Last week I posted about counting stars, assuming I’d have ample opportunities to star gaze any evening, thanks to one of the worst droughts since the early 20th century. And that same evening, a week ago on Monday the 8th of October, I took my binoculars with me to the backyard at 8:30 p.m. and let my eyes adjust for night vision for fifteen or twenty minutes. A few wispy clouds striated the night sky and a high school football game just a block away to my northeast made for less than stellar seeing. I estimated I could see fourth magnitude stars in the constellation Cygnus, but knew I could see better if the conditions improved bit. I’ve seen more stars in that constellation from the exact same spot in the past, including last year’s star count. I decided not to report my findings on the 8th to the Great World Wide Star Count web site, opting to observe on a succeeding evening.
As the week wore on, I began to despair. Clouds rolled in on Tuesday or Wednesday and stubbornly blocked the sky, but didn’t drop much rain, until Sunday morning. I am overjoyed for the rain, but disappointed at the lost observing opportunities. Rain all day, but please dissipate when the sun sets.
My next opportunity to observe came Sunday evening, after a long day of hanging garage doors. We called it quits around 8:30 p.m. and sent my dad home to get some rest just after 9:00 p.m. I didn’t remember about the star count until Monday morning, when I stepped outside and saw Venus, Jupiter, Sirius, the Pleiades and Orion for the first time in a week. I went back in and got my binoculars for a quick fix of planet, star, open cluster and nebula observing before leaving on the morning work commute.
Monday evening, I got home to more progress on the garage doors and wispy clouds during sunset. Grrr. I took Apollo on a short walk after eight o’clock. During our walk, I kept trying to look up at Cygnus, but with it being directly overhead, I risked tripping over something if I tilted my head back far enough to observe. Once back home, I went right back outside and laid down on my patio. After fifteen minutes or so, I determined I could see fourth and possibly some fifth magnitude stars in the constellation.
I texted my husband, asking him to bring me my binoculars. I didn’t want to get up (still very sore from the garage door project and my strength training exercise class at work) and/or ruin my night vision. He graciously brought them to me, and I went looking for the double cluster in Perseus. I think I found it, but I couldn’t’ confirm it because my star atlas was locked in the backseat of the car on the other side of the house, where I’d left it after my final stint as a volunteer staff member at a Powell Observatory public night. Saturday night, the one where thunderstorms and lightning further discouraged star gazing.
Tonight, after raking the front lawn under the odious burr oak tree, I will try to catch the new moon just after sunset and then drive to northwest Leavenworth County to places I frequented in my youth. I will repeat the star count and compare notes, so to speak.
If you haven’t observed and reported your star count findings yet, you still have four days. The deadline is this Friday, October 19, 2012.
Very early Friday morning, I caught the waning moon approaching Jupiter and Aldebaran. You could draw a line from Venus to Moon and cross over or near Jupiter. The skies were clear and should stay clear throughout the day and into the night, with a forecasted high in the mid-80s, twenty degrees below what we’ve been experiencing for the past several weeks.
Friday at work was a whirlwind of meetings, including one held off site at another local law firm. I got home a bit early because one of my vanpool riders took the day off, but within fifteen minutes of getting home, my son and daughter-in-law arrived from their all-day road trip from North Texas. We visited with them for an hour and half, when they left to drive into Kansas City to spend the evening with several of their friends who still live in the area.
Terry cooked an excellent southern comfort food type dinner of chicken-fried minute steaks, organic green beans with turkey bacon, mashed potatoes and home-made white gravy. Too bad the kids didn’t hang around long enough to chow down with us. Terry and I let our food digest a bit, watching the Olympics until the skies darkened enough for some star gazing.
I grabbed the XT8 (affectionately known as ‘Dob’) and carefully carried it out to the lower backyard. This time I took a small table to put my charts on. I set my case of eyepieces on the ground. I brought out the Intelliscope handheld device to attempt an alignment. This device, unlike my ETX-90’s AutoStar, is only used to identify objects, not ‘go to’ them (since the XT8 does not have any motors). The Intelliscope can help you find objects with a warm/cold kind of seeking system. I still haven’t bought a stool to lean against, so my back aches a bit this morning. I did a two star alignment, finding and centering Arcturus first, then Vega.
I wanted to revisit the Double Double in Lyra to both confirm that I could find it by star hopping and to attempt to see the double within the double. I asked the Intelliscope to ID what I had centered in the eyepiece and it claimed I’d found the Crab Nebula. Hmmm. That’s in the constellation Taurus, which isn’t visible until early morning hours in the east. I must have done something wrong in the alignment process. I powered off the Intelliscope device and made a note to myself to re-read the manual in the morning. Since I’d already found Vega, I spent several minutes comparing my star atlas to what I was seeing in the finderscope. I found Epsilon Lyrae and observed it with 26mm, 15mm, 9mm and a 2x barlow (using the 26mm and 15mm). Despite the apparent clearness of the skies, I did detect some haziness and thin stratus clouds overhead. That may have inhibited my ability to split the doubles within the doubles.
I hopped over to Albireo in Cygnus, just to make sure I could find it again without referring to my star atlas. I used a trick I had read about from some artists who do astronomical sketching where you defocus the stars, especially doubles, to discern their different colors. I did this while observing Albireo and I could clearly see the red and blue for each star in the double. I stretched my back for a few minutes and stared off to the northeast, at Cassiopeia, which I could clearly see as a distinctive ‘W’ shape. I could not see the constellation Perseus, but I did see one or two meteors radiating from the space between Cassiopeia and where Perseus should have been visible (but wasn’t because of the haze and light pollution from the prison just north of my location).
I returned to the scope and began a star hop around Lyra in search of M57, also known as the Ring Nebula. This was a test, for me, not only of my ability to find this fuzzy smoke ring, but also of an 8-inch telescope’s ability to cut through the obstacles inherent at my closest observing site (my backyard). I surprised myself. I found the nebula, quicker than I thought I would, and I even saw it through the finderscope. It probably helped that Lyra was almost straight up above me and the telescope, meaning I had less atmosphere to peer through. Using averted vision, with the 9mm, I could clearly see the ring. I used the background stars to focus, because you can’t really focus well on a smudge that’s fuzzy and faint.
Since I found and saw a nebula with the XT8, I wanted to see if I could find a globular cluster next. And I just happened to know where one was. M13 in the ‘armpit’ of Hercules (see chart above) happened to be overhead, somewhere between Altair and Arcturus. I had some trouble locating the stars that make up Hercules with my naked eye. I took several minutes, stretching my back, to peer overhead, but towards the west, and Arcturus. Eventually, the star dots connected in my mind’s eye and I found the constellation. I oriented the XT8 to the general vicinity where I thought M13 would be. I think I saw it through the finderscope, although I can’t remember specifically. Using the 26mm eyepiece, I centered the globular cluster in my field of view and proceeded to observe this large dense cluster for several minutes with various magnifications.
I stared off into the northeast again, still trying to find Perseus and also Pegasus. If I could see the Andromeda Galaxy (also known as M31), I would achieve a triple crown of astronomical observing from my backyard with the XT8 (1: nebula; 2: globular cluster; 3: galaxy). I spent nearly a half an hour, roaming around my backyard, changing my point of view and line of sight to the northeast and east. I found Cepheus, but no matter how hard I squinted or averted my eyes, I could not clearly identify the box that makes up the body of Pegasus. Frustrated, and with an aching back, I decided to call it a night at about half past eleven o’clock.
I returned the telescope to the band room and replaced all the dust caps. I hugged my hubby, for he had brought me a refreshing freshly made strawberry lemonade to enjoy while bending over the telescope for hours. Off to bed and sleep, at least until the dogs started barking when Derek and Royna returned home (sometime after midnight and before five – not exactly sure as I tried to sleep through the commotion).
My alarm only fires off on weekdays, but most days I wake up fifteen minutes early. Not Saturday morning though. When I cleared the sleep from my eyes and checked the clock on my cell phone, it read 5:45 a.m. and I could already tell the eastern horizon was brightening. I grabbed the tripod and camera and went out to the driveway to take a photo of the Moon approaching Jupiter.
If I happened to live in the Pacific, today I would be able to observe the moon occulting Jupiter. But I won’t be too disappointed, since I can observe the moon occulting Venus next Monday afternoon, between 3:00 and 4:00 p.m. I plan to take a pair of binoculars and my camera equipment with me to work. I will setup on the top of the parking garage and hope I have a clear line-of-sight through the buildings to the west to see the occultation as it occurs.