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.