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.