Saturday, March 17, 2018

night 1 in the tent (Bradford)

7:49 PM EST (or 8:49 EDT), Friday. Checked space remaining on Sony recorder. 17 hours. Not sure if the time was correct though...

Brought out one of Rhonda's TV tables. For the eyepieces.

I was suited up including my leather gloves. Had the muffler and wristers if necessary. Big -100°C boots on. Three layers on my legs; five layers on my body.

Had the John Repeat Dance computer. Fired it up. Got out the ASUS power cord. Red LED keyboard light. Had a short blue cold-weather extension cord.

Brought out the bungee for tarping.

Wondered about putting the red LED Christmas lights up high, along the centre arc, on the "warm room" side, for general illumination. The previous time I had put them on the floor. Held in place on the centre divider flaps with work bench clamps. Made sure they were not directly visible on the telescope side. It worked. Weird, noticed one of the LED "bulbs" had snapped off. [Rhonda thought it good too, subtle.]

Opened inner tent observing portal screen and secured it. Switched boots. Removed, rather, rolled back, the fly. Rhonda called but I didn't hear her at first. Opened the inner portal (opaque) flap and secured it. Offered rho a comfy chair but she headed in.
Instrument: Celestron 8-inch SCT
Mount: Celestron CGEM
Method: Go To
9:09 PM EDT. Corrected time on Sony recorder.

It was windy, gusty.

Completed the polar alignment on the Celestron CGEM mount. Polaris was easily spotted from the tent location further south.

Rhonda returned. She had more layers now. She was much warmer now. Told her to not worry about her boots. She saw a streak in the northern sky. I didn't think it was a laser; it looked like a jet contrail.

She really liked the little red LED string. I had arranged the leads around the feet of the steel tripod forming a big triangle. It clearly marked the footprint. Set to the pulsing pattern.

Aligned the Orion 9x50 right-angle, image-corrected finder scope using Sirius. Initially way off. Offered a view of the bright star to Rhonda. She saw some colour in the image and correctly assessed it was coming from the "lens." I centred it to clean up the view.

Manually panned to the Great Orion Nebula aka Messier 42 to show some eye candy. It looked quite good in the 2" baader planetarium Hyperion-Aspherical 36mm 72° eyepiece yielding around 55 power. A big bird with outstretched wings. She enjoyed the Trapezium multi-star system in the centre. I let her pan around with the illuminated keypad.

9:32. Started the mount alignment sky modelling. Needed about 10 minutes. Rhonda said she'd be back. The first star suggested was quite far away. I realised part-way into it I had not specified the location so I restarted and entered the latitude and longitude for the backyard. Added one calibration star. Done. Selected M42 again. Saw a good point.

Connected the computer and mount with pre-fabbed Celestron data cable.

9:43 PM. Snip! Used the divide feature on the Sony ICD-SX 750 audio recorder.

Rhonda returned. Who goes there? "Hark!" No jujubes hidden in her pockets unfortunately.

We wondered if people were heading to the Carr Astronomical Observatory this weekend. The weather outlook looked good but the road was probably not officially open. I hadn't heard of anyone going up.

Katrina had sent out a message about the Messier marathon. I told Rhonda that I had proposed a marathon weekend at the CAO. One had been done years ago at the RASC Blue Mountains observatory but nothing recently. Best done on a new Moon of course in late March. At the time of my proposal, the timing was not great. And there's always the issue of getting in.

Was still on M42 and the star group. I suggested we could dive deeper into the sextuple to try to coax out the fifth and sixth stars. I thought the seeing was fair. We could try it. Got one! [ed: E, between B and A.] Rhonda could occasionally see the bottom one. [ed: F, near C.] The top one was easy. I dug out a photo on the innernets to help us get a sense of what was going on. It helped. I had another look and had a hard time with the easy star, the top one. Noticed we were "in the trees," the target drifting behind the tree branches on the western edge of the property.

My squeeze asked for the next challenge.

I panned to ι (iota) Orionis aka Nair al Saif. A lovely multi-star system.

I had not yet activated the software control in SkyTools 3 Professional. Activated the Real Time mode and clicked on Telescope Control. Chose Select/Configure Telescope and ASCOM Supported Telescope. Changed to the Celestron Scope Driver and clicked the Properties button. Went through he Windows settings to determine the port number assigned to the Prolific USB adapter: COM 5. Set this in ST3P and backed out. Chose Connect to Telescope and heard the configuration.

Rhonda wanted to know if I had brought a garbage can out. Nope, it was the dew cap or shield. I had not attached it as it was still quite windy.

I tried for the comet C/2016 R2 (Pan-STARRS) in Perseus. Already a bit too late, too low, near the trees again. Nothing visible. Boo.

Asked if rho was warm enough. She was good. I felt OK. A heater in the tent would be nice.

Eye candy for rho... Applied some more aggressive filters in SkyTools. Above the two airmass level and "Obvious." Found the Clown Face Nebula or NGC 2392. Rhonda thought she had viewed it before at the CAO. Reminded her to use the stars to focus the telescope. It still wasn't working for her. Oh.

The Williams Optics Crayford-style focuser wasn't working right. When vertical it slipped out of position. So I locked the WO and we switched to the Celestron 8-inch focus knob. It worked.

Noticed Leo was up high. Leo leaping.

Rhonda reached focus but thought the planetary nebula rather small. I recommended high power. Had her change the eyepieces. Pentax 20mm XW wide angle 1¼" with 2" adapter returning about 100x. Continued to store oculars in the tripod tray. Now Caldwell 39 was much bigger. The background sky was darker. I shared that some observers would often see concentric rings in this celestial target, shells. She tried averted vision. She noted the centre was bright. Compared to the Ring Nebula, this seemed perfectly round. She didn't see a clown face.

Considered the oxygen filter...

Thanked rho for dinner.

We listened for the owl. She tried calling.

I thought the transparency fair.

Bumped the power again with the Tele Vue Type 6 Nagler 9mm 1¼". Wow. Now we're getting somewhere with over 200x.

10:21. I asked Rhonda what she thought of the Clown Face. She thought it better. But she couldn't see the eye sockets. "Ya get what you pay for." Grey fuzzy blobs. She could maybe sorta kinda see rings.

Grabbed the O-III filter and tried to put it in the baader barrel. Didn't want to go. Was it not round? Snugged it up. I told rho that this filter blocked a lot of light. She thought it smaller and fuzzier. On a whim, I considered the narrow-band filter in the 1¼-2" adapter. Threads! I had never noticed that before! w00t! For the first time, with the 9mm, tried the O-III filter. Awesome. I liked it. Big!

I stepped on a cord and heard the Windows USB port disconnect-reconnect tones. Oh oh.

I needed a hand warmer. Grabbed one of the sodium acetate and showed rho the reaction. Left that for her. Triggered another for myself and stuffed it in my left glove.

Went back to full spectrum. I preferred this view. The filter blocked the central star; it was good seeing it.

Rhonda went indoors.

10:34. Back to my regular list. I had spotted Tegmen before. Relaxed the filter from about 2 airmasses to above horizon. Tried slewing from the computer. Audrey said it was slewing but the mount did not move. Broke and resumed the connection and it was fine. Blinkie X.

The deep red flashlight looked very dim. The battery was pooched. I wondered if I had some fresh ones in the astronomy case alpha... Turned off the torch.

Viewed HD 75646 in Cancer. Colourful. Red. Dimmer. The red star was very dim. No bright field stars. Adjusted the software. The loose wide cluster of stars was to the south. The brighter star was to the south-east. The B, presumably B, star was to the north-west. C, the dimmest, was south-west. They formed a 90° angle. C was the apex or the right-angle bend. Therefore B was due north of C and A was due east. Aka STT A 96. On my list with the high priority, one of my double star candidate entries. Adjusted the weather conditions for the location in the software to make the Context Viewer better match the field. Dropped the temperature, increased the humidity, and dropped the sky brightness from 20 to 19. The CV responded and many of the stars dimmed. Lovely. A great one. Works great at low power. It's a keeper.

Considered the "fast" variable star VZ Cancri from the Turn Left at Orion book. I thought there a big bird with some of the nearby stars. I saw the little triangle above (north). Checked my notes.

Just received an ASCOM error! Then SkyTools went berserk generated a dialogue box error repetitively. Pulled the data cord. I could not get into interface. Then SkyTools imploded. I reconnected the data cable. Relaunched the app. Lost all the settings of course. Red mode, horizon line, wrong list, back to Real Time, wrong list, Context Viewer size lost. The location details were saved but changed the seeing to average. Kept the COM5—good.

Where was I. The variable changes over 4 hours so in 2 hours it will go from brightest to dimmest. I wondered about field stars for comparing. Magnitude 7.2 to 7.9.

10:59. Checked the battery level of the recorder: half-way. Checked the space: 15 hours.

Victor-Zulu was the brightest star in the field despite the wide true field offered with the baader. Panned about. Ran into 49 Cancri at mag 5.6 which was clearly brighter than the variable. SkyTools said VZ was supposed to be mag 7.6 at the moment. Which would be similar to HD 74330 (7.2) to the south-east or my 4 to 5 o'clock position. Found it. It seemed quite bright. Planned to return later. Applied the Re-observe status flag.

Still windy. Felt a little cold in my torso.

Stoopid security light...

Slewed to HD 79552 aka Struve 1327. Neat. Increased the power. Could not clearly hear my remarks. Faint. Thought I saw... Orange. Yellowy. Faint one between...

Both red. The close one and the distant one, both red. [ed: Matches my earlier observations, the A is yellow and proximal B is red. My assessment of C's colour this time differed...]

With a "view again" tag. Sounded familiar. Changed the eyepiece in the software to the Pentax. Loaded up my double star life list. Filtered on Cnc. Ah, yes, the system where we differ on colours. From the RASC Coloured Doubles supplemental list. Neat. There was a cup to the south-east. Could not see D.

The stars were very dim. Why? Transparency was gone. Oh. Dew! Dew and frost.

Connected the objective dew heater. Put a hand warmer on the secondary and covered it with the cap.

Decided to take the opportunity to go in and warm up.

11:25. Checked the conditions with the OneWorld portable weather station. The temperature was -5°C (in the tent), 20% humidity, 885 mbar barometric pressure, the time was correct, altitude 272 metres.

Break time.


12:17 AM, Saturday. Back. Brought a 120 volt hair dryer out. The corrector looked really dirty. Weird. The 8" dew wrap did not seem to be putting out much heat...

The computer had fallen asleep during my break. When I logged in, the screen was completely wonky. Could not get anything to respond. Crikey. Frustrating. "Have you turned it off and on again?!"

More computer issues... Fire truck! Reconfigured again! Reconnected to the mount at 12:25.

Slewed away and then back to Σ1327. Changed oculars. Field didn't look right. It seemed like the mount pointing model was off. Synced on a bright star to improve the pointing. Returned to the multi-star system. The conditions did not seem good. Filtered for objects above 2 airmass. Next!

The note of the power supply had changed...

12:42. Mount was not tracking. Tapped it. It zipped and caught up to the target. The old signature. Still an issue. Considered next steps...

Tried the William Optics focuser again. Seemed to be holding.

Psi 5 Aur. aka Dolones V and 56 Aur and SHJ 75. Yellow and red, wide, at low power. When I put the Pentax eyepiece in I thought I saw some fuzzy things, dim pairs of stars perhaps, nearby...

Rhonda came out... Offered the view. She described double with a faint partner.

She asked if there were any major meteor showers. Not really. I didn't think the seeing was good and the transparency was way off. She was tired, yawning.

I looked for galaxies up high. Aimed at the Cocoon. A very faint fuzzy. "Oh my gosh. Seriously?" Yuck.

Sent the mount on a big slew. She asked what it was. "Bode's?! It sure looked better in my photo." Indeed.

It gave her an idea for a Hallowe'en costume.

Next target. "Oh. Oh! That's better," rho said. She thought Algieba aka γ (gamma) Leonis a nice little double. "Both look pretty white. The bottom one is blueish. Top one yellowy. Whitish blue. Whiter than the 11 o'clock star. Maybe it's the Captain talking." They both looked gold to me. Very slightly different. Super-duper. It was worth standing in the cold, rho remarked. "Show me another pretty one." Off to Virgo.

Porrima was pretty. Bright white. γ Virginis. Two identical stars.

"Happy St Pattie's Day!" she chimed. She was thinking of retiring. Rhonda exited.

1:04. I had another look.

Next? Cepheus was not an option. The sky looked really bad so DSOs were probably not good for targeting.

Went to HD 82394. Increased the magnification. Low power, aspheric, I did not see anything. Medium power with the XW, I was not sure. A dim star. Not a lot in the field. A zig-zag nearby. Learned from ST3P that it had a faint companion. Should have been possibly with the Nagler. Panned a bit. I continued to struggle. Changed eyepieces again. And again. I thought not doable. [ed: Au contraire.]

[ed: Imaged with BGO and split B on 21 Mar '18.]

1:25. Power level had dropped. 13 hours left.

Slewed to Denebola in Leo.

The eyepieces were fogging. The dew heaters did not seem to be producing any heat.

Went to the house for a battery so to power the dew heaters independently. Returned with the heavy marine sealed acid block, the 10-amp unit. Swapped the sources. The wraps started to feel warm. I wonder if it that the old computer power supply does not put out enough amps. Never really considered this before. I just assumed.

Spotted the tight equal pair of stars, SAO 99800 aka HR 4531 aka BU 603. South of Denebola. Pale yellow.

One the stars in the zig-zag to the south of Denebola proper was the D star. Easy. Extremely wide. Mag 8. ST3P said the B star, while very far away, was below the aperture limit of the C8. C was doable though... Returned to the 'scope. I did not see C. Meh.

The Celestron Plössl 26mm 1¼" was fogging up. Just not getting anywhere... The super-cold eyepieces in the tray seemed to be out of commission. The baader was OK.

Asteroids? No...

Chose the next item, in Leo Minor. Another big meridian flip. Wasting time. 11 LMi. ST3P said there was a huge difference in mag. Marked to re-observe. Might need a bigger 'scope given B is mag 14...

Chose 35 Sextantis.

1:57. Quite close, the A and B. STF 1466. Sometimes B looked blue, sometimes white. Why was it on my list? In many "showpiece" lists. Probably because I had not split the C and D at ½ an arc-second. Launched the browser to check my notes. Oh, I had never logged the colour for the third element. C looked orange. North was up for me. These stars were in a grouping that reminded me of the pot of the Big Dipper. AB north/up and C south-south-west. The angle of AB was toward the kitty-corner star, SAO 118444. Tried different magnifications. Panned. Simply could not split C and D.

2:08 Shoot. I moved the mount while pressing on the dew strap. Synced.

Started thinking about stopping...

Slewed to the next target but it was in the trees.

Slewed to the other side of the meridian and synced.

Slewed to Jupiter in Libra. Saw three moons only. Europa was in front of the planet according to SkyTools.

Looked for other suggestions. Nothing. And we're done.

Used the hibernate function on the mount. Parked the OTA and killed the power. De-energised the dew heaters.

2:33. Packed up.

Checked conditions. OneWorld said: -5.6°, 25%, 884. The battery indicator was showing.

Replaced the tent fly. Closed the observing roof portal. Whoa. Frost crystals on tent.

Powered down the supply.

Grabbed stuff and headed to the house.

2:46. The observer has left the building...

Oops. Realised as I was crawling into bed that I forgot to bring the recorder in... In fact, I forgot to turn it off! I hoped when the power ran out it would not corrupt any data.


It was good to be back "working" in the backyard but I was not satisfied with the evening.

No problem on Polaris. I had just barely seen it the last time. The tent  position was very good this time. A bit further south. It was a bit further west too, well away from the driveway. Still, the security light was distracting.

The slipping focuser was irksome. I could not seem to dial out the problem.

Software issues. I did not enjoy the multiple computer failures. Some extreme. Lost settings a couple of times. And that wasted time.

Challenging conditions. Bad transparency. Caught out by the dew. Way colder than I expected. Not as good, overall, as I expected. Galaxies were not doable.

Many of the targets I did not have notes on. Didn't know specifically why they were on the list. I had used the high priority red arrow to mark some items.

Did not seem to have good targets for later in the evening.

I did not have good targets for Rhonda.

While I looked at about 20 things, overall, I didn't feel like I got much done.

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