Saturday, January 14, 2023

short session in the cold (St Thomas)

9:49 PM. Just finished a quick-and-dirty polar alignment. Looked like Orion was due south. Sirius was blinking madly. Oh oh, bad seeing. In the short time I was out, I felt really cold. Yes, no coat, no shoes. Still.

Suited up. Jammies under the jeans. Socks and regular winter boots. T-shirt, long sleeve, and the brand new MEC parka. Toque and gloves.

The mount was plugged in. But I had turned off the balcony string lights... I'd need my phone with the Globe app to re-energise the circuit. Dew heaters were ready to go. Already had the red flashlight (the bike light; couldn't find Deep Red). Needed to bring out some other stuff, particularly for the mount start-up process. Like an eyepiece. Later, I'd need to computer. And a table. Went inside to fetch things.

Put in the baader Mark IV zoom eyepiece and set it to 24mm, wide.

10:12. Powered up the mount. Wasn't sure the time. Used the time-stamp on files in the Sony voice recorder. Split the difference and entered a new time in the IDEA GoToStar hand controller.

Ran through a one-star alignment. Chose Sirius. Quite far off in RA; Dec was OK. [ed: Time zone issue?]

Zoomed in to 8mm just on a whim. No way. Seeing was horrible. No chance of seeing The Pup beside α (alpha) CMa.

Collimation looked OK, not perfect, but OK for now.

10:23. Brought out the table, Haas's book, and the John Grim computer, with keyboard light. Almost knocked over the table with the dead plants.

SkyTools seemed to be in white mode. Refreshed. Didn't work. Had to toggle the Night Vision. The glitchy behaviour persists...

At least the red brightness setting was better, I could see the labels on buttons.

Didn't have the mouse. That's complicated given the single USB port.

Checked for objects in Orion. Considered ο (omicron) Orionis. A double star suggested in a recent Sky & Telescope article. Unfortunately, it was blocked by the roof, too far to the west. Unfortunate. I could have done it earlier in the evening... Boo.

The horizon feature was working.

Rigel was also too late.

Used the check marks to plot all targets on the Interactive Atlas chart, ignoring Orion, looking for things near Sirius. Ah. ν (nu) Canes Majoris. Another S&T target. Right. Not far. Started star hopping...

Activated the Eyepiece View chart, selected the C8, and used the Orion finder scope option.

Wondered about the brightness of the screen. Turned off the Simple Natural sky background in the chart. Switched to black.

View in the finder was canted.

10:33. Found a flattened triangle. My target was in the middle. Slewed to it.

Viewed ν CMa. Nice. Yellow and... blue. Bouncing around. The seeing was so bad. Easily separated. Or was it yellow and orange? Sirius was still flickering so not surprising that all the stars in this area were bad. Waited for a good steady view. Centred. Pretty colours. When the seeing was good, it looked gold and blue. Blue-greenish? Faded out, what the hell? Cloud? No. Oops, fogged the eyepiece.

Marked as observed.

aka SHJ 73. Obvious double. Slightly unequal, maybe B was 1 magnitude fainter, 2 perhaps. SkyTools said they were mags 5.7 and 7.6. ST4VP only reported two stars. Equal colour? Both gold? Um, no, dusty blue. Terrible seeing! Matched the orientation. Turned off labels in the software. Faint companion was near the 12 o'clock position which ST4VP said was to the west. Not a lot of field stars. Correction! Not a lot of bright stars; there were many faint field stars. Bright star to the right, 3:30 o'clock, HD 47137. Confirmed I was at the 24mm detent on the zoom ocular. Noted the cup shape of stars to the bottom-left, near the E. Maybe B was at 12:15. Yellow and blue. ST4VP said the separation was 17.8" as of 2002. 

I liked the hood but the faux fur tickled. Legs were cool. I wondered about another layer under the coat, maybe a vest?

One more look. Yellow and orange, blue, green? Ha. Faint pair overall. Well, the A was was possibly naked eye... Faint compared to Sirius.

OK. Next?

τ (tau) CMa? What was that about? A stellar target in the zoomed out IA chart. Not in the list. Ah, it was in the Jewel Box... 

I decided to star hop from the rump of the Great Dog. Re-jigged the software. And started the journey... The L-O-N-G journey... I started getting blockage in the finder scope, from its mounting low on the OTA. I could have dropped the fabric light shield but I decided to carry on, using the ocular, eyepiece hopping.

Toes were cold. If it got worse, I'd have to switch to the Baffin Island boots.

Finally. Figured out where I was. On LZ CMa. Close to my target... Continued hopping. Fogged the eyepiece again. Gar! This was taking forever.

11:10. Got it!

Viewed the Northern Jewel Box from the RASC Deep-Sky Gems. Levy 296. Bright star in the centre, blue-white.

Also known as NGC 2362, Collinder 136, Melotte 65, Raab 52, OCL 633.

Had an overall triangular shape to it. Triad. Seeing still bad. Spires heading out, 120 degrees from one another. Very nicely framed in the 24mm. Lots of faint stars within. Looked like a double above the central bright star. 

I dewed-up the lens again! OK, break time. Headed inside to warm up.

[ed. The bright star is τ CMa. SkyTools showed it as a double star, with four companions! Also, nearby MX CMa is a double, Burnham 133, to the east.]

11:27. Returned. With sketching gear.

I had grabbed a tear-off from the table-top calendar. On the back, I traced a circle using a soup can lid. Had the Starry Night clipboard and a pencil.

Sat down and drew the scene.

11:36. Finished the sketch.

sketch of the Northern Jewel Box

The audio recorder, when I tried to use it, shutdown. The extreme cold had depleted the batteries.

Turned off the mount but kept power applied. Turned down the dew heater. On standby, ready to go for morning observing...

Done. Took the computer and recorder and eyepiece in.

I felt pretty awesome, back inside, on the couch, warming up, reflecting. A very short session but it was good! Got a S&T double, new to me! And a RASC DSG, sketched, yes!

11:50. I reprogrammed the Globe power switch to not turn off automatically--I had the Vixen mount in sleep mode.

I set a 4 AM alarm, for the comet...


Dang. Just discovered that the Winter Albireo double star was nearby. I would have taken a look!


Looked up τ CMa in SkyTools, aka HJ 3948. The software shows it as a five-star system. B, C, and D are all doable. P on the other hand is not, at 0.1" separation. 

In my sketch I tagged D! Cool. It's the nearby star straight down, in the east direction, part of the nearby equilateral triangle.

I did not see B and C.

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