28 December 2009

Late night Ballarat viewing

We did view briefly on the night of Boxing Day; we showed some friends the moon, and they were suitably impressed. We didn't get much more viewing in - we saw Orion, and 47 Tuc, both of which were of course awesome; but then the clouds came up.

Last night we were utterly tuckered out. We convinced ourselves there were some clouds around.

For tonight, our last with the clearer skies of the Rat, we prepared well by napping in the afternoon and not having too strenuous a day. Very important, this sort of preparation. Happily, it wasn't as cold as the last few nights; sadly, for us, the moon is enormous (86% full, according to my adorable widget) and was hanging bulbous and annoying right near the Pleiades.

Anyway, we started by looking at Jupiter - very low in the sky, in fact just about disappearing behind the roof of the house. It wasn't an awesome view, but most importantly for me I'd realised that Neptune is very close to it at the moment. We're pretty sure we found it; the blob of light certainly looked like a disk, rather than a point of light, just as Jupiter's moons (let alone Jupiter) and Mars resolve. There was no blue/green colour, because it was too low to the horizon; it was yellow/red instead. For the same reason, Jupiter was an awesome fake yellow/orange colour, although it was impossible to resolve it properly thanks to the atmospheric issues. ETA: apparently Neptune is currently mag 8, so I'm pretty pleased at finding it, it being so close to the moon and all.

Next, we tried checking out some stuff near Canis Major. First up, M41, an open cluster. I'll admit here and now that I am not usually wowed by open clusters (in my vast experience of them). This one was pretty enough... but it just looks like a particularly dense clump of stars. Which it is. Nearby, we looked at Cr121 - where Cr, according to my trusty Pocket Sky Atlas, stands for Collinder, presumably the dude who catalogued it.

Swinging around we amused ourselves looking for 47Tuc, and although the sky was still washed out it was still all tendril-y looking. Swinging back, J got a bit ambitious and tried looking for M44 - the Beehive. We didn't find it - too low, and therefore behind the trees from our position. We did find some cluster, but we have no idea whether it has an official designation.

The Orion nebula, as always, looked good - although it too was a bit washed out from the moon. Despite that I think I'm picking up new details every time; I don't remember noticing a star below the Trapezium before. And M43 looked quite obvious too. J picked up the Small Magellanic Cloud in the binocs, as well as various other bits and pieces. I had a quick look - I'm not very good with binocs, at least partly thanks to the specs - but in my wavering grip even I could see M42, vaguely, as well as a couple of the open clusters.

Finally, we wreaked vengeance by looking at the moon - remembering this time to put the neutral density filter on, although to be honest I still felt blinded. Tycho and Copernicus were both in full view, with their respective ejecta very obvious; it was a brilliant sight.

Overall, we've had good viewing up here. It's going to be weird to go home to very obvious light pollution.

26 December 2009

Christmas night

As predicted, the telescope has given J an easy way of buying me presents. I 'unwrapped' (don't ask) a 17mm eyepiece, which is mostly mine, and a 35mm, which is partly mine and will be mostly J's when he gets a certain something next year (again, don't ask).

Being in the 'Rat, we rather excitedly watched the sky off and on throughout the day, in between eating and napping. It stayed clear, so after we recovered from dinner we took the scope out. One problem: J, in his forgetful optimism, had poo-poohed my query of whether to take my beanie and/or gloves. Turns out that actually, yes! They would have been a good idea. Fortunately after standing out there freezing in a jumper for a little while, my mother-in-law rescued me with gloves.

It was a glorious night. Of course, it wasn't as dark as it could have been, what with the half-full moon that was casting extreme shadows. Looked at it for a little while - hadn't added the filter, so I was half-blinded when I looked away. But it did look awesome. I could see the Montes Appeninus really clearly; it's the first time I remember noticing them. There was also an awesome large crater to the south, with two smaller craters within it that looked fantastic, the rims just catching sunlight. J thinks it might have been Clavius, but I'm not convinced. I didn't check last night because my hands were too cold.

After recovering from moon blindness, we turned on Orion - and the nebula looked just amazing. We played around a bit with the different eye pieces, experimenting with the wider view and the close-up view. For me, the wider view didn't do that much; it's kind of cool to see more stars, but since the other stars in the sword are actually little clusters, it's not like you get a line of stars like you see naked-eye. Anyway, M42 itself was breath-taking. We also saw a satellite zooming across the sky, which was very cool.

While J was looking at the nebula, I was looking around the sky. Off a bit to the north was Sirius, of course, and a series of stars that looked like they just had to be a constellation. Oh, of course; after looking it up they turned out to be Canis Major. Exciting to recognise it!

Next we swung a bit west, and J set himself the task of finding 47 Tuc, that lovely globular cluster. He found one, which we had a look at, but it was too faint to be the right one. At that point I got out the map and reminded J exactly where he was meant to be looking. Then we found it, and it was incredible. With the zoom lens, while it got a little fuzzy you could also see more detail in the centre - lines of darkness, and zillions of pinpricks of light. With the wider view we could see the tendrils that extended out a fair way from the central blob. Very rewarding.

I'm very keen to see the Magellanic Clouds (also Andromeda, because, hello! They're really outside our galaxy!). We'll never see them from home, so it was a good chance to try from here. Sadly, I could only get the vaguest hint of the Small Cloud, naked-eye; there was the moon, and Ballarat puts out a surprising (and annoying) amount of light pollution. By the end of our viewing session, though, the Large Cloud was quite obvious naked-eye, so I declared we should have a look. Of course, it was a bit disappointing, because it's not like looking at a nebula, although I originally thought it should be. Instead, it's a dense but not that dense conglomeration of stars, and I'll have to do some studying of the map to be able to pick out genuine features. I did see a globular inside it, too, though.

Finally, we finished the evening by checking out the Pleiades. We started by looking through the 35mm, and really that was the best option - it's such a huge group of stars that anything smaller doesn't really do it justice. So I'm sold on it for objects like that. It really is a delightful cluster.

Here's hoping Boxing Day delivers clear skies, too. Because I'll be starting with gloves this time.

21 December 2009

Back in the saddle...

or on the 'scope, as the case may be.

As my friend Gina noted the other day, the blog has been rather quiet of late. There are a few reasons for that. Firstly, the late Nov/early Dec sky - earlyish in the evening and especially from our yard - is boring as batshit. Second, there have been lots of cloudy nights recently, and when there have been clear nights... well, third, we've been awfully tired.

Anyway: tonight it was beautifully clear, we're not too tired, so I pulled Ptolemy out and there was Jupiter. Looking lovely. I didn't quite get out it in time to see the moon - it had disappeared behind the trellis - but Jupiter had four moons looking lovely.

Then, I turned around, and presto! there was Orion coming up out of the foliage, and despite a dirty big streetlight (grr) it looked good. And there, my friends, there was the Orion Nebula, M42, looking awfully shiny and nice. The Trapezium (four stars that very obviously form a rectangle) looked brilliant, and with averted vision the nebula itself was looking like a lovely butterfly. I was originally looking through the Ethos, then swapped to the TeleVue for a closer look. And it was great.

J played with his new toy, which arrived today: Fujinon 10X70 binocs.

22 November 2009

Can't believe we got to view tonight

... given that the whole day it's been raining, and raining, and raining.

It's the first night for viewing all week, basically - clouds have come in every night - except Thursday, when we had some friends over and showed them a fingernail of moon (first time for all three!) and Jupiter + three moons (also first time!), which was fun.

Tonight, given we're both awfully tired, we just looked at the moon and Jupiter. J decided to have a go at crossing off one of his sketching goals - from the Lunar 100 - the result of which is this:

He's not sure whether he likes it without the square border. What do you think?

It's number 20 on the list. We like lists. I downloaded a list of galaxies to try and view, the other night. One for dark sites I think.

Jupiter was pretty easy to see; it's clear that in a few months it's going to be completely gone from the night skies, at which point I may cry. When I first pulled it up, all four moons were visible, with two very close together and only just separate. I wasn't sure if they were coming or going... until all of a sudden two became one, which answered my question. Stellarium informs me this was Europa and Io, and that if I'd been just a little more patient - or a little less tired - I would have seen them come apart again quite quickly.

17 November 2009

November has boring evening skies

We've had a couple of viewings of Jupiter, but nothing spectacular. Frankly, November is seeming a bit boring here in the bright urban areas. Plus, we've had some cloudy nights.

Tonight J dragged Ptolemy out and played around with the polar alignment, figuring out exactly where celestial south is from our backyard. He also had a look at 47Tuc, which looked quite good despite it being quite bright to the south. I could see a few stars to the left and bottom; not sure if they're in front of the cluster or part of it.

On to Jupiter, and hey! a shadow transit! Very exciting to see. Just three moons, all in a line. Could see a bit of detail on the planet's disk, the pole looked darker and the two main bands certainly had some texture.

We came back inside and sat around for an hour or so, waiting for Orion to make the sky interesting... and then there it was! We could see the Orion Nebula (M42) from our backyard! This is very exciting. Sure it looked better from Ballarat, but that we can see it clearly and with some detail, even with just a cursory glance, is very encouraging. Four stars were obvious in a tight little cluster, in the middle of the nebula. Expect to see M42 get bigger in that tag cloud over the next few months. I'm also looking forward to looking at the other stars of Orion. Interestingly, the nebula filter didn't seem to help that much. Forgot to look for M43, though, I just realised. Oops.

09 November 2009

That's what you get for impulse buys

Seems like a boring time of year as far as the sky in urban Melbourne is concerned; or maybe that's because we're not staying up late enough, so the sky isn't getting dark enough.

Anyway: the impulse buy was the Telrad. Turns out it's not particularly easy to mount on the Sky-90, which is a shame. To set that right, a box turned up today, to receive which I was required to stay home: it contained a Rigel QuickFinder, which is exactly the same idea as a Telrad, just a bit smaller and easier to mount on Ptolemy.

Unbeknownst to me, J also decided to add an Extender-Q to Ptolemy. Essentially this corrects the Sky-90 for looking at the moon and planets, and gives an extra 350mm of focal length. Now, with the zoom, I have 265x max magnification, though it will take a very steady night sky to get to that level. It does make the scope look totally lopsided, but it also made Jupiter HUGE. Which was cool... pity the atmosphere was so whacked, at least partly from the heat.

We decided to play with the Rigel by choosing a couple of Messier objects in Sagittarius to try and find. First we tried to find M70; pretty sure we got the right area, but it must be too dim; M69 was also too dim, and I'm not convinced we got the right area. M54, however: bingo! Right where it should have been - a very faint globular, but definitely there. Then J realised that with Achenar pretty high up, one of his longed-for targets should be visible... and there, lo and behold, was the glory that is the globular cluster of 47 Tuc. This is one of the brightest globular clusters in our sky, and it looked awesome even in our light-polluted backyard.

All up, a good night's viewing.

08 November 2009

Too hot!

It's Melbourne; we complain about the weather almost as much as Brits do. It's compulsory in this town.

Fairly bright to the south even at 9pm, so not a whole lot of interesting viewing. I got in Jupiter, which was looking pretty good - two moons either side close in, two either side further out. A third band, to the north of the disc, was obvious.

J had flaked in bed because of the heat, so I decided just to be impulsive and simply started turning the adjustors. I was doing this with the 6mm eyepiece, so perhaps not the best for just randomly roving the sky, but kind of fun nonetheless. I didn't find anything interesting - except for a couple of quite red stars - but it kept me amused for a few minutes.

A few days ago...

... it was clear enough to have a quick look at Jupiter, but really not much else; there were skating clouds, and a haze that made it even brighter than normal because the lights were reflecting back off. Did I also mention the mosquitoes?

It's weird to notice the sky having moved around since we started on this caper. Where is Scorpio going?? Why isn't it stable??

01 November 2009

Hard. Core. With frog chorus

We had planned to go camping this weekend: take the scope out to some dark site, stay up really late, it'd be awesome! Yes, well, then we realised that it's a full moon this weekend. Great. Also, the weather forecast just got worse and worse.... So we decided to visit the parentals in Ballarat, because that is at least a bit darker than Melbourne, and if the weather was bad it wouldn't be a disaster.

So we came up yesterday, on a scorching afternoon - where were those thunderstorms? - in time to have dinner with some good friends of J's parents. As they were leaving (after there had been lightning, and a short but violent rain storm), the clouds had cleared somewhat so we dragged the telescope out to show them (and especially their two young kids) the moon - enormous and very bright - and Jupiter, which was a real highlight. Could only see two cloud bands, the brief time I looked, and at first it looked like there were only three moons visible. On closer inspection, the fourth was there, really close to Jupiter itself. Which at least one of the kids could definitely see and was very excited about.

The hard core aspect of this weekend was the setting of the alarm for 4am this morning. And that we actually got up when it went off. Admittedly, I hadn't slept that well because it was hot. We crept outside - trying very hard not to disturb other sleepers - and set Ptolemy up on the side away from the moon, which was only just disappearing into the trees (it was very yellow indeed).

Our first target was M45 - the Pleiades. It was obvious naked-eye, and quite pretty (could count seven stars). It was pretty cool through the scope, although I didn't know what to expect so I wasn't entirely sure I was seeing it all. I look forward to seeing it at a really dark site.

Next we swung up to Orion, which I haven't seen in ages! It will be nice to look at it in winter. J found the Orion Nebula in the sword - M42 - which was just amazing. I think it was heaps more impressive than the Lagoon, to be honest. Its shape was quite distinct, and the Trapezium Cluster of stars in the middle was very obvious and added a beautiful highlight. It was very, very exciting. Additionally, I thought I could see some nebulosity around a star very close to the nebula - turns out this was M43. Go me.

Finally, we moved the scope so that we could Mars above the trees. I couldn't focus on it very well, mostly because it wasn't very high above the trees and there was some haziness, but it was still a very obvious red disc. It was much bigger than I had expected, and that's when it's a very long way away; I can't wait for when it's closer and we'll be able to see some detail. Of course, that won't be for a few years....

We stayed outside for about 40 minutes. Clouds were coming through fairly frequently, and by the end of that time it was pretty much entirely clouded over. I did get another good look at M42, which pretty much made my night (day?). So I think it was worth getting up at that time, although I doubt we will make a habit of it.

29 October 2009


God clearly approves of our new hobby. All afternoon - clouds. I came home early from uni partly because I didn't want to get stormed on. We get out of pilates... and the sky is completely and utterly devoid of cloud.

Of course, we still had to deal with Killer Mosquito Brigades. It's warm enough I could have been outside in a tshirt, but I wasn't; I like my arms without welts.

Moon was lovely: Copernicus is hugely impressive, of course - I love it more every time. My new discovery tonight was Schiller, an elongated crater that looks really bizarre with half of it full of shadow. I also quite liked this crater, even before J drew it:

Jupiter looked pretty normal. Seeing was entirely average from the backyard.

28 October 2009

Bloody mozzies

Nyagh. Hate mosquitoes.

All day it was cloudy, and then - ta dah! - it mostly cleared at sunset. Having not expected to be able to observe, this was a nice surprise. J took the 'scope out and produced this:

which he's not very happy about, because he didn't get a lot of the detail he could see. I like it. I hadn't realised Copernicus would be visible already! - I forget just how quickly the moon progresses through its phases, if that makes sense - the fact that it's going on while I can't see it... I like Copernicus. And I really like it in our zoom; it's that much more immediate.

He also produced this:

I could see quite nice detail on Jupiter tonight, too - not sure whether this is because of better seeing conditions or more experience in looking, but probably at the moment it actually doesn't make much difference.

Then the mosquitoes drove me inside.

27 October 2009

Two can play at that game

The game of online shopping, that is.

I had long since decided that part of my tax return would go on a Telrad, which would hopefully make it easier for both of us, but especially me, to locate things in the sky. On the weekend I figured that since we're hoping to get to some dark skies next weekend, I'd buy one in advance of the tax return actually coming through.

It arrived today.

It is so big. And J was appropriately impressed, although a bit aghast at the idea of attaching such an unwieldy looking black object to the lovely white dew shield of Ptolemy. As a compromise, it is currently attached with black electrical tape... because that's so much more refined.

We looked at Jupiter. And the moon. And then I went to bed.

26 October 2009

Oh Melbourne

Another lovely clear night! We've been blessed the last few, and apparently it should stay like this. Of course, given we have a long weekend coming up, it's likely to be cloudy...

We looked at Jupiter: Europa was getting very close and, over the evening, we saw it get closer and closer until - blip, its light was swallowed up Jupiter's. It's passing in front, so eventually there will be a shadow chasing behind, but I don't think I'll be up for it. Sadly, along with a lovely clear night, we've got mosquitos. J did a sketch:

I too could see that faint half-band to the south; this was very exciting. I could also definitely see some texture especially in the lower of the two dark, middle bands.

We looked at the moon: going from crescent to gibbous, it looks awesome. There's a really cool section at the south pole, right on the terminator; very cratered.

We split Alpha Centauri definitively.

We gave the UHC filter another go, and the result on NGC 6231 was very convincing (we did a with/without test). It's a winner for urban astronomy. Also convincing when pointed at the Lagoon Nebula (both of these with the 10mm, the rest with the zoom). I tried it on Antares, too, since there's apparently nebulosity around it... I thought I could see some fuzziness, but I might have been kidding myself.

25 October 2009

Fast moving clouds are good moving clouds

If you have to have clouds, at least they can be patchy and in a hurry.

Our regular Sunday date was cancelled - their kids are a bit under the weather - and at sunset it looked fairly clear with just a couple of clouds around (this has changed the later it gets). So, went out and looked at the moon for a little while - that zoom lens is wonderful! Atlas and Hercules in full sun, as is the entirety of Serenitatis and Tranqulitatis. Then I got sent inside while J did a sketch:

I like this one.

Out again a bit later, after J had played with the collimation a bit; the zoom lens had demonstrated fairly clearly that we had some issues in that area. It's almost fixed now; our trek to a dark site will hopefully clear up all issues. Anyway, we found Jupiter - complete with a moon transit! There was a black spot, moving across, which Stellarium confirmed for me was Io. I actually thought I was looking at the moon itself, but I was actually looking at the shadow trailing behind it, which makes sense I guess. Other than that, we toyed with the notion that we might be able to see other bands (I think I could, in the polar regions, but that might have been wishful thinking), and also about whether there was a darker patch in the lower cloud band (again, wishful thinking?). We came back a bit later and the moon had just come out - little pimple on the side. So cute.

What with a big clear patch and the UHC filter (apparently good for showing up nebulae in urban areas), we decided to try for the Lagoon Nebulae (M8), around which we totally failed to see nebulosity last week. And it was indeed better! Interestingly, it was also better through the 10mm rather than the zoom; apparently the former is perfect for our little Takahashi and deep-sky objects. Anyway - nebulosity: we saw it. We also saw a bit around M20 (Trifid Nebula), although not as much.

Back to Jupiter for a last look, and J decided there was enough of a cloud gap that he would give sketching it a go...

For a fairy cloudy Sunday night, on the chilly side, it was a remarkably rewarding night.

Galilean Nights

Although we didn't take the telescope out, we did still participate in Galilean Nights - having our wonderful friends M&M over for dinner and viewing. It was a glorious day; so glorious I have a burnt neck to show for it. Of course, this being Melbourne, the clouds started coming in just before sunset. While the boys went for fishnchips, I showed M the moon - I don't think she'd ever seen it through a telescope before, and being very shortsighted was dubious about whether she'd be able to focus it. Of course, the new you-beaut zoom lens did wonders, and she got great views of the 35%-ish moon (and I got to see the wonderful Atlas and Hercules).

After dinner there were breaks in the cloud so we took them both out to see Jupiter and the moon, which were really the only things you could see - a couple of other stars were faintly visible, but there was so much glare thanks to the clouds that the viewing was atrocious. The Jovian system put on a nice show with a very cool staggering of the moons; both boys claimed they thought they could see the Red Spot. Me, I had trouble focussing again. The other M was also appropriately impressed by the moon through the scope.

We introduced them to Spooks when the clouds rolled in completely.

24 October 2009

On the horns of a dilemma

We had the lovely A, and the ever-entertaining R, over for dinner last night. It was a lovely clear evening, so we'd put the scope outside early on - but deciding whether to be congenial or observing wasn't the dilemma. A went home when little E started getting a bit ratty (landing on the floor not helping with that), so we then invited R out to have a look at the moon and Jupiter - and he was gratifyingly impressed. He's good like that.

No, the dilemma I will have from now is whether to look through the wonderful, original 10mm eyepiece that J got with the telescope... or whether to look through the 3-6mm zoom lens that he recklessly purchased courtesy of the Australian dollar skyrocketing, despite an agreement to get it for Christmas. Apparently he'd had it in his pocket for a week or two and been waiting for a good night to present it to me.

So, we'd had a quick look at the moon and Jupiter - just three moons visible - with the 10mm, and then we of course stuck on the zoom to see what it could do. Oh my goodness. Jupiter was huge! I think I could see a polar band, which was cool, but THE exciting thing was a shadow transit, probably of Io! Apparently it has something to do Earth and Jupiter at opposition?which makes it possible to have a shadow transit without the moon actually transiting as well. This may also account for Callisto being impossible to see because, according to Stellarium, it was at mag 28 or something - I guess in Jupiter's shadow relative to us and the sun? Anyway: a shadow transit! It was so exciting! And over the time we were observing - maybe 40 min - it moved across maybe half of Jupiter's disc. So cool. I experimented with the zoom on the lens; it was actually quite a hazy night, despite the seeming-clarity, so the higher mags weren't really doing it for me until just before we went it, when it cleared a little. But even at 6mm, it looked just amazing.

And then there was the moon: too big in the zoom lens to fit it all in! So much detail on the craters! And of course, Atlas and Hercules were out - so it was amazing to see them so very close up, and begin to get a real sense of detail. I think it will make getting to grips with the southern hemisphere easier, too, because I'll be able to look at one section, identify it on the map, and then move just a small amount to figure out the next section. Anyway, again, it looked just incredible.

Finally, before going in, J found alpha Centauri for me: and, even with the weird hypercolour thing going on because it was so low to the horizon and street lights, it was very definitely and very clearly a double star. YAY.

As well as the eyepiece, J also bought two filters: what I'm calling sunglasses for the moon - a neutral density filter which makes the full moon not so glary; and a UHC one, which turns things green when they're as big as Jupiter, and is designed for allowing urban astronomers to see nebulae more clearly by blocking out light pollution... somehow. I know it turns Jupiter green because it's also meant to make the bands more obvious, but it didn't really work for me.

22 October 2009

Red wine and observing?

I'd need a straw for that.

Got out just after sunset - still a purple glow in the sky - to look at the moon, and again that crescent was just lovely. Mare Crisium was doing its wonders; Endymion was stark and lovely. Atlas and Hercules should be out tomorrow. Mare Fecunditatis is my next project - to get to know it quite well. I really struggle with the southern section; it seems more cratered than the north, as I may have noted before. It's possible I guess that if we turned the image upside down it would be easier to make sense of - but then I'd have to read the map upside down, and my brain just doesn't process images upside down. I am so not a visual learner.

This picture is of Langrenus, on the eastern side of Mare Fecunditatis.

While J was composing the above sketch, the clouds rolled in. Jupiter had been visible earlier, but we didn't look because the moon was going to disappear first; as it turned out, the clouds stayed around and we didn't manage to see anything else.

21 October 2009

Itty bitty crescent moon

Awww, so cute! 11% waxing and it's a bitty crescent - couldn't be seen until quite close to sunset. But there she is: haven't seen it in a while, and it's very cool. Again. Still.

After the sun had set and it got a bit darker, the moon looked even more impressive because the rest of the disc was illuminated by Earthshine. It's just lovely, against a dark purple background - a star above and below - the disc just hanging there. Pity I'm neither poet nor painter.

I knew J wanted to do a sketch of the moon, so while he was futzing around I swung the scope over to Old Reliable. Jupiter is going to disappear behind our antenna, and then behind our house, in the next few weeks, I think. Tonight though: all four moons - three on one side; two bands, as always through this eyepiece. I think a planetary eyepiece may be on the cards. Maybe for Christmas.

J is currently sketching the baby moon before it disappears behind the tree and fence. After that... I'm not sure what we'll look at. I should look at a map. Fortunately, one of the results of J's spending spree was Sky and Telescope's Pocket Sky Atlas, which is a whole lot easier to use than the bigger sky atlas we also got.

I didn't get back out to the scope until the moon had disappeared, so no more lunography for me. There was this, though:

Inspired by the pocket atlas' picture of double stars, I found alpha Centauri - which I think I split, but the south is the brightest part of the sky around here - and then tried to split Kaus Australis - Sag Epsilon, I think - the brightest star in the Teapot. No luck. Spotted J's little favourite open cluster, NGC 6231, and its more diffuse neighbour Cr 316 (not sure what that designation means; something else I ought to learn). Checked out Antares, in Scorpio's tail, because the atlas showed bright nebulosity around it; not in my sky there wasn't. While in the vicinity we tried finding the globular cluster M4; we think we found it, based on a very faint fuzzy patch that was really only apparent when the view was jiggled around.

Ah, urban astronomy. It's all about what you don't see.

19 October 2009

Praise the Lord for clear skies

For the first night in a while, we have a delightfully clear night - so far, anyway. It's also almost warm! Which is exciting.

We started viewing at about 8pm, when by no stretch of the imagination could it be called dark. But I wanted to see what Jupiter looked like without a black background. Answer: like Jupiter against a dark blue background. There's three moons out right now, but having checked Stellarium I know Europa is coming out of occlusion right now. So excuse me while I go see if I can see it happen...

Some time later...
Well, we eventually did see it come out - which was cool. I don't know why, given the other three moons are just pinpricks in our eyepiece, but for some reason I was expecting to see a bulge in Jupiter's side! Instead, at first we thought it was us seeing what we expected to see, and then we knew it was there: a little pinprick moving slowly away from Jupiter's mass. By the time we went inside it was still quite close to Jupiter, and fainter than the other moons. I also some a meteor while looking at the planet - presumably part of the Orionid mob.

Meanwhile, waiting for Europa, we looked at other stuff too. We're learning our way around the sky, so we figured out which stars were Altair, Formalhaut, and Antares - three of the brightest stars up at the moment; we already know alpha and beta Centauri (the Pointers, of course); the other bright stars aren't visible from our high-fenced courtyard.

We'd figured out some interesting objects to try and see, from an October sky map, but we hadn't really taken magnitudes into account. M6 looked impressive - diffuse but big clump of stars; M7 was a bit faint. M8 - one of my favourites when we were in Ballarat! - was quite disappointing; took some imagining to see the Lagoon at all, although the stars were impressive enough. M20 was also a bit disappointing, while M22 was a very faint blob of nebulosity. (The Messier Icon Sheet is a quick and easy way to figure out what I'm talking about!) We totally failed to see several other objects we had hoped to see in that same area of Sagittarius. We did manage to see NGC 6231 - it's very reliable, and one of J's favourites. At least partly because you can actually see the whole clump of stars in the finder scope so you know when you've found it!

As well as scoping out the sky we also counted the stars - part of a project to map light pollution around the world. You have to find the Teapot (part of Sagittarius) and count how many of the stars you can see (there's a guide sheet). Our back yard is mag 4; J claims he could just see the stars that would make us mag 5, but I'm not convinced.

Eventually came inside at about 9.50! My eyes were pretty sore by then - I was having trouble focussing on Jupiter, which is what I looked at most. But it was a very, very awesome night of observing. Pity it's meant to cloud over this evening...

16 October 2009

Count the stars!

This is a really cool idea - one I'd not heard of before - an attempt to map the light pollution of the world. And it's easy, and only requires you to have a cloudless night sometime in the next week. I love it! ... although I'm a bit worried about how Melbourne will go. Not as bad as some places, of course.

Reassemble Ptolemy

We had to disassemble Ptolemy last week, for having a little birthday bash - and it wasn't that much of a loss frankly because the skies have been rainy and cloudy almost every night for more than a week. Except last night! After a day of rain and hail and general cloudiness, there no clouds in the sky last night!

... well, so it appeared. Turned out, after we set up the 'scope and had it outside to cool down for an hour or so, that actually the atmosphere was quite hazy and there was some high-level cloud. We sighted Jupiter for a start - all four Galilean moons out, two on each side - but it started giving me a headache to look at it because it fuzzed a lot. I did, though, see either a meteor or satellite out of the corner of my eye - exciting stuff.

We figured there wasn't much point in looking at much else, with that much haze going on and bright lights nearby; we had a quick look at an open cluster whose number we've forgotten, and then M7, but that was it. Hopefully we get a chance in the next while to have a look at some other stuff before the moon is our main target again.

08 October 2009

No moon!

So, never having paid that much attention to the moon, I've never realised just how much it moves. That is, that it rises in the early evening for quite a brief window of time - it wasn't out this evening - but it was up this morning. Not that I'm complaining that much - there's plenty of time for staying up really late or getting up really early to see a waning gibbous (as it is right now). I do wish we could see the LCROSS impact, though!!

Jupiter was on display with all four Galilean moons; very clear seeing, I think I might have caught a third band from the corner of my eye. We then checked out NGC 6231 - an open cluster 'associated with nebulosity', apparently; it was the only interesting thing Stellarium said we would be able to see at that time and with our level of light pollution. It's part of Scorpius - just at the kink in his tail - and can indeed be seen, naked eye, as a faint blob. It's quite a pretty cluster. I also liked the three stars 'up and to the right' (as seen in the eyepiece); two of them were faintly red.

Awfully tired so I didn't get as much out of the lovely clear night as I might have. Shame.

03 October 2009

Saturday night viewing

After a very cloudy day, it's become a lovely clear evening! And the night before daylight savings kicks in, too - so our last night of viewing at a not-too-late time for some months. Ironically, when we realised the night was clear the moon was too low to see... so we had to start with Jupiter, instead.

Europa was in hiding, tonight, but the other three were obvious. Two bands of clouds on Jove himself.

Looked at the moon - basically full! - but at first I couldn't orient myself at all, because of the direction of the 'scope. Don't know enough of the moon geography to figure it out myself so I got J to move it a bit - south up. Copernicus was looking mighty fine. However, I couldn't look at it for very long, because it was so very bright. I never thought I'd have to consider a moon filter, but if I want to look at it for any period of time I think I'll have to find out about them.

And then it clouded over.

02 October 2009

Carnival of Space #122 is up

Over here.

A carnival every week? These astro types must write copious amounts!

Tycho! Copernicus!

Plato! Keppler! Herodotus!!

We've had clouds for the last too-many nights, despite a couple of clear days. I've been all desperate to get out there and view the moon, feeling like I was missing out on something... as if it won't be there again, in almost exactly the same place and illumination, in a month. I'm not used to this idea of being able to go back later and I won't have missed anything.

There was some haze around last night, which made the seeing a bit unpredictable and shimmery, which eventually gave me a headache. Before that, though, J managed another sketch - very nice.
ETA the picture:

I got an eyeful of Tycho and Copernicus, which are both very impressive craters indeed. Herodotus and his companion crater weren't on the terminator but are obviously on enough of an angle that they still looked impressive with shadows and stark white centres. Again, it was exciting to look up and think - 'hey, Mare Crisium!' and be able to actually recognise some lunar geography. This is something I'm sure I'll get better at over time; yet another way to prove my nerddom.

The seeing for Jupiter was crap; very hazy. Only three moons visible - I think Io was transiting behind. Two bands of cloud obvious to my eyes.

26 September 2009

Didn't think tonight would be a viewing night...

but turns out that after a day of mostly rain and even hail in some areas, the evening was clear-ish. When we got in from dinner at D&K's, J looked out the window and announced he could see the moon. I was not feeling that great - tired, and like I'm getting sick (oh no) - but the beauty of the Takahashi is we really can drag it out just for 10 minutes of viewing: we leave it set up next to the door, ready to be taken outside and aligned.

The moon was 53% illuminated when we looked, and again the change in detail and landscape was incredible. It was incredible to see Atlas and Hercules looking totally non-shadowed. It was amazing to be able to look to the left and think - hey, that's Mare Crisium! I know that one! I think it was also the first time that bits were illuminated on the wrong side of the terminator - peaks catching the light before the plains around them did. That looked pretty cool. Anyway - only looked at it for about 10 minutes, and didn't have our moon map out so I don't actually know what else we saw, but it was good to do.

As ever, finished by pointing straight up and there was Jupiter. All four moons out - three on one side (forgot to look up who the loner was). J claimed to be able to see the Great Red Spot, but I definitely didn't - tired eyes, and then cloud came over so there was no chance.

24 September 2009

This might be getting predictable

This sketch J did while I was preparing dinner:
This one I commissioned; I'm quite a fan of that Atlas/Hercules pair, for some reason, and the craters like Posidinius with their own little craters which look like mountains in the middle? they're awesome.
Melbourne turned on another lovely night, for this sort of thing; only a little cloud, and the moon looked lovely. I'm sure I'll get over it eventually, but the wonder of seeing last night's area in full sun and a whole new area revealed is just marvelous. I can understand the first telescope-users' amazement at the details on this close, yet so different, world. And the Mares really do look like shallow seas.

Anyway - it was great fun looking, again. It's 1/3 illuminated tonight, as I can tell (and you can too, Dear Reader) thanks to the widget someone over at Ice in Space provided the html for. Particularly freaky this evening was some cloud blowing past in front of the moon, all wispy like. Also, I realised I'd been spending most of my time looking to the north, because it's the easiest bit when the moon is centred in the eyepiece; so I moved it a bit and had a closer look at the south. It looks much more cratered than the north at this illumination and resolution.

As usual, I checked out Jupiter before turning in. There was some high-level cloud or general murkiness, because I could not focus properly at all. Only two moons out - Stellarium informs me they were Ganymede close in, and Callisto further out. Europa was behind Jove, and for some reason Io was down at mag 28 or so; maybe occluded by Ganymede's shadow?

Another good night.

23 September 2009

The moon, and a sketch

Check it out!
As part of his/our Amazon haul, J bought himself a how-to of astronomical sketching. Drawing is something he's been interested in for a while, but never had the chance? opportunity? impetus? to get seriously into. The moon in particular seemed like a good target, so today he went and faithfully bought everything recommended. After a will-she, won't-she kind of day this evening turned out cold and cloud-free, so we had another awesome moon viewing (illumination 24.5%, 4.9 days old). It was very cool to see how the terminator had moved from last night (I didn't think it moved that much between my two viewings - had to watch Spicks and Specks - but J said it moved noticeably while he sketched). I'm so glad our first moon viewing was really at the start of the lunar cycle, because I will get a very good sense of lunar geography (lunography?) - seeing Mare Crisium totally in the sun was a good reference point. I particularly liked the craters Atlas and Hercules, north of Crisium (not in the sketch); and the very southern section of the moon, near the terminator, is just rife with craters - not a good area to start sketching, hence the concentration on the north.

Once again I indulged in a little Jupiter viewing to finish the night; two bands, Io very close in. The other three moons were spaced out fairly regularly.

22 September 2009

First night of viewing in Melbourne

Our first night back home it rained, and rained, and rained.

Tonight, it didn't look too promising at sunset - lots of cloud. Twilight, I went out to check on the sky (and the washing), and there was the moon: a beautiful crescent! (A waxing crescent, illumination: 16.1%, at 3.9 days old apparently.) We had Ptolemy set up next to the door, so we dragged it out and set it up as quickly as we could. We set the tripod up lower than in Ballarat, because we have plastic chairs out there and we decided to give seated observing a go - and it's a win; so much easier and more comfortable.

I sighted on the moon, and my goodness: what a sight! I hadn't expected it to be nearly as clear as it was - incredibly exciting. The first object that my eye latched onto was Mare Crisium - and I know this because J has gone a bit nuts on Amazon recently, and one of the things we've/I've ended up with is Sky&Telescope's Field Map of the Moon - foldable, laminated, and mirror-image so it's very useable. Anyway - the Mare - with the Picard, Peirce, and Swift craters very obvious. North of that was Cleomedes, Burckhardt, and Geminus; further yet Lacus Temporus, and Endymion - which I think is a crater? South we picked out Condorcet close to Mare Crisium; then, strikingly, the crater set of Langrenus (with its hill in the middle), Naonobu and Bilharz, and then further south still Petavius. I can see myself becoming quite the fan of the moon. I might well aim to do the moon one hundred at some point.

Because we could, having a reasonable window of cloudlessness and wanting to test the limits of the light pollution in the city, we aimed for Alpha Centauri; J managed to split it, while I confess that it just looked like a particularly large star to me, mostly. J also looked at the Jewel Box, but it had gone behind clouds by the time I got outside; and we pulled up M7, too, but it wasn't that impressive.

To end the night we looked at Jupiter. Europa and Io were fairly close together on one side, Ganymede and Callisto quite separate on the other. I could see two bands, but the seeing was pretty average - think there was some high-level wispy cloud, as well as the light pollution and heat haze from the city.

All up it was a very exciting night for our first at home. The moon should continue to offer plenty of interesting viewing even when the rest of the sky is a bit hard to see because of the light pollution. And Ptolemy really is easy to use, fast to set up, and portable - an excellent choice for us.

18 September 2009

A clear night, after two cloudy ones

And boy was it cold tonight. We did have quite the frog chorus, though.

I trialled using the Voice Memo app on the iPhone tonight, to take verbal notes; aside from feeling like a bit of a twitcher for talking to myself, the main problem was having to turn on the phone each time - and the screen being quite bright. I'll give it another go, maybe using a sleeve to cut down on the brightness. Having a hands-free mic (on the earpiece) was certainly an advantage; I hate listening to my own voice, though. ... And listening to it now, it seems like I've managed not to record my notes for the first half of the night - I was turning it off when I thought I was turning it on!

At any rate, things we saw tonight: 
NGC 6752

M2 and M4 were both quite faint, small globular clusters; through the 10mm eyepiece they weren't that spectacular. NGC6752 was much more impressive ; it looked more speckled than fuzzy, with more of an indication that you were actually looking at stars than some amorphous blob. The centre looked denser, of course; the outskirts allowed greater resolution of individual stars.

M8, the Lagoon Nebula, we saw a lot better tonight than last time. Partly this might have been improved seeing conditions, but for me partly it was also because I had looked up a picture of it, to remind myself what it looked like, and it was easier to pick out features when I knew they were there. It actually looked like a lagoon.

M20 and M21 were pretty cool, too, and again easier to see because I knew what I was looking for. M21 - the Trifid Nebula - still doesn't make much sense, at least at this magnification, as a trifid! but it's interesting to look at after the Lagoon. However, I couldn't help but focus more on the two bright stars in it, because they looked like a pair of eyes. M20, an open cluster, was pretty enough. Open clusters aren't that interesting as objects, yet, to me, because... they're just sets of stars.

Jupiter, our treat before going in, was looking stunning again. All four Galilean moons were on the same side as one another, the outer three quite close together with Io alone between them and the disc. I could definitely see two bands, and sometimes thought I could see a third; J thinks he could see a fourth band, too. I'm not that good yet.

Frustratingly, I've found that I've got a bit of a headache after each night's viewing so far. This may be due to a combination of factors, from what I can tell: not re-focussing for my eyes after switching with J; going from glasses to the eye piece; and possibly switching from eye to eye for viewing. Have to give some thought to how to fix this, starting with remembering to re-focus every time.

15 September 2009

Second night's viewing!

Not as cold tonight as last, which was a relief; or perhaps I was better rugged up. At any rate, we stayed outside for maybe an hour and a half, and only my nose got a bit chilly. Also, we decided to take the laptop out, set up on a stool under the tripod, with Stellarium loaded up so we could have a go at finding some stuff.

Firstly, Jupiter - again. I might have seen three bands this time; certainly two dark bands were quite visible. Io and Europa quite close in; I was rather hoping that if we stayed up long enough we'd see a transit, but J looked it up and apparently they will pass behind. This has therefore become a goal - to view a moon transiting Jupiter. Can't be that hard, surely? A matter of diligently reading the ephemeris when Jupiter is clearly visible, I presume.

Next, we swung over west to have a look for some stuff in and around Scorpius and Sagittarius. I've never been very good with constellations; it was very exciting for me when I learnt to pick out all of Orion, a few years ago. One of my big achievements for the evening therefore is now being able to pick out Scorpius! He's very obvious when you know where it is, and actually makes sense as a scorpion's tail. I can roughly pick Sagittarius, too - although he doesn't make nearly as much sense as Scorpius. And Capricorn, which I basically made out because Jupiter was in it, is just bizarre as a goat.

Tonight we had a look at a number of Messier objects: the Butterfly Cluster (M6; not entirely positive we saw this one, actually - we tried hard thoguh), M7, the Lagoon Nebula (M8), the Eagle Nebula (M16), the Omega Nebula (M17), the Trifid Nebula (M20 - I think I saw dust lanes, but I'm not positive), M21, M22 and M28 (both of the last two are globular clusters; M22 was quite bright and I could pick a few stars in it). Some of these objects were smaller than I had expected, but some were quite lovely. I'm not always sure exactly what I'm looking at, so I may not be getting the full effect, but still the view - all 2 degrees of it in the eyepiece - was generally well worth looking at anyway. I guess it will be worth looking at these again when I'm more used to looking through the eyepiece, and at picking up details... and when there are fewer lights going on at random intervals in the house next to the 'scope (argh).

Also, saw one - possibly two - meteors. Perhaps this is just a factor of actually being out there and actually looking. I'm really looking forward to being out during a good meteor shower, now. Finished with Jupiter, again, because it's just too good to go past right now.

14 September 2009

First night viewing

Along with the telescope, J bought me a 10mm teleview eyepiece. Tonight, we went out to give the whole contraption a go.

Before dinner, we had a quick look at Jupiter, because that section of the sky was clear and it's high in the sky. I could see three moons, although one was fuzzy - it was actually two moons close together. I could also see two darker bands on Jupiter's disc.

After dinner, we braved the cold again, and brought up Jupiter, and this time all four moons were distinct. J is sure he saw a red patch on Jupiter; I definitely didn't.

As clouds started to obscure Jupiter, we swung the telescope around and looked at the Jewel Box - NGC 4755 - which was just above the tree line. Lovely! I might have seen a hint of colour, but the stars were lovely anyway. Also had a go at aligning the 'scope. Alternating between glasses on and glasses off may be a bit of a challenge; viewing without them seems to be the way to go at the moment.

After the Jewel Box, J brought up a globular cluster - NGC 5139 - in Centaurus. I slowly got my eye in and could make out some individual stars on the outskirts of the cluster. It, too, had a very nice set of stars around it.

There were a few clouds around, so to finish off the evening we swung the telescope up not-quite-horizontal and just had a look around the Milky Way - probably around Sagittarius. J happened upon another globular cluster (possibly M7?); we saw a nice open cluster; and a few random sets of pretty, bright stars (one of which was quite orange).

It was a bloody cold night. I'm starting to get the hang of the fine RA/Declination controls. We had a bit of an issue with the motor control - it wasn't tracking at all - until we switched it to Northern Hemisphere controls. Looks like we might have put something together backwards...

Also, I think I saw two meteors! One, while I was looking at the Jewel Box, might actually have been a satellite; not sure. The other was definitely a 'shooting star', though. Terribly exciting.

Setting up the 'scope

For the first time in my life, I get to have a significant birthday present early. This is largely because the boxes were all sitting there, in the way, so it just made sense to put it together; plus, J was as impatient as me.

So today - three weeks early - we set up my new Takahashi.

The mount is mounted, thanks to some drilling J prepared earlier.

Nell investigates the strange tripod creature

Tube attached!

In the garden - left outside to acclimatise to the freezing cold.

Love that industrial green. Also, this was largely accomplished with just the pictures in the instruction manual, since the written instructions were in Japanese...