Wednesday, December 05, 2018

the wrong comet (Bradford)

The comet photos on Facebook this morning, the Go call by the RASC Toronto Centre observing team for the dark sky session, another comet alert from Clear Sky Alarm Clock, and the rather optimistic Clear Sky Chart prompted me to put together a quick observing session. Let Rhonda know that I would be trying for a comet.

I updated SkyTools 3 Professional with the latest comet data. It showed 46P/Wirtanen would be magnitude 4.3. Wow. But it was 94 arc-minutes in size! Whoa, spread out. Located in Eridanus tonight, culminating between 10 and 11 PM. Some suggested it was a binocular target. The little ETX 'scope would be good.

At 6:32 PM, Tue 4 Dec 2018, I began preparations in earnest. Readied the Sony voice recorder. Noticed it was still on daylight saving time so 1 hour ahead. I compared the recorded time to the Windows 10 computer. The ICD-SX750D DVR voice recorder was about 1 hour and 5 minutes faster than John Max. Verified there was lots of space: 8 hours of time left. Noted the battery level was at the half-way mark.

Grabbed a basket to carry stuff out.
Instrument: Meade ETX-90 Mak
Mount: tripod
Method: star hopping
Switched to red lighting. Powered my LED desk light. Put red film on all the monitors. Forgot I brought home a pre-cut piece for "new" 19-inch i-INC monitors from CAO. It fit perfectly. The Lee Filter red film cut for my old 22-inch Dell monitor worked fine with a little bit of overhang. Put the smartphone into red mode too. Red LED flex USB keyboard light.

Got the ASUS netbook ready. Made a new SkyTools list with comet 46P as the first entry. Added a bunch of things, including some showpieces for Rhonda, and some doubles from my candidate list. Set the pairs as high priority. Noted a couple of other bright comets, brighter than mag 10. Planned to operate John Repeat Dance from the touchpad so to reduce equipment needed outside. About 8 high priority items.

Installed some AA batteries in the ETX mount. Keeping it simple and fast. No external power. Tested it: whir whir whir.

It was already feeling cold. The air temperature had dropped dramatically from daytime. My desktop Rainmeter applet was showing -6°C. Wow. Fortunately the wind speed was low at 3 km/h. I noted that Astrospheric predicted the ambient temp dropping to -9.

Clear Sky Chart - I'll take what I can get

The Clear Sky Chart showed the cloud cover to be low (clear), the transparency fair (below average), and the seeing would be good (4/5 or good). The numbers were specifically for 10 PM. Sounded like a good night for double stars!

I grabbed weather site data. Saved the CSC. Grabbed the Clear Outside report. Wow: Astrospheric showed us in a pocket. The rest of the province was socked in. Clipped it to Evernote too. I played with the Good To Stargaze parameters a bit but in the end it suggested the good times would end around midnight with increasing cloud cover.

It was 7:10 PM and I did some set up for the hand warmers. I started charging the electronic ones. I got out the butane one so it would be ready to fill. I checked the fuel requirements. I had previously noted 20mL I could go higher. OK. I would try that.

OK. At 7:22 I activated the high-contrast mode in Windows 10, something a RASC member had suggested a short time ago. Actually I found it pretty impressive. I wasn't expecting a good result but it acts a lot like what happens when I turn on red light mode in SkyTools. For programs that behave like Notepad and Windows Explorer (the file manager) and even Microsoft Word, they switched to light text on a dark background. Browser pages of course do what they damn well want to do. And Evernote for Windows does not offer dark mode (yet). Still I wouldn't use Windows high contrast mode without red film.

That let me do more work, quick reference card development, and get deeply dark adapted.

8:21. Noted the electronic hand warmers were fully charged. That was quick.

Around 9:30, I suited up. Long johns. Many layers for the torso including RASC vest. Dug out the ole winter coat with hood and the Baffin boots. Damn Pigeon toque.

Filled the butane heater. Used 2½ syringes, 25 mL, this time! I wasn't sure if the new fabric element would work. Couldn't remember if I had used it before. Used a candle to light it. Wasn't sure it was working at first but it seemed to be getting warmer. Did not burn down the kitchen.

Set up in the backyard. Adjustable height chair. Big metal Mamiya tripod with hex plate. ETX. Eyepiece case. Carry-all bag with misc. stuff. Netbook. Red (laser level) wrap-around glasses. Deep red flashlight. I even had the Pocket Sky Atlas in case of emergency.

Neighbours had their Christmas lights up. Dang. It flooded the backyard with light. White LEDs all along their deck railing...

Enjoyed the Seven Sisters naked eye.

Polar aligned the forks. Put the Celestron 26mm Plössl in the telescope. That would produce a magnification of 48 times.

And off we go.

Even 48 times magnification is too much for the Pleiades. Still I enjoyed the tight faint pale orange pair in the centre, two of the stars in CHR 12.

Where are my specs? Returned to the house for old specs, old eyeglasses strap, and simple dew shield. Brought out my telescopic pointer in lieu of a killer laser beam. Should have consulted my backyard checklist... Would have saved me a trip or two.

10:34. Was missing my voice recorder. Thought I left it inside. I'd get it on the next trip...

Sorted my observing list by the Optimum column. First up? Tried for V640.

Using the 3-panel "telescope" view or Visual Sky Simulation in SkyTools, I started my star hop in Cassiopeia. Successfully targeted Caph aka β (beta) Cassiopeiae. Noted double star HD 594, spotted it right away. Near Caph, HD 594 aka ARY 8 was nearly due south. Two equal stars, oriented east-west. They were near another star, similar colour and brightness, making it seem like a triple. I saw 2 other stars, fainter, to the north and west, in fact making it look like a quintuple system. Dim. Soft white or pale white-blue, all. Attractive. Carried on...

[ed: Didn't notice any shimmering!]

10:41. Ugh. With a separation of 1.55", V640 aka STF 3062 would not be splittable. It was on my double star candidate list but needs to be removed. It is a fast mover, it can stay on that list, as I should be able to split it in good conditions with a big 'scope. [ed: Haas says it is "grand."] But it is too hard for a primer programme, I think.

Next up was π (pi) And...

Rhonda returned home. I readied to view the comet. Spotted the Andromeda constellation, Aries. Oh, and Triangulum. Started at the β and γ (gamma) stars of Tri. It was taking a while, a challenging star hop. Told her I'd call when I found it. When I sure I was on the right star, I went to let her know. Coincidentally, she was getting ready to pop out again. I warned her I couldn't see anything. Hawk Eye did not see any fuzziness or aquamarine colour.

She was expecting the big OTA...

Briefly considered the camera on the barn door tracker...

The view through the 'scope was poor and the stars seemed to fade out. She noticed it too. It was the eyepiece fogging. The humidity was high. I had already seen a lot of frost. Gah. So much for a quick setup. Brought out the Kendrick dew heaters to combat the problem. Powered with the small NOCO lithium.

Remember in fact I had brought out the digital audio recorder... Fired it up.

I had another look at 11:25 PM. Confirmed I was in right area. Confirmed ST3P was in real time. Viewed SAO 55051, a mag 8.9 star, right where the comet should be.

I just remembered the transparency was supposed to be poor... Was that a factor? Probably.

[ed: It would help if you choose the correct comet. At the time, I accidentally aimed to 64P in Triangulum, not 46P! Crikey.]

11:27. Decided to move on.

Considered Sharatan aka β Arietis. Fairly close to where I was. Began the star hopping... Should be easy, such a bright star, at the bend in the simple constellation stick figure.

11:37. Stumbled across. HR 577 in Aries. Near Sharatan. Looked like a triangle, a flattened triangle. There was a bright bluish star at the top. Then two tight stars below or to my 7 o'clock, i.e. south. They formed a hockey stick. The two faint ones were much fainter and I thought orange. A quad system according to SkyTools. Sorry, the parent was Struve 196 or SAO 75075. The A and the D were wide, at 196 seconds of arc. Seemed odd. A and B were 1.8". Not possible in this little light bucket. A and C 21.8". Confusing. Where was the A star? It was not the bright one. The faint one at the bend! Weird. Strange designation.

[ed: Checked the the magnitudes in the software.]

starObject Infochart displayimpression
A10.8410.8dim-same as C
C10.6010.1dim-same as A

Regardless, a neat multi-star system for a small telescope.

[ed: Little surprised this is not in Sissy Haas's book.]

My eyes were watering like crazy. Frustrating. Missed my bifocals.

The butane heater was working great. The old Zippo fuel was OK!

11:42. I finally made it to Sharatan (or Sheratan). I saw a faint diffraction ring. I closely examined the field.

I decided there must be something wrong with SkyTools. There is no equally bright star 69" away. No way. I saw the pair of stars (not a double) to the north east, rather faint stars. That was a yard stick: they were about the same separation as what ST3P said the A and B stars of beta Ari would be. Sharatan would be a bit less. Verified I was in real time mode. Nope, nothing there. I'll have to look stuff up in the WDS...

Noted the skyward lens of the finder scope is dirty. Should be cleaned.

It was interesting to discover that the 8x21 finder diameter is a bit smaller than an old film tube. Huh. Could use one of those to keep the finder covered. Where did I put all those extras?

12:01 AM, Wed 5 Dec 2018. Was getting frustrated with the finder. Nearly useless.

A camera? What about a teenie tiny camera?

12:07 AM. At last, landed on 37 and 39 Tauri. A long hop sequence from the Pleiades, essentially starting at 28 and 27. A long drive to the east, eyepiece hopping. I found two doubles. A double double, actually. Cool. 37 was on the west. Yellow, bright. North was up for me. South of A was a much dimmer star and it was orange. Right or east was 39. Dimmer than 37. Blue or white. Wait! Pale yellow? No blue-white. It's companion was above or north. Orange. 39 A and B were wider than the 37 pair. Cool view. Two in the view. Two for one. SkyTools said 37 aka STT 558 was 134"; 39 or STT 559 was 177". Not on my candidate list. It would be great entry! I had copied this form a binocular list. This would work at low power and high power.

Rhonda popped out before heading to bed. Anything to look at? No comets, sadly. A pretty double double. "Oh, nice! Wow, bright." She liked it. She saw the dew heaters were working. Yeh.

I returned to the ocular. 37 yellow and blue. 39 white and orange. Some other field stars made for an attractive view.

My legs were starting to feel cold.

Keep going!

12:23. Landed at Menkib or ξ (xi) Persei. Sheesh. About a finder field away from my next target. There was a pair nearby (not noted in ST3P).

Nearly at ζ (zeta)...

12:29. Spotted Burnham 540 or HD 24601. I thought it was a pair; it is a triple. A and B very tight at 1.4". Did not split. Not in this little tube. A and C, 57.1" apart. Easy. Mag 8.7 and 9.9. Pretty dim. Right beside my target. A little bit north east. No pronounced colours.

Ho. Noted the tighter fainter pair to the east, HD 281382 aka SEE 33, with mags 9.2 and 10.4. About 26" apart. Angled toward the aforementioned pair. Yes. Saw them. Wow.

Last leg. On my way to ζ Persei now. Another candidate system to test.

12:33. Immediately saw a pair, dim, to the south. Those were the D and E stars. Tried to dig out others. I knew there were others but I was trying to find them without hints from the software. Nothing... nothing obvious.

[ed: Haas has but one entry in double stars for small telescopes, a pair at 12.7". That's the AB pair which I could not see.]

The eyepiece was fogging again. Whiskey tango foxtrot?

Damn! The NOCO battery was off. No lights. What happened? It was dead! Ugh. It went down fast! Well, that means I'm done... [ed: About 1 hour!]

Upped the power with the Tele Vue 9mm (139x), trying to coax out more stars. No joy. The diffraction rings were very pronounced. And I don't think perfectly round. Alas, I could not see additional companions. Still, it was a good test. It works at low power; it'll work at high mag. OK. That's it. Cold and perturbed.

Packed up.

Took in the whole sky to the south. Orion at the meridian. Meissa. Sirius in Canis Major. Canis Minor off to the east. Gemini up high. Oh, yeah, the Winter Football! So big. Hey, and the rabbit ears below Orion's feet.

High cloud in the south, streamers. Rather cold. Saw bright Sirius flicker for a moment but then stop. Right. It was very good seeing tonight.

Hauled the gear inside. Mixed feelings about tonight. Frustrating using the ETX and the ridiculous finder scope. It is so incredibly annoying. I've got to figure out a better way. The controls are challenging to operate especially when viewing near the zenith. The dew was a challenge.

Comedy of errors tonight, forgetting things, sitting in a perfect spot for a street light a block away to shine in my face, the touchpad not working on the computer, bringing outside a corded mouse, and then getting caught in cords, eyeglasses strap not working, still irked I can't find my good ones, the computer mouse falling to the ground repeatedly, battery dying, dying so quickly. It was a little discouraging.

But... But! I knocked down a few more doubles!

Thought of the RASCals down at Long Sault tonight freezing their oculars off.

[ed: Forgot to look for the ISS with Canadian on board... But that was at dusk.]

I didn't trip the motion sensor light once tonight despite all my trips to and fro.

1:06. Inside, warming up, I pulled the current wx data.

From Environment Canada for Newmarket. No Alerts in effect. Clear, -7°C. Observed at: Toronto Buttonville Municipal Airport. Date: 1:00 AM EST Wednesday 5 December 2018. Condition: Clear. Pressure: 101.9 kPa, falling. Temperature: -6.6°C. Dew point: -8.5°C. Humidity: 86%. Wind: N 2 km/h. Wind Chill: -8.

Detailed Forecast issued: 3:30 PM EST Tuesday 4 December 2018. Tonight, Partly cloudy with 30 percent chance of flurries. Wind up to 15 km/h. Low minus 7. Wind chill minus 4 in the evening and minus 10 overnight.


Oh oh. Learned my big mistake. Too late... Went to the wrong comet! Brother... Realised this as I transcribed and compiled my notes. Damn it!


The butane heater was going strong as I went to bed. So 25 mL of fuel was plenty offering over 6 hours of high heat.


Looked into some of the double star issues...

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