Skies and Stars
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
Quiet night (11/20/2016) PDF Print E-mail
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Sunday, 20 November 2016 22:15

unday is my best night for going out. During the week, I'm tired, I've got incoming calls from friends, just not good for dragging the scope out. So, yes, it's Sunday. Yes, it's clear. Yes, the moon is down. So let's go scoping.

I cast about as best I could given our downtown location. Picked up the double cluster, tried for Andromeda (no joy) and hunted for a couple of other clusters. We've got problems with the lights and a restricted viewing area (the trees) so I did as best I could. Still, I got to use the new StarBound chair (very easily adjustable) which was comfortable. Yet I'm suffering from sciatic nerve pain, which was not.

So, as they said in The Grand Budapest Hotel, "I'd call that a draw."


Borrowed scopes (10/29/2016) PDF Print E-mail
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Sunday, 30 October 2016 12:31

t was like the Pony Express, bolting out of a model train session held under moonlit conditions (as described in part 1 of my day, HERE) in Palm Bay to race back to Orlando, swap cars, pile in binoculars, planispheres and lawn chairs, and then run up to Geneva for the star party there. Unfortunately I got there after dark. This meant we were fumbling our way out onto the driving range pad with no idea where the scopes had set up (every time we go out there, they move for some reason). Worse, we were in the Jetta and the only way to shut off the headlights is with a brick. Swung one way to park so I could get out to look and there in my beams were a bunch of disgusted astronomers protecting their precious night vision. Oops. Swung the car almost into a ditch to save them and heard someone say, "Another newbie". Shit. We probably need to set up reflectors so cars can find parking without running over refractive telescopes. That's the problem with dark-sky sites. They are also dark-parking sites.

Anyway, after enduring the ringing shame of my arrival, we found that there were quite a number of scopes in play. I hadn't brought mine - there just hadn't been time, but I got to play on some of the others. Interesting to sight out the various clusters and galaxies in space (saw Andromeda several times that night, each time more breathtaking than the last). Also saw several clusters of the sort I'd never viewed - all very beautiful.

Still, after all those high powered scope-views, the best view of the night came while JB and I sat on the bumper of her light-happy Jetta, making out the constellations and looking at things with the noks. Really, the Pleiades are nice enough in a scope but in binoculars they really shine. Just gorgeous, like blue stones on a velvet backing (and all that writer rubbish). But it was fun, wrapping up my day of two nights.

Good weekend, all together.


Last Updated on Sunday, 30 October 2016 12:46
Luck of the Draw PDF Print E-mail
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Wednesday, 14 September 2016 00:00

ne nice thing about astronomy – like fishing, it gives you time to think.

In retrospect (not retrograde, which is something different), it is remarkable that I hooked into this hobby. Yes, I read a lot of scifi and have always liked the mechanics of our solar system. Even wrote an excel game that involves our solar system in 2075 and a hapless ship captain who has to risk hundreds of dangers to succeed (you can download the full game and manual for free HERE – not for the faint of heart nor the easily frustrated). It uses a neat system of grid movement that simulated solar orbits, planet orbits, and space ship velocity and physics, all at the armchair level). And really, my interest goes back to laying on the driveway with my dad’s old navy binoculars, looking up at the moon. So, yeah, I was a bit of a planet-head all through my life.

But the fact that I have an Orion telescope and an ongoing interest was a chancy affair.

With fifteen years under my belt at FedEx, I was given a choice of gifts to order for myself (yay me!). Cuff links? No. Cheap watch? No. Nothing. Nothing. And then I saw the tiny 12x telescope on its little tripod. Impractical (I know now) for just about everything. But still it caught my interest. So why not?

The night after receiving it, I went out onto the back porch with it to “see things”. How remarkable (I realize now) that the skies were crystal clear, the air cool (Goldilocks, even) and no bugs. And there was the moon, only just rising clear of the trees, three-quarters full, magnificent in presentation. It couldn’t have been any better if it came in a velvet-backed mahogany case. I sat my little junior scope on the deck table, sat behind it and marveled. I mean, you could see everything. I had no idea which seas and mountains I was looking at, or even what the seas really were. It was just neat to look at.

An hour or so later, it had risen too high for the tiny tripod. In the grips of curiosity I noticed a star directly overhead, one that did not shimmer. I figured it was probably Jupiter (a glance at the computer showed this to be correct). I didn’t get a good look at it (lying on my back, trying to hold the scope steady) but I saw enough to intrigue me.

But now, a couple of years later, I realize how amazing these circumstances were. The fact that the moon was right there, in the small angle of arc that scope could manage, that the night was clear and perfect for seeing, that there weren’t clouds or haze or anything, this was extraordinarily coincidental, even serendipitous. That there was an astronomy club event a mile from my house the next weekend got me in touch with that organization and gave me a chance to look through real scopes and ask about them. That I’d gotten involved with this in the late summer meant all of the winter viewing was before me. With my new Orion 520 ST (I love this scope!), I could now sit and look at Jupiter for hours. And Orion, the first time I saw the nebula I actually trembled – there it was, 1300 light years away, this huge cloud of gas. Even my first Saturn hit where I researched where it would be at 4am, set up the tripod the night before and carried out the scope in the cold pre-dawn morning and there it was, right where predicted, rings and all, was fantastical.

It’s been a tough summer for us stargazers. We’ve had clouds and haze and nothing all summer (with the exception of the Perseid shower and that achingly-clear night we had when the sky came crashing down). In fact, really, I’d been so removed from the skies over the last few months that I started keeping tabs on Lady Moon, figuring when there would be a night where she’d be up early, she’d be waxing or waning, and I’d be clear of obligations of model trains, phone-friends-nights, movie nights, or just collapse-in-an-exhausted-heap nights. And last night was it. Riding back from dinner with the wife on our tandem, I tossed a look over my shoulder and noted the clear skies, the rising moon, the open evening, everything coming into conjunction. When we got home I went out back, eye-balled it to figure the best viewing spot then carried out the tripod to align and level it. Yeah, turned out to be a great night for looking at things. You can read about it HERE.

And as I studied the Coathanger cluster, I reflected on the strange and unlikely path through brought me to this point.


Last Updated on Wednesday, 14 September 2016 07:25

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