I couldn’t wait for midnight Friday night. The forecast for the weekend seemed unbelievable, especially after the scorching heat of the last month. Clear skies and mid to lower 80s for the high temperatures over the next several days. I came home from work to a grilled steak and baked potato dinner, prepared by Terry. Mmm-mmm good.
After dinner, Terry and I began reviewing the DVR play list and guide, deciding to delete many old recordings to free up some disc space. Our daughter called and chatted with us for about forty-five minutes. The conversation ended abruptly when her phone battery died.
For dessert, Terry blended a frozen raspberry lemonade. I read for a few minutes, while slowly sipping the drink (trying to avoid a brain freeze). I asked him to wake me up around midnight so I could scout the skies in search of the Andromeda galaxy and the planet Neptune. Apollo followed me upstairs to the bedroom to join me in my nap.
Terry woke me up just shortly after midnight. I rubbed the sleep out of my eyes and found my flip flops. I followed Terry back downstairs to the band room and walked out the patio door to the back yard. The skies were clear, if not what you’d call dark (why do my neighbors leave their porch lights on all night long?). I went back inside for one of my star charts and a pair of binoculars. I didn’t trust myself to lug the telescope outside in the dark, not being completely awake yet. A survey with the binoculars should be sufficient for my first attempt.
I walked out into my backyard, towards my one remaining pine tree and turned back around to face the east. What a difference a couple of hours makes! I could clearly see the Great Square of Pegasus hovering directly over my roof. In fact, my chimney seemed to be pointing a finger at the famous flying horse. I remembered what I’d read in the EarthSky post about finding the Andromeda galaxy and put what I’d learned to good use. With just a pair of mediocre binoculars, I easily found the smudge that is M31. Now I regretted not moving the XT8 outside before I took my nap.
I turned ninety degrees to the right and began scanning the southern skies. I can’t see most of the southern horizon, which is blocked by my neighbors tall trees and houses (and all the exterior lighting attached to them). I lose a good twenty if not thirty degrees of sky in all but one direction, to the southwest I can see a bit of horizon, but only through the even worse light pollution generated by the parking lot of a doctor’s office and the streetlights along Main Street (also known as K-7/US-73).
I needed to find the constellations Aquarius and Capricornus. The ecliptic passes through both of these constellations. Neptune swam the night skies somewhere between the two constellations on the invisible ecliptic course all the planets chart. The trouble in finding Neptune in this area of the sky comes from a lack of bright stars to anchor from for star hopping. I spent the next hour comparing the star atlas from my pocket guide to the stars I saw through the binoculars and eventually convinced myself I had found the southeastern tip of Capricornus. Just above those stars, I believe I found the two brightest stars in Aquarius, Sadalmelik and Sadalsuud, but those two stars were too high above the ecliptic and too far away in the field of view of the binoculars to find Neptune. I needed to do more research and next time use a telescope to help cut through the fog of light pollution.
After an hour, I returned inside and went back to bed, resolved to research better star charts in the morning.
I went back to Astronomy.com and re-read the article on Neptune, but I just couldn’t relate their star chart (shown above) to what I’d observed last night through the binoculars. I would need more magnification and a more steady mount to zoom in and match up the stars shown above to the field of view of the XT8.
I tried Sky and Telescope’s web page and found a better set of charts in a PDF format in their article about Uranus and Neptune visibility during 2012. I downloaded the document and will print it today to keep with the rest of my star charts.
Saturdays are always packed full of activities, so I’m hoping I’ll still have the energy tonight to make a second attempt at finding Neptune. My scouting trip showed me what I needed to overcome before I proceed with netting Neptune.