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.