31 December 2010

The Little Desert, Night Two

Not quite as good this second night. There were a few reasons for this:
1. Mozzies.
2. It stayed hot all night - maybe 23C by 2.30 - so the mozzies stayed around too.
3. More mozzies. They were trying to eat me through my clothes.
4. People. There were a few more people at the Lodge, so there were a few more lights on. Also, I actually knew one of the people! He and his friends came out at about 10pm to have a look, we showed them some of the usual suspects... and then he hung around til midnight. I wanted to have a look at the stuff I'd planned, but it wasn't that interesting, so I didn't feel like I could while he was there....
5. Mozzies.
6. Trying a new telescope. Um. Yes. Have I mentioned our new telescope? It's a Tak FS128 (5") which J picked up through his usual cunning ways. I've called it Keppler... and he's huge, in comparison with Ptolemy (90mm). Coming to grips with the different fields of view in the eyepieces, etc, took some doing, and I'm still not there yet.

What did I look at? Well, we started with Jupiter - of course - and it was by far THE most amazing and awesome view of Jupiter I have ever had, enough to almost make me want to sketch it. The main dark band was blindingly obvious, there was detail to the north and the south, and - perhaps most amazingly to me - the moons clearly appeared to be of slightly different shape and colour. Ganymede was obviously bigger and redder. I was totally blown away - as were the people we showed it to a bit later. We also showed them M42 and 43 - of course! - and it too looked stunning through the 128. In fact I looked at it several times over the night, and it just got better and bigger every time.

To get my mojo back a bit, after my acquaintance left, I took some time to just look up. Keppler has a box disconcertingly like a coffin, which it turns out makes an excellent bench, so I just lay back on it (the ground was awfully sandy) and stared up. Orion was pretty close to the zenith (we were pushing midnight by this stage), and the view was just delightful. I also had a chance to look at a few things through J's Dobsonian, probably my favourite of which was an awesome planetary nebula, NGC1360, with a bright core and a discrete cloud around it. I tried dialling up planetary nebulae to 'tour' on Keppler but it was a bit of a bust with the lights on in the distance.

Anyway, I decided to have a go at some doubles. Using the list of doubles in Orion from vol 1 of The Night Sky Observer's Guide, I had a look at and split: E627; E630; 17-rho Ori (a lovely double, orange and blueish); 19-beta Ori; E664; h2259 (although only the 3.6/10.8 mag stars, not the other companions); h697 (the triple); E697; E701; h2268; E114; E790; E816; 60 Ori and E877. Which, yes, was possibly a stupid number of doubles to look at it one night, but I did stop when I was bored. Additionally, I was practising with the Argo, because I found all of these by pushing the telescope around until the read-out on the Argo was the correct RA and Dec. There was a few times when it wasn't quite right, but overall it was a good way to start getting a handle on using the mount as well as the Argo - and getting myself more used to directions.

We stayed up until just after 2, determined to see Saturn. However, we were flagging fast, so when it was just above the horizon and mushy as all get-out (not coming clear at all, and looking like a weird bulging object as a result), we threw in the towel. Still, it was a good night overall (despite the mozzies), and we're hoping for a few more like it - this time in the Grampians.

30 December 2010

The Little Desert, Night One

While it's not exactly a desert, when I say we came here because it's a dark part of Victoria, it is seriously a dark part of Victoria.

My main aim on this first night was to play with my new Argo - a Christmas present - and get used to my Losmandy mount. While I grew to love my industrial green Tak P2Z, it is awfully nice not to have to remember to disengage the tracking and then re-engage.... Anyway, I aligned it pretty easily, and then had a look at Jupiter (of course). Since it's so easy with the Argo I also found Uranus - and even though it wasn't very dark, it was an obviously blue little disk.

I decided to start off by having a go at one of their tour functions, and chose Non-Stellar Objects within 30 degrees of Sirius and a lower limit of mag 8 - since I'll admit that it wasn't exactly pitch-black yet, but I was impatient. First off was M41, a bright open cluster, which looked great. The next few objects were also open clusters, and although they can be interesting enough the joy soon waned: I looked at NGC2345, M50, M47, and M46, skipped a number of NGC clusters, and then gave up and moved on to trying to find triple stars, again using the tour function. This too I fairly quickly gave up on; for my part, it was probably not quite dark enough to be trying to split triples, but it was frustrating in general because the Argo didn't supply mags for all of the stars, nor their separations, so I wasn't sure if I found them or not. And thus I moved on to the 'Bright Nebulae' tour.

First, the Rosette Nebula, around NGC2244. In Ptolemy (90mm refractor), the nebulosity was very faint indeed. However, I badgered J into finding it in Copernicus (16" Dob), complete with brand new filters, and WOW! It looked awesome - we couldn't fit the whole thing into the field of view in the 21mm. It was matched, and bettered in my scope, by M42 and 43, of course - I really do love this time of year - they just looked incredible. Every time I look at the nebula there it just looks brilliant.

I was interrupted at this point in my tour my J's excitement at having found the Horsehead Nebula. He got a H-beta filter specifically for finding this, and was over the moon at spotting it. I'm not as patient as him, so while I could see the band of nebulosity and just pick the 'divot' that marks the famous horse's head, I couldn't make out any detail. The Flame Nebula, however, was waaay more interesting, looking quite a lot like a maple leaf. He also showed me M1, the Crab Nebula - a large, faint, not very crabby smudge - and, a bit later, several faint galaxies around Fornax, including the awesome 'Zorro', NGC1365.

I looked at a few more bright nebulae - NGC2175, M78, NGC1975 (drowned out by M42), and a couple of others that I couldn't really pick - before going back to my old fave, double stars. As with the list of triple stars, I was a bit frustrated by the lack of information provided in the Argo about magnitudes and separation distances for the double stars. I ended up grabbing my Cambridge Double Star Atlas, and looking them up in it to see if it was worth my energy - but some of the ones listed on the Argo weren't listed in the Atlas... I know there are double star catalogues available to download, so I will to investigate those. Anyway, I saw E816 (a separation of 4.4"!! Very proud); Ori60; E838; E877; OE73; Ori68; and E766 (I really should figure out how to do Greek letters, since the E is meant to be sigma...). In doing so I also stumbled on an awesome little planetary, NGC2438, and a totally lovely open cluster, NGC2169.

To finish up the night I tried the non-stellar objects tour again, this time in the incredibly rich area around Carina. I skipped most of the open clusters, but looked at Omega Centauri (always breathtaking, and stupidly detailed); NGC2808 (another globular, this one quite faint); the Gem Cluster and Jewel Box (open clusters I will make an exception for); Centaurus A (a faint galaxy with what appears to be a split in the middle); and the seriously cool Ghost of Jupiter (another planetary nebula - I love it).

We packed it in around 2.15, with the moon rising: a crescent, it was so yellow it looked like a banana. If we'd hung around a bit longer we could have looked at Saturn, but my goodness it got cold. From complaining about the heat in the day, we ended up as rugged up as we've ever been while observing. Can't wait for tonight.

22 December 2010


We've dragged the telescope out twice in the last week or so, but only briefly. We haven't really had much summer, yet, so it's been quite cloudy and quite cool at night! Anyway, this may be my favourite celestial time of year: Jupiter still visible for a while in the West, and Orion visible at a really decent time in the East. Whee!

Both times we've had a look at Jupiter we've spied shadow transits, which I think is pretty amazing given they were both haphazard viewing opportunities. The first time it was Europa, and tonight it was little Io. Tonight in particular the shadow was a really dark circle on the disc of Jupiter - very obvious indeed.

Also today, the nights officially start getting longer again! Gone are the days when I was just all about the sunshine, baby. Now - ah, now, I get to be totally conflicted. Fun!

19 October 2010

My first sun sketches

These are my first attempts at sketching the sun.

The prominences are certainly out of proportion. Obviously because I wasn't using black paper, I struggled to convey the lighter areas on the surface; I chose just to represent them as lighter, squiggly lines.

Both were drawn while viewing through my 10mm Ethos, on a PST. The first was done at about 12.15pm today (19 Oct 2010), while the second was at about 5.50pm.

16 October 2010

When will I ever sleep?

There are a couple of reasons why buying a solar scope at the moment would be silly. In the very short term, it's raining crazycakes at the moment here. In the medium term, we're at solar minimum, so it's not the most interesting time to be viewing.

Um. Yeh.
Photo nicked from Meade website.

Isn't it pretty? The eyepiece it came with is a bit crap, so we swapped in the 10mm when we had a brief break in the clouds, and also had a go with the 6mm.

I looked at the sun! Without my eyeball getting boiled!

We saw three small sunspots. There were two large prominences on the top left limb (I'm not entirely sure which way around the scope is yet), and on the direct opposite limb there were five (maybe six?) small prominences. I saw two... well, they looked like tears on the surface; I'm not entirely up on my nomenclature yet, either. It was very, very cool.

It has occurred to me that getting a PST at this point in the solar cycle is actually excellent. It's interesting right now, and it's only going to get better from here.

But seriously: when will sleep? Observing all day, observing all night... oh yeh, when it's cloudy. And at dawn and dusk.

15 October 2010

The Warrumbungles #2

While we observed for a shorter time on the second night, I actually saw more through my scope, because I didn't have to hang around trying to figure out where Capricornus was. Mostly, I looked for doubles, but I also got J to find some Messiers in Capricornus that I was having difficulty with: M72 and M73. M72 is a faint globular, and M73 is a group of four stars that I don't entirely understand why they made it as a Messier object. Guess it's not my place to question it.

Three doubles in Capricorn made a nice little view in my 10mm (2 degree field of view): rho and omicron Cap (I think; still getting to grips with the Greek letters...), and pi Cap was there as well but with a very small split I didn't figure out which one it was. Omicron is two white-blue stars of similar magnitude. Rho has a bright yellow primary, a fainter yellow companion, and I'm not sure if I could see the third star in the triple - I should have been able to, but I don't think I actually figured out which one it was.

Sigma has a bright yellow primary and a much fainter companion, which I found by star-hopping from the above field of view.

Other doubles in Cap:
S763 - about the same mag; one maybe more red than the other?
h5220 - very faint, both of them, with possible another double nearby that wasn't listed in my atlas?
h5226 - both quite faint; not actually positive I caught this one, but the position seemed about right.

I think I caught the triple of beta Cap: one bright yellow, one fainter blue, and a very faint third. Nice pattern, with the yellow in the middle and the other to either side, kinda forming an elbow.

The Warrumbungles, #1

When we left Lostock and the Ice in Space camp, we headed west to Coonabarabran. The point was to visit the Australian Astronomical Observatory, and maybe get some viewing in. The AAO is cool to see - I especially liked the world's-largest solar system replica: the dome of the AAO is the sun, and the rest of the planets are spaced out, at appropriate distances (over 100km), along the main routes into town. The visitor's centre is a bit... um... tired.

We stayed at the Warrumbungle Mountain Motel, which is for sale if you're interested. I think our motel room was bigger than our house. And we were the only ones there the first night, so when the clouds finally cleared - hurrah! - we dragged the scopes out onto their golf course (!) and settled in for a couple of hours. We'd even been sensible and prepared a thermos of tea in advance.

The moon was out at as a little crescent, which was really lovely to see - especially as it got darker and the whole disk was lit up by earth-shine. It formed a picturesque triangle with Venus and Mars, both naked-eye visible; Mars was very red to the naked eye, and in my 6mm, although it was a bit hazy. Jupiter, on the other hand, was looking spectacular; I could clearly see a white band of cloud in a roughly similar position to the dark band in the opposite hemisphere. And, excitingly, we saw Neptune! - definitely through J's scope, and I think through mine. Hard to see through J's, for me, because it was near the zenith - so I was on tiptoes to reach the eyepiece.

J had a good night of chasing Messiers and galaxies. I had a good look at NGC247 and 253, both of which were (to me) surprisingly large, and bright, although they did both still look basically like cigars.

I was pleased to be able to hunt down a couple of doubles in Capricornus, and M30, a globular cluster which looked bizarrely like a molar. The first double I spied was epsilon Cap, with a bright white primary and a very faint companion. The second was an absolute highlight: alpha 1-2 CAP, so called because alpha 1 and 2 are a binary (I'm pretty sure), both beautiful yellow stars, and they both have a separate companion. I found one companion, but not the other - it's only 7" away from its primary, and it wasn't great seeing, so that's not a huge surprise.

I finished up the night hunting down M4, near Antares, because the rest of the sky got cloudy... that was around 10.30pm. I'm very proud that I now know Capricornus.

The Lagoon

Slight drift issue, but otherwise quite pleased. Up near Thredbo; 5 seconds at ISO 3200

Lostock: three potential nights of all-out viewing...

Ice in Space Astro Camp: three nights, at a remote Scout camp, with ~100 keen amateur astronomers+hangers-on. What could possibly go wrong?

Thursday night:
some sucker holes!... but cloudy. Also, rain.

Friday night: cloudy.

Saturday: the sun was out enough that a dude had his solar scope out, and we wandered over to be bothersome and have a squizz. I saw prominences! And the surface of the sun! Without my eyeball boiling!! ... I might be in love...

For all that it was annoying that we didn't get to observe every night, the camp was awesome. There was a lot of telescope-ogling, and deep discussions about eye pieces. Our cat's perch chairs drew a lot of comment, as did J's scope. The fact that we both have scopes and I wasn't there under sufferance also attracted notice, which I thought was a bit sad; the number of times I basically got asked if I was happy to be there, and then I pointed to my scope and said I got mine first.... There were a few other women there with scopes, but it was by and large a male gathering. It was neat to see a few blokes there with their kids, though, having left mum at home.

Anyway, we did observe on Saturday. Sitting at dinner, we kept sticking our heads out to look at the sky - hopefully noting the holes in the clouds - with the constant refrain being "I've seen it come good from worse...". At one point I realised I could see Jupiter, and I ditched whoever I was talking to and hared it back to our camp. I figured I would at least have a look at it, if nothing else. I caught Venus - lovely little crescent - and Jupiter, and then, all of a sudden, looked up: it was clear! The clouds were almost entirely gone! And wow, the whole camp... changed. Red lights zipping around the place, people excitedly discussing their favourite objects, arguing about collimation: it was cool. We had a little crowd in our area, what with two SDMs next to each other. I got a little frazzled because I couldn't figure out the constellations - I only know Scorpius and Sagittarius in the spring sky! But a couple of people showed me some interesting things, which was really nice of them.

I saw the globulars NGC6388, NGC6397, and NGC6723; BrsO-14 in Corona Australis, a binary with two small white stars; B86 and its accompanying dark nebula - don't think I've ever consciously seen a dark nebula before (the Coalsack doesn't count...); M27 - the Dumbbell Nebula! and possibly Barnard's dwarf galaxy. When I discovered that we could see Pegasus, I checked out the binary that is Matar, which has a bright yellow primary and a faint white secondary. Also through my scope I saw a few other random globular clusters, the Pleiades, M79, and we managed to stay up late enough (bed at 2am!) to see the glory that is Orion (I've missed him!).

Someone set up binoculars near us, through which I finally saw the Andromeda Galaxy. It was... a disappointment, frankly. I couldn't see it naked-eye, probably partly because it just doesn't get that high even in NSW, and through the binos it was just a blob. Still: furthest-away object you can (theoretically!) see naked-eye, and closest galaxy to our own. Nice to cross off the list :)

I also got to have a look through Rod's 20" scope, which he set up next to ours. It required a ladder to get to the eyepiece, and a trailer to bring it to the camp. I saw NGC1365 - a galaxy -which is apparently one of Rod's favourites, and was indeed spectacular. The Saturn Nebula is a weird green colour and does indeed look like Saturn, and 47Tuc was breathtaking. My favourite, though, was being able to see three out of four galaxies known as the Grus Quartet - the other one was just outside the field of view.

All in all, it was a seriously awesome night of viewing, and was a great way to finish the camp.

On top of a mountain

We've just got home from an almost entirely astronomical holiday through NSW, precipitated by the annual Ice in Space Astronomy Camp. We went to the Deep Space Complex at Tidbinbilla, and came home via the Australian Astronomical Observatory at Siding Spring and the radio telescope at Parkes. We also managed to observe for four nights out of ten, which probably isn't a bad hit rate!

Our first stop was at a lovely B&B between Thredbo and Jindabyne. It was kinda clear the first night, but we hadn't set up the scope so we decided to be lazy. The last night, however, was glorious (how glorious? LMC and SMC very clear to the naked eye) - and we'd found a great spot for observing just up the road from our accomm, very flat and away from the few house lights in the area. Paul, the manager of the B&B, had mentioned he's been thinking of trying to organise astronomy groups, so we dragged him out and showed him some of the sights, and talked to him about telescopes a bit too.

It wasn't a night for working through a plan, not least because we only set up my scope so J and I had to share. So we had a look at Jupiter, who was brilliant, and then J managed to find Uranus! Which Paul didn't think was that impressive - just a blue smudge - but I was wildly pleased.

We had a look at some Messier objects, largely to show off: M8 (Lagoon Nebula), M16 (Eagle Nebula), M17 (Omega Nebula), M20 (Trifid Nebula), M22, M23, M24 (Star Cloud), M25, M54, M69, and M70! - and NGC6652 because it was in the neighbourhood, as well as 47 Tuc. I am still not that enamoured of open clusters for their own sakes - many just don't seem to have outstanding features, for my money - but I adore globular clusters. I don't really know why; I think it's that looking at them for a while, you can start to pick out detail - slowly but surely. I love all of the nebulae we saw, and the Star Cloud blew me away: I was looking through the eye-piece as J star-hopped via the Rigel, and it just suddenly appeared. Awesome.

We also had a go at photographing the Lagoon and Trifid Nebulas, and I will upload some of those when I find the camera amongst the end-of-holiday detritus.

01 October 2010

An experiment

That's the Lagoon Nebula (M8), from our backyard: iso 800, 30 seconds. Check out that colour!!

A little Jupiter: iso 800, 1/800 second. Bit sad you can't see any moons... longer exposure, and darker skies, required.
The Jewel Box - a lovely little cluster near the Southern Cross: iso 800, 5 seconds. Not quite in focus, but you can still make out some colour.

Cr316: J's favourite little cluster, in Scorpio. Iso 800, 5 seconds.

26 September 2010

Spring apparently means clear nights!

Well, this is Melbourne, so when I say 'clear nights' I really mean 'one clear night amongst the many murky ones.' Nonetheless: today it hit 20C for the first time in many months, there were lovely clear blue skies for most of the day - I sat outside and read! - and it stayed clear for the evening.

We started off looking at Venus, which was a delightful thin crescent. Then, waiting for the sky to darken at least a little, over to Alpha Centauri; split beautifully.

It didn't ever really properly darken tonight; probably we didn't leave it quite late enough. Anyway, Antares (the anti-Ares, ie Mars; cool!) was a lovely reddish colour, and I discovered that beta Scorpius, aka Graffias, is a double: a pair of whiteish-blue stars. Another of the Scorpius stars is also a double, but I did not split it - although it did look quite bulbous, so perhaps I was close.

Close to Scorpius is M7, which I managed to find all by myself - at exactly the same time that J found it through Copernicus, which was quite funny. It's a lovely open cluster, with a nice scatter of stars. Close to it is M6, but I did not manage to find it, which made me a little grumpy. To make up for it J pointed me towards Cr316, which I'd been thinking of finding anyway. It too is an open cluster, but (optically at least) much tighter than M7. Through the 35mm lens, it was quite spectacular.

Testing out just how good my eyes are, and how light the sky was, I next looked at the star G Scorpius, because next to it is a globular cluster, 6441: very faint from here, and you'd just assume it was a smudge if you weren't looking for it. In fact, my next target - M22 - I didn't even see even though I was looking for it. I got - ahem - a little petulant; J had a look to see where I was at... and it was there, in the eyepiece, I just hadn't noticed. Too faint!! - it's another globular cluster.

Really, all of this was a prelude to the main event, which was Jupiter. In order to get the earliest view possible, J decided he needed to do some gardening: bits of a climbing rose were waving about too high. Up a ladder, with secateurs, with only a red headlamp for light... awesome. Anyway, it was a totally classic view of Jupiter tonight. All four Galilean moons lined up, nicely spaced out. Jupiter itself still looking kinda weird with only one dark belt of clouds.

It was a great night's viewing, in all, and not even too cold. Also, not many insects! I'd like to observe in conditions like this all year rounf!

17 September 2010

A cautionary tale

We were outside, last night, at 6.30pm. It was a mostly clear sky, and the moon looked awesome. While I fussed over dinner, J set up the 'scope, and reported that Venus was a lovely crescent - and that the moon was going to look awesome too.

He then came inside, to help me with dinner, because some clouds were scudding over.

Approximately five minutes later came a sound that generally I love, but - 10 seconds after it started - I realised was something of a problem at that particular moment. It was the sound of rain.

Fortunately, J had put the cover over the 'scope's element, because it was a bit dewey. We hurtled outside and frantically brought it in, rather worried that the rain was going to get heavier. It didn't, but it was enough to put a dampener on everything (boom boom), and of course the clouds stayed put, after that.

That, my friends, is one of the perils of observing in Melbourne.

12 September 2010

The moon just never gets old

I hope I never ever get bored by the moon. Because tonight, we took the scope out for all of ten minutes, just too look at the moon, and you know what? It was awesome.

It's still a little crescent at the moment - although not a wafer-thin as it was on Friday, and don't I wish we hadn't been driving to Ballarat that night! Still, it's only a few percent full; Mare Crisium was looking pretty awesome, and the crater Atlas was right on the terminator looking awesome. I love that bit of the moon, maybe because I look at it all the time when the moon is new. I also had a look at Mare Fecunditatis; the southern half of the moon is somewhere I'm really not as familiar with, maybe because it's more chaotic than the north. I got totally lost around the very southern section, so I gave up.

I love the moon. I just love it.

07 September 2010

Clear skies are here again

It's been a while. Tonight, for the first time in a while, we had both clear skies and the energy to do something with them. Here's hoping Melbourne gives more of the same! - after the rain that's forecast for the end of this week, in any case.

Anyway, given the skies and the fact that even when the sun was barely down I had a good view of crescent Venus, I messaged some friends just down the road that they should bring their kids over for a look - I'd been meaning to do so for ages. They promptly arrived with two in tow, the eldest being sensible and staying home, feeling sick. We trooped out the back and had a good look at Venus, and Mars - just a blob these days - and had a chat about planets. Then, because the stars were coming out and they were enthusiastic, J decided to show off and show them the Jewel Box; I met that with Alpha Centauri, which split beautifully and particularly excited the youngest. All of which was very pleasing.

We went back out a few hours later, because it amazingly remained clear. Sagittarius and Scorpio are back to being high in the sky - it's like seeing old friends! It wasn't particularly dark, but J hopped around some clusters in the two - M4, M6, and M7; M20 and M21 - the Triffid, looking pretty awesome even with the light pollution. Right when we thought we were ready to pack it in, J had a last look all round the sky. And there, my friends, at -2.5 mag, was dear old Jupiter! I can't tell you how ridiculously exciting it was to see it hanging there so brilliant. Io, Europa and Callisto were nice and obvious, as was the one dark band of clouds that it has left. J thought he might have caught sight of the Red Spot, but I am unconvinced. I stared at that disk for quite a while before achey eyes drove me inside.

06 August 2010

Planets for kids

A friend came over this evening, with his two sons. They were a bit bored, and I'd just noticed that Venus was incredibly bright, so I thought I'd take them out to see the planets. I found Venus - looking gibbous - and then what I thought was going to be Mars, but turned out to be Saturn, and a moon. (J found Mars later - I hadn't tracked far enough, because my rigel is dead.)

They weren't really as impressed as I had expected? hoped? grown used to? I don't know whether this was because it's Friday night and they were a bit hyper, or whether they're just totally disinterested, or what. They seemed more interested in fiddling with the focus, to make the blob of light get bigger or smaller! Which is interesting enough, I guess, when you're under 10.

It got me thinking about why I expect children to be interested in astronomy, or at least hope they will be. I don't remember when I first got interested in astronomy. I know I'd never looked through a telescope before about the age of 15; I was dead keen on the planets etc well before that, though. It seems trite and a bit like an excuse to say that kids these days have access to things ranging from awesome docos about the planets, including footage from the Cassini missions and so on, right through to simulations on computers - so why should they be interested in seeing things 'for real' when in some ways, that doesn't compare to what they've seen through other means? There are going to be some people who infinitely prefer the computer versions, or the up-close versions on docos, and I guess I have to accept that that's ok; I'd much rather see Mt Everest on the screen than in real life, at least up close. But I do hope that seeing 'mediated' versions will inspire at least a few kids to want to see things personally, because realising that you can see the rings of Saturn and the Galilean moons of Jupiter with your own eyes is a most amazing experience. And not just for the astronomy of it.

Their dad was way keen, though - had never seen Saturn in a telescope, and said he hadn't realised you could. So that was gratifying.

29 July 2010

I Aintn't Dead

Despite the lack of posting, there's nothing wrong with either us or the telescopes! It's just winter, and bad skies, and too much being tired.

We did get out last Friday and observe the very-nearly-full moon for a while, nearly burning our retinas in the process. I knew it was bright - very bright - but it wasn't until I looked away and realised that the yard looked quite different depending on which eye I used that I realised HOW bright! (With the observing eye, the place looked very dark; with the non-observing eye, it looked like all the lights were on.)

I've been running in the morning and noticing that we've had some spectacularly clear mornings, with Jupiter way up high, so we're hoping that we can try and get in some morning observations in the next little while. That requires a bit of jigging with the bike riding and running schedule, but it might be doable....

17 May 2010

Sketch from Mansfield

I don't know how he managed it, since I was shivering too much to be able to hold a pencil...

16 May 2010

Mansfield nights #2

While we were setting the scopes up - before it got dark - Venus came out from behind the clouds, so I saw it for the first time up close! It was a bit fuzzy because of the clouds (which went away when it got dark), but it was both definitely not a star (too disk-like) and also not round (think a gibbous moon). Exciting indeed.

I was determined to get through my list, so that's what I went straight into. There was a little crowd of three doubles that I thought I'd tick off quickly, because they were close, but in the end I had trouble figuring which ones were which, which meant difficulty figuring out which direction to go in next. Didn't help that one was only 2 arcseconds of separation, so I probably say it and didn't realise. That was R227; I did however split Q Centaurus, and Rmk18. Go me. Happily, I also managed to find and split DUN128, chi Centaurus, and iota Lupus. And, accidentally, I found and split h4651 as well, and tau Lupus (1) also.

My big, smug-making achievement of the evening was finding the galaxy Centaurus A... admittedly, this was easier because it basically forms a straight line with Hadar and omega Centauri, and because it was so dark that it was naked-eye visible, but whatever! I still saw it through my scope!

Saturn, this time, had four moons basically trailing behind it like ducklings after their mother: Titan, Rhea, Tethys and Enceladus, according to Stellarium, getting closer. Plus the rings were incredibly crisp, as was the shadow on Saturn's disk from them.

I was on quite a high after finding most of the things on my list, so despite being freezing (according to J's scope it was 4C), I decided to grab the SkyMaps list and at least check off the naked-eye objects, in my continuing quest to learn my celestial cartography. Couldn't find five things, but only because they'd already set. But, for the record, I did find: Arcturus (in Bootes); Sirius (Canis Major); Procyon (Canis Minor); Canopus (Carina); the Coalsack (near Crux); Regulus (Leo); Antares (Scorpio); and Spica (Virgo). I was totally going to try for the binocular objects, but when I realised that the scope was dripping with dew and I would have to spend heaps of time swinging the scope around and around, I gave in and went inside.

J did show me some awesome things through his - I especially liked the Blue Planetary, a round nebula that really does look like a planetary disk.

All up, it was a brilliant weekend. Our star chairs - both Cats' Perches - were marvellous and very welcome for 2-hour observing stints. I have rarely been so thankful for my down-filled jacket, and the doubling-up of Explorer socks in my walking boots was awesome on Saturday. Plus, our headlamps - strapped to our heads, looking a bit dorky perhaps - with red cellophane inside? Brilliant! No longer worrying about ruining our night-vision with white light, and not having to use a bike light to read the map!

Mansfield nights

New moon weekend, and we managed to get away from Melbourne again, hurrah! The week had been cloudy and rainy in true Melbourne-autumn style, but we clung desperately to the forecast that the weekend would be sunny - and that Mansfield is on the other side of the Divide, so they get different weather. It looked incredibly unpromising as we drove away from Melbourne - no break in the clouds to be seen - but then, as we went over some hills, an amazing thing happened. The clouds were left behind, and the sky was a glorious blue. Joy!

I had me a list of double in Centaurus that I want to chase, so that's what I mostly did, over two nights.

Firstly, we saw Venus! on our way to dinner, but it's the first time in ages I've seen it after sunset - so bright!

Began by finding omega Centauri, the globular cluster, just for kicks and because it was naked-eye visible it was that dark. Also Mars, in order to get the Rigil in line; it's not nearly as interesting as it was a few months ago.

As for doubles, started off with Rigil Kent (alpha Centauri), which I managed to split although only just. When I then moved on to Hadar, the other Pointer, I realised that I had been somewhat optimistic: it's got a separation of just 0.9 arcseconds, which is really close. I reckon on really good nights I'll be able to split maybe 8 arcseconds? So no dice with Hadar, and I realised looking at my list that there were a good few of separations I simply wouldn't manage. Oh well; I found (what I think were) the stars anyway, for fun.

Also? I think I will have to learn the Greek alphabet since, according to J, referring to the stars' reference as 'the squiggly one with a bit on top'? Not so impressive.

The next attempt was on gamma Centaurus; also 0.9 arcseconds, also no luck. Alpha Circinus, however - score! 16 arcseconds. And yes, not in Centaurus, but just below so it totally counts. Gamma Circinus was another no-go, at 0.8 arcseconds, but I did find an unlisted double near it, so that's fine.

At about this point, the owners of the place where we were staying came out - I'd told them they should - so I found Saturn, and it looked awesome. In mine, I could see Titan a fair way out; a faint star close in on both sides, and another faint one on the opposite side. It turns out, through J's telescope, that those two close-in moons were actually both pairs! (Stellarium tells me they were Rhea/Enceladus, and Dione/Tethys, with Iapetus a long way out.) They were suitably impressed both with that, the telescopes, and the fact that we were outside at all - did I mention it was freezing? I was wearing multiple layers, although no beanie, which J thought was crazy but taking the glasses on and off with a beanie on is more trouble than it was worth.

I finished the night somewhat ambivalently. I found DUN159 and 133, but failed with I424 and R213 - imaginative names, aren't they? Then, having been outside for a bit more than 2 hours, we scurried inside to warm out near-frostbitten tootsies. Also, my scope was having a bit of a dew problem. J had rigged up a dew system for his, what with the mirror being bigger and all; he'd wondered whether mine would require it too. Having to wipe off the Rigil in order to see through it, and ditto the eyepieces? And discovering the front element had a fine mist of dew over the whole thing? yeh, that would be me requiring a gadget to act basically as a hot water blanket to my scope.

02 May 2010

Doubles hunter

With my brand-spanking new Double Star Atlas, I can now really and truly have a go at hunting doubles!

Last night was the first in ages that was actually clear. There were some high wispy clouds at sunset that had J panicking, but they went away so we went outside. As well as my Atlas, the other exciting new thing I have is a Cat's Perch! J's been talking about getting a star chair for months, and he ended up ordering two of these - it's so much easier to focus and hold steady when you're sitting down, rather than standing. He'd constructed them last weekend, and sanded them yesterday, so they were ready for a test. And I loved mine: I was observing to the west, so I ended up having the scope very low down and the seat correspondingly so. I could have had it higher, but I think that would have been more annoying.

So, what did we see? I started off with Saturn, of course; and it was lovely. I could definitely see the shadow band under the rings, and I could just see one moon, which was either Rhea or Dione. I then swung around and decided to play around in Canis Major, to see what doubles I could find and whether the Atlas is going to work for me.

Firstly, I'm glad it's spiral-bound. The Atlas has 30 double-page maps, with constellations and doubles and some other features marked. Then, at the back, it has the list that the authors worked from, of which doubles to include: this has the magnitudes and separations of the respective stars. This is very, very useful when you think you've found the right star, but you're not sure you can see a companion, so you need to know whether they're only 8 arc-seconds apart and therefore unlikely to resolve under light-polluted skies (which happened to me), or whether the companion is TWO HUNDRED AND SIXTY FIVE arc-seconds away and therefore could be one of three faint stars you can see (I am annotating the list as I go, with ticks and dates of when observed. This one I also annotated with "srsly?!"). The one problem - and this is only a problem for me, not the book - is that they're in right-ascension order. This has to do with how the stars are mapped, and I am struggling to really get my head around it. (Dumb moment of the night: realising that I was treating the lines of right ascension and declination as if they were straight, rather than curved....) This is something that I will get used to over time. I presume.

Anyway. Canis Major. Start with Sirius; no luck splitting. Move up to Wezen: success! (At least, I presume so; that's the 265" split.) No luck with Adhara (7" split, so not that surprising). Then, on to some harder ones. There's a little group of three along the 'spine' of Canis, two of which are noted as binaries. I hazarded a guess at where they should be, looked in the scope... and didn't think I'd found it. Asked J for some help, tearing him away from his open-cluster hunting, showed him the map... and he found exactly the same thing. I looked at it a bit longer - checked the list at the back - and realised that actually, one was a triplet, and that's what I'd been confused by: the top star in my eyepiece had two very faint stars nearby, which was indeed my triplet! This was also helpful because I now have an idea of what 44" looks like. That was 17CMA; sadly couldn't split pi, so that will have to wait for another night. After that success, I attempted tau-CMA, which is in the open cluster NGC 2362 - which, I didn't realise, is J's favourite little one. And I found it, and I think I saw the double; at 85" separation, in a cluster, it's hard to be positive.

Unfortunately, I didn't have a great end to the night. There's another little group of three, between Sirius and Mirzam, that looked like they should be easy enough to find - two are bright-ish, and they're convenient between those two very bright stars. I got quite frustrated because I just couldn't find them. So J had a go, and swapped in our widest eye-piece. Turns out I was looking in exactly the right place... but I had totally underestimated just how wide the set was. This is another thing I will have to get used to judging. Anyway: I split v-1CMA and v-3CMA (although the latter doesn't appear to be in the master list, which is odd).

The other thing I have to get used to, and adjust my expectations for, is how many things I will manage to see in a night. At the moment, the answer is not that many. J has much more practice with observing, and reading charts, and is not handicapped with a monumentally unspatial brain like me - so he's always going to see more. It's also a lot easier to tell when you've hit a cluster, than when you've hit a double, so he can skip around more easily if he wants to. I think this is something I can deal with... eventually... and as I keep reminding myself, the sky actually will stay basically the same for my entire life. It's not like I'm running out of time to do this.

12 April 2010


This past weekend we were in Ballarat again. We had hoped that we would get nice clear skies to do some observing. Thursday night was clear... but I was feeling absolutely dreadful, for no apparent reason, so I managed to stagger out and have a look at Saturn (awesome, especially with the extender, which J kindly found for me) and then staggered back inside.

J, however, produced this:
Apparently it's common to invert them, so:
... which I think is pretty awesome for a first go at drawing a nebula.

Friday night = absolutely no chance of clear skies. Boo hiss.

04 April 2010

Easter Sunday observing

Tonight started off as quite a family night. I got to show Saturn (and Titan and Rhea, and possibly Tethys although I might have been kidding myself) to most of J's family, who were all very appreciative, as well as Orion, which a couple of them had never seen. It's always great to show something like that and say - your eye sees that as one star, or a fuzzy blob at best. (Annoyingly, I couldn't split Rigel tonight; I think the seeing was worse than it appeared to the naked eye.)

Then, my telescope got hijacked by D, who wanted to just cruise around the Milky Way a bit. So I pointed it at Eta Carina and showed him the controls and away he went. I sat in one of the deck chairs we'd dragged out and just looked up, which was very pleasant and included seeing the Beehive, thanks to the great big pointer that is Mars.

I got a bit bored then for a bit, and was considering going inside even before the moon came up, because I hadn't planned what to look for/at. But J decided to look a the Leo Triplet again, so that was worth staying up for (much fainter than in Mansfield though), and then I realised we had the star atlas out with us when J grabbed it to find Virgo. Consequently I now know where Leo is, and I can basically figure out Virgo too. I tried to split Regulus, in Leo, but that didn't happen; I had better luck with Algieba though. Over in Virgo Porrima wasn't splitting for me, but I did manage the double in Corvus, called Algorab, which looked awesome because they both appear to be red. Nice.

Through J's scope, I saw a few of the Virgo galaxies (awfully dim, here), and a few star clusters.

Just a quick observation

... since last night we had Other Things to do, and given it's Easter the moon came up like a spotlight when it wasn't very late (but my goodness it was cold).

Saturn was my first object of interest, and it was great showing it to J's parents; they were quite impressed. And so was I - I could definitely see Titan, and I thought I could see another moon, quite close to the disk on the other side from Titan. Through J's telescope, turns out I was right, and I could see another as well: according to Stellarium, they were Dione and Tethys. If I'm lucky, tonight we should be able to see Rhea too! (Saturn's moons are named after the Titans, the generation before the Olympian gods in Greek mythology).

Swung around then to Mars - quite red, and quite small. Since I was quite tired, and knew we weren't going to get much observing in, I then had a look at each of the stars of the Southern Cross - split Gamma Crucis (and Alpha Centauri too while I was at it). Since I was using a fairly wide eyepiece, I also managed to find the Jewel Box by accident when I was trying to remember if Mimosa Crucis is a double (if it is, not such that I can split in my telescope!).

J also looked at Saturn, and a few other objects, including the nebula in Eta Carina, which he let me look at. I was someone dismayed that we've basically lost Orion for the year.

14 March 2010

Combing Puppis

It worked well for J having a list of Messier objects he wanted to look for, so he could mark them off. Just having the book to look at with Crux hadn't worked as well, so I chose a new constellation to check out - Puppis - and made myself a List. I ended up working on it both Friday and Saturday nights.

Puppis as a constellation was, or is, a part of a huge constellation: Argo Navis. Puppis is the stern - Carina is the keel, Vela the sails. Puppis was directly overhead on Friday and Saturday, which in theory was good because it's the best seeing but in practice made it bloody hard both to find things and then to look at them properly. It also didn't help that it's not an especially distinguished constellation; I had to keep reorienting myself with regard to Sirius and the rest of Canis Major, because I just couldn't figure it out otherwise.
I'll say up front that I didn't find everything I wanted to. Partly that was a tiredness issue - because we were doing a lot of other things, as well as observing, we weren't nearly as fresh as is optimal come dark. It was also an issue of navigation. I'm still finding this quite difficult. That most of our maps are designed for the northern hemisphere does not help; nor does the fact that the maps have different scales - often it's different for different maps in the same book - so, when you're starting out spatially challenged, it's an added degree of difficulty. Nonetheless, I did have fun, with the odd moment of frustration.

Puppis, for a scope the size of Ptolemy, is all about the double stars. So, I found and split k Puppis; 5 Puppis (a nice reddish tinge) and 2 Puppis. I don't think I found R65, which was disappointing because it's a triple. I think I found Sigma Puppis, but I'm not convinced - I saw a reddish star with what looked like a faint companion, but I'm not sure it was the right spot.

Other than those, I also found M46 and M47 all by myself (and didn't that just get a victory dance from yours truly), and another open cluster in M93. NGC2451 is yet another fairly diffuse open cluster; NGC2477, however, is a very cool, fairly faint, kind-of teardrop shaped cluster which I really liked. And found all by myself.

Again, we had friends out with us both nights; D and K, and also A&G. So we had to turn on a good show: Mars, Saturn, Orion Nebula, the Jewel Box, (I looked at all of these both nights, I think - old reliables!) and just to show off I showed what Acrux looks like as a binary. Which was fun.

J was chasing Messiers again. It was dark enough that the Large and Small Magellanic Clouds were quite obvious to the naked eye when it wasn't even what I would call especially dark, so he aimed at the Tarantula Nebula which was awesome. He found the totally amazing Leo Triplet, too - a set of three galaxies that can be seen in the same field. And we looked at the Beehive through the binoculars. Well, I tried anyway; I really am not good at holding them in place. Glasses don't help.

Again, it was an awesome weekend of viewing. We didn't stay up as late as we would if it had been a dedicated astro weekend - don't think we saw midnight either Friday or Saturday, although we did hear all of Mark Seymour's gig on Saturday! But given it was mixed with riding, and lots of food, and lots of people, I think we did well.

Dinner, and a show

My darling was in a prolonged bike race in Mansfield this past weekend, so because it was also almost a new moon weekend we took the telescope(s) up with us, for a long weekend.

Wednesday night: cloudy. Bit sad, but not too much. Meant we could sleep well after our outing to the Mansfield Pub.

Thursday: was clear. Very clear. Firstly, though, we had to go and eat our way through DB's voucher for $400 at a local restaurant, won through this event last year. An entertaining night indeed. And then, out to discover just how dark it actually gets in Mansfield. Happily, we were about 1km from the main street - which was actually annoying most of the time, but did mean we were away from most of its (admittedly minimal) glow.

We'd set up the scopes before we left. To explain that plural: I have no picture yet, but J has decided that sharing with me was going to be just too annoying. Therefore he recently bought himself one: a 16" Dobsonian. If he's lucky a picture of it will appear on here at some stage. Because it's newer, and fancier, I decided it ought to be christened Copernicus...

Anyway. It was a great night for viewing. I had planned to find my way around Crux, because it's in a good spot at the moment and southwards-viewing really sucks at our place. I split Alpha Centauri for a start, which is always very satisfying. I also found the Jewel Box by myself, which is also satisfying - and is something I'm having to do all of sudden, what with J off playing with his own telescope. I split a few other doubles, too: Acrux, although I don't think I made out the triple; Gamma Crucis, and Mu Crucis. I also found the clusters NGC 4103 and 4349, and I might have found 4052 but I'm not entirely positive.

I got sick of finding brand new things after a while and swung over to the old reliable, Orion, which is sadly beginning to set awfully early these days! I split Rigel and had a look at the Nebula. Most exciting, though, was finding Mars - getting smaller - AND Saturn! Which looked totally incredible, with the rings directly across the face of the disk so it just looked like the pictures. And we think we saw Titan, too, and possibly another moon even! It was terribly exciting.

J went hunting Messier objects. Found Omega Centauri, M46 and M47 - which do look cool in the same field of view, because the former is a fuzzy blob and the latter is a loose, dense conglomeration; M50, M78, and M79 as well.

We stayed up until about midnight. We'd shared the night with D and K, for a while - they piked a lot earlier than us, but made lots of appreciative noises, especially over Saturn.

22 February 2010

Last week's observing

We had a mighty fine time last week! A whole string of clear nights; we took the 'scope out the backyard and decided to work our way around Orion and Canis Major (and a couple of other fine things).

47 Tuc, and it really was beautiful.

In Orion, I checked out Rigel - which it turns out is a double star, and I could indeed see the very faint blue companion star. I also looked at the other three corners of Orion - Betelgeuse, which was really red, and I forget the names of the other two corners. Then there's Eta Orionis, which is really a triple but only the AB pair are visible, and even then very close: they look to be touching. The Trapezium, of course, is glorious; and the nebula of M42, even from the light-polluted backyard, is always a happy-Alex-making sight.

I enjoyed looking around Canis Major. Of course, there's Sirius - almost bright enough to be blinding in the scope. The delightful H3945 is an orange and blue double, pretty widely spaced apart. But even more awesome - and perhaps my new favourite object - is Beta 324: two pairs of doubles, perpendicular to each other. They just look amazing. Then there's M41, an open cluster; c121, another cluster; NGC2362, a tight cluster with a single very bright star in the center (Tau Canis Majoris); and yet another open cluster in NGC2360.

Mars is particularly marvellous at the moment. It's still getting up a little too late for easy casual viewing, but it's getting there. It's far enough north that when we were out and looking, we had to drag Ptolemy through the entire house (the courtyard looks south) to check it out. But it was worth it: a great big red disc. Glorious.

I think that basically covers it. I was pretty out of it the first night, despite J's attempts at jollying me into it. The next few nights I got more into it, which was great.

17 January 2010

New moon weekend 1/12

NB: yes, this is several days after the weekend. Whatever. Also, I'm quite smug that I'm writing this based on notes that I wrote in the front of my Pocket Sky Atlas - the first few in the pitch black, then the others with the aid of our red light. (Have I mentioned this before? We found a red light! It looks an awful lot like a bike's rear light.)

We're hoping to make good use of the new moon weekends this year, and we decided to start by going to Forrest - a bit more than two hours from Melbourne, it's close-ish to the coast and fairly far from big urban sprawls. And hey, how convenient! There are mountain bike trails for during the day!

...had us alternately groaning and gleeful, as we drove down, because the clouds built up and then disappeared several times. Early in the evening it looked like the clouds had come in... but then, by the time it was properly dark (except for the glow on the western horizon which stayed there, and so was presumably Geelong rather than the sunset) the clouds had gone and voila! for the first time in a really long time, there was the Milky Way. It was dark enough to see the Coal Sack quite clearly, next to Crux; and the Large and Small Magellanic Clouds were totally obvious. Lack of light pollution makes the most stunning amount of difference.

First, because it was there, we tried looking at Mars. Sadly, although it's at its closest for years, it was quite a small disk. Distinctly red, though. For something a bit different, we swung over to Omega Centuari: the largest globular cluster in the southern sky, I think? Pretty impressive, anyway, although I actually think not quite as good as 47Tuc, because it didn't seem to have the tendrils reaching out.

(Pause for collimation...)

On to the Carina constellation - which I still can't quite figure out, the Pocket Atlas isn't so good for that - and checked out the Eta Carina Nebula, which is enormous and has really cool dust lanes in it. The whole area around that nebula is pretty cool - heaps of stars, of course, because it's bang in the Milky Way. Then off to the Southern Pleiades, an open cluster... and I just don't find open clusters that interesting. They just look like a bunch of stars. Yes, sometimes they're in a pretty formation - I like the normal Pleiades - but... anyway. Also in this area is another, tighter cluster - IC2581. And it was more impressive, I think because the stars are closer together and there are more of them that are obviously part of the gang.

Moving on, we decided to get a bit ambitious and have another look at the Large Magellanic Cloud. I probably didn't actually spend enough time looking at it, to allow my eyes to adjust enough to pick out interesting aspects; there was too much else to look at. But I'm quite sure that the fuzzy blob - in the same place as when we looked at it in Ballarat - is the Tarantula Nebula. It's pretty awesome to have found an object in another galaxy.

Finally, to finish Friday night (by this time Saturday morning), we had a look at Alpha Centuari - split it easily (I think I'd like to start collecting double stars...), and of course it wouldn't be a complete viewing night at the moment without checking out Orion, which looked breathtakingly awesome. Of course. A final look at Eta Carina, and 12.30 on a Friday night was definitely bedtime.

Also, we saw numerous satellites.

... was another very off&on again day, cloud-wise. We really thought we were going to get screwed over, but come 10.30 or so (and a little snooze) it had cleared enough that we bothered dragging Ptolemy onto the balcony. (Did I mention that? Observing from the balcony. None of this whole going-a-long-distance-from-the-house-or-car business for me.) We had a quick look at Eta Carina again (and aren't we glad the Atlas comes with a Greek alphabet guide, since it's a long time since I did esoteric maths), but frankly the most interesting thing about the sky was watching the clouds and general murk come... and go... and come again. I think we only stayed out for half an hour or so, because then a sky-covering cloud came in and ruined our fun. There was certainly no Mars viewing.

The one thing I was sad about? No Saturn. Rising too late, meant that it was in the murk both nights. Hopefully we get to see it over winter.

10 January 2010

Pity we weren't better prepared

So, when we got up here I realised that I had forgotten to bring a sky atlas. Which was pretty annoying. When it got all clear and lovely last night I pulled up Stellarium on the computer, which shows some stuff obviously, but it's not good for aiming at the sky and figuring out what to try looking at. I felt a bit guilty about wasting a lovely evening, with no moon, because we didn't stay up that late; but at the same time we hadn't really planned on a long observing session, having had a busy and tiring day already.

Anyway, we did see some cool stuff. We ticked off three new Messier objects, all open clusters: M46, M47, and M50. 46 and 47 are very close together, such that in the 35mm and 17mm they were in the same field of view. They're very different; 47 is a fairly open, brighter cluster, while 46 looked more like a globular cluster: a fuzzy patch of lots of stars. We tried finding the Cone Nebula but it was too early - it hadn't risen above the trees.

Swinging around, J did manage to find 47Tuc, which was good; and it was indeed a lovely fuzzy ball of stars, with tendrils going out faintly.

It was dark enough that I could definitely see the Large Magellanic Cloud naked-eye, and could even - after a while - fool myself that I was seeing the Small Magellanic Cloud, too. With the 35mm, we had our first real go at looking at the LMC. I have to say I didn't give it much time; I was getting tired, and the temperature had dropped surprisingly fast (which was good, after the 37C day). However, even with the brief look - and skies not that dark - I could begin to make out features. There was a bright fuzzy blob in the bottom right-hand area - which is actually top left - which looked like a globular cluster; I'm looking forward to having a look at the atlas to see if I can figure out what that is. I could also some dust lanes, I think.

Finally, we checked out Orion - this is going to be my replacement for Jupiter for the next little while, I think - and it was the best I've ever seen it. The nebulosity went on for degrees; the Trapezium was obvious; and I could even see some individual stars within the gas. M43 was obvious as a smaller nebula 'below' (above) Orion, and I'm quite sure there was some fuzziness around a star above-left (in the eyepiece; actually below-right). I must check that out, too, to see whether I'm right or if my eyes were just playing up.

In all, a good night's viewing. We also saw a satellite, which is always absurdly exciting.

08 January 2010

Haze, clarity, haze

Stinking hot day. I didn't have much hope for the evening because there was a lot of cloud just on sunset, but it did clear - mostly, anyway. In astronomical twilight, I went and set up the scope (mostly all by myself - with the new mount - dead exciting, if a bit hard); found Jupiter, but it was pretty hazy off to the west. So I saw it, and I think four moons, but it wasn't very impressive.

Next, swinging around, I tried for the Orion Nebula - and found it, but again it was just too hazy: there was no nebula! Also, still not that dark. This was a bit sad for K, who came out in the dark and mosquito-infested-ness only to see just a couple of stars.

Anyhow, went back inside for an hour or so. Then, ta da! It cleared! So out we went again. Orion, this time, looked totally spectacular - so K, and D, both got a good look, and I think they were impressed. Then around to the Pleiades, which looked pretty good. J tried to find 47Tuc, but to no avail - clouds were coming up in the west, and it wasn't quite dark enough anyway, I think.

The last thing we tried was M41, we think; it was an open cluster, and it was roughly where J was looking for it last week in Melbourne. Certainly found a cluster, anyway. By this stage the clouds were coming in, as was gauzy haze, and the mosquitoes were getting worse. So we packed it in.

05 January 2010

Mount and mosquitoes

A little while back J caved, and decided that actually he'd quite like his tripod back, and the telescope would do better on its own, proper, mount. So he ordered one, and six weeks later it finally arrived. Huge darn box for me to lug home from the post office.

There was a bit of angst over the setting up, and we're still not entirely sure it's exactly how it should be. But it's very stable, so it seems ok. And I love that there is a little tray between the legs for putting eye pieces on!

Last night, a lovely evening, we were too stuffed to take advantage of it. Tonight, there are a few clouds around; we went out for a little bit, but were soon driven inside by mozzies. Before that, we had a quick look at Jupiter - very low on the horizon and quite atmosphere-muddled. Then Orion, but really it's not dark enough yet. Finally, because I noticed in Stellarium that they were close to Orion and Sirius and therefore should be easy enough to find, J found the open clusters of M41 and M47. At that point we caved before the might of the insects and decamped inside.

I love the mount, though. It's lovely and wooden, and suits the scope far more than the grey metal of the camera tripod ever did - a very important consideration, of course.