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.
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.