Posts Tagged ‘Almach’

Insomnia – I am making some progress on it, but not much, but when I woke up at 1:30 am this morning I at least could see stars. We have had a pretty steady dose of mostly cloudy, hazy, foggy, partly cloud and heavy rains lately – 7 inches one day, five inches more a few days later and about an  inch yesterday  – so clear skies have been unusual and don’t last long.

These clear skies lasted long enough for me to get the 66mm  WO scope out and after a false start – batteries are weak on the Celestron mount I suspect – I got it on the Desert Sky dual mount/Bogen tripod and had a good time with some old friends.

I actually have a little plan in mind – to establish a list of best objects for popular consumption on any given night – or more accurately, any given sidereal/star time – of the year.  My goal would be for these objects to be nice in any scope, so if they’re nice in the 66mm you can be pretty sure they’ll be nice in anything larger.  The 66mm thus establishes a base line. So my observations were made with this in mind.

Yes, I’m pretty sure I could make such a list from memory – but I would trust it more if I check each object with this in mind.

So – up for starters was, of course, Albireo. It did fine at 16X – was really pristine – but I think the newcomer would appreciate it more at 30X. Once they were certain what they were seeing, they could try backing off some.

I have a soft spot for Albireo, but I closed this session wilth Almach and I have to say that although it was pretty low in the east at this time, I still find its colors richer than Albireo. It does take significantly more power. I found it best at 78x, though it could certainly be split with less.

There’s no contest with the Dragon’s Eyes – they are a perfectly matched pair that’s pretty easy to split in binoculars and certainly split easily at 16X, but seem better framed at 30X.

Meanwhile the Dolphin presents more of a challenge. Gamma Delphini is a sort of pale version of Albireo – in fact I would have a sliding scale of intensity for blue and gold stars where I would rank Almach the most intense, then Albireo, and then Gamma Delphini. Needed about 50X to get a decent split and it was better at 79X.

I liked M13 at all powers from 16X to 79X – but it was best at 79X because at that point I could really see individual stars flashing across the main body of this star ball.

M31 was another object that did fine at all powers, though it was easier to pick out M32 at 79X.

As I think – and write – about this experience I basic process for visitors pops into my mind. I want to start them witht he naked eye view. From there, I’ll move them to low power binoculars on amount – just to let them know what they can expect to see with their own binoculars.  Next up would be the 66mm at 16X and on a tracking mount, tobe followed by the 5-inch SCT on tracking mount a with a 24-8 zoom. Finally they could go in the observatory and use the 8-inch SCT,

Last step? Show them a good image  – probably in the observatory and under red light –  of what they’ve been looking at and encourage them to go back and look again.

And in this process define a “glance” as one minute at the scope – a “look” as three minutes or more.


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Well, you could never have convinced me, even just a few years ago, that I could have a very satisfying observing experience with nothing but a 60mm telescope  – especially when there’s  a full moon with perhaps 70 % cover of drifting cirrus/stratus clouds! But I just observed for over an hour last night. And I followed up with two hours this morning – moon still full, but no obvious clouds, just some high haze. It was wonder full.

Major thing learned? In a word – context!

I’ve frequently pushed context as important, which is why I want folks to look through binoculars or a smaller telescope at low power before stepping up to the 15-inch. But what I have never encountered before is the context that can be provided by moonlight. This first hit me last night when I turned the little scope on Jupiter and at 40X found I had a nice view of the planet, it’s four bright moons, and the leaves of a foreground tree! It was the tree, of course, that provided a unique context. Sure, we’ve all seen Jupiter with our naked eye near some foreground object –  a building, or mountain, or whatever.  It was the impact of seeing it magnified with the foreground object clearly lit by the moonlight that gave me the unique experience. And yes, the fact that I was using a small scope at low power with a correspondingly wide field of view certainly helped.

That experience was repeated this morning when I looked at  the Pleiades at 15X as the branches of a nearby cedar reached up to enwrap them.  Tennyson’s fireflies became tiny Christmas tree lights, tangled in the branches. Context?  Yes – the branches were about 40 feet away, the Pleiades about 400 light years! Nice thought to tickle your mind.


This is a simulation from Starry Nights Pro planetarium software - not a photo or drawing - but represents wel what I saw.

And  I had entirely forgotten about Mars and the Beehive. But near the end of the morning I turned the little scope towards Mars and here was a different sort of context, not aided by the moonlight, but not diminished by it either.  At 40X the planet revealed a small disc as it nibbled at the edges of the star cluster in which I quickly counted 60 stars visible under these conditions in this small scope. So now I had Mars, perhaps 10 light minutes away at that moment, playing dodge ball in a star cluster roughly 600 light years away. Nice!

All of which I think makes the point that you can not only have an essential astronomy experience with a small scope, but you can actually expand your experiences breaking new ground. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not recommending everyone switch to small scopes. And I’m not at all certain they’re a good idea for beginners. All I’m saying is that for me using a small scope offers some special advantages that move me closer to  my essential goal of experiencing the universe. Perhaps the key is it’s a machine that is of a size I can easily accept and incorporate as an extension of my eye. In any event, three hours of use were filled with several highlights, including, in chronological order:

  • Splitting the Double Double in Lyra at 144X using a 2.5mm Nagler eyepiece. The split was clean and steady, which also says something about the seeing last night and got me off to a great start.
  • Picking out the Ring Nebula – M57 – at 40X. Hard to believe this is larger than Jupiter in angular size, but I’ll leave careful examination for a darker night.
  • Splitting Albireo – easy, of course, even at 15X, but real nice at 40X.
  • Capturing the Coathanger cluster with plenty of room to spare using the 24mm Panoptic.
  • Splitting Almach – Gamma Andromeda – at 40X. The gold of th =e brighter star has more orange in it than the gold of Albireo’s primary.
  • Examining the full moon with plenty of space around it – again, the 9mm Nagler at 40X gave a real nice perspective,

And in the morning:

  • Splitting Castor, high overhead, with a 5mm Nagler delivering 72X. The fainter of the two companions was, well, quite faint.
  • Splitting Rigel about as well as I have ever seen it split in any scope – no kidding. This is a challenge star. Again, 5mm was used, as well as 2.5mm.
  • Context came into play again, this time all in the sky, as I took a wide field view of the Great Orion Nebula. The 13mm (28X) gave such a view, yet enough power to split the Trapezium – charming!
  • Mintaka split in the 24mm at 15X which gave a wonderful view of Orion’s Belt with plenty of breathing room around it.
  • Fainter star clusters like M35 did not fare as well, diminished by both the small objective and the moonlight. I look forward to seeing them under dark skies, though.
  • Only real frustration came in trying to track down W Orionis, a carbon star. I think I eventually did, but I need to go back and make my own charts so it isn’t such a challenge in the future.

Bottom line – wow! This was fun. Of course, being seated in a rolling office chair in the observatory while using the little scope on the massive (for it) Universal Astronomic T-Mount certainly helped!

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