A clear, cold night (but not frigid)

Jan 4

Written by:
1/4/2013 11:01 PM  RssIcon

I don't know if it's a sign of my advancing age, or my remembering better how to withstand colder temps, but 25F with a 16F wind chill tonight didn't seem all that bad.  Maybe it was because I had not been out for much serious observing in so long.  It had been totally cloudy for over 2 weeks, it seemed.  In any case, I finally got to DO some observing.

First, I took out the 10" Dob.  That was more due to slight laziness than anything - or perhaps my desire to get out there and see things in the night sky without having to put something back together.  The 6" f/5 was not on the mount, and it's tripod was being "borrowed" for another project in the basement.  I didn't want to use a 70mm scope, , the 4.5" Tasco was in pieces and the 90mm refractor was sitting on a pipe mount on a slightly-less-than-adequate tripod.  So despite not having used the 10" Dob in... wow - I really don't remember how long - probably sometime since summer? - I picked it up and dragged it out.

First up: Comet C/2012 K5 LINEAR.  I did try looking for this comet with binoculars on the 1st, to no avail.  But tonight it was perfectly situated: Right near Alnath.  And sure enough, I didn't even need a finder chart.  Well, I looked at one before I went outside and memorized where it should be.  And it was!  Nice, round core, with just a hint of a tail.  Dimmer than I expected, but bright enough to see quite easily, for sure.  Gosh I'm looking forward to comets ISON and PANSTARRS later this year!

Next was M79.  I figured since I highlighted this in the present week's video, I ought to view it this week.  Small problem: I don't have greatest southern view from my house.  The small "triangle of light-trespass-free" area of my front yard where I normally observe means there is both a house and a tree blocking most of the southern view of the sky.  So I moved the Dob back into a "lit" area so I wouldn't keep having the line of sight run into the roof of the house across the alley.  For a 10" scope, the core is bright, but overall it was smaller than I expected, and at 60x, no stars were resolved.  But it was nice, tight, fuzzy spot that wasn't hard to see.  Just not a lot of detail.  I was surprised at that, but higher magnification and better dark adaptation may have brought some of that out if I'd given that a chance.

But I didn't.  M42 was waiting, patiently.  That nebula never disappoints: The greens were clear tonight, and though I suspected some orange tonight, I think that really was my imagination.  The more I really looked and observed, the more grey those areas looked.  Looking away and looking back still brought grey, but the overall view was still fantastic.  I really tried harder to look at M43, but geez... M42 just practically overpowers it, if not with brightness, then with detail, size and splendor.  It's no contest: M42 is just fantastic to view compared to it's smaller neighbor, despite being of the same molecular cloud of gas.

I made an attempt for M78, and I'm pretty sure I found it, but not 100% certain.  I didn't have any star charts out with me: I just wanted to wander around and visit some old friends in the sky, and to be honest, I haven't spent a lot of time with M78.  

I turned to Jupiter.  The seeing of the atmosphere was not fantastic by any means, but it wasn't horrible.  At 400x, it was clear that Jupiter had some serious detail to be observed tonight.  I could REALLY see the Great Red Spot with ease at moments of clarity as I patiently waited for them, and the more subtle details of the two equatorial bands would tease me with hints of whorls and other finer features.  But it was a lot more "tease" than "ease" of seeing things.

I decided to go smaller - in aperture, but not in focal length.  I put the 10" scope away, and brought out the 1655mm focal length 6" scope.  This meant dragging out some of those components I had left inside earlier, but it was worth it.  The best views were at around 275x, less than the 10" was, but the clarity in the 10 was hampered by the seeing more than the 6".  So more detail could be seen for longer in the 6".  It was worth the effort, for sure, though that scope needs some optimizing before it reaches its full potential.

I turned that scope on M42, attempting to split the E and F Trapezium stars, but with the so-so seeing and the wind starting to pick up and vibrate the scope slightly, I figured I wasn't going to have success with that, and I didn't.  But what I did see was interesting.  Normally, the area of M42 where the Trapezium is gets "blanked out" by the stars, and appears 'empty' of the surrounding gas.  But at this higher magnification, it stayed 'filled in' - the stars shining cleanly, but the gas cloud itself also remaining quite grey and visible all around those stars.  I don't recall seeing that before.  Perhaps I have and didn't note it, but it was certainly unexpected, but pleasant to see as well.

The cold and wind got to me after about 90 minutes, so I called it a night.  But it was a very worthwhile night, for sure.


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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.