Skies and Stars
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.

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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…

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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.

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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
 
Visitors to Jupiter (5/15/2016) PDF Print E-mail
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Sunday, 15 May 2016 20:56

must becoming an astronomaniac. This is the second night in a row I've had the scope out.

My brother, his wife and their oldest daughter came out tonight. We had dinner together, then ice cream, and yeah, I was stalling. I was trying to give the moon and Jupiter time to go high so I could show them off. Kirstin (my niece) had wanted to see Jupiter and now was the perfect time. But she had a haul to St. Augustine and couldn't stay long.

We got home in the dusk - moon was up and half-full, with a big juicy terminus fulla craters - perfect. Showed everyone that (and taught them the controls so they could moon-buggy their view around). Lots of ooohs and ahhhs (music to the amateur-astronomer's ears). Then a twinkle - Jupiter was in the house.

The problem was finding it.

Turns out that Death Star laser system doesn't work well as night is still falling. I could put my hand over it - yeah, there it was. But you couldn't see it overhead. So, to line on Jupiter, we did it the Galileo way - backed down to my lower magnification lens and started sweeping. There! There it was! Only took about five minutes. Let everyone see it once at low mag (in case I screwed up and couldn't find it again when I stepped up). Then jumped up the view with the Barlow and higher lens, getting about 120x. Nice and crisp and bold - equatorial bands and moons about. With their ability to use the equatorial now, they could keep pace with it so I hardly had to adjust. So it was a good night.

Afterwards, we sat around and tried to identify constellations (yeah, downtown, good luck). Too bad Orion wasn't up these days - I'd love to show the nebula. Anyway, as of the time of this writing, I'm waiting for Mars to chug higher into the sky (behind the trees now). After all, the next time I'll have the scope up, it will be the weekend star party and I won't get a chance to look down my own barrel. So I'm having a look tonight. I'll tell you how it goes after the picture...

Niece on the eye piece (Photo Credit: Younger Sibling Raymond)

Wow. That's all I could say.

Mars didn't cooperate. It didn't come up through the gap I'd figured. That meant I had to shift tripod and scope 50 feet over to a new viewing spot. Also, the sky overhead was layered with clouds - east was still clear. And there it shown, orange-red.

When I swung the scope online (laser works just fine now) I could see it at the same size I see Jupiter. Here, it was orange, with the southern highlands visible as darker brown (upside down, because of the refractor). I think I could make out the polar ice cap (but I'm not going to say definite - Percival Lowell haunts my thoughts). But I looked at it for a good half-hour, just letting my eye ease into it. Really, I'd never seen that sort of detail before (It's been an tiny orange sphere until now). So, yes, worth the late night effort.

All in all, a very enjoyable night under the stars.

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Last Updated on Sunday, 15 May 2016 22:27
 
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