22 November 2012

The sun: eclipses and proselytising

Yeh, so this is late, but anyway... we saw the eclipse! It was a partial here, apparently about 56% at maximum obscuring (wrong word, I know). We set up in the driveway, which was perfect, and we watched from just after first contact (dang, missed the actual start) until it was clear that the moon was receding - and we knew this happened because ta-dah, the sunspots came back! Because yes, it was a nice enough sun to see; two sets of sunspots, I think, and some nice flares on the edges, etc - so it was worth looking at in general, along with the GREAT BIG PACMAN eating the sun. Plus, we got to show off to several people, two of whom were planned and two of whom were walk-bys, and they were totally impressed, which was good. I was having so much fun I fantasised about not going to work and just looking at the sun all day. I would have had to get a hat out, though.

A few days later, we had a family reunion, so we decided to take the solar scope with us there too. Tragically it was a boring sun - two solo sunspots, as far as I could tell; one impressive-ish flare and a few other tiddlers. Of course, no one else there had ever looked at the sun, so simply seeing the sun was exciting in and of itself. Young adults, old adults, and kids all had a look and they really enjoyed it - some coming back for a second or third glimpse.

I love looking at the sun.

11 November 2012

I saw a supernova

It has been a terribly long time since I last managed to get out with the scope, but last night we finally did it! Off to Heathcote because it's the start of dark night.We took both the 5" Tak and the 16" Dob, and got set up nice and early so that we had time for the obligatory admiring of everyone else's scopes before HOORAY the stars came out and I could finally align.

I planned to look at a bunch of double stars, and I did, but then I realised that some of the ones I'd thought to see had a too-small separation so that made me sad. Still, the ones I bagged were very pretty, so that was nice.

After that... well, there was a bit of random looking. But yes, my title is indeed accurate: someone announced to the world at large that they knew a supernova had appeared in NGC1365 (better known to you and me as the Zorro galaxy, because it looks like a Z), so there was a bit of a rush to find it. And there it was: a star that was not there last time we looked at that galaxy. It's only about 5 days (... and however many million light years...) old. I cannot begin to explain how incredibly excited I was.

What else? I am utterly standing by the idea that I found Uranus - I swear it looked vaguely blue and disk-like - and I know that I found Neptune, so that was very nice. I get a good view of the Small Magellanic in my Tak; that is, I can see the whole lot, which is pretty cool.

Thanks to J's Dob, we saw a number of faint fuzzies, some of which even looked like galaxies: the Grus quartet in particular, a few in Fornax and Sculptor... the one knows as the Cigar is pretty cool because it's (relatively) so big. However nothing is quite as cool as Andromeda, which we got to see through our neighbour's 20" Dob because he was (deliberately) in a very good position for the northern sky - and it was amazing. (Although not as cool as a supernova.)

Finally, after much frustration with trees, Orion made it up to clear viewing so I got to finish off the night in the best way possible. I will never, ever get bored by the Orion Nebula. I promise. I love my Tak because I can effectively zoom in to see the Trapezium and try to ferret out the last two faint stars... or I can have the whole view of the entire nebula (well, nearly) and just amuse myself by finding shapes in the dust.

Also, Jupiter too made it over the trees... well and J manhandled the scope so that it was in a better viewing position. So I got to totally blow my night vision on it, which was cool, although the seeing was a bit mush. The four Galilean moons were out in glory, and I definitely saw three cloud bands with maybe some mottling around one pole.

We made it to about 1am. I had thought, early in the night, that going the freezer suit was the weak option... especially when the Norwegian neighbour mentioned he used to wear one observing IN NORWAY and when the Scottish neighbour mentioned observing in MINUS 26 DEGREES. But whatever. I was glad by the time we were packing up.

07 June 2012

The Transit of Venus

When we were running at 6.30am yesterday, the sky was mostly cloudy and we felt some despair. However, by 8am the sky was largely clear... except in the lower east. By 8.12, the sun had peeked above the clouds, and we got the solar scope set up on the footpath just in time to see first contact at 8.16. Hooray! We proceeded to watch until second contact was made... and then it was time for me to scurry off to school. But that wasn't the last of our observing.

J brought the scope to school and we set it up with some hope for the middle two periods. There were classes lined up to come and look but... it was mostly cloudy. Again. We were sad. Still, we kept it tracking for an hour and a half, and just before lunch we thought to pack up... but there was a break in the clouds, so we decided to be optimists. Which was a good idea, because bang on the lunch bell the sun came out and stayed out for the entirety of lunchtime, and something like 200 students (and a few teachers) came out to have a look at what everyone else described as a little black dot on the red circle. (Me, used to seeing sunspots, thought Venus looked enormous.) It was highly entertaining to hear the jaded turn into the amazed.

The sun stayed out for a while after lunch, so a couple of classes did actually come out and have a look. All in all I felt very pleased with my attempt at introducing more people to the glories of the sun. Maybe it will have inspired a few!