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.