Skies and Stars
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
Astronomy to hang your coat on (9/11/2016) PDF Print E-mail
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Sunday, 11 September 2016 20:28

finally got my "stars" to align - a clear night (well, with moon, but I'd just look at it, right?) with nothing going on in my other hobbies. Set up the scope at dusk, gave it a bit of time to warm to the outside air, then finally went out for a looksee.

The moon was in fine form tonight. Hung out for a while at my favorite place, the Sea of Crisis. Then scoped up and down for about an hour. Tycho was great tonight, the central peak very visible. A real neat one was just next door, the crater Clavius with its string of interior craters - the light was perfect for it. But the real show stopper was Sinus Iridum, just hanging in the moon-dusk, but with the Montes Jura brilliantly illuminated just beyond. I spent quite a bit of time marveling at the spectacle of the thing.

Over to Mars for a bit because it was sliding along to the south, but it wasn't much to see, since the distance is opening - no star parties for it now. I could maybe make out the icecap but that may have been wishful thinking.

Spun the barrel straight up to Deneb, one of the easier stars to identify. Looked around for some clusters and such - not much to see. However, I did notice a mark for "coathanger" in my planisphere just off the opposite leg of the summer triangle. Curious. Came inside (ugh, my night vision) to check out the internet and see just what the coathanger cluster looked like. Okay, a string of stars with a hook over top; makes sense. Came back out, checked for planes and lit the laser sight (this is why I got this thing, no, not to shoot down planes, but to find things in the middle of empty space). Best-guessed it, put my eye to the eyepiece and danged if I didn't hit nearly dead on. It jumped right out at me when I started edging about. That was the topper of the evening, to find a cluster on a downtown moonfilled sky. I spent about twenty minutes just carefully tracking it. I'm not sure if I could pull this same stunt twice.

Anyway, a good night to go out - a little moony, but with a warm breeze to keep the chill and bugs off, it was a nice evening to starhop.


Last Updated on Sunday, 11 September 2016 20:48
Perseid Meteors (8/11/2016) PDF Print E-mail
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Saturday, 13 August 2016 09:05

’ll bet that after a night of seeing cup handles on Saturn and seas on the moon, Galileo slept in.

Not me.

For the Perseid Meteor shower, JB and I linked up with a couple of CFAS members over at the Geneva gun range. I got about three hours of laying down in the evening before heading over (couldn’t drop off to sleep – my brain was cycling at 100hrz and my stomach was tossing about those broccoli quesadillas). So with the lawn chairs loaded in the mini, we left the house at 12:15am and got to the site at the end of a murderously washboarded road by 1am.

There were a couple of astronomy club members there and an SUV fulla perky kids and harried adults. No matter. Got out of the car, looked up, and saw my first stone of the night sizzle past, east to west, leaving an incandescent trail just like Well’s Martian cylinders. Wow.

So we settled in and looked up into reasonably dark and happily clear skies. The moon had just left the heavens, granting us a glorious view of the Milky Way. Checked out Cygnus the swan and Cassiopeia. Located the double cluster and someone pointed out Andromeda with a laser pointer (the kids mistook it for a meteor and went crazy at first). But really, Jane and I settled in, looking at the Pleiades jewels, the sweep of our on-edge galaxy and more stars than I’ve seen in a long time. Orion, my old friend, rose to the east and I checked out his nebula – he’s been away for quite some time. Even had one meteor smoke through my binoculared field of vision – wow!

Anyway, it was fun watching the stones fall – figuring we saw around forty or fifty meteors. And it was so engrossing to lay under that brilliant star field that the wife and I remained until almost 5am.

So there you go – one of the best viewing nights I’ve had in a long time, even though I left $800 in telescope at home and swept the skies with binoculars.

If you didn’t see it, you missed a great show!

But it was a long, long day at work…


Lost in Space (7/31/2016) PDF Print E-mail
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Sunday, 31 July 2016 21:33

ummer is a lousy time to be an astronomer. The skies are muggy-hazy and often cloudy. I haven't had a chance to go eyeballing since mid-May. And I've got that new double-bracket for my spotters (laser and optical) - wanted to get them lined in.

Today was as good as it would be - somewhat clear, somewhat hazy, but doable. Set the scope up at dusk. Soon enough Mars showed up so I tooled the barrel around and got a visual on it. Then I got the optical lined. The laser was trickier - it's got the pen mounted in two rings, so you need to futz around with the knobs to get the lineup you want. Eventually I did - could see the laser at 120X so that was pretty close. Spent some time looking at Mars but it wasn't as good as earlier this year. I couldn't make out the cap nor the dark discolorations. Sandstorms there or haze here, take your pick.

Figured out roughly were Sagittarius was - the pick for the night was M22. Here, the laser made it pretty easy - just compare the planosphere to the sky, identify the constellation, line it up with the laser and scan about. I saw something that might be it - a small cluster of stars. But I didn't want to Lowell myself, seeing what wasn't there. Rather, I kept scanning about, looking for something more definitive. Viewing was getting worse, what with the haze, the light pollution and shards of drifting clouds. And then I realized that the star I was anchoring my search off of might not be what I thought. Sure enough, I swung to look at it and saw cuphandles. It was Saturn. So I'm not sure if I was actually looking at Sagittarius or not now.

Kept at it until 10:30 but it's a school night so off to bed. Maybe next time at the Geneva gun range star party, I'll try to find it again.


p.s. I did catch a satellite in flight and tracked it for a bit, so that was a plus.

Last Updated on Sunday, 31 July 2016 21:48

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