Observing Weekend

This weekend I was pleased to have been invited with a few other people to go spend a night at the Manastash Ridge Observatory in eastern Washington.  It’s about a 120 mile drive away from my house, and we headed out from the Seattle area around 11am on Saturday. 

After arriving, we were treated to a great view of the surrounding hills, excellent brats on the grill, cookies at 1am for stargazing, and a great game of cards.  Unfortunately, the weather didn’t completely cooperate: high winds (I guess there’s a reason the Wild Horse Wind Farm (pics) is just about 15 miles away) and about 30-40% upper level cloud coverage made viewing conditions less than optimal.

I did finally get a chance to play with some wide angle sky photography.  I’m so-so about the results, definitely need to do some more practicing with this stuff:

Cygnus and Lyra

More pictures available on my Flickr stream here.

A roller coaster of a week

This has been a week of ups and downs.

The week started off in a downhill slide.  As many of you know, Microsoft laid off around 3,000 of my coworkers this week.  Fortunately, I wasn’t one of them, but I have a great deal of good friends who were affected by this second round of layoffs.  I won’t say too much about it here, but Tuesday really sucked.

On the brighter side, I got some new toys this week.  I took advantage of an REI sale on Shimano shoes and bought some clipless pedals for the bike.  Today, it’s beautiful out and Diann’s out volunteering, so I hit the road with the bike.  Definitely one of my best bike rides to date: went 20.6 miles, from home to the Red Hook brewery (no beer stop this time) and back home, in just over 1.5 hours.  That gives me a 12mph average, which is great considering the route home was mostly uphill.  Here’s an elevation graph of the ride from home to work, and you’ll see what I mean (click to embiggen):


Now it’s off to get cleaned up, go get a haircut, and then drinks with a friend who’s in town for the first time in months.

Then, later on, the night looks promising for some stargazing.  That brings me to the other set of toys I got this week: a new mount for the telescope.  90 pounds of new mount.  It’s crazy.  Tonight’s not ideal for stargazing (pesky full moon), but I’m going anyway just so I can get familiar with the new gear.

Goldendale Star Party

This weekend, a few members from the Seattle Astronomical Society held an unofficial star party out near Goldendale, WA.  Since I didn’t get the chance to take on the Table Mountain Star Party a few weeks back, I was determined to make this event.  It was an easy sell on the homefront as well, what with the vineyards in nearby Yakima. 🙂


Tons of Messiers were knocked out, and now I’m ready to apply for the Messier certificate from the Astronomical League.

That’s 31 new Messier objects, bringing my total up to 98 out of 110.  The remaining 12 will have to wait until the dead of Winter and one or two left until Summer of 2009. 

Finally, some of you (ok… really just Michael) have asked me to post pictures of my observing.  I’ll post a picture here of the telescopes set up for the star party, and I’ll also note that I’m taking donations to buy gear to hook up to my telescope for observation photos. 🙂

Weekend in Port Angeles

Diann & I spent the weekend on the peninsula, mostly in the Port Angeles area.  We attempted to hit up the Hurricane Ridge Star Party put on by the Olympic Astronomical Society, but were foiled by clouds.  (funny aside here: I showed up, along with Nick who is also a member of the Seattle Astronomical Society, yet no one from OAS showed up)

While in Port Angeles, Diann & I watched the 4th of July fireworks and parade in the city, and we wandered around the downtown area quite a bit.  I figured these two photos were worth sharing:

Tattoo Parlor Wall Mural    Taekwondo Door

See if you can spot the humorous bit on the door to the Martial Arts training center.

Clear skies on the weekend

796px-Veil_nebula_lanoue This weekend had some more clear skies, and I had been warned well in advance.  I cleared the Saturday morning calendar, and packed up back out to Rattlesnake Lake with a bunch of the SAS guys for some viewing.

The seeing and transparency were phenomenal – a very stable atmosphere with not much crud in the air.  This makes astronomers happy!  The moon didn’t come up until 2am, so we had great darkness for a few hours.  Sadly, a bunch of the things I wanted to knock off my list were hiding behind a large hill to the southeast – I need to find a viewing site that has better horizons in that direction.

Just a few new Messier’s knocked off the list for tonight:

Favorite item of the night goes to M11.  I had just gotten done complaining to a few people how boring I thought open clusters were, and then I centered on M11.  Wow – it’s totally opened my eyes to how cool some open clusters can be.  This one’s definitely a new thing on my hit list of things to look at again.  Most disappointing thing: M80 – a tiny globular.  Most pleasing view: getting M59, M60, and NGC4638 in the same field of view.

67 Messier objects completed since November 2007.  Not bad – 3 more to go before I can file for the initial Astronomical League Messier certificate.  I’ll be at the Olympic Star Party on Hurricane Ridge this weekend, so I hope to knock out a bunch of the eastern ones that keep evading me at Rattlesnake.

Where’s Marius been?

ok, so my last post was about two weeks ago… I’ve been busy, honestly.  Let me summarize:

Attempt at stargazing on June 14.  Clouds were supposed to clear away, but never really did.  No new Messiers off my list, but I did get to re-visit a few globulars and a few galaxies (M81/M82, in particular).  Watched the moon and Saturn a lot, as well. Met a few new stargazers that night: Nick, in particular, with a brand-new first-light Televue refractor.  Beautiful scope, and nice views.  No stargazing since then, but the forecast for this weekend looks promising.  *fingers crossed*

Diann & I bought bikes last weekend (Trek 7.3FX bikes, for those of you that care or are in-the-know about all things bike), and have done a bit of riding.  I’ve been updating my Facebook and Twitter statuses to reflect my rides so far, but, here they are:

  • Ride 1 on the bike: from home, to my office, to REI (to buy some bike clothes), and back home.  Around 15.9 miles.
  • Ride 2 on the bike: commute from home to my office, and back again.  Around 11.5 miles.
  • Ride 3 on the bike: from home, up the Lake Sammamish Trail, and up to Red Hook brewery.  A beer and a burger, and then back home.  20.9 miles.
  • Ride 4 on the bike (today): commute from home to my office.  Will go back home tonight.

I hope to keep up riding to the office a couple times a week, and maybe even riding to/from work daily.  We’ll see how that holds up when the weather starts turning bad again, but that’s the plan for now.  The only problem with my commute to work is a crazy hill just before my office:

Home to RedWest via 40th

Granted, I’m not in the greatest shape now, but the first 3.4 miles of that ride took me around 15 minutes this morning.  Climbing that !#@%$ hill for the next 1.5 miles took me another 20 minutes.  Stupid hill.  Stumbled across veloroutes.org, which is a great mashup of Google Maps and some elevation data to give you distance and elevation maps (just like the one above).

Oh, and speaking of !#@%$, I was saddened to see that George Carlin passed away this weekend. 

Anyhow, that’s all.  More later.

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.

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!]

Cold weather and more viewing

I looked at the Clear Sky Chart for my local viewing area a few days back, and I noticed a wonderful combination of things: Friday night was scheduled to be clear and the moon wasn’t going to rise until 2am.  Friday night being a weekend meant I didn’t have to get up early the next day.  I quickly sent out a few e-mails to the local astronomy group to see if anyone else was planning on showing up at Rattlesnake Lake.  Sure enough, a bunch of people said they’d be there:  I needed no more reasons.

Boaz tagged along, and we headed out there at about 8pm, just around the time of sunset.  Starbucks coffees in hand, and covered in several layers of wool, we waited.  Other people started showing up around 8:30pm as it was getting dark, and by 9:30pm we probably had a half-dozen telescopes setup.  Around 11pm, most people left, but a guy named Jim, Boaz, and I stayed out until 2am.  It was well worth it!

Last night’s bounty included:

And that’s just the stuff that I saw through my telescope.

Items I found new appreciation for last night:

  • Sky & Telescope’s Pocket Sky Atlas.  My observing still is maturing: I started off looking at only things I know (i.e., Orion nebula, Pleiades); I moved up to understanding celestial coordinates and using R.A. and declination to locate items; and now I’m star hopping with the Sky Atlas.  I found that a few times, I would like at something (using R.A. and dec) and then move on to the next object on my list — only to find that there were other objects just barely out of the viewfinder.  Using the Sky Atlas last night was great — we got every Messier object in the Virgo Cluster by starting with Vindemiatrix (? Vir) and ? Vir and then jumped from galaxy to galaxy.
  • Green laser pointers.  I’ve got to get me one of these; two people out there last night had them, and they make it amazingly easy to point out things.
  • Hand/Toe warmers.  Those little chemical packets you stick under your socks and in your gloves.  They’re very handy at 1am when it’s literally freezing outside.
  • Double stars.  You might think looking at two stars very close to one another is boring, but it’s pretty cool when the two stars are of vastly different color spectrum, like Albireo.
  • We’re tiny, and life is short.  All the stars you see in the sky that are so far away?  They’re all in our galaxy.  I saw other galaxies that are over 60 million light-years away.  The light from those has been traveling for 60 million years before it reached my eyes.  That’s astounding.