mosquitoes were bad. I heard them buzzing the microphone. They were biting Katrina's forehead and Phil's neck. I was doing OK surprisingly.

Katrina viewed through the Obsession but thought it a little odd. That's when Phil found a cover on the eyepiece. Things were rather dark and dim with it in place. Oops.

Phil went to M22. Chris went to NGC 6520, just above the spout. He thought it looked cool. They viewed M13. It was described as "a big ball of stars."

The truck cargo bed light came on. Ian wished he had a kill switch. Ed said he had tricked out his Durango. He rental vehicle lights were frustrating.

Ed asked if the boys could see for Albiero.

9:15. Ian saw a fireball and reported it as really bright.

Phil liked the view in Ian's Dob of M13. Things were improving. The mirror was near ambient and the sky was darker. Temperature was dropping.

Ian thought our current location darker than the CAO. Indeed.

Chris went to the Ring Nebula. He described the collapse of a star to the boys.

Katrina wanted to sketch a fuzzy, possibly M51. She readied her book with black pages but was happy to hang out for a while. She said her viewing list had 300 objects. Wow.

Phil and Dan set the Paracorr.

We noted a small light dome to the north-east. Ed said it was Valentine, population 2000.

Another car drove in. Some hoped it was the park ranger...

We could see the Double Cluster easily naked eye. Two blobs. It didn't seem as crisp to me as the previous morning...

Dan and Phil then discovered a semi-transparent cap on the eyepiece, in the inside this time. Dang. That's why things were mushy. They reported the view was much better! They took all the caps off all the oculars to avoid a repeat. They offered up telescopic views to the boys again, M22 again, properly.

Ed and crew departed. They were very appreciative. The boys were very courteous. Nice peeps.

Ian headed to M51 so Katrina could do her drawing. Ian could see the bridge between the two galaxies, on the right. He could trace all the spiral arms out. He suggested going for the deformed spiral soon as it was going down all the time. I had a look at the Whirlpool. The view was nice but I had a hard time with the bridge.

Phil offered his 'scope. Lower. She could sit. But Katrina wanted the aperture. And was prepared to work atop the ladder.

Ian asked for Phil's "roo" binoculars. He predicted the Andromeda galaxy would be edge to edge. They were in the truck so Phil gave us a white light warning before grabbing the Nikons.

9:34. Incoming! Two more cars came in. Chris wished he had flip-down red lenses.

From my SkyTools "Fury Eclipse 2017" list, I suggested the Snake Nebula in Oph. aka B 72. They wanted a IC or NGC designation. Sorry. We'd have to hop. It was near Saturn and theta. We decided to get there by location values. I looked them up in ST3P: 17 23 by -23 34 (J2000).

Katrina continued sketching.

"Car!" Another one! They went down the dead end road. Ian suspected that they wouldn't let people drive around during the NSP. "Car!" We were on a frickin' highway. Chris said, "This is like Bayview Village Park!" Sheesh.

I gave Chris the RA and Dec again.

Katrina paused her sketching and noted the telescope details.

Using the 21mm ocular, Chris saw some voids but wasn't sure what to look for. Ian thought we were on target and suggested panning to emphasise the star-filled and empty regions. Dan and Ian saw a dark and big void to the side. I said it was LDN 66. Perhaps the small Snake object proper was not obvious.

[ed: I found the Snake in my star party showpiece list. I removed it.]

9:50. Chris moved on. The rho Oph nebula identification was IC 4604. Ian considered leaving the UHC filter in. Chris looked for the little triangle of stars. Phil wondered if it was an imaging subject only. Ian got it, saw some nebulosity. It was low but he said he could see a subtle haze, a halo.

Katrina and Ian spotted a meteor.

Phil helped Dan with telescope filter slider, switching between UHC and O-III. All the way in was no filter. Chris, Dan, and Phil argued the benefits. Chris said it well: the nebula is "bigger" with the oxygen.

Still more vehicular traffic! Crikey.

It was rather windy. I could hear it despite the wind sock covering the Sony microphone(s). Even with the strong breeze, the bugs moved in.

They enjoyed the Trifid in the telescope(s). Said it was almost like a picture. I though it a very nice view, without a filter. Good detail. The dividing lanes were very dark.

Phil checked in with me as I took in the whole sky. I was happy chillin'. I looked at the Coathanger. I was anxious to see a meteor as I hadn't seen any. Ian boasted he had "seen about 20."

Asked if I could star hop to M7 in the 20". Checked if the finder was mirror reversed. Yes.

Tony borrowed Phil's binos to tour the sky.

Chris suggested the NA Nebula. Ian said he could see it naked eye. Ian saw another meteor. Gah.

10:00. I was lost. Could not get to M7. I surrendered the 'scope to Ian; he wanted to go back to the M51.

Chris wondered what it would be like on the ocean in super dark skies. We thought of Millie and Dietmar.

10:02. I saw a meteor! Finally! Through Pegasus, going south, it left a brief train. A Perseid?

We viewed M51 some more but with the 13mm. 195x now. I could see multiple arms, lots of detail in the primary galaxy. But I still struggled with the bridge. I didn't think the contrast as good. Chris said he had a hard time focusing.

Tony saw a big meteor, without a trail, over the truck.

Katrina went for her jacket. Ian and Katrina discussed making hot chocolate! It would be bright with the stove in the back of the truck! Now here's a tail gate I can really get into...

I suggested the supernova in the Fireworks.

Asked to borrow a chair and Chris offered. I wanted to gauge the naked eye magnitude, using Ursa Minor. I was "going deep."

The mosquitoes were annoying!

Spotted yet another satellite.

Dan and Ian checked M101. Dan recounted the first time seeing it: at the Frozen Banana. Ian was not impressed with the view. Phil didn't think like it either.

Phil went for his coat in the truck. Katrina took hot chocolate orders.

The cars to the north-east started up. Bother! Pleasantly, they drove out with parking lights only. Thanks! But then someone fired up a green laser. Dan wondered if it would show in our images. I wasn't too worried.

They sky did not seem as good. It was OK straight up at the zenith. High extinction was apparent near the horizon. Aerosols? Smoke? It had been deep red at sunset.

The crew viewed the Dumbbell in the 20. The gusts continued to shake the 'scope.

Phil went to M57. He argued it didn't need filters as it was so darn bright. Whereas many planetaries look better with oxygen emphasised.

Gave Katrina my travel mug. It took a while with the wind but tea and hot chocolate was served up. Cookies and chips too. From the elves!

We noted the laser pointer was going again. Some in our crew seemed irked. Clearly someone was teaching the sky.

10:27. Ian took an SQM reading with his iPhone: 22.06, 21.93, 22.03. Darker than the CAO which clocks in at 21 to 22. Roughly a full magnitude dimmer here than our local. And my back garden in Bradford is 18 to 19.


We tried to spot M33 naked eye. I shared that I had tried at Mew Lake and Katrina's cabin. Ian said it was opposite M31 from Mirach, about the same distance M31 was from Mirach (which is a good hint). Then Ian said it was half-way between Mirach and alpha Tri. That sounded a little off so I checked SkyTools: it was more like 1/3rd of the way from alpha Tri and beta And; not half-way. NGC 752 (aka Caldwell 28) was easy above the two stars, half-way between Tri and And. Ian thought he could see Messier 33, just barely, with averted vision. I was finding it difficult. I was not convinced.


Someone was waving a flashlight about in the north.

Another meteor was spotted. Ian said again he had seen 20. Ironically, a meteor went through. Ha, many saw it.

You know you're a double star observer when you gauge the separation of tail lights of a distant pick up truck.

The stoopid mosquitoes were still around.

I got magnitude 6.1 visual. Didn't feel like digging any deeper.

Chris wondered about Fomalhaut. But it was murky.

10:43. We saw a meteor, a big one, through Perseus. I guess it was an Aquarid. Both Ian and I saw it.

Phil and Katrina finally got there hot chocolate. Gracious, Katrina, filling her mug last.

Ian wanted NGC 7331 and hoped to see the Fleas. He stated seeing a decent amount of detail. Counted off the neighbours: 1, 2, 3, 4. But Hawkeye could not see the fifth. He noted Stephan's Quintet was about one field away, toward the 7:30 o'clock position. Ian centred on 7331 for the next viewer.

It was chilly and a bit damp.

We remarked there were few airplanes. I guessed we were not near an airport. Dan said we were not on a fly-way.

Chris could see the Quintet, in a diamond.

Car! This one was leaving. The back up lights fired. Ian wished the other astronomers would give a warning. "Is it over?" No. We kept our eyes closed for a bit. Good riddance.

Ian tagged another meteor.

Ian said he thought M33 was easily as big as Andromeda, "Bigger," even. I disagreed. He said there was no central condensation; it was just a brightening in the sky.

Tony checked the conditions on my little weather device. 17°, 58%. Phil said it felt cooler.

Phil asked if we were losing the sky below 45. There was some high cloud. I could see Capella flickering. Certainly the Milky Way was wiped out at 10 degrees. The south was terrible. Straight up was good. We knew not the best this location could offer.

Remarkably, the mosquitoes were still active. Despite the cool conditions and wind. While Katrina was on the ladder, she said the mosquitoes bit her knuckles and cheekbones. Persistent. Stoopid hobby.

More meteors. Dan saw one naked eye. Ian saw one in the eyepiece which left a train.

Tony and Katrina looked at the Quintet. Ian recommended pushing up, toward 1 o'clock, for 7331. He said he could see the dust lanes in 7331. He encouraged people to look for the 4 fleas above the galaxy. Tony said he could see 3 easily. For Tony another meteor went through the eyepiece.

Chris had his bright gloves on.

Ian asked "What's next?" I voted for the Fireworks.

My allergies were going bonkers.

Ian said it was worth looking at the Andromeda Galaxy at high power. He could see dust lanes. I moved between M110 and M32 in the Obsession. It was like I was in orbit.

Ian thought M33 more obvious now. Ian said he thought it slightly closer to Mirach and Metallah. He reminded us to "look a little bit away." Averted vision. "Look away, look away." I said that SkyTools showed it much closer to alpha Tri. Chris concurred.

A meteor went through the eyepiece. Ha. At last I got one up close too. I thought it green.

The mosquitoes were vicious.

Chris asked for the Crescent Nebula aka The Brain but Ian said he'd go to the Fireworks to appease me.

Ian noted that delta Cephei was at minimum.

Chris realised that TRAPPIST-1 was in range. Mag 14 something. Ian said he had seen down to 16.4 in the 20-inch.

Ian wondered where the SN was. I found it. I thought it still quite bright. I thought it was at the 11 o'clock position. The big OTA was almost in the Dobson's Hole. I noted the triangle on the right and the pair on the left. Between, there was a checkmark of 4 stars, two vertical, two horizontal, with the right most of the horizontal being the SN 2017eaw.

Car! Again, happily, the driver used the parking lights as they moved past us.

Ian spotted a satellite near the Big Dipper. Chris again wondered if it was the Chinese station.

11:20. Phil was cold. Chris offered his nylon shell. The wind had picked up.

Next up: NGC 6888 in Cygnus. Also in the Dob Hole. Phil offered a filter. Ian thought it quite nice. It was an obvious crescent shape showing lots of structure. I thought it very big. Chris noted the brightness on the "brain stem." He reminded us it was Caldwell 27.

I suggested we cart around a cow to attract the mozzies.

Chris lost it but Ian guided him back with the digital aids. Tony enjoyed the view. Was it "smiling or frowning?" Smiling. I suggested rotating the rocker box counter-clockwise to reacquire the target.

The skies were getting worse.

Next? I could not find TRAPPIST in SkyTools. Ian though it was in Cygnus [ed: it's in Aquarius]. And Chris did not have the coordinates. [ed: 2MASS J23062928-0502285 or right ascension 23h 6m 29s and declination -5° 2′ 29". Added to SkyTools.]

I borrowed Phil's bins to look for M33. For me, it was crazy faint.

Chris headed to his next target. Supposed to be a bright nebula, IC 1546. 12 arcminutes in size. In the UHC filter, he noted a subtle glow in the middle. Not massively brighter, a gentle glow. About a 1/4 of the field of view.

Phil wanted to pack up his 'scope

Asked Ian if he wanted to go for a quasar. At 10 Gyr with a z of 3.8. Sure. But when I proposed PKS 1937-101 at mag 17.6, Ian said it would not be visible. He said 16.4 was his personal limit in this instrument. Dang.

The sky to the north-east looked better, Ian thought. The Milky Way went almost to the horizon. Coming and going.

Chris selected another target, Iris Nebula aka NGC 7023 and Caldwell 4 in Cepheus. Ian thought it fairly small, saw some nebulosity. It was almost like a half moon. With dusty knots. Chris saw a big halo with few stars in the field. He thought the star looked extincted. I thought it a fuzzy blue star. Should look again...

Phil showed Dan his jump start battery slash astronomy power supply. It had lots of outputs. Cost $70. I said my early generation NOCO was pretty good.

Chris suggested the Cave Nebula. Ian felt he saw the nebula. It was an emission, reflection, and dust object. Chris said there was a dark patch with a chain of stars. Lamented that some Caldwells were dogs. Ian changed the power. For them it evoked a boomerang shape. There was a dark region at the 5 o'clock position.

I spotted the Pleiades. Thought on my Rhonda back home...

The crazy mozzies were still active.

12:00 AM MDT, Saturday 19 August 2017. Tony noted it was midnight.

Katrina was warming up in the rental. We decided to wrap. Chris thanked Ian for the good views. Overall, it was a good session. Not awesome, as we had hoped. If we had elected to not pull up stakes, we'd have another shot at these dark skies. Ian hoped for a good more in Glendo. Of course, we all were wishing for a good day session...

Tony offered to help with big telescope breakdown but wanted to leave his camera to the last moment. Me too.

12:08 AM MDT. I checked the conditions. 16.2° and 74%. We continued to pack up. We loaded the big items into Big Red first.

traces of light as we packed up

12:21 AM. We scanned for dropped items.

12:27. Ian fired up the rig. We waited a few moments for someone in a car. They appeared confused or lost

I was feeling a tiny bit sad. I think I wanted more telescope time. I had thought we would view more new objects. I understood the rationale for viewing classics. In an extremely dark location with very good skies, they would look significantly better. But I assumed we would go for more challenging objects.

I was feeling physically off. My allergies were bad. I was snuffling all night. My eyes watered. I had a strong headache at end. I was probably very dehydrated. (I didn't realise it at the time but I had caught Ian's cold.) I took some pain killers.

We returned to our site around 12:30.

I hit the showers.

1:29. I warmed up in my tent.

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