Skies and Stars
“Almost” Total Eclipse (8/21/2017) PDF Print E-mail
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Monday, 21 August 2017 14:12

e were supposed to go up to North Carolina where we’d rented a block of hotel rooms for my mom, my sister and us. That was the plan. But then the cat’s kidneys eclipsed about two months ago. As she got sicker, we decided to cancel our plans. And as it always goes in astronomy (and life), she passed away between that decision point and the event.

That left us stuck in Orlando with an 85% coverage. Better than nothing.

We watched it through pretty dark glasses (no aftereffects while I type this (and I’m not blind) so it must have been enough). Wasn’t sure what we were going to get – driving rain about an hour before the event began. But yes, the skies cleared (and other than a little haze that did nothing to intrude) we were able to watch the entire run up.

Honestly, I didn’t know what to expect. I’m used to the popular image of a false night, the silence of birds, the stillness, the spreading gloom. Actually, when things got rolling, it was hot and muggy (Florida in August after a rainfall). We had to go in and get sunscreen and hats given that we’d be outside for a while. Outside, the sun slowly slipped behind the moon, turning into a pacman, a crescent, then the thinnest of underscores. But the weird thing was, no fall of night. No confused bats (or tricked, doomed vampires). I will admit that the air cooled slightly and the light took on a slightly subdued tone. My wife reports that she thought the shadows were deeper. I heard one night cricket rosin his bow and not finding his orchestra in place fall into an embarrassed silence.

But I was thinking that if you were about to be burned at the stake by medieval knights, you’d really have to point out what was taking place. It didn’t seem that great of change, not what literature had convinced me of. Even when gigantic weapons platforms silhouette the sun, the stars shimmer over the heads of the doomed.

I’ll have to ask those who went to the total totality if it was any different.


Jupiter as never before (5/27/2017) PDF Print E-mail
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Saturday, 27 May 2017 22:31

ate spring and summer skies are sucky night skies for astronomer. No Orion. None of the favorites. It's pretty much open space with few things to bullseye. But tonight was clear and Jupiter was on a close approach so I set up the tripod at dusk and waited for the gas giant to come into view.

Okay, first lesson learned - if you are aiming for something rising, don't set up in the middle of the yard. Set up to the west so you can catch things coming up from the east sooner. I could see Jupiter inside an oak so I had about 45 minutes of waiting. Still, I made the constellation Ophiuchus and checked out its anchor star, Rasalhauge. While spooling about, caught a satellite going by. Of course, with no watch it would be hard to figure out which one it was. No big deal.

So after a while, I picked out Jupiter through the last of the oak leaves. And it was well worth the wait. The first thing I noticed - all four moons were visible, clustered close (I don't think I've ever gotten four in the sky like that). It was clear and close, rather breathtaking. Walking up through the eyepiece power, I finally hit my max, 120x. Watch for a bit longer before I realized what I was seeing. There was a speck on the gas clouds, a "little black dot". I watched in for a bit, then went inside and spoiled my night vision looking it up (hey, it's Jupiter - it's like hunting elephants). Yes, this was Io's shadow's transit. The moon was casting its shadow on its owning planet. I've never seen that before and it was amazing to watch.

Also up, the eye (if my program was correct) was visible. I think I could make it out. I tried certain filters and convinced myself that that mid-band blemish must be the eye (Lowell haunts me still). But it was quite interesting, watching Io swing through its orbit. I stuck with it for about an hour.

Made Corvus low to the south and checked out Algarab, its high star. It was listed as being a binary and there it was - the second fainter star. Stepped up the magnification and inspected it - one bright, one dim. These new eyepieces are extraordinary - same power as before but a more comfortable and detailed view. I'm quite pleased with them.

Hunted around for M104, the Sobrero Galaxy. I have no idea what I was looking for but usually galaxies are smudges. Tonight the light pollution was pretty bad, so no sombrero. Still, it was a pretty interesting night. In ways, astronomy is like fishing - there is a lot of thoughtful reflection time while one waits for one's eye to sharpen. Overall, a good night. For a spring night.


Last Updated on Saturday, 27 May 2017 22:52
New scope for the kids (4/27/2017) PDF Print E-mail
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Thursday, 27 April 2017 20:47

o my adopted daughter's kids loved looking through my scope in a backyard observing session a year back. Turns out my sister found an old, reliable (sorta) Meade, just a lightweight scope with simple knobs and a dodgy spotter scope. She got it for $20 at Goodwill (and if there is something the poor need, it's access to clear night skies).

Anyway, it was in pretty bad shape. Tonight I spent the evening cleaning it up, tightening the tracks (it's still a bit loose for my tastes) and trying to get the spotter to line up (never did). But with Jupiter back in the neighborhood and rising in the early evening, it gave me a perfect item to sight on.

So I looked for a while. Without the spotter, the smaller 9mm is a bit tricky to lock onto things - I had to manually sight down the barrel and do some fiddling to bring it into play (also, the scope still wanders). But Jupiter is such that even the weaker scope gives an eyeball a good run for the money. Even better, the Meade is lighter - I can carry it one-handed (unlike that Orion with the brick of a counter-weight - a two-handed puff-a-thon). Anyway, I think this should be a good scope for the three kids.

It might be a gateway scope to bigger things. They can thank me in twenty years when they’re swatting mosquitos and dropping lens caps in dark fields.


Last Updated on Thursday, 27 April 2017 21:00
Rigel and the Beehive (2/28/2017) PDF Print E-mail
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Tuesday, 28 February 2017 23:38

he real purpose of tonight's jaunt into the backyard with the scope was to check the alignment of the spotter and laser sights - I'd knocked them off putting the tube into the trunk of the mini and wanted to check them. Tonight was fairly clear, so sure, at the very minimum, a little calibration.

Turns out they were pretty close - since now it was well dark and I had an assembled scope, I decided to look around a bit. Had at least one thing on the agenda - I'd heard of people actually seeing binary stars but had never managed it before. Rigel's a binary, and I was actually pointed that way. So let's look for it.

At 24x, I just saw a bright star. Looked at it for a bit. Focused a lot. Nothing. Bumped up to 60x, and still didn't see any second star. After this, I got the barlow extender out and boosted up to 120x. And still, Rigel was just a bright light in the sky. Frustrated and wondering if maybe I was the victim of a colossal cosmic snipe hunt, I even slipped a low light filter on the eyepiece. And then I did what all astronomers do best - I settled into my chair and just... looked.

Eventually I realized that there was a tiny pinpoint to the side of Rigel. At first I thought, no, maybe it's just a distortion of the lens. Removing the filter (and knowing what to look for) I could now make it out quite easily. And there it was. Later, I checked actual pictures online (such as the one included here) and, yes, that was the binary. Proud that I'd finally "made" this view, I hung out on it for a further half-hour.

Then it was general viewing. Of course, checked out the Orion Nebula (some day I'll have to go through my posts and see how many times I actually recorded it. Other than some summer sessions, I think I always look at it). Then I decided to go hopping. Picking M41 (the Beehive Cluster) hanging off Sirius, I cast about a bit and easily located it. It's a cluster not quite on par with the beautiful Pleiades, but in a light-polluted sky it stands out. Anyway, always glad to get another Messier object checked off.

Oddly, I did notice that the focus play on the barrel is a bit stiff. Wondering if it needs re-greasing. Better check at the astronomy club in a few weeks.


Last Updated on Wednesday, 01 March 2017 00:12

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