Tonight I went out to the local park with the scope. I had a bit better list than last time and stuck to it, and ad the end of the night I was able to shut down & be home in 10 minutes. Not bad at all.
So: Quick look at Saturn to start with, before it set beneath the trees. Very nice.
Managed to split Double-Double in Lyra, but I had to use the 6mm Radian to do it. South pair easier to split than the north pair.
Followed ISS with the scope (17mm, 71x) and man, that was neat.
Omicron Draco: double star, yellow and green/blue. Not my thing, double stars, but I do like the ones that resemble Earth & the sun (blue + yellow). Colours on this one were more subtle, though.
M56: Faint. No sign of resolution.
NGC 6939: OC in Cepheus. Took a while to track this down, as it was a lot fainter than I expected. Got a sketch.
NGC 6543, the Cats-Eye Nebula: Saw this straight off, an obviously non-stellar object. Faint blue. Neat.
M92: Aw! Looks like photo of a spiral galaxy. Liked it better than M13, which I looked at next.
NGC 6229: GC in Hercules. Faint like a Q-Tip, and no resulution at all.
NGC 6709: OC in Lyra. Nice! Big, sparse, and kind of reminds m of a fish shape. Mentioned in "Annals of the Deep Sky", which I'm enjoying.
Packed it in at 12.15am. Overall, a lot better than last time.
Tonight I went out to Boundary Bay with the Dob; it has been a long time since my last observing run. Here's what I saw:
Mars, with some detail -- probably Mare Acidalium & Siunus Meridiani. Held up well in the 6mm Radian, considering how low it was.
Saturn, with the Cassini Division easily visible. Also: Titan, Tethys, Dione and Rhea; couldn't pick out Enceladus.
M9, glob in Ophiucus, which seemed to be a bit lopsided. Hint of resolution.
M62, which has no hint of resolution at all. Quite low. Maybe a bit lopsided as well?
M24, which was nice in the 15x80 binos.
Beta Cephei and Delta Cephei, two very nice doubles. And of course, Delta Cephei is the prototype for Cepheid variables.
Gamma Cephei; unremarkaable to look at but it's 45 light years away (almost my age!) and has an exoplanet.
I looked for Pluto but couldn't get it; 12th mag was hard to see, let alone 14th, and the moon was just starting to shine in my face.
Showed a couple of folks sights through the telescope & answered their questions; saw an owl hunting.
Okay night. I was not feeling the enthusiasm tonight, though.
The cloud sensor is behaving badly of late, refusing to post updates. I suspect it's overheating, but it's hard to get data when the thing is across town. I had set up an SSH tunnel back to home so I could connect to it, but did the classic fail when I tried to convert it from running in tmux to running under supervisord and it didn't work and now I can't get back in. Waiting to get back to my inlaws' so I can debug it more properly.
But while it was working, I got it logging to InfluxDB (running on my home server over) over said SSH tunnel. Pretty sweet! And it was not hard to import all the previous stats I had as well.
And so but InfluxDb was running in a Docker container on the home machine, along with Grafana. Which of course led to running Telegraf on a lot of things, and collectd where I couldn't (hello OpenWRT). Which now OMG the stats. And the annotations.
But holy crap, Docker and IPv6 is a giant whirlwind of not-done-yet.
Because the kids' old laptop was, frankly, shitty, we got them a new cheap laptop and I did some complicated surgery resulting in two swapped hard drives and a new install of Debian 8 on Zombie, my home server, which is now managed nearly entirely by Chef. This was a lot of trouble -- setting up everything under a medium-weight config mgt system like Chef, I mean -- but I think it was worth it.
I've got the first breadboarded version of an Arduino weather station going, currently logging stats to InfluxDB. It is (/me checks Grafana) (/me checks on Arduino serial port for transmitter because receiver serial port acting badly) 67% humidity, 19.1 deg C and 1011.5 hPa and falling.
Today was another visit to my in-laws for lunch, and we got the cloud sensor fully deployed for the first time! Check it out:
The enclosure is a plastic container, one of a set of 6 I got from London Drugs for $15. It's got clamps to keep the lid on tight, and a rubber gasket to keep water out. I cracked the lid of the first one I worked when I drilled a hole without proper support, but my father-in-law has a drill press (one of the many advantages of marrying well) and we were able to get a second container set up.
We drilled a hole in the top for the sensor can to poke through and sealed it with silicone. I thought that would hold it in place (ie, that it would act as a glue as well) but no dice. Instead, we placed the first container -- which is smaller and was designed to nest inside -- in there as well. It sat under the sensor and kept it in place. It took a little bit of arranging to route all the USB cables, but we got it sorted out in the end.
My father-in-law crafted a shelf for the container out of some cedar planking and some steel bits he had lying around. We screwed that to the patio, then the container to the shelf. Plug in the Raspberry Pi to a nearby outlet, and boom -- we had data!
...until yesterday at noon, that is; that's when the last update was posted. (I'm starting to regret not having set up an SSH tunnel back home.) I'm not sure at this point what happened, but overheating seems a reasonable guess. We made some holes on the bottom of the container for ventilation, but it's a concern. I think the Pi itself should be good for longer periods -- I had it running outside my house here for days in a row, just not inside the container. I'll have to power cycle it and see what happens.
On the data front, I realized a while back that the CSC is only updated twice a day...which means downloading every hour is overkill. The script still runs every few hours, but now it checks whether the newly-downloaded chart's checksum is the same as the previously-downloaded example; if it is, it throws it away. And I've got the analysis script set up to convert the colours of individual squares in the CSC into cloud coverage predictions. Next step is to figure out how to store this info so I can work on it. All in all, not a bad bit of progress.
Today we visited my in-laws for our usual Sunday lunch, and I took along the cloud sensor to demonstrate for my father-in-law. He's a retired millwright with a strong sense of curiosity, so he enjoyed seeing it a lot. We set it up by a gazebo (?) he has in his back yard, with the Pi hanging from the wall and the sensor clipped to the roof:
After some clouds rolled out, it got seriously sunny. The data reflected that:
For the record, the ambient temperature is not really to be trusted. It kept reading in the mid-thirties, but a nearby thermometer showed nothing higher than 25 all day. And when the sensor is deployed here, it seems to register about a 10 degree higher temp for the sky; doubtless it's the combination of the wide FOV (90 degrees) and the narrow slice of the sky it can see from my front porch.
The day before I'd bought a plastic container to use as an enclosure, so we kicked around ideas about how to make it work. I'd picked it because the clipping lid seemed like it would keep out the weather quite well, especially since the lid completely overhangs the container -- but I'd forgotten to think about shedding water. The lid is recessed maybe half a centimetre, and any rain would just pool in there -- not what I want. We agreed that the enclosure definitely needs at least a flat roof, and ideally something rounded that would let rain roll off. A plastic bowl with a flat bottom would do the trick nicely.
So what worked well?
If you're interested:
The MLX90614 eval board arrived at last. I managed to get the header pins soldered on without melting much, and hooked up to the Raspberry Pi. The default firmware logs the temperature in Fahrenheit to the serial port every tenth of a second, and I was able to read it out with screen without a problem.
Next up was adjusting the firmware slightly to slow it down a bit, write out ambient temperature as well, and to switch to Celsius. (Cue feeling bad about not using Kelvin.) That took all of ten minutes, so huzzah for that.
Finally, I set up an account at ThingSpeak.com (free as in beer, plus free as in freedom software, plus export of data whenever you like), and set up a stupid simple script to send data both to a CSV file and to, you know, the cloud. The result? SWEET, SWEET FREEDOM:
Clockwise from top left, that's: sky temperature (sensor pointing up), ambient temperature, and the delta (ambient - sky). It's interesting to see how smooth the ambient temp is compared to the sensor temp.
Oh, and here's a shot of how it looks sitting on top of the BBQ outside:
Not at all weatherproof, of course, so that comes next. With the way I soldered the header pins on (all pointing up), that's going to be a challenge; I may de-solder them and have the top as bare as possible. That would let me (say) drill a hole in a Tupperware container, push the sensor through, then epoxy around it for waterproofing. As for the Pi...not too sure. I may try to mount it out of the weather, then run the sensor out under the sky.
Since my last post, I've made a bit of progress:
I've ordered the MLX90614 eval board plus a Redboard from Sparkfun (can't have too many Arduinos!) (arriving shortly)
I've done some initial playing around with the Arduinos and the accelerometer included in the Sunfounder kit, as a standin for the MLX90614. It amazes me how easy it is to get started with all of this...
I've grabbed one of the Raspberry Pis around the house and got it logging data over the USB serial port from the Arduino
Even got WiFi working on the Pi; it's an older one that doesn't have it built-in, but I've got an extra Asus N13 lying around that seems to work well
I've modified ttylog to include the date in its output; may not seem like much, but I'm no C programmer
Rough plan right now is:
Have the Arduino log once a second to the serial port; that's far too much data, but at least it'll be easy to see if it's working
Log that with ttylog; it'll be running under supervisor, and will log for an hour before exiting (and starting up again)
Once an hour, assuming WiFi works in its final location, try to rsync the log files home; if not working, pick up the log files manually
Put it all in a waterproof case of some sort, and find a place to plug it in at my in-laws (they've got a nice big yard)
So after doing some digging around, I think there's a simpler approach than using Peltier coolers, and that's using an IR temperature sensor. This guy has built his own using this approach, though he's using Arduino controllers to read them. That led me down the Arduino path, and after a lot of reading I think I've got an approach that might work.
Sparkfun sells the MLX90614 temperature sensor in a couple of different formats: bare sensor, or on an eval board. After reading that tutorial, my understanding is:
I can connect the evaluation board to an FTDI cable/breakout board, and hook that up via USB to the Pi. The default sketch in the evaluation board will give me temperatures in Fahrenheit once per second over a serial port. Later, I can change the sketch by using the Arduino IDE. Pro: Quick to start, USB is dirt simple, and I don't need a RedBoard or similar. Cons: Not as flexible as it would be if connected to RedBoard, since that would give it lots of expansion possibilities (humidity sensor, motion-activated potato cannon, etc.)
I can connect the evaluation board to the Pi via I2C. Can still reprogram the sketch later. Pro: Not really sure. Cons: Have to build my own I2C connector....not that hard, from what I can see, but I'm a newbie.
I can get the bare sensor (no eval board) and hook it up to the Pi via I2C. Pro: Unsure. Cons: Much more fiddly than anything I've tried before.
I can jump right in to Arduino and get an Inventor's Kit. I can use the bare sensor (as shown in the tutorial -- start on breadboard, package it up somehow when I'm confident it's working), or the eval board (doing something like [this example4), using I2C in both cases. Pro: Lots of room for expansion, Arduinos are fun, etc. Cons: Will take me a while to get up to speed.
Assuming I've got all that right...my inclination is to start with the FTDI breakout board and USB; that'll make the learning curve easier, and I can get the Inventor's kit later on.
I've asked on the SparkFun forum whether I've got all this right...time will tell. But getting quickly started with the USB seems like a good way to start.
For a while now I've been wondering idly how I could measure cloudiness. My goal is to both track how cloudy it is now (and over time), and to compare actual cloudiness with predictions from ClearSkyChart.
A few days ago I came across an approach that I think might work. This person measured the current coming from a Peltier cooler when exposed to the night sky. The difference in temperature between the ground-facing side (warm) and the sky-facing side (cold) varied depending on whether it was cloudy (less difference in temp == less current) or not (greater difference in temp == more current). It occurred to me that I could use a Raspberry Pi I've got lying around to take that same approach.
Since then I've been browsing around, and here's what I've found:
I'm starting to think I've got a good approach here.
April 1 was a busy day: second day of the semi-annual OpenDNS Hackathon (Team Sales Grenade represent!), and Clara's and I's 10th Housiversary. But despite being tired, and the forecast going back and forth, I went out to Boundary Bay to tackle the Virgo galaxies again. In fact, it'd been so long since I'd been able to go out that I had the time to think hard about what I wanted to do. Here's what I came up with:
Compare the XT10i (10" push-to Dob) and the Meade LX10 (8" Schmidt-Cass). I haven't used the LX10 in a while, and maybe I need to think about passing it on to a new owner -- but I wanted a chance to evaluate each one first.
VIRGO GALAXIES MOTHERFUCKER. Seriously, every spring it seems like there's a 90% chance I'll wake up one day and say "Crap, there goes Virgo...maybe next year." I really wanted to see Markarian's Chain, and between the trees on the horizon and light pollution at my usual location (suburban park), I figured this was my chance this year.
A fun, long night observing. Later the better, amirite?
Didn't have this on the list but should've: I broke down recently and bought a Televue 6mm Radian. It was time to try it out.
I arrived about 8.20pm and started getting set up. I had a nice talk with a birdwatcher while waiting for darkness to fall; he told me that the big hawklike birds I'd spotted on the drive in were almost certainly juvenile bald eagles, and I showed him Jupiter. We were both happy.
Comparison first: I looked at M42, both when the sky was still light (who can wait to look at M42?) and when it was darker, and Jupiter. M42 was much brighter than the Meade. This shouldn't surprise me, since the Dob gathers ~ 1.5x more light than the Meade (not even thinking about the central obstruction)...but I was. It made the difference between seeing subtle details in M42 quite easily (or is that a contradiction? whatever) with direct vision, and only being able to see them with effort and averted vision. M43 was also a DV object, though faint, in the Dob. Not only that, with the 6mm Radian in the Dob I was able to resolve the E component of the Trap. The Meade, though, showed no sign of the E with the Radian.
This brings up something about the Meade: higher magnifications just leave things fuzzy, with a real loss of contrast and an inability to focus cleanly. I have adjusted collimation once before, but my impression is that Cats are meant to hold collimation much longer -- I'm not sure what's going on here.
This became quite apparent with Jupiter. The 6mm was high mag on the Dob, to be sure, but it held -- moments of clarity with the zones & belts (swear I saw some kind of triple banding on the South Equatorial Belt), and Callisto and Ganymede clearly resolved as disks -- tiny, but disks nonetheless. The Meade showed markedly less contrast (central obstruction?) and as mentioned didn't hold up to the increased magnification. Backing off to the 12mm helped, but focus was still hard and the contrast was still noticeably less.
Objections, accusations & fixmes:
Having tracking is nice -- very nice. So is the fine adjustment. There's no question that the bump-bump-bump in the Dob can be a pain, particularly when swapping in a higher-powered eyepiece -- it's easy to lose your target and have to back out to find it again.
I really should look into the collimation.
Two objects obviously isn't enough to do a thorough comparison. But...I didn't feel the need to keep going. I stuck with the Dob the rest of the night and don't regret it at all. The extra aperture does wonders, and despite being fast held up to the added magnification of the Radian well.
Speaking of which...OMG this eyepiece is wonderful. Comparing it to the 6mm Expanse I've got, it's got practically zero CA, and resolution of stars is pin-fucking-point. It's amazing. Eye placement is a bit of a problem -- kidney-beaning happens pretty easily if you shift your head to the wrong place -- but by the end of the night I was pretty comfortable with it. It is very, very nice, and I'm pretty sure I'm going to be spoiled for other eyepieces.
So -- settled on the Dob, and I like the Radian. What else did I do?
First off, I observed the ISS through the Dob for the first time. It did a flyby low in the sky (right by Sirius) early in the night, and I was able to follow it relatively easily with the 17mm (1.2 degree FOV). And WOW -- WOW. Detail was apparent -- this was very obviously an H-shaped object. The stars flying by as I followed it gave a wonderful impression of its speed -- it was amazing to see it zoom across the sky like this. And on top of everything else, it went right by Jupiter -- within an eyepiece view of it. Truly amazing.
I went to M81 and M82, which were way high up in the sky. (I tripped over another faint fuzzy getting here -- I'm guessing one of NGC 3307 or NGC 2976.) It was interesting to compare the view with last week's session in the park; the 6mm showed detail in M82 that I simply wasn't able to see previously. I tried sketching it and am not happy with the results, but it was a good exercise in bringing out what I could see: two knots of brightness near the center of the galaxy, with maybe a dark lane between them -- something like what was sketched here or here. It's 12 million light years away, and is 5x more luminous than my own galaxy. I love this hobby.
M51, by contrast, was hard to find (the Intelliscope was a little off in this area of the sky), and didn't show much detail at all. I saw two faint but distinct blobs, with maybe a hint of a larger area of fuzziness around the larger galaxy. I certainly didn't see any connection between the two.
I decided it was time to head over to Markarian's Chain. The Intelliscope took me there without any problem. Following along with both Turn Left At Orion (God, I love that book) and a photo I'd printed out from Cartes du Ciel, I was able to pick up a lot with just the 17mm (71X). M84 and M86 were obvious; NGC 4438 and NGC 4435 took a bit more effort, but not much. I also saw NGC 4461, NGC 4473 and NGC 4477, to give me the tail (?) of the chain. NGC 4458 came out, but only with averted vision. By putting in the Radian and then using AV and jiggling the scope, I was able to pick up NGC 4388 -- a thin slash, and obviously elongated. I might have picked up NGC 4413 with AV, but can't say for sure. I couldn't find any sign of NGC 4402 or NGC 4387. I sketched it all -- not a great sketch, but a great souvenir.
I swapped in my 30mm Antares Erfle for a broader view (40X, 1.85 degrees). M84 and 86 were there, of course; 4438 and 4435 were ghostly and barely visible. (Thin, patchy clouds were starting to roll through, so that may have contributed to their faintness here.) 4461 was only visible with AV, and 4458 not at all; 4473 was an easy catch The FOV stretched from M84 all the way over to 4473 in one go -- five galaxies (may have been more, but my notes don't record it; must revisit this again) all in one look, 50-60 million light years away. Amazing.
I switched up to M87 for a closer look; since tripping over it in 2013, I've had a chart from Cartes du Ciel ready for a return visit. M87 was obvious, of course, but so was NGC 4478 in the 17mm. Throwing in the 6mm Radian brought out NGC 4476 was well; after that, I tried for it in the 17mm again, but couldn't see it.
M89 was an easy find, just by panning over. M90 was easy as well, but very faint.
Over to M66 and M67, which surprised me with how obvious they were -- they've given me problems in the past (though not at Boundary Bay...I need to re-read my posts more often). NGC 3628 was barely visible in the 18mm -- very faint. But hey, got the triplet!
At this point I decided to pull out the list of Messiers I haven't observed yet, and start going through them. I got to M105 without problems and picked up NGC 3384 as well; no sign of 3389. I sketched them and used my new blending stump. (Everything I sketch is now a faint, featureless blur.) M95 and M96 were nearby, so why not? They were both obvious in the 17mm.
Back over to M49 -- quite obvious. I picked up NGC 4469 (though it was quite faint) and NGC 4526; no sign of 4535.
M53 was a change -- a glob rather than a faint fuzzy. Not that I could tell it from a faint fuzzy in the 12mm -- there was maybe a hint of resolution with AV, but honestly it felt like another Virgo elliptical. But oh, when I put in the 6mm, there was that beautiful sparkling around the edges that I love in globs. It looked like maybe there was a brighter star, or a detached section, in the NE corner.
I switched back to Jupiter, briefly trying the 6mm with the TeleVue Barlow. It was too much; Jupiter wouldn't come into focus, but Ganymede and Callisto seemed to be obvious disks.
One more before packing up: either M61 or M64. I labelled it in my notebook as 61, but the sketch I did resembles 64, the Black Eye Galaxy, more -- and it was on a page in TL@O that I was looking at earlier.
Obviously I was getting quite tired. Clouds were starting to seriously roll in, and I decided to pack it in at 1.20am; an hour later, I was home, reviewing my notes and nodding off on the couch.
I'm really, really glad I went out. The forecast had been all over the map all week, and I wasn't sure it would be worth going out. But the clouds held out 'til about 1am, and it was an amazingly fun night.
I don't think I want to hang on to the Meade; it's time to pass it on to someone else. I'm sure I'll reconsider a Cat at some point in the future, but for right now I'm happy with the Dob. (Might trade for a refractor...we'll see.)
OMG the Radian. That is one sweet eyepiece. I stuck to that, the 17mm and the 30mm Erfle pretty much the whole night.
Met all my goals, hurrah!
New Messiers: M49, M53, M61, M90, M95, M96 and M105. Total is now 78.
Having the printed charts from Cartes du Ciel really, really helps. The best part is being able to download photos from the ESO's Digital Sky Survey; this helps immensely when looking at a particular area -- 1 x 2 degrees, say, or 2 x 2.5. Even with the C-series of the TriAtlas pages for (say) the Virgo cluster, it is just immensely crowded, and really hard to pick out everything I can see in the eyepice. I love the Triatlas series -- I've got the B series and bring it with me when I observe. But I would seriously consider bringing along a cheap laptop (this Chromebook, say), and using it out in the field to fetch images for things I'm looking at. Hm. Hmmmmmmmmmmmmm.
All in all, a fun, fun night. I'm immensely happy with how this all worked out.
OMG, at last a clear night! It has been a ridiculously long time since I went out with the scope -- October 3, in fact, when I went to Seymour Mountain. I've set up on the front porch a few times, but it was really, really nice to be able to go out. Even if it's just to the local park, it's an enormous difference from the house, and wonderful because of that.
So yeah, out to the park with the wheels for the first time. They worked wonderfully, and I was able to zip around with very little difficulty. It would have been nice to have some kind of clip for the dust cover, and handles on the side of the scope would also be good -- but other than that, everything is very, very nice.
So how was the observing? In one sense, something of a failure; I came up with a big list of targets and barely hit any of them. But for having fun, it was great.
Jupiter and its moons were wonderful to see. Even when clouds well, high haze rolled in, it was still worth looking because of hte steadiness of the view. This is the first time I've ever seen the moons as disks, not points -- and I swear, at times Callisto looked grey and mottled. Wonderful.
200X was not out of line when it was still; neither was 400X. But the 6mm I've got one of the Owl line is definitely on its way out; too much CA. Even if it's got a narrower FOV, a 6mm Plossl is in my future.
Dialed in M51, but between a suburban location and haze all I saw were two disconnected, extremely faint points of light.
M81 and M82, though, were great. Faint but obvious, and I was able to see them both in one FOV with the 18mm eyepiece. I might have seen a dust lane in M82 before the clouds rolled in?
All in all, a great time.
Another night out on the front porch, but unlike last time the clouds did not roll in. Hurrah for that!
First up was M78. I think I tracked this down, but it's hard to be sure; the nebulosity, if any, was very faint. Not a good one to track down from Suburbia, I guess.
Next up was M42. This was my first good look at it through the 10" Dob, and OH. MY. GOD. I saw a ton more detail than I've seen before. Dark lanes & dark spots, a big swooping curve to the south, and actual nebulosity with AV for M43 rather than just "Yeah, I think it's there". The 6mm eyepiece really brought out the dark lanes. Just amazing.
I looked up HD 34445. Why? Because it's got an exoplanet, that's why; 0.8 Jupiter masses, a 1049-day period and about a 2AU orbital radius. The star is 152 +/- 5 light years away, meaning the light started off around 1855. Neat...but the fun was in knowing what it was. Nearby, there was an asterism that was almost shaped like an E, but seemed to have one member running away...this amused me.
Searched for OC NGC 2194, an entry on the NGC Finest list, but that was a bust -- simply could not find any sign of it. Looked in the atlas and saw that OC NGC 2169 was nearby, so checked it out -- and it was absolutely charming. It's known as the 37 Cluster (though I hadn't known this or heard of this OC before), but I immediately thought of the Greek letters Delta and Sigma. It's only 8 million years old, and seems bright for being 3700 light years away.n Very nice.
Picked another random OC, NGC 2129 in Gemini. About 18 suns were visible in the 6mm. It kind of reminded me of the Lunar Module -- something about the sort-of-triangular shape. The sketch on this page matched what I saw pretty closely. It's young (10 million years) and relatively far (7000 light years). NGC 1664 in Auriga however, reminded me of a dandelion on its side. Faint, but still easily picked out. It's about 3900 light years away; not sure about the much brighter star right by it, but I'm guessing that one's much closer.
Took a brief look at the Double CLuster (again, wonderful through the 10") and then called it a night. Not terribly long -- 2 hours all told -- but completely enjoyable. And ZOMG is the Intelliscope ever wonderful; there's no way I could have looked at as much as I did without it.
It has been a rare bout of mid-winter clear weather here. I couldn't head out somewhere dark like Boundary Bay 'cos I'm on call at the moment, but I could set up on the front porch. Sure, it's filled with lights and isn't terribly private, but it does have the advantage of being as close to home as you can be while still asserting that you're outside. Plus, the Intelliscope makes it, like, really really easy to find things.
First up was NGC 1514, a planetary nebula in Taurus that's either 600 ly or 4300 ly or some other distance away. This took a bit of tracking down, since it was not immediately obvious -- but once I started panning aroudn with a 15mm Plossl and an O3 filter, it didn't take long to find. (Incidentally, I'm coming to love that Plossl. Plossls 4eva!) Confirmed that I got it by looking at some other folks' sketches. The Wikipedia entry says that William Herschel discovered this (as he & Caroline discovered so very much), and it changed his mind about the nature of the universe; it made him doubt his own theory that all nebulosity was just distant, unresolved stars. Neat!
Next up was NGC 1931, an emission/reflection nebula in Auriga. This took even more tracking down, not least because M38 was right close by and who doesn't want to look at M38? But at last I found it (confirmed with this image from Deepskypedia.com), and it was neat. Barlowed 15mm showed 2 stars; Barlowed 6mm showed three. No sign of the extensive nebulosity other folks seem to see.
These two were on the Finest NGC list from the RASC, which means I'm starting another list now. (4, maybe 5, out of 110 since you're asking.) I also got in looks at M36/37/38/35 (no sign of that nearby NGC cluster) and M42 briefly briefly briefly just as the verdammt fog was rolling in. Boo for that! But yay for just five steps to bring everything in and sit down.
The leadup to Xmas 2015 has been, um, slack...at least for me. Clara has done so very much of the work, both because of my general laziness/busyness and because I've been sick for a couple weeks with flu. It has been hard to find a rhythm in all of this, a chance to get into the spirit of things. (I may be an atheist, but between my childhood and the excitement of everything/everyone around me I don't even try to resist the appeal.)
Today, though, the day was finally here, and late though I was I got into it. The kids, bless their hearts, were fine not receiving iPhone 6s in Rose Gold, or Samsung tablets, or XWii4 console stations; instead, they were genuinely thrilled to bits with what they did get: notebooks; games; pyjamas:
books; and best of all, digital cameras from their grandparents that, it turned out, did creepy special effects on pictures that delighted them because it disturbed us. ("Daddy, look at this picture! --Hey Arlo, he made that face again!")
I got the gift of beer from Clara and my parents:
Clara was happy with the donation I made in her name to Options for Sexual Health (nee Planned Parenthood). I got to make Apple Pancake, a staple of Christmas from my childhood, for my own kids:
It wasn't exactly a Christmas present, but my father-in-law made me wheels for the new Dob out of stuff he just happened to have lying around the house:
Overall, it was a damn good time. And on top of that, I got to set up the scope on the front porch -- first time I've observed in 2.5 months. I saw NGC 457 (ET Cluster, but I saw it as a spaceship), and the full moon (wonderful view of Aristarchus plateau). A great day all round.
I started this blog (checks git) thirteen years ago. Holy crap. First entry was July 23, 2002 and was posted to my Slashdot Journal. (Man, I miss Slashdot...) In that time I've switched from Slashdot to WordPress to PHPWiki to a homegrown compiler to (checks Makefile) Chronicle. Considering a change to Jekyll or some such...though I should probably pay someone to actually design this site too. Suggestions welcome.
What with scheduling and weather, it has been a long time since I've gone out observing. My interest has waned a bit too, which kind of worries me. OTOH, this is the usual time of year where it's cloudy 25 hours a day...usually by the time January rolls around, I'm ready to go out again.
I've been playing with Chef a lot at $WORK recently and I'm really coming to like it. Between the API the Chef server exposes and the unexpected sense of relaxation that comes from having an actual programming language to write in, it's been fun to pick up. I still want to see a cage match between Mark Burgess and other folks.
Are you a member of the EFF? You should be.
Tonight I went up to Seymour Mountain, on the assumption that the forecasted fog would surely come sooner to Boundary Bay. I went through one of Sue French's columns (Lacerta, pg 249 of "Deep Sky Wonders") in a semi-systematic way; this is one of the first times I've done this, despite having her book for a couple of years now.
NGC 6934: Faint glob, but obvious when I looked. The Intelliscope was pretty much rockin' tonight.
NGC 6928: Maybe might have maybe seen this with averted vision. Even with a 10" Dob, faint galaxies are still a challenge (read: you ain't gonna see a mag 12 spiral no matter how small it is.) Spent a lot of time trying to get this.
NGC 7006: Another faint glob. Lovely, though ghostly.
Uranus: Hurrah, found it! Boy, it's small. Still beautiful, though. Couldn't track down Neptune.
There were some other objects seen, but those were the highlights.
Tonight I went out with the XT10i for the first time since coming home. I did get some observing done, but this was really a chance to get familiar with the new scope. For some reason this feels like the first time I've really put it through its paces...I guess because it's the first run-through of my usual routine.
When I was packing up the car, the OTA very nearly did not fit in the trunk -- I figured out a way to wiggle it in, but it's a very close thing. My assumption that it would be the same length as Ranger (the 8" SkyWatcher Dob, also 1200mm focal length) appears to be wrong. This is definitely going to take some practice. The rocker box fit in the back seat just fine, although I'm still nervous about the encoder boards. I don't know how I'm going to take a passenger (ie, my kids) plus this scope...good thing I've still got Neptune, the 8" Meade SCT.
I got to Boundary Bay a little after sunset, which gave me plenty of time to set up and wait for the mirror to cool down. Eventually Saturn was visible, so I had a look...gorgeous! Only 100x, and it was low in the sky, but it was still lovely to see.
Right around then, a couple of Delta police officers showed up. They were investigating a complaints that some duck hunters had been shooting over the dyke instead of over the water. They admired the scope, and when I invited them to take a look at Saturn they were quite impressed. One asked what the power on the eyepiece was; when I told him, he shook his head. "I trained as a sniper for the emergency response team," he said. "We had some cool scopes, but nothing with magnification like that!"
Finally it got dark enough to do the two-star alignment. I ran into trouble with this: no matter how much care I took, I kept getting truly whack warp factors: 17, 34...Finally I broke down and did the encoder test, and saw that the altitude encoder wasn't registering any change at all. I checked the encoder disk, and realized I'd neglected to tighten the tensioning knob on that side -- so when the scope moved in altitude, the disk didn't turn at all. That was easy enough to fix, and when I redid the alignment I got a warp factor of 0.2. Yess!
And now to test! First I went for Saturn, since it would be easy to verify it worked. Set the date, pushed...and right there in the 12mm. Hm, how about M13? Done. M11? Done. M16? Done. M22? Done. With all of these, it was right there -- no hunting around, no nothing. And that was pretty much the pattern for the rest of the night: even if it wasn't right in the centre (and most of the time it was), it was still in the FOV of the 12mm (and sometimes the 6mm, when I happened to have that in). There were a couple of exceptions: I tried viewing M4, but couldn't see anything -- it was super-low in the sky, though, so it's entirely possible it was behind a tree or something that I didn't notice. The other exception was M81; it took me to the right neighbourhood, but it was noticably off -- by which I mean outside the FOV, and it took a minute of hunting around to track it down. This was on the other side of the sky from the stars I picked for alignment, though (Altair and Arcturus), so I'm not too concerned about that.
By the time I was through all this, I was dancing around and high-fiving myself giddily -- I could not believe how well this was working. I took a moment to breathe deeply, then got to work actually looking at what I was seeing.
M28: A dim fuzzy blob, low on the horizon. A hint of resolution with averted vision that came and went. A new Messier!
M17 was obvious right away, even with twilight not yet over (it was only 9pm by this point) and without the O3 filter. With the O3 filter it was beautiful.
M23: At this point I switched away from my plan and just started paging through "Turn Left at Orion". This open cluster looked best in the 17mm eyepiece: enough magnification to darken the sky, enough FOV (68 deg AFOV == almost 1 degree true GOV) to show it off nicely. Two satellites passed through over in two minutes, going in opposite directions; I followed the second one for shits & giggles across a quarter of the sky, and the motion of the scope was just wonderful.
M25: Another satellite passed through while I was looking at this. I didn't record any other notes.
M8: the dark lane was easy to see, even without the O3 filter.
M20/M21: Very hard to spot the nebulosity in M20, even with the O3. M21 was very pretty.
M16: Finally spotted nebulosity with the O3 -- haven't been able to do this before with Ranger. Faint and better with averted vision, but definitely there.
M31: Went to see if I could spot M110, which I've had a super hard time with in the past. It was very faint, but it was there. Hurrah! M32 obvious as always.
Double cluster framed nicely by the 2" 32mm.
Upsilon Andromedae: Found with binos, then naked eye. Why this star? Two reasons: it's 43 or 44 light years away...and I'm 43 and a half. That's kind of neat. And it has four confirmed exoplanets -- discovered by Geoffrey Marcy, Paul Butler, Debra Fischer and a host of others.
Saturn nebula: Obviously non-stellar and squashed shape, but can't say I could distinguish much detail.
M15 Hint of resolution in 6mm.
By this time it was 10:30pm, and I decided to call it a night. Teardown was pretty simple except for fitting the scope into the trunk (again).
Alignment/push-to: OMG, it's amazing. Once I figured out the clutch problem, pretty much everything just worked. This changes EVERYTHING.
Motion; a lot, LOT better than my previous scope. I was able to follow things easily as they moved across the sky, even at 100X or 200X. I'm not sure if it's the handle that makes such a difference compared to Ranger, the heavier weight of the mirror, or just better materials...but man, no complaints at all.
Focuser: I've added Orion's dual-speed focuser. Travel is smooooooth like butter, and the two-speed adjustment is a dream.. The barrel extension is a bit of a pain when switching eyepieces.
Optics: Fine AFAICT. Things were fuzzy tonight with the 6mm (200x), but that may have been either because of clouds or because I'd been focusing on objects in lower third of the sky. Or maybe the eyepiece.
The session: You can tell I kinda went crazy; I was definitely drunk on power. :-) No, I didn't really stop to savour things (well, except for M11...man, that just gets better and better), but I was so very excited by how well everything worked.
What needs improving? A few things:
I worry about the encoder disks and circuit boards. Some kind of cover for transport would be nice.
The size and weight of this scope is significant. I can't get over the difference compared to the 8" Dob. Getting it in and out of the trunk is going to take practice.
Someone suggested getting this holster for the hand controller, and I think that'd be a good idea. My father-in-law should be able to make something like this.
I want to add a fan or two for the mirror and boundary layer. Not sure it's needed, but it'd be good.
Haven't done a proper star test yet.
Back still sore. I've got the new observing chair, so what the hell? Need to figure this out.
Very happy with this scope. Some improvements to be made, but overall well worth everything.
I've bought myself an Orion XT10i -- a 10" Dobsonian with a push-to controller. I'm at my parents' place right now, test-driving it under their incredibly dark skies. The first night was mostly spent getting used to it, but the second night I managed to get some good observing time in. I'm going to combine the two nights into one entry.
First impressions: this is a big scope compared with the 8" I have now. It's heavier and bulkier, and is going to take some thinking and work to make it as portable as the 8". But it's nicely made, the controller seems to work well, and once I replaced the RACI finder with my old straight-through, I could actually find things. The movement is okay, but it's still going to take some work. A perfunctory star test looked same inside and out, but I still need to sketch it. Will need to baffle the mirror end, esp when I get back to light pollution. The spring-loaded collimation screws are wonderful, but I wish I didn't get different answers from the collimation cap and the Cheshire I've got. With some practice managed to get warp factor of 0.2, but even bad warp facters (5) seemed useful.
And with that, I got set up for first light! After doing the first alignment, I went right away to the Double-Double. Not sure if it's the scope or just that it's high overhead, but it was a lot easier to split this than with the 8".
M13 was glorious. I might have been able to see the propeller. M92 was utterly charming, even right after M13. I saw what looked like a kind of lazy looping S of in this glob.
M101 was cool to see, but not the "glorious Catherine Wheel of fireworks" that Sue French describes in "Deep Sky Wonders". I saw shadowy hints of structure that might've hinted at spiral arms, but that was it. (And that was over two separate nights.)
M57 was cool to see as always, as was M11. M51 was also pretty, but showed no detectable structure beyond the two components.
M109 and M108 were pretty but seemed formless. Sorta kinda maybe might've seen one eye in M97 but I wouldn't swear to it.
NGC 5985 and 5982 -- lovely, especially for the distance (100 million ly!). Zero sign of NGC 5981, but stats say it's mag 13 so I don't feel so bad.
Saturday night, I went out again. I started out just laying on the grass and looking at the Milky Way overhead, sometimes with binos and sometimes with Mark I naked eye. Amazing. Neat to see early Perseids. Saw what looked like dark nebula right by Deneb.
M13: Tried for propeller again. Maybe hint of it at 200X, but not certain. Still gorgeous.
North American Nebula: took some tracking down, but finally spotted in 18mm with O3 filter by looking for NGC 6997, one of the OCs that are in this. Found Gulf of Mexico w/o filter, and east coat with. Neat, but subtle even w/filter. Not like...
Veil Nebula: First words out of my mouth were "Holy shit, you're kidding me." This is AMAZING. Srsly, I think this may be equal of M42. Found arcs on both sides but not central portions. Whatever...my god, this was incredible to see.
Looked for Blinking Planetary; could not track down. Next.
M33: Wow, actually hints of structure plus easy to find. Double plus, saw NGC 604, a large (1500 ly!) star-forming region in M33. Wow.
M31: WOW. M110 and M32 obvious. Tracked down G1, a glob orbiting M31...DOUBLE wow. Was not able to separate G1 from the two stars it's next too, but was obv. non-stellar.
Alpha Persei: Pretty sure I saw nebulosity in this area, just w/naked eye. Neat.
Wow, so the last time I went out with the scope was May -- it's amazing it's been so long. I drove up to Seymour Mountain, but there was some kind of party int he woods where folks usually observe. Turned around and drove out to Boundary Bay, wondering why I'm not paying for a RASC membership. There was a beautiful crescent moon setting next to Venus as I drove out.
Since it's 2.55am as I write this, let's get to the good parts: what I saw! (Oh, except to say I used the Dob this time.)
Saturn was low in the slop, but still pretty to look at. Cassinni Division popped in and out iwth the 6mm (100X).
Double-double: coud not split.
Star test: same as always; rings all the way in on one side, hole in the middle on the other side. Need to figure out what this means.
Omega Serpentis -- nothing much to look at, but it holds an exoplanet and that's pretty cool. 1.7x mass of Jupiter, 277 day period, and 273 light years away.
On a whim, tried for NGC 5990 which was right near Omega Serpentis; no luck finding it.
Found M5 pretty easily.
Found M80 -- new Messier! Harder to pick out than M4 was. No resolution -- just a q-tip.
M19 -- easy enough to find in binos. Maybe some resolution at 100X but that's suspicous.
M13 -- oldie but goodie. And I found NGC6202 for the first time! Seemed fairly obvious -- not sure if that's the night, the locatiom or getting used to things.
M92: aww, I love globs I can resolve.
NGC 5985, 5982 & 5981 -- took a lot of time with these. I got 5982 w/AV, but couldn't see the other to.
M11 -- wow, just wow.
I just today pulled the trigger on an Orion XT10i. This is a pretty big upgrade from the two scopes I've got now: an 8" SkyWatcher Dob, and an 8" Meade LX10. It's two inches more aperture, of course, but also I'm looking forward to the Intelliscope -- after spending a lot of time starhopping with the Dob, I'm in the mood to be lazy. The LX10's got a controller (the Magellan II), but I've found its accuracy to be iffy sometimes. Doubtless it's operator error, but I've heard pretty much nothing but good things about the Intelliscope.
I'd been thinking hard about what to upgrade to. I've been looking very seriously at the Celestron NexStar Evolution, particularly since it would be GoTo rather than PushTo. The wireless problems people are encountering are concerning, but more than that I think the XT10i should be a great deal more portable than the Evolution. I've got a hand truck that I use for the 8" Dob, and that lets me walk the scope over to a local park to go observing, rather than having to drive. For the Meade I've got a wagon, but it's a lot heavier and a lot more awkward. I don't want to be stuck driving, and the hand truck works well.
Only trouble is, I won't get to use it for six weeks. How come? 'Cos I'm having it shipped out to my parents' place in Ontario, where my family will be vacationing for a couple weeks in August. It's a long time to wait, but their skies are incredibly dark: they live ten minutes drive outside a village of 300 people, on an island about 120km away from the nearest city. We were last there three years ago, and I easily picked up Messier objects in binoculars that I hadn't been able to see near my house with the Dob. That time, the scope I had was a 4.25" reflector I'd packed into a suitcase; this time, I'm gonna be loaded for bear. :) After vacation's over, I'm going to disassemble it and ship it back home.
So...now we wait. And collect Cloudy Nights threads on mods, tips, complaints, raves and the most passing of mentions. No, YOU'RE obsessed.
Last Saturday I made a run to Vancouver Telescopes. It's an awesome store, with absolutely amazing service, and I can't recommend it enough. I came home with a few different things:
I've done a little bit of playing around with the first two, but not enough to get really familiar with them. Still, they look good, and the FOV on the 6mm is nice -- it's definitely noticeable when I compare it to a 7.5mm Plossl I've got.
I tried out the Cheshire on Ranger, the 8" Dob, and man that was a revelation. I've been using a film cannister with a hole punched in it, and that worked fine -- but it was a very noticeable difference to have the crosshairs in there too. The scope wasn't too badly misaligned when I started, but it was a lot easier to get everything lined up than it has been in the past...having the crosshairs really shows you the effect of turning this or that Allen key. Speaking of which, next upgrade might be a set of Bob's Knobs...it would be nice to not have to use Allen keys and screwdrivers. Plus, for some reason the Skywatcher needs a 2mm Allen key for the primary, and an Imperial measure (3/64ths? Can't remember) for the secondary.
On Wednesday a friend of mine came over for supper; he's a coworker of mine from OpenDNS, and he was up from San Francisco to work for the week. (Side note: we're working on setting up OpenStack together, and it's amazing to have a partner in crime; it's also amazing to be in person and sort things out. Google Hangouts are great, but they're still no substitute for in-person infinite bandwidth. But I digress.)
He also wanted to see the scope, so we dragged it out to let it cool, then sat out on the porch after supper. We were able to see Jupiter: four moons visible, equatorial belts and south temperate belt easily visible. Then it was the moon -- 95% full, and a lovely set of shadows at the edge. He took a number of photos of both Jupiter and the moon on his iPhone; the moon turned out best, of course, but the pix of Jupiter showed a (sadly) overexposed Jupiter and four distinct moons -- quite a bit better than I've been able to do with Jupiter, and not at all bad for simply holding up the phone to the scope. It was a lot of fun, and I suspect he may be a candidate for a scope in the future...
Speaking of which, I'm going to upgrade this summer. My family and I are going to be spending a couple weeks at my parents' place, and it is dark there -- darker than anything else I've ever seen. They live 10 minutes' drive away from a village of 300, and the nearest big city is ~ 100 km away. My plan is to order a new scope and get it shipped out there before I arrive, use it while I'm there, then ship it back here.
I've thought a lot about what I want to get. A C8 would be wonderful, and the Nexstar Evolution looked really neat -- but it's a very new model, and the reports on Cloudy Nights indicated some worrying problems. A C8 on a GEM, or maybe the CPC, would be a good scope, but it's not terrible portable -- I would have a hard time observing with this on a regular basis here without committing to driving it around everywhere. A small refractor would be nice, and still relatively portable -- but it's still a small refractor.
In the end, I've setttled on an Orion XT10i -- a 10" Dob with Orion's Intelliscope (digital setting circles). It's relatively cheap, at about half the price of a C8. It's still relatively portable, especially compared to a C8 or some such on a GEM; there are lots of people who put these on hand trucks (as I've done with Ranger, the 8" Dob I've got now), and that'll help me walk it around when I want to go observing at the park near my house. And while the upgrade in aperture will be nice, I'm also really looking forward to the Intelliscope system. I think this will be a great thing both here (where light pollution is a problem), and in dark skies (where I will have problems finding my way through the embarrassment of riches!).
I'm tempted to get it now so I can make sure everything's okay (and observe with it, of course!), but I suspect that disassembling it and shipping it twice will be more trouble and expense than I want. It's still going to be a fair amount to ship it back, of course, but it'll be worth it to have it at such a dark site.
The last thing I wanted to put down here was about cooling the Dob. One morning this week I was up early, and brought out Ranger to have a look at M13 in Hercules. Before I got started, though, I took some time to do a star test with the new 6mm eyepiece and Rasalhague. When I defocused the image, the shimmering and dancing of the star's image, from the mirror cooling off, were amazing -- I'd never taken the time to look before, and it was like looking through the bottom of a pool. This was right after I'd brought out the scope, and I thought for sure I wouldn't get a good look that morning. I kept on anyhow, figuring that it wouldn't cool off in less than an hour and I might as well enjoy the view I did have.
Twenty minutes later I decided to try the star test again, and holy crap -- it was immensely steadier. It wasn't perfect, of course, but instead of constant rapid billowing, it was slow ripples. (I presume this would have been mostly the seeing right then, rather than from the mirror cooling.) I also noticed that if I brought my hand underneath the scope's front end, I could see the shimmering from the heat of my hand.
It was an amazing demonstration, and I wish I had thought to try this long ago; it would have helped me guage things, and understand what I was seeing (or not seeing) a lot better. And I can't believe the difference that only 20 minutes made...between that and the ability to see how much it has cooled, I am never going to worry my pretty little head about mirror cooling again. Oh, it makes a difference, of course -- but between the short time it takes to get noticeably better, and the simple fun and enjoyment of any view through the scope, I think there are lots of other things to worry about.
Tonight was clear -- the first time in a week or more. I wanted to get out my scope. But the clear sky chart said it was going to get cloudy between 8 and 9pm; Environment Canada's forecast was calling for clouds and fog overnight. Worse, I hadn't put out my scope to cool, and I was worried about crappy views. I dithered and dallied, but at last hauled up the Dob from the basement and set it on the front porch, and I brought out a chair.
We live in a townhouse, and there's a condo building attached to the development that's right across from us -- four metres or so separate our front door from that building. We have hedges between us and our adjacent neighbours. All in all, the sky that's visible from the porch is a chunk about 30 degrees wide, about 30 degrees above the horizon to straight up, aimed roughly southeast. And these days, Jupiter is right there when it gets dark.
I wasn't expecting much. The scope hadn't cooled, I hadn't collimated, and my eyepieces are nothing special. But oh, that view! The two giant equatorial bands, with the southern tropical band popping into view every now and then. And sure enough, there was the Great Red Spot as well -- hah! Even at 100X, the view held just fine. Callisto, Io and Io were visible off to one side, and Ganymede to the other; Europa was hidden behind Jupiter.
I looked around to see what else was visible in this sliver of sky. Not much...but there was Castor, a double star. Could I split it? Yes -- barely; this made the lack of collimation apparent. But I was happy anyway, even if double stars aren't usually my thing.
By this time the sky was clouding over -- but only in the east. On a whim I took a walk to a nearby ball field to see if I could see the moon or Venus...and holy crap, it was! I hurried back and put the dob on a hand truck I use to move it around, then wheeled it over. The moon wasn't high at all -- a hand's breadth above the rooftops -- but it was beautiful, a tiny sliver of brightness and the rest filled out by Earthshine. Venus was clearly not quite a full disk. Mars was tiny, and it too showed the shortcomings of my setup -- not just collimation, but being so very low on the horizon. But that was okay; it was enough to see it. I swung back to the moon and just drank it in until it got low, and then I went home.
There is a lot to optimize, or fuss over, or worry about in this hobby. There are good reasons to; a bit of care can make the difference between seeing a fuzzy blob and having your breath taken away by the crispness and the beauty. But there is a lot, a lot to be said for just doing it; for not overthinking things; for simply getting out and looking. I saw three planets, a double star and our moon tonight; the light I was seeing took from under two seconds (Luna) to 12 minutes (Venus) to 41 minutes (Jupiter) to nearly 50 years (Castor) to reach me from its source. I saw sunrise on the moon and imagined seeing it in person. I saw the ecliptic laid out for me, from the already-set sun through Jupiter. I wouldn't have seen anything if I'd let my worries get the best of me.
Just came across this project and it's too cool not to write down.
Last week I went out to Boundary Bay to observe. It had been a beautiful afternoon and evening, but by the time I got out it was hazy as anything. Not fog, but high-up haze. I got there at 8, and stuck it out 'til 9.30. I observed Jupiter some, but it was fuzzy and without detail; I put it down to the haze, or maybe internal reflections in the diagonal. I went home at 9.30.
This week I went out again, but I was accompanied by my oldest son (8 3/4). He'd wanted to come out last week, but I only found out at the last minute. This time we got prepared beforehand: books, blanket and a pillow. (I knew he wanted to stay up late and look through the scope, but I also knew he'd want to go to sleep at some point. We got there at 8pm again, with much better weather (you know, clear).
There was a fair amount of outreach tonight. First was a family of five out to see the stars, and second was a couple out for a walk. They were all pretty stoked to see through the scope. One of the kids really took a shine to my son and declared him his new best friend; I think Arlo was a little relieved when they left.
Between those visits, I figured out what the problem was with my scope: collimation, of course. I haven't collimated it since purchasing it, and the last few times I've had it out I"'e been pretty frustrated with the views. I finally got it done, and WOW what a difference -- Jupiter was actually sharp and detailed and beautiful again. It made me want to call the first family back to show them what they'd missed.
There were ambitions for the night, but fog kept rolling in for a while, dewing the corrector lens (despite the home-made dew heater); the battery on the Magellan ran out and had to be replaced; and the moon was up and nearly full. I tried for M78 (reflection nebula in Orion) and failed, even with an O3 filter; I tried for M79 (glob in Lepus) and failed; I tried for NGC 2207 (galaxy in CMaj) but failed; but I finally got somewhere with M93, OC in CMaj. Got a sketch through the dew; it has a real W-shape. One more Messier...
As for my son: I think he enjoyed it, though I think he would have been happier coming home earlier. I know that a big part of it for him is being out with me and staying up late, rather than the astronomy itself -- but he was happy to see the constellations, and to did seem to have fun.
There's more to write, but that's all I've got strength for now. Another time...
Tonight was a clear night -- but first, it was tree-decorating time. (I admit to being tempted to duck out of decorating the tree, but I relented after, I dunno, no more than 20 minutes of thinking about it. I am a bad person.) I decided to head out to Boundary Bay -- it's clear, it's Sunday, it's winter (astro twilight ends at 18:10, y'all) and I'd just flocked the Meade (both the main tube and the drawtube to the first knife-edge baffle -- man, that makes a difference).
I'd planned to hit M31 then the Cassiopeia clusters, but as Douglas Adams said, the best part of making a plan is ignoring it. Got out at about 7.30, was set up by 7.45 and panning around with the binos by 7.50. Saw a Geminid (hurrah!). Took a quick look at easy Messiers, and they were: M35, M36, M37 and M38 all just popped right out. So for shits and giggles I looked up where M33 should be, and holy hell if I didn't find goddamn M33 with binos right away. Wow! I tried to find it in the scope but was unable -- and rather than get bogged down in that, I gave myself a high-five and carried on.
I moved over to M31, and used a printout to find M110 -- only to realize at home (like, ten minutes before I typed this) that I'd already found it last August, apparently. (I'm giving myself the side-eye as I write that.)
So okay, no new Messier there -- but as long as we're really honest-to-god finding faint Messiers, I found M1 without any real difficulty. Still nothing like Jeremy Perez' sketch, but no question about seeing it this time.
New Messier, though: M77! Spiral galaxy I had not seen before, in Cetus. Relatively simple to find; not much to look at, but great to see.
Took a look at M42 -- first good look of the season, and despite being unable to focus (dew heaters were not working at this point; not sure what went wrong), it actually made me gasp. Amazing, just amazing. Even saw M43 w/averted vision this time.
So after all that -- I'm up to 65 Messiers. Hurrah!
Tonight it was cold and clear; it snowed earlier today and was probably about -5 C when I went out (15 F). I didn't stay out long -- maybe an hour and a half of actual observing -- but it was the first time I've been out out since September. Wonderful to see Auriga, Gemini, Orion, Perseus and Pegasus...
Pleides were the first target, just to see if I could fit them into the new 2" 31mm. No.
After that I spent some time sketching M31 and M32. I searched for M110, and the closest I came was a "Oh, maybe that might be a little fuzzy perhaps." As it turns out, that's reasonably close to where it should be -- but I'm not willing to call this one found; I think it's more that I know where to look when I'm in a darker location.
After this I did an alignment on the Magellan for the first time; it worked well, except that the display was very slow to respond -- presumably because of the cold.
Used the Magellan to find M36, M37 and M38. All were lovely, and M38's X is very pretty, but oh, that M37. Such a lovely splash of stars.
Bino break! M35, M42, M36 through M38, and M31. I'm impressed I'm able to find M35 and M36/37/38 so easily now; that was tough, bordering on impossible, not so long ago.
Switched to Cassiopeia and tried looking for NGC 7789, but it was too damn cold; I found where it should have been, but could not be bothered to keep going.
Did I mention that the dew heaters worked splendidly? Because they did.
I'd just like to point out Matt Simmon's blog post on what's gonna happen when NASA launches Orion on its first flight. I'm pretty damn jealous he's been invited to attend, but I can't think of a better writer to cover it. Word up, Mr. Simmons.
Man, it's been busy since I started at OpenDNS. I've been down to San Francisco twice (once when I was hired, and again for a planning meeting w/the rest of my team), I've been writing a post for the company blog (coming RSN), and I've been leading a team of bloggers for the USENIX blog (along with the excellent @beerops, @noahm (who had to bow out after one article, sadly, but hey, guy's probably a father already!) and @markllama). The kids now know to say to me, "Daddy, you've got blogging to do!" :-) It's been a lot, and I'll be glad when the conference is over and I can get back to slacking.
The last week or so I've been reading to the kids at night. That's not a new thing -- we did this since they were infants -- but I sort of changed it up a little. Most of the time they pick the books, but I was getting tired of Garfield and one night I announced I was going to read part of "The Wizard of Oz" before we got to their choices. They've displayed occasional interest in longer books (like the time I had to read a bit from "The Lord of the Rings" for a few days), but this seems different: I was asked to keep going. We're up to chapter 7 now, and Eli in particular seems to like it. We'll sit downstairs; I'll sit on the couch, and he'll stretch out in the recliner. "Ah," he says, "it's so relaxing to sit here and have you read to me."
Arlo, meanwhile, is taking to drawing. He's practicing his faces, which are noticeably different from his usual style: wide eyes and big open mouths, usually with "AAAAAAAAHH!" coming out of them. It's all fine, really. :-) He's also written a couple of comic books, including one about Godzilla terrorizing people in their apartments that, sadly, he hasn't finished.
And Clara is, on Saturday, going to run her first half-marathon. She's been training for this through the summer, and can now run more than two hours straight. This is awesome. We'll be out there cheering for her, but she isn't promising to share the beer she gets for completing the race. That's fair.
Finally, a miracle occurred yesterday: in spite of rain and winds and I don't know what-all, the clouds cleared for 15 minutes in the afternoon, and we were all able to see the partial eclipse of the sun. AR 2192 was clearly visible, and it was incredibly cool to see the moon (partly) covering the sun.
Concluding paragraphs are for the weak.
A couple of weeks ago, I gathered up (nearly) all my eyepieces, Barlows and diagnonals, and took them to the local scope shop to trade in. I came out an hour later with a 2" diagonal, a 2" adapter for the Meade, a 2" adapter for the Skywatcher Dob, and two new eyepieces: a 17mm Speers-Waler (1.25", 82 deg FOV) and a 30mm Erfle (2", 74 deg FOV). (I kept the 12mm Vixen and a 7.5mm Plossl.) Tonight I went out with the Dob (the Meade had a little accident when I tried to upgrade the focuser...sigh) to the local park, and had a grand old time.
First off, I showed my Dad some stuff: the Moon, the Double-Double (couldn't split with the 12mm), the Double Cluster and M31. We took pictures of the moon with our phones, and I think they turned out pretty well. The Double Cluster was framed nicely in the 30mm, but looked even better in the 17mm -- that 82 deg FOV is incredible. After that, he headed home and I stayed out to geek out.
M11: Beautiful as always. Nice in the 12mm, almost lost in the 17mm.
M29: Sparse but a Messier.
NGC 6910: OC in Cygnus. Small but pretty -- I imagined it as a prancing horse with silver horseshoes, which has to be the single most Baroque and precious description I've ever come up with but what's a brother gonna do?
NGC 6886: Another OC in Cygnus. Fainter, more scattered cloud of 25 stars or so. Nearby 30 (or 31?) Cygni was a lovely double: yellow and blue, like the sun and earth.
NGC 6884: PN in Cygnu. Okay through O3 filter. No detail about 7.5mm.
NGC 6997: loose cluster, faint, couple of dozen stars. Vaguely pentagonal shape.
Pelican Nebula: Long shot, but why not? No sign, even through O3 filter.
M57: Beautiful and bright tonight!
M73: New Messier! Responded well to O3 but no sign of shape.
Home at 1am or so. Happy with new eyepieces.
Got SSL set up for both my web and email servers; created pull request for Duraconf in the process.
Traded in a crapton of telescope eyepieces for a couple nice upgrades: 2" 31mm Antares modified Erfle (74 deg FOV), and 1.25" 17mm Antares Speers-Waler (82 deg FOV). I also got a 2" diagonal and connector for the Meade; the Dob had a 2" focuser already. I kept my 12mm Vixen (50 deg FOV) and a random 7.5mm Plossl. All this was done at Vancouver Telescope, who are an incredibly awesome bunch of people.
Went with the family to the PNE. Pics to come!
Visited brother and his wife in Kelowna with my parents.
First LISA blog post up at the USENIX blog. (Gotta write more about that too...)
This year, for the third (youngest son) and fourth time (oldest son), I took my kids to Aldergrove Regional Park for the RASC-organized Perseid Meteor Shower Star Party Extravaganzaria. We went last year, though I neglected to blog about it; we went two years ago, and there were cute pictures.
Last year clouds showed up about eight minutes after sunset (really), but this year it was clear as a bell. There was also a full moon; for meteor-watching it was sub-optimal (as was the weekend falling three days or so before max), but the kids were even more excited. "There's gonna be a FULL MOON!" they kept saying. How can you argue with that? You can't.
We showed up about 6.30, only slightly delayed by missing the Tim Horton's ("Dad, you forgot the HOT CHOCOLATE!") and got set up: tent, sleeping bags, lounge chairs and all. After that, the kids ran up the big hill, then down, then back up again. "I was a little tired the second time," said Arlo, "but then I found a trick: just fun faster!" His athleticism continues to amaze and impress me.
After that it was time for the activities. Eli decided he didn't want his face painted this year; we looked at the telescopes a bit but skipped the presentations; but the Lantern Walk was a huge hit. It's this path that loops through the park, maybe a kilometer in length, with little coloured lanterns outlining the path. There was story-telling, which they both liked, and quotes on signs along the way, which Arlo kept reading. I got him to read this one from Carl Sagan aloud:
All of the rocky and metallic material we stand on, the iron in our blood, the calcium in our teeth, the carbon in our genes were produced billions of years ago in the interior of a red giant star. We are made of star-stuff.
Perhaps misquoted -- I don't think the sign said exactly that, and I'm too lazy to go look up a reliable citation -- but I dearly love the idea behind it. Eli looked up at me and said, "I didn't know that!" He was quite taken with it.
It's neat to see how much they've changed over the last couple of years. Before it was face painting, hot chocolate and staying up late. Now, it's the story-telling, hot chocolate and staying up late. :-) Treats are treats, no matter what; but their understanding is broadening and their tastes are changing.
We set up the little Galileoscope to see the full moon, and showed a couple other people too. And then...sleep. They were bagged. They stayed on the lounge chairs for a while, then went inside the tent. Eli was keeping Arlo awake, so I brought him out to sit beside me; then back inside the tent once Arlo was asleep, with a story to get Eli to sleep as well.
I stayed out on the lounge chair 'til 12.30 or so. I saw exactly one Perseid -- it's amazing how bright the full moon really is! I would have stayed out longer, but I was getting very, very cold even in the sleeping bag and under a big wool blanket. FIXME: Next year bring more blankets.
Next morning we packed up and went to Cora's in Langley for breakfast, then home again to unpack, dry out, shower and get ready for a Vancouver Canadians baseball game. Because why do one thing in a weekend when you can do two? (This is living large where I come from.) Our seats were right in the solar furnace, so we skipped out after the fourth inning. Next time, though, we'll get better seats that have actual shade. FIXME: Avoid section 7; go for section four, row 20 or higher.
It's been a while since I've gone out; I was going to go observing last Saturday -- same great weather -- but I was just too damn tired. Tonight, though, I had a coffee. I think that's a weapon I'm gonna keep in my back pocket from now on...
Tonight, like most nights, I had a plan. This time, though, I mostly stuck to it. I think it worked well, too. There were easy bits and hard bits scattered throughout, which helped keep everything from getting depressing ("Why, WHY can't I find this 19 magnitude galaxy?"). Also, though, I stuck to one region of the sky, and that helped too -- not just for keeping everything close, but because I think alignment worked better. Not perfectly, mind you, but better.
Anyway -- out at Queen's Park (after filling up the air in the astronomy wagon tires) with Neptune, the Meade 8".
Got the briefest of looks at Saturn right before it disappeared behind a tree; nothing of the moon or Mars tonight.
I took a look at Albireo while waiting for the twilight to go away, and man, that never gets old. The colours are so much more vivid when the sky's bright like that, too; I came back to it later in the night and they weren't nearly so distinct.
Aligned and dialed in M57; took a bit of searching, but found it.
After that, M13 -- beautiful as always. Found where NGC 6207 should be but again, no luck.
Tried splitting the Double-Double both earlier in the night, and again when my scope was/might have been cooled down; no luck with the Vixen 12mm or the 10mm Meade Plossl. Not sure what to make of that; like a lot of other things, I lack experience to know if this is bad seeing, not enough cool-down time, need for flocking (that's rank speculation), or just to be expected.
Looked for NGC 6210 and found it -- hurrah! It looked nothing at all like this Hubble photo, but was still pretty. It's on the RASC "Best of the NGC" list; blue and starlike, just like it says on the tin.
Found NGC 6826, the Blinking Planetary, and 16 Cygni which has an exoplanet.
Found 61 Cygni. Did not sketch (fail)
Star test on Vega; didn't blow up so must be fine, right?
M11 is absolutely gorgeous as always.
Looked for NGC 6781, NGC 6755/6756. No sign of either one.
Looked at M31 and the Double Cluster briefly before coming home.
: 61 Cygni
My god, clear skies and a weekend? Last time I went somewhere other than the front porch with a scope was goddamn January. Asked Scott if he wanted to come along to Boundary Bay, he did, and we went. Got there about 9pm, set up, and away we went. The night was clear, and man it was nice to be out.
We showed the crescent moon (oh, so lovely) to a few people while we were waiting for the skies to get dark, then realized Jupiter was still up -- it had been so long since we'd had a clear night that we'd lost track of Jupiter entirely, and hadn't expected to see it. After that, off to Mars and Saturn. I could see (I think) Acidalia on Mars, but it was difficult to get a clear image; in Scott's, it was plain, and I think I was able to see the north polar cap as well. Saturn in Scott's Mak was really beautiful -- the Cassini division was easy to pick out, and I swear I saw cloud bands. Not so much in mine, where the focus was, again, really hard to get.
M13 -- ah, now there's something that worked well! Lovely as always, even though it still wasn't completely dark by that point.
Virgo Messiers were my target for the night, and man, I went to town. I aligned, tried going to M87 and got it the first time. Hurrah! The handset took me to M84 and M86 as well. I started to sketch, then moved around trying to orient myself with my chart and to find the rest of Markarian's Chain....but I got too far away, lost track of where I was, and the handset did not take me back. I'm not sure what happened here -- maybe my alignment wasn't as good as I thought it was? I tried re-aligning but still no luck, so I decided to try star-hopping following "Turn Right at Orion", which has wonderful charts for this.
I found NGC 4762 and NGC 4754 -- faint but there. After that I was able to galaxy-hop (!) to M60, NGC 4638 and M59. Over to M58 and M89. Found my way back to M84 and M86 gain, then found NGC 4438 and NGC 4435 -- no sign of NGC 4473, NGC 4387 or NGC 4388 -- which makes me wonder how dark it has to be, or how much more effort I need to put in, or how tired I might have been. It was a long night, and I'm sure I wasn't at my best.
So as far as Markarian's chain goes, I saw three of its 9 or 10 galaxies...not bad for the first time! And for sheer numbers, at one point I had three galaxies in my eyepiece at the same time: M60, M59 and NGC 4638. It's occurred to me to wonder about a variant of Drake's equation for amateur astronomy: what are the odds that, as you're ticking off Messiers on your checklist, someone in the eyepiece is doing the same for you and the Milky Way? :-)
I took a bit of a break and headed for Scorpius, which was rising, and got a quick look at M4 -- pretty, but I didn't take a lot of time with it.
Meanwhile, Scott was going to town imaging. He got an excellent image of M13, the great Hercules glob:
and of M57, the Ring Nebula:
There's also this picture of some weirdo and his Meade:
We pulled up stakes about 1.30am, and I got home about 2:30am. That's the latest I've been out in a long, long time.
The dew heaters worked really well; between them and the dew shield, there was not a drop of dew on the corrector plate or the finder. By contrast, all my stuff out on the table was covered by the end of the night. I don't think my home-made battery pack went below 80% either...lots of capacity.
Scott's setup was wonderful. The Mak and the EQ6 gave noticeably better views of Mars and Saturn, and M13/M51 both looked great in it. Part of that came from the mount: it was much steadier than mine in the (moderate) wind we had. Part of it was that mine had a lot of (I think) internal reflections; there was a lot of ghosting going on. Add in the much, MUCH smoother focus and I'm a jealous guy. I need to look at flocking this, and maybe upgrading the focuser.
However, he took a lot longer to get set up than I did: that mount is heavy, and the alignment took a while to finish -- it was probably close to an hour before he was ready to observe. He's still getting familiar with it, so that'll all get better...but it really points out the advantage of having a smaller/more portable setup. There is no way in hell I could take a setup like that to my local park, the way I can by putting the Dob in a hand cart or the Meade in a wagon. I'm going to have to think about my ambition to get a CPC 800.
The night was about collecting Messiers, and I did it. There was no savouring. I'll need to come back to them another time. But I've waited three years to see springtime Virgo galaxies, and I wasn't about to mess around with the feels.
Push-to with the hand controller seemed inconsistent at times; I'm not certain if this was user error or a fault in the controller, but I'm starting to wonder if it's the controller. Sometimes it was bang on, and sometimes it seemed off entirely.
Another night on the front porch; I'd have loved the chance to go further afield, but the weather's not cooperating.
Mars was up and easily visible. I was able to pick out some features ("dark spots", I calls 'em), especially with the 12mm (166X), but even after figuring out the central meridian (45 degrees) I'm still not sure what I was looking at. Pretty, though. I showed it to a couple of my neighbours, which they enjoyed, and we also watched the ISS flyover. No sign of the Dragon that launched today.
After that, it was mainly a fruitless search for M40 and M87. The usual: not having a good idea what I'm looking for, or what to expect, a ridiculous target (Virgo galaxy from a light-polluted front porch while staring at porch lights?). Oh well, Mars was nice.
I'm fairly happy with Neptune, the Meade LX10 I've got now. It's a lot of things I knew wanted (pretty, a Schmidt-Cassegrain, got digital setting circles), but it's also got a lot of things I didn't know I wanted (clock drive...okay, just clock drive). But there are some things I'm less happy with.
For one, it's been cloudy a LOT since I got it. What the hell, Meade?
But seriously, folks...I'm finding it interesting how difficult it is to be sure what I'm looking at. And by "interesting" I mean "damn frustrating." When I read entries on, say, Rod Mollise's blog that say things like "...and when I tested alignment, BAM! There was M13, right in the centre!", I'm wondering why I don't see that. (NB: the parts of his blog that say this inevitably come after a long and involved tale of how he had to reboot the hand controller, or shoo away magnet bats that screwed up the internal compass, or something.))
I can think of a few possible causes:
Dunno...I've gotta bite the bullet and post on Cloudy Nights. This just calls out for help from people who know what they're doing.
Jason Stanford is contemplating saying goodbye to his wife, Sonia Van Meter, forever. She's a semi-finalist for Mars One, and if she goes he'll stay behind. The odds are long -- but he writes about contemplating saying goodbye to his wife forever, and supporting her regardless. "We forget that our [wedding] vows are not lyrics to be recited for public enjoyment but promises to be kept," he writes, and I have enormous respect for that.
The attention Van Meter has got from the rest of the world has mostly been shallow and harsh:
Rarely does anyone engage her as a space geek to talk about what she hopes to find up there, but if someone did, he or she would open the discussion to Sonia's innate curiosity and her enthusiasm about humanity's drive to explore and expand our understanding of what is possible. She honestly does not understand why everyone does not want to go to Mars, though she knows I would last about half an hour before getting bored up there.
But that's not what people talk about when they comment about her on the Internet. No sooner had a story about my wife's astronautical ambition aired in Austin than strangers took it upon themselves to diagnose our obviously flawed marriage.
...which makes me think twice about writing about it here and joining the chorus (of people talking about this, I mean; her decision, their decisions, belong to them, and neither I nor anyone else have any business condemning it). But despite my reservations about Mars One, and for what little it's worth, I admire them both. Read the damn link.
In other news: this article makes me want to get my scope out and look at Mars. But the dark is coming on late these days thanks to DST, and I've been getting over a cold and need my beauty rest. Which is a damn shame, because it's been clear here for the first time in weeks. Oh well...soon, along with a trip to Boundary Bay to finally get the Virgo Messiers.
Today it's birthday party day for my youngest son; he's up already (it's 6.20am!) stalking the halls, waiting impatiently for things to get going. To keep him entertained until the party starts, we're going to the BC Gem Show in Abbotsford. The kids have a waxing-and-waning interest in rocks and minerals, and I suspect this'll wake it up again. Does it measure up to a party with your friends? No, it does not. But it'll keep the wolf from the door for a couple of hours, at least.
Tonight I sat out on my front porch with Neptune, the 8" Meade, to see what I could see. I brought out my laptop to see how much that would help. I had a fairly ambitious observing list, but in the end spent most of the night tracking down NGC 3115 (Caldwell 53, woot!), based on nothing more than Stellarium suggesting it to me.
It took me an hour, but I finally tracked it down. It's interesting to see how much Stellarium and SkyChart help. The Magellan handset lets me point to things as needed, but verifying that there's something there is another challenge entirely. Being able to see where I am, verify what I'm looking at by starhopping, helps a lot.
So in the end? A faint fuzzy; slightly elongated, maybe some hint of a core. Not much, but what do you expect from a light-polluted front porch? This sketch matched what I saw nicely, while this page just left me aghast that I'd missed so much.
The forecast looked good; the forecast lied. But that didn't stop me and Arlo from having a good time. We were both bagged: him from a day with his brother at a day camp, me from insomnia. But when I got home from work at 7pm, we both ran around the house gathering things to go out astronomizing (as my wife calls it).
We got out the door at 8pm, only having to come back for one thing (dew shield, dammit!), and got out to Boundary Bay at 8.40. Arlo was asleep by that point. There were a couple of other observers out there; I talked to them briefly about the weather, then they packed up and left. But I stayed, set up the scope, and woke up Arlo to show him a few things in the maybe-quarter of the sky left uncovered.
It wasn't about the astronomizing for Arlo, and that's fine; it's exciting to be up late, to be out without your brother ("I spent a lot of time with him today, and it's good to take a break"), and (maybe) to spend a bit of time with your dad. But I flatter myself that he was interested: M42, of course; M35 for a star cluster; Jupiter, with Io read to transit across its face; and Sirius, the star whose light had travelled for 8 years to reach him -- just a little older than he is.
After that he settled in the back of the car with a lantern and a Geronimo Stilton book. I looked for a while, but the battery on the hand controller had died (next time: spare batteries, dammit!) and the slop was moving in further. I gave up, packed up, and we came home. He slept, I drove...the natural order of things; though I broke that a bit when I could only carry him partway up from the car when we got home. Li'l dude's heavy, yo.
In any event: a good dry run; a test of my checklists, and of the emergency father-son system. We both did well.
Last night I attended a meeting of the local RASC chapter to hear a talk by William Borucki, the PI of the Kepler Space Telescope. It was utterly fascinating, and he's a great speaker -- engaging and funny. I got to ask him about the proposed successor mission ("K2"), now that Kepler only has two working reaction wheels, and why they picked the patch of sky they did for Kepler to stare at. (Answer: you need a lot of stars, so the galactic plane is the obvious answer; you can't stare right at the plane, though, because there are too many giant stars, so you go a bit above. Why the northern hemisphere? Because ESA has their scopes in the southern hemisphere, and NASA has theirs in the northern. "There's a lot of cooperation, but there's a lot of competetion too.") I got a couple bits that the kids'll like: the sapphire lenses covering the CCD detectors on Kepler (thank Minecraft for their blossoming interest in geology), and the molten iron planet with an eight hour year. (Random other cool thing: I came across a pack of coyotes in the parking lot when I went home.)
All in all, it made me reconsider my non-membership in the RASC. I've joined twice now: once when I was 13, and again three years ago. both times I gave it up because I could not see the point: it's a lot of money ($73 currently), and frankly there are not a lot of benefits that I find worthwhile. Yes, the local chapter does amazing work -- absolutely incredible amounts of really, really great public engagement -- but they only see $26 of that membership fee. So I sent them a cheque one year as a donation, because I think it's worth supporting that. But...I really want another RASC Handbook; that's $28, plus tax and shipping. I really want to continue supporting the local chapter. So I might as well hold my nose and just get the damned membership.
Another time, I will write up my objections to national membership in more detail. For now: like I said, the local chapter does amazing work, and they deserve every penny they get (and more).
Canada's CSEC tracked travellers at Canadian airports who used the free WiFi. Not only that, tracked 'em afterward and backward as they showed up at other public hotspots across Canada. Oh, lovely.
ESR writes about dragging Emacs forward -- switching to git, and away from Texinfo, all to keep Emacs relevant. There are about eleven thousand comments. Quote:
And if the idea of RMS and ESR cooperating to subvert Emacs's decades-old culture from within strikes you as both entertaining and bizarrely funny...yeah, it is. Ours has always been a more complex relationship than most people understand.
My wife takes out our younger son's stuffed dogs for the day, and gets all the space she needs at Costco. WIN.
Have I mentioned Adlibre backup before? 'Cos it's really quite awesome. Written in shell, uses rsync and ZFS to back up hosts. Simple and good.
Maclean's sent a sketch artist to cover Justin Bieber getting booked. I'd like to sketch that well.
Out on the front porch again with Ranger, the Dob. I was only out for an hour and a half, but managed to see:
Jupiter, of course! Lovely at 100X, but did not stand up to Barlowing tonight. Met the neighbours a few doors down when they walked by, and showed them...they were pretty impressed.
NGC 2392, aka the Eskimo Nebula, which was surprisingly easy to find. Pretty sure I was able to see the central star at 200X with an O3 filter. This may be my first Caldwell object (#39).
Struve 1083, which "Turn Left At Orion" describes as a yellow-blue pair. I could see some difference in colour, but it was quite hard for me to detect. Pretty, as far as double stars go.
NGC 2420, an open cluster in Gemini. Faint, but responded well to a long stare. This page has tons of detail on it, including Herschel's notes (!) and what I think may be the best thing ever: a diagram of the Milky Way galaxy showing what arm it's in. I've really, really wanted to get a good sense of our galaxy for a long time, of where things are in relation to the sun and the galactic core, and this is awesome. I did a quick sketch, and it compares not unfavourably with the one on that page. (--What an awful sentence.) That's surprising, given that person used a 12" scope. Couldn't see any of the stars they reported seeing with AV, though, nor any glow of unresolved stars.
Looked for NGC 2331; found where it should be, but no luck seeing it. Bleah.
Today I stayed home from work; my oldest son had come down with a cold, and it was a mitzvah to keep him from breathing on his friends. We had fun: we set up spy bases, extracted DNA from strawberries, and after supper I set up Ranger, the 8" Dob. I showed the kids Jupiter; even got brave and used the 10mm Plossl, which is a tiny hole to look through -- but they got it. Not like the old days...Then I asked them if they wanted to go back inside or see a star cluster. "STAR CLUSTER!" they fairly shouted, and maybe not just because it put off bedtime another 15 minutes. So I showed them M35, and they were happy (though it was fainter than they expected)
After they went to sleep I packed up Ranger (didn't want to be bothered by dew; good choice) and went to the local park. Another quick look at Jupiter to see how it was doing (damn good) and then off to Ursa Major for...SUUUUUPERNOOOOOVAAAA!
SN 2013J is -- was -- lighting up M82. It's been clear for a few days in Vancouver, but life has been busy. Not tonight, though. And thanks to new starhopping instructions from Astro Bob (seriously, he makes it SO EASY) I was able to get to M81 and M82 with no effort at all (not like last time). Couldn't see the SN at 30X, but damn if it wasn't there in averted vision at 46X, and obvious at 100X. First supernova!
Tried at 200X, and amazingly it held up. I checked with with the AAVSO chart; I got to 12th mag at 200X, but not 13th mag. Rough estimate for the SN itself was about 11 - 11.5...hard to be sure. (The light curve would seem to indicate I'm not completely wrong, so yay!) Maybe hint of mottling at 200X, but nothing definite.
It was really neat to look at it and think "The gold in my wedding band came from one of you...one of you shocked my sun into being, and my planet into coalescing..." And here I sit collecting your photons beside a busy road. Man, I love this hobby.
After that I tracked down M46 and M47. The last time I looked at M46, I really loved it; this time, not so much. Still, nice to be able to find it.
Then it was time to for the gusto...M1! Which I finally found, though in the barest barely-there way. O3 filter did nothing (not that I can remember if an O3 filter's meant to do anything.) Checking with Jeremy Perez' sketch I definitely had the right location, but I assure you it looked nothing like his sketch at all...mostly just like a large faint fuzzy cloud. Enough to say you saw it, but that's it. Still, brings me to 58 Messiers!
At this point I went back to Jupiter, which seemed shockingly clear to me. Held 200X; Callisto and Ganymede both seemed disks, not dots. And hte belts were very, very nice.
Home again to warm up -- which I've only just now acomplished.
Another clear night -- and less than a week after the last one too! Nothing for it but to set up on the front porch again and show the kids some stuff. I picked Ranger, the Dob, again; I wasn't sure how long the clear skies would last, and it's quicker to set up than Neptune.
So after soccer practice and supper, it was time to show the kids the Orion Nebula for the first time. Eli wasn't really able to pick it out, though he did see the Trapezium; Arlo picked it up, but said it was faint. And fair enough; the 40mm made it small, and the 12mm spread it out a lot. But it was fun to see, and they seemed to enjoy the thought of what they were seeing.
After they were in bed, I went back out to see what I could see. Started with M42 again, of course. The O3 filter really brought out the clouds, but the only hint of M43 I could see came without it -- and I'm still not sure I actually saw it.
Searched for M78 -- not sure I found it. Took a quick sketch to compare w/the hive mind, but I'm still not sure.
M35 -- the last few times I've looked for this have been full of frustration. Not tonight, though -- the stars aligned (ha!) and I was able to track it down w/o problems. I love that sad-face arc of stars inside it. Tried looking for NGC 2158, but pretty sure I was skunked.
M36, M37 and M38 -- If M35 has been frustrating the last few times, these clusters have been frustrating since day one. Not tonight, though -- got the hat trick! Not only that, I was able to find NGC 1907 by M38. The seeing was really good tonight, and I was able to take a quick sketch of it through a Barlowed 12mm -- unusual for me. (Compared it to the barlowed 10mm Meade that came w/Neptune, and I love the 12mm. That 10mm is going up for sale.) Favourite was
M37, though...what a gorgeous sight.
Finally over to Jupiter, which stood up well to the barlowed 12mm. Not perfect, but damn good. Got my first good look at the GRS, and yeah, it really is redder this year -- very obvious even a couple hours past the meridian. Swear I saw Ganymede as a small disk, not just a dot...bigger than our moon, so I guess it's a possibility.
All in all, a very fun and enjoyable night.
Today I found out that John Dobson, inventor of sidewalk astronomy, of the mount that bears his name, had died at the age of 98. Miracle or tribute, the skies were clear (ish; it is the West Coast in January), so I dragged out Ranger, my 8" Dob. I haven't had it out since getting Neptune, the Meade LX10, and frankly it was a treat; simple to set up, easy to point, and quick to cool.
I took out the kids to look at Jupiter and the moon. We saw equatorial belts and Sinus Iridium, where Chang-E has landed. I told them the story of John Dobson: how he wanted to show people their universe and made his own telescope to do so; how he ground his own mirror from porthole windows and sand, and made the mount that bears his name. Up, down, spin around -- the simplest thing that could possibly work. How he took his scope to the sidewalks to show people stars, planets, galaxies -- the universe where they lived.
There are times when what I want and what the kids want are mismatched, and we bump heads. This was not one of those times, and they seemed genuinely interested. (I have to say, though, what they really liked was looking through the eyepieces and seeing everything upside down.) And when it was bedtime, we read "This Is Me And Where I Am", one of my favourite books. (They like it too.)
After they went to bed I sat outside on the porch, watching Europa's shadow transit and pass Jupiter. I saw the moon, Tycho and Copernicus, the bright craters spotting it everywhere. I saw the Orion Nebula; not well, because the clouds were rolling in, but well enough. Rest in peace, John Dobson.
Another easy night out on the sidewalk with Neptune, the 8" Meade. It's not the best place to observe, but dang it's close to home.
Luna: And where would we be without it? Darn close to full, but that didn't stop it from being wonderful. Found Sinus Iridum and Mare Imbrium, right where Chang'e 3 and the Yutu rover have landed.
Jupiter: This really, REALLY showed me the downside of not cooling Neptune for 3 hours first, because it was low in the sky and the seeing was terrible.
M35: So nice to have the handset on this thing, it really is. Faint, mainly because of being around so many lights.
Struve 742: I don't usually pay much attention to double starts, but this was right by M1. 4.1" separation, and it was just barely split with the 40mm eyepiece.
M1: Tracked down where this should be...but no sign at all. It was extremely helpful to have "Turn Left At Orion" with me, because the detailed finder chart let me find both E742 and the general neighbourhood; without it, I would've been lost.
M42: Again, pretty but faint. No sign of M43, even with 12mm and O3 filter.
Sigma Orionis: A/D/E split, but no sign of C in 26mm. Seeing too crappy to support the 12mm
Struve 761: Faint but easy, at 8" separation.
Tonight I sat out on the front porch w/Neptune, the new Meade LX10, and saw what I could see. I was expecting it to cloud over at any moment, so this wasn't my most relaxed or attentive observing run...but it was the first in a a month, so it was nice. On the porch, the field of view is pretty restricted; I've got a 30 degree or so wide window from about 20 degrees above the horizon to a little past the zenith. That slice of sky changes as the night goes on, but also as the seasons change.
Tonight, M31 and M32 were easy to see. I tried tracking down M110, and I think I might be mostly sure I got where it shoulda been -- but no luck at all. After that I let the Magellan hand controller decide what to show me. Up came NGC 1342 was up first, and then came NGC 1502 -- apparently right by Kemble's Cascade, which I didn't know. Damn! Pretty, though, and this page has an amazing number of sketches of it. Then there was NGC 1622. All nice open clusters, and all observed in a hurry.
Finally, got a chance to look at Jupiter for the first time since the summer. Beautiful as always. I think I might have seen the GRS -- if true, it was a great deal obvious than last year (which'd match what I've heard about this apparition.)
A month and more since I've been out. Though I have sat on my porch sketching the moon -- but it was awkward tonight; setting up Neptune felt foreign. Still and all, a good time out at Queen's Park. What'd I see?
Not M30 -- I was hoping for a brief window of opportunity as it cleared the local trees, but no luck.
Not Neptune or Uranus either, or at least not recognizably. I went out w/no cooldown time, and in the 10mm eyepiece everything looked non-stellar. Interesting discrepancy between Neptune's position calculated by the hand controller and what's on the chart in Sky and Telescope. I shoulda sketched both to see if I got lucky, but I didn't.
M31 -- easy, of course, but I also saw M32 -- from the burbs, no less No sign of M110. Well, maybe a little, but nothing definite.
M33 -- just for fun, and no. Again, maybe something, but nothing I could be even half confident in.
M39 -- now that's more like it! Lovely OC in Cygnus, bright and obvious and beautiful. Neat "5" shape as seen through the Meade. Big and sprawling and obvious...just the way I like my open clusters.
M72 -- tried again (though I'd forgotten about the last attempt), and nothing.
M103 -- very nice! Small. Reminds me of an Xmas tree.
M52 -- also pretty. Sketched, but I was getting cold and tired by this point.
Double Cluster -- ahhhhhh. It has been too long. Man, that's lovely. Found the red stars in NGc 884.
And with that I packed up and went home. Some other notes:
New Messiers: M39, M52 and M103 That brings me up to 57 Messiers -- whoohoo! Three more and I meet my goal of hitting 60 this year.
Scope was just starting to dew up when I packed up. Coulda been the few minutes w/the dew shield off while I struck camp, but I doubt it.
Made the mistake of not wearing proper boots out. Don't do that again.
Right when I was leaving I saw Auriga, and then Taurus and the Pleides right below them. Very nice!
Tonight was the first time out with Neptune, my newly-named new-to-me Meade LX10. (Neptune because blue because Meade, geddit? Sigh.) It was also the first time out with [strikeout]The Horse With No Name [/strikeout] the Astronomy wagon, which really has to be seen to be believed. It's a repurposed wagon put together by my father-in-law and painted by my family: the kids, my wife, my in-laws and me. (M51's on the top, though you'd never know.) The OTA goes inside, padded by cushions, and the wedge goes beside it. On top is the tripod, held in place by steel rings (btw, marrying the daughter of a retired millwright who makes his own wine was a really excellent decision), and on top of that a chair I use while observing, all held down by a $10 tie-down from Home Hardware that really, really works well. Bonus points: I look crazier than ever.
Setup at the park took about fifteen minutes -- not bad at all. After that it was time to start looking. What'd I see? M57, becoming a traditional first target and test of alignment; worked well. Almost a hint of green, but not like seeing it through a C11. Then on to M56, which looked a fair bit fainter than I remember from the same session...not surprising, since that was out at Boundary Bay and this is from a light-polluted park. M27 also found w/o difficulties.
For fun, tried M81/M82, but saw nothing -- not even the stars I usually use to hop there. Thought it was because it was low in the soup, but it might also have been alignment probs. I went over to M31, but had to dial it in manually -- it was off by about 5 degrees. Went to where the controller said M33 should be, but nothing there....hard to tell if I was in the righht place or not.
Tried for NGC 7009, the Saturn Nebula, but nothing -- not even after re-aligning and coming back. Found myself using the atlas to figure out where I was, which I hadn't expected. Tried for M72 and M73, but no luck; M72 wa incredibly faint (or I was just in the wrong place, but I'm pretty sure I found where I was in the atlas.)
And then...and then the clouds started rolling in, so I packed up and walked home. Nice: only ten minutes to pack up. Not so much: surprisingly heavy to carry up the hill.
Tonight I set the new scope on the front porch; I'm getting a wagon tricked out for it, so for now I don't have the energy, time or money (four tanks of gas last month thanks to three trips out of town for dark skies; yikes!) to drive out right now. I figured I'd just sit and see what I could see...wouldn't be much, but better than nothing. Since I can't see Polaris from my porch, I couldn't do a proper alignment. Instead, I did the next best thing: stood ten feet back where I could see it and eyeballed it. Align on Vega and Altair, and see how we do.
Regular point-to crash test subject M57 was right there, and M27 showed up too -- nice! M57 was nice and bright, but M27 was faint...big, hard to see, not much contrast. I was still able to see it without the O3 (though that definitely helped). Lights from neighbours threw out my night vision to a surprising degree -- surprising because there are two big lights right across from me, close enough I could reach out a broom handle and nearly put them out.
Looked up M29 and confirmed it with The Messier Album, by Mallas and Kreimer...not much to see, just like last time, but it's very nice to be able to run inside and grab a book when you need it. I let the hand controller show me NGC 6883, a very pretty open cluster nearby. Sketched it, but it's really hard for me to compare this to other sketches...the new orientation of the cat versus that of the Dob is throwing me off. I'm going to have to start marking down North/West arrows or some such. Tried for the Blinking Nebula (NGC 6826), but I don't think I saw it. Found M15; just on the edge of resolution.
NGC 6811 was another one the controller showed me, and this was interesting. There was a very bright asterism (as it turns out) nearby, and the cluster proper was a faint, ghostly, but pretty collection just out of the FOV. Originally, I thought the asterism was my cluster, and was trying to figure out what the hell this other thing was -- must be some cool obscure thing I should be glad to see from a well-lit suburban porch, right? Well, maybe, but the faint fuzzy was my cluster and the asterism was part of the Deep Sky Hunters catalog -- Teutsch J1935.3+4633, to be exact. (Oh, and btw 6811 has exoplanets -- Kepler 66b and 67b. I had no idea this was in Kepler's FOV. Sadly, both stars are, at mag 15 and 16, 'way out of my league.)
At that point I called it a night and headed home...which meant taking five minutes to drag the tripod, OTA and books inside. Which, let's face it, is AWESOME. No, it's not a dark site by any means, but it was nice as hell to be in and out so quick.
One last note: I'm reluctantly beginning to think I need to name my scopes; it feels awkward to refer to "the Dob" and "the Meade". Why reluctant? Beats me; I name computers all the time and it feels natural as hell, but for some reason it's just too cute with the scopes. I've come up with half a dozen names for the Dob that never stuck; latest is Ranger, after the series of satellites NASA sent to the moon to take pictures until they were destroyed on impact. The Meade? Still working on it.
I've wanted to upgrade from my 8" Dob for a while now: not aperture, but go-to or push-to. Since getting back into the hobby a few years ago, I've been starhopping quite happily...but the last few months have become more frustrating, and I've begun to feel "been there, done that" about finding my way along the skies manually every. Single. TIME. I admit it: I felt like I'd done my time, and I wanted something easier.
I've been keeping my eye on Craigslist, and a few weeks ago I saw an 8" Meade LX10, originally purchased in 1999, for sale for a decent price. It came with the Magellan I setting circles and controllers: push-to on a Cat. I quickly read everything I could find about this setup, and decided I could live with it. And hot dog, I was the first to email the seller! He invited me out to take it for a test spin, and I tell you, I was smitten the moment I saw it. That deep blue colour...oh, wow. I'd always wanted a Cat since I was a kid, and now I had one. (Always had an unexplained preference for Celestron -- nothing about the quality of the scopes, just the colour. And now I have a Meade I'm in love with. Funny old world, isn't it?) I tried the setting circles, and they seemed to work well -- really well, actually. The optics seemed as good as I knew how to look for. The field tripod took a while to stop vibrating when I tapped it, but I figured I could fix that. So I bought it. Still, it's one thing to find M13 and M57 when you already know where they are...how would it work, not just on Craigslist, but in real life?
Of course, the clouds rolled in; I'd've been nervous if they hadn't. I did get a chance to try out the mylar solar filter the seller threw in. I had never seen the daystar through one before, and I have just one word: NEATO! I'd tried out a SunFunnel before, and that was cool...but the crispness of the sunspots through the filter was amazing. And of course, I had my oldest son perform an indoor star test:
As no stars were seen, everything seemed to be in order.
And as clouds do, eventually they rolled out. I went out to a dark(ish) site, did a middling polar alignment, and picked some stars to align on. Lessee, there's Arcturus and Vega -- easy enough, but the controller said "ALIGNMENT ERROR -- CHECK STARS" (which made me think of H.P. Lovecraft and Charles Stross -- anyone here read The Laundry Files?). Oh, right -- I remembered reading that the Magellan did badly if the stars were close to 90 degrees apart. Better to go for a pair around 45 degrees or thereabouts. Well, what about Vega and Albireo? Centre, confirm, centre, confirm, and it was happy. Now to try finding something.
The sequence when something like this:
Now, it was at this point that the battery died on the Magellan. Cue knowing nods about the value of starhopping...I went to manual and started hopping through Sagittarius looking at our galaxy's core. (Not that a lot of starhopping was involved; binos showed every Messier object in the area quite clearly -- a wonderful change from suburban skies with practically no southern horizon.) Despite a dew shield, the corrector plate misted up around 11:15pm, and I decided to pack it in early.
So: Man, I'm happy with this. The alignment was not dead-on every time, but everything I looked for was within an FOV or two (40mm Meade Plossl, so just shy of a degree) of where the controller said it should be. The battery died, sure, but it was the one that came with it -- who knows how long it's been in there. Clock drive: did I mention that it came with a clock drive? and how handy that is? I've been trying to improve the Dob's action for a while, but this is just lovely.
It's not ALL perfect. The dew was annoying, and I had assumed the dew shield would ward it off. The setup is much less easily portable than my Dob. (I never thought I would describe a 50-lb Dob as "portable", but a hand truck does wonders.) And just when I'd got used to one set of mental flips when translating atlas to eye, I have to learn another. (I just about broke down trying to figure out what I was looking at on the moon the other morning.) But oh...oh. This scope is wonderful.
(Cross-posted from Cloudy Nights.)
So I didn't mention it, but a couple of weeks ago I bought a used Meade LX10 off Craigslist. It came with the Magellan I, a digital setting circles + computer that does push-to. Also came with a solar filter, a nice set of eyepieces, and two count'em TWO diagonals. This thing is beautiful. I've always had a soft spot for Celestron, for no particular reason, but man, this deep blue is really, really amazing. I've been playing with it at home, but this was the first time I've had to go out with it. Needless to say, I've been itching to go.
I went out to Boundary Bay; after a short detour along NorDel Way (motto: "Hey, at least it's not Whalley") I arrived and found another guy there with an 11" Celestron. "Is that a CPC?" I asked. "Naw, the CPC's a forkmount, not a GEM like this." "Oh yeah, right..." and pretty soon we were chatting away. His name was Doug, and he was extremely friendly. I asked if he minded company for the night; "Hell no, bring 'er up!"
Took a quick look at Venus and Saturn while waiting for Polaris to come out; showed it to a couple folks out for a walk, who were pretty tickled by it all. By then it ws darker, and I was able to do a polar alignment. First two-star alignment (Arcturus and Vega) gave "ALIGNMENT ERROR -- CHECK STARS", which always makes me think of Lovecraft and Stross. A second try with Vega and Albireo did much better, and when I asked it to show me M57 it was right there. And not only M57 but M13, M18, M20, M10 and M56. I had been really anxious to have the Magellan work...it was a big reason for picking up the scope in the first place. Just tired of hunting all the time, you know? But everything went about as smooth as could be.
I switched back to M8 to do a quick sketch, and see how it looked with the O3 filter; it brought out a lot of nebulosity I hadn't noticed before. M20, the Rosette Nebula, showed a hint of nebulosity around the double star, and maybe, MAYBE something like the dark lanes. But it was pretty faint, and I certainly wouldn't swear to it.
Doug showed me M57 through the C11, and wow -- bright and colourful, which was a first for me; the colour was faint but it was there. Maybe a hint of the central star with AV.
Just as I was looking for the star, Doug tapped me on the shoulder and said, "What the hell are THOSE?" He pointed at two orange lights gliding silently through the sky, maybe 10 degrees apart. I grabbed my binoculars quickly and looked. "Balloons -- balloons with candles in 'em," I said. He had a look and agreed. We'd heard party noises from the nearby golf course before, so we guessed they were having some fun. Those suckers were moving fast, too...some really strong wind there.
Over to M11, which is always pretty, then M16 and M17, which I found in binos and then directed the scope to...because the 9V battery in the Magellan handset had died! I hadn't replaced it since buying the scope, so I'm hoping it doesn't go through batteries quite that quickly. Found M22 and M25 in the neoughbourhood too, and then saw a spectacular fireball that left a glowing trail across the southern horizon. Doug showed me Neptune, which was nice to see.
About 11:30 we noticed we were getting dew on our corrector plates; we struggled gamely for a while while I looked up M15 and M31 (M32 visible, but no sign of M110 tonight), then decided to pack up. The Pleides were rising as we shook hands and said goodnight.
Today I decided to take another stab at driving up to Mount Seymour, and whaddaya know it worked. Except I got to the top and realized that there were 4.2 x 10^8 biting insects around and I had no bug dope. Back to the bottom of the mountain, find a Safeway, buy bug dope, spray myself in the parking lot and back up just in time to see not only an 11" CPC (my heart's set on the 9"; if it's good enough for Commander Hadfield, it's good enough for me) but also a 20" f/5 Obsession being set up. Introduced myself, then waited for the sky to get dark.
I came to get down. And by "get down" I mean "pick up Messiers in Sagittarius", so I did. My god, I got a lot tonight. They were all sunk in Vancouver's skyglow, so nebulosity was nearly invisible, but: M8, M21, M25, M18 (Swan nebula), and M16. Coulda gone for M24 but I was just too tired by this point.
I took a break, because the Obsession owner was having trouble with the encoders on it and was pretty much too busy futzing with that to look through the scope...so he gave me a turn, and I took the chance to look at M13 (through a 13mm Ethos, no less). No finder on it -- Telrad and laser pointer only -- so it was tricker than I thought it would be to track down M13, particularly balanced at the top of a ladder and trying to find out where the Telrad viewer was. But then I found it and Oh. My. God, It's full of stars. It was incredible: bright as hell, resolved all the way to the core, and big looping chains of suns all through it. In fact, this comparison pretty much nails it.
He had a really slick setup: goto, a sliding canopy in the back of his truck, a million little improvements...it was a wonder to behold. But man, what a lot of work. And climbing up a ladder was a new one on me. I don't know that I'd want something like that without having a permanent setup.
After listening to some poor animal get murdered by another animal, and then verifying that the animals we could hear walking around were deer and not bear, I decided to have a look at M31, now rising. And damn me if I didn't find M32 and M110 both. Woohoo! Pretty sure that's six new Messiers for me...don't have the book I'm keeping track of close to hand, so a guess. But still. Add an ISS flyover, and it was a pretty excellent night.
Back to the park...the idea of driving to a darker place after insomnia the night before didn't seem safe. And as for actually staying in and sleeping, pshaw! Gotta get out while it's nice; we've got a cloud scheduled for next Friday.
Started off w/a look at Saturn before it disappared behind the trees...which took about 8 minutes. That's probably it for Saturn and me 'til next spring. Split the Double Double, which was a nice surprise -- but not as nice as being able to see M57 in twilight without a filter. That surprised the hell out of me. Two Iridium flares came and went.
I had intended to track down Bernard's Star tonight, but I left behind the S&T with the chart, and irritatingly Tri-Atlas did not have it. Brief search for NGC 6246 since I was in the area, but no luck. I flailed about, and decided to try and find M51 to compare it with a view from a dark site. Pretty sure I found it, but faint; averted vision only, and no sign of two components.
More flailing, this time about whether it would be possible to see any Sagitarrius/Scorpius objects through this tiny notch in the trees. As it happened, I managed to catch M23 quite by accident; got a quick sketch, noted time and alt/az, then checked it out when I got home. Another Messier, which brings me up to, um, get back to you later. Wait, 47.
Tried for M97 but no luck; tired, no filter, no patience. Then the moon came up, and that was lovely. I thought saw my tunnel between Catharina and Cyrillus. (Not really a tunnel, but it does look like one under the right lighting.) Then I thought it was Alphonsus, Arzachel and Ptolomeus. Then I checked when I got home, and it really was Catharina and Cyrillus.
Overall, it was a frustrating night; I kept wishing for a goto scope, because I was having a hard time hunting things down. I got bogged down, too, by trying to figure out what would be visible through that stupid notch in the tress. Oh, well...a CPC's years off, but I really, really look forward to it.
I wasn't gonna go out, and then I did. As a result, it was kind of a mellow night and a mixed bag for observing.
Saturn was up first; it was low in the sky, and it simply did not support 200X like last time. Noted Titan and moved on to the Moon, which was lovely; saw the Montes Riphaeus mountain range, which is very pretty.
M14 took me a long time to track down; in the end, it was barely visible at 100X. Not only that, the whole star field around here is sparse and faint, and it was so much longer to find than I epxected. I looked up M27 -- another one that took a long time -- and found HD189733. No sign of HD 189733b.
Nearly finally, I tackled Sue French's column in S&T for August 2013: stuff in Auriga. Success: V Aurigae (carbon star), Strue 2547. Sorta success: Struve 2545 (split into two, not three). Failure: Teusch, NGCZ 6751, all the Bernard dark nebulae, NGC 6814.
Final look at M11 -- oh man, that's pretty -- and it was home for me.
Originally I was planning to head up to Seymour Mountain...but events intervened, as they say, and I spent the night at the local park. Moonless night, but that doesn't matter much...I can almost read by the streetlights and headlights.
First up, my usual confusion of Saturn and Arcturus. Surprise, this time it's Saturn! Quick look tonight; Cassini Division easy, but did not spend a lot of time on the rest. Four satellites in view; turns out Tethys and Enceladus were quite close when I looked, so no idea which of the two I saw.
I found the top half of Libra (alpha, beta, gamma) through a crack in the trees. Have I mentioned the lack of a southern horizon where I observe? True. So being able to see this was kind of a big deal. Tried finding M80, but no luck; might possibly have been visible standing, but not sitting with the scope.
M13 was lovely, as always; it stood up to 200X tonight. Tried looking for NGC 6207 there as well, but can't be certain I saw anything. Split Rasalgethi at 200X as well. (That combo of the Vixen 12mm and my cheap Barlow seems to work quite well.) Saw an Iridium flare by chance at 11.42pm, which was nice.
Saw M56, which was a first for me. Maybe a slight hint of elongation; certainly no hint of resolution. Found M31 in binos; something faintly depressing about this; are we done with summer already? Found M102, which was a first. Tried for NGC 5907. but no luck at all. Found M25 through a gap in the trees, so at least that worked.
This is the first time I've been out in a while, and the first clear skies too -- and I almost didn't bother: it's a full moon right after the summer solstice, so what's the point of going out when it's not going to be dark? Two things changed my mind. One was catching up on Uncle Rod and reading this bit:
When I hit the field, I was a little surprised to be playing Lone Astronomer once again, but some folks will choose to sit in front of the cotton-picking boob tube if the weather forecast ain't perfect. Hell, I've been known to do that myself, but the problem is that we don't get many "perfects" in the summer down in The Swamp, so you have to take what you can get if you want to see anything. I am back to my old mantra: "If it ain't raining, head to the dark site."
Another was running into a friend of mine at a local park (the one I observe at, coincidentally); while our kids were playing he asked me how long I'd been interested in astronomy, and what it meant to me. That's a comprehensive question, and my answer was: the beauty, stamp collecting (challenge of starhopping, thrill of completing a catalogue) and the science. All that was off the top of my head, but I think that's a pretty close answer. Without further ado, then.
The sky was clear, just gorgeously so. I headed out about 10:30pm and the moon was already visible not just above the horizon but above the trees where I observe. This week's wedding reception was finishing The Proclaimer's "500 Miles" just as I caught an Iridium flash -- not the brightest I've ever seen, but still.
After that, it was time to start in on Saturn...and man, what a treat. I experimented with my Barlow, and found that the 12mm Vixen behaved quite nicely in it; the generic 7.5mm Plossl, by contrast, shows a lot of fringing, makes things look smeary and is hard to focus. So, stuck at 200X rather than 320X...but wow, what a sight. Cassini's Division came easily, and the C ring was visible intermittently in the elbows (yeah, that'll work) of the rings. I could see one band of clouds on Saturn itself, maybe two...hard to be sure. The A ring was noticeably darker and seemed textured, which is something I haven't noticed before. I saw four moons: Titan, Rhea, Tethys and Dione; no sign of Enceladus, though I wasn't searching for it.
Eventually Saturn disappeared behind a tree, so it wsa time to move on. I moved to Cor Caroli, which is just a lovely double. And then for fun I looked for M94...and found it! Neat to think what was going on when that light started out. Wandered over to La Superba, a carbon star, and it was pretty too. Tried for M63 but no luck whatsoever. Looked up M11, the wild duck cluster, and was utterly taken with how the bright sky from the full moon made a veery appealing sight: it was harder to see because of the lower contrast, but the joy of seeing it at last was thus the greater.
Finally had a look at Xi Bootis, a double star that's close (only 22 light years) and a candidate for having its own Kuiper Belt. The colours were reported to be blue and yellow, but I couldn't get much blue out of it...
Home again at 1am, making for an amazingly fun few hours. I'm glad I went, and I'll never feel reluctant to go out on a full moon again.
After a clusterfuck of a weekend (about which more later), it was time to go astronomizing. But to do that, I'd have to take Tuesday off -- so I did. And what with the nearly new moon and the XOMG weather, I decided I'd go to Boundary Bay. After the last time I went, I got an email from a guy named Scott saying I should invite him along the next time I go. I admire a man who's direct, so I did. And wonder of wonders, he showed up, bringing his 120mm (I think) Skywatcher refractor. We arrived just after sundown and chatted while the ducks and herons dive-bombed us. It was his first time out at the Bay, and my 3rd.
We checked out Jupiter and caught it shortly before it set, low in the sky. We tried looking for the GRS (due to transit at 10.06pm, not 9pm like I thought) but didn't see it. After that it was Saturn, rising in the east. I couldn't see the Cassini Division then (9.30pm, maybe?), but I did see it fleetingly around midnight.
While Scott took pictures of Saturn, I looked up M35 before it set, and found it relatively easily -- much easier than the last time I'd tried to find it. I can nearly persuade myself that I saw NGC 2158.
And by now, M13 was up; I showed it to Scott, and he found it in his scope. "That's the first non-planet I've seen with this scope," he said. Wonderful, beautiful, and lovely to see after the winter. M57 was another reminder of last summer, and so was Albireo. Gorgeous in Scott's scope.
Markarian's Chain -- would you believe I saw part of this? True: M84, M86 and NGC 4438/4435, which may have been split. Barely. And M87 again, as I starhopped over. And but so after that it was time to head home, where I'm typing this now and am tired enough that I'm going to just post this and go.
Last night, after a beautifully clear day spent with family, I drove out to Boundary Bay to observe. It's near a small airport south of Vancouver, and it's far enough away that you can see the light dome of the city rather than be enveloped in it. I've been there once or twice before for the star parties that the local RAC chapter has here (last Saturday of the month; check Twitter for updates), but not to observe. I've only been out of the city once a year or so for semi-dark skies, so I thought it was the right time: a four-day weekend with an unconscionably gorgeous stretch of weather.
I'd packed up earlier, so after saying goodnight to the family (and making a note to try for some of the Virgo Messiers) I hopped in the car and drove off. Even with a wrong turn it was only half an hour there (35km), and I arrived about twenty minutes past sunset. I parked, finished up my tea and set up the scope and table (plus a cardboard flat from Costco that had held coffee to use as a dew shield, which worked amazingly well). I don't usually drive to observe, and I was pleasantly surprised at how quickly everything was going. The only downside was that by the time I remembered I'd wanted to collimate (something I don't do nearly often enough), it was too dark for me to see in the eyepiece...a laser collimator would definitely be nice. I'd also forgotten the dew shield for the scope, but it turned out not to be a problem.
Twilight deepened; I listened to the wildlife. There are a ton of birds there -- I saw a heron not five meters away -- and it was enchanting to think "What's that weird sound?" and realize it was the hissing of a flock of birds going by. The stars came out, and I was surprised at how high Sirius was: enough to see the whole of Canis Major, and Crater and Corvus -- constellations I never saw before. The horizon there is flat nearly all the way around, and that is such a change from my usual location. More than that, though, it was darker (even a half hour before twilight was over) than I ever see at my usual place (a suburban park with no shield from the many streetlights). I resolved to come back in the summer to look at Sagittarius and Scorpius.
Finally it was dark enough to look for Comet PANSTARRS. I hadn't prepared much, but I knew that it was near M31. A short pan around in the binos, and there it was about 6 degrees below the galaxy -- almost in the same FOV. I was just able to make it out the tail with direct vision, and it became an obvious fan in averted vision. Viewing it in the scope at 48X brought out more of the fan and made it brighter, but it was still better in AV. In both the binos and the scope, the nucleus was obvious and pointlike.
By this time twilight was over. I took a moment to see how dark it was (mag 5 with AV), then for fun pointed the binos at Sirius. Could I see...yes, I could: M41 (below the trees where I usually observe), M46 and M47 (which I'd had the devil's own time trying to find this winter). I took a look at them through the scope, too. I don't remember much about M41, but it was pretty enough. M47 was sparse, stars in obvious chains and arcs. M46, though...wow: a cloudy scattering (obtypo: scattery, which I think sounds really cool) of faint stars, almost glob-like in the way it was just on the verge of resolving. Almost as good as M11, the Wild Duck cluster, and that's saying something.
A couple had parked earlier to go for a walk, and at this point they came back. I asked if they wanted a look through the scope, and they were happy to do so. I showed them Jupiter, M42 and the Pleides; they were amazed. We talked for a while longer, and I told them about the observing parties the RASC puts on. Hopefully they'll make it out the next tme.
It was 10pm by this point, and I decided it was time to try for M65 and M66. These pretty much skunked me the last two times I tried for them, and I was trying not to get my hopes up about seeing them here. But YES: in the binos, if I held them steady, they showed up with AV, and through the scope at 30X with AV. Awesome! Bumped up the power to 48X and saw them both with DV, faint but there. Not only that, but I was just able to pick out NGC 3628 at 100X with AV and complete the Leo Triplet. At 160X I could see a definite nucleus to M66, but no features on M65. Man, I was happy about this.
Well, if I can get those three, let's move on, right? I went for M51 next. It might have shown up with AV in steadied binos, but it was obvious (and obviously two parts) at 30X in the scope. At 100X a satellite went through the FOV, which always makes me smile. At 160X it almost seemed like one of the parts -- the main galaxy, I think -- had a starlike nucleus. The two parts were definitely separated by now, but I could not see any spirals or any sign of the bridge between them. Still, this was another galaxy that had skunked me the last time I'd tried for it, and I was really pumped about finally seeing it. (BTW, this sketch of M51 through a 28" reflector is incredible.)
Saturn was up, though still very low, and I took the chance to see it. Lovely; no sign of the Cassini division, which was not surprising.
At this point I realized that M63 was close to M51. Should I try for it? Why the hell not? And again, obvious at 30X; 48X showed a slight brightening on one side, I think.
It was getting late, and the caffeine was starting to wear out, but I wanted to try one more thing: I'd printed out setting circle locations for M84, and I wanted to try dialing it in. I didn't hold out much hope for it, since I'd had such mixed results with setting cirlcles previously. But what the hell...140 degrees azimuth, 47.8 degrees altitude...look through the 40mm eyepiece, move it around a bit -- and holy shit it's there: a dim but obvious elliptical. Success!
Now at this point I ran into difficulties: yes, I'd found a galaxy. But confirming that it was M84 was tough. (I was happy to have seen anything, but I wanted to know what it was I was looking at. Plus, I was hoping to see more of Markarian's chain.) Have you ever looked at a chart for the Virgo area? I had, but I hadn't paid attention. It's a mass of galaxies and labels, with a handful of faint stars thrown in. It was extremely difficult to see what I was looking at. I sketched the area as best I could, then closed up shop at midnight and headed home; I took the wrong turn but still made the trip in a reasonable time.
Looking more closely at this today, I'm fairly sure that what I actually saw was M87, not M84; there's a slight J of three stars due south in my sketch, and a rectangle of stars to the east. And M87 is only a degree off from M84, so I was definitely in the right neighbourhood. I'm going to call it M87. Too bad it wasn't part of Markarian's chain. I really need to start making these tough observations earlier in the night.
So: it was an amazing night. The dew wasn't a problem thanks to the shield; the horizon was simply incredible to see; I did my good deed for the day with some sidewalk astronomy; I found a comet; the setting circles worked; and I saw an assortment of galaxies and clusters that I haven't been able to see at home. I feel bad about using the car, but it really was wonderful to see all these things. My lovely wife ran interference with the kids this morning and let me sleep in 'til 9am. I had a great time with the kids despite the messed-up sleep (us old folks need their rest), and when I got cranky and stupid later in the day I held my tongue and did not lose my temper. (Now that I'm proud of.) Only thing missing is an observing partner...it would be smart to go there with someone else.
I've added seven Messier objects to my list: M41, M46, M51 (which I'd checked off before, but I don't think that's right), M65, M66, M63 and M87. That brings me up to 40 out of the list -- not bad at all.
It was a rare clearish morning here in New West, and I just saw the ISS and the SpaceX Dragon fly over my house! How awesome is that? There were light, patchy clouds overhead, but the ISS was still bright and visible through them -- and then fainter, just a little bit ahead, was the Dragon capsule! It's undocking right now, and it's amazing luck that I got to see it. (Swoon...)
In other news: yesterday I got sleep, it was sunny, I forgot a couple of things that I should have been working on, and the resulting optimism led me to migrate the sysadmin wiki for the third time. This time it was from Foswiki to Ikiwiki. I have nothing against Foswiki except that I really, REALLY want to edit everything from Emacs; for FW, that means this complicated wrapper around sudo that was getting tiring. Now it's Git + Emacs + Multimarkdown and I am happy.
Not only that, I got a long-standing feature request (one that I made to myself) out of the way: I can now check in, in Emacs Orgmode, to a particular RT ticket when replying to that ticket. (waves hands around in insane manner) Don't you see what this MEANS? Previously I'd have to switch to Emacs, refresh the rtliberation view which'd take 5 seconds (SO BORED), run a command to add it to my Org file, switch to Org, find the new addition, check in and THEN switch back to Mutt and reply. Now it's all in Emacs. It means a new life for ALL of us, baby! You'll see!
This entry brought to you by not enough sleep, excitement about spaceflight, Emacs geekery and a mug full of coffee.
All right, this was a frustrating night. It was clear and moonless and lovely, but I spent much of my time looking for faint fuzzies and not finding them. Which is probably not surprising since I'm in the goram suburbs, but still. I prepared for this run by getting my maps out in advance, and printing out sketches of stuff I was looking for...but all for nought. NOUGHT, I say.
M33: Just for fun, before it sunk out of sight. No.
M1: No, 2x. First with the manual setting circles, and then another attempt following an actual chart. The second attempt actually got me in the right area, but I still couldn't see it. I realized that the chart I'd printed out seemed to be about 5 degrees off in azimuth -- not good. Same thing happened with M50. (Pretty sure I aligned with Polaris this time...)
X Cancri: A carbon star. Found, hurrah! Very nice.
Castor: Resolved to double at 100X, and maybe to triple at 160X. Interestingly, it looked like a sheaf of wheat at 160X. I wish I'd collimated before heading out.
M66: I spent a long time tracking this down, and the best I could get was maybe-possibly with averted vision. Maybe.
Other than a mandatory quick look at Jupiter, that was pretty much it. Not much found, not much accomplished. It feels a bit likewhen I was first starting out: can't find things, can't see them when I do. Grrr.
This was a busy-ass day, yo. Got up at 5.30am to make beer, only to find out that a server at work had gone down and its ILOM no longer works. A few hours later, I've convinced everyone that a trip to UBC would be lovely; I go in, reboot the server and we drive back. It's no 6000 km from Calgary to California and back like my brother does, but for us that's a long drive.
And then it's time to make beer, because I've left it mashing overnight. Boil, chill, sanitize, pitch, lug, clean, and we're one batch closer to 50 (50!). A call to my parents (oh yeah: Dad, you guys can totally stay here in May) and then its supper. And then it's time for astronomizing. Computers, beer and astronomy: this day had it all.
So tonight's run was mostly about trying out the manual setting circles. I don't have a tablet or smart phone to run something like Stellarium on, so for now I'm printing out a spreadsheet with a three-hour timeline, 15 minute intervals, of whatever Messiers are above the horizon.
How did it work? Well, first I zeroed the azimuth on Kochab (Beta UM) rather than Polaris, and kept wondering why the hell the azimuth was off on everything. I realized my mistake, set things right, and tried again. And...it worked well, when I could recognize things.
M42, for example, was easy. (It was the first thing I found by dialing everything in, and when I took a look there was a satellite crossing the FOV. Neat!) But then, it's big, easy to recognize, and i've seen it before. Ditto M45. M1? Not so much; I haven't seen it before, and I didn't have a map ready to look at. M35, surprisingly, was hard to find; M34 was relatively easy, and M36 was found mainly because I knew what to look for in the finder.
This should not be surprising. I've been tracking down objects by starhopping for a while now, so why I thought it would be easier now that I could dial stuff in is beyond me. It's my first time, and the positions were calculated for Vancouver, not New West (though I'm curious how much diff that actually makes).
There were some other things I looked for, though.
M51: found the right location via starhopping, and confirmed on my chart. But could I see it? Could I bollocks.
M50: Pretty sure I did see this; looking at sketches, they seem pretty similar to what I saw. (And that's another thing: it really does feel too easy, like I haven't earned it, and I can't be sure I've really found it.) Oh, and saw Pakan 3, an asterism shaped like a 3/E/M/W, nearby.
M65/M66: Maybe M65; found the location via starhopping and confirmed the position in my chart. Seems like I had the barest hint of M65 visible.
At the request of my kids:
Jupiter: Three bands; not as steady as I thought it would be.
Pleidies: Very nice, but I do wis I had a wider field lens.
M36: Eli suggested a star cluster, aso I went with this. Lovely X shape.
Betelgeuse: Nice colour. Almost forgot about this, and had to look at it through trees before I went home.
Clear night? I'm out. "Don't you work tomorrow?" ...Sorry, not sure I understand you.
Took out the folding table I got at Costco for the first time, and it worked pretty well. It was surprisingly easy to balance on the handcart, and it was incredibly handy to have around. Not going back.
M41: Now that Sirius is higher above the horizon, this is doable. Found it in binoculars, sketched it quickly through the scope before it went behind a tree.
M43: Tried, and I'm pretty sure I got it. Not sure if it was the moon or what, but this was definitely an averted-vision target. Still, marking it done. That's two more Messiers.
Almach: Yeah, that is a pretty double. I like Delta Cephei better, though.
NGC 2683, AKA the UFO galaxy: This took a long time to track down, and I wasn't even sure I'd found it. But I sketched it, and comparing that to other sketches (this one in particular -- and, surprisingly, this photo) I can see that I did, um, see it, hurrah! But only with difficulty and averted vision...no detail whatsoever.
Jupter: Pretty as always.
Moon: Lovely views of the Montes Teneriffe, looking like chicken claws, plus Helicon and Le Verrier craters. Helicon is 25km in diameter, and that's kind of amazing: I can see something on another world that is the size of my commute to work.
(Yep, that's more than a month since the last time...)
Tonight was a rare clear night. Just before putting the kids to bed, I stepped outside to see if it was clear -- and saw the ISS heading over! Talk about good timing...I ran back inside and got my youngest son to come out so we could wave at @Cmdr_Hadfield. Sadly, doesn't seem like he saw us.
I was expecting the clouds to roll in, but they didn't. I was dithering about whether to go out, and my wife said "Why don't you just go? It'll make you happy." Now that's a) good advice and b) a wonderful partner. I'm lucky.
So out, scope not even cooled, and did I care? Did I bollocks. It was wonderful to be out, and the clouds really did hold off a long time.
M81 and M82 -- Holy crap, I found them again. It's been a while since I saw them, and it was wonderfully encouraging to know I could track them down.
Moon -- quick look, as it was setting and being covered by clouds. Fun fact: while walking home from work, I was surprised at how small the moon was. Then I remembered that's just its regular size, and it's been a while since I saw it.
Polaris -- the engagement ring. Pretty. Fits into a 40mm eyepiece view ('bout a degree FOV).
M34 -- First time, which means I've got one more Messier bagged. What a pretty cluster! Took the time to sketch it. Looks like a triskelion to me. (UPDATE: Whoops, actually found it last September. Dangit.)
M42 -- Beautiful, beautiful. I've been looking at sketches of it recently, and that helped me notice more detail, like the fish-mouth shape and the bat wings. But I think I was not looking in the right place for M43. Next time. (BTW, this is just a lovely sketch.) I think I saw the E star, which is nice.
Brief attempt to find M1, but by that time the clouds were rolling in. What a lovely, satisfying night.
I took the kids out this morning to look at Saturn through the telescope. It was a rare clear day; the clouds of the last three months seem to have taken a break. And it was cold -- probably -5C out there.
First, though, we had a visit from Mustard Boy! He uses a frisbee for a weapon.
Arlo took this picture through the viewfinder, and it turned out surprisingly well. Saturn is just visible above (well, below) the rooftops. It wasn't the best location for viewing, but it was nice and close.
This, by constrast, is the crappiest afocal picture ever.
But on to the kids! The tempation to look down the tube of the telescope is nigh-inescapable.
Notice the stickers on the telescope. Some of those I added, but approximately 6 x 10^8 were added yesterday when the kids were bored.
Eli is small enough that I have to lift him up to see through the eyepiece.
Saturn was small -- 100x doesn't show a very big image -- but we had fun, didn't get cold and no one got their toungue stuck to the telescope. I declare that success.
First observing run of 2013! It was absolutely, stunningly clear last night...but that was the RASC lecture (exoplanets w/the MOST telescope; interesting, but I already knew much of the talk). Tonight it was hazy in the north, and it slowly stretched to the south -- but that took a while, and I had a couple hours anyhow. Which was good, because ZOMG it was cold.
Started out with Jupiter, 'cos how can you avoid Jupiter when it's up there so big and bright? The GRS was obvious, which was nice -- I picked it out without knowing that it was going to be visible.
M35: noticed a ragged curve of maybe 14 stars (suns!) anchored by two bright stars at the end...kinda looks like a frown. Maybe able to see colours (left: blue; right: pale yellow). I thought I'd found NGC 2158, but after comparing it with some sketches I think I was wrong.
NGC 2392, the Clown Face Nebula/Eskimo Nebula. I cannot say that it was terribly impressive, even with an O3 filter. (Did I mention that I bought an O3 filter? 'Cos I did.)
M31: Only mentioned in the spirit of completeness.
M42 with the O3 filter is pretty impressive.
M47: I was unsure if I'd found this, so I made a quick sketch. When I got home, I was able to verify that I really had it. Good to find it, but man, not much to look at. Close to the horizon, and there may have been some haze in there too.
After that, I headed in; my feet were freezing. Thought about improvements for next time (don't use a metal clipboard, get a clip-on flashlight, buy a folding table) while packing up, and came home to wine, my wife and the fire. Nice.
Once again it has been a goddamned long time since I got out with the scope. The skies here have been cloudy for months, it seems, with very, very few breaks. Tonight was one of them, and I was itching to try out the new O3 filter I'd bought from the good folks at Vancouver Telescopes...went in looking for finderscope caps and came out with the caps and a new filter. (These folks are awesome, btw. They always have time to chat, and I've never been to a friendlier store. When I finally get the cash together to buy that 8" Celestron, I'm damn sure going there.)
We were over at my in-laws today, and as it happened I'd taken over the Galileoscope, attached to a photo tripod. It's not the most stable mount, but it does the trick. We set it up in their back yard and looked at Jupiter. I've got an old Kellner eyepiece that gives 28X, so we could see the two equatorial belts and, with careful squinting, all four moons. It was the first time my in-laws had seen Jupiter through a scope, and I think they enjoyed it.
The clouds held off while we drove home and put the kids to bed, and I headed out to the local park. The clouds were starting to move in, so I started looking in a hurry.
Jupiter: The seeing seemed quite steady tonight, and I was able to see a fair bit of detail. The GRS was transiting while I was there, which was neat. It was fairly easy to see (now that I know what I'm looking for). There was a long, trailing streamer (not sure that's the right term) coming off the GRS, and I swear I could see it was blue at times. (You can see a really great picture of it here; that guy's photos are simply amazing.)
M42: Viewed in a hurry, as I was afraid the clouds were rolling in. I used this as a chance to try out the O3 filter, and I'm definitely intrigued. I'd write more, but I really was in a hurry and didn't savour this at all.
M37 and M36: I have always had a hard time finding these; in fact, it was my second winter observing before I could find them. Now, I'm happy to know I can repeat the feat. The clouds rolled in bbefore I could find M38.
IC 405 (The Flaming Star Nebula): While looking at the star atlas I noticed this was in the neighbourhood. I found the star, and tried looking at it with the O3 filter, but could not see anything. Sue French says in "Deep Sky Wonders" that it responds well to hydrogen-beta filters, "but a narrowband filter can also be of help." Not for me, but again I was in a hurry.
Luna: Ah, Luna. The mountains of Mare Crisium, and Picard just going into shadow; Macrobius; Hercules and Atlas. The O3 filter made a fine moon filter. :-)
A short and hurried session, but fun nonetheless.
We've had a three-day stretch of clear skies; that's not the first since the last time I went out, but damn near, and definitely the first that wasn't in the middle of the week (middle-aged sysadmin needs his goram sleep) or covered by sickness.
We spent Martinmas at my in-laws eating new wine and chestnuts, and by the time we got back it was late and Jupiter was already up. I set up the scope on the steps near our townhouse and showed the kids. Jr/Fresco and I'd been talking about what eyepiece to use: the 40mm or the 12mm? He grabbed the 40mm since it was bigger, and was really surprised to see how much smaller Jupiter looked (30x) compared to the 12mm (100x). Both saw the NEB and SEB, and noticed Europa, Callisto and Io.
It was clear skies then...but in the hour it took me to read them stories, put them to bed and get out the door to the local park, clouds moved in and all but obscured everything...except Jupiter, that is. (Cue macho joke about KING OF THE GODS, that's who.) So I made lemonade and spent my time looking at Jupiter.
It was wonderful. The seeing was quite steady, and that made up for things not being quite as bright as they might have been. I was able to get up to 320x, which is a feat for me -- not to mention being able to simply keep it in view when it sails across the screen like that. The North Polar Region, the NEB and the SEB were easily visible, and I could just make out the Great Red Spot rotating out of view. From time to time I could distinguish the north and south components of the SEB, the north and south Temperate Bands, and what looked like a thin dark band right across the equator (which I just barely see hints of in these photos; not sure if I was imagining that or not).
ANother thing I saw was the reapparance of Ganymede from occulatation (that is, from behind Jupiter's disk). I knew when to expect it; when the time came, I saw it and thought "Oh yeah, neat...not as cool as a transit, though." I ignored it for a few more minutes, then realized something: I was seeing a disk, not just a point o' light...and that was only at 200x. I had my copy of the RASC Observer's Handbook (okay, maybe it is handy to have around), so I looked up Ganymede and saw that it was half again as big as the moon. Wow. I had a closer look at the other moons, and while I couldn't really see any disks, I did seem to see a sort of brownish colour to Callisto (which may actually be accurate).
I came in after only an hour; the clouds were erratic, and I wanted to get inside. Not the widest-ranging observing session, but lots of fun.
Out to the local park around 9.30pm, with coyotes and teenagers to keep me company. I'm not recording the housekeeping/easy/medium/challenge parts, 'cos a lot of it went out the window.
Eta Cassiopeia: unlike previous times I actually noticed a difference in colour (white and gold)...that was nice. I decided to spend some time comparing my eyepieces and doing a semi-half-assed (quarter-assed?) star test. The star test came out the two sides unequal, so I guess I should've taken the time to collimate. And as for comparison, the 25mm anonymous silver Plossl seemed better than the 25mm Celestrom X-Cel. This surprised me.
M13: Fainter than previous times. I'm guessing that's because it's lower now than before (45 deg or so compared to nearly zenith the last tie I looked). Still pretty.
M15: Found it the first time I looked for it! Easy in binos, obvious at 30X, shimmering at 160X. Almost seems to be trailing to the NW, like it was leaving behind a trail. Ver' nice.
M2: Less bright, less obvious, but still straightforward. Maybe a hint of resolution at 320X.
M31: Actually, this is here because I found M32! Woot me! I didn't know which companion it was at the time; I sketched it, then found it matched this one. Could not find M110, but I don't think I was looking far enough.
Eta Persei: Very pretty, very eye-catching. Like Delta Cephei, yellow and blue-green...like the Earth around the Sun.
M34: Stumbled across this while looking through binoculars. Very loose strings of stars, very pretty. Also tried for NGC 956, but no luck...maybe a broken L of stars? Looking at these sketches, I think I probably got the right one, and probably missed a lot.
Uranus: Sought but not found.
NGC 1275 (aka Caldwell 24): Sought but not found. Starhopped, as far as I can tell, to the middle of the Perseus Cluster, but did not see a blessed thing.
Jupiter: Aw, first time through the scope in a long time. Low in the sky, messy as hell, but heart-warming to see.
Moon: Gorgeous, doubly so since I so rarely view it at 3/4 phase. Saw Lunar X, but also another one maybe 1/3 from rim. Sort of.
Pleiades and Hyades: Man, I almost forgot these were up. Awesome.
I've been reading up on the Apollo missions lately. It followed after reading about Sputnik, then the Mercury missions ("The Right Stuff" is incredible; I now know why Tom Wolfe and Hunter S. Thomson get mentioned in the same breath). Skipped over Gemini -- not much selection at my local library, but I want to fix this oversight -- then lots of Andrew Chaikin, Life magazine and, just finishing right now, First on the Moon (also written with/by Life magazine journalists). I was at the return flight, and kind of skimming over things, when I heard that Neil Armstrong had died.
Clara was going out that night, and I'd been promising the kids for a long time that we'd go out and look at the stars with the telescope, so I figured this was a good time to follow through.
"Hey guys, want to stay up late tonight and look through the telescope?"
"Can we watch movies?"
Note: I do feel bad about not doing this earlier. In my own defense, I have taken them out to a star party this month; I sat out with them at my parents' place this summer (skies dark like you would not BELIEVE) and shown them the Milky Way, told them that we live in a galaxy with billions, BILLIONS of stars. These things are important to me. But I want to do things that are fun for them, not just/only things that are important to me. I try hard to find the balance between making sure they feel welcome, and pestering them about things that bore them to death.
We stayed up and watched Power Rangers S.P.D (two episodes), a little bit of Ghostbusters, and some Pink Panther. And then we put on warm clothes and went out.
It was cloudy, a little bit, but not too much. It was around 8.30pm, and really dark was just in sight. The moon was up -- 67% full, according to my nerdy daily emails -- and low, too low to be seen from our 3rd floor window.
We looked at Saturn first. The highest magnification I had was 48X, so the rings were there, but not amazing -- but the kids saw them. The younger (4 years old) wanted to move the telescope around; the older (6 years old) tried hard not to bump the scope. They both saw through the telescope, which is a big improvement over previous years. (I'm not complaining, though I would've at the time; they weren't ready for that, and I didn't realize that.) It was neat, but probaby not a wonder for them.
We looked at Mars, and that was just a red dot. But I told them that this was where Curiosity was, and I hope that made it interesting.
I pointed it at the moon. The 30x eyepiece framed it nicely, gave them lots of time to look before it drifted out of site. They saw craters, maria, the terminator.
I told them about Neil Armstrong: how he was the first to walk on the moon; how he'd died today; how his family had asked that we wink at the moon. "Why should we?" asked my younger; I think he was confused about the whole thing. "Because his family thought it was something he'd like." "I can only wink two eyes." "That's okay."
"Have you ever seen someone die?" asked my older. "No," I said.
I had a map of the moon. One at a time, I showed them Mare Crisium; hopped from there to Mare Fecundidatis and Mare Nectaris, like two claws on a lobster; and Mare Tranquilitatis, joining the two like the base of the claw. "See up there, right where it goes up to the right? That's where they landed. No, there's not much to see, but that's where it happened." And then we looked up at the moon, counted to three, and winked (or blinked). Goodnight, Mister Armstrong.
Whee, middle of the week observing! Since I got clouded out last week, I didn't want to take any chances.
Followed the structure I set up for myself last time, and here's what I got done.
Any sign of the Milky Way at all? Nope.
Beta Lyrae in eclipse? Nope.
Limiting magnitude: I'd printed out a map of NGC 6823, and following these instructions crossed out the stars I could see. Turns out that, at 100X, I could see 11.79 mag (call it 12th) with effort, and at 160X I could see down to 13.72 mag with effort. Holy shit, that's better than I thought.
The star is approximately 1000 times larger than our Sun's solar radius, and were it placed in the Sun's position, its radius would reach between the orbit of Jupiter and Saturn.
...which, holy crap. Also, it's a carbon star.
Delta Cephei, the original Delta Cephei variable. It's a very, very pretty double; in The Secret Deep, Stephen James O'Meara says it looks like the Earth orbiting the sun. And it does. Double stars aren't my thing, but I'll be coming back to this one.
M16 -- no hint of nebulosity; none.
M29 -- not much to see here...
Berkeley 61 -- no, there's not much there, which should tell you something. Sketched, but more "looks like there should be something here." Since I was in the neigbourhood of M29 and all.
NGC 7235 -- not intentional, but right next to Delta Cephei. I hereby name this the Running Man stick Figure Cluster.
Did not get to NGC 6946 (aka Caldwell 12); clouds started roolling in and I was tired.
And in other news, saw a meteor going across the sky to the NE about 10.33pm. It had broken up into several pieces. Neat!
This weekend I took the kids out to Aldergrove Regional Park to the Perseid meteor shower party, organized by Vancouver Parks and the local chapter of the RASC. I went last year with my older son, and the younger was quite eager to go this time around. (Clara was happy we were all going this time, too; last year, the younger stayed up 'til 10pm waiting for his brother, and woke up at 5am upset he wasn't back yet.)
We packed up the tent, flashlights, sleeping bags, PB&J, water bottles, stuffies, binoculars, pillows, lounge chairs, blankets, star atlases, and drove out. We got there at 8.30pm or so and it was already packed. The kids help me set up the tent, and then we were off to the activities.
First we got glow sticks:
And then we went off to get faces painted. That didn't last long, though; we'd already had a very long day with my inlaws and relations by that point, and the kids were bagged. We ducked out of the line after a few minutes, got hot chocolate, then went back to the tent to look at the sky for a while.
Sr. headed off to bed, announcing he "might put his head down for a while". Jr. went with him, but came out in time to watch the ISS fly over. Sr. poked his head out as well, then went back to sleep. Jr. stayed up a little longer, then went to bed about 10.45pm, and I was left with 800 or so of my closest friends.
It was really neat watching the shower with so many people around. There was a park-wide game of Marco Polo, which was funny. And as for the meteors, even before midnight there were a few really bright trails, and everyone would ooh, ahh, and even applaud.
I fell asleep in my lounge chair around 11.30pm, then woke up again about an hour later. There were some really cool trails, but I wouldn't say there was a huge number...I saw one maybe every 2-4 minutes. I finally called it a night at 2am and crawled into the tent.
We got up about 6.30am, ate our PB&J, and started packing up.
We picked up some godawful sweet snacks at a gas station (we did it last year, had to do it this year, next year I'm putting my foot down) and drove home. The kids fell asleep in the back, and then again for two hours in the afternoon...and that never happens.
All in all, a fun time. Recommended if you're in the Vancouver area.
(Written up on August 8th, backdated to the 4th to confuse.)
I went out to the neighbourhood park near my house where I usually go. It was only a day after full moon, but I didn't care; it's been a long time since I've gone out by myself with a list of stuff to see, and had a fair chance of doing it.
Speaking o' which, I decided to start being a bit more organized when heading out observing, and to see if I could get a good routine going. There are times when I feel like I flail about, and don't get the most out of my time with the scope. There still has to be time for fun, of course, and there are times when I will just pan around to see what I can see. But I want to avoid both having too many things to look at (and getting frustrated as a result; what fun is taking out six of Sue French's columns when I can't get through more than half of one in a night?), and running out of things entirely and thinking "Now what?"
So I'm going to try organizing things into different sections/purposes:
Housekeeping: record seeing/transparency (something I'm still not very familiar with), answering particular questions (like tonight's sky map)
Easy/Nice: targets I know and love, or are easy to find (M13, Double Cluster, etc)
Medium/Project: tracking down and sketching a new Messier, or finding an easy NGC
Challenge: almost put "hard" but I decided to be like Andy and call them "challenges". Dim objects, difficult to track down...galaxies often fall into this category (at least I think so, given that I'm in a bright suburban location). Not too many, or I'm liable to just get frustrated
While observing, I'll hop between categories to keep it interesting.
Mapping the horizon at the park; there are lots of trees around the south, and I want to be able to predict if/when a target will be obscured.
Check if Beta Lyrae is in eclipse; compare it to R and Kappa. Yeah, I could look up the time, but I thought this'd be more fun.
Track down NGC 6823 for an eventual try at determining my limiting magnitude
Double-double (Epsilon Lyrae)
M11 - Wild Duck Cluster
M13 - Glob in Hercules
The gorgeous, wonderful moon
M16 - Eagle nebula. Any nebulosity, or just the OC? (Yeah, big moon, but let's check anyway.)
M15 - Glob in Pegasus
M5 - Glob in Ophiucus
M27 - Dumbbell nebula
Mu Cephei -- Herschel's Garnet, a carbon star
Collimated my scope before going out; I guess I'm getting good at this, because it wasn't that hard. Headed out about 9:30pm to wait for dark. Warm night; I didn't use the jacket that I took. Oh, and I greased up the altitude motion with Chapstick, and man is that nicer now.
Horizon map: I had a star map for 10pm printed out, and at the right time started sketching what was obscured. I still need to make a better version of it, but I think I've got enough for a good estimate.
Albireo: Lovely as ever, particularly against the not-yet-dark sky. Definite green tinge to the one, and gold or orange to the other...almost too bright to tell.
Double-Double: split barely at 100x, definitely at 160x. One pair wider; northern pair? Need to get my directions straight one of these days.
M11: Man, this is nice with averted vision; stars winking in and out. Viewed at twilight. Now that I know the sort of hook shape that points to it, it's pretty easy to track down. The V really was evident. Came back to it later at night and was able to resolve it, barely, at 30x; had not been able to do that earlier. At 100x, it almost looks like a starfish, or a Satanic goat head...really.
M13: Again, viewed at twilight; the twinkling is just gorgeous. Came back to it later in the night, and I think I might have left it too long; not sure if it's being lower in the sky, or the moon being up further, or me being tired, but it wasn't as twinkly as before.
M5 was hidden behind a tree, so I didn't view it; came out later, but I was too tired at that point. Star map!
M10: I tracked down this one instead. It took a while to starhop, but I started remembering my way around here from the last time I tried looking at it: last winter, which impresses me no end. A faint blob in 10x50 binos, and at 30x/100x in the scope, but I started to resolve stars at 160x. It was still twilight by this point (10.45pm), and my dark adaptation was nothing to write home about, but it was still quite lovely. I put on the Barlow and went to 200x, and was surprised to find it was not too much; in fact, this helped bring out the twinkling with direct vision. Yes, fainter than M13, but still lovely in its own right.
(My usual technique for tracking down an object, btw, is to figure out where it is with 10x50 binoculars and a star map, then switch to the finder. It's a bit confusing switching between reversed and upright views, but I manage.)
M16: I think I found where this is; I could see a blob in the bino, but very loose in the eyepiece. I did a quick sketch, and compared it later with this one from Jeremy Perez; turns out I got the NW corner of the cluster. Could not see any nebulosity; must try again on a darker night.
M27: Found it! Just visible in binos, and visible at 30x in scope; could not see in the finder though. (I've noticed that things are generally fainter in the 9x50 finder than they are in my 10x50 binos, and I'm assuming it's 'cos I'm viewing with a single eye.) Slight lobe shape at 100x; a little more at 160x, but still faint. I didn't spend a lot of time on this, as I figured this is definitely one for a darker night.
NGC 6823: Tracked down after some effort. It's a loose cluster of stars, with what looks to me like a tobacco pipe in the middle. I compared this with Sue French's description, and yep -- got the right object. Woohoo! Did a quick sketch.
Beta Lyrae: Not in eclipse, as far as I could tell.
M51: For an additional challenge, tried tracking this down to see how it compared to viewing it at my parent's place (very dark skies). Pretty sure I was looking in the right place, but no sign of it.
Luna: Bright, bright, bright, but gorgeous. Found Langrenus, Vendelinus and Petavius along the edge. Wavy viewing at 100x but still found central peak and crack in Petavius. 160x was pretty ridiculous, but found central peak in Langrenus, and some interesting v-shaped bits along the terminator. Sketched Mare Crisium badly, and later identified various bits in it.
Packed up at 1am and came home.
It felt good to be this organized; there was enough to keep the evening filled, but not so much I was crammed. I didn't get everything done I set out to do, but that's fine.
I neglected the challenge objects. I think NGC 6633 was obscured when I went out, so okay. But part of it was leaving them so long. By the time a few hours go by, I'm really quite bagged, and I need to remember that.
I'm quite proud to have found NGC 6823 on my own; it's not that challenging, but it is an NGC object. I'm also quite happy I found M27, M10 and M16; I felt like I was on quite a roll. I think half the trick with these things is to know what to expect in the binos (faint fuzzy, barely visible, better w/averted vision).
I did three sketches (Mare Crisium, M16 and NGC 6823). This was by accidtn; I was just trying out a plastic lid as a template for sketches, and drew three...then I decided to fill them. I think this is a good number for me, and I may roll this into into the challenge/project category.
Overall, a good and fun night, and a good template for the future.
Prompted by fierce internecine rivalry with Tampa Bay Breakfasts, I'm finally putting in an update. My supervisor is my four year-old son, who's busy reading "You are the first kid on Mars" beside me while holding on to Power Ranger and Terl action figures.
Work: I've got a summer student. She was at one of the labs I work with for the last 8 months, and showed a real aptitude for computers. My boss agreed to pick up the bill for her salary, so here we are.
It's working out really, really well. She's got a lot to learn (basic networking, for example) but it is SUCH A WONDERFUL THING to have someone to send off on jobs. "Hey, have you got a minute to..." "She'll take care of it." She can help with what she knows, and what she doesn't she takes careful notes on. I've even had a chance to work on other, larger projects for, like, an hour or two at a time. It's great.
I'm going away for three weeks in June/July, and there's a lot to teach her before then. Fortunately, there are a couple other sysadmins who can help out, and a couple of other technical folk in the lab who can take on some duties. But it's been a real wake-up for me, realizing how could be made easier for someone else. It'd be nice, for example, to have something that'd let people reboot machines easily when they get stuck. Right now, I SSH to the ILOM and reset it there; what about a web page? It'd be its own set of problems, of course, and I'm not going to code something up between now and June, but it's something to think about. Or at least coming up with some handy wrapper around the ipmipower/console commands.
Home: The weather is at last, AT LAST becoming sunny and springlike. I took the telescope out on Saturday -- full moon, so I spent most of my time looking at Saturn. And holy crap, was it amazing! I saw the Cassini division for the first time, the C ring (!) and five moons. I'm starting to regret (a little) having sold the 4.3mm eyepiece; the 7.5mm is nice but does badly in the Barlow, which I suspect says more about the Barlow than anything else. (Also that night: tried looking for M65 and M66, just to see if I could find them in the suburbs under a full moon. Negative.)
I'm trying to port an astronomical utility to Rockbox; it will show altitude and azimuth for planets, Messier and NGC objects. My intention is to use it with manual setting circles on my Dob. The interesting part is that Rockbox has no floating point arithmetic, so it's not a straightforward port at all. Thus I've had to learn about fixed point arithmetic, lookup tables and the like. My trig and bitwise arithmetic are, how do you say, weak from underuse, so this is a bit of a slog. But I'm hopeful.
And now my other supervisor is coming for a status report. Time to go!
Full moon, impending cold, lack of sleep -- don't care. It's a clear night, it's a long weekend, and it's time to get out.
Mars was wonderful. Saw detail easily -- much more easily than I did last time. Near as I can tell, I saw Mare Acidalium in the north, and Sinus Meridiani/Mare Arythraeum (which, hey, is reasonably close to where Opportunity is in the south. Oh, and the polar ice caps. Got even clearer as the night wore on; not sure if that was the seeing or the scope cooling off.
M36/M37/M38 were pretty easy to find, which is nice -- these gave me a lot of trouble previously. Saw M38's Chi shape.
For shits and giggles decided to try and find M81/M82 to see how a full moon in a suburban location compares with a semi-dark site on a nearly new moon. Well, damn me if I didn't find them -- with binoculars for M82, and both of 'em in the scope. No, the view wasn't spectacular, but it was incredible to me that I could see them.
The Moon was lovely, even full; I could stare at it for hours. Aristarchus was pretty, as was Copernicus and Tycho. Tried sunglasses and that worked well for the 40mm view -- which is almost my favourite -- but not so much for higher magnifications.
Back in at 11.25. It's really nice observing so close to home.
Last night was the first clear night in a ridiculous amount of time. It was also a nearly new moon. On top of all that, the kids were over at their grandparents for the night, and I could stay up as late as I wanted. IOW, the astronomy gods were saying "GO."
I decided that I'd go to Mount Seymour. There's a parking lot about halfway up that folks congregate at; it's darker than the local park I usually walk to. I'd only been to it once before; I don't like going regularly because it's a long drive and gas, she is expensive. But this seemed like a special occasion.
I packed up tea and a sandwich, picked out some targets for the night, and started off. I got there at 8.15pm, distracted only slightly by Jupiter and Venus along the way. There were a half dozen people there already, including the woman I met last June ("Have I met you before? Yeah, and I probably asked you then if I'd met you before...") I set up and waited for the scope to cool down.
Well, no, I didn't wait. Who could wait? Venus was a lovely half circle, even if it was shimmery and wobbly. Jupiter was just heading below the trees and I got a very brief look; SEB, I think, present, and NEB not very noticeable.
Then Mars -- the first time I'd looked at it through the Dob. Very nice. I'd been preparing myself to see no features at all, but slowly some came out; it held my attention much longer than I anticipated. I think I saw hints of the north polar ice caps, and a band just south of that surrounding the pole. I came back to it a few times over the night, and magnification held up to 320x (Barlow'd 7.5mm Plossl; nothing special, but works for me). (I'd just traded my 4.3mm eyepiece in earlier in the day, and I was a little bit sad I didn't have a chance to try that...)
I got a chance to check out a number of things through a 6" AstroPhysics refractor, with a 100-degree TeleVue, that another person had brought. The Double Cluster and M42 were simply stunning, and I know now just how wonderful those supernormowide eyepieces are. I was surprised, though, how much colour fringing showed up on Mars. I envy him the deep sky stuff, but I'm happier w/my view of Mars.
M35, M36, M37 and M38 were all perfectly visible through binoculars -- nice! Took a quick look at M35 through the scope; pretty as always.
I took my usual run at M81 and M82. I've been searching for these for a year or more, and it's always been a fruitless search. After 30 minutes I gave up in frustration. I got talking to the woman I'd met earlier, and she showed me them through her scope (10" Dob). She also pointed out where they were in the sky w/her laser pointer. Inspired, I tried again, found out where I should be looking, and sweet Cthulhu on a pogo stick FOUND THEM! It was immensely satisfying, and very pretty -- faint, but pretty. Amazing to think I can hold two galaxies in one FOV.
I had to give up at 11.15pm; my feet were cold as hell. I hadn't got to half of my list (Comet Garradd, M46, M47, M67, NGC 2261, NGC 2264, X Cancri (Carbon star) and the Leo triplet), but what the heck. I packed up, came home, drank some therapeutic wine and got to bed at 1am. And then SLEPT IN 'til 8am. Wonder of wonders. What a night.
Last night was a rare semi-clear night (this month has been awful, grumble), so I was excited to see the Moon, Jupiter and Venus on my walk home from the bus stop after $WORK; it was kinda cloudy, but not completely, and anyhow the crecent moon was awful pretty through the haze. When I got home I asked my oldest son if he wanted to go out w/the telescope after supper. He was enthusiastic, so I put the 4.5" reflector outside to cool while we ate.
Forty minutes was enough to bring in more threatening clouds, but we could still see the three of them. I set up the scope and had a look at Theopilus. A couple years ago my son noticed its distinct appearance, and asked what its name was. I looked it up, and have been fond of it ever since. This time, though, he couldn't pick it out...but he was still interested, so that was good.
I'd looked on Heavens-Above to see if the ISS was due to fly overhead tonight, and it was -- just before 7pm, right when we were outside. Sweet! Sure enough, we watched closely and there it was, bright as anything and moving just past the moon. But wait, wasn't it supposed to go across the moon? What the...
...and then one minute later, there was the real ISS, and it was going across the Moon (very cool!). And there was the other satellite, almost as bright, moving on a different track. As far as I could tell, both stayed the same steady brightness -- so no tumbling for our mystery satellite. We watched both 'til they passed into the Earth's shadow, then headed inside for the night.
First thing I did, of course, was pull up Heavens-Above again to see what this other satellite was. And I couldn't find anything! There was simply nothing listed anywhere near the time the ISS flew over, let alone something that was supposed to be that bright. No Iridium flares either. Stumped, I reported to my son that I had no idea what it was.
But then I realized that I'd been looking at the listings that were supposed to be brighter than 3rd magnitude, rather than the fuller list that went down to 4.5. It was possible this thing was in the fuller list, but was brighter than predicted (because the predicted angle of reflection was wrong, say). So I pulled up the full list and started looking at tracks.
Sure enough, there were a bunch that were overhead at that time. The ISS was the most obvious one, but looking at the map tracks this Delta II rocket was the one we saw, which had launched the Globalstar 26. Here's the ISS pass:
And here's the Delta pass:
The times don't match up perfectly. The Delta was predicted to reach max altitude at 18:44 and enter shadow at 18:50; the ISS was predicted to reach 10 degrees altitude at 18:51, max at 18:54 and shadow at 18:57. I didn't note the time we saw the first one, since it was right around 18:50 and I thought it was the ISS.
I told my son about all this and -- being the son of a geek -- he thought it was pretty cool. :-)
Also -- and this is completely unrelated -- how did I not know about M-a in Emacs? Ordinarily it's "backward-sentence", but in programming modes, it moves to the beginning of non-whitespace on a line. ZOMG.
It astounds me how much we can know about an exoplanet's atmosphere. Like:
Last night was clear, so I headed out to the local park about 10pm. Even thought it was 45 minutes after sunset, it was still quite bright out, and I had a chance to set up, sit down and start scanning the skies with 10x50 binoculars.
I had a big list of stuff I wanted to get through: Saturn, some double stars from Sky and Telescope's latest issue, 55 Cancri...but Saturn was behind trees (they're quite high to the west where I observe), and it turned out to be more fun just to see what I could see.
I had a copy of July's Sky Maps, and it makes an excellent checklist. I started out with The Coathanger Cluster, which I'm still tickled at being able to find. And hey, what's this close by? M11, the Wild Duck Cluster? I haven't looked at that before...
It was tough to find just using SkyMaps, so I pulled out TriAtlas and tried to work out where to look. It's crowded in that part of the sky, so I switched from the A series to the B series (more detail, lower (higher?) limiting magnitude). It took a while to track down, but I finally saw it at 10:30pm with averted vision through the binoculars. (I came back to it a few times throughout the night, and it became quite noticeable with direct vision as the sky got darker.)
Having spent the time hunting it down with binos, it was pretty simple to zero in with the finder (though I swear it was fainter, despite being a 10x50 like the binos). After some experimentation, I settled on the 12.5mm Vixen (75X) for viewing.
And wow...it was just gorgeous. Faint nebulosity around a bright star, with one other just visible, seemed to sparkle and just be on the edge of resolution. I keep reading about this with globular clusters, but I hadn't actually seen this phenomenon 'til now.
I moved on to NGC 6633, an open cluster in Ophiuchus; again, I tracked it down with binoculars before moving on to the scope. It was a large, elongated smattering of faint stars in the binoculars, with more stars and more graininess coming out in the scope. It was quite beautiful.
I tried looking for M26, and was just able to glimpse some fuzziness with averted vision at 22X in the scope. I was unable to see anything else at any other power.
About this time, I noticed a coyote padding by. I made some noise and he ran off. Amazing what you can see, even in a big city, if you keep your eyes open.
And then the moon was up. I'd been planning to sketch, but as Douglas Adams said, sometimes the best part of planning is throwing it all away. (Or something like that.) I started looking and just couldn't stop. There was something like an X by the terminator -- quite striking. I couldn't really bump up the magnification past 75X or so due to seeing; the moon was still pretty low in the sky. But it was still breathtaking. I sometimes think I could really, really get into lunar observing...there's something about seeing all the detail, and the way it changes, that's captivating.
It was past midnight, and I started thinking I should go. But I noticed a bright star rising in the east, below Cassiopeia, and I wanted to know what it was. I got out my planisphere, moved the dials around...carry the two for daylight savings...Algol.
Wow. I knew constellations moved around, and that it was entirely reasonable that you'd see off-season (so to speak) constellations if you stayed up late enough. But Algol? The last time I'd looked at that regularly it was January. Winter! What the hell?
Well, only one thing to do: I swivelled the scope over and looked up the Double Cluster. Whee, there it was! Not nearly as spectacular as when it was way overhead, but still.
And if I could see that, what about Andromeda? I hadn't been able to track that down in the winter (I'm still a newbie!), and it had been a big frustration for me. The moon was nearly full, it was no more than 30 degrees above the horizon, but what the heck...let's give it a try. And wow, there it was! Faint fuzzy visible in binocs and the scope. Wasn't much to look at, but I couldn't have been more thrilled.
It was a good way to end the night. I packed up, wiped the dew off things as best I could (so THAT'S what people mean when they complain about dew), and headed home.
It's been four weeks of cloudy, crappy weather, but the clouds FINALLY cleared up tonight. I thought about heading to the dark site on the side of Seymour Mountain, but decided to keep it local and casual instead; I headed over to the local park with my dad.
We got out around 10pm and set up our lawn chairs to watch the stars slowly, slowly come out. It's not terribly dark at this park -- nearby street lights are visible, and we don't really have any way of shielding ourselves -- but it is nice and close.
We watched for an Iridium flare at 11:15pm...no luck. I got to show my dad Albireo, M13 and a bunch of satellites. I'd hoped to show him Saturn, but it was behind the trees by the time we got out. About 11.30, he headed in for the night.
After he left I got down to some serious observing (modulo the fact that I'm still a newbie). First on the list were some double stars. I tried splitting the Double-Double but no luck -- just a double tonight. I did split Eta Cassiopeiae, though I couldn't see any colour difference. (The last time I looked up Eta it was winter -- it's weird to think of Cassiopeia being up in the summer!). Ras Algethi was pretty, and held up to the high magification needed -- it took 240X to split it, and that did not seem unreasonable. The pair seemed orange and blue-green to me. Very pretty.
Next up were a couple of globular clusters. I started with M13, and spent about ten minutes underneath an astronomy-quality t-shirt, trying to let my eyes adapt and trying different magnfications. Having just read Rod Molise' "Urban Astronomy", I was enthusiastic to try high magnifications...but I gotta say, it was nearly invisible at 150X. Yes, it's a 4.5" scope on a night of probably not-great seeing, and my eyes never really dark-adapted, but I exptected more. At least at 75X I can see it. There might have been some little hint of graininess at higher powers, but nothing I could see with confidence. I'm willing to put this down to equal parts inexperience, lack of dark adaptation, impatience and smaller aperture.
I looked up M5 for comparison, and found it about to head behind some trees. I was surprised at how obvious it was in binoculars and the finder, and I agree with Molise' opinion that it at least rivals M13. Maybe the tiniest hint of graininess, but, but again I'm really not sure.
I saw M57 for the first time. Maybe saw the hole at higher powers (120x) but I can't say for sure. The sightq was a bit disappointing for me. I found myself wishing for the open clusters that abound in winter time; they're pretty and really shine in the small scope. And it was nice that there was no moon, but without a planet to look at I felt a bit lonely.
After a second look at Albireo (colours much better in the dark!), I packed it in about 1am. Even though I missed some favourite targets, it was so good to get out after the long, long drought.
Tonight was the first clear night in far, far too long. But instead of staying out 'til midnight, I decided to try pointing the scope out my bathroom window to look at the moon and get to bed at a semi-reasonable hour.
And hey, not bad! Sure, it got pretty awful above 50X, but that was enough to let me see all kinds of things. I decided to sketch what I saw, and I'm glad I did; it's no great artistry, but it really forced me to pay attention to what I was seeing.
After a half hour or so, I took a break, then came back to look again and pick out the features I could recognize. There was Albategnius, Plinius, Manilius, and...hey, I don't remember that bright bit in Abategnius being that big. And what's with the bright spot in Mare Imbrium's shadow?
So I looked it the new bright bit, and it's Mons Piton -- 7000 ft/2100-odd metres high. And it hits me: I didn't see that before. It's a big mountain in the middle of shadow. It's just the other side of the terminator. Same thing must've happened with Albategnius. Holy crap, I just saw sunrise on the moon!
It shouldn't really be a surprise -- even though I'm still getting familiar with the moon I know how the terminator moves, and I know that it's gotta move sometime. But it was really, really surprising to see it in such a short space of time.
This past Sunday I picked up a reflector on Craigslist. It's an Omcon 811SE, a 114mm f/9 Newtonian. I hadn't heard of the name before, but a quick search showed that they'd been built in the '90s here in Vancouver, and at least one CloudyNights.com member has one listed in their sig.
It seemed like it was in good condition. It came with a pretty sturdy wooden tripod with an alt-az friction mount, a 6x30 finder scope, and two eyepieces: an 18mm Kellner (50X), and a 7.5mm Plossl (120X). At $40 (knocked down from $50!), it was too good a deal to pass up.
...And then the clouds came. OF COURSE. I spent my time adjusting the finder and pointing it out the window, cursing water vapour under my breath.
Finally, we got some clear-ish skies; there were lingering clouds, but they seemed thin. I took it out to a park within walking distance of my house. The skies are by no means dark, but it's easy to get there. I set up the scope, popped in the 18mm, pointed it at a star, focussed and...hey, a star! Definitely reassuring, since I wasn't sure about how good the collimation was...it seemed okay to me, based on what I'd read, but the mirror has no centre mark and it was hard to be sure without actually testing it.
Finally, Orion came out, so I pointed it at M42...
I'd only ever looked at it before in binoculars and my Galileoscope (the only other scope I've had since people started calling me a grownup), and...well, frankly it didn't seem like all that. I mean, it was nice, but nothing spectacular. But this...THIS was spectacular.
I swapped in the 7.5, and incredibly it seemed even better. It was fainter, of course, but the narrower FOV seemed to focus my attention more. I spent some time letting it drift across the eyepiece, and began to notice dark spots, lanes and such. It was amazing. I couldn't say I saw any colour, but I definitely know now what the fuss is about.
I decided to try the Pleides, and even at 50X -- such a narrow FOV compared to binoculars! -- it was astonishing. I just kept repeating "Oh wow" over and over again.
Finally, I decided to try splitting Eta Cassiopeia. I missed it at 50X, found it at 120X and then saw it on second look at 50X. Can't say I saw any colour difference between the two.
(I'd been REALLY hoping to see Jupiter, but the thrice-cursed clouds hid it.)
Now, the scope isn't perfect. The mounting definitely needs to be tweaked to make it easier to move (while not actually falling down), and pointing it at the zenith is going to be difficult. The &?*#! finderscope kept dewing over (first priority is to get my kids to make me a dew shield; they're 4 and 2, so it'll be a great craft project for them :-)). And even w/o much experience I can the eyepieces aren't great...in the 18mm, stars get fuzzy or elongated at the edge of the FOV, and the focus on the 7.5mm seems mushy/hard to achieve. (Though I suppose that could be the mirror...I wouldn't know.)
But oh man, oh man, oh man...what a night. I couldn't be happier with my new scope.
I just got in this morning from seeing Saturn for the first time ever through a telescope. It was through my Galileoscope, a cheap (but decent!) 50mm refractor.
I've taken up astronomy again for the first time since I was a kid, and it's been a lot of fun. I've been heading out nights with the scope, some binoculars and sky maps to learn the sky. So far through the scope I've seen Jupiter, the Moon, Albireo, and Venus. (Venus was yesterday, when I was trying to find Saturn...)
Saturn, though...that was something else. It was small, but I could distinctly see the rings. It was absolutely breathtaking. I've wanted to see Saturn through a scope for a long, long time, and it was incredible to finally do so.
Bad: Sorry, but can we have a budget by Monday? New rules mean we need to get your budget approved by this time next week, instead of four months from now, so I need to look over it by Monday. (To be fair, he was quite apologetic.)
Good: Seeing the crewcent moon and Venus (or Spica? I'll never know) peeking through the clouds on the way to work this morning.
Last year I bought a Galileoscope for $15. It's a cheap (though well-made) telescope that was meant to celebrate the 400th anniversary of Galileo's first astronomical observations. It was $15 -- so cheap!
Jupiter has been visible all this month out our bedroom window around 4:30am, and this morning I pointed the telescope at it and saw its moons and, I think, a band across the middle. If I had a tripod to hook it up to, I would have got an even better view...but even balanced on the window, it's amazing what you can see.
Work yesterday was interesting -- which is good, because it's been a bit of a slow month. A vendor bought me coffee, and it was actually an interesting conversation. I finally got an LDAP server migrated to a VM in preparation for re-installing the host it's on; this took a while because I refused to read my own instructions for how to set up replication (sigh). And that brought up other problems, like the fact that my check for jumbo frames being enabled wasn't actually complaining about non-jumbo frames...or that the OpenSuSE machines I've got didn't get their LDAP configuration from Cfengine the way I thought.
All stuff to solve tomorrow...I mean, today. (Dang getting up at 4am...)