Wednesday, 9 April 2008

Observing, 8th April 2008

Last night was another clear one, so it was out with the scope. I set it up early in the evening and decided to have a bash at collimating it properly. I made sure the sling on the primary was ok (it had slipped a little) and, with the laser, collimated the secondary. Perfect! Job done.
The light shroud keeps slipping as, despite measuring before the scope was completed, it's a little too loose. I'm going to have to get a bungee cord or something to help keep it in place.

I spent the time in the galaxies and, as expected the 12-inch showed up galaxies, and details in galaxies, that my old 8-inch never could. I managed to make a sketch of NGC 3953 in Ursa Major before being clouded out - the clouds were temporary but as I had to be up at 0630 I packed in for the night.

NGC 3953 appeared oval, with a brighter nucleus, at 61x and 102x. At 37x it was oval but shows no other detail. Unfortunately drifting clouds hampered the observation.

Tuesday, 8 April 2008

Messier session

A very nice clear night last night, quite transparent and with good seeing but as I was feeling like crap (got some disease, heaven knows what but I feel tired all the time), I didn't lug the scope out and instead knocked off some more Messier Objects with my binoculars.
I did the entire early Spring group in one session and some of the late Spring group as well. Of course some of the galaxies were a bit difficult and I didn't see M108 at all (this was my second attempt at it) but M44, 48, 81, 82, 109, 101, 40, 3, 51, 94, 67, 106, 63, 64, 53, 65, 66 and 105 are all in the bag (some I have observed before, but I was trying to improve the observations, e.g. M97 I failed to see last time, but last night it was no bother at all). That makes it 69 out of the 109 or 110 Messier Objects I have seen to date during this project.
It's shaping up to be a nice night tonight as well, and I will take the scope out this time, although I have to get up early for work tomorrow (I'm looking for another job as I bloody well hate having to be at work by 0730 - probably something to do with the chronic tiredness I bet).

Friday, 4 April 2008

'Hidden Treasures'

I ordered a copy of Steve O'Meara's book 'Deep-Sky Companions: Hidden Treasures' from Waterstones last Saturday and it arrived today, so I went into town and collected it after work. It is a big, fat book, much larger than Steve's previous books in the Deep-Sky Companions series: 'The Messier Objects' and 'The Caldwell Objects' (to be honest, I have no time for the 'Caldwell Catalogue' but I collect books on deep sky observing and it was nice to have this as part of the set. Besides, I bought it at London Astrofest in 2006 when Steve was there, doing a talk and I got mine signed - how could I resist?!) but is laid out the same way, object by object, with information, photos, sketches and descriptions.

Because of the title Hidden Treasures, Steve has introduced a pirate theme and categorised observers as such e.g. people who observe objects quickly and move on for the sake of completing lists (such as Herschel 400, etc) are described as hit-and-run 'Barbary pirates' while those who take their time and really look at objects, maybe making notes and sketches are the more 'romantic' pirates, such as the Pirates of the Caribbean, rifling through the treasure chests of the night sky, although I think there's a bit of both observer-pirate types in all of us. I have seen people on various forums on the net saying they dislike the pirate theme, but personally I find it a refreshing change, it isn't laboured and it is a bit of fun, although on my first flick through I did wonder at first about the fixation with ships before the pirate connotations became apparent.
It's not all pirate fun though, the object descriptions are serious enough, and it is full of excellent tips on how to observe these objects.

Steve is a wonderful observer (I had the pleasure of observing with him at the Texas Star Party in 2006) and as ever, his super sketches grace the book. As a visual observer myself, I particularly appreciate books with a visual bias and this is one of the best. Steve does have the advantage of a high observing site, on Kilauea Volcano in Hawai'i, which is also blessed with good weather and many clear nights but this shouldn't detract from the usefulness of this book in planning your own observing sessions. I am looking forward to going to bed in a while (yes, it is cloudy!) and having a good read.

I made the collimation worse on the scope the other night while fiddling with it! My friend Richard, who built it, is coming over next week to sort it out - he thinks the secondary is out of alignment or that the sling has come off the primary (I'd not thought of either possibility, to be honest) when I brought it home in the car; it did rattle a lot and once that's sorted I'll be in business. Now if only we can get some decent clear nights, preferably when I don't have to be at work the next morning (is it me, or is the high cloud worse these days?)...

Eight weeks to go until the Texas Star Party! I am flying to San Antonio on the 31st May (Saturday) and will get to the Prude Ranch on the Monday. I'm hoping it will be clear for some Big Scope observing, like last time, but even if it isn't (2005 and 2007 were grotty) the party will, for me, be on with or without stars. I'm there for the socialising as much as for the observing, a change of scenery and also indulging in my other hobby of birding.
I wish I was at the BAA Winchester Weekend. That's on this weekend and I'm stuck at work until Monday! Ok, it isn't what it used to be (what is, these days?) but it's a fun social event. Mind you, I'm skint, so I couldn't go even if I wasn't working. I paid out for my air fare to the States a couple of weeks ago and my car is being MOT'd and serviced next week.