Wednesday, July 3, 2019

#190 - Tuesday, June 25, 2019 - Star Tours

My boss asked me about a year ago if I would be willing to do some astronomy with his two high-school-aged daughters.  I wanted to bring them out to the observatory and show them the night sky sights, but a good night never surfaced - it was either a clear moonless weekend night where I was planning on imaging, or it was cloudy, or a week night when they had school the next morning, or one of us was busy, or any number of things. 

Finally, the forecast called for clear skies, his daughters were out of school for the summer, and I wasn't planning on imaging that night because I wasn't going to be able to get enough done before having to get to bed for leaving for Chile the next day!  And they were available that night.  So I packed my 8-inch Celestron NexStar SE rig into my car, since I didn't want to risk the club's similar version being checked out or something, as well as a jacket and some bug spray!  I also unpacked my ZWO ASI1600MM Pro, my electronic filter wheel, and my tablet from the suitcase I had prepped for my upcoming trip to Chile so that I could do some planetary imaging of Jupiter, which is shining brightly post-opposition in the southeastern sky in the evening. 

I got out there about 8:30, unlocked the observatory, and gave them a tour of the building.  We went up into the dome with the old, very long reflector in it, which I've never seen through since the dome doesn't rotate properly at the moment.  We're in the process of replacing the scope and mount and getting the dome fixed.  After the quick tour, we hung out outside as the sky slowly darkened (very slowly!).  I got my telescope set up, and Jupiter was visible in not too much time, so we looked at that for a while.  My telescope was hot from sitting in the car, so there was a lot of heat current disturbing the view for a while.  The scope cooled eventually, and the air finally settled down.  After aligning on a couple stars once they popped out (and identifying them for my guests), we looked at a couple of other objects as it got darker. 

Some patchy cloud banks rolled through, but by about 10:15, they had cleared out pretty well, and the sky was gorgeous.  We saw numerous satellites and rocket bodies up overhead, even from our fairly light-polluted location.

First, we looked at Mizar and Alcor, and we could easily see Mizar's twin.  We saw a hint of Alcor's second star.  Then we went over to double-star Albireo, which was pretty and up high.  As the sky darkened, we could move on to dimmer targets, like M57, the Ring Nebula, since Vega was an obvious star for them to find.  It was readily apparent with averted vision due to its compact size.  That got them used to using averted vision, and then I went over to M51 Whirlpool Galaxy.  I showed them pictures I had taken of the Ring Nebula and the Whirlpool Galaxy after they looked in the scope so that they'd have a better idea of what exactly it was they were looking at.  M51 showed two obvious cores and some hints of spiralness despite the still-bright sky.  They were awe-struck to imagine the vast distances involved between galaxies!

My boss and his two daughters left around 11 PM, and I stuck around to capture some images of Jupiter.  I got my ZWO and filter wheels attached and started grabbing a couple of data sets.  The day before, I finally received the 2-inch to 1.25-inch filter converter I ordered from High Point Scientific, which let me fill up the empty slot in my filter wheel with the Johnson-Cousins IR photometric filter I have from one of my fellow club members.  I've used it previously for imaging planets, and since light is less perturbed by the atmosphere at that wavelength, it makes for a great luminance channel.  The seeing looked pretty decent, so I was optimistic about the data.  I took a few sets, and then packed up and left around midnight.  A fun evening!  I'll have to wait to process them until I get back from Chile though!

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