Telescoping: April 11

We’re having an odd break in the weather here in the Seattle area, and last night the clouds cleared.  (Not to mention it’s beautiful and sunny today, and supposed to hit the low 70’s!)  Diann & I went out to Rattlesnake Lake, where the temps were hovering in the mid-40’s.  The moon was up in it’s last quarter, so that definitely put a damper on finding some of the fainter objects, but there were still galaxies to be found.  Further complicating things was the gusty wind and the turbulent atmosphere – it’s difficult focusing in on tiny points of light when your telescope is jumping around because of the wind.

Last night’s viewing included Saturn (with Titan, Tethys, and Rhea just barely visible), Mars, M109, M108, M106, M105, and M51 (as well as NGC5195) again.  Mars was a particularly interesting view – it was about a degree away from the moon, so looking at it looked as though you were looking at an orange ball in a white mist.  We also took a peek at the moon once we were ready to kill our night vision, and I started putting some of my planetary filters to use.  I used the Meade #38A Dark Blue filter to look at the moon – which is great, because it cuts out about 80% of the light that comes through it.  If you’ve never seen the moon through a telescope, you’d be shocked at how bright it really is.

We also were able to catch an Iridium Flare – our first view of that.  Overall, I’d call that anti-climactic, but I guess it was worth taking the eyes off the telescope for a few minutes to catch.  It really is amazing how much space junk is up there: I saw satellites and/or debris shoot through my field of view several times while looking through the scope at galaxies and the moon.

After about an hour and a half of fighting the wind, we decided to pack it up and go home.

This weekend’s observations

It’s gonna get a little monotonous here, but I figure since I’ve posted all my other telescoping hijinx, I might as well keep up with that. 

Saturday, we drove up to Anacortes to visit Anacortes Telescope & Wild Bird.  I chatted with the owner of the store for a bit on what my equipment is, and asked him for recommendations for what I should do next.  His first suggestion was to upgrade to 2" eyepieces, but that would cost me a pretty penny right now.  I decided to wait on that, and followed his suggestion on a Tele Vue 32mm Plossl eyepiece, as well as some miscellaneous other parts to improve my scoping.

Since I bought a new eyepiece, I figured Saturday night would bring clouds.  However, I stepped outside at about 8pm, and lo and behold, the stars were out.  I quickly hauled all the telescope gear upstairs and set up on the deck.  I aligned my finder, threw on the new eyepiece, and … Wow, the eyepiece is truly amazing when compared to the Meade Series 4000 eyepieces I’ve been using.  I’m really about ready to put the 26mm, 15mm, and 9.7mm Plossls I have now on eBay to fund getting to 2" eyepieces.  The problem is that these Meade eyepieces are going for about $25 each on eBay, which doesn’t get me near my goal.  Why do I always end up with the expensive hobbies?

I spent a few hours with a friend on the porch staring at Saturn (Titan, Rhea, and Iapetus visible as well), Mars, M42, M45, and M35.  Most of these I’ve looked at before, but I wanted to get a good comparison to previous eyepieces.  M35, however, was new to my eyes.  An amazing starfield, and conveniently easy to find when I looked at it – about 4° away from Mars.

Looking Up

26°F outside tonight, but still no clouds.  Amazing.

Our friends Boaz and Charlotte came over tonight for the purpose of moon/stargazing.  Out came the LX50 again.

Spotting scope got quickly tuned in using a very twinkling Sirius low in the sky, and then we turned our gaze back to M42 in Orion.  I used the spotting scope to point at Orion’s sword, looked through the eyepiece, and focused.  Without budging the telescope, I was focused on the trapezium cluster.  Full moon tonight, so we could only make out 4 of the stars – but we could clearly see the M42 nebula clouds surrounding it.  We ended up going back to look at M42 several times through the course of the night.  It’s really amazing to look at something 1300 light years away and be able to see "detail" in it.

We also took a glance at the Pleiades again, as well as some more viewing of Orion’s various well-known stars: Betelgeuse and Rigel.  We ended the night wondering if a reddish object was Aldebaran or Mars, as these two bodies were fairly close to each other tonight.  I slewed the telescope over, and threw on the 26mm eyepiece (widest angle I have).  It was definitely not a point, but clearly a disc.  The 9mm eyepiece confirmed what I expected: Mars.

Steve Squyres Visits

Yesterday at work, Steve Squyres came to give a talk to the company's research group, but anyone could attend. So, I quickly made sure my calendar wasn't booked at the time and immediately blocked it off so I could attend. Having just finished his book ( Roving Mars: Spirit, Opportunity, and the Exploration of the Red Planet , ISBN 1401301495) and having followed the EDL phase and subsequent rovings of Spirit and Opportunity, I figured this was a once in a lifetime shot to hear him speak.

For those of you that aren't as NASA-nerdy as I am, Steve Squyres is the PI of the MER team that put Spirit and Opportunity on Mars in January 2004.

Steve talked and showed some truly breathtaking photography. He got asked the same question I posted about back in February 2004 about a mechanism to knock dust of the solar panels, and gave the same answer as I've heard all the other times I've seen it responded to.

Definitely an amazing talk, and I highly recommend reading the book.

nasa responds (not directly, but, well)

Back in February I posted my nasa deep thought about why they didn't put blowers/wipers on the mars rovers… I got to ask one of the NASA scientists during a talk recently at Texas A&M, and then this morning I pull up CNN. There's an article about the rovers getting their lives extended. Then there it is, in paragraph 6:

Steve Squyres, the Mars rovers principal investigator, said the rovers' designers deemed the additional weight of adding wipers or blowers to the solar panels was not worthwhile. Instead they increased the size of the panels to maximize the power input.

my nasa deep thought

So, all the talk is that this heater problem on the Opportunity Martian rover will eventually cause problems because the solar panels onboard will become sufficiently dusty that they won't generate enough power to keep up with the drain of this malfunctioning 15W heater.

My question: This rover is golf-cart sized, can rove around, take amazing pictures, has an arm that can drill into rock and analyze what the rock is made of… How difficult would it have been to put a feather duster on this arm to clean off the solar panels? Or maybe a fan blowing the little bit of martian atmosphere over the panels… If the dust is being blown there, can't it just be blown off?

free shrimp!

From Space.Com's Astronotes from January 19th:

An Ocean on Mars Puts Food in Your Gullet

If we didn't have a reason to root for NASA's twin rover Mars missions before, we do now. The two robots could win free food for everyone in the United States if they can find evidence of ocean water on the red planet.

Officials with Long John Silver's, a national seafood restaurant chain based in Louisville, Kentucky, have told NASA they will provide free giant shrimp to customers if the space agency's two robotic rovers, Spirit and Opportunity, detect conclusive signs of Martian ocean water.

The Spirit rover is already on Mars and Opportunity is set to land on Jan. 24. Since both robots run on solar power, they would not enjoy any free shrimp.

“We have closely followed NASA's recent exploration of Mars and all of us are rooting you on to find ocean water on the red planet,” wrote Long John Silver's president Steve Davis in a letter to NASA administrator Sean O'Keefe. “The free giant shrimp offer is our way of saying NASA's exploration of Mars and the discovery of ocean water would be 'one small step for man, one giant leap for seafood.'”

In his letter, Davis also told O'Keefe of his interest for Long John Silver's to become the first seafood restaurant on Mars once humans are living there permanently.

Should Spirit or Opportunity actually find evidence of ocean water on Mars before Feb. 29 of this year, Long John Silver's restaurants will provide free giant shrimp at on March 15 from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. The seafood chain has taken out an insurance policy to cover the cost of free shrimp in the event they have to make good on their offer.

“If there's ocean water on Mars, that would be giant news,” said Mike Baker, chief marketing officer for Long John Silver's. “And giant news calls for giant shrimp!”

Makes me wish someone that actually had good seafood would get behind this. 🙂