Sunday, July 24, 2016

July 16 Observing Report

July 16 was a hot, humid, but clear night.  Some clouds were present in the east but the sky was mostly clear with no star twinkle evident.  Sky meter reading at 11:30 pm was 18.24 mpsas or 4.17 nelm.   I spent some time trying to capture a decent image of Mars and Saturn but the planets were dancing such that a crisp focus was not possible.   This is the best I got with my VRC-10 operating at its native F8 and with a Televue 2" 2X Barlow lens bringing the optics to approximately F16.

The seeing South Louisiana in the summer is not great.  So I will keep trying, hoping for a night with clear skies and stable atmospheric conditions before Mars & Saturn fade into the west until next year.

I did enjoy some lunar viewing.  At F16 the moon's violent history is nicely revealed.  Even some craters house craters.   I'm not a lunar maven so I'm not sure of the surface location of these images.

In more recent nights, the sky has been largely cloudy such that even the the full moon is partially or even fully obscured.  So for now my telescopes sleep, dreaming of clear skies.


Tuesday, July 5, 2016

July 4 Observing Report

After the hamburgers and hot dogs were consumed and darkness fell, Heather and I slipped out to the observatory for a quick viewing session. Heather discovered she only had 6 Messier objects left to observe and they were the ones in Scorpius & Sagittarius we had looked at on July 1 but she had neglected to log them. So on a hot, humid, but clear night with decent seeing (no star twinkle and no planets dancing in the eyepiece), we observed Messier 4, 6, 7, and 80. By 10:00 pm Sagittarius was high enough for her to see Messier 69 & 70 at the base of the “tea pot”, and she was done! We capped off the evening by taking a quick look at M57 & M13, and then called it a night.  I checked the sky quality at 22:40 and got a reading of 18.78 mpsas or a limiting magnitude of 4.60 and a temperature of 81 F.

Congratulations to Heather for completing her observations of the Messier objects!

Sunday, July 3, 2016

July 1 Observing Report

My daughter Heather came over around 10 to view on a hot and humid night . I threw in my polar scope and adjusted my polar alignment as my go to  & tracking has been off. It was pointing a bit low and to the SE. As Heather was over, I didn't take the time to drift align as I have been meaning to do, but instead jumped into viewing.

We started with Saturn and despite the humidity and high temps, we were rewarded with unexpectedly decent, but not good, seeing. While surface features weren't clear other than 1 equatorial band, we could detect a graduation in the brightness of the clouds from the pole to equator we also could detect the Cassini division between the A & B rings. At first we weren't sure we were seeing it, but as the seeing improved the dark band ~ 2/3 out the ring from the planet became prominent. With a 2.5X Powermate and 11mm eyepiece (EP) the focus became a bit soft but not bad, but the 11 mm EP provided the best views.

We then embarked on a mini-marathon of almost all of the Messier objects in Scorpius, Sagittarius, Ophiuchus, Lyra, Hercules, and Cygnus. We tried the Trifid and Lagoon nebulas but they were nearly imperceptible from the background in our mag 4.5 skies. So we focused on the star clusters, of which there are many in this area of the sky. Messier 13 & 5 were especially nice. At my scope's native F8, I found an 11mm EP provided the best balance of image scale and detail. At F10 Heather was using 15 mm and above EP.  Comparisons between the two scopes were virtually identical. At a bit after 1 am we called it a night and closed up the observatory.

My adjustment to the polar alignment seemed to help but I still need to drift align.  A fun night under the stars.   

Texas Star Party - Nope, not this year

I've been hoping to attend the Texas Star Party for several years now, but other priorities kept us from it.  2016 was to be the year and as luck would have it, on March 10 we were selected to attend and awarded a spot for our RV!   We plan to attend for the full week to get the most out of the experience.  In planning the 944 mile trip (by far the longest trip we have ever made pulling a trailer) I decided to limit travel to about 4 hours per day.

So we planned to travel to Beaumont, Texas on Day 1, then onto San Antonio on Day 2.  Day 3 brings us to Fort Stockton, Texas, only about 1-1/2 hour from Fort Davis and the star party.   So a 4 day trip each way plus 7 days at the star party, a 13 day trip !  Downsides are that the timing would require us to leave on April 28, our eldest daughter's birthday and also we will be away from home on Mother's day, so my wife will miss having the day with the kids and grand kids.

It was a big job to tear down the scope and empty the observatory and pack it into the back of my truck.  I was worried it might not all fit, but it did.

The hatch even closed !

The trailer was packed and ready to go.   Ok, I did need to pull in the slide and and fold up the steps.

As April 28 came, the weather forecast wasn't looking good through Texas or Louisiana.  I didn't look forward to hauling the trailer in hard rain and especially high winds.  We decided to postpone leaving for a couple of days to allow the threat of severe weather pass.   Besides the weather forecast for the Star Party calls for rain on Sunday and Monday, so I likely will not miss any observing time by arriving on Tuesday.

As Saturday came, the weather didn't improve and the forecast for Sunday wasn't any better.  Monday looked like it might be an OK travel day but that would have us arriving Wed night, IF I could make it in 3 days.  Would I have the stamina to drive all day and set up and then view?.  Six  travel days for 3-4 nights viewing, assuming good weather at the Prude Ranch, is not a good ratio for such a long journey. So we reluctantly decided to cancel the trip for this year.  On a positive note we will still get to attend a star party: the Deep South Spring Scrimmage.  It is only 1-1/2 hour drive away and the weather forecast looks promising.  Hey, the truck and trailer are already packed !

This post was written on May 3-4, 2016 but I overlooked posting it until now.