Skies and Stars
M3 and the Queen of the Skies (4/3/2016) PDF Print E-mail
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Sunday, 03 April 2016 22:35

t was pretty clear tonight. Looked at the star charts and decided to shoot for M3, a star cluster I'd never seen. It would be rising above Arcturus tonight, above the line formed between this and the dipper handle. Like, how hard could it be? Messier found it - his first one.

My view east sucks (remember how we learned that watching OA-6? The oaks get in the way). Anyway, squidged over to the corner of the garden on the path and got as much east as I could. Saw Jupiter shimming in ascent and took an early shot - she was up with all four moons visible; pretty neat. Still,  Arcturus was not due up until 9pm and probably not much for viewing until 10pm. Tossed a shower curtain over the scope and went in to Hulu with the wife.

After confirming my opinions of why teens should never be in charge (i.e. The 100) I came back out. Arcturus was further north than I'd thought, pretty much in the oak. That would put M3 pretty much behind it. Walked about and found a better angle between tress. Always a joy, to lug a carefully sited telescope (with counterweight) to a new location. Lined and leveled, then moved the base camp over. And then I started hunting for M3.

Looked here. Looked there. Swung the scope in free mode back and fourth. Couldn't find the damn thing. Came in and checked my astronomy program again. Carefully noted where it would be - From Arcturus, shift up to the star Muphrid, then hang left and a touch up. Tried again and again. Nothing. The program noted that it was visible with nocks and I got mine out, tracked the path and bang - there it was, a hazy cloud. Did it a couple of times. Easy. But the scope - it took twice more (with a little scrolling) and suddenly I had it.

It was pretty cool, not only looking at a 500,000 stars 35,000 light years away, but having located the damn thing in the first place. What a nice feeling of satisfaction that gave. After looking it over for a quarter hour, I thought I'd better be getting in, but not before doing a straight-overhead shot at Jupiter again. Now that it was darker, I could hit it clear with maximum magnification and get a spectacular view. Just sat there and marveled at the equatorial banding, nudging out to check out the pinpoint moons. Wow.

Anyway, I'm still trying to check out Mars in it close approach. Hopefully I can find a morning where I can get out there and shoot south.


Last Updated on Sunday, 03 April 2016 22:58
OA-6 (3/22/2016) PDF Print E-mail
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Tuesday, 22 March 2016 22:14

lear skies for the last few nights, a full moon with Jupiter in formation. Wanted to check these out with the telescope but just no time.

But tonight...

Standing out in the back yard, my father's old wristwatch hanging easy (I can read it by starlight), the big Orion astronomy nocks around my shoulders. OA-6, an Atlas-V on an ISS resupply mission, was launching at 11:04 pm. I'd never gone out and shot a glance at something like this - with clear skies, I'd be able to see just where it was going up from.

Got out about twenty minutes early. Looked at the moon (I really need a filter for this, so it was literally painfully beautiful). When my eyes recovered, I looked at Jupiter - could see the moons fanned out as usual, a wonderful sight. Checked out my old fav Orion and its nebula. Made out the twins, the big dipper, all those things. Wandered around the back yard, leaning to hold the nocks better, focusing them on stars, leaning to bring them up and quickly lock on planes.

Saw a shooting star that fell like a burning basketball to the east.

As time drew nearer, I found a place in the garden, up close to the fence where I'd get a maximum eastern sweep. And waited.

After some time, it became apparent they we running late.

But since I'm not a millennial, I stuck it out for a few more minutes and suddenly there it was, coming up like an inverted highway flare, further to the left than I'd anticipated, and since this was an ISS job with an orbital match, it was burning north. Still, I got a lot of good viewing in. Once it went behind the oak we'd so lovingly planted ten years ago, I moved around to the north side of the yard but there are simply too many tress. Lost it.

But still, wonderful viewing from right outside.


Last Updated on Tuesday, 22 March 2016 22:25
A full rack of balls (1/24/2015) PDF Print E-mail
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Sunday, 24 January 2016 13:32

agreed with the fool's lack of hesitation when CFAS agreed to host an impromptu dawn viewing of the planets. The entire rack of them would be up: Mercury (in a tree-top cameo), Venus (with her self-important illumination), Mars (sulky and red), Jupiter (on stage from the first act, and falling to the west), and Saturn (perfectly placed, the little angle). Even the moon was up, well to the west behind a building but full and missed. Did I leave something out? Oh, the Earth. My telescope doesn't depress that low.

However, at 3:30am this morning, with temps frozen at 30 degrees, suddenly it wasn't that good an idea.

But the wife made coffee. We'd staged the scope and stuff in the car, so it was out the drive and off to Sanford. Bit of a bad moment when we came into the Seminole State parking lot - nobody was there. Wait, one car. And better, one scope. So we pulled up, unloaded, and set up on steps looking east across the lake. But, yes, at 4:30, I didn't know if anyone would show up.

Looked at Jupiter and then Mars - the latter too distant to really be worth anyone's time looking at. Jupiter is my darling but she was kissing a building's parapet - she'd be gone soon. With that in mind, I lowered my sight and barrel and locked in on Saturn. And gorgeous she was this morning, with her ring canted saucily like a derby in Cabaret.

Then people started showing up.

Students. Families with children. All sorts of folks drawn to our line of scopes by an interest in space. It seemed like every host-scope picked a planet - sounded like a carny midway for a while, with astronomers pitching the merits of their views. Fortunately, this time we brought a step stool for the kiddies so everyone could get a good solid look. And all this, the cold, the early hour, the distance, it all was made right by little kids looking through my eyepiece and marveling at Saturn, seeing the rings and a moon (Titan, I'm guessing) - not in a picture book or CGIed in a movie, but naked-eye live.

JB (the wife) really surprised me. She's been paying attention to what I do and how I work the scope. So when I had to step away to answer questions, she kept Saturn aligned. She even resighted through the spotter scope, helped the kids up the steps and answered questions. My little Galileo.

Everyone had a great time. Even the ISS made an appearance, rushing through the northern sky, driving east - I don't think I'd ever seen it before. But visibility was superb, the air was still as pond water, not a cloud in the sky. I think I showed Saturn to a hundred people this morning. And in the end, it was with a sense of sorrow that I noticed the eastern sky was turning light and the event was pretty much closing down.

And the best thing about this public viewing - it was too early for mascara. I won't have to clean off my eyepiece this time!


Last Updated on Sunday, 24 January 2016 13:57
Andromeda (12/11/2015) PDF Print E-mail
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Friday, 11 December 2015 23:37

ome from work, out to dinner, then had a look about 8-ish. Looked clear, damned clear. Confirmed it on Clear Sky - 4+ in all categories. No cloud, no haze, no high-altitude winds. Good seeing night. So out came the scope.

The goal tonight was the Andromeda galaxy. This took a bit of doing since it was passing right overhead when I started, and a vertical scope is damned hard to aim. Still, managed to sweep north from Cassiopeia to Pegasus and back, looking for that white stain I'd seen recently in binoculars. And there it was!

Okay, for you non-sky people, it wasn't like a flat disk with spirals plumbing out in clockwheel fashion. It was kinda a white on-end blob, hazy but nearly distinguishable as a galaxy. But it was cool all the same. I tried hitting it with different lenses and filters and got some good views, up until the scope hit the stops. I tried to swing it around to the other side but I couldn't find it after that. But, yes, I'd had it in my hand for a while there.

Went after old favorites - caught the Pleiades as they came over grandfather pine. Hit Betelgeuse and marveled at its pulsing. Checked out my nebula-in-the-back-pocket, Orion (M42). Then got ambitious and looked for M52 (the Scorpion Cluster). While I can say openly that I didn't find shit, I did get more comfortable with blind searching (I've stopped using the gears, disengaging the scope to swing it free-form - much easier to aim). I put about an hour into that project and didn't come up with anything that looked like a cluster - lots of Milky Way background but no M52 - I probably tracked through it a couple of times without spotting it. Maybe next time.

Tomorrow night, there is a meteor shower (according to CFAS) so JB and I will grab a couple of deck chairs and sit out for an hour or so after midnight, hoping to catch a falling star. Please, no clouds!


Last Updated on Friday, 11 December 2015 23:59

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