Checking and re-aligning

I went out around 1.30 am to check that the scope was back in its normal slots and that the polar alignment was close enough for at least visual work. The sky was cloudless and as transparent as it gets in the city, but the seeing was not so good, anywhere from a little below average to downright lousy. I fired the sky meter at the sky and got a reading of 18.16, which is pretty good for this location (I’ve had it as bad as 15.4 or so). I synched on Altair, then slewed over to Fomalhaut, which turned out to be too low to use (i.e., blocked by the observatory wall). I swung over to Vega and briefly touched down at M57. After the initial synch on Altair, everything was in the eyepiece field. I was using the Chinese 8-14 mm zoom eyepiece, and found a) it’s not parfocal, but b) I was able to see M57 as a ring at the 8 mm setting. At 24 mm it was an indistinct star rather than a nebular object, and had I not known it was there I would probably have dismissed it as one more example of aging vision. Temperatures were around 11 or 12 degrees C, and since I am still struggling with a head cold I called it a night after three quarters of an hour and closed everything up.

Rainfest! A sequence of unfortunate events

Wednesday, Day 1: I got to the Starfest site around 6.30 pm. I had intended to leave so as to arrive around 2 pm, but problems at home interfered. There was a light rain in progress by the time I finished registering, and I had a problem deciding where to set up, figuring I want someplace level and relatively high so that water would drain away. There already a lot of other folks already set up, so by the time I located a free spot it was late, and still raining, and I considered waiting for the morning before setting up the tent.

The rain tapered off, though, and I went ahead with putting up the tent. It went up with no major problems, but the ground on my chosen site was quite gravelly, and getting the pegs into the ground was more troublesome than expected. By the time it was up it was fully dark, and it was obvious the clouds were there to stay. There was no food available on site so I took my meds with snack food and went to bed. I woke about 5.30 am and was able to see Orion rising over the trees, but the sun was already lightening the skies so I decided it was too late to observe.

Thursday, Day 2: The catering truck was AWOL in the morning, so I drove into Mount Forest for breakfast and then dashed back to be in time for a workshop on Maxim DL.

The presentation was good — I think I may commit to MaximDL — but I decided to skip an afternoon workshop on Photoshop and go out for lunch instead — the caterers were still missing. While I was out I picked up a set of allen keys since I had forgotten my own set at home. By late afternoon I decided it was time to set up the scope. That’s when I discovered that I needed old-style allen keys — I had forgotten the US is still using the British system. Mount Forest was closed for the night, so I took a chance and went to the bright lights and sophistication of Hanover, which I remembered had a RONA store and (woo-hoo!) Wal-Mart. The RONA store was closed by the time I got there, and WalMart had nothing I could use. Luckily I was able to pick up a set from Canadian Tire and I rushed back to the site, getting back around 7.40 pm. This would have been plenty of time to complete scope setup and alignment, but a batch of clouds was already visible on the horizon, and it swiftly moved in to cover the sky. I took everything down in case it rained, but hoped for the best. Sadly, it never cleared – we did indeed have rain.

Sometime during the afternoon the catering truck had shown up, so I was able to eat a little and signed up for breakfast.

Friday, Day 3: My wife Daniella and a friend were coming up so after breakfast I took in the first event of the day and then drove over to the main entrance to wait for them — I had already paid for dinner tickets and didn’t want them to pay twice. It had been raining from about 7.30 am but around 2 pm it tapered off, just in time to meet them and get over to the main tent for Story Musgrave‘s talk on the Earth and Art. Story is an amazing and inspiring speaker, and it was a privilege to hear him.

That was good, because it rained again. And again. And my throat hurt.

Saturday, Day 4: I don’t know if the rain was responsible, but a mild tickle at the back of my throat had blossomed by Saturday into a full-blown cold. I spent the day mopping up my runny nose. I went to the swap tables and saw a couple of interesting items, but the prices asked were still a little high (I expect to pay no more than half-price for used equipment, and less when it’s very well-used), so I passed on the opportunity. I did pick up a nameless 8-24 zoom eyepiece (Chinese clone marked MZT8-24) at a good price, but that was from one of the commercial vendors who had decided to pack up. The events in the main tent were once again interesting, but my cold knocked me out for much of the afternoon. When I awoke it was obvious that the night sky would be cloudy, so we packed the tent and equipment into the car, planning to return home after the end of the evening presentations.

Dinner was purgatory, as I had virtually no sense of taste by this point, and was embarrassed to be eating and dabbing at my nose. I skipped out when I could, to find my friend Enid had locked herself out of her car in one of those horrible “oh no!” moments. A bunch of folks turned out to help (typical Starfest friendliness), improvising various tools to try to open a door, but without success. Finally we gave up and called CAA for help. Though even the CAA took half an hour to open the door, Enid was able to return in time for the door prize draws — Daniella won a hat, and Enid won a book by Terry Dickinson — and Story Musgrave’s second presentation. Story received a well-deserved standing ovation from the crowd, and we went off into the rain to drive home, with Enid somewhere behind us as she wanted Terry’s autograph in her book.

The drive was uncomfortable — my nose and eyes were streaming all the way — and scary — dark and wet country roads with a lot of glare whenever oncoming cars came up. It was particularly scary when we turned off Highway 9 down Airport Road to Toronto and ran into fog. Visibility was down to a few metres, and I slowed down to compensate, all the while worrying that someone with a little more chutzpah and speed would drive out of the fog and rear-end me.

This was a disappointing Starfest since I wasn’t able to observe, but I wouldn’t say it was a waste of time to attend: I learned a number things about imaging, met friends I hadn’t seen for months, and got to hear Story Musgrave’s humorous and philosophical talks. Next year’s Starfest is August 9 through 12. I intend to be there.

L4 is here!

Now what!? I just checked my mail, and the Gemini Level 4 upgrade EPROM has arrived. I was hoping it would arrive before I left for Starfest so I could get in a little time to check it out. It did, but now I’m thinking it’s a little too late in the schedule — I would have to install it, check out the features and get really familiar with the new set up before I leave, and I just don’t think there’s time. This is what comes of procrastinating before going ahead with the upgrade. I guess I’ll add this to my dither list.

Oh, bother!

As I write, Starfest opens up in less than 24 hours, and I’m still in two minds whether to go.

I’ve just added a link to the weather forecast for Mount Forest (‘Starfest Area Weather’ under Star Points in the right side menus), and at the moment it shows a good night for tonight, but after that it’s “Showers” or “Chance of Showers” straight through Saturday. Observationally speaking, it looks as though this year’s get together will be a wipeout.

At the same time, there are a number of interesting talks about imaging. They are oriented to Windoze boxes, but I can probably live with that, using a laptop from work or the inexpensive machine my daughter bought to house a graphics card she won (which was apparently an expensive card but never worked well in the box she had). In addition, many friends and acquaintances from previous Starfests will probably be there – a star party can be as much a social gathering as an observational or learning experience.

This being the case, I guess there really should be no thought of not going. The question is, should I tear down the scope given the weather forecast? Or should I follow the lead of one of my friends, go up with nothing, and rely on the kindnesses of strangers to get my observng fix if the skies clear? Dither, dither….

A mixed bag

Today was rather chaotic as far as observations were concerned. In the early afternoon I noticed a post on the RASCals list to the effect that there was a naked eye sunspot grouping. I opened up the sky shed and pulled out a white light filter, but couldn’t see the spots. However, once I turned the FLT-110 on the sun the sunspot group was very obvious and large enough that I had to blame my eyes for not being able to see the group directly. My eyes seem to be quite poor even with glasses these days – though I suspect this is going to be as good as it gets.

In the evening I spent a little time watching Jupiter, and tried to spot M20 and M8 during the brief time they were above my horizon – they are sufficiently low in the sky that I can only observe them when they are almost due south, as otherwise the walls of the skyshed are in the way (not to mention the house next door). I was unable to see a thing, so I tried a few other Messier objects. M57 was visible as a round glow, but there was no hint of a ring, M3 and M13 were both easily seen, but M27 was not. According to various web sites Messier’s telescopes were as large as 200 mm or so, but given the level of technology at the time had no more light gathering power than a 100 mm scope of today. Some of his scopes were not even as effective as, say, a classic Tasco 60 mm scope. Despite this he was able to see all 103 (110 counting unpublished work) objects in his catalog where I, with a ‘scope of comparable light-gathering power, see nothing. Skies were darker in the 1700’s. Sigh. Maybe at Starfest.

Quite possibly…

…the finest combination of transparency and seeing I have seen at my home site in a year. How good is that? Well, I can see epsilon Cassiopeia, a third magnitude star, easily by averted vision, and with minor difficulty with direct vision, and the sky brightness was a whopping 18.02 magnitudes/sq. arc.sec. That’s still a Bortle scale of 9 – i.e., an “inner city” rating. So, whoopee! I just wish I was about 100 km north of here. Or better yet, 400.

Looking back in my notes, when I moved here in 1998 I could see fourth magnitude stars with averted vision. The Colossus cinema complex was built almost immediately, and the searchlights have been an intermittent problem ever since.