Skies and Stars
Jupiter and Saturn and maybe Mars (8/4/2018) PDF Print E-mail
Written by Administrator   
Sunday, 05 August 2018 00:06

’ve been very busy with the train club recently, which means I’ve not been out with the Astronomy Club for two months. And that’s my excuse for why I wasn’t out when they were showing the masses the various opposition planets tonight. I glanced on Facebook a few hours ago and realized that they were having a star party.

Just as well I didn’t go – outside of an aborted star party earlier this year, I haven’t had the scope out since November. I figured doing a major event rusty like this would just be a disaster. So I figured I’d have a star party of one in my backyard. I’d make a dry run and see how it went, and check out the planets for myself.

Good thing, too, since I got my 11 and 24 eyepieces mixed up as to which was the most powerful. There I was with my 24 eyepiece with the barlow extender, thinking that I thought I’d seen Jupiter much closer. Eventually I decided for the comfortable view and shifted to the 11, only to find the viewing exactly what I’d just left (and, optically and mathematically it was). Eventually I got Jupiter all big and bright and tracked it across the sky. Also looked at Antares for a bit, looking for its binary but no luck. Cast around for the Cat’s Eye but downtown viewing isn’t up to that – didn’t find a hint of it.

Came in to write this and booted Stellarium to reference and found out – hey, Saturn was now up. Went back outside and sure enough, that bright untwinkling star, there it was. I viewed it for a bit and then started messing with the scope. In the dark. Found out it wasn’t balanced at all – the eyepiece end was too heavy and the scope swung in that direction when released. So, the bright idea was to unlock the barrel from the mount and, yes, I damn near dropped it. Managed to catch it as it swung off but it was a near thing. Set it down (carefully) and with the light in my mouth, I managed to get it firmly seated back on the mount. Yes, that was really stupid and the only thing what would have made it even dumber would be to do that in a crowd on a hard parking lot.

Rusty? Very.

So after I got everything squared, I came in to write. I’m a little leery of moving the mount with it all done up but Mars is about 90 minutes away from clearing the Oak Tree Nebula. I think I’ll go out and look at Saturn for a bit more until Mars move into my field of view. I’ve had it with optical circus stunts for tonight.

Later that night…

Mars finally swarmed into view about 11:30pm for me. I was curious to see it – I hadn’t had a close look for over a year (and that had been iffy, that night). I hunched down over the barlow-boosted eyepiece and beheld – a big ball of nothing. Sorry, stargazers – I know that everyone is excited about the Mars-spanning dust storm but it turned my view of the red planet into something as exciting as looking at a basketball. I watched for a while anyway, letting my eyes adjust and hoping for some sort of something to look at (as midnight rolled past, I really wanted a explosion of incandescent gas or something) but, no, it was about as much fun as watching that slow Maitland stoplight. I had the same thing with Venus – I’d looked at it several times and it did nothing for me. But put a crescent on it and yow! But no, Mars was dead on facing the sun, it was cloaked in dusty mystery, and it wasn’t much fun.

Still, it was an interesting night outside. Haven’t done that in ages. Hoping the skies will improve after this lousy summer.


Plato (11/26/2017) PDF Print E-mail
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Sunday, 26 November 2017 20:07

t was something to see – the slowly (very slowly) rising sun flaring across the eastern wall of Crater Plato, its rim-shadows thrown halfway across its 110km enclosure. To the south, Mt. Pico gleams in the slow-motion dawn, standing in its gloomy plains. And further west, the Teneriffe Range stands as white as teeth in the early morning shadows.

Yeah, that was what I looked at tonight (since it was a double scope usage, the sun and then the moon). Locked on the moon a hell of a lot easier than I did the sun earlier, running the terminator line and looking for something to identify. Caught sight of a crater that looked like a cup of coffee with its dark floor and highlighted flanks. Stared at the map, stared through they eyepiece, back and forth until the existence of Cassini – a distinctive flooded crater - to the southeast locked it down for me. I looked at Plato and its environs for about forty-five minutes until it was time to come in. But before I struck the scope, I did wander over for a look at my favorite lunar place, the Sea of Crisis.

Beautiful night with some high soft haze that didn’t get in the way (too much) of excellent lunar viewing.


Last Updated on Sunday, 26 November 2017 20:10
2689 (11/26/2017) PDF Print E-mail
Written by Administrator   
Sunday, 26 November 2017 13:47

inally, finally, finally I got my solar filter out. It’s clear in sunny Orlando, the heat wasn’t too bad and other than the twangy shit-kicker music coming over the back fence (where the neighbor is working on any one of his many cars) I decided it was a good day to try out my new solar filter.

So I got it out and carefully mounted it over the barrel of my scope, handling it like it was a loaded weapon (you don’t casually knock around what is potentially a live laser beam). Anyway, got the scope mounted and pointed the right way. Decided to look through it without any eyepiece, just to find the sun. Did the trick I read about, lining the tube on the sun until it’s end on, but nothing. I couldn’t find it. This was a problem I hadn’t considered.

What I saw (credit: I uncapped the sighter scope and carefully moved the scope about until I saw the sun on my palm (at which point I snatched it back). Now lined up, I could look into the lowest eyepiece I had and gaze directly at the sun.

And there it was, sunspot 2689, with a scattering of little blemishes following it. Looked at it for a while and stepped up to my 11 eyepiece but that made it actually trickier to see and lent no further details so I backed down again. Very fascinating to look at these and see them for what they are, gigantic disturbances in that roiling nuclear furnace.

After looking for a bit, I left the tripod (an equatorial and hence a back-breaker) outside (the moon’s up tonight and I can save the carry-trip out). Brought everything else in. The black eye-piece and tool cases were pretty hot, so I’m glad I didn’t leave them outside all day.

Anyway, tonight (if it stays clear and our tandem ride to dinner doesn’t end in disaster) we’ll do some long-neglected moon-viewing.


Last Updated on Sunday, 26 November 2017 13:52
Model Star Party (10/18/2017) PDF Print E-mail
Written by Administrator   
Wednesday, 18 October 2017 22:14

y star-pal train-pal Terry had a great idea – let’s have a star party in the grassy parking lot of the Orlando N-trak Model Railroad club this very night. Saturn would be up, no moon, a perfect viewing evening.

So things started off dodgy. Heavy clouds all day, belts of rain. After dinner we looked up at iffy skies, pretty cloudy with breaks. As it was, we pulled our cars over at the far end of the lot, setting up as the sun went down, prepping. My old Orion went together pretty well – I’m getting good at this.

So we were looking for Saturn and then we spotted a star-like glimmer well above the horizon, weller-above then I would have thought. Swung the scope on it and saw it turn into a ball as I focused. And there it was with its tiny ring. At first it swam through clouds, making viewing iffy. But we kept at it and exhausted its ability to fight. Everyone got a turn through the scope, and I stepped things up through the barlow lens which worked well, even under the hazy conditions.

I did spend a lot of time looking at the wrong leg of the Summer Triangle for the coathanger. I think I was groping around for fifteen minutes before the bands of clouds moved off and suddenly I realized what was wrong. After that, I jumped over the Cassiopeia and the double cluster. To me, it’s always breathtaking, but to everyone else, meh. No accounting for taste.

Anyway, we had the best viewing we could hope for, even with the clouds coming and going and the constant parade of hayseeds in trucks sweeping their lights across us. I never lost my night vision because I don’t think I ever had it.

Still, thanks to Terry for getting me to dust off my scope and pass a new round of eyeballs through it. Now I want to set up in the backyard and look at stuff. M57 still tasks me…


Post Script – At Cody’s request, I will admit that while locking up the clubhouse I had to do a few last minute things and couldn’t find my keys. Opened the door and told him I was sunk – couldn’t find them. He pointed out that they were still stuck in the door. So there you go.


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