I was resigned to yet another night…

About 11 o’clock I was considering going to bed, but when the girls got the dog ready for a walk (Daniella having injured her foot, she was in no shape to walk the Kitchen Lord herself) I stuck my head outside and was amazed to see a bright moon in a cloudless patch of sky. Not only that, there were a number of such cloudless patches, so a modest sky gaze was a possibility which began to consider musing about presenting itself for evaluation.

I bundled up and unlocked the observatory, rolled back the roof, powered up the mount, and was ready to – not observe. The scope and mount are still not aligned, so that’s something I could start on tonight. I could see Polaris and a number of bright stars, so I should have been able to zip right to a star, do a one-star alignment and be ready to rock and roll.

Pick a star – Sirius. Oops, it’s behind a tree, and maybe not visible from the scope position anyway.

OK, Polaris. Absolutely not – the north side of the observatory blocks the sight-line when Polaris is at certain hour angles – forget quite a bit of the northern sky, from the pole to the horizon.

I finally decided to align very roughly on the Moon, then refine things from there. That worked. Once on the moon I was able to slew to Betelgeuse and Aldebaran, and from there back to Saturn. Seeing was atrocious (and I hope not a sign of things to come), but I was able to GOTO the objects immediately. The sky model is taking shape, but will need a good deal of work to correct the initial blunders in the dark. I’ll think about a cold restart at some point to start us off again with a blank slate, but for now the mount is set up well enough for visual work.

All this took time, and at 12.30 I called it a night. Packing up took a couple of minutes – park the scope, shut down power, move the dew cap to rest position, pack the eyepieces, close the roof, and lock up. Gotta love that SkyShed!!!

Slowly, but incredibly surely

The adaptor plate – cylinder, really – finally arrived on Tuesday.

My wife took the call during the afternoon, and nothing could stop me from rushing down to Kendrick’s to pick up the hardware and tote it home. Of course, by the time I did get everything back to the house it was dark (and cloudy, natch), so I couldn’t fit everything together. I did a little work in the gloom to disassemble the mount from the tripod, and removed all the electronic doohickeys so I would be ready to fit everything together. The carpet is sufficiently in place that I wasn’t worrying about losing tiny pieces anymore, so everything came apart fairly quickly.

The next evening was similarly dark and brutal, so I brought the mount inside and swapped in the servo motors to replace the steppers. Despite the lack of instructions in the box (found some on the net), installing the Gemini hardware was a simple operation. I took my time, though, since a mistake could be costly.

On Thursday night I picked up some nuts and bolts and fastened the adaptor in place. Unfortunately I bought a 1 inch bolt figuring that was sufficient, but I could barely attach the nut, and only if I left washers out of the assembly. Back to the store to pick up a longer bolt, but not until the following night. I finally got everything attached on Friday night, but I couldn’t tighten the bolt with the tools I had on hand.

On Saturday I picked up a large adjustable wrench and slipped it in place to hold the bolt in position while I used a hex wrench to tighten the bolt, and I was finally and completely done. The adapter is – hopefully – close enough to a northerly orientation that I’ll be able to get the final alignment done using the azimuth adjustment on the mount. Failing that I can make gross adjustments by loosening the adapter plate on the pier, but that’s a last resort.

I had a small window through the clouds and tried to get the mount roughly aligned, but what with playing around with the location and time settings and trying to figure out the menu structures in the dark I wound up losing the window without putting it to any use. I did some further set up on Sunday, but as usual the clouds were active all day and into the night, despite the clear Dark Sky prediction that the evening would be clear. The mount is still not aligned, but I have some hopes of completing this later in the coming week – as long as it’s clear and not too cold.,

Cool morning but steady

Friday night and Saturday night were both clear this weekend, but on friday night I was exhausted and collapsed into bed by 8 p.m., sleeping through until morning. My waking and sleeping hours are becoming more and more distinct now, and I am having a great deal of difficulty staying awake beyond the so-called normal. If I try – and I did try earlier in the week – I can stay up longer, but I pay for it later. Friday night was apparently payback for the earlier wakefulness, though since I got a solid eight hours of sleep on Thursday, I thought I was going to be ok. Despite the full night’s sleep, Friday was difficult during the day, and as mentioned, I collapsed when I got home. Diabetes has all kinds of side effects, and this seems to be one.

I had problems staying awake on Saturday night as well, so I decided, since the weather was predicted to be clear, to get up early and take a look at the planets. Saturn, Jupiter, and Venus were definitely available, and Mars was a possibility. I set the alarm for 4.30, but in the event I woke up earlier and crawled out of bed without prompting. I put a pot of coffee on and staggered around until I eventually returned to full consciousness. By 5 am I was out heading for the observatory with a thermal cup of coffee in my hand.

It was only about -5 C, so I didn’t expect much problem with the cold, but over the summer I’ve become used to much warmer temps, and I soon found that even dressed for the cool weather I wasn’t ready for it. I should have dressed for weather about 10 or 15 degrees colder, and I’ll do that next time, at least until I toughen up again. Reaching the observatory I immediately ran into a problem with the lock. It was cold, and the key was hard to insert, and hard to turn. Everything sounded like a gunshot, though I was trying to keep fairly quiet. I’ll see if the neighbors have any complaints tomorrow.

I had dismounted the scope last time, and took about 25 minutes to set up, even without powering up the mount (gotta get power out to the observatory – batteries go flat!). The effort was worth it. By 5.30 I had rejected Venus as an object worth looking at – too damn bright! – and concentrated my efforts on Saturn and Jupiter.

I believe my right eye is too astigmatic to be useful in focusing, but my left eye seems fine. I started with a 40 mm eyepiece, which gives about 17x magnification. Jupiter was bright, but banding was readily apparent. Saturn was also clearly ringed – none of Galileo’s confusion here (though it helps that the presentation of the rings is close to optimal)! I moved on to my remaining eyepieces, a 15 mm (45 x) and an 8.8 (78 x) and both gave excellent views, again with the left eye. The right eye continues to present trilobal stars, so there is definitely something peculiar going on there. I didn’t check my glucose levels, but it’s possible the level was high, which would exaggerate the astigmatism which I know is present. I’ll have to keep track of this, since it’s not something which showed up in my last exam.

Meanwhile, though I have a Powermate 5x, for some reason I didn’t even think to try it with the eyepieces available – I bought it recently and don’t think of it as being in my optical armory . That’s a real shame, because I strongly suspect the air was steady enough to try high powers on both Jupiter and Saturn. Nominally the scope is only worthwhile up to about 220x, but in retrospect I would have liked to try the 390 x which is reachable with the 8.8 and the 5 x in combination. In previous attempts the image was unstable, but the conditions this morning seemed very good, and it would in any case have been interesting to try.

I think one thing I need to do is build some sort of eyepiece box. Right now the eyepieces are in their individual cases but roll around freely in a Rubbermaid??? case, so there is a tendency to forget what’s under the wires and cables if the scope isn’t completely set up. I think that’s what happened with the Powermate – I simply forgot it was there, because it was buried in the power cables, and with the battery down I didn’t bother to pull the cables out. At least when I use the observatory the Rubbermaid??? case isn’t needed, so I should change my setup accordingly.

Another thing to change is the location of the desk, which is currently in the north east corner of the observatory. The observatory is small enough that the counterweight of the GEM comes uncomfortably close to the desk, and could be a hazard if someone – me! – is sitting at the desk and gets up without thinking about it. The scope is still not on the permanent mount, so the tripod is being used beside the pier (come on, Losmandy, ship the damned adapter!) and the tripod interferes with the placement of the desk, but once the scope is mounted more permanently the desk will have to be moved.

The observatory carpet is still not in place, so I have fears that small parts will fall and roll out through the pier piercing in the floor. I hope to fix that later today.

Auroral light pollution!

Shortly before seven on Sunday night I saw alerts in my club mailing list saying that aurorae were visible from the city. I dashed outside, and sure enough the Northern Ghosts were putting on a display. From Notes around the time,

“From a point slightly south of the zenith, rays extend down to the northern, eastern, and western horizon here in Woodbridge. Elegant pale greens and hints of blue. We’re arguing whether the red we see is light pollution reflection off clouds. The red is to the north, but the new Vaughan Mills mall may be the source (though I’d expect that to be more to the north-east). The display is often quite bright, but I suspect most people in the city will dismiss it as light reflecting off low clouds (remnant of a Crappy Tire ad). It’s spectacular – but too many people ’round here have “security” and vanity lights around the house. It ruins the sky until quite late in the evening.

“Anyway, I was out for half an hour in my stockinged feet, so if I come down with pneumonia or the flu I’ll know what to blame!

“The clouds rolled in (and out) and settled the issue of the red colour visible to the north – the clouds cut it off, so it seems like it has to be from an auroral source. The zenithal glow changes intermittently from an obvious source of rays to an amorphous pale glow, and then back to a source. At its clearest the red is again visible amongst the blues and greens, but when it is simply a glow the colour is an undifferentiated blueish green. The clouds are moving swiftly and in the space of ten minutes we have gone from cloudless except to the south to an 80 or 90 per cent cover everywhere. My neighbours’ lights are still a problem, even inside the observatory with the roof rolled back (at times I could swear there’s a spotlight aimed at me) and my feet are still frozen from going out shoeless earlier in the evening, so I’ve given up for the moment. ”

I didn’t get any photos, but others in the NYAA did – they’re currently available on the NYAA Gallery site.

The weather continues to tantalise….

There have been a couple of days with clear and sunny weather. Unfortunately the sky gods send in the clouds as soon as the sun starts to set, and very shortly everything is socked in again. My only consolation continues to be that Losmandy hasn’t shipped my mount upgrades yet, so if the sky were clear I’d have to observe using the tripod, which is not a great experience when the tripod sits atop a wooden floor. Faint blessings….

Eclipse – hah!

Here in the West End of the GTA the clouds were well entrenched as the eclipse got underway, and the situation didn’t get any better as the night progressed. At one point I stuck my head out the back door and got excited by a moon-sized bright spot which seemed to be the mood coming through the clouds. Then I thought about it a little and wondered why the moon would be so bright when totality was a matter of minutes away. Hmm, bit of a puzzler. A little later I stuck my head out again to see two moon-sized bright spots. One, crescent-shaped, was clearly the eclipsed moon, while the other was a searchlight from the Collosus cineplex a couple of kilometers south. Alas, the eclipsed moon was soon buried in deeper clouds, while the Collosus moon continued to pollute the night.

So much for planning!