After weeks of overcast, I couldn’t believe my eyes on the commute home yesterday. A clear blue sky with little to no haze and not a single cloud to be found. Waiting for the sun to set never seemed to take so long as it did last evening. I wasted some time with a quick grocery shopping run on my way home from the Hallmark parking lot. Terry made an awesome salad, which I ate as soon as I got home. He also planned to grill a couple of t-bones we’d purchased last month at the local farmers market in Leavenworth. Even though the charcoal fired up perfectly, the steaks disappointed. It’s been decades since either of us had such a grisly tough steak. We will NOT be purchasing any more meat from that particular local farmer.
I got caught up on Jeopardy and still had an hour to go before sunset. I fed the dogs, did some laundry and watched a rocket reality show hosted by Kari Byron on the Science channel. I ignored most of it (as I do most reality television) and Terry drifted off into his after-supper food coma. I started transferring telescope equipment from the basement to the backyard as soon as the sun set. I left the patio door open so Roxy and Apollo could come visit me if they wanted to. For the most part, they ran along the privacy fence, occasionally barking at evening strollers and/or their dogs.
Just as I attempted to do an easy alignment in the alt/az mounted mode for the ETX-90 and the Autostar, I realized I needed my cell phone for the time (because the Autostar asks for the date and time first when you turn it on). I ran back in the house and got my phone and saw my father had called while I was outside. I admit I was a bit distracted while talking (mostly listening) to him as I attempted to align the telescope. He asked me where Saturn was and I thought it was almost directly overhead. After I hung up, I realized that what I thought was Saturn was actually Arcturus (once I used the Big Dipper’s handle arc to find it among the constellations that I could barely see through the ambient Lansing light pollution). Once I confirmed via the telescope that bright fleck was indeed a star and not Saturn, I drove a ‘spike’ towards Spica and found Saturn in close proximity to another bright star in the constellation Virgo. Here’s what I saw last night facing south from my backyard (well, I saw some of this – except for the view blocked by my tall house, several very tall trees and an electric utility pole in the southwest corner of my yard).
Despite a pre-weekend forecast for thunderstorms, Saturday stubbornly stayed humid (to the point of Midwestern Mugginess), windy (gotta love that Gulf air from the south) and sunny (well, more hazy than clear, but not really overcast). After walking Apollo shortly after sunrise, I resolved to remain indoors and further test my new central air conditioner. I wiled away the day with housework, reading and movies (three of them, or was it four?).
I finished watching Centurion via Netflix streaming (aka Watch Instantly) around nine o’clock. I relinquished the remote to my husband so he could watch either UFC or F1 and headed north to my Dad’s house for some moon and Saturn observing.
I left the Meade ETX-90 with him last week to see if it needed a tune-up for it’s drive mechanism. I found some helpful websites and he did crack open the case to confirm everything looked in good shape (nothing obviously broken or breaking). So, tonight’s experiment involved attempting an accurate polar (or equatorial) mounting of the ETX on the field tripod. Before the sun set, he had leveled and oriented the telescope per the instructions for the telescope, tripod and Autostar computer controller.
I arrived to a darker sky with less haze than I observed last week. The moon had about a third of a crescent. Dad had the telescope tracking the moon (for several minutes) so I enjoyed reviewing the craters visible along the terminator. Absolutely stunning! I really should have grabbed the digital camera out of my car and snapped a few photos.
Somehow, we disrupted the Autostar and lost the date/time and tracking as we fumbled in the dark. We spent some time realigning the telescope using the Easy align feature of the Autostar, first confirming and centering the telescope in the ‘home’ position with Polaris visible through the eyepiece. Unfortunately, the stock viewfinder that came with the ETX-90 is unusable in the polar mount ‘home’ position because the telescope is 90 degrees to the base. You can’t get your head between the end of the telescope and the top of the drive mechanism! I have a remedy for this coming soon. On Friday I ordered a red dot finderscope from Celestron that I hope will eliminate this problem.
The first star on the alignment procedure was Arcturus (in the constellation Bootes), easily found in the northeastern-eastern sky by following the arc of the Big Dipper, and the brightest star in the northern hemisphere and fourth brightest star in the night sky (only Sirius appeared brighter last night in the southeastern night sky). The second stop on the alignment tour asked for Capella. I used the Field Guide to the Stars and Planets that I checked out from the Kansas City Public Library last week for a star chart containing that star. I learned that Capella is one of the brighter stars in the constellation Auriga (and later at home I learned Capella is also the sixth brightest star in the night sky and third brightest in the northern celestial hemisphere.
Even though Capella is bright, with the moon in the same region of the sky, with increasing haziness and wind, I could only see with my naked eye one other star in Auriga — the beta star in that constellation. I hesitantly told dad, who was steering the telescope with the Autostar and the viewfinder, that the right-most bright star above the moon was probably Capella. He centered it and we were ‘aligned’ again. Then we told the Autostar to ‘go to’ Saturn. The ETX got close, or close enough for us to find it through the light pollution (courtesy of the southeast sky and Leavenworth, Lansing and Kansas City), the increasing haziness and the tree limbs of the tall trees along the eastern edge of dad’s property.
We observed Saturn for fifteen or twenty minutes, trying various eyepieces and barlows. I had forgotten to check before leaving my laptop the location of Titan in relation to Saturn so I can’t confirm or deny whether I actually saw the moon Titan. What amazed me about this observation period was the ability to continue to observe Saturn through the telescope, even through tree limbs and clouds! I often couldn’t find Saturn with my naked eye, yet the telescope tracked it nearly flawlessly (so long as I didn’t use too high a magnification eyepiece).
We packed up the telescope once we could no longer see any stars with our eyes. Even the moon was shrouded in haze and thin clouds.
Once I returned home, I re-researched polar mounting the ETX on the field tripod. My dad had read and thought the latitude adjust on the tripod meant you had to subtract your current latitude from 90 degrees. So, instead of setting the adjustment equal to our latitude (of 39 degrees), we tried setting it to 51 degrees. I did notice that when the telescope attempted to find Arcturus, it was pointed northeast but down below Arcturus by quite a bit. So, I re-read the field tripod’s user manual (via PDF from Meade’s web site) when I got home and confirmed that you set the tripod to your actual latitude, no math necessary. We’ll just have to try it again later. We also plan to re-train the drives in the ETX-90 per instructions in the Autostar manual.