Skies and Stars
Rigel and the Beehive (2/28/2017) PDF Print E-mail
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Tuesday, 28 February 2017 23:38

he real purpose of tonight's jaunt into the backyard with the scope was to check the alignment of the spotter and laser sights - I'd knocked them off putting the tube into the trunk of the mini and wanted to check them. Tonight was fairly clear, so sure, at the very minimum, a little calibration.

Turns out they were pretty close - since now it was well dark and I had an assembled scope, I decided to look around a bit. Had at least one thing on the agenda - I'd heard of people actually seeing binary stars but had never managed it before. Rigel's a binary, and I was actually pointed that way. So let's look for it.

At 24x, I just saw a bright star. Looked at it for a bit. Focused a lot. Nothing. Bumped up to 60x, and still didn't see any second star. After this, I got the barlow extender out and boosted up to 120x. And still, Rigel was just a bright light in the sky. Frustrated and wondering if maybe I was the victim of a colossal cosmic snipe hunt, I even slipped a low light filter on the eyepiece. And then I did what all astronomers do best - I settled into my chair and just... looked.

Eventually I realized that there was a tiny pinpoint to the side of Rigel. At first I thought, no, maybe it's just a distortion of the lens. Removing the filter (and knowing what to look for) I could now make it out quite easily. And there it was. Later, I checked actual pictures online (such as the one included here) and, yes, that was the binary. Proud that I'd finally "made" this view, I hung out on it for a further half-hour.

Then it was general viewing. Of course, checked out the Orion Nebula (some day I'll have to go through my posts and see how many times I actually recorded it. Other than some summer sessions, I think I always look at it). Then I decided to go hopping. Picking M41 (the Beehive Cluster) hanging off Sirius, I cast about a bit and easily located it. It's a cluster not quite on par with the beautiful Pleiades, but in a light-polluted sky it stands out. Anyway, always glad to get another Messier object checked off.

Oddly, I did notice that the focus play on the barrel is a bit stiff. Wondering if it needs re-greasing. Better check at the astronomy club in a few weeks.


Last Updated on Wednesday, 01 March 2017 00:12
Bok Tower (2/19/2017) PDF Print E-mail
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Sunday, 19 February 2017 09:21

or those who don't know it, Bok Tower is a beautiful garden with a massive tower way, way out in the Florida hinterland. They were hosting a dark sky party and our club was one of those from among the various astrological concerns to attend. There would be speakers, sky tours, and, of course, our scopes.

It way, way out there. If you think the Kuiper belt is out there, you've never driven down I-4 south past the parks on a Saturday. And after you clear them, that's only Jupiter orbit - you've a ways to go.

But we got out there just fine, and set up on time. Because of the rain chances, they set up up in the front walkway rather than the back gardens - which proved to make their case about dark skies as huge temporary lighting lit up in the parking lot opposite, blindingly bright (I shielded people by standing back-to-it while people peeped my scope). But I'm ahead of myself.

Me before the rains - photo Sandra Sandy DentWe started with moderate clouds. Venus showed up so I barreled on that to give passers-by something to see. It was beautifully crescented, something that really brings it out. Of course, one little old lady told me "I don't see it". So I checked - it was a little off-center. Realigned. "Still don't see it". I looked - there it was, in glorious highlight and shadow. I tweaked the focus a little. "I only see the moon." Oh. No, that's Venus. Yeah, it gets a shadow, just like the moon.

As the shows started and the skies darkened, I got ready to show off some real stars. Then the skies got even darker. Then it started to rain. I flipped the chairs over, put the barrel in the car and threw a plastic sheet over the base. Then, because I was set up on the primary walkway, I stood for about 45 minutes under an umbrella to make sure nobody tripped over it in the dark. A lot of passing people shared a laugh and a smile at the astronomer standing valiantly by his equipment in the rain. Hey, I'd tell them, that's astronomy sometimes.

But finally the rains passed (and the dang parking lot lights came on). But still we got a lot of people hopped up on on the celestial coming through. I worked the line, showing Venus off, then switching to the Orion Nebula (listen to me talk about it - I just read a book, you know!). But people loved it - the scattershot stars, the glowing cloud. One little girl (Anna?) was quite the science wizzer, knowing all about comets and planets and things (and she knew there were only eight of them too - sharp kid). She went through my line three times - a little doll.

So overall I had a great time shooting through sucker holes and giving the crowds their eyeful. A long drive, wet shoes, and lighting like something out of Close Encounters, but man, what a lot of fun.

And everyone liked the laser sight.


Last Updated on Sunday, 19 February 2017 09:51
Close in before Close out (2/2/2017) PDF Print E-mail
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Thursday, 02 February 2017 22:08

finally got a free evening with clear skies to test out my new Explore Scientific eyepieces (thanks, Mom!). I'd picked up a 24mm and was disparately looking for an 11mm (which finally came off back order). I'd borrowed the 24 from a CFAS friend and the high quality really shown over the comparable focal length eyepieces that had come with my scope.

Anyway, clear skies. Got home and got cleaned up after the bike ride. Set up the scope while dinner was cooking - got it leveled and sighted early, picking out the best location to view Southwest, to track the fall of the moon and the inner planets. Finally, once enough darkness fell, I went out and popped the eyepieces in and give them a whirl.

What a pleasure it was to use them. Venus was amazing - perhaps the best I'd ever seen her. And with a barlow lens and later a moon filter, I could marvel at the details of her featurless clouds. smiley Seriously, I could clearly see the cresent with its shadows cusping the spherical surface. Mars, yeah, I looked at and got a pretty nice view, but he's falling away behind in orbitally and not really much to see these days.

But the moon!

Could see most of the East face in sunlight. The first thing I hit with the 11mm was the Sea of Crisis, my favorite lunar location. The two distinguishing craters, Picard and Pierce, were easy to make out. And with the barlow (usually an eyestrain) I could comfortably see them even closer. The Sage Bill Koestring was right - eyepieces make all the difference.

After about forty-five minutes of lunar roving, I aimed the barrel at the oak behind me - not to see how close I could see leaves but in readiness for Orion. I really wanted to hit M42 and see it with the improved eyepieces. And here's the rub - because of one part concern over shifting an established scope (with everything piled under it) and one part laziness (because it's equatorial, and hence heavy) I went back inside to do a little computer work. Finally, an hour or so later, the belt had risen over the tree edge and I could laser-line it. Settled in, popped off all the caps, inserted the 24 (figured I'd glide up on it) and tuned in.

Oh, it was there, all right. But it looked washed out and disappointing. I blinked. Had I fingered the lens? Looked up to eyeball the situation. A gradual haze was drifting in, that milky airbrushed atmospheric glaucoma that spoils so many evenings. I tried to burn through it with the 11 but no soap. With a partial moon up and haze all around, seeing had gone into the dumper. Shows over. Please disconnect the speakers and depart by the exits.

Still, it was a pretty good night. A little bright for stars, but fairly good for planets and the moon, top notch!


Last Updated on Thursday, 02 February 2017 22:45
M36 and M42 (of course) (12/4/2016) PDF Print E-mail
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Sunday, 04 December 2016 00:06

uddy Greg was supposed to come over for movies and dinner and some Go. I figured, with predictions for a fine night and Orion marked overhead at midnight, to set the scope up. But then he called and canceled (I can't tell you the reason, but man, what a reason). So here I was with an evening suddenly free and a need to fill it.

In the cancelation call, I'd mentioned my intention of the scope. He told me that it wasn't high on his list. With the planets all shyly in conjunction, he didn't want to look at pinpoints of light close up. He'd enjoyed looking at planets, but didn't see the fun in stars.

I was thinking about that as I pulled the scope out under my suddenly-free night. Pinpoints of lights? Anything but.

With the scope set, I let it cool a bit before going back out. I was mainly focusing on running more tests with my new 24mm Scientific Explorer eyepiece, rapidly becoming my favorite. My first look-see, the Pleiades. Is there anything prettier in the heavens than those faintly blue burners? I tracked them for a while and then, with the help of the laser, moved over to Taurus and checked out The Hyades. Very pretty - that's on my list for looking at further. Then over to the constellation Auriga, boresigthing Capella with the spotting scope (I'm too dependent on that laser). From there, I hunted out M36, a cluster just off the line between two of Auriga's stars. The trick here (in finding something in deep space) is to line up on it so that the ecliptic is roughly set. Then scroll along that line until you find what you are looking for. And that's what I did. And there was M36.

It's a very pretty cluster. I actually got the barlow lens on the 24mm (for about 60x) and just looked it over. Really stunning, this tight clot of stars. While I was looking, suddenly everything got glaucoma-ish. Blinking, I looked up. Broken clouds were moving overhead, clouds both unpredicted and unwelcome. Nothing to do but cap off the barrel and go inside. There was still something I wanted to see.

An hour later, came out and found the skies clear. Orion, as expected, was above the trees, that distinct old favorite. And that's what I'd planned my evening around - M42, the Orion Nebula. And with my new eyepiece (and the barlow) what a view I enjoyed. I could clearly make out the gas cloud, one of my favorite deep sky objects. I sat out under the stars for a good 45 minutes, until I leaned back and saw that a new bank of clouds (solid to the horizon) were moving in. This looked like quitting time - moved everything in and called it a night.

And that's the thing. Yes, stars aren't as sexy as planets. But there is something about them, of plotting the star-hop and moving about, looking. And with all the clusters and nebulae I got to look at, how can you say is was a dull night under the pinpoints?

You lost out, Pal.


Last Updated on Sunday, 04 December 2016 00:38

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