Thursday, June 30, 2011

6/30/11 Observing Log

First observing session of 2011! Wow, it has been almost a year since I have taken the telescope out for some night-time viewing! I happened to notice it was fairly clear tonight without too much city haze, and no moon visible, so I decided to see if I could find a few more Messier objects.

But even more exciting, I have ordered another telescope!

After using the Orion SkyQuest XT8 Classic Dobsonian for all my recent viewing over the past few years, I have now ordered the Orion SkyQuest XT10g Computerized Go-To Dobsonian. I have been wanting a computerized scope that can track against the earth's rotation for a long time, and the value of the XT10g is superb.

Orion has a backlog of orders, and it looks like the scope will not be shipped until mid-to-late August. The May 2011 issue of Sky & Telescope has a great review of the XT10g, remarking that the optics and mirror are excellent, but there is a slight bit of vibration when the motor unit moves the scope. So I also ordered a set of damping pads.

The thing I like about the XT10g is that once you align it by viewing two stars, you can move it by hand to a new object instead of slewing to the object, and the scope will maintain its tracking abilities.

I'm hoping that I can finally take some pictures of the moon and the planets through the new scope by using a camera T-attachment. But that is all for later after I have had the new scope for a while.

Observed these objects tonight:

  • Saturn - Spent quite a bit of time looking at Saturn tonight. The rings are opening up more evey year. The 5mm Stratus gives very clear views at 240x in between the usual shakes of atmospheric turbulence. I then added the Celestron 2x Barlow to boost the mag to 480x, which turned out fairly well with sharp views on occasion, and was high-powered enough to finally see the Cassini Division! I then switched to the Orion 3x Barlow for 720x, which was still not as bad as I thought it would be. I could still get occasional sharp views even at 720x, though the coloring was a bit washed out.

  • M3 - First sighting. Star hopped from Arcturus and Muphrid (Eta Boötis). Fairly faint with the north Austin light pollution, but looks good through 13mm Orion Stratus at 92x.

  • M5 - Star hopped from Unukalhai (Alpha Serpentis). Brighter than M3. Can see individual stars even with the north Austin light pollution. This would probably look amazing under some very dark skies with no light pollution.

Overall, spent about an hour outside tonight stargazing.


Saturday, July 10, 2010

7/10/10 Observing Log

Second observing session of 2010. I didn't observe much in the summer last year, so this is an opportunity to see some summer objects.

Observed these objects tonight:

  • Saturn - Spent a bit of time looking at Saturn. The rings are starting to open.

  • M5 - First sighting. Bigger than I expected. Dim but very nice starfield. Can see lots of individual stars, especially with averted vision. Looks good through 8mm Orion Stratus at 150x.

  • Arcturus - Attempted to attach my camera holder to my scope and take a picture of Arcturus through the eyepiece, but was not particularly successful. The picture came out, but was not very impressive.

  • Antares - Took a look at Antares in order to star hop over to M4.

  • M4 - First sighting. Found it by star hopping from Antares.

Hopefully I'll get out more often between now and winter.


Saturday, July 3, 2010

See Saturn, Mars, Regulus, and Venus!

If you look west tonight, you will be able to see Saturn, Mars, Regulus and Venus in a rough line.

Saturn is highest in the sky and farthest south, followed by Mars, the star Regulus in the constellation Leo, and then the very bright planet Venus.

Here is a picture of the configuration:

If you miss it tonight, don't worry, the same configuration will roughly occur for the next week or so. Venus will move to the left of Regulus over the next two weeks, and Mars and Saturn will get closer to each other by the end of July.

For those who are curious, the screen cap was taken on my iPhone using the Starmap app.


Tuesday, January 12, 2010

1/11/10 Observing Log

First observing session of 2010. I've now had the telescope a little over a year, so it is back to observing the winter constellations again. I've now viewed most of the non-galaxy winter Messier objects visible in the first half of the night, so almost everything viewed this evening I've seen before. But it gives me a chance to see how the seeing is different than in previous times.

Plus, tonight was the first time I've really seen Mars well, and the first time I've seen it through my Orion 8" scope.

Observed these objects tonight:

  • M41 - Took a quick look at M41 since I can find it within a few seconds if I have the green laser pointer running, since it is so easy to find between Sirius and Adhara.

  • NGC 2204 - Happened to see this listed in my Pocket Sky Atlas, near Mirzam in Canis Major. I was quite disappointed. Nothing really to see here. Move along.

  • M79 - I've gotten to the point now where I can estimate the seeing/light pollution of my observing location in my back yard by seeing how easily I can see all the stars of Lepus with the naked eye, which is the quadrilateral shape below Orion. Alpha Leporis (Arneb) is magnitude 2.58, Beta Leporis (Nihal) in 2.84, Epsilon Leporis is 3.19 and Mu Leporis is 3.29. I could barely make out Mu Leporis, so my backyard naked-eye limiting magnitude is probably around 3.50, which gives you an idea of how bad the light pollution is here. Anyway, I found M79 fairly easily compared to last year. If you extend the line from Alpha to Beta and intersect it with a line perpendicular to a line between Beta and Mu, you should find it quickly. M79 is a globular cluster - one of the few you can see during the winter - and is a faint circular smudge in my scope.

  • M42, M43 (Orion Nebula) - Spent some time looking at the Orion Nebula with various eyepieces and filters. Tonight, I think the Oxygen III filter brought out more detail than the UltraBlock. Popped in the 8mm Stratus to get a good view of the Trapezium.

  • Canopus - As I was looking around the sky for the next thing to observe, I happened to notice a bright star far in the southern sky, just above the neighborhood tree line. At first I thought it was a distant plane! I watched it for a few moments and it didn't move, so I got out my iPhone and brought up Starmap and quickly determined it was Canopus! This was interesting simply because back where I grew up, in northern Indiana, you can never see Canopus since it is always below the horizon. Canopus is the second brightest star in the sky after Sirius. No wonder it looked like a plane. I took a quick look at it through the scope. Canopus is in the constellation Carina, which got me thinking about Eta Carinae. I determined from a bit of research later that I probably won't be able to see Eta Carinae from Austin. Even if I could somehow see it, it would probably be totally washed out by all the horizon haze here. Time for a trip to South Padre!

  • NGC 2360 - Decided I wanted to check out M47 and M46 again, so I star-hopped to them from Sirius, and passed NGC 2360 along the way. Not a bad little open cluster.

  • M47 - M47 is a bright open cluster, but generally isn't as visually interesting to me as M46.

  • M46 - I always find M46 interesting. It is also a good way to determine how good your seeing is and how dark it is. I have seen M46 as hundreds of faint orangish stars on nights with excellent seeing, but tonight most of the color was washed out, so the cluster looked grey and less stars were visible than in my other sightings last year. A bit disappointing.

  • Mars - By now Mars was quite high in the sky (shortly after midnight on 1/12/10). This was my first viewing of Mars through my Orion telescope, and really my first-ever good look at Mars under high magnification. The lower power 19mm and 16mm Edge-On eyepieces just showed a small bright whitish disk (Mars is at magnitude -1.0, which is bright enough to affect your night vision!), so I moved up to the 13mm, 8mm and 5mm Stratus, and then added the Barlow to the 5mm to get Mars magnified to 480x. While this necessitated moving the Dob frequently, I was clearly able to see the intense white of the South Polar Cap; it contrasted well with the rest of the orangish hue of the planet. I also observed a prominent dark Y-shaped feature which I later researched to be Syrtis Major (the lower part of the Y) and Noachis Terra / Terra Cimmeria (the arms of the Y). This map of the prominent features of Mars shows all of those locations. The whole experience of seeing Mars for the first time under high mag was extremely cool. I can see how the eye can play tricks on you, since the image changes a lot as it gets affected by the atmosphere. If you look at it long enough, you might start seeing some canals as well, just like Percival Lowell!

  • Saturn - By this time Saturn had risen enough for me to move my scope around the yard a bit and take a look. The rings are no longer edge-on like they were in September, but they are still quite narrrow. I could see the shadow of the rings on the Saturnian surface, and I could also see Titan nearby. Saturn is also an orangish color in my scope, similar to Mars.

All in all, a nice hour and a half of viewing tonight. I finally "knowingly" saw Canopus, and I had my first real view of Mars. Even though the light pollution seemed high tonight, I was pretty pleased with the overall outcome.

I ordered a better green laser pointer earlier this week, since my current green laser is very powerful but stops working well when it gets cold. I have to spend 3-5 minutes heating it up with the warmth my hand before it starts shooting a long beam again. The new one is from Orion Telescopes and is supposedly able to handle colder temperatures. We'll see.


Saturday, November 28, 2009

Playing Classic Board and Card Games With a Six-Year-Old

I've been pulling a few classic games from the closet and playing them with my 6-year old son, Isaac. Turns out they hold up well!

We've played Uno off and on over the past year. It's a pretty good game for a 5 or 6 year old. My son tends to hoard the Wild and Wild Draw Four cards and play them at the very end, I guess due a fear of using a "good" card. Surprisingly, this stragegy works fairly well. In the mid-game, rather than using a Wild to avoid taking a card, he'll take a card for a few turns instead. If he lucks out and gets the card he needs relatively quickly, then the extra cards don't hurt too much, and he's then unbeatable when he gets down to his last few cards that are all Wilds, especially if they are Wild Draw Fours. Uno is also a great game for Isaac to play along with Mom and Dad, because Mom and Dad tend to battle between themselves and let the little guy get rid of all his cards.

Since Uno went well, a few weeks ago I taught him Mille Bornes (actually, a slightly simplified version of the real game where the goal is to get to exactly 1000 kilometers rather than play for points, and we don't use the coup fourré rule). The game requires some math skills when adding up the mileage cards, and also some association skills between remedy, hazard and safety cards. He was able to remember which remedy cards fixed which hazard cards pretty easily, and was very good at adding up all the mileage cards. The only mileage card that usually trips him up is the 75 kilometer card. I remember that one was tough for me to add up as well when I played as a child (and I was older than 6!). He had a harder time remembering which safety card prevents which hazards, probably because the safety cards don't come up often enough. He did know to hold onto remedy cards, and quickly understood that they were more valuable than mileage cards. The real learning and thinking occurs when he has to discard because he can't play anything and he has to choose which card he needs the least.

Earlier in the week we played Sorry! (the Nostalgia Edition) for the first time. We had played Trouble several months ago, so he knew the basic concept of moving your pawns around from a Start to a Home base. I hadn't played Sorry! in a very long time, and in my mind it was equivalent to Trouble, but it actually has involves more strategy due to cards like 4 (move a pawn four spaces backward), 7 (split your move between two pawns), 10 (move 10 spaces forward OR 1 backward), and 11 (move 11 spaces forward or switch one of your pawns with one of your opponents). It is interesting seeing how he chooses which of my pawns to switch with his own when he draws a Sorry! card or an 11 card. He even sometimes used the 4 card (move backwards 4 spaces) strategically after starting a pawn, after watching me do it once and asking about it. I'd recommend starting with Trouble at age 4-5 since the dice are self-contained within the center bubble, and then moving on to Sorry! at age 5-6.

So... earlier today when we were driving around, Isaac said he wanted to "try a game where there's BOMBS". Well, Stratego has bombs, so I decided to give it a try, not knowing if it would be too advanced for him or not (the box says "Age 8+"). I described the rules to him, which are actually fairly simple (goal is to get your opponent's Flag, Bombs and Flags cannot move, lower number pieces beat higher, both pieces lose in a tie, bombs blow up all pieces except Miners (8s), Scouts (9s) can move more than one square if it is open, and Spies (S) beat the Marshal (1) if it attacks first). What surprised me is on his own volition without prompting he set up his pieces so that his Flag was in the back, surrounded by Bombs. He was also good at moving a Miner around to destroy one of my Bombs once he found it. He was only so-so at this age at remembering which of my pieces were what (other than Bombs) after they were revealed, and he also did not take advantage of one of his low-number pieces creating maximum destruction through my pieces once he knew my own low-numbered pieces were gone. Oh, and he thought the Bombs were the bomb! Maybe a few years from now when he's good at Stratego I can spring The Generals on him.

All in all, though, not bad for age 6, I thought.

My hope, of course, is that he learns that board games can be fun to play before his friends influence him to play only video games or computer games, and board games suddenly become "booorring!"


Tuesday, November 17, 2009

11/17/09 Observing Log

Near a new moon tonight (2% waxing according to my iPhone Moon Atlas app), and the sky was clear, so I took out the scope tonight.

One other thing to mention is that the iPhone Starmap app is awesome on the iPhone 3GS since it uses the compass to detect which way you are facing and thus gives you a representation of your sky view in the exact direction you are facing. Sweet!

I was hoping to take a look at Jupiter again, but by the time I took out the scope and let it acclimate to the outside temp, Jupiter was below the tree line, so I decided to look for some more Messier objects instead.

As I have written about before, I primarily use Ken Graun's The Next Step: Finding and Viewing the Messier Objects and the Sky & Telescope Pocket Sky Atlas.

Observed these objects tonight:

  • M15 - First sighting. Small globular cluster near Pegasus. Easy to stop hop to: Markab to Homam to Biham to Enif to M15. Smaller than M13, but still nice to see. Best view was through my 16mm Orion Edge-On eyepiece.

  • M31 - Andromeda Galaxy. I'm always disppointed with the Andromeda Galaxy at my suburban location because the light pollution here washes out all the fine detail that I should be able to see if I was looking at it under truly dark skies.

  • M33 - FAILED to see M33 even though I'm sure I was looking right at it. Gives you an idea of the light pollution here. Graun's book says "Can be difficult because it is very faint, including the core. It needs dark skies, and easily gets washed out in light polluted skies". Yup.

  • M34 - Small open cluster in Perseus. Star hopped from Almach in Andromeda across towards Algol, which was slightly challenging because there are no bright stars between Almach and Algol, at my location at least. Can see the cluster in my finderscope as well as in the telescope.

  • M103 - First sighting. An open cluster in Cassiopeia, very close to Ruchbah. The view through my main telescope is not as impressive as the picture of M103 in the Graun book, though the difference between the amount of background Milky Way stars visible in the Graun book photograph for M103 and the amount of background stars I can here gives you a very clear idea of the amount of light pollution here.

  • M45 - Pleiades. Quick look at them in finderscope and main telescope.

Overall, I was a bit disappointed in the seeing tonight. It seemed that a faint haze covered the sky and prevented me from excellent seeing conditions.

I'll try for Jupiter tomorrow if the sky stays clear.


Tuesday, August 25, 2009

8/25/09 Observing Log

It rained for a few minutes in the early evening, so I thought it might be a good time to go out and finally take a look at Jupiter. I haven't used the scope in about 6 months due to timing with cloud cover when the moon has been new and full moon when it has been clear. This is the first time I've viewed Jupiter through the new scope. Crescent moon tonight (36.7% waxing according to my iPhone Moon Phase app).

Observed these objects tonight:

  • Jupiter - First sighting. Tried a few eyepieces: 16mm Orion Edge-On, 13mm Orion Stratus, 8mm Orion Stratus, 5mm Orion Stratus. The 8mm Stratus, which gives a mag of 150x, gave the best combination of magnification and detail tonight. Enough to sketch the view through the telescope below. Fair amount of atmospheric turbulence, so you had to watch it for a while to see detail crisp up and pop out from time to time.

  • M57 - Ring Nebula. First sighting through the new scope. Pretty easy to find. Central "hole" very faintly visible. I remember seeing this 23 years ago with my brother-in-law's high school's 8-inch Celestron that I was able to borrow during one summer.

  • M27 - Dumbbell Nebula. First sighting. Star-hopped from Beta Cygni (Albireo) towards 13 Vulpecula to M27. Looks better with UltraBlock filter on the eyepiece. Actually a bit more bright than I might have expected given my urban setting, but not really distinctly dumbbell-shaped either.

According to my August 2009 issue of Sky & Telescope, Io will transit Jupiter Thursday night, so hopefully the sky will be clear and I've have another chance to go out and see that. Couldn't make out any Great Red Spot, though nowadays I understand it is pretty dim. Sky & Telescope calculates that the Spot will transit the meridian around 00:08 this morning, so presumbly I should be able to see it now.

UPDATE: Yeah, I can see the Great Red Spot, but only by putting in the 5mm Stratus, which gives 240x mag. It's very faint, and you have to watch it for a while to pick it out from the South Equatorial Belt (which is the top belt in the updated sketch below). Io is also getting closer to Jupiter and will begin transit within the hour.


Monday, July 13, 2009

Can I Have Some Time To Think About This?

Shortly after our son was born, I purchased a 30-year term life insurance policy for myself, and a 20-year term policy for my wife. My wife's policy is through USAA Life Insurance.

Today, I received this great personalized letter from USAA in the mail:

Did you know that your policy allows you to change your coverage to permanent status without getting a medical exam? [... blah blah...] To change your coverage, please call us... before October 7, 2021.

Either they need to work on their personalized custom form fields a bit, or they really, really know me far more than I realized, because, you know, I just hate being rushed into decisions.


Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Isaac's Pre-K Graduation Today

Today, Isaac graduated from Pre-K school. Pretty special day for him.


Thursday, April 2, 2009

The Show Was So-So, But I Liked The Music

I happened to be channel surfing tonight and came across the series finale of ER. I had seen articles about the finale over the past week or so, but had forgotten it was tonight.

I have never been a regular viewer of the show. For some reason, hospital dramas have never grabbed my interest, although I do remember episodes of St. Elsewhere that were outstanding. And of course the St. Elsewhere series finale spawned its own metafictional universe.

I watched the last 20 minutes or so to see if anything cool happened. Nope. Just some doctors yammering, some important call to be made by Noah Wyle that was left unresolved, and a sudden final inrush of trauma patients - though it's always fun to see Ernest Borgnine still working.

Then the final backwards tracking shot of the hospital played, and I realized the one thing I did like about the show.

The theme song.

It was created by James Newton Howard, who most recently scored the soundtrack for the blockbuster movie The Dark Knight along with Hans Zimmer.

To me, it's a song written in the 1990's as a throwback to the electronic music of the 1980's, reminicent of mid-1980's Tangerine Dream, and perhaps Jean-Michel Jarre, some Vangelis albums, Boards of Canada, Kitaro, and Edgar Froese. It's a song that catches your attention nowadays because it seems so out of place with today's television music and themes, and, as someone who is always interested in hearing interesting new electronic music, it never fails to enthrall me for a few minutes when it plays on television.


Thursday, February 19, 2009

2/19/09 Observing Log

No moon visible, so the sky only washed out from normal Austin light pollution.

The book I have been using to determine which Messier objects to try to locate is Ken Graun's The Next Step: Finding and Viewing the Messier Objects. It is a great book with a lot of history about Charles Messier, as well as information and photos of the 110 Messier objects. I also like the fact that all the photos in the book are taken with the same field of view, so you can get an standardized idea of how large each object is compared to others.

Observed these objects tonight:

  • M78 - First sighting. Extremely faint due to light pollution - I could really only see it with averted vision. UltraBlock filter did not help much.

  • M41 - Interesting to compare with actual picture in Graun book. Light pollution seemed a bit worse this evening.

  • M35 - Easy find this time.

  • M36 - First sighting. Star-hopped from Beta Tauri to Chi Aurigae to M36. Small open cluster in Auriga.

  • M38 - First sighting. Easy to star-hop from M36. Another sparse open cluster in Auriga.

  • M37 - First sighting. Star-hopped again from M36. Open cluster in Auriga.

  • Saturn - Quick look. Could see 3 moons along the ring plane tonight.

  • M40 - First sighting. Decided to attempt to find this since the Big Dipper had risen high enough over the trees in my back yard. Star-hopped from Megrez in Ursa Major (the star where the handle connects to the pot of the Big Dipper). This unusual Messier object is simply two faint stars next to each other.
I also attempted to see M1 (Crab Nebula), but there is too much light pollution from my location to this faint object. I'm sure I was looking right at it in my main scope. I'll have to try again at some site that has darker skies.


Thursday, February 5, 2009

2/5/09 Observing Log

Moon is 5/6 full, so there was a lot of wash-out due to moonlight.

Observed these objects tonight:

  • M93 - First sighting. Star-hopped from Aludra to Epsilon Puppi to M93. Not visible in finder. Nice little open cluster.

  • M47 - Noticed nice Trapezium-like star arrangement in center.

  • M46 - Very washed out from moon light. Definitely found it though. More faint than M47, but many more stars. More interesting than M47.

  • M48 - First sighting. Star hopped from Alpha Monocerotis to Zeta Monocerotis to M48. Fairly wide open cluster.

  • M34 - First sighting. Star hopped from Algol. Sparse cluster under moonlit sky.
I also attempted to find the Leo Triplet (M65, M66, NGC 3628) but the sky was too washed out from light pollution and the moon to detect anything. I'll give it another shot in two weeks when the moon is new.


Wednesday, February 4, 2009

2/4/09 Observing Log

One final new eyepiece arrived today, a 35mm Orion Ultrascopic (gives 34x with my scope).

Observed these objects tonight:

  • M42, M43 (Orion Nebula) - First light through 35mm Orion Ultrascopic. The eyepiece has a huge exit pupil that takes some getting used-to. Very sharp view though.

  • Moon - Looked a bit at the half-moon (last quarter) using 35mm, first unfiltered and then through variable moon filter.

  • M41 - Nice views through new 35mm. Also tried out 19mm Orion Edge-On and 16mm Orion Edge-On.

  • NGC 2360 - First sighting. Could see this by star-hopping from Sirius to Gamma and Iota Canis majoris. Nice view.

  • M47 - First sighting. Used 16mm Orion Edge-On and 13mm Orion Stratus.

  • M46 - First sighting. Same eyepieces as above.

  • NGC 2374 - First sighting. Same eyepieces as above.

  • M50 - First sighting. Same eyepieces as above. Nice open cluster.

  • M45 - Observed using new 35mm eyepiece. Very sharp views, but washed out a bit from moonlight.

  • Saturn - Faint moon to left of rings, much brighter moon farther left.


Friday, January 23, 2009

1/23/09 Observing Log

New eyepieces arrived today! Orion 8mm Stratus (gives 150x with my scope) and Orion 5mm Stratus (gives 240x with my scope).

The Sky & Telescope Pocket Sky Atlas is great for star-hopping for me at this location, since the limiting magnitude in the atlas is close to the limiting magnitude I see through my finderscope. I also really like that the book is sipral-bound, so it opens flat on a table and can be easily opened to a particular page and held within my left hand while I'm looking through the telescope, comparing star fields, and adjusting the focuser with my right hand.

Observed these objects tonight:

  • M42, M43 (Orion Nebula) - Observed with new eyepieces and also with UltraBlock filter.
  • Rigel - Observed with new eyepieces.
  • M44 - First sighting. Easy star-hop from Aldebaran
  • M67 - First sighting. Had to carefully star-hop from stars in the head of Hydra. Pretty happy I was able to find it.
  • Saturn - Nice view using new eyepieces. but the eyepieces are so big and heavy in the focuser, they drag the telescope down. I'll have to rig up a counterweight for the other side. Saw three moons: Tethys, Titan, Rhea.


Wednesday, January 21, 2009

1/21/09 Observing Log

New variable polarizing moon filter arrived today. I also installed the free Cartes du Ciel software program a few days ago and used it to print out a chart of where the planet Uranus is located, in an attempt to see it tonight.

Observed these objects tonight:

  • Venus - Saw half-crescent Venus. Very bright - bright enough to ruin night vision! Used the new polarizing filter to cut down the brightness a bit.

  • Uranus - First sighting ever of Uranus. Using the Cartes du Ciel star chart, was able to star-hop to it from Venus. Needed 100x magnification to resolve into a tiny disc.

  • M42, M43 (Orion Nebula) - Quick view of this nebula again.

  • M45 - Observed Pleiades again using various eyepieces.

  • Castor - Split Castor again.

  • M31 - First sighting. Not as impressive when viewing visually as the amazing Hubble pictures always show it. Uniformly grey "splotch" without much hint of center brightness.

  • M32 - First sighting. Small hazy patch near M31. Could see easily through low power eyepieces.