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...