Saturday, 25 July 2009

Binocular session 24 July 2009

This was a very short session due to a migraine I'd acquired during the course of the day, so it was out for a quick sesh with the 8x42s. I am doing the AL Binocular deep Sky program at the moment, but I had lost the charts so decided to pick off a few objects in Cygnus instead. Luckily a couple of them are on the AL list (which - surprisingly - does not have many summer objects on it).
This was the first clear night dark enough to properly observe in ages. I poked around in Sagittarius, Bootes and Cygnus. Cygnus is my favourite area of the summer sky and is incredibly rich, being located in the Milky Way. Here, our sky is quite dark and it was better than mag 6, and the MW is very bright and detailed, with rifts and dark lanes.

The objects:
NGC 5466 - Globular Cluster in Bootes: This is easy to find, being in a direct line from the Bear's tail (handle of the Dipper) to Arcturus, but not so easy to see in binoculars. It's a very faint round glow.

NGC 6910 - Open Cluster in Cygnus: Small knot of stars adjacent to Sadr. Telescopically, this is one of my favourite OC's but in binos it's not more than a bright knot with a couple of bright stars attached.

NGC 6866 - Open Cluster in Cygnus: A small knot of stars between Sadr and Delta Cygni. A hazy, roundish patch. Hard to keep bins still at this angle and the remnants of the migraine made it impossible to look up at an angle for any length of time.

I love observing with my binoculars, they are the ultimate "grab 'n' go" scope, but I will be glad when I have got a servicable scope again!

Friday, 24 July 2009

Scope bother - the tale continues

A few posts ago I mentioned that the mirror cell of my home-made Dob was not very good, with the collimation slipping several times in a session. Also the mirror itself - unrelated to the mirror cell problem - has started to oxidise (looking through from the back it is like looking at a starry sky), but, I was told at our society's weekly get together last night, that's normal (funny, my old 8.5 inch never had this problem) and it also looks filthy. I washed it a few months ago, but got some instructions on how to try and - carefully! - get more of the crap off it.
Therein lies a lesson: never, ever, let a non-astronomy relative talk/nag you into storing a scope in the bloody garden shed!!! It was the mould that has done some of the damage.

Below is the mirror in its currently grubby state. I have labelled a cat hair, just in case it looks like a scratch - no, the cat has been nowhere near my mirror, but her hairs have a nasty habit of getting everywhere. I will get the mirror recoated sometime, but in the meantime, I have put it in a box in a cupboard until I decide what to do with it. The rest of the scope can go back in the shed!

Because the home made 12" scope is a bit cumbersome and pretty big, plus takes up too much storage space, I have decided to buy an off-the-shelf 12" Dob, such as a Revelation (made by GSO and sold by Telescope House here in the UK) or Lightbridge (sold by Meade but actually made by GSO). I have heard mixed reports about these, but at £550 for the Revelation, you can't go too far wrong. Taking into account the mirror cell problem and mirror problem with my current scope, deciding to get something else is not a hard decision and besides a cheap scope will do until I can save up for a 16" Orion Optics UK Dob.

I also have an 8" Celestron Newtonian on a Vixen GP mount which I can use in the meantime. However, this scope's mirror is also in a poor state! I hasten to add that it was like it when I acquired the scope (I was given it a few years ago by someone who no longer wanted the thing).

I hope that it won't be too long before I can get back into observing with a decent-sized scope. I am currently temping (the economic climate is shot to shit and prospects are gloomy at present) and I am hoping that my current short-term contract lasts a few more weeks so I can get my hands on a new Dob.
In the meantime, I will carry on observing with my binoculars and other small instruments. I have a deep sky binocular project on the go at the moment, so it's not as if I am wasting time.

Sunday, 19 July 2009

Texas Star Party 2010...???

I am getting itchy feet about going to the Texas Star Party again. I am hoping I can get to the 2010 event, depending on my finances. I am currently temping while the economy remains shot to pieces and permanent jobs are few and far between, so my getting to TSP 2010 is looking 50/50 at best.

The 2010 TSP is from 9th to 16th May inclusive, which gives me just under ten months in which to save up some money.

Here are my accounts of previous TSPs I've attended:

TSP 2006
TSP 2008

ISS and Space Shuttle

On Wednesday evening, I watched on NASA TV the launch of shuttle Endeavour on her mission to the International Space Station. I am always impressed by rocket launches, although sadly I have never seen one in the flesh, and it's even more impressive when you log into a tracking page to see that the shuttle is directly above your home twenty minutes later! I did dash outside to try and see the moving space shuttle dot, but it was still cloudy. Pity, as there would have been two dots - one dot being the shuttle orbiter itself, the other the jettisoned external fuel tank.

On Friday night, I watched the ISS (with shuttle attached) come over. It orbits the earth from west to east and is now very bright as all the relevant bits and pieces are now attached.

On a related note, I read in the paper that Britain is - finally!!! - going to allow its citizens to fly on manned space missions. Up until now any Briton in space had to go as a 'space tourist' (Helen Sharman) or change their nationality (Michael Foale, Piers Sellers and Nicholas Patrick) because that old bag Thatcher vetoed the UK funding manned space exploration thus effectively barring UK citizens becoming astronauts. Up until now the UK had always said that the £180 million it pays into ESA should not be used for funding manned space exploration. How short sighted and stupid is that? Fortunately Lord Drayson, the current science minister, has reversed that stupid policy and before long, we should see British astronauts in their own right. This country has deteriorated a lot in the past couple of decades and it would be nice to have something to be proud of again.

Pity I am too old - 40 in January - and too unfit (dodgy ears and mild asthma)... :-(

Washout Down Under! A tale of woe.

I got back from a two-month trip to Australia and South East Asia last month. Fortunately this wasn't an astronomy trip, although I was hoping to fit some observing in of course, because the weather was - let's not beat around the bush here - frankly bloody awful! I joined some friends from the Texas Star Party who were visiting Australia for the 'Deepest South Texas Star Safari' being held in Coonabarabran. We met up in Sydney and had a nice meal at a restaurant in The Rocks before meeting up again the following morning at Sydney Central railway station. The weather omens were already bad - it rained all day and we drove from Dubbo to Coonabarabran under leaden skies and driving rain.

Unfortunately I could only stay one night because the next day I had to return to Sydney and then travel onto the southern town of Wollongong 80kms south of Sydney, for a pelagic birdwatching trip which was scheduled for the Saturday. This one night was a complete washout, it rained all night, which was pretty disappointing. It became even more annoying when I got to Wollongong and the f*cking pelagic was cancelled due to high winds! Aaargh! So infuriating! I could have stayed in Coona and got some observing in a few days later as the weather improved. As it was, my sorely depleted finances wouldn't allow me to return to Coona and I was flying to Thailand a few days later in any case. In the end, I consoled myself with some binocular observations from light-polluted Sydney. Scant consolation, but at least I got to poke around among what stars were visible.

We did, however, attend an interesting meeting of the local astronomy club and I got to see the famous Siding Spring Observatory, albeit from the road.

It wasn't a complete disaster, it wasn't as if I'd travelled 12000 miles just to observe, and I had been to Australia and pretty much scoped out the Southern Hemisphere winter skies in 1997. But one thing's for sure - I am going back to Australia and the DSTSS properly in a couple of years' time!
And I never did hear from the Astronomy Society of New South Wales, which is very disappointing.