July 21, 2012 turned out to be an excellent night to spend time looking up. At least in Fredericksburg it did.
I started the evening actually in the mid-afternoon. I gathered my astronomy gear together, or at least a good portion of it, and packed it in my car. At about 3:30 I pulled out of the driveway and was on my way. I used the navigation system of my car and asked for directions to Mamacita’s in Fredericksburg. This was the first time I was using the service and it was a little bit of an experiment. The navigation system did a good job getting me to Mamacita’s. It didn’t tell me it was on the left, so I ended up passing it as I worked my way over to the middle turn lane in traffic. But it was right there when the system said I was there – just on the other side of the road. Fifty-fifty chance and I’ll find a way to be on the wrong fifty.
This isn’t a dinner review so I won’t go into that other than to say it was a very good meal.
Once everyone had a chance to oogle my car (and David’s) we left and headed over to Hunter and Pauline Scott’s Cat’s Meow B&B. My nav system has a harder time finding this so I didn’t even try to set it up. Ford’s Sync Destinations needs some work on not correcting the owner when the owner sets a destination way point. I know what I’m talking about when I set the way point at the end of that driveway dang it! It keeps moving the link over to the road that connects to the main road a quarter of a mile before and puts the way point way down that road. Wrong!
But this isn’t really about the navigation system, so </rant off>
We had a nice chat while the sun worked it’s way to setting. I lost track of who all was out there: Don and Debbie B., Nina C., David G., Richard K., of course Hunter and Pauline S., Ed , Chuck, John Kelly, Joe F. and others. We had ice cream to beat the heat, watched the deer, watched Paddy try to go out to play with the deer (or chase or something), watched Paddy and Casey tear up the yard playing and eventually the sun began to set. So about all I’d set out by this point was my folding camping chair. So I pulled out and setup the 70mm Bushnell on the Orion Adventures in Astrophotography mount (my Cheap Astronomy setup). I pulled out my SLIK tripod and on which I put the Orion Resolux binoculars with the Orion Paragon-Plus Binocular Mount (a nice mount for using binoculars). I also pulled out the new recliner lawn chair. I naturally forgot to take any pictures of this all setup behind my car.
I did, however, take a couple of panorama shots of the field where we set up.
After getting it all setup I took some time looking at the thin crescent of the waxing Moon that was just two days old. That is, it was two days following the most recent New Moon.
I borrowed a little bug repellent from Richard and worked at aligning my telescope. It’s on a German Equatorial Mount (GEM – which I always forget is the abbreviation – I still think of it by the full name) which needs to be aligned closely with Polaris, the (current) North Star. I don’t have a polar alignment scope adapter, so I have to use the main optical tube assembly (OTA) to check the alignment. That isn’t so easy sometimes. Last night I only got a rough alignment done. I wasn’t doing any photography so I didn’t bother with drift-aligning the setup. Then I got down to doing some viewing.
First up after Polaris, which by the nature of the alignment I did was my first object of the evening, I pulled in Saturn. I saw a very tiny image in the 25mm eye piece (that gives me about 32 times magnification). I went through my various eyepieces to fine tune the centering of the image, all the way up to my 4 mm Vixen eyepiece. That gave me about 200 times magnification, but also because the telescope has only a 70 mm objective, I saw a fairly faint image. Still it was nicely resolved and as long as I didn’t bump the telescope I got a stable image. At that point I briefly regretted not setting up the web cam and laptop. I watched the image floating in my view for a little while, marveling once again at the rings which look so solid circling the planet. One moon was visible: Titan. If I’d been using my eight inch Star Hopper, I might have seen three or four moons rather than just the one. Still, very cool.
En route to Saturn I accidentally sighted in on Spica. Turns out it’s just a bright dot under magnification – and no rings. That’s actually how all stars look. Planets generally resolve to a disk (at least out to Uranus and Neptune – I don’t recall ever seeing Pluto and saying “Oh, look, it’s a disk”). Right now, Spica is playing host to Saturn and Mars in that part of the sky; in Virgo.
Speaking of Mars, it’s a tiny little disk as viewed with my little telescope. Mars is very red, however. Well kind of a burnt orange, really. No real detail visible to me, though, and I didn’t spend much time with it.
Since Cygnus was rising well into the sky, I took the opportunity to view Albireo with my binoculars. The pair was nicely, if tightly, resolved. The colors are not as bold in the 70mm lenses of the binoculars (or the Bushnell telescope) as in my eight inch Star Hopper, but the colors were noticeable.
After this I took some time to just take in the dark sky. From the Cat’s Meow all of the little dipper is visible, not just Polaris. Scorpius is spectacular. I noticed, for the first time, a cluster of stars in Coma Berenices. They don’t appear to be an actual cluster all at about the same distance (a few are, about 270 to 280 light years distant), but it makes a great hazy spot and not too far from a grouping of Messier objects. I need to get a decent setup to use my EOS Rebel on a tracking mount so I can take a wide field image of the area near Coma Berenices.
I spent a while also watching for meteors. Currently we have the Delta Aquarids and the usually random streaks. There were a number of meteors that left trails, but as far as I witnessed, no bright bolides. Many of the metors did not appear to properly match the pattern for Delta Aquarids, which should seem to radiate away from Aquarius.
Near midnight many of us sighted in the Great Andromeda Galaxy (M31). I managed to star hop to it with both my binoculars and telescope. And actually, M31 was visible naked eye, too. With the binoculars it had an almost three dimensional look. The Great Andromeda Galaxy is one of my favorite objects. When it is visible I make an effort to find it. Very often it doesn’t take much effort.
During most of this everyone spent time visiting with each other. Some of us spent more time visiting than viewing, and some the reverse. Either way we all seemed to have a great time. Also throughout the evening we saw lightening on the north eastern horizon. By about two o’clock in the morning it became obvious it was headed our way. One of the others took a look on their iPad (I think it was Chuck) and calculated the storm would reach us by about five AM. I thought that I ought to pack up for the evening since I didn’t have a trailer to put my stuff in and really didn’t want to be headed home in a storm. With just a little wrangling and helpful lighting assistance from Richard I got everything packed back into the Mustang. I said my good nights and good-byes and took to the road.
Even though I didn’t need it to find my way, I turned on the nav system to show the way home. One interesting feature I hadn’t expected was the miles to the next way point. It provides a nice sense of how far or near you are to that next intersection, keeping your mind on getting where you’re going. While driving home I saw a large number of deer just off the side of the road. Fortunately they all decided to watch me drive by rather than run out to greet me. I was happy to wave at them as I went past. There were probably twenty that I saw and probably a great many more that I didn’t, all safely passing in the dark of the night.