5/30 Astronomy Report

The weather looked promising last night, and the ClearSkyChart was reporting good news.  At around noon, I shot a quick e-mail over to a few of the people I’ve viewed with before, and was happy to get a quick response from Barry (who lives near Rattlesnake) that the skies were in fact clear.  I cleared my calendar for the night, and packed up my gear.

I arrived at Rattlesnake at around 9pm, and was surprised to see 3 other people already set up.  Apparently I wasn’t the only one with the great idea of stargazing tonight!  By the end of the night, we had 9 people and telescopes: Sam (Dobs), Skip (SCT), Jim (SCT), Barry (SCT), Jon (Refractor), Denis (Dobs), Mohammad (Dobs), Marius (SCT), and Michael (Newt and Refractor).  I’m pretty sure that’s everyone that was out there, and if you happen to stumble across this and I left you off – I’m sorry.

I hadn’t planned on staying out terribly late tonight (told Diann that I’d start breaking down my gear at around 1am), and with the sun setting at 9:15 that gave me only a few hours of actual darkness.  By 10:15, you could just start making out the Milky Way overhead, and then we were greeted by the ISS passing over.

Last night’s viewing breakdown:

Favorite objects of the night: M4, M94, and M101.  M94 had a super-bright central core to it and on M101 I could just start making out the spiral pattern of the galaxy.  I think it’s fair to say that my night viewing is steadily improving over time – I was also able to make out individual stars in most of the globulars I looked at last night.

64 Messier objects down, and 6 to go before I can file for my Astronomical League Messier Certificate.  46 to go until I hit all the Messier objects.

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.


The weather report says it’s about 37°F outside, and it’s nice and clear.  I decided to subject myself to the cold and go gazing upwards.

I decided to do a bit of experimenting this time around with AstroPlanner, a piece of software that was demo’d at a recent Seattle Astronomical Society meeting.  Turning on AstroPlanner let me know that Saturn was visible, as I expected, and seeing as it’s already fairly late I decided to focus on that.  Oddly, I’d never taken the opportunity to point the telescope at Saturn.

Since the big telescope is still packed away from our recent roadtrip to the Washington coast (that I still need to blog about), I dragged out the little guy: a Meade ETX-90, a 3.5" f/13.8 Maksutov-Cassegrain.  I haven’t used the little guy very much (cause the LX-50 is superior), and I had to haul out the external DC power cord for it (note to self: re-solder the battery wire in the base of the telescope to fix that).

I pointed it at Saturn, and was presented with a clear view of the planet, her rings, and Saturn’s two largest moons Rhea and Titan just barely visible.  Rhea is showing up at magnitude 9.99, and I couldn’t make it Dione at magnitude 10.51, so that gives me a pretty good idea of what I can see with the ETX-90 from my deck and the suburban lighting.

According to Stellarium, this is what I should see, and I’ve gotta say, it’s pretty much spot-on:


If the weather holds out tomorrow night, I think I’m going to haul the big telescope upstairs.

Congratulations NASA and ESA!

Today marks mankinds first visit to Titan, one of Saturn's moons. Article from Space.com notes that landing confirmation occurred at 11:35AM EST.

UPDATE: ESA says that the first pictures should be up at 11:45AM PST

UPDATE: CNN has a picture from Huygens on the front page! No pictures from the ESA or JPL yet.

UPDATE: ESA and JPL have pictures now.