Here's something I've been meaning to do for ages but never got off my back side to do... a simple dew shield for my 9x50 Finder, which has a nasty habit of dewing up despite the dew heater tape I treated it to.
I used some of that 5mm foam card available from those cheap crafty shops such as The Works, and some self-adhesive Velcro tape.
Have not tested it yet in the field, but can't see why it shouldn't help at least.
When SGL changed to a new server / forum system several years ago I could no longer find my blog, all those entries just seemed to be gone, so I gave up on it rather disappointed. I don't know whether it was just due to the dramatic change in user interface or that the blog system was genuinely not up and running for a while, either way I just (rather bitterly) put it out of my mind and got on with observing and using the forum. Until today...
Just now I was thinking about how there used to be a blog system and wondered if, somehow, they'd actually had it working all this time and that I'd just not been able to find it. Didn't take me long to find it. Ah, but then would all of my old blog entries be there? Actually, they were. It looks like my last blog entries were from around 2012.
While I've developed a mistrust of hosts and websites that I don't control myself (in terms of adding content to them), I might start to update my blog topics here on SGL but will mirror the content over on my personal Wordpress blog, which is on a host that I control (that is, I pay for my own hosting and have a Wordpress blog on it). We shall see how it goes.
Last night and tonight I have been out with binoculars shortly after 11pm, the sun finally seems to be low enough not to wash out the milky way, helped by some cloud banks in just the right places, too. I was able to see the main bands of the milky way with the naked eye from my door step, though there are security lights so hiding around the corner of the garage or somewhere in the garden is best to avoid setting them off. I fancied tonight that I could just make out the faint fuzzy patch that is the Andromeda galaxy, sure enough a quick glance with binoculars confirmed this, still got it! Very pleased to be seeing the stars again, the summer has seen quite a few clear nights so far but it's been so light and hot I just couldn't bring myself to get out there, just to see a few of the brightest stars. I am considering purchasing a C6 to enable me to get the most out of my CG-4 mount, it's good with the 150P but I suspect any larger a reflector would unbalance it, a compact C6 will be close to the weight limit but at least it will be small so very easy to handle. I find the NEQ6 a daunting thought, my back aches just thinking about getting that thing out.
It's been a while, too long, tonight I finally got my 8SE out of its box and on the NEQ6 for a session observing the Moon and Saturn (when it finally was up high enough at midnight). I took the scope out shortly after 9pm, it's been so long since I set this one up (having been using my 150P on CG-4 for a while) it took me a few minutes to gather all the bits together as they've been moved about and were scattered around the house - the dew shield was in the pantry, telescope in its box, battery interface (a cut-down Maplins 5-in-1 battery pack, minus the battery and with a few modifications so that it can be plugged into a large leisure battery) on my desk. With everything eventually gathered together and plugged in, I tentatively switched on the NEQ6 for the first time using this new battery arrangement, and it just worked. That familiar zumzumzumzum that the motors make is such a sweet sound. I didn't really bother to wait for the scope to cool and pointed straight at the Moon, no finder necessary for this. Wow. I remembered it being quite a bit better than the views I got last night through the 150P, but the difference really blew me away - so much higher magnification, clearer, sharper than the 150P. 10mm was the highest practical eyepiece (as usual) for the 8SE, even with a 5mm eyepiece the 150P couldn't come close to the 8SE. I then spent the best part of an hour just panning around the lunar surface, looking at all the craters from the large deep ones to the tiny ones that are hardly noticeable at first. Recent ponderings about getting a 7" Mak 180 for planetary use seems like a folly when I have such a nice scope already, the difference may not be as great as the £700 price tag is worth. I could see Saturn creeping above the garage roof but it was still just out of sight for the scope, I decided to take a break and get warmed up inside for 30 minutes, watched some CSI, then went back out for a peek at Saturn. Beautiful. Compared to the 150P, so much better. 25mm gave the best views, 10mm seemed too fuzzy on this fainter object (than the Moon). Spent a few minutes taking in the rings, I fancy I could see something on the disc too, either a large cloud band or the ring shadow. No sign of the Cassini division at 25mm, this would probably need a very clear, dark night and 10mm. The clouds that had been looming from the North on the weather map had started to roll across the moon by this time, Saturn remained clear but I was really feeling the cold so decided to call it a night. Amazing how there was no dew in evidence at all tonight, I may even have got away without a dew shield but had it all on and the main heater tape running (with my new Astro-Tech controller) anyway. I suppose the 8SE has its drawbacks as it requires so much more effort, not to mention heavy lifting, to take all the stuff out of the house and setup, probably takes twice as long as the 150P including all the battery stuff, heater tapes, wires, etc. It's the fantastic views that make it worth while, which I am reminded of each time I start observing (assuming I don't start looking for elusive DSOs and end up frustrated at not finding anything!)
Yesterday was alright weather-wise, threat of clouds and mist not far away. Today it has been the clearest sunshine I've seen for what seems like many months. 2012 was just wall to wall cloud and rain, the start of 2013 has not been much better, but hopefully the weather patterns are now changing for spring now that it's mid-February. I had a few hours outside with the Lunt LS60 today, enjoyed using my telescope and seeing the sun, even if there was a bit of a thin cloud streak (probably from multiple high-altitude vapor trails) obscuring it. The view through the eyepiece on the Lunt LS60 showed the sun surrounded by a dim red glow, but with a bit of tuning and focusing the prominences and filaments were all there to see, and quite clear too so the seeing must be good. There were two main prominences on the top part (as seen through the eyepiece), one seemed to be the tail end of something that was just lingering in space, the other was quite a beefy looking blast with plenty of matter visible. Both of these didn't appear to change much at all over the period of about two hours as I observed on and off while pottering around in the sunshine. A very large, long filament stretched from around the centre towards the upper limb. Just as a side note regarding glasses, I have recently got reactions fitted to my main pair and soon realised that these and solar observing don't mix very well (sitting outdoors when the sun is out tends to turn them dark!), I thought I would be able to use my old glasses which are still close enough to my current prescription, but discovered it's actually much better to just go without glasses at all and focus to my eye. My sight is not too bad without glasses anyway, I only need them for distance, so this works well. I suspect this works much better than for night time observing as it's a different type of image I'm viewing, but I will have to try it out again the next time I'm out on a clear night. A good session all-round which makes me feel like I'm getting the most out of my investment.
Feels like an age since I last went out for a proper look (not just out of the window). After recent snow, thaw, and now very strong winds and rain today, I wasn't expecting to be going out tonight but as the skies cleared just as the sun was setting I had a feeling it might be worth my while, and it was. I went out with the binoculars and SkyScout as there was still a breeze and a few gusts. Very cold, and the wind, although not bitterly cold, just made it that bit colder. I went through Tonight's Highlights on the SkyScout, listening to the audio descriptions as I went, with binoculars to hand for a closer look. Orion and the Orion nebula were very clear and nice to see, Betelguise too was looking bright and very red, I managed to find the Andromeda Galaxy, not much more than a faint smudge in the west right now, Castor and Pollux, Taurus, and Sirius too (which I mistook for Saturn to begin with). Jupiter and moons were high up in the sky, close to the Pleiades. To finish off the evening I wandered up the garden a bit to get a glimpse of the rising moon between some trees, a very nice sight - rather yellow looking and on its side (compared to the usual view, which would be much higher up in the sky). With the moon rising and the temperature dropping, I declared it a fun evening and time to come inside to get warmed up!
I have been waiting patiently for a good clear night to take my new Skywatcher 150P out to perform final collimation, the star test, having already checked as much as I can indoors. This would also be the first time out with a 5mm eyepiece for me, my 8SE apparently too slow to use one. I mounted the 150P on my Omni CG-4 mount and tripod, the large and small weights were required to balance the scope. The star test seemed to be correct, a perfect circle surrounding a black dot in the centre as I moved in and out of focus, although with the turbulent atmosphere it was a rather chaotic looking circle with animated spikes and such. Views through the eyepiece looked good, stars were reasonably sharp points and the moon looked magnificent (with moon filter). I aligned the finder scope and trained it on Jupiter, just next to the almost full moon. I was pleasantly surprised at how much of the bands I could see, seems to be much better than I remember the 8SE (which hasn't been out for quite some time due to the weather). It would not surprise me if the 150P and 5mm eyepiece combination is better for Jupiter than the 8SE, unless I can get absolutely perfect conditions which just isn't going to happen from my back garden. There was some dew but not a massive amount, although the 25mm did dew up when I left it on the tripod eyepiece rack with the caps off. The new 6" Astrozap dewshield seemed to do it's job - the main body of the scope was wet but the mirrors remained clear. The finder was dewing up towards the end of my relatively short session (only about 1 1/2 hours), may think about making a small dew shield for that out of foam card. I cheekily tried my 38mm 2" eyepiece, I removed the 1 1/2 inch adaptor and slotted the eyepiece in, but found that there wasn't enough focuser travel to achieve focus... so I moved the eyepiece out slightly until it was in focus. A simple tube should solve this problem, I shall have to look into acquiring something official for it (maybe that's what a focal reducer is? I have no idea in reality). Eventually the clouds rolled in, thin stuff to start off with but the main cloud bank wasn't far behind, soon enough there was only the moon and Jupiter, and a few other bright stars, visible. Time to pack up and enjoy the rest of my Christmas Day evening in the warmth. A successful first night out, and a much faster and easier pack-up time than the 8SE / NEQ6.
Clear skies were forecast for most of the night so I decided to give the 150P a go at the telescope targets (which I failed to get anywhere with using the ST80, that was mostly due to a bad night though). Found the first target, the Crab Nebula (M1), something I had not seen before. Not brilliant seeing conditions, on a better night may even be able to make out some structure, but tonight it just looked like a grey blob. Other highlights of the night include my first sighting of the Great Red Spot - evident as a pale gap in the upper cloud belt (as seen in the telescope). It was at the correct time for the spot to be visible so I assumed this was it, as it is not red at the moment. Also managed to get decent views of the Orion Nebular, the Fish's Mouth and Trapezium stars, although could not focus fully using the 5mm due to seeing conditions. Tried for the Owl cluster but the clouds were already rolling in and seeing conditions had taken a dive. Jupiter had a big halo around it and my optics were dewing up (even my glasses).
After eyeing up an expensive refractor, one of the Equinox range, I have had a sudden interest in the Skywatcher 150P OTA, as it should sit nicely on my CG-4 Omni mount and come complete with everything required (except a collimating eyepiece, easily acquired though). I'm quite excited about it actually, as it is far cheaper and will be a good experience for me to own a reflector, should give excellent viewing opportunities, and may even be suitable for a bit of photography.
I finally got my act together, and so did the weather, and tonight I went outside with my 8SE / NEQ6. The skies were relatively clear, just some threatening cloud to the East over the sea but I don't think it ever made land, then just the occasional patch of cloud which came and went fairly quickly. Having not really done anything other than binoculars and one session with my ST80, I had to go back to Turn Left At Orion as I had little idea of what to aim for. I flicked to the Autumn section and worked my way through it, page by page; to my surprise, I was finding most of the targets relatively easily, experience shining through there, only one really gave me trouble and that was the first one - M15; this was just too low and in the light pollution from the pub, I had a good go but just couldn't see anything apart from the brightest stars so low over the roofs. I skipped several other targets down that way, South East of the Great Square of Pegasus, not much point in trying under those conditions. Had a look at M31, the Andromeda Galaxy, but it didn't seem that impressive, perhaps due to the amount of light pollution from either side of our garden. Annoyingly, neighbours on one side seem to have a security light on full beam all night until 11pm, most annoying, and they're not even out in the yard. Almach was my next target, I had actually found this when scouting for M31 and had a quick look then, but found it again for a longer look. Very pretty large blue star with a smaller companion, looks great in the 8SE with 25mm eyepiece. Mesarthim is a double star I don't remember looking at previously, very uniform size and easy to see, relatively easy to find too. Took me a while to find Eta Cassiopeiae in Cassiopeiae, a double star in the W. At this point I noticed the dew was getting to be quite thick, and my finder scope wasn't showing much; it turned out that it was dewed up at both ends, the eyepiece end seemed to mist up just from my breath or my warm face being near it, and I discovered that my dew heater controller had failed on one of the channels. I switched the cables over to channel 2, and it started to un-dew on the finder scope (and my main scope, which had been without a working dew heater for at least 30 minutes, possibly longer, and was beginning to seriously dew up). Found it in the end, a nice double star in the 8SE. I decided to give the open clusters in Cassiopeia a miss tonight, that seemed like a night's viewing all of it's own. M34 threw me a bit due to the rotation of the picture in the book, I was looking between Kappa and Algol for a while, but as soon as I realised my mistake I found M34 straight away, a lovely open cluster. Finally, the last target for Autumn in the book, The Double Cluster NGC 869 and NGC 884 in Perseus. Found this relatively easily by following the left most stroke of the W in Cassiopeia South, it was just visible to the naked eye and appeared as a dark smudge in my finder scope (which was still half fogged up with dew). It didn't quite all fit into my 25mm so gave it a go with the 38mm wide eyepiece, which displayed it beautifully; both clusters were just in the frame, sharp points of light. The book says that some are red in appearance, and I think I could definitely see this for some of them, although sometimes suggestion goes a long way! I wanted something good to finish the night on so I looked out for Jupiter, caught a quick glimpse of the Pleiades but it was best viewed in binoculars. Jupiter was still behind my neighbour's hedge at 10pm so I decided to go inside for a while to warm up. Came back out about 10.30 and it was just clearing the hedge. The 10mm was not too bad tonight, I could definitely make out three distinct bands but the image was slightly dim and indistinct, not the best of seeing conditions. In the 25mm eyepiece it was nice and bright, and I could also appreciate the three bands and three of the moons too. I fancy I could just about make out a dark spot on one of the bands, not sure if it was the great red spot. Not too bad for a first time out for a long time. I will be looking at the dew heater situation, it may just be a loose connection in the controller, or maybe something has burned out. I also forgot that I wanted to make a dew shield for my finder scope, so will have to look for suitable thin material to make that out of. Something to keep me busy until the next time I get out, which I expect will be November sometime. Will have to move on to the Winter targets!
Amazing what can be seen in just 30 minutes with a pair of binoculars. Tonight I just decided to pop outside with my binoculars and the little StarPocket scope I picked up for 30p last weekend, had fun identifying the stars with it, then scanned the stars with the binoculars. Saw part of a shooting star in the binoculars as I was observing one of the large clusters near Cassiopia, picked out Pleiades with the naked eye - saw about six and a half stars, looked beautiful in the binoculars. Also saw the Andromeda Galaxy, it's looking pretty good now (after 11pm). I noticed a bright star peeking out between some trees, a look in the binoculars confirmed that it was Jupiter with it's moons, which looked like four or five tiny pin pricks in a black sheet of card held up to the light. Time to dust off the scopes and think about some cool nights under the stars... the cool nights are here, time to start wrapping up warm and wear a hat. Saw quite a bit of dew on my car as I came in tonight, just hope that my dew prevention measures will be up to it. Next month I am likely to purchase the Equinox 80, which will replace my ST80 as a grab and go (ish), that should add plenty of interest for me to start off the dark skies season. I will likely buy a motor drive for the CG-4 too, probably dual axis as it doesn't cost much more than RA axis only.
Forecast was for sunny and clear skies yesterday evening and this morning, well they were almost right - the clouds didn't really clear last night but this morning there were just a few fluffy clouds about. I took the opportunity to have a quick look at the sun through my Lunt LS60. What an interesting sun today, there seemed to be filaments and prominences galore. One very large filament in the lower left quadrant seemed to be coming out at me, like something from a 3D film. There was a solar flare yesterday or the day before, I think I could just see the remnants of that. Also there were several pairs of sun spots scattered across the entire disc of the sun. This is possibly the most activity I have observed so far, perhaps not the most impressive prominences but certainly the most interesting in a single view. Hoping to see more of this kind of activity during the solar maximum this year and next. Once again, the CG-4 performed brilliantly, very easy to set up and align (I don't think I had to adjust DEC at all once I had located the sun), finding the sun in the Sol Finder was quick too. I am getting used to assembling the Vixen Synta dovetail bar to the clamshell using the three bolts, it only takes me five minutes to put it all together (along with the Sol Finder) and have it balanced on the CG-4 mount. It is all part of the fun really, there is certainly something satisfying about assembling things while sitting outdoors on a sunny day. A mass of clouds has come over now, there will be sunny gaps, I'm sure, but I've seen the best of the sunshine today, I think.
Almost September, the dark nights are already here, the dark evenings are fast approaching. Currently busy paying back my student loan, but once that is done I shall be purchasing either an Equinox 80 or Evostar 80ED, I keep swaying to one or the other, but either way it should be an excellent replacement for my ST80 (which I will probably have to sell to make space). This will be used on the CG-4 for visual and, if I am brave, a dabble in wide-field astrophotography, mostly star field views but perhaps planets too. I'd also like to try a TAL 100RS on the CG-4 mount, that should be excellent for planets and the moon. I know the 8SE is probably it's equal or better, but the factor of size comes into it - the 8SE and NEQ6 are very big and heavy, and I can't always be arsed to get them out! I have a bashed toe at the moment so have not been willing to do much for the past week, I may get the CG-4 out this week (weather permitting) as the toe is showing signs of slowly healing, but the last thing I want to do is bash it again.
I finally acquired a Celestron CG-4 mount after weeks of waiting. Now I need to get a dovetail bar that the Lunt LS60 can be attached to via the clamshell and it will be my solar observing mount... Later, I plan to buy an Equinox 80 and tube rings which will replace my ST80 for widefield and a dabble in astrophotography (probably use the NEQ6 if I get serious with that, I am likely to buy a motor drive for the CG-4 anyway so will be trying it on that too).
I decided to get The Big One out (8SE, NEQ6) as this may be the best and darkest skies I get before the Autumn. Took the scope out and began setting up about 10pm, didn't wait long for cool-down as it was so (relatively) warm outside anyway, there was no dew so I just used the dewshield - no heaters! Only the second time I have not had heaters on and got away with it. I primarily went out to see Saturn and managed to get some great views of the magnificent giant, among the best I've ever had. I convinced myself that I could make out the Cassini Division this time, a black line just visible around the edge of the rings, most noticeable across the disc of Saturn itself. I have not seen this before due to poor seeing conditions when ever Saturn was up. I could also see a band across Saturn. I fancy I could make out three or four of Saturn's moons too, if the bright one I saw is actually a moon and not a star. After being awed by Saturn for a while I had a quick look at Mars, it appeared to be in a slight phase, not a complete disc. I also viewed what I think was Arcturus and Vega, with short trips back to Saturn as it made it's way across the night sky. By this time my eyes were getting a bit bleary and I found myself sitting in the chair 'resting my eyes' for a few minutes! Been a hot day at the office.. I decided to try and end the night on a high so consulted Turn Left at Orion to see if there was something interesting that took my fancy... M13 looked like it could be an easy target, and it was. I located the Keystone as described in the book, sure enough by the top right star was a fuzzy patch in my binoculars, soon found this in my eyepiece with the help of the red dot finder and regular finder. A fairly impressive globular cluster! One last look at Saturn and then it was time to call it a night.
It feels rather sad that due to the very wet April and very cool and cloudy May I have effectively missed most of the spring night sky. It is now nearing the end of May, this week the clouds suddenly disappeared and the temperature has risen from about 13 to 23 in the space of a few days. Weather forecasts seem to be all over the place - some say it will be cloudy, others not... today was supposed to be cloudy but it was a clear blue sky all day. I managed about 30 minutes of solar gazing this evening before the sun went behind some branches, it's becoming quite clear that my EQ1 is struggling, especially with the new Baader Hyperion Zoom eyepiece I bought for the LS60; I have to say, I probably find the 10mm X-Cel to be slightly better, but the zoom is handy for quickly changing views with minimal refocusing. It may just be a matter of getting used to the eyepiece, and the fact that I haven't had opportunity to do any solar gazing for a while. I saw a large prominence on the left of the sun, a couple of nice big sun spots, some rather large filaments too which seems to stretch right across the entire disc. A few loops and clouds around the limb too. I feel so tired though after being at work all day and on my feet a lot, crawling under computer desks, etc! I just don't know if I have the energy to get the NEQ6 out. Really wishing I had that CG-4 now, it is still on back-order (why does that always seem to happen to me??)
I had admired the moon yesterday as it was a new crescent, with Venus and Jupiter still close by from the recent near-miss conjunction (from my location), I decided to have a go with the telescope tonight. I had the telescope set up before sunset, the moon and Venus were clearly visible, as the sun set but it was still light I also noticed Jupiter and Mars so I had a look at both - Jupiter was looking very nice, several bands visible and four moons in a long line (still only just dusk, daylight practically); Venus was in half-phase but still amazingly bright in the daylight. The moon looked good too, just the crescent was visible at this time, stunning to see the whole moon in the 38mm. I decided to turn the NEQ6 off and come back outside after dark. I switched my attention to the earth-shine lit shadowed portion of the moon, it was visible with the naked eye and through the scope was a dim mystery, the usual dark areas and major craters just visible through a purple-ish haze. Had a bit of a random scout around, looked at one or two star clusters but the seeing just wasn't up to par for regular stars. There were a couple of funky light shows from the brighter stars close to the horizon as their light played like a multi-coloured disco ball through the earth's atmosphere, it looked crazy! I was hoping that Saturn would make an appearance before 10pm but it didn't, blocked by buildings and hedges no doubt. With the seeing not brilliant it would not have been as good a view as the one I had of Saturn recently anyway. With the moon all ready to set I decided to pack away, there had been hardly any dew to speak of but I sense it was just beginning to come on as I was packing up, my filter case top was covered in it.
Seeing as the buzz was all about Mars, I decided to try and see it using my 8SE, this would be the first real effort on the NEQ6 mount too. I set up just after 6pm, the skies were clear and forecast to stay that way pretty much all night according to WeatherProHD on my iPad. I didn't wait long for the scope to cool, it wasn't that cold outside anyway (about 7 degrees), so I trained it on Venus which was just setting in the West. Venus appeared to be just less than half in shadow, the lower portion being in night. As I was observing Venus the image suddenly went dim... some rollocking great clouds had come in, and within minutes had completely obscured Venus and Jupiter (which was not far behind Venus). The clouds were not forecast on my iPad and looked like they were here to stay, so I went indoors to see if I could wait it out. I noticed it actually had started to rain, so rushed out to cover the scope and close my eyepiece case (silly, I always should close this if I go indoors). According to WeatherProHD there was some thin, low cloud moving across the area, using the cloud satellite simulation I estimated it should be gone by 10pm, I settled down to watch The Bank Job. As a bonus, I noticed on Stellarium that Saturn was due an appearance later. Just after 10pm I looked outside and could see gaps in the clouds, they appeared to be breaking up. 15 minutes later and it was clear! I warmed up the dew heaters and got the motors running again, then pointed the scope at Mars - I spotted it straight away as I knew where it should be from Stellarium (rising in Leo, to the East). Mars - I could make out the disc and a couple of dark lines on the surface, but nothing more. The disc was quite bright, it had only a faint tinge of orange about it in the scope. I tried 25mm and 10mm, seeing must have been good tonight as the best views were through the 10mm. I found, however, that my focus reached the end of it's travel, I got around this by moving the diagonal slightly out of the tube, this gave me more room to manouvre and enabled me to get the best focus I could. It is only as I write this blog that I realise I could have used the original focus knob of the 8SE, then fine-tuned using the Crayford which I have fitted; will have to try to remember that for next time! Saturn was not yet up above the roof tops, so I switched my attention to the moon. It looked stunning, even in the 10mm (though there was some heat haze shimmering, it wasn't as bad as it has been on other occasions). I had a general random scout around, paid particular attention to the lighter side which appeared to have fewer craters than the terminator side. Saturn was now coming up by this time, I took a guess as to which of the two bright points of light it was (the vaguely orangey greeny one, as opposed to the blue-ish one), I was right. I lined up the red-dot finder, then the finder, and BAM! It was there in the eyepiece, a beautiful sight since I haven't seen it for so long (could actually have been this time last year). The rings were showing to be quite open, there was a definite outline and a gap to be seen between the rings and planet, I fancy I could just about make out a band across the middle of the planet - possibly the ring shadow? Saturn and the rings had a pale yellow-grey colour to them. I had to battle with the turbulent air that made the image of Saturn go in and out of focus, but for that precious odd second here and there when it was in focus, it was a marvellous sight. I decided to take a break and come out when Saturn had risen a bit further, in the hope that the air would not be so turbulent. After about 40 minutes I went back out, only to find that the temperature had dropped and a heavy dew was forming, and my dew heater was not running - the battery I had it plugged in to had run down. I plugged it in to my other battery but it was too late, there was no shifting this dew, a significant amount had formed on the glass surfaces, including the eyepiece and finders. I did manage to get another look at Saturn but the conditions were no better than before. I noticed the temperature drop even further, then the clouds made a return as I had predicted, so it was time to pack up. Had a great night though - Possibly the best I am going to see of Mars with the 8SE (without travelling to a darker site), good views of the moon, and Saturn as a bonus. :hello2: Just looked out of the window now, it looks totally clear again. According to my iPad app there is a large blanket of cloud about to cover the whole of the UK though, it just so happens that there is a small gap over where I am at the moment, will be covered in 30 minutes I reckon.
I've noticed the past few nights have been cold and clear, but it's been an exhausting week at work so decided to relax until the weekend, it was worth the wait. Having failed to find these open clusters just to the left of Orion on a previous attempt due to the bright moon, I decided to postpone until the moon was out of the way. I'm still new to this whole moon thing as I wasn't expecting it to be out of the way so soon after a full moon, it didn't appear in the sky at all during my session tonight (which started at 6pm). According to Star Walk on the iPad it doesn't rise until 23:18 tonight. Remembering the cluster's approximate positions since my last outing, I quickly located them in binoculars, then, to my surprise, found the first one in the finder scope too, despite the eyepiece frequently fogging up merely from my face being close to it - the temperature was very cold! First up was M35, I located this by finding the three bright stars just up from Betelgeuse (later discovered to be Tejat Posterior, Propus, and Propus... according to Star Walk anyway). OK, I had written a nice long blog post for this but very annoyingly I clicked something and it disappeared, never to be seen again. GRRRR! Not typing all of that again now, it was probably a very boring read anyway. Cut a long story short I saw M35, M36, M37, and M38, there was a bit of a problem with dew and heat from my face fogging up the eyepiece, I had a great time until the battery started to fade, then I packed up. The end.
I went out with the 8SE with the intention of seeing the open clusters near Orion, namely M35, M37, M38, but I felt hampered by the half-full Moon from the start. I found M35 easy enough, though it was only just visible in the 9x50 finder scope with averted vision. It seemed a little unspectacular, probably due to the light from the Moon, indeed after my eyes had adjusted I hardly needed a torch to see what I was doing. I tried moving on to M37 but for the life of me I just could not locate it in the finder scope, I found it in my binoculars but that's as far as I got with it. I started having fun with the SynTrek handset too, when I say 'fun' I mean 'didn't have a clue what I was doing'! At one point after a particular key combination the mount started twisting and turning as if it was a Goto, lord only knows where it was going, after almost doing 180 on both axis I switched it off and on at the main switch (the usual IT trick!) The instructions for the handset couldn't be murkier, probably a poor translation. I decided that if the Moon didn't want me to find those open clusters then I was going to get a good bit of crater-watching in, as it turns out this became the highlight of the night as I saw some marvellous mountain ranges (later looked these up to be the ridges between Mare Imbrium and Mare Serenitatis), I went for the full 10mm which was very enjoyable even with the wibbly wobbly heat waves coming off the neighbour's house. The temperature started to drop noticeably and a dew began to form, although it was only just past 10pm I'd had enough so called it a night. So I live to observe another day, fingers crossed for clear skies on the next new moon!
Back in September I made a rather large purchase from FLO which included a Baader steeltrack focuser and Skywatcher UHC filter, purchased mainly with the Orion nebula in mind (this particular filter was recommended to me for Orion by the nice chaps at FLO), so I've been waiting for an opportunity to try it out since then. In the mean-time my Maplins power tank died, I've been trying to purchase a replacement AGM battery for it but that has been delayed so the other day I ordered another identical Maplins power tank, this arrived and I charged it up, all that was needed now was some good weather. Tonight was forecast clear on my weather app so when I looked outside at 8.30pm and saw it was indeed clear, I made my move to start setting up with the NEQ6 and new battery pack. I didn't mess about, I went straight for the Orion nebula and slotted in the PanaView 38mm with UHC filter attached - WOW! It's been probably almost a year since I last observed the Orion nebula using this scope and eyepiece, it has lost none of it's grandeur. I observed for several minutes, trying to see all the little details in the cloud mass and the stars within. I wasn't expecting the main stars in the nebula to be green, very interesting. The nebula itself looked grey as without the filter, but there was definitely more of it visible. Then the clouds rolled in, and a light snow flurry stopped play for about 10 - 15 minutes. I covered the scope and eyepiece and waited it out. Just as I was about to give in the sky suddenly cleared, the game was back on! I had a crack at Jupiter with my 10mm X-Cel and moon filter, very nice! Seeing not excellent, deteriorated a bit while I was observing too, but good while it lasted. Best views were with the 25mm Celestron kit eyepiece. Getting cold now, but still plenty of steam left so I headed back to Orion for a comparison with and without the UHC filter. I would say that the filter added about 50% to what was visible, mainly by using averted vision on the nebula cloud; I could also noticed some nebulosity at the top of the main cloud too which I had not seen before, surrounding a fairly bright star. To finish off my night's observing I pointed my 10mm at Betelgeuse, with all it's fiery redness. The new Maplins power tank performed very well, the NEQ6 power LED remained solid throughout and tracking appeared to be working a treat (though I still haven't got precise alignment sussed, it's good enough for me). This was after about three hours of use, including two Astrozap dew heater tapes on one channel of an Astrozap controller turned up to full (because it was close to 0 degrees or colder). So, was the UHC filter worth the £60 I paid for it? For me, definitely. There are many frivolous things one could spend £60 on, but to be able to see that small bit more of the cosmos has to be worth it. One very cold pair of hands later (after carrying all that cold metal inside, brrr!) and the power tank on charge (using my brand new Ring Smart Charger), I can go to bed happy that I've achieved a major goal for the season.
Having studied M42 through my Celestron 8SE with the supplied 25mm and Celestron X-Cel 10mm eyepieces last winter I was curious to see how well the ST80 could display it using the same eyepieces, as well as the standard ones that came with the telescope; I was pleasantly surprised at how good the views were. From memory of last year's viewing through the 8SE I remember the view being much larger, though that could have been through the 38mm (2mm, won't fit the ST80). I was able to clearly make out three stars at the centre, and the three stars in a line leading to the outer edge of the nebula. The classic bird shape was distinguishable using averted vision, along with the sharp-edged black area at the 'top' (as seen through the telescope). I could certainly see a lot more than was possible with my 8x42 binoculars so the telescope viewing was well worth the effort. Also tonight using the same eyepieces I viewed Jupiter and could clearly make out two rings using the X-Cel 10mm, also Pleiades and Betelgeuse for good measure. This viewing was over a moderately light-polluted part of the village - above the local pub and my neighbour (who always has some exterior lighting on until late), and the main road with street lighting, although there were no direct lights shining at my observing spot; taking all of that into account I was suitably impressed with the ST80's performance tonight.
I wasn't sure if I'd be able to see Orion at all from my usual viewing location yet, but it made a full appearance between two buildings as it rose up tonight. Even with the light pollution from the local pub (which it rose almost directly above) I was able to make out a good amount of the nebular with binoculars and averted vision, maybe even with a slight green tinge unless my imagination was working overtime. Can't wait to use the filter I purchased on it, should bring out the detail beautifully with my 8SE. I will probably have to wait until January for the best views of it as it moves away from the light pollution, we will see.