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.