Skies and Stars
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
Orion Nebula - filtered (12/6/2015) PDF Print E-mail
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Sunday, 06 December 2015 01:45

ll evening it's been broken clouds. I finished writing the third section to my book (all done - landmark) then went outside at 12:45am and saw that everything was clear, that Orion was up, and that I had that new light filter I wanted to try.

The good news was that Orion was visible right off the back porch, so that's where I set the scope up at, right on the porch. Nice to work on boards for a change. However, I managed to dislodge (i.e. drop) the spotter scope twice. So now I was cursing a blue streak. Everything was bunged up. After remounting the spotter, I aimed at the biggest thing out there - Sirius. Bullseyed it and then managed to get the scope (on lowest mag) to agree. Then I went after Orion and that flashy nebula.

Someone told me that overhead sighting sucks. I can agree with that - the scope is directly up and I'm having to sit on my knees (on a deck) trying to get a good look. Anyway, after a lot of effort, I managed to get the nebula in range on the x25 scope. Played with filter, on and off, and like it. Not much difference - I'm not suddenly out in the middle of space - but it helps. Stepped up with my stronger lens combo and managed to locate and focus on the nebula at 120x. And while it's neat to see it that close (I could distinctly view that box of four stars in its center, backing down to 60x or even 25x gives a better viewing. Still, I swapped out the lenses and burned and hour marveling at the cloud.

And here's where setting up on a tight deck isn't such a hot idea - the Pleiades were up but sinking into a pine tree. Since my wife was out with me and she'd never seen it, I tried to drop the power to 25x (best viewing) and get lined up but by then they were gone. So, lesson learned, set up with the widest sky overhead since you might want to look at other things.

Andromeda is my next target. Saw it through the noks the other night and want to line the scope on it. The pursuit continues...


Last Updated on Sunday, 06 December 2015 02:01
NGC 869/884 (11/23/2015) PDF Print E-mail
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Monday, 23 November 2015 22:41

ver at the train club rather late with friends, putting the finishing touches on a falling-down barn I've been building for the sectional layout, a rustic structure that required the placement of individual shingles on the roof (and took six weeks to complete). When we got home, the wife pointed out that the moon was full and the sky clear. Dammit - great. It's going on 10 and I've got a bike ride tomorrow morning. Gotta get up early.

Still, the binoculars will give me a good look.

Stayed out longer than I thought. Moved to one part of the grounds and looked at the Pleiades, my old friends. Took a bit to find them, what with the full moon and my unadjusted eyes, but finally there they were. Moved to another section of ground and there was Cassiopeia, the big W (give it your best Jimmy Durante). Had my star wheel out and found something named the double cluster, just above and a touch to the right. Locked on the tail of Cassie and rolled up and there it was - two seemingly (through 'noks, at least) clusters of stars against the milky way. Like all my other sightings, I got the feel for them quickly and could find them reliably - located them three more times while poking about for M52 (which eluded me). Anyway, looked them up on my larger planosphere and found them officially named NGC 869 and 884, so howdy boys!

Since tomorrow is my birthday, I decided to dip around a bit. Back to the Pleiades, then since Orion was still low and I had the nok-brace on, I locked onto M42, that hazy nebula, my first love. Looked at it for long minutes. Then ended the night (burning out my night vision) looking up at the full moon. How nice of her to come out for my birthday and give me a full show, with all my favorite craters and seas, all visible.

So a great night with a set of noks and a brace in the backyard while two different parties were going on to either side (noisy buggers). I'm pretty excited - I just ordered a light pollution filter for my ST 120. I can't wait to see what that does for some of my casual off-the-deck viewing.


Last Updated on Monday, 23 November 2015 22:59

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