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Report on Observing Stuff

George Jones

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This report, my first since getting my scope two months ago, starts with my experiences with goto observing, and then outlines three sessions, this morning, last night, and a public outreach session two nights ago.

Kit: a Celestron 8 SE Schmidt-Cassegrain ; standard-issue 25mm Plossl (81x), 13mm (156x) and 8mm (254x) Hyperions. Even with lowest power, the field of view, 0.62 degrees, is somewhat restrictive.

An Observer's Apology: after much soul-searching, I chose this goto scope over a 12" Dob because of: the light pollution at my observing site make star hopping somewhat difficult; various portability issues; the demands that work, family, and other interests put on my time. For example, my book club meets tomorrow night, and I have yet to start reading the novel that we will discuss. Ten years ago (and earlier), I was single and not involved with internet discussions, and I would have purchased a 12" Dob. Even now, the decision was a very difficult one to make.

Using the goto. I observe almost exclusively from the front and rear of the four-story apartment in which I live, which limits my viewing to east-west swaths of the sky, and this makes large three-star equilateral triangles impossible, so I usually use two-star alignment. The accuracy of my alignment varies from alignment to alignment, sometimes it's dead on, and sometime it's off. If it's off, a sytematic search almost always picks up the object: tell scope computer to go to the object, search up and down for the object; tell computer to go to the object, move almost one field of view left, search up and down for the object; tell computer to go to the object, move almost one field of view right, search up and down for the object. Trick for faint fuzzies if alignment is off: have scope go to a brighter object in the same area of the sky, note where the object actually is found with respect to the computer-generated position, and use the same offset for the faint fuzzy.

This morning, I had a session from the street in front of my flat, where I have a some sky the south and no sky to the north, and where there is a lot of ambient light. Alignment was off. My main goal was a first view (with my own scope!) of Saturn. Wow! At 156x and 254x, a nice bright line for the edge-on rings outside the disk, and a dark line along the disk. Moved to Mars, and saw the northern polar cap and possibly some darker markings; haven't checked the S&T applet to see what surface features were then visible. Had enough time before the sky started brightening to find the galaxies M94, M65, and M66 my light-polluted skies. Obviously, I have more galaxy hunting to do in this area.

Last night, I had a session from the rear of my flat, where I have some sky to the north, no sky to the south, and a little less ambient light. Alignment was dead on. I observed a bunch of stuff that I have seen before: the globular cluster M15 (just before it set behind a tall hill); the open clusters M34, M39, M52, M103, NGC 869 and NGC 884 (Double Cluster), NGC 7789; the galaxies M31, M32. I love open clusters! I saw also a couple of planetary nebulae that I don't think I've seen before, M76 (Little Dumbbell, just a smudge) and NGC 7662 ((Blue Snowball, well-defined), The Blue Snowball was very impressive (to me), and looked bluish.

Two nights ago, I did some public outreach (for IYA Galileo moments) in the very brighty lit car park for the largest shopping mall in area, so, just Jupiter. Overall, disappointing, with a few good moments. I'm not bold enough too bark "Come one! Come all! Celestial wonders on offer!" and I let people come to me. Ten in an hour. People don't seem to have much curiosity. One bus driver came by as he was going on break, and he was amazed at the sight of the belts, zones, and moons of Jupiter. When he came back from break, he tried to convince another bus driver to have a look, but the other driver wouldn't even walk the five paces to the eyepiece! Next time, I might bring a sign.

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i wish there were more people like you in my area. I dont have the equipment to have detailed views of the planets or go into deep sky regions but id love to have a go.

Do you have a local astronomy club? My area (population of 80,000) has a friendly, helpful, active club that holds monthly meetings. There is no compulsory fee, but most people put a dollar or two in a jar that sits out each meeting. This year, our average monthly attendance has been twenty-four, a record. I stumbled (almost literally) across our club.

Observing. The club tries to do a bit of observing after each meeting (first Saturday night of the month). Each year, the club puts on a number of public observing session that are publicized on local radio, etc. The club has a 6" Dobsonian that it lends out, and members are more than willing to meet with people to show how the scope is used.

Each meetings has

  1. a what' up presentation
  2. a show and tell for new toys and books
  3. observing reports
  4. one or two talks/presentations that come from a wide range of topics, like: equipment; non-technical presentation of science underlying astronomical phenomena; constellation of the month (mythology of, and stuff in); biographies of astronomers, both past and present.
  5. somewhere in the above, a break for socialization and snacks
  6. observing session, if skies are clear

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