Nature gave me a break on Tuesday night when I returned from the National Youth Science Camp, which was much-needed! Of course, I still had to be at work the next day, but I'll take what I can get.
On Wednesday, I woke up with a sore throat - I guess four nights of astronomy in a row without getting to sleep in was just too much for my immune system!
I was originally planning on going to another star party this weekend, but the weather was looking very hot, and the other members of my astronomy club who were planning to go decided not to, so I decided to stay home too. However, there was potential for a few more clear nights at home, so I decided to go ahead and keep the days off of work I had planned for Thursday and Friday and do a stay-cation. I'm very glad I did!
Wednesday night was looking clear, and I wasn't feeling sick from this oncoming cold yet, so I drove out to the observatory. My minion Miqaela joined me to take another crack at getting her Newtonian to guide. She can't focus her camera in it directly, but with a 2x Barlow it moves the focal point out just far enough that she can focus. This, of course, doubles her focal length to 1300mm, which is pushing it for the Orion 50mm mini-guider she has, which has a focal length of 162 mm and claims it can guide scopes as long as 1500mm.
I set out to use the club's memorial telescope setup, the 5-inch Vixen refractor on its Losmandy Gemini G11 mount inside of a backyard dome. I've been using it for the past year with great success, besides the blue halos that form around brighter stars because it's not apochromatic.
Miqaela's problems started early when we weren't really able to balance her Newt. She doesn't have it inside rings where it can rotate, but instead it's on a dovetail bar screwed into the bottom. This is fine for visual observing on an alt-az mount, but when you try to hang a camera from it on an equatorial mount, the balance point in the declination axis depends on where you are pointing in the sky because the camera can either end up on top, on the bottom, around the side, etc. Since we weren't able to get it balanced, there was a lot of backlash in the dec axis, and guiding was just not working.
I wasn't having much more success. I booted up the mount, told it to slew to Deneb since I was going to image the Elephant Trunk Nebula, and then watched as it slewed all the way south and then started pointing at the ground. So I restarted it and chose the Cold Start option to clear out all previous alignments, and its initial guess of Deneb was not great, and then I slewed to Alderamin to check, added that as an additional alignment, and then slewed to the Elephant Trunk. I couldn't see it in the images though, and I have seen it in that scope before when I tried to image it on my DSLR last year. So I told it to slew to another star, and it again slewed really far off, which pulled the AC power cord to my ZWO camera really tight (it's an obscenely short cable between the AC/DC converter box and the camera, even when I just try to hang it off the scope it can't reach at all telescope pointing directions)), which pulled on the dec motor and seems to have caused it to come loose or something. I had to push the scope up as dec slewed, and it couldn't find its way back to home. So I slewed there myself (or close to home at least), shut it off, and gave up for the evening.
I still didn't get home until 2 AM though! But I did get to sleep in Thursday morning, and sleep I did, all the way to 11:30 AM! It was wonderful.
Just goes to show you can't have too much good luck! The skies were hazy anyway, so it would've been a tough imaging night.
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