A good night, but oh, those winter maintenance blues!

Tonight’s Clear Sky Clock showed beautiful deep blues across the entire night, so one way or the other I was going to get outside under the stars. As usual, work issues kept me from getting home before sundown, and I fell asleep on the sofa, but still, the night was going to be clear right through. About 11 pm I woke up and started pulling myself together, and by 11.30 I was opening the door of the observatory. Everything looked good, and when I powered up I got all the usual beeps and bops. I undid the roof latches and began rolling back – beautifully smooth now that it’s been raised a little – until there was a sudden bang. I dashed outside, and everything looked ok, so I went back in and rolled a little further – bang! Every time a roller went over the seam on one side of the rails, the noise was terrific. I went outside again and took a closer look. The post on one side was completely loose, and every time a wheel hit the seam, the post lifted and dropped down again.

Taking an even closer look I found that frost over the winter had lifted one of the stones I use to anchor the post, and the stone had dropped a bit and was now tilted to one side – it looks as though I’ll have to pour a little sand or gravel in the spot and level things out again. It’s simple post-winter maintenance, but by then it was 12.15 and I was a little leery of doing everything in the dark, plus the bangs had already set several neighbours’ dogs to barking. I closed up the observatory and pulled out a travelling scope and a light tripod, and spent a while prowling the sky. Saturn was mostly out of reach behind the house – that’s what I get for dozing off – but Jupiter was coming along beautifully. There were a couple of moons close to the planet, and by around 1.30 one of them was in transit – according to Starry Night it was Io. I lost it in the glare, and never recovered it. I finally came in around 2.45 fairly happy with the night’s activities, and resolved to check out the post in more well-lit conditions in the morning.

After I packed up I realised I hadn’t taken a reading of the sky, but when I went to grab the meter I couldn’t find it – another casualty of the long winter break, and something else to look for and maintain. I should be annoyed, but somehow I can’t work up the anger – I’m just so happy to have been back outside without freezing important (to me, anyway) pieces of my anatomy.

Wimp!

Last night was clear, but cold, with the temperature dropping down to – 11 C. I stepped out briefly but didn’t roll the roof off the observatory — the warmth of my computer room called me like a Siren, and unlike Ulysses I declined to stop up my ears. I really should automate the scope so as not to lose these cold winter nights, but that project is one I don’t really expect to finish, mostly because I don’t have the expertise to do it inexpensively, and don’t have the funds to drop in a pre-built solution.

For all those heading off to observe the total eclipse of the sun, much luck, and clear skies!