19:30 – 03:48
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.