Over the past week the reader might be wondering why there have been little or no Reports of HAA observing activity. The simple answer is that this past week has been, as one observer put it, “the best stretch of clear sky during a no moon phase in his memory.”
That is not an exaggeration. The sky was surprisingly clear on Sunday 29 June, catching some observers off guard. They were certainly ready, willing and able by Thursday 3 July, which started a four-day observing marathon, ending the night of Sunday 6 July.
Each night of observing was glorious and somehow offered a different flavor of activity, making it special in its own way. There were those beautiful Binbrook sunsets. There was observing, sketching, AP and deep discussion. Jokes, space toys, kids, friends, family and best of all laughter filled the park. The park curious came to look before heading home, and each were welcomed with true HAA fanfare. Then around 2 am, sometimes later, when all was said and done, we packed up for the Horton's and the traditional HAA nightcap.
The fortunate observers were off work during this marathon, while others found a way to make it through their day. And there were naps, those precious few hours to take the edge off, to get us through. These were days of strained eyes, bad food choices and stamina. Certainly this marathon was not planned. The clear skies just kept on coming. But the most remarkable thing was, that through it all, our excitement and enthusiasm for the night sky never waned.
It truly was an wonderful week of observing, the ones memories are made of, and it goes without saying we made quite a few.
I arrived on Sunday evening at Binbrook before 8PM, hoping to be set up and able to scout out M68, the next item in my Sequential Messier Marathon. Here's a picture of my team, in a huddle before the action began.
Ed had his ED80 on a tripod, and was watching for the first sign of polaris to get it aligned. I set up the GWS on the hill, after trying to estimate whether there was more horizon from there or from the newly made, excellent boardwalk beside the parking lot at the bottom of the hill.
I snapped some nice sunset pictures, as i waited for darkness. Ann arrived with Alex and Shaune, and proceeded to set up binoculars, and lent me a copy of Uranometria with all the stars i need to get there.
I had my excellent Flying toy saucer again, and it was again a big hit. It flies so high, it's like scary to think the wind is blowing it out over the lake, so i turn off the power and watch it come falling out of the sky, only to land with a 50m of dry land to spare. It makes an excellent photograph to do a time exposure as it ascends, because of the LEDs on its sides, spinning around. Here's a picture Kerry took on Friday evening.
A timed exposure of a luminous object can be impressive indeed
I had also used Cartes du Ciel to print out star charts with stars to 10th magnitude, to get from Corvus to M68. For reference, i also printed enough stars to navigate within Corvus, as practice.
As the sun got lower below the horizon, astronomical twilight started to end and more stars became visible. I strained to navigate the GWS along my designated star hopping path. It turned out that due to the residual sky-glow and extinction, my star chart had way more stars than the sky, and those in the sky were farther apart than the size of my finderscope, making star hopping a practical impossibility.
I guess an industrial approach would be to have a set of star charts printed with different limiting magnitudes. Use of a laptop computer to generate the charts onthe fly would be another option, at risk of losing night vision in the process. It turned out that the limiting magnitude through the GWS was about 8, and that meant that seeing M68 was going to be problematic. Atmospheric extinction at low altitudes of view really swamps the star field.
At about 10:22 M68 set, as viewed from ED's goto... i mean the location in the sky where M68 is was below the tree line. At the last minute i decided to try an astrophoto of the area to see if i could stretch something out of it. It turned out that at the bottom of the hill, the horizon is slightly lower.
After M68 had safely set, i fished up the chart for the 'Footprint Nebula' and started to star hop from Alberio towards it. Now, instead of too few stars, i had too many. The GWS was showing about 2000 stars in a field where the chart had about 50. Jackie and i painstakingly made our way towards it, and got there in a few minutes. I am certain the star field was correct. I made a sketch of the stars i could see and all were on my map. Unfortunately, even with a nebula filter, no nebulosity was seen.
By then, it was approximately midnight. For an experiment, i slewed the GWS (actually rather quick since it's a dob) down to the spot on the horizon where previously i had been looking for M68, to see if later at night, more stars are visible at low altitude. Even the mighty GWS could only see one star at the top edge of the trees, a far cry from the 2000 in cygnus. So my conclusion is that extinction is real and real nasty.
But not forever, in the case of M68. In early December, it will be a morning object, and i will be out looking for it then. In the meantime, i will be doing Astrophotography, sharpening my star hopping skills, studying some books and participating in the many public events the HAA has planned for the summer and fall.
Many sincere thanks to Jackie, who took my quest as seriously as i do, (or maybe even more so) Ann, and Ed, for being there with me as i tried for the impossible dream.
Aka Don Quixote searching up new windmills....
If you ask me, these past few nights of solid blue on the CSC is just what we deserve - and you just have to read the blogs to know that many HAA members wasted little time in taking advantage of it. Personally, I divided my time between our backyard observatory and the observing hill at Binbrook.
Starting with Thursday, Gail and I did a bit of comparison viewing with our 6" dob and the 12" dob; that is until Gail expressed her dislike of standing tiptoe to view the zenith through the 12" - you see, I hate bending when I don't have to, so, like I did with the 6", I put some legs on the base of the 12" to raise it up a bit - but it appears I'd miscalculated the height of my observing partner. Anyway, to bring harmony back into the (our) Universe, I cut the legs down by 3" - call it "reverse-engineering".
Friday night, we answered the call to join the other HAA "keeners" at the conservation area where we spent our time comparing the views through no less than nine scopes and eating fresh donuts (thanks, Steve). The night was capped off zapping the alien-looking, spaceship-type, weird-lights-in-the-sky, only $49.99 at your local mall, craft with our laser pointers.
On Saturday night, I was tempted to make a return trip to Binbrook, but I wasn't happy with the collimation of the 12" dob. Whereas the 6" would easily show the companion to Polaris, the faster ratio of the larger scope was less forgiving to misalignment. So I took my screwdrivers and barlowed collimating laser and gave the big dob a thorough overhaul which, I'm pleased to say, did the trick. Not only did I have a fine view of the North Star and it's little friend but the Double Double in Lyra was easily resolved, as well.
My other goal, in staying home was to see how good my local sky was on a good night when most had gone to bed. My laser pointer had a bright beam about 11pm suggesting that there was a lot of particulate in the air, though I'm unsure if it was dust, moisture, or a combination of both. Sometime after Midnight, the scope in the middle of the back yard starting collecting dew on the OTA but the one on the observatory pad, which is not under but near to our large walnut tree remained dry.
By 1am, I could make out the Milky Way. It was fairly distinct through Cygnus near the zenith but just barely visible above the "spout" of Sagittarius. Sunday wasn't so great, and tonight there is some heat haze and a few clouds but I see the Moon beckoning me so I think I'll take advantage...
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