The weather is warming and the clouds are vanishing

Seattle in the summertime, oh how I love it.  Today, the temperature breached the 80°F mark, and there hasn’t been a cloud in the sky.  A sign of things to come.

M31, M32, and M110 As has become common practice for me now, anytime there hasn’t been clouds, I’ve been out at night with the telescope and last night was no exception.  I decided to take Friday morning off from work, so I could stay out late on Thursday.  I headed out to Rattlesnake Lake and set up my telescope around 9pm, and arrived back home at 4am.  The moon was nearly full last night, which put a damper on finding a lot of things – faint fuzzies are hard to spot in moon glow.  I did manage to knock a good deal of objects off my Messier list, and was shown some phenomenal views in Barry’s brand-new 11” Celestron.  Consider me jealous of telescopes with goto capabilities: I’m tired of manual setting circles. :)  I’m also exceptionally jealous of his 41mm Tele Vue Panoptic.

A few awesome things from last night, before I get into the technical nitty-gritty of my viewing.  The moon set at about 3am.  Simultaneously, we noticed three things: coyotes starting howling, the milky way suddenly showed up overhead, and Jupiter came up from over the hill and tree line.  Awesome stuff.

Last night’s viewing was primarily spent hunting open clusters and globulars, as they were the most visible.  I did manage a few nebulas and galaxies, too:

Not a bad night of viewing: 19 Messier objects I hadn’t seen before.  I was particularly impressed that I was able to star-hop to M63 and M64, as they were buried in moon glow by the time I got to them.  M64, in particular, was tough: I could just barely make out a slightly brighter spot in the moon glow than the surroundings.  I’ll definitely need to go back to it on a darker night.

The atmospheric conditions weren’t all that great, and this was obvious when Jupiter came up.  If I slightly defocused the telescope, I could see major air currents over Jupiter; even when in focus, I couldn’t make out any of the cloud bands.  I can’t wait to get better views of it later in the year when it’s higher in the sky.

I’m now up to 54 Messier objects viewed, with 56 to go until completion of all Messier objects.  Only 16 more until I’ve completed basic work required for the Astronomical League’s Messier Club.  A good portion of the 56 remaining are winter-only items, and I hope to wrap up the rest of the summertime items at various star parties this year.

I’ve got my process for stargazing pretty well locked down now.  I create a list of the Messiers (or whatever I want to look at that night) in AstroPlanner, and print out the list.  I also take with me a list of alignment star coordinates (so I can set my manual setting circles), and a pencil.  As I’m running through the printed list, I check off things I find and make any relevant notes or quick sketches.  I’d like to supplant this with a digital audio recorder at some point so I can talk through observations rather than writing them down – it would be nice to be able to document things without leaving the eyepiece.  The next day, I log my observations in AstroPlanner, and write up a blog post with lots of Wikipedia links.  I’ll also often compare what I saw to imagery in the WorldWide Telescope to make sure I saw what I think I saw.  I’ll probably put together a post in the near future about what all I bring onsite to aid others that are learning this stuff, as I am.

[edit May 19 – fixed a bunch of grammatical errors.  I must have been tired when writing this!]

4 thoughts on “The weather is warming and the clouds are vanishing”

  1. Insanely jealous, sounds like a great night! At the rate you are going I think you need to start looking for objects in other galaxies, like the cluster in the lower right hand corner of M31, just visible in the picture above. It has its own NGC designation, it is that bright. Then on to the globulars in M31, I think one is visible with our 8″ SCT. Awesome night…and did I mention, insanely jealous?!

  2. Whilst going from San Jose to the Sierra National Forest last Friday, we stumbled across the Lick Observatory. Unfortunately, all of the astronomers we ran into were assholes, and uninterested in helping me get gas to get down the mountain successfully :)

    I’ll post about the hike later, but it sounds like you had a fun night under the stars.

  3. Jeff – damn, every astronomer I’ve run into up here has been exceptionally not an asshole. You should be up here instead of in Cali. :)

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