It is clear! It has been some time, at least for me, when it is clear at a weekend. It is cold. Skippysky.au/europe tells me it is good seeing, the transparency is excellent and the Jet Stream is way South of the UK. The Moon is around 70% and the local temperature is -2 degrees C with a slight frost already. I have come out with my 100mm binoculars to star hope around.
I had just finished a call with the BASEG society, most whom I had not seen in some time as we are still in lockdown. I came out to a Moonlit garden with a carpet of ice twinkling and crunching as I walked. It is nice to see this new garden at night and get a feel for where I may observe in the future.
I setup the binos in the vegetable patch next to the building works for IMT3b. Not one but twice I stumbled down the trench dug for the cables, so I must be more careful. I then pointed the binos at the Moon and took a look.
The view was splendid. There is something wonderful about seeing the Moon through binoculars and seeing just how deep you can go. Clavious was crips and easy to spot as was Tyco. I spent some time here and then Luke came out to view. We looked at the Moon first then I moved to M42 which, whilst washed out by the Moon, was still bright enough to see the distinct wings. The trapezium was also very clear indeed.
After a call to Gingergeek, who incidentally was having problems with a disconnected wire in his focuser, I moved onto M45 Pleiades to identify each of the 11 major stars fro Atlas in the West to 18 Tau in the East. Electra, Merope and Alcyone were all rather bright. I then swooped across to Aldebaran before moving across to Mars, the bright planet a small circle in the binos. I then star hopped to M33 to find the surrounding stars without being able to see the galaxy itself.
Mark Radice then called and we chatted about his C11 and the Sinus Iridum mosaic he was imaging tonight whilst sitting in his warm room. We spoke about things to look at and Mark remotely star hoped me to the double cluster, which surprisingly could be seen naked eye, even on this bright Moon night. He then guided me to Uranus which I found in a pattern with 2 other stars making up an isosceles triangle with Uranus being distinctly blue to the bottom right. I was then fairly cold so bid farewell to Mark and headed off indoors to warm up.
The most funny thing about moving to a new house is assuming you have understood your horizons correctly, well at least I found it funny when I got it wrong. After several attempts to catch the conjunction, traveling out to a nearby field with low horizons, Christmas Eve was no difference. I had set off, this time with the Esprit 120 and QHY168C and on arriving at the location realising that the weather was too cloudy to grab the conjunction.
So off I went back home. I decided to wonder up the garden to see if the weather had cleared when I returned, to find that not only was there a gap on the clouds, but also I could see Jupiter !!! This meant only one thing, that my South West horizon was not +15 degrees but actually +4 degrees! Wow that is good and lucky.
I ran back to the car and started hauling the travel scope to the building site of IMT3b which is currently a vegetable patch, this is around 200 feet away from the car part way down the garden. It took 5 trips to move all the equipment, good for my Apple watch exercise rings, not so good for the setting of the conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn. By the time I setup and slewed the telescope round the pair were setting behind the ancient forest in the distance but I managed to snap a single image! Perfect.
The weather forecast suggested that this was the only clear night for some time and the planets were low in the sky. So GeekGirl and I wondered if Jupiter/Saturn were visible from the front of the house to the South-West or if we were going to have to traipse over to the muddy farm fields to view the conjunction.
Luckily for us even though they were less than 10º altitude we could see them both between two houses from the front drive. We quickly got some warm gear on and setup the binoculars and the kiddy scope (Sky-Watcher Heritage 150P Dobsonian) on a camping table.
We quickly got Jupiter/Saturn in GeekGirl’s binoculars (Celestron 20×80 SkyMaster). The pairing although not as close as they would be on the 21st still looked nice. The rings of Saturn were discernible and the four Galilean moons were visible in this modest setup and I’m sure the view would be have been better in Dave’s monster binoculars due to the aperature.
In order to get the focus for the planets I used the Heritage 150P on the near half Moon (47%). The views of the craters on the terminator along with the shadows were amazing, we could see the centre peaks of many of the craters.
I wonder what they looked like in Dave’s Sky-Watcher SkyMax 180 Pro ?
Our next-door neighbour popped out and we invited him to view the planets and the Moon. I think he was impressed but everyone reacts differently to the experience.
Once we had both wondered over the Moon, checking out the mountain ranges and the changing shades of grey for the Mares we turned to viewing the conjunction in the 150P using the standard eyepieces (SW Super25 & Super10) that came with the scope.
We could see all four Galilean moons with Io being placed close to Jupiter’s limb. The division in Saturn rings was visible and GeekGirl could glimpse Titan so she was happy. All in all a pleasant experience, which is rare in the current human malware situation. I finished off the evening with a Brewdog IPA ….. bliss !
Dave Shave-Wall viewing
Start time 3pm – End time 6pm
After deciding that I could not get the conjunction of Saturn and Jupiter at the new house, I spent the best part of 40 minutes packing up the travel scope to travel locally to view the conjunction. I set off to view about 1 mile away across a field with allow horizon. I took my Mak180 without the Barlow and the ZWO290MC on the Paramount MyT with the Berlebach tripod. On arriving at the side of the road on the narrow country lane in North Hampshire, I was just about to setup when I realised not only had I forgot the travel car battery, but also the laptop. After a few expletives and a good old English, “I cannot possibly believe I did this, oh well carry on”, I jumped back on the Landrover and set off back home to retrieve the important parts. On arriving back home I ran up the garden to the shed for the battery, grabbed the laptop and jumped back in the car as time was against me for capturing the pairing before they set below the local horizon about 6pm. It was not 4pm.
I arrived back at the field and quickly set about fitting together the mobile setup for the 2nd time!
This time I settled the tripod and mount up in quick time, slide the Mak180 with its imaging train into the Losmandy Versa plate and connected the Mac. I manually aligned on Jupiter which by this time I could see with my naked eye, synced the scope and started the imaging software. After a few back fourths I found Jupiter, however Saturn was nowhere to be seen. It soon became apparent that my field of view FoV indicator on Sky Safari 4 was not accurate and indeed both planes on this particular day would not fit in! So rather than waste the occasion I shot some view of Jupiter and then slewed to Saturn for the same.
I then packed the setup away, but before heading off grabbed the Canon 6D with the 100-300mm lens and grabbed a few exposures. My first attempts were not good, having not used the camera for some time and forgetting how to set the correct exposure. After a while I grabbed a single good frame, over exposed to see the Galilean satellites.
I would attempt another go with the larger FoV Esprit 120 a few nights later.
@ 19:00 Opened dome in order to cool the dome and scope down.
@ 21:00 GingerGeek arrives, wine is poured and we took 5 x darks, flats and bias for both the last run and tonight. The flats (red) were 3 seconds exposure to get 2/3 well depth required for this.
@ 21:44 Slewed to WASP-93b before we set about focusing on a nearby magnitude 5 star using the Red filter. Starting focus position was firstname.lastname@example.org℃.
@ 22:06 After failing to focus using the Red filter we resorted to using the Luminance filter to auto focus and achieved a excellent fit (focus position 61630, HFR 4.95 @20.83℃).
When we swapped back to the Red filter, SGPro then moved the filter offset to focuser position 60630. We slewed back to WASP-93b (GSC:3261:1703) and found a guide star just off centre of the star field with the exoplanet target.
Started to take exposures to find the brightest value of the centre pixel of the star and make sure it was 2/3 full well depth and thus 33,000 ADU (even though it is a 12-bit camera SGPro is set to 16-bit for ease of use. Eventually this was achieved at around 200 second exposure.
@ 22:51 Started imaging, 18.21℃ was measured at the focuser.
Another visit to Combe Gibbet tonight with another astronomer, GingerGeek. After forcing him to leave the comfort and safety of his own home, where his girlfriend gives him tea, coffee and beer and with the luxury of mains electricity, he joined me at the very dark, very blustery sight near 1,000 ft up in the North Downs of Berkshire, formally Hampshire, they moved the line!
We left at 7:30pm and after the 50min trip arrived at the long road up to and past the Gibbet, which is really not much of a road at all.
We drove carefully to the top, both parked our cars and set about setting up for the evening. GingerGeek had his Tak FSQ85 on his CEM 60 iOptron mount whilst I setup my usual array of large 4″ binoculars and at first the Mak 180 on the Paramount MyT. Later I would swap to the Esprit 120ED. To celebrate the outing, little geek had brought some beer 🙂
The Sun soon started to set, the day trippers hung around to watch the sunset and then were gone. I started looking at the Moon through the Altair Astro binoculars which is just a wonderful sight. A Camera cannot capture the experience of seeing the Moon with its Earthshine and in full as the FoV is 1 degree in the binoculars was a wonderful framing.
Next up was Venus before it sets, it is amazing just how bright it still is given its phase. I found in the binoculars eventually as it was hidden behind that cloud band in the distance. I then tried to get it in the Mak180, when a few new things happened. Firstly I could not slew to it as I had yet to polar align, so I had to place the scope in the right place. At the focal length of the Mak180, some 2.7m it is difficult to find something faint behind cloud just by pointing. I eventually gave up. I then noticed my laptop power had diminished by nearly 30% over about 20-25 minutes, this was due to Firecapture just hogging the USB bus capturing 100’s fps. So I was going to start the night short on juice! So I turned Firecapture off whilst I went to find Mercury in the binoculars.
Mercury was a challenge, so much so I could not find it, I put that down to that not well placed cloud band. Meanwhile I pointed the Mak180 at the Moon to have a look, but by the time I had finished I the laptop was done to 53% !!!! Not so good.
So it was time to chat to GingerGeek (GG) before I put the Esprit 120 on the mount. GG was having lots of problems setting up. Firstly he had swapped the rings on the mount for the Tak that day and was struggling to balance the scope. It was so bad the scope kept dropping nose first then camera first and then either way depending on its orientation. Eventually, after much cursing, actually a lot of cursing, GG settled for the imbalance and continued to setup, unfortunately not before he knocked his beer over in his boot of the car ? fortunately I did not laugh too much ??
I went back to my setup, placed the Esprit on the mount and then set about getting focus with Ezcap, the software that comes with the ZWO camera. I do find the software very straight forwards and does what it says on the tin as it were. I then slewed to one of the open clusters I wanted to image and realised it resided in the North and that the twilight was still very much apparent so not suitable for imaging. Instead I settled for M51 high up as to the West was the Moon.
It is a lovely image at 5 minutes, I could see instantly at least 4 other galaxies and the colour of the main Messier galaxy was very pleasing. I look forward to processing the resulting subs. I set the timer for 1 hour (12x300secs) and went back off for veggie soup, cheese rolls, brownies and coffee that GG had kindly brought along.
GG at this point was having issues focusing for his 5 minutes shot of the Pelican in Ha, he had made some other changes to the software before heading up the hill too which was confounding him. After some more time he finally had focus and started to image. However whilst a few of the images were okay, the resulting imbalance and gusts of wind made it difficult to keep pin sharp images. It should also be notes at this point that GG and I were running from the same car battery, although GG was only running the camera from it, the mount was running from his Lithium battery.
At just before 1am the inverter connected to the spare car battery turned off due to loading and power. Everything stopped for both of us ??? however GGs mount kept running due to the Lithium battery. I closed down my setup and allowed GG to reset his camera and reconnect, he then went on to start imaging, however the resulting image had moved significantly and GG decided to give up. So we spend the next 40 minutes packing up. Whilst this was going on we looked at Saturn and Jupiter through the binoculars which was a wonderful sight. Now for the 50 minute drive home to unload the car just before dawn, although by 2am it was clearly getting lighter.
The SQM for the site last night was 20.91 although the Moon was very bright. The site is also very dusty, and my laptop was covered in the morning. Another incident was that I inadvertently unscrewed the cover from the guider as I transferred from one scope to another and the glass cover fell out, I now have dust and dirt on the sensor to clean. It is not a great design by ZWO for the ASI290MC as it really needs a locking grub screw to top that happening or a reverse thread.
GGs image has set us on a little project to image the HH 555 bipolar jet at the end of the major turn of gas in the Pelican Nebula. We will attempt over the next few nights to get an image from both the Esprit 120 ED Pro from the IMT3 dome in Ha and also from the OS 12″ to see what it looks like compared to the Tak FSQ85. Another good social distancing astronomy session ? goodnight.
Tonight I traveled 50mins and 26 miles to Combe Gibbet, a high point for us in the South of England called the North Downs in Berkshire, which at 940ft above sea level places it in the wind, so it is cold but affords a distance from many towns, so it is dark. The is indeed a Gibbet at the top if one should want to take a hanged man or woman and display them for all the surrounding villages to see ? very barbaric, but part of our history.
The car was packed with various astronomy gear, the Mak180 for Lunar and planets.
The Esprit 120 ED Pro.
And of course the Altair Astro 4″ binoculars with my Paramount MyT mount.
I met a a social distance my friend Lawrence who was in a much better car than myself more suitable for the off-road terrain of getting to and just past the gibbet. Lawrence brought his trusty binoculars and his deck chair. Meanwhile I setup the 4″ Altair binoculars, the Mak180 OTA on the Paramount MyT and my Canon 6D on a tripod.
As the Sun set from this location we spied Venus first and took a look through the binos.
I captured some frames in the Mak180 with the ZWO 294MC camera. We then moved to the sliver of a Moon 2.8% illuminated and 1.6 days old. I placed the Mak180 on this for a few frames also. Lastly we moved the binos to Mercury, which is unbelievably small. Very faint in the twilight sky and surprisingly faint in the binos. I once again slewed the Mak180 and captured some 4GB files.
We then went a hunting for comet C/2020 F8 SWAN but it did not appear in the star field where it should be despite being able to see Mag 8.9 star. The comet was purportedly magnitude 5.8 but this was not the case. I checked my ephemeris on both SkySafari and The SkyX and I wass definetly in the right part of the sky and confirmed the star paterns from my star hoping, but alas no comet.
So although the wind was now dying down both Lawrence and I were cold so at just gone midnight we packed up and set off home. I must remover by coat tomorrow!
Addendum, I had read an article the following day that the comet may have broken up but I cannot yet confirm this.
A gusty night, tried M101 but after a few frames it was cloudy. Used the Tak FS102 taking 5 minutes unguided as M101 was at the meridian. Gain 7 and Offset 30 which worked well but this is a faint galaxy.
I was joined by Bob remotely and also tried to get Venus alongside Mercury as they were close together, in the Esprit 120ED on the travel setup and Bob tried through the Tak in IMT3. However I could not locate in the Esprit on the travel setup due to cloud then the roof of the neighbours house. Bob on the other hand could fit either Mercury or Venus in but not both due to the rotation of the camera. It is currently sat at 118 degrees whereas the OS is set to 187. Once both cameras have been cleaned we will set these along with the Esprit on the Paramount MEII to the same field rotation.
Our TOSA Manual needs updating now that we have replaced the HiTechAstro Deluxe Cloud Sensor with the Lunático AAG CloudWatcher cloud detector.
New Screens to get familiar with:
Initially I was unable to open the shutter of the dome. Thinking I’d forgotten to reset the HiTechAstro relay I soon realised I had to figure out why the AAG_Cloudwatcher software was reporting Unsafe. GingerGeek spotted that the Brightness level looked like a sawtooth and should settle after a few minutes, which it appeared to do and the dome shutter opened successfully.
Following on from my previous observing session on 1st May when clouds interrupted play just as I was completing a Guiding Assistant run in PHD2, I started tonight’s session with a quick look at Venus before it set below our horizon and then had another go at running the Guiding Assistant in PHD2 for the OS 12″ / Tak FS-102 combination, with the Tak as the guider for the Officina Stellare.
Venus in Ha (because it’s so bright).
As the Tak has an Alnitak Flip Flat attached to it I added it to the profile I’ve created for the OS12 and Tak combination so that the panel can be opened to allow light through to the camera 🙂
Guiding Assistant completed successfully and values applied for RA MnMo, Dec MnMo and Dec Backlash compensation.
Y scale = 2, Target Radius = 1.5
Sequence running for 2, 5, 7, 10, 12 and 15minutes.
2, 5,& 7 minutes exposures ok but trailing beginning to show at 10 minutes, quite evident at 12 minutes and very evident at 15 minutes.
Added 8 and 9 minutes to sequence, but both of these show signs of stars trailing.
Started a sequence of 24 x 5 minute exposures.
Aborted at frame 20 as the NGC3628 was now below the horizon.
The image has drifted and NGC 3628 has not remained fixed in the frame, so we still have issues with guiding as that is almost certainly the source of the drift.
02:22 Slew to M5, just off centre.
Slew to HIP 74975 to centre and focus.
02:57 Slewed to M5 and started a sequence of 24 x Lum and 8 x R,G,B 120s frames.
Sample Luminance frame:
04:08 SQM graph has started to droop. Was 18.2 before 4am, now down to 18
I have placed new filter, Baader IR-Pass 685nm from Mark Radice on the ZWO tonight and aimed to go after Venus on the Mak180 and capture another phase of the planet. I recorded several sets of data although noticed the filter does produce a somewhat pinky image.
So early on as always I opened the dome to cool down. Tonight Bob, Gingergeek and I want to image Venus in the Pleiades. Even before it got dark and as I slewed the telescopes to Venus, it was visible straight away so I took a quick image, 0.001s from both the 12″ and Bob’s FS102.
I then went off to watch TV with Helen whilst Gingergeek and Bob grabbed some more images of Venus.
Around 10pm I re-joined Bob and GingerGeek and we set about imaging Venus as it passed by M45 Pleiades in the Tak FS 102. We then went on to perform autofocus on the Tak followed buy setting up the autofocus on the Esprit 120ED
Before the clouds decided to put a stop to play, we took some images of M53 the globular cluster on the Esprit around 00:10am using the Luminance filter.
This evening started with the Moon high in the sky and waxing its way to half. Next to it Saturn sat, close in fact, so close I pointed the scope at it, around 22:30 and both the Moon and Saturn fit in the same field of view 🙂
So I took a few exposures, worried that either the Moon would be overexposed or Saturn underexposed. I settled on 0.001s and took a bunch of shots. Below is my setup by the light of my rather bright head torch, turned on only for this photo I might add.
Next it was back to trying to resolve the guiding issues that had troubled me the night before. The good news was Tom from the Software Bisque website (not the Tom Bisque, another Tom) had come back with a few suggestions and questions that made me think. I had a good set of guide stars to choose from.
The autoguide Setup window is where I would spend most of my time I was sure, changing parameters.
I recalibrated the mount, this time using 100arcsec as the parameter. The previous calibration run produced a rather short cross.
This gave me a better ‘cross’ and I think should improve the guiding, although I am still skeptical about just how quick it calibrates, some 4-5 seconds.
Back to guiding the mount was still all over the place, I am convinced it is overcorrecting, on the basis if I don’t guide I get better stars up to 45s or so. I added in a much longer settle period and this seemed to help, but still the graph is a long way from the sort of guiding I was getting before they updated the software.
The wind was a bit gusty tonight as last night and for sure this was not helping, you can tell from a few exposures it was wind related jumps and drifting
I sat back after a while of changing different settings feeling that it was not improving, so I took a whole bunch of images, only 90s of the Sharpless object Trevor had mentioned, SH2-101 which is called the Tulip nebula. Trevor had produced a lovely image from his 14″ in the UK so I thought I would have a quick go, knowing most of the frames would be lost.
So by 00:30 I decided to start to pack up, the wind had picked up, I was cold, the guiding was still a problem, so by just gone 1am I was heading down the mountain, some 1 hour and 20min drive! The final view from the bridge as it were was this.
The next day I processed the data for the Sharpless object and it was ok, given the short amount of data. One for the 12″ I think.
Meanwhile I processed a single image of the Moon and Saturn and was pleased with the result as seen above. Here is a version with Saturn as an insert.