h1

My moment of Zen

June 30, 2012

This month has been kind of a blitz, and this week has been a blitz within a blitz. My summer teaching started, I’m still organizing data from a research trip last week, and one of my best friends is moving away. I miss being outside, being alone, having time to think, and having time to not think.

After my evening responsibilities were over, I got out the little Mak and decided to get back to my in-town observing projects: the Astronomical League’s Urban Observing club and Double Star club. I am getting very close to finishing the observations for the Urban club, so that’s where I started tonight. I observed the globular cluster M62 in Scorpio, and the double star Graffias (Beta Scorpii). That only leaves two objects to go to finish the Urban club: the galaxy M77 and the variable star Algol (Beta Persei). Both are up in the early morning at this time of year, so my options are to get up before dawn some morning, or just wait a few months until they’re up earlier. I’ll probably make a Dawn Patrol run one of these mornings to knock them off; now that I am so close to having that list completed, I doubt if I’ll be able to wait very long.

Graffias is also on the observing list for the Double Star club, so it made a nice segue into double star observing, and that’s what I did for the rest of the session. Double stars are great because they don’t suffer much from light pollution. A gray sky background is not as pretty as a black one, but the stars themselves are easily visible, so I have something outside the solar system to observe on nights like tonight when the moon makes DSO hunting unrewarding at best.

It’s easy to get into a rhythm. I made an all-sky map showing the 100 double and multiple stars on the observing list, so I check that to see what’s well-placed in the sky and convenient. Then I pick up the Pocket Sky Atlas and figure out how to star hop to my target star. Once I’m on target, I swap eyepieces in and out until I find out which magnification yields the most pleasing view. Then I sketch the stars in my logbook and make a few notes. I logged nine doubles tonight in addition to Graffias, leaving 31 to go in that observing program.

Our cat, Moe, was outside with me, doing whatever it is he does after dark. At one point I looked up and saw him in the driveway, nosing at a slightly smaller animal. The second critter wasn’t yowling, hissing, or running away, so I figured it wasn’t one of the neighborhood cats. I shined my red flashlight in that direction and found myself staring into the glowing red eyes of an opossum. I like opossums. It’s cool that we have a native marsupial in North America, and it’s cool that opossums are still doing pretty much what their–and our–ancestors were doing under the feet of the dinosaurs. I went over to have a look at our nocturnal visitor, and after a minute he shuffled off to attend to his mysterious business. I went back to the sky.

I did take some time to look at the moon, and shared the view with Vicki and London before they turned in, and later on with our neighbor in the front house.

So, nothing spectacular. And that’s the point. I don’t write enough about the simple joys of stargazing. I spent two hours outside in the cool night air, saw some beautiful stars, got to chat for a few minutes with my neighbor, had a visit from a wild animal, and learned a little more of the sky. If I did this on a more regular basis, I’d probably be a happier, saner person.

I still haven’t blogged about the transit of Venus, which went swimmingly, or about the great observing run I had up Mount Baldy with Terry Nakazono a couple of weeks ago. I do intend to get to those things, as and when. In the meantime, I am going to get some sleep. Clear skies.

Advertisements

3 comments

  1. The 90mm Mak is a most excellent instrument for double star work – capable of producing sharp Airy disks even at high magnifications, in such a compact portable package. I admit I only started doing double star work late last year (after I had collimated my Skyscanner), but now that I have a C90 Mak, I should be doing it more often in light-polluted Los Angeles.

    Like last summer, there’s been too much marine-layer moving into the L.A. coast late in the evenings, so I’ve been heading out to Yucca Valley the last few weekends. I love the healthy warm dry air, the beautiful desert landscapes, the little critters running around, and the small town atmosphere of the place. But it’s getting expensive to go there every weekend in terms of time and money, and only orange-zone from my observing site. Matt, if you have time, let’s do another observing run up to Mt. Baldy the weekend after next. The high altitude makes the observing better there, even though it’s only classified as an orange-zone site.

    I was thinking, have you considered the Orion Skyscanner 100mm Newtonian to use as a portable wide-field travel scope? The OTA & attached dovetail (only 3.4 lbs.) should be light enough for your Manfrotto tripod and Astronomics mount

    Later,
    Terry


  2. The 90mm Mak is a most excellent instrument for double star work – capable of producing sharp Airy disks even at high magnifications, in such a compact portable package.

    I agree. They’re great little scopes. About the only thing they can’t do is widefield scanning, but for lunar, planetary, and double star work they are just the ticket. I’ve also had good luck using mine on the brighter deep-sky objects.

    I’ve been heading out to Yucca Valley the last few weekends.

    Whoa! Dude! That is way out there. The next time you’re headed out that way, give me a holler, and I’ll come out and meet you if I can.

    Apparently there are some excellent observing areas around Big Bear Lake, but I haven’t explored them yet. Maybe later this summer.

    Matt, if you have time, let’s do another observing run up to Mt. Baldy the weekend after next.

    I’d love to, and that should be doable. My wife will be out of town, so I’ll have to arrange child care for the evening. Were you thinking of Friday night or Saturday night? Feel free to email me to work out the details.

    I was thinking, have you considered the Orion Skyscanner 100mm Newtonian to use as a portable wide-field travel scope? The OTA & attached dovetail (only 3.4 lbs.) should be light enough for your Manfrotto tripod and Astronomics mount.

    I have considered it, but I think my next scope will be a small ED refractor. I really, really like the views through my 80mm f/11, but I’d like something in a faster focal ratio. I recently got a Celestron Travel Scope 70 and the brightness and contrast of the images really blew me away. The only downside is that it ran out of magnification pretty quickly. But it gave me the idea that a nice little semi-apo might be the ultimate grab-n-go scope for me, with all of the advantages of the 90mm Mak and widefield capability to boot. I’d also like something airline-transportable, and while I could take something like the Skyscanner on a plane, I’d feel better about a little refractor in a hard case. So right now I am selling off some of my less-used scopes to save for a semi-apo in the 70-80mm range. I’ll keep you all posted on that quest.


  3. 90mm Mak on DSO’s: I’ve only tested it in front of my light-polluted front driveway and M57 and M27 looked good through it, especially with nebula filters. I was even able to detect M1, a difficult Messier object. I’m very curious to see how this scope will stack up against the Orion Skyscanner in pulling in DSO’s from a semi-dark or dark sky. Will its excellent optics compensate for 1) the multiple optical surfaces the light has to contend with (which tends to dim objects) and 2) slightly smaller aperture?

    Yucca Valley: for me, getting from L.A. to Palm Springs is OK , but the taxi ride from Palm Springs to Yucca Valley ain’t cheap. Getting a ride from Yucca to darker skies in Joshua Tree National Park would make the trip worth it. Big Bear would be better.

    Mt. Baldy: Saturday night on the 14th would be good. Friday the 13th is my astronomy club meeting.

    Portable wide-field refractor: I see that an F/6 SV70ED doublet is only 4.5 lbs., so your portable Manfrotto might be able to support it. I’ve not tested my F/5 Short-Tube 80 outside of light-polluted skies yet, looking forward to doing so sometime soon.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: