Tech Terrace on a Monday night, 10-10-2016

Gary Leiker called me on Monday night, October 10th, 2016, to go out to Tech Terrace Park. There was a big gibbous moon in the sky, but we were both ready for some astronomy. I didn’t arrive until about 9:30, but went straightway to setting up and was aligning my finders (red dot and 50mm RA) by 9:45.

I had my Celestron 102GT refractor (97mm clear aperture, F/10.4), while Gary had his Celestron Edge HD 8, and Scott Harris with Lesley had out his NeXStar SE 8 with 2″ visual back. I was very interested in determining the apparent field of view of my 2″ GSO 42mm Superview eyepiece. I had heard it was actually only 55-odd degrees, even though it is advertised as a 65* eyepiece. I centered around a point between Sulafat (Gamma Lyrae) & Sheliak (Beta Lyrae), the “bottom” stars of Lyra in between which lies M57, the Ring Nebula. One could see the tiny nebulosity, even at 24 power in the SV 42. Quite nice. But there was only about a third of a degree or so outside Gamma & Beta Lyrae, so I’m putting the AFOV of the SV42 at about 57 degrees. That’s about it, folks. Not the best news for me, but still a wider true field of view than what the Hyperion 31mm provided.

Scott and Lesley split the beautiful Eta Cassiopeiae, which I unfortunately missed, still calculating the AFOV/TFOV of the Superview.

But with that out of the way, and Delta Cygni nearby, I decided to try and split that 2.7 arcsecond uneven double. With my BCO 6mm at almost 170x, it split. A bit tight, and wavering due to all the upper atmospheric turbulence we had, but at least it split, at least most of the time.

Epsilon Lyrae, the Double Double, on the other hand, split even in my 11mm Nagler T6.

Scott and Lesley put Albireo in the eyepiece. Plenty of oohs and aahs on that pretty double.

I then put Brocchi’s Cluster, the Coathanger, into my scope. Scott tried it with my SV 42mm, but it’s just too big for an SCT, even with a widefield 2″ eyepiece. Gary’s still got to buy a 2″ visual back for his Edge HD 8.

I put M31/32 into the eyepiece for some reason, nostalgia I suppose. It was there (no M110 of course), but Scott put it in his 8″ SCT and we could make out the cigar shape, even with the glare of the moon! My refractor showed two blobs, but Scott’s gave the galaxy some form. In the neighborhood, I split Almach, Gamma Andromedae, with my 11mm Nagler. What a nice orange-yellow, blue-green combination it was. That inspired Scott to put it in his SCT. Quite a nice one.

That’s when Scott pulled the night’s coup. His tracking impeccable, he put Uranus into the eyepiece of his NeXStar 8. Uranus! In Pisces! On a gibbous moon night! I couldn’t make out ANY stars in that huge southeastern swath of sky. Under Luna’s unforgiving glare, no star dared shine. But the NeXStar tracked right to it. He focused and called us over. Yipee! Third largest planet in the solar system, aquamarine orb, at our service. Hot diggity! This was completely unexpected by me, and gazing at the washed out southeastern skies at Tech Terrace Park I was genuinely impressive.

Scott attempted to do the same thing with Neptune, but Neptune is more finicky, and the skies weren’t exactly cooperative this Monday night. He might have put it in there, but honestly, it wasn’t all that clear. Was it Neptune? Probably. Could it just as easily been a mistaken star? Less likely, but just not certain. Neptune can do that. It’s really a deflating thing to see, knowing how grand it is, fourth largest and all, yet still hard to distinguish from a pinpoint star, unlike the certain orb of Uranus earlier. I’ve always felt that way about Neptune. Even when you KNOW you’ve got it, you’re always kind of scratching your head at its stellar quality, how genuinely tiny it is, and not too planetary looking. Oh well, the turbulence was, indeed, bad, and Neptune wilts plenty under these circumstances.

Gary managed to get a bit of resolution on M13, with a few stars shining about the gray mess of sky the moon grudgingly allowed us.

It was late and we were ready to go, so if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em. Luna demonstrated the turbulence of the atmosphere in the eyepiece, features literally washing about like rocks “moving” through the reflections of a creek bed. She was 10 days old, but quite beautiful …

We packed up and left, satisfied with an evening under the stars, but eager for another.

Observation Report 16-Sept-2016

This past Friday night was the 3rd Friday of the month, and supposed to be our Club’s public star party. The forecast was quite discouraging, and I was feeling a little tired, the week’s end and with the kids while my wife was at a Conference out of town. But I got the Orion SkyView Pro Mount extension in the mail, and the skies, though not pristine, were relatively clear nonetheless. Also, the kids wanted to head down to Tech Terrace Park, so I loaded up the Celestron 102GT 97mm clear aperture F/10.4 refractor and off we went.

We arrived about 9:15 or so, and I wasn’t set up and observing until 9:40. I set up on the sand gravel track, proper, due to all the dew on the grass. We grabbed Saturn early, already fairly low in the southwest. With the 11mm Nagler T6 at 92x, quite nice. A little shimmering due to its low angle, the shadow of the planet against the back right of the rings was just stunning. The Cassini division was evident, too. The girls REALLY liked Saturn. Nothing says visual astronomy like Saturn in a telescope!

Mars was actually pretty nice, given its present extraordinary distance. Has a rather gibbous shape now, but at least one polar cap was visible as well as either the other cap or some white clouds. A vague dark grayish tone to the otherwise amber orb denoted the mountainous highlands from the dominant auburn deserts.

I put Albireo in the eyepiece for a nice, dazzling duo, split even in the Celestron 32mm Omni plossl at 31.75x with an excellent wide field expression, but the color was more prominent in the 11mm T6 at higher power. After that, Maya wanted to look at the HUGE moon, just 10 hours after it went full, in the eyepiece. Believe it or not, there was a tiny bit of a terminator at the left edge, with the achromat providing a little greenish orange fringing at the terminator, but still quite nice. A beautiful, if utterly night vision destroying view. I had to wait a few seconds after that one.

A minute or two later, night vision restored, I tried to find M11, the Wild Duck Cluster. I found it, but gosh, with the full moon glaring the sky into gray from black, it wasn’t very inspiring. I decided I’d try and crack Delta Cygni, the close double that’s supposed to be a bear to split. Well, with the 32mm, it wasn’t split at all, so I decided to try my 6mm Baader Classic Ortho. I thought this eyepiece honestly did the best job, with the split apparent. I got an occasional split out of the 7mm TeleVue DeLite and 7mm Nagler T6, too, but the 6mm BCO was the cleanest of these for this target. 169x worked better than 145x. I had similar results with Epsilon Lyrae, the Double Double. Here, however, the T6 and DeLite 7mm’s more than held their own. The BCO 6mm was excellent, but so were the 7mm TeleVue offerings.

I decided to try out my new GSO Superview 42mm eyepiece. I’d just got it from Agena after selling my Hyperion 31mm. I was disappointed with the Hyperion’s performance in my f/7 ED refractor, and found it not very sharp over at least the outer 30% of the field. Well, the SV 42mm did NOT disappoint, at least not in this F/10.4 refractor. Now some might say this isn’t fair, and I can’t disagree that you can’t compare an eyepiece at f/7 and another at F/10 and pretend there’s not a huge advantage for the F/10 eyepiece trial, and I agree. But for the price of the Hyperion, I’d say it should have performed as well as the GSO SV 42mm did last night in my F/10 refractor. Stars were pinpoint in the SV 42mm at least through 90+% of the field. Yes, at the very edge there was a slight bit of distortion, but it was really quite minor. I’m not positive I can even use this eyepiece in my F/7 refractor, exit pupil wise (does my exit pupil open to 6mm at a dark sky site?), but for $70, I can live with that. It performs quite well at F/10.4, and I own one and can afford a “widest angle” 42mm eyepiece that works only in this scope for this price. Even if the Hyperion 31mm would have performed this well at F/10.4, it’s worth it to me to sell it and pick up the SV 42mm. And maybe it’d work okay at f/7? — assuming my exit pupil will expand to 6mm. Stay tuned to resolve this mystery.

I put the Superview on the bottom half of Lyrae, and I got at least a 2.31 degree view. Sulafat (Gamma) and Sheliak (Beta) were both easily in the field of view, with a tiny M57 Ring Nebula within it. There was quite a bit or room to spare above each, so this eyepiece certainly has an apparent field of view of at least 56 degrees, maybe more.

I put the washed out Andromeda Galaxy, M31, into the eyepiece after my Lyra trip, but it was as indistinct on this full moon night as one might expect. This had me put Eta Cassiopeia into my field of view, and the result was quite nice. The pair exhibits a nice color differentiation, and looked much nicer on this moon drenched evening than the lackluster galaxy. For my final double split, I put Almach into the eyepiece. This may become one of my favorite double stars, with a rather pleasant color difference between the pair.

My final target for the night was the Coathanger, Brocchi’s Cluster, more or less between Albireo and Altair in Vulpecula. It was a nice visual feast in the 32mm Omni Plossl. Still prefer this in a Newtonian, a little upside-down-ish in my refractor, but a nice target just the same. I put the telescope back in the car and we drove on home, tired, but having had a lot of fun under the stars.

Dark Sky Map

Thanks to Steve Maas for producing this dark sky map of the USA, as promised from the September 2016 monthly meeting

Observation Report Saturday, 27-Aug-2016

Gary Leiker’s 20” dob
Scott Harris’ aide in setup/teardown of the above
Your humble narrator’s 4” F/7 ED refractor & AZ-4 mount

Other attendees:
Steve Maas, Val Jordan, Emma Jordan & Heather Hedge, Islam & his wife, & Lesley, Scott’s girlfriend

Despite my best plans, I arrived late anyway, for a very time sensitive event. Although I did see Venus and Jupiter very, very close to each other, and having swapped positions from Friday night, the 26th, with Jupiter now below Venus, I caught them on the drive up to the Gott from my driver’s side window. Once I got there, a totally encompassing cloud bank obscured the western horizon’s skies completely, leaving no trace of Venus, Jupiter or Mercury. Better luck next conjunction!

However, despite that unfortunate turn of events, Saturn and Mars beckoned, as did the multitude of heavenly hosts: globular clusters, galaxies, double stars, star birthing emission nebulae, and the night sky herself. We would not be disappointed by a few clouds and we were not.

Gary & Scott had already set up the 20” dob as I arrived, and pointed that photon bazooka at Saturn. Everyone got a chance to observe the ringed beauty Jupiter’s father. Everyone but me. I was busy setting up my refractor. Gary then put Mars in the field of view, and although only hinting at detail, there was a distinct gibbous phase on the God of War, heading toward eastern quadrature on 13-September. Moving on to M4, Gary nabbed our first globular. It would not be the last. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to see M4, but I did finally get my scope set up. About this time, Steve Maas realized the night wasn’t going to be lost to clouds, so he left to go image some of the heavenly beauties at his home observatory in Ransom Canyon. I finally got my finder scope and 1x red dot aligned off Arcturus and I was ready. I put the Nagler 7mm T6 in the 4” and Saturn came to life. Everyone liked the view, including yours truly. Now a 20” dob can certainly beat a 4” refractor, but refractors always throw up views of planets above their aperture, and this night was no exception. What a beauty he is, the Great Titan, in his ringed spendor. But targets called from most every quarter.

Gary put M22, the globular just off the top of the Teapot for folks, while for grins I put the refractor on M51. It was still a little early yet, with some fading twilight still lingering in the west, but what the heck. I could tell the humidity and turbulence combined to make our night somewhat less than transparent, but one could still make out the two galaxies’ cores. Of course, Gary would turn his 20” on them to display more, but they remained more elusive than I’ve seen them before, given the muddy skies. While still in Sagittarius, we tracked down M8, the Lagoon Nebula, and M20, the nearby Trifid, lovely Sagittarean fare.

I wanted folks to see Albireo, the colorful double in Cygnus. At nearly straight overhead, the refractor put the eyepiece in an awkwardly ground-hugging position, but we still got a chance to see the duo. Not long after this, Islam and his wife left. Gary had discovered that his secondary had dewed over and was the reason why his images weren’t as sharp as they should be. Didn’t stop us from putting M13 in Hercules, the Great Northern Cluster in the eyepiece, and did that look nice.

It was a bit cooler, and Val, Emma and Heather took off. Val had helped identify some constellations for Islam and I think is sold on the laser pointer, and I don’t blame her. They’re wonderful tools for an astronomer.

After they left, we took a breather, absorbing the night sky and talked about our travels through New Mexico. Scott and Lesley had been over Albuquerque/Chamorro way, and we swapped stories of that wonderful place.

Getting back to the sky, we tracked down the dense globular M15. At first, I only had my 16mm T5 in, to nab it, but after Gary put it in his 20”, and started to bust it open, I decided to try the 7mm T7, and I’m glad I did. Gary and I noticed that, with averted vision, one could begin to see some individual stars breaking through the otherwise cotton ball shape of M14.

We tracked down the Swan Nebula, M17. Lesley took a look and agreed it was more swan-like in Gary’s dob than my refractor. The Swan, though still attractive in a refractor, just plain looks better right side up in the inverted view of the Newtonian. A refractor’s view of this particular object can only be appreciated after looking at it in a dob, and even then it’s odd looking, and without the grace of the Swan gliding on the blackness of interstellar space.

Although we’d talked about Andromeda and Pegasus earlier in the evening, I finally noticed that, indeed, Andromeda was up, and so it was off to M31. I put my Hyperion 31mm, but preferred the ES 28mm 68* in the end to frame that big bad galaxy family. Both scopes put all three, M31, M32, and M110 into the field of view, but mine had them all easily in its 2-2/3 degree field of view, where the 20” could just squeeze them in. Still, they were quite nice. It was on to the Double Cluster, and we were just about done.

As a finale, I put Izar, Epsilon Boötes, in the eyepiece. At first, I had to check my charts. Wasn’t this a double? Then I realized I had my Nagler 13mm T6 in the focuser, for an inadequate 59 power. Duh. So I swapped it for my new Baader Classic Ortho 6mm and a super thin blackness between the pair confirmed the split (at 119 power).

I caught one very bright, white-yellow meteor stream across the sky from the southeast to toward the northwest in Cepheus, a nice trail buzzing along with/after it.

With Gary’s secondary fogged up and tired as we were, we all packed up everything and drove back to Lubbock. A wonderful night under God’s good heaven — about as good a way to spend a Saturday night as can be devised.

Gott Observation Report, 03-July-2016

I arrived at the Gott late, having finished watching the tear-jerker “Angel in the House” with my wife and young daughters. Gary Leiker was already set up and showed us the GRS just before it rolled off the globe. Mark Smith was setting up his 10” F/5.56 dob, and I brought my 8” SkyWatcher dob, but forgot my 1.25”-to-2” adapter, so was limited to widefield views from my large, 2” eyepieces. I only used one, the ES 28mm 68* with a magnification of about 43 power, and a TFOV around 1.59 degrees. Bloody! Oh well. Gary informed us that besides the GRS, he had caught Juno approaching, too :)

All four Galilean moons were present, but Saturn stole the show as he’s apt to do. The globe against the rings just looked stunning in both Mark’s 10” dob with ES 8.8mm 82* and Gary’s 12mm Meade HD-60 in his Edge 8” SCT on the rock solid AVX mount. And it needed to be rock solid. The wind and mosquitoes weren’t as bad as they’d been the week before, but they were still pretty bad. Mark’s dob took a particular beating, proving Gary’s AVX is one sturdy mount. And it weighs little more than my ancient Orion AstroView mount! Well engineered.

Mars wasn’t quite as dramatic as Saturn, as usual, but it still looked good, and we enjoyed the dark “hood” around the polar cap, easily visible in both scopes, but easier to see in Gary’s given the wind resistance of the AVX mount.

Limited to low-power views, my planetary views were laughably small. I quickly turned to DSOs, and the Leo triplet, M65, M66, and NGC 3628, were all nicely framed in the dob, if a bit dim. But hey, 20 million light years is a long way from here, so … Cor Coroli, the wide double Alpha Canum Venaticorum, was nice, with a distinct color difference. At 130 light years, it’s got some advantages, brightness-wise. 800 AU apart, this pair has at least a 10,000 year orbital period. M51/NGC 5195 were a well framed in their galactic dance. Even M101, though still pretty much a blob out at the Gott as it usually is, was a nicer blob, with the most vague spiral hints I’ve seen at the Gott. M97/107 in Ursa Major were nice to see, but somewhat lackluster at 43 power, though, again, framed nicely. Looking for M81/82, I first caught NGC 3077 which was often my method when finding these galaxies in days gone by. Interesting that this evening I should find them in such an old familiar manner.

M57, the Ring Nebula, was tiny, but framed such that Sulafat and Sheliak almost fit in the field of view! Not quite, but very, very close. The Ring looked much, much better in Mark’s 10”, of course. M27, the Dumbbell Nebula, was similar. A very bright, distinct “cotton ball” in my scope as the brightest Messier object, it resolved into a nice Dumbbell shape with much more nebular detail in Mark’s 10” at 160 power.

I put in an O-III filter for a ghostly view of the Veil Nebula, starting at the Witch’s Broom, NGC 6960, on the western edge, and traveling around to the distinct eastern rim, NGC 6992, with lots of detail and the other NGC’s in between and within and about these two. Very nice.

Clouds from the north began to limit our viewing options, so I put M17, the Swan Nebula, in my scope, and although very nice and distinct, Mark’s 10” with higher magnification really brought this to life. I quickly put the Lagoon Nebula M8, and the somewhat less spectacular Trifid, M20 (at 43 power, that is), into the eyepiece. No one else got the time to do so. All night, I’d been aiding Mark to find things by putting the objects in my scope, going back to my red dot and shooting my laser pointer onto my red dot, so Mark could find things. Unfortunately, M8 and M20 got clouded out before I could even help Mark.

Raced down Scorpius to NGC 6231 & Collinder 316 just before clouds removed them from our sight. There was a brief clearing near Antares, so I quickly put M4 into the eyepiece. Quickly, I snatched up M54 and M70 in the base of Sagittarius, but before I could even get to M69, clouds obscured even the lower end of Sagittarius, and it was time to pack it in.

Given the clouds, having a low power eyepiece to quickly snap up targets against an advancing column of clouds wasn’t such a bad fate. Another enjoyable night under God’s great heavens, with many heavenly bodies on display for inquisitive human eyes.

24 June 2016, TTU Gott Observatory observation report

Scott Harris – Celestron NexStar 8
Gary Leiker – Edge C8 on AVX
Collin Smith – 4” ED F/7 refractor

When I arrived a few minutes before 10 PM, Gary and Scott were getting finalized on setup, with Scott about finished. I jumped into action. The wind was quite strong, stronger than I’d liked, but Gary’s AVX mount proved up to the task, a task Scott and my scopes struggled with, by comparison. The mosquitoes horrible, but seeing was pretty good. Fortunately for me, Scott’s girlfriend, Leslie, sprayed me down well with repellent, which I had forgotten to bring, and would have had to leave if she hadn’t doused me.

Scott’s 12.5mm Sterling Plossl made for the best view of Saturn earlier in the evening, but the best view Gary and I’d get later.

At Jove no Great Red Spot during our outing, but in our refractors and SCTs, Ganymede was very close to the left of Jupiter’s disk, with Io, Callisto and Europa all on the right, in that order, making a Callisto-capped scalene triangle with Europa farthest out, though a little closer to Callisto. Scott’s 8” SCT with 12.5mm Sterling Plossl put up a nice 160x view of Jupiter, but soon Gary and Scott took off for other targets. At 22:38 Ganymede began to transit Jupiter’s disk. I caught it first, lingering at Jupiter while I enjoying my old-school clock drive. It was a beautiful transit, and Scott even got Leslie to come out and take a peek. It was better in Scott and Gary’s, than mine, of course. Aperture reigneth.

The maiden night-sky voyage for my new TeleVue 16mm Nagler T5 was productive, indeed. I had worried that selling my much-beloved 20mm Meade SWA, along with some others, might not have the result I’d hoped for. Well, I needn’t have worried, and the 16mm T5 works just fine for me. Some complain of the eye relief, but at around 10mm, I found this sufficient. I’m not a fan of tight eye relief, but 10mm’s is no problem for me. The T5 did a great job of framing the Leo Triplet. Now, the Leo Triplet in a 4” refractor is far from spectacular in terms of galactic detail, but through the T5 it does afford a nice framing with all those stars and space about them. M51-NGC5195 were framed very, very nicely. Even Gary enjoyed these, and, again, though galactic detail might be a bit sparse from a huge dobsonian perspective, the M51 pair afforded more detail than the Triplet, with both cores clearly visible. M81/82 were also framed nicely, but NGC 3077 didn’t show up, or at least I didn’t see it.

My 7mm DeLite was all the power I could manage for Jupiter, Mars & Saturn, with the wind beating about my images so. I got as good a view as one could expect from this optical setup under such circumstances.

M3 looked good in our scopes. While Gary put M4 in his Edge 8 to good effect, despite its southern orientation and Lubbock’s glare. I scooped out the Swan Nebula, M17, out of the Sagittarian fare. We all got M57, and the Ring Nebula doesn’t disappoint.

It was getting late, and the moon would be coming up soon. I put the 2” 31mm Baader Aspheric and O-III filter into the diagonal and, kind of, squeaked out the entire Veil Nebula in Cygnus, into the big eye lens. It was a lot easier, and better, to take the glorious eastern side, NGC 6992, then scroll to the western Witch’s Broom side, NGC 6960.

The moon came up so Scott and Leslie left. Gary and I decided to make another round of the eastern planets. I loaned Gary my BCO 10mm ortho, and we managed 200x on Saturn and Mars for the best views of both we’d get this night. The detail on the glove on Saturn, and the shadow of the rings were simply stunning. Even the northern hexagonal cap was hinted at. Wow! Mars showed Syrtis Major into the southern deserts. Such detail! Gary’s mount took the wind and really didn’t shake the view to death, the way my mount did. We appreciated the stability on these high powered views of the planets.

It was late, the moon was bright and had destroyed the sky’s previously dark contrast, and it was time to get home.

Tech Terrace Park, 17-June-2016


8” Celestron SCT       Gary Leiker

10” F/5.56 dob          Mark Smith

4” F/7 ED doublet    Collin Smith


I arrived at 9:45 PM, which was a little later than I’d written for the invitation (9:15-9:30), but still early enough to encounter a good deal of twilight and still be the first person there. Fortunately, Polaris was just visible, so I began to set up my AstroView mount via the polar alignment scope and clock.

Gary Leiker showed up a few minutes later followed by Mark Smith. A little later, Neetu and my girlies Maya and Sofia appeared, followed by Wade Estepp with his chair to start the evening. Maya was ready to stay up and enjoy the night, but Sofia was asking about food, even though we’d eaten a pizza and everyone else in the family was full. But at least they got to see the planets.

Although Mark started out with horizon-hugging Saturn, I went for Jupiter, almost two weeks past Eastern Quadrature. Unfortunately, I tried my Baader Classic Ortho 10mm with Q-Barlow for a 4-4/9 mm equivalent eyepiece, but the image was dim and featureless, so it didn’t look promising for high-powered planetary viewing, and in fact, it proved not to be. Just the same, using my Brandon 12mm with Old School Made-in-Japan Orion 2x barlow worked, as well as the TeleVue DeLite 7mm. And my early mount aligning efforts paid off, with only a slight amount of drift at the eyepiece. Jupiter looked great in all the scopes, of course. That show-off, by Jove.

I split Algieba, Gamma Leonis, but it’s not a very interesting double, with both primary and secondary stars a yellow-white. I moved on to the near-zenith Cor Coroli, Alpha Canes Venatici, which was a bit better, with a green-white primary and yellow-white secondary. It certainly offered more contrast than Algieba could muster.

Wade and I were simply looking higher up into the northwestern section of the sky when we both caught a strange, greenish-white object that brightened quickly, then faded just as quickly, the whole thing lasting a few seconds. It didn’t seem like a meteor, and we suspected an Iridium flare, but checking the Heavens Above website for Iridium flares doesn’t turn up anything, though perhaps it was a brief satellite, or maybe a meteor after all? Was quite dramatic, that’s for sure.

The best view of Mars was from Gary’s 8” SCT. In particular, the view with his Meade 18mm HD-60 eyepiece produced the sharpest image we’d get of the Red Planet. My own refractor produced a miniature version of Gary’s image, which wasn’t bad, but about all one could expect from half the aperture.

On the other hand, Saturn in Mark’s 10” and Explore Scientific 8.8mm eyepiece was the best view there. The Cassini division was easily apparent, as well as the significant brightness of Ring B relative to A, and the translucent Crepe ring added a mysterious reverence.

I went after M57, the Ring Nebula in Lyra, just for the heck of it. I found it, but was a washed out shell of itself given Luna’s intense late gibbous glare. Mark’s 10” did a better job, of course, but it wasn’t nearly as good as what we can get out at the Gott on a dark sky night. In the neighborhood, Mark brought up the Double-double also in Lyra (Epsilon Lyrae), a target I’d forgotten about, so I put my refractor on it. Honestly, after comparing the Brandon 12mm-with-Barlow to make it a 6mm equivalent view, I preferred the TeleVue 7mm DeLite’s view. I was surprised at this, but it was indeed true. The split seemed cleaner and I appreciated the larger framing.

As the night grew later, Albireo, Beta Cygni, was now high enough to tackle above the east-facing tree which shielded us from both streetlights and all low eastern targets. This one is a crowd pleaser, with its yellow-orange primary and blue secondary.

Many of the desired targets out of the way, it was time to turn my eye to the Moon. The moon was really only two nights shy of full, so VERY large. I found that the entire globe would fit comfortably enough in the Nagler 9mm T6. It took up almost the entire eyepiece, but one could move one’s eye around and see the whole thing, from the sunrise on the terminator to the slight greenish hue along the edge with space that my ever so imperfect F/7 FPL-51 4” doublet puts up. Tycho and Copernicus were prominent, the sun rising along the southern cratered highlands remarkable.

It was after midnight and it’d been a long week, so time to pack it in. All in all, a pleasant night out under God’s heavens.

April Fools + 1 + Muleshoe WF

Muleshoe Wildlife Refuge, Paul’s Lake Observation Site
April 2nd-3rd, 2016

Gary Leiker & Scott Harris hauled via rented U-Haul, assembled and setup Gary’s custom tracking 30″ dobsonian
Scott Harris — 5″ ES triplet on Explore Scientific Heavy Duty Twilight II Mount
Mark Smith — old Club 10″ F/6-ish dobsonian
Your humble narrator — Celestron 102GT on Orion AstroView mount (EQ-3/CG-4 old style) and single axis clock
Robb Chapman — observer

I arrived late, which surprised none of the guys there, joining Robb, Mark, Scott & Gary at about 10:15. No less than 3 minutes after I arrived, Dr. Ram Iyer of the Math Department and his wife Mary showed up to glory in the night sky and take a look through the 30″ and 5″ refractor. The Muleshoe Wildlife Refuge is here …

… and generally offers some of the darkest skies until one gets to Caprock Canyons State Park, the alternative site for the McDonald Observatory near Quitaque, Texas. The sky conditions were, however, not as good as they normally are. There was a bit of brightness to the background we were unaccustomed to at this location. Not sure exactly why, but that’s the way it was. Also, as I arrived and surveyed the beautiful canoply of the heavens, I noted all stars up to at least 45 degrees off the horizon were twinkling rather strongly, indications of a turbulent upper atmosphere. Planetary viewing would not be optimal. Too bad, I was REALLY looking forward to great vistas of Jupiter which was at opposition on March 8th, but c’est la vie. But as less than optimal as the seeing was, this was my first astronomy outing for 2016, every Saturday night of the year so far taken by familial obligations, clouds, winds or inertia. But if you drive 70 miles into the West Texas darkness on a cool, clear April night that’s not too windy, the Lord God Jehovah shall not disappoint.  Add Gary’s 30″ dob and Scott’s 5″ triplet, and, well, disappointment is relative, and given all the conditions on your side, reasonably good eyesight, and breath, well, carpe noctem. The several meteors I saw early in the evening, appearing to eminate from Orion’s head toward the ground testified to the beauty of it all.

I had planned to test my two refractors against one another, the Kunming (Orion Premium Refractor) 102mm ED F/7 and the Celestron 102GT. By the time I finished setting up the Celestron 102GT on the AstroView equatorial mount, I got as far as assembling the SkyWatcher AZ-4 mount, never getting around to putting the OTA into the rings, but I had a few other things to do — like visual astronomy! And long before I could even get the 102GT setup, I was oogling over M42, the vast Orion Nebula, in the 30″. Although the “F” star wasn’t visible in the unsteady skies, the Nebulosity looked 3-D, like you were flying into it in this 30″ photon gathering rocket. Small push buttons near the focuser directed the voyage. The entirety of M42 wouldn’t even fit in the FOV of the 30mm 82* eyepiece, even though this scope is something like F/3.3. But the view wasn’t a problem. The layers in the nebulosity were simply stunning. Yeah, this one view made the whole trip worth it, but the best was yet to come.

We saw LOTS of targets, and I have to say that, despite the 30″s impressive display of galaxies and nebulae, refractors still offer a lot in the telescopic experience. It’s a foolish thing to say one is better than the other, exactly. They both offer something the other cannot, and complement each other quite nicely, especially on an atmospherically turbulent evening like this one. The stars are simply more pinpoint, crystal clear, and defined in the refractors. I realize, on a more optically perfect evening, there may be no difference, but I don’t get the luxury of observing under perfection, only what was available on April 2nd, 2016, at the Muleshoe Wildlife Refuge. Also, of course, the super huge perspective of the 30″ could be stepped back a bit with the refractors, to help frame the awesome views of the 30″, or not, as M101 demonstrated.

Gary has said that besides arms, he’s seen H-II regions in M101 at Muleshoe before, but we got none of that on April 2nd. M101 was a perfectly uncooperative blob. A bigger blob in the 30″, but mostly just a blob. You could make out some structure in the arms faintly, but the view was about the same in all the telescopes. Even my lowly 97mm clear aperture achromat showed M101 as a ghostly perhaps winged thing, but real definition was missing, and M101 stays coy unless the skies are particularly black. Don’t know what was causing the whitening of the sky. Cities are pretty distant (small light dome in the northwest for Muleshoe proper, but not too bad, and of course a bit of whitening to the southeast where Lubbock is, but nothing unusual — about 15-20 degrees and the darkness appears to overtake the distant urban blight).

Ironically, I noticed some mottling in M1, for the first time in my life, in Scott’s 5″ refractor. I’ve never seen that before, but there it was. I’d never seen mottling in the Crab nebula in anything smaller than a 10″ dob. Now, it looked better at Emma in the 10″ dobs I’ve seen it with there, but seeing it at all in a modest aperture refractor is an observing first for me. So even though some aspects of viewing were less than optimal, others were not. Made out some mottling in Mark’s 10″ dob.

The twinkling starred atmosphere made for inconsistent seeing, manifest with Optimus Maximus. Jovian views were limited in the ES 127 triplet and C102GT to 7mm eyepieces. Going lower didn’t help the image ever, in any telescope. In fact, the view suffered, though that’s possibly due to the eyepiece I had. I own the Meade 5000 5.5mm, and although I’m happy with it, I have to tell you an antedote that really seems to indicate the Nagler T6′s are, in fact, a cut above the ES 6.7mm’s (and Meade 5000 5.5mm?) in quality.  Scott and I were comparing views of Jupiter between his ES 6.7mm and my Nagler 7mm T6. I noticed in his 6.7mm a nice white line that seemed to run across the South Equatorial Belt. Immediately after putting in the Nagler, I didn’t see this, but eventually the seeing settled, my eye adjusted, and there it was. But something else evident I had missed was the GRS rotating into view. This might not have been fair, and simply timing related, still, I didn’t notice the GSR in the 6.7m but saw it clearly in the T6. Not that the view through the 6.7mm was bad, only that the T6 looks a little better, at least in the 7mm model. Not saying a Pentax XW or TV DeLite or Delos wouldn’t have been better. Might have been, but didn’t have those handy so can’t make a judgement one way or the other on those oculars, only what was noticed between the ES 6.7mm 82* and TV 7mm T6.

Without a doubt, M51 with NGC 5195 in tow were simply STUNNING in the 30″. The pair looked drawn into the eyepiece by an expert astronomical sketcher in a blue-gray, psychedelic 3-D style. Considerably better than Lord Rosse’s sketch — Whirlpool, indeed!

The Black Eye Galaxy, M64, had me saying “I’d rather fight than switch”, which had my friends recognizing the old Tareyton ad. Heck, I’d forgotten the brand of cigarettes and thought it was for Lucky Strikes. I was in second grade when tobacco ads were banned from TV, so I remember them, but might be a bit fuzzy on the details. But the details weren’t fuzzy in the 30″, and the Black Eye Galaxy easily lived up to its name.

A peak at the Markarian Chain galaxies was likewise glorious in the 30″. The details in M81 & M82 were also quite nice — especially M82 and its fractured edge-on self. The Leo triplet was amazing, too, which we had to pan about to the various galaxies to see. But the image looked something like this.  Honestly, you could see the dust lane in NGC 3628! The Rosette Nebula wouldn’t fit in the FOV, but one could move about and explore the various cloud formations, like a miniature M42, but still quite large-feeling.

This is not to say that the refractors brought nothing to the party. Although Jupiter, and particularly the GRS, was much brighter and colorful in the 30″ than in the refractors, the overall view of Jupiter was at least as good in the 5″, with the 30″ dob more affected by the unsteady air currents. Therefore the view through the refractors was, though not steady, more so than the dob, which offered better coloration, but no more detail in the bands, and perhaps a little less. The 5″ triplet here was MUCH better than the 97mm achromat. Interestingly, on DSO’s, the 97mm acrho did quite a good job, but on Jupiter, the chromatic aberration was more destructive to the view than I’d expected. The ES 5″ triplet is simply one fantastic telescope. It costs far more than a 10″ dob or the C102GT (more than both, in fact!), but it delivers contrast & resolution that’s hard to beat in any other single scope — and it offers a nice large TFOV, to boot.

We packed everything up by about 2:15 and headed back to Lubbock. I’ve been tired all week trying to catch up on my sleep, but this was genuinely worth it!

2015 SPS Fall Star Party

Sat Oct 17, 2015 5 day old moon
Society of Physics Students Fall outing

I arrived at the Gott late, around 8 PM.  My wife fixed us a huge late lunch, around 3 PM, and I wasn’t even slightly hungry at 6 PM.  But I arrived with my Orion 102mm F/7 ED scope on my Orion AstroView (EQ-3) mount.  Not a big fan of EQ mounts, but since this was the Fall SPS event, thought the tracking might be helpful.  Took some getting used to after using an alt-az for so long, but I was able to put any target in the eyepiece, even those near zenith.

Dr. Clark had plenty of scopes in the shed whirring when I got there for the students.

As I was setting up, I looked at Saturn, low in the west, in Gary Leiker’s 12″ dob.  He had a low power eyepiece, probably his Meade 25mm HD, and it threw up a very nice image.  Of course, looking at Saturn now, very low in the west, in the muck, is not an ideal time to view the planet, but even under these unfavorable circumstances, I could make out the Cassini Division (from time to time) and equatorial banding.  Pretty good for low power in the muck!

Once set up, I went after the moon and put that in my eyepiece.  Gary & Scott had set up on the southeast corner and I was in the north-central area of the eastern half of the pad.  So the Physics students would naturally want to look through mine first, then Gary’s.  We warned them against that, though, since after viewing the night-vision destroying 5 day old moon in mine, they’d not see much of Saturn.  So they went to his, then mine, as a general rule.

Gary had M57, the Ring Nebula in his and of course it was beautiful.  I would view it later through my refractor.

Albireo split very well in Gary’s 12″ and my 4″, of course.  I prefer the view through the big mirror; it has enough light gathering to really bring out the color variation. It looks nice in a refractor — stars just do, of course, in their unobstructed light path — but the more photos the big mirrors bring to a colorful pair, the more color you can see.  At least I can.

Mark arrived and began setting up his Meade 6″ Maksutov Newtonian.

Gary’s dob made M31/32/110, the Andromeda Galaxy complex, look awfully nice.  The moon and City of Lubbock were doing their best to destroy the night sky’s dark contrast, but those light pollutants couldn’t eliminate the beauty of these three.  With Gary’s, they wouldn’t all fit in the same field of view, but they were glorious as they were.  Gary had left his 2″ eyepieces at home, so he borrowed my 28mm Explore Scientific 68*, while I put the 31mm Hyperion Aspheric in my focuser to put the trio into a nice 3.1 degree field.  That was awful purdy!

Then we all went after M27.  It looked very good in all the scopes.  I was particularly pleased with the view in Mark’s 6″.  It’s quite amazing how much light a 6″ gathers, and Mark demonstrated it quite well Saturday night.

The Double Cluster (NCG 869 & 884) is a crowd pleaser we all put in our scopes.  Jerry Hatfield arrived around this time and began setting up his scope.  I liked the wide angle view of mine with the 31mm Hyperion, but later in the evening, Jerry put this in his 10″ dob and you could see a lot more detail in Jerry’s 10″ mirror.  I think he had a 20mm 100* AFOV eyepiece, so quite a nice wide field, higher power view than my 4″ refractor could muster.  Jerry’s got an excellent mirror in his scope, and he proved it again Saturday night.

Jerry put the Globular Cluster M2 in Aquarius in his scope.  I had wanted to see it but with all the students in line, he’d moved on by the time I could’ve checked it out.  But I didn’t make the same mistake with the Saturn Nebula, NGC 7009.  Lying just above the “belly button” of the “bikini bottom” the constellation Capricornus draws on the sky, but technically within the bounds of Aquarius, the Saturn nebula sure looks good in a bigger mirror, and Jerry’s didn’t disappoint.

Gary put the Veil Nebula in the 12″ with an O-III filter, and that was nice.  Later Jerry did the same with his 10″ and an UHC filter.  The Veil is an interactive treat to navigate through visually and physically.  I moved both scopes from the “top” where the Witches Broom is to the bottom of the brighter nebula, which is reverse the position in the sky due to Newtonian image reversal.  But whatever way you look at it, the Veil’s a wondrous spectacle to cruise, huge 3 degree supernova remnant in Cygnus that it is.

Jerry also put the brightest galaxy in Pegasus, NGC 7331, in his 10″ Orion dob for us all to behold.  At an angle similar to Andromeda from our terrestrial perspective, it makes for a very bright spindle. Another beauty, this “star island” is 40 million light years distant.

I used my Meade 5.5mm eyepiece to split Delta Cygni, a blue-white star pair, the right hand star of the crossbar of Northern Cross fame as seen from the South Plains.  It wasn’t an easy split, but she split just the same.  I’ve been wanting to try this to test my optics.  It passed.

Then Jerry put the Blue Snowball in Andromeda (NGC 7662) into his eyepiece.  What an intriguing site!  I had to try it out in mine, and thus began my misadventure.  I wasn’t alone.

Dr. Clark pulled out his personal 18″ F/5 dob and began his own difficult finds.  I heard Dr. Clark, Jerry and Gary talking about first M52, on their way to NGC 7635, the Bubble Nebula. Gary said he’d never seen it visually, and Dr. Clark admitted the same, even though he’s successfully imaged it before.  While they fought for that, I struggled with the Blue Snowball, NGC 7662.  I finally found it.  Not sure if Dr. Clark, et alia, saw the Bubble, or if they did, if they were impressed, but I must say the Blue Snowball through a 4″ refractor isn’t the same thing as through Jerry’s 10″ dob.  Very underwhelming for all the work to find it.  Oh well, getting a bigger 8″ reflector might solve my problems, but we’ll see.  Also, Dr. Clark looked for Stephan’s Quintet.  I didn’t look through his eyepiece but heard him mutter about 3 or so objects.  Did I mention the moon was out?

Jerry found NGC 7008 in northern Cygnus, a planetary nebula near Alpha Cephei known as the Fetus nebula.  In the referenced picture it looks to me like a tadpole, but I suppose that’s fine, too, given that the phylotopic period of human embryonic development moves through the various stages of evolution from fish to us.

But NGC 7008 isn’t as impressive a planetary in 10″ or even 18″ scopes compared to M57 in my 4″.  I checked, and indeed, this was true.  I hadn’t put the Ring Nebula in my refractor, and after my rather disappointing Blue Snowball find, it was just what I needed to keep me inspired.  I know for someone like Dr. Clark he gets tired of M57, but I haven’t seen it in at least a month in a telescope, so I was VERY happy.

Inspired by the Ring Nebula, I thought M33 might be just the ticket, but forgot about the moon and the City’s influence on that wonderful but low-light surfaced galaxy.  M33 is absolutely spectacular at a very dark sky site, but the luna and Lubbock made for a rather washed out blob.  The funny thing in even my scope, though, was that if you simply stared at it a while, you’d begin to get a taste of its glory, with spiraling arms flowing off.  Of course, this was better in the bigger scopes than my lowly 4″, but since we were all suffering the effects of stray light, heavenly and earth-bound sources, the views were more similar than not.  For another night after Last Quarter near New Moon.

Being in the Andromeda neighborhood, I decided to go after the other side.  M15, the globular cluster off Enif, was a nice catch in my little 4″-er, though it looked more differentiated in Gary’s 12″ (surprise).

I walked over to the north side of the observatory for a little break and looked westward, with Hercules staring down at me, so when I got back to the southside pads, I had to see M13. Again, a nice find in a little 4″ refractor.  Jerry had picked it off earlier in the evening with the students, who by this time had mostly left.  That was another target I didn’t catch early, so was glad to see it later in the evening.  Wish I’d remembered to try and split Rasalgethi, but another night.

Turning eastward, we could all see the Pleiades glistening in the muck.  But M37, 36 & 38 looked “do-able”, so off I went.  M37 was awfully low and particularly distorted for my view, which isn’t surprising, given how low it was. M36 was okay, and I could see the “Zia” symbol in it, but, again, a little low.  Later, Jerry commented on it, and I’m sure it was better because the longer one waited, the higher up things climbed out of the thick lower eastern atmosphere. But M38 was, for me at that time, the right height.  And the its ghostly companion NGC 1907 stood by.  What a nice pair!

I tried for M1, and all I could think was “bluh”. Far too low and just a big blob.

I turned back to the west and pulled out M11, the Wild Duck Cluster.  Very nice, and everyone enjoyed that vista.  The Wild Duck cluster is very nice in a refractor.

Gary asked if I could split Epsilon Lyrae, the Double-Double, so off I went.  Just a little past zenith, it was still pretty easy to get in the refractor on the EQ mount.  In went the Meade 5.5mm, and yep, they were split.  You couldn’t drive a truck through them, but they were indeed separated (you could optically squeeze through them).

In the general vicinity, I put back the Meade 20mm SWA in the diagonal and went over & above Cassiopeia’s W low side angle to see if I couldn’t tease out NGC 457, the ET Cluster.  Again, another crowd pleaser that looks quite good in a refractor.  But honestly, in Gary’s 12″ with the 28mm ES 68*, it looked pretty darn good, too.  In fact, it had more faint accompanying stars.  Of course, the field of view was smaller, but the extra stars made it more detailed and interesting.  NGC 457 looks very good in a refractor, but if you’ve got a big mirror with a wide field eyepiece, it looks even better.

Around this time Dr. Lance Drager of the Math Department who’d been there since 6 PM called it quits.  I’m sure I would have, too, if I’d been there since 6.  I was getting tired, but wanted to pull a few more celestial treasures out of the sky and into my optic nerve.  On a night like this Saturday the 17th of October, 2015, it’s hard not to feel that way.  There had been almost no wind all evening.  The moon provided plenty of glare, but now even she had left stage west.

Next up was M45.  By now, the Pleiades weren’t simply glistening in the muck — low in the east, mind you, but not deep in the eastern atmospheric muck.  So I put ‘er in there.  Now here is a place where the refractor can’t really be beat.  Jerry put it in his 10″, with the 20mm 100* ES, and it was big & beautiful (and all there!), but still, I prefer the 1.9 degree view through my refractor with the Meade 20mmm SWA.  Didn’t put the Hyperion 31mm in for 3.1*, and that may have been even better, but a 1.9 degree view ain’t half bad.

After this, I remembered the two Andromeda beauties we’d forgotten, Mirach’s Ghost, NGC 404, and Almach.  I didn’t bother with the refractor.  Gary was off looking through Maurice’s 18″, so I asked if I could find it in his 12″, and he obliged.  Mirach’s Ghost through a big reflector is a surprising find. Found it for the first time at a Copper Breaks Star Walk in the early 2000′s by accident, driving a 16″ Obsession dob for a fellow who had both a 16″ & 18″ Obsession dobs to drive and realized I knew enough about scopes to run it and not ruin it.  He was right about that, but I was trying to split Almach when I came across this white, non-double star with an amazing nebulosity beside it.  Of course, it wasn’t Almach at all; it was Mirach!  And the ghostly companion was NGC 404, an elliptical galaxy seven arcminutes away.  Mirach is 197 light years away, but NGC 404 is 10 million light years hence!  After Mirach I did split Almach with my refractor.

By now most everyone had left and the wind, which had mostly been absent, began to blow a bit. It was around midnight.  Mark had already packed up his scope, and Gary & Scott pulled down the 12″. I began the slow process of disassembling the refractor, while Jerry made quick work of breaking down his dob.  But Dr. Clark decided to go after Neptune with his 18″.  He had to star hop a bit, since Neptune is NEVER easy, but eventually he put Neptune with Triton in the eyepiece.  A fitting ending to a GREAT night of astronomy.

October’s Presentation – Project Apollo Archive

Project Apollo Archive

Project Apollo Archive

Tonight is the October meeting of the club and I am presenting a few of the 10,000 images from the recently released Project Apollo Archive, . I would encourage you to take a look at the archive, which is a collection of unedited images taken during the Apollo missions.

2015-10 Project Apollo Archive