I don't know how he managed it, since I was shivering too much to be able to hold a pencil...
16 May 2010
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!
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
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.