A cold observing session cut short

Jan 5

Written by:
1/5/2014 8:31 AM  RssIcon

I actually had what I thought was a clear-ish night last night. Well, I could see stars out the window, which is better than what I've had for most of the last 3 or 4 weeks. But it was also 15F with winds blowing 10 to 20 mph, so rather than take a long focal length scope out, I decided on the Starblast 4.5. I knew the tripod was solid, and the wind wasn't likely to catch the short tube.

Wow... did that turn out to be one of my worst observing sessions ever. I shoveled some snow in my yard to have a decent spot to set up without having to stand in 4 inches of snow. I even dressed totally properly for the weather too - layers of clothing, hand and toe warmers, plus mittens over gloves. Everything was warm. Had my tablet with Sky Safari all set up, and the gloves under my mittens have the little "pads" on them so I could manipulate the tablet while protecting my hands from the cold.

I had wanted to look for a few things in Cepheus, but all those were wayyyy too low behind my house by the time I got outside around 10:30. So I started out looking for M52 in Cassiopeia. Unfortunately, where I'd set up it was just below the roofline of my house. So I went for M103 instead. All I could see were the four main stars within the cluster - the 8th & 9th magnitude stars in the center. Where was the rest of it? Even averted vision, I wasn't getting much of anything. Tried magnifications at 20x, 44x and 67x. No change.

I had thought the transparency was pretty decent. I knew the seeing was terrible from the stars twinkling, but thought I should be able to see more. My eyes hadn't fully dark-adapted yet, so I thought I'd swing around to M42 instead.

Now here's what was really strange. My ability to see the nebula would alter, from not-a-lot of color, but at least most of the "wings" and a good bright central portion, to almost nothing. The trapezium kept wobbling in and out of focus. What the heck? I looked up at Orion naked eye. Any clouds there? No. There were some clouds to the north, but none that I could see south. Was the Sword region dimmer at all? No. Then why was it going from bright to dim and back again?

In retrospect, I think I figured out partly why, and it's the reason I came in long before I got cold and decided to call it a night. As I was looking up at Orion to try and figure out what was going on, a gust of wind came up and blew a bunch of snow off my neighbor's roof. At the time, the first thing that popped into my head was, "Oh no - I've got an open telescope tube here; I don't want a pile of snow blowing into it!" since I was only 10-15 feet or so from two roof surfaces of my own house.

It's possible that blowing snow was blocking my view of M42 as well, and causing the dimming to occur at the eyepiece. However, before heading in, I decided to try a quick peek at Jupiter. It was one of the worst images of the planet I've had in a long time. The atmospheric seeing was just atrocious, and I wasn't getting much in the way of transparency either. Ugh.

Oh well - I gave it a shot. Hopefully after the brutal -10F to -20F temps pass here in a few days, it will be warm enough and clear enough to try again.


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The Nightlight

This blog includes what to see in the night and daytime skies, thoughts on telescopes, binoculars, and other astronomy observing accessories and equipment, plus my own occasional notes on objects I've seen and observed. Oh, and the random theater or other "my take on life" post. In other words, there is always something interesting. Check it out.