Monday, September 24, 2012

MCX2 First Light

Sept. 23, 2012
Picked up my camera at Jack's house around 5 pm after a disappointing Saint's loss. He showed me how to hook it up to my computer and he patiently verified everything was working. He showed me the different tabs of the MC control software and explained most options. I kept up with him for awhile and then my eyes glazed over, being utterly lost. I'm sure I will pick it up in time, but it is a lot to take in at once. Jack showed me his very nice observatory that is under construction and his shop where he stores and tests the cameras. I left around 6:30, eager to get home and set up.

I got home and proudly showed off my new purchase to my wife. After a few minutes I went outside to set up the scope. At 9:09 pm I had it all ready to go and fired up Autostar. I aligned on Denab and Fomalhaut and then went to M57, the Ring Nebula. It came in at 1700 position about 1/3 deg off center. In my 18 EP it is a hard to see gray smudge visible only with AV. I shifted the smudge into the center of the FOV. Still danged hard to see, but it was falling into the heavily light polluted west, about. 50 deg or so in altitude.

Having a good first target in mid-field, I anxiously installed the camera. The unit is small and there are many parts, focal reducer, spacer, 1-1/4" adapters, heat sinks and fans, and the cables. I had some difficulty in getting the S video and control cables to plug into the camera. Would be easier in daylight. I hooked things up to the computer and applied power to the camera. I had no problem with the computer talking to the camera, but I couldn't see an image in the preview window - it was blue. I eventually determined that the problem was a loose S-video cable at the camera. The S video cable is big and heavy. I will need to secure the cables as to provide strain relief on the camera plug. A bit more fidgeting and the ring poped onto the screen! A tweak of the focus and I could easily see red and blue colors in the ring and the hole was nicely contrasted. All in a 2 second image. I bumped the integration up to 7 and the 14 sec and was rewarded with a few more stars and a bit more definition to the ring. Not sure why there are so many stars in green and purple (Mardi Gras colors). At 28 sec integration the screen went white - over loaded by sky glow?? I tried 28 sec a couple of times with no success, but 7 & 14 sec images worked great.

7 sec image, AGC 3, MFR-6 with 5 mm spacer 

While I was playing with the software I lost the video signal to black, unlike the blue screen when I had a bad video connection. I never did get it back. Perhaps the CCD sensor dewed over? Calling it a night as I have to work tomorrow and it takes an hour to tear down the rig. Everything is wet. A quick check of the weather shows 74deg F & 88% humidity, half moon, and high clouds and that is at midnight.

Still for first light I got a couple of 7 sec images of the ring and learned to navigate the software a bit. Also have expanded my to do list to include strain relief for the camera, how best to organize while observing and store the mess of wires, and how best to store the camera. I am thinking I might cut the foam in one of the Orion EP cases to hold it. Also need to remember to store the camera with desiccant. Lots to do and learn but a nice first outing.

Finally a great night of viewing

Friday Sept. 14, 2012
Pretty clear night, setup at 2030. Temp is 82 F with 58% humidity, although after setting up I'm sweating like crazy, so it fields more humid than it is. Very few clouds and a very light breeze. Mosquitoes are thick but I've got my Thermocells out and I have Deep Woods OFF all over my exposed skin. Hope the sweat doesn't wash it off!! I set up the mount in the house the other night and it checked out pretty tight. (Parish mosquitoe spraying truck just passed. Glad I'm in the tent.)

I haven't had the scope out since Aug. 1 due to persistent clouds and rain. Glad to finally have a clear night and tomorrow night is to be nice as well before it rains late Sunday. This could be my last observing session before my Mallincam arrives !!!

At 2137 I finally got everything setup and the scope aligned on Vega and Algenib. It was just out on Algenib, so hopefully it will yield good go tos tonight. Using Astroplanner on the iPad to choose objects.

M29 in Cygnus is a nice open cluster with a group of 3 stars and a group of 5 stars in a distorted square. The stars in the group are not appreciably brighter than those in the surrounding area.

Went to M27, the Dumbell Nebula. Couldn't see anything so set the scope up in high precision mode and aligned on Alberio and with the B18 (Barlowed 18 mm EP) the Dumbell came right into view, just to the 1400 positon of center. Couldn't see it directly even after staring for a few minutes but with averted vision (AV) I could see a dense squarish grey cloud. The Mallincam will make these much more enjoyable!

It is 2306 and it is still 81 deg with 62% humidity. Very few clouds except high thin ones. A nice night except for the heat and mosquitoes, but the Thermacell, spray, and Deet are keeping them away.

At mag 8.4, M 71 is a very faint globular in Sagita that is difficult to see even with AV. I'm using the laptop to control the scope and I don't see how to use high precision mode via the computer. Need to study a bit.

NGC 6830 is an open cluster in Vulpecula. At mag 7.9 it is faint but has 2 bright stars at 4 fainter ones to the NE in the B18. With AV I can get a peek at a deeper star field.

M56 is a GC in Lyra at mag 8.4. In the B18 I can just make out a faint grey fuzzy. Could be a nebula as even with AV I can not make out anything except an area that is slighlty brighter than the background.

NGC 6819, Fox Head cluster, in Cygnus is mag 7.3. I see 3 semi-bright stars and with AV a hint that there is more.

The Ring Nebula, M 57, is a nice sight in the B18, with AV I can detect the donught shape.

M39 is a very nice and bright OC in Cygnus with over a dozen bright stars. The shape is roughly that of a robot with 4 stars in a line across the bottom, 2 at the waist and a head. Shoulders and arms can be made out. A nice OC, easy to see in the B18

M30 is a nice faint GC in Capricornus at Mag 6.9. It is rather low but a nice sight with AV although I had to really contort my body to see in the EP.

The Andromeda galaxy, M31, is a nice sight in the B18. I can make out a wispy near circular shape of almost uniform brightness. Cannot really discern the core or the arms, but a nice sight. Easy to see and appreciate as a galaxy. Perhaps my best view of it. With the B6.7 I can get a hint of the eleptical shape but no details. I'm impressed I can B the 6.7, good skies tonight. It is 0106 and 78 F with 79% humidity.

With the high precision mode the gotos are very good. Uranus is a nice blue-green disc in the B18. In the B6.7 it is a bit more white and slightly deformed. The 6.7 alone provided a nice view similar to the B18, perhaps a bit less color.

Neptune is a bit smaller than Uranus and the color was just a bluish off white. The color was not as distinctive as Uranus. Hard to discern but its lacking of twinkling and a comparison of the star field against SkyWalk, convinced me I had seen it in the B18. In the B6.7 it is a distorted little disk with no color .

Very nice view of Jupiter and 3 moons in the B6.7. I can easily see 2 equatorial bands. The image wasn't quite steady enough to discern a third band. It is 0215 and Jupiter is around 40 deg up in the E sky.

The Pleadies (M45) is a beautiful sight in the 18 EP. In the B18 you have to scroll around to see the entire group, but many interesting asterisms are noted.

Orion is rising and the great nebula (M42) is a very nice site in the B18. The 4 stars of the Trapezium are easily seen as are tendrils of nebulosity. In the B6.7 the Trapezium is in excellent view and the nebulosity extent can be well seen.

Very nice star field in Persus near Mirfak. Up by Algol, M34 is a really nice OC with over a dozen bright stars. Too tired to describe the shape, but it is nice (It is 0331 !!!).

Last object of the night was NGC 0475, the ET OC. He is standing on his head at this hour but is a nice object in the 18 mm EP. OK @ 0346 I'm shutting down. A good night.

The scope performed well but I did notice that the scope still has a shudder in its movement at times. Need to investigate and fix that. Also the focuser motor slips occasionally.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Isaac, quite a storm

Wow for a category 1 hurricane, Isaac packed quite a wallop.  Our caravan headed out on Monday (Aug. 27); 3 vehicles, 11 people (including 5 children), and 5 dogs.  The trip was thankfully uneventful.  We stayed at the La Quinta Inn in Meridian, Mississippi.  A nice, pet friendly hotel with exceptionally friendly staff.  Naturally the next 2 days was consumed with watching the news and weather channels, unable to believe the damage they were reporting.   Walking the dogs and playing with the kids was a welcome respite from the tragedy unfolding back at home.

As nice as the inn was, after 3 days we were more than ready to get back home.  We came back Thursday afternoon and found our home was spared any damage, just a mess of tree limbs and leaves in the yard.  Many were not so fortunate.   Our thoughts and prayers go out to our neighbors to the west in LaPlace where unprecedented flooding occurred and especially to those down in Plaquemines parish where the town of Braithwaite was devastated.

Now, a week later, over 1,500 homes are still without power in St. Charles Parish and thousands more across the region.  None the less, things are returning to normal.  The stores are getting their shelves restocked and schools reopened today.   The night skies have been partially cloudy since the hurricane blew through.  Perhaps this weekend will offer an opportunity to bring out my scope and get back to viewing.

On a more positive note, I sent in our registration to the Deep South Regional Star Gaze (DSRSG) today.  It will be held November 7-11 at the Feliciana Retreat Center near Norwood, Louisiana.  This will be the 30th anniversary for this star party and my third time attending.  Lean more about it at their website  or their Yahoo group site.