Archive for June, 2010

Thought I’d give McNaught one more peek this morning – and that’s all I got, was one more peek. Nothing in my 10X50 binoculars looked like the iconoclastic “hairy star” we want a comet to be  – well, maybe a hairy star with a crew cut 😉

I  observed from about 2:30 am to 3:45 am. I first picked up the comet about 3:15 just after I picked up Capella, rising in the northeast. Comet McNaught, I knew, would be about halfway between Capella and Mirfak and focusing my glasses there I picked up a faint star that wouldn’t come to sharp focus. I may look for it again – who knows – but it is really low and just not quite up to what I had hoped to see – an, of course, getting  lower,so I won’t go out of my way for naother peek.

To be fair to McNaught it is absolutely beautiful in images  with a short dust tail and a long, ghostly filament of an ion tail. This APOD picture does it justice. But when it has to compete in my case with the light dome from New Bedford just 10 miles away – plus a hint of the rising Sun – it’s just too much. Even in this morning’s clear skies it took a few minutes to locate. Heck, I was having trouble deciding whether Algol was in eclipse or not. It was just that much lower than Mirfak and Almach so that it certainly looked dimmer – but a check of the Algol predictor at S&T shows it was not in eclipse – just too much competition from the light dome.  So if that dome was dimming  Algol by at least a magnitude, I suspect it was doing at least twice  that to McNaught, which was about 7 degrees lower.

I could easily see to Mag 5 when I checked the Little Dipper, and even though it was fairly low in the east, the Andromeda Galaxy filled in a good deal of my 5-degree fov in the 10X50s. In fact that was my main musing of the morning. Looking at the Andromeda Galaxy and wondering if I had a counterpart there around some star too distant to distinguish who was looking back. I tried to visualize what this twin might see and at first thought I started scrambling our stars to try to make an accurate picture of them from that angle  – how silly! None of our stars would be visible to him, of course. What he would see is something a bit less than what I was seeing.

Then I scanned the Milky Way which stretched wonderfully from the northeast to southwest, and I tried to imagine this faint band as the galaxy that it is – the galaxy that my  Andromeda counterpart was seeing – and I tried to do the geometry to figure out how we were tilted in the skies of this unknown Andromeda planet and I  knew it was way beyond my abilities, so I simply imagined it  the way I wanted to imagine it – poetic license.  🙄

Sometimes I never pick up a telescope, though several were handy.  This was one of those times – a morning when it was still, I was alone, and simply choose to travel light. and what a trip – McNaught, this faint fuzzy messenger from somewhere perhaps almost halfway between us and the next star – certainly the outer bounds of our Sun’s domain. And Andromeda – so distant that our Sun and its 100 billion companions would be nothing but a faint smudge in the binoculars of our distant cousins – assuming they exist some where and some when.

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This little Tasco 12TE – vintage sometime after 1966, the date on the instruction booklet – is not a Unitron, but I like it’s little Sun projection system. Couldn’t see the small spots that are near the limb today, but I could see limb darkening and I’m sure it will show larger spots. (If you think you see any in the pictures below, they’re not spots – just stuff on the screen. :roll:

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What I like is with the scope twisted around this way – see first picture – it would be good for public observing sessions because it should be pretty hard for a person to get a look through the eyepiece by accident – or even on purpose. :lol: But if I ever use it alone, I’ll shoot the image out to side – much easier set up to aim – especially when the Sun is high and the screen has to go between the tripod legs. BTW – scope came in a beautiful wooden case with all accessories for $75.

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Anyway, this is my second vintage 60mm and I have a Jason in the hands of UPS right now, making its way from Utah. I’m looking forward to setting the thee up side by side – Unitron, Tasco, and Jason. The tasco is F13.3, the Jason and Unitron F15. But from all I’ve read lens quality is a crap shoot. I know the Unitron lens is good, but I also know not all Unitron lenses are good. I also know that the Tasco and Jason may or may not perform very well – be interesting to see. (The Unitron mounts beats hell out of the Tasco alt-az mount.) Maybe I’ll get a peek through the Tasco tonight.

Interesting note on my Towa 339 80mm. It wasn’t collimating no matter what I did, so I took it apart to check the lens. Uh huh – healthy-sized chip on one edge – looked like it might have been caused by the spacer between the two elements being placed incorrectly. Like maybe someone had it apart before and didn’t put it back together correctly. :roll:

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I took some pictures and sent them to the guy I had bought it from for $160 including shipping. Within a few hours he had returned all my money – without my asking! :shock: Meanwhile, I found a source for a Carton 80mm F15 lens and with $100 of the refund I purchased the new lens. The Carton is supposed to be as good as – if not better – than the Towa. So I sent the original owner $60 as a partial refund on his refund ;-) . Bottom line. This old Towa will be a hybrid of sorts, but I hope will perform well once the new lens gets here and is installed. In any event, I’ll treasure it as an example that there are still some very decent people out there!

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Just back from a wonderful four hours at Allens Pond Wildlife Sanctuary. Comet McNaught (2009/R1) , in my eyes, remains tailless – though reasonably bright. Jupiter is most definitely still missing its dark, south equatorial belt.  And for me, the best part of the  morning was exploring with the 60mm Unitron in a first attempt to locate what I will dub “60mm Jewels” – objects that actually show well in a 60mm telescope.  In that respect at the top of my list from this morning’s observing are M6, 7, and 8, plus  Beta Scorpii – Graffias –  and M22.

I know McNaught shows a tail in photos, but the tail looks faint in the photos I’ve seen and I could not detect it with an 8-inch SCT using a 24mm Panoptic. What I saw was a strong and quite large nucleus and a rich coma – but no tail. Someone with better eyes, better telescope, and/or better conditions may see a tail, but right now McNaught looks a lot like a smaller, dimmer  Comet Holmes to me – only we could not see the tail to Holmes because of the angle of view from earth – that is certainly not the case with Comet McNaught.  I was surprised at how much it had moved in 24 hours –  roughly three degrees – and I do urge you, if you go after this, use at least a small scope at low power. It shows in regular binoculars, but not to advantage. It should improve over the next week, but who knows how much? To catch it reasonably high in a dark sky you need to look around 3 am – a couple hours before sunrise.

Jupiter is a little more kindly to those who need to sleep – it will show well right up to and past 4 am. In fact, it’s best around 4 am when it’s high enough to be out of the worst part of the atmosphere, but it’s still dark enough to reveal the planet’s marking. And what it showed – in both the 60mm and the 8-inch, was a strong northern belt, but no southern one.  In fact, the whiteness of the southern hemisphere is startling to someone who has looked at Jupiter rather casually for many decades.

I got an early start this morning because the forecast was for clear and steady skies, so while I expected a couple folks from my class to join me at 2 am, I was on site a half hour after midnight and got to work pretty quickly with the 60mm. I know I can see all sorts of stuff with it, including distant galaxies, such as M51. And you could make a pretty long list of things that could be “seen” with it.  But I’m afraid when people make such lists they are really talking about what they can detect.  I have three categories for objects you can see with  a 60mm scope –  the detectable, the seen, and the “oh wow!” It’s the third category  – oh wow! – I’m talking about when I speak of “60mm Jewels. ” I hastent o add this does NOT mean that such objects can’t be seen better in a bigger scope – it means that they can be seen well enough in a 60mm to elicit enthusiasm from a beginning observer.   I know there are plenty of “showcase” doubles that fall into this category and this morning I added another to my list of these – Graffias.  This is a very easy to locate, second magnitude star and even at 28X you could see the split. But it was best at 69X.  With that you had two, sharp, clean “bullets”  – the brighter one with a tint of blue, the secondary with very rich, deep violet – definitely an “oh wow” experience.

From  here I went to M4. A nice, easy-to-find globular – easy because it is so close to Antares – but not impressive in the 60mm. M4 can be “seen” in a 60mm.  Quite dull, really, though some of the outer stars resolved at  69X, I don’t think this would impress a newcomer. M7, though, elicited a “wow” and became my second “jewel” of the evening. This is really best at 28X – I could easily see 40-plus stars.  It’s easy to find, as well, being just above the Scorpion’s tail. M6 came next and it’s another jewel that in my view deserves its nickname the “Butterfly Cluster.” So there was jewel number 3 and the 60mm also did a good job with M8, though I’m not sure beginners will pick up the nebula portion of it, it’s worth a try. I think M22 belongs on the  60mm Jewel category, but I need to do some more comparing of it with other globulars while using this scope. It certainly can be “seen.”

At 2 am Paul and Sybil arrived and we settled down to an enjoyable two hours with naked eye, binoculars – including the 20X80s on a p-mount – and the 8-inch SCT and 60mm refractor. Naked eye highlights were numerous, since we had a 360-degree horizon and the Milky Way was nearly directly over head.  With binoculars simply prowling the Milky Way especially between Altair and  the Teapot, gave the most delight.  While Comet McNaught did well in the binoculars, it was much better in the 8-inch SCT. There it looked a lot like a globular cluster that you couldn’t resolve – a snowball with soft edges.   Jupiter and a 25-day-old lunar crescent were really cool in either scope. Also nice were the Messier objects mentioned above – particularly M7 and M8 –  plus Almach. And it’s always fun to look at Uranus, though even in the eight-inch it looks like little more than a blue star.   There were plenty of familiar stars and asterisms available –  Arcturus, Spica, Antares, Deneb, Altair, Vega, Almach, Mirfak, and Algol. Scorpius, a constellation that actually looks like what it’s called, was beautiful, though it was far enough to the west that a couple of the lowest  stars were being blocked by some houses in that direction.  My favorite asterism for the morning included the Teapot, the Summer Triangle and the Great Square that we’re used to seeing in the fall. Limiting magnitude was approaching 6 and it’s simply awesome to note how the plane of our solar system relates to the plane of our galaxy. To top it all of it was too cool to be buggy, yet warm enough to be comfortable -who could ask for more – but there was. Paul made a discovery and I made a mistake .

Paul discovered a couple of tiny green glowing spots on the shell parking lot that had the look of firefly droppings – but, of course, I haven’t a clue what they are. One was on a small piece of shell and I took it home. A little natural mystery. I want to see if it is still glowing  tomorrow night. Any thoughts? We’re talking specs – like the size of dust motes – but quite bright.  Not astronomical – of course – unless residue from extra terrestrials  😆

Near the end  – about 4 am – Paul also pointed out a bright “star” on the northeastern horizon battling it’s way into our consciousness through the increasing twilight. “What’s that,” he asked. And I didn’t know.  I just could not think of any bright star that would be rising in that location at that time. Then I remembered that Mercury was supposed to put in a rather poor showing just before sunrise. Could it be Mercury. It seemed so far to the north.  But I had no other answers, so I said that was my best guess – then said the correct thing. “But I’ll get home and probably send out a red-faced email correcting it.” And I did.

I was partly  right.  Mercury wasn’t that far north and at that point was barely above the horizon, so we didn’t see it.  But I was convinced for the moment we were seeing it. No. The star was indeed a star – one that is visible at some time every night of the year – Capella. Capella – which on these early June evenings you can watch set in the northwest! Capella had had it’s moment off stage and even in this very short June night was making an appearance again!  How cool! How embarrassing!

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Comet McNaught is on schedule zipping past Almach, Jupiter does look a lot whiter than I remember, and Uranus is indeed close to it – that I can confirm because the skies cleared this morning and gave me a good view of these three and more from Allens Pond Wildlife Sanctuary.

Jupiter winked in and out, competing with a nearby 24-day crescent Moon, as I crossed the Rt.88 bridge near Horseneck at about 2 am. Obviously there were some clouds about still. but the skies were basically clear. The moon really was quite beautiful, but I wasn’t sure how it would impact the comet. And Jupiter seemed brilliant.  I suspect it’s actually gotten a little brighter without its south equatorial band, but I’m sure that change wasn’t detectable by me. I just haven’t seen it for many months and so it seemed especially dazzling.

When I got to the parking lot just north of East Beach the first thing I did was look for Comet McNaught (C/2009 R1) with my 12X36IS binoculars and it took me about 30 seconds to locate second magnitude Almach and the comet  northeast of it by a couple degrees, but in the same field of view. That will change, of course, as the comet makes quite good progress to the northeast over the next several days, cutting right between Mirfak and Algol by Saturday morning.  I was both pleased and disappointed with what I saw – pleased that it was so easy to see, so it’s brightness is in tune with predictions. However, disappointed in that I saw no hint of a tail.

I took a few minutes to set up the 20X80 binoculars on a p-mount and my  60mm Unitron and examined McNaught in both. My conclusion? It looks a heck of a lot like M13 does in these instruments  – right at about magnitude 6, maybe a tad brighter, and covering perhaps 10 minutes of arc with its nucleus and coma. The nucleus was either quite large – or if there’s a separate, bbright one it was beyond the instruments I was using and the seeing conditions. I could not detect McNaught with my naked eye, though the skies were incredibly transparent – and the seeing incredibly poor, aggravated by wind gusts that shook the telescope and made it feel a lot colder than the 59 degrees my car thermometer said it was. (Yes, I had on two sweat shirts and a winter jacket – still felt cold!)

Using the 60mm and a 17mmPlossl ( 53X) I compared McNaught with a triangle of 7th magnitude stars in the fov which I put out of focus to simulate the coma. It was definitely brighter. Then using the 20X80s I compared it with M31, the Andromeda Galaxy. It was much smaller and significantly dimmer.  The Moon was about 40 degree away – much closer to M31 – yet I could easily make out the outer regions of M31, but saw no signs of a comet tail. So if it has a tail – and I haven’t checked other observing reports online yet – it needs more than 80mm binoculars to show.  With the naked eye I could see all the stars in the Little Dipper easily and the summer Milky Way was fabulous, reaching down through the Teapot before diving into the ocean past the Scorpion’s tail.  In fact, the Milky Way was worth the trip in itself.

And a good thing.

Seeing was so horrible that  I could only get glimpses of the North Equatorial band on Jupiter and with the 60mm that should have been easy, even with Jupiter just 12 degrees above the horizon. I was left with a general impression of the southern half being much whiter than I remember, so I would say the south equatorial band is still missing. But the view was disappointing because of the poor seeing.

Trying to establish the magnitude of a comet is a very subjective business, but I felt in  both magnitude and size it appeared inthe 12X36IS binoculars a tad dimmer than M13 and probably not so big, but definitely brighter – and larger – than M92. But these are guestimates. Both these globulars were high in the sky and well away from the Moon, so direct comparisons were difficult. But M92 is magnitude 6.5 and M13 5.8 – or 5.3 if you accept  Stephen O’Meara’s estimate. In any event, all I would claim is that Comet McNaught is in this ball park and looks a lot like a globular. I probably should have compared it with M3. That was lower in the sky and at somewhere between 5.9-6.3 magnitude sounds just about right.

At one point the motion sensitive security spotlights for the Audubon office came on, yet even with these beaming down on the white shell parking area  and blasting my night vision, I could step behind the car, look up, and see to magnitude 5 easily. And while some cloud scudded past, theymoved quickly and I observed for at least an hour, so that wasn’t the issue.

So what’s this mean for the future? Well, tomorrow morning is supposed to be clear, so I hope to get a look at McNaught in something with more light grasp – probably an 8-inch SCT. And who knows, in a few days its going to get lower, but closer to the Sun and so it still could develop a nice tail.  S&T’s predictions were for the best view  at mid-month.  And in the final analysis, with comets we never can be sure what to expect. (For a chart showing McNaught path over the next 10 days see my post here: http://wp.me/porOR-t2)

Meanwhile, I certainluy hope for better seeing.  I did manage to check out a couple of wide doubles with the 60mm – Almach and Cor Caroli. With Cor Caroli I followed the advice in  “Turn Left at Orion.” That is, I put it in the center of the fov and then waited a couple minutes – sure enough, right on schedule here came a fainter, but nice double, Struve 1702 into the field.

Cool! That means the Earth’s still turning.  😆

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