Observing Dec 19 & Dec 20 back-to-back

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Observing Dec 19 & Dec 20 back-to-back

Postby Pete » Wed Dec 21, 2005 10:50 pm

Observing log of Dec 19 & 20, 2005

19 Dec 05

Some people wonder why some of us observers are so obsessed with equipment. Perhaps it’s because if you are doing some serious observing you need your equipment to function properly. This afternoon I’d had a short break in my work flow, and took the time to finally upload Meade’s latest operating firmware into the 12”. The upload took a bit more than an hour as I’d neglected to specify a high baud transfer rate, but the computer says it was successful. So now I’ve gotta check it out.

The sky isn’t completely transparent, and we’re under the Jet Stream, but as tonight appears “workable” and I’ve got new operating firmware to test I put the 12” out to cool down around 17:00 hrs. It’s really really cold out there tonight. Old age catching up with me? Or just that I haven’t had a chance to acclimate to winter?

18:00 hrs. I’m still just wearing a ski jacket while I train the drives to input the drive backlash into the scope computer, and then calibrate sensors to better calibrate the scope computer to local north. Then I shut down and dash inside to get dressed properly.

18:30 I’ve got a sweater under my new -40° parka, and heavy socks inside thermal boots. Maybe I’m ready as I turn the scope on to automatic align. Meade has really dummied down the program. The scope swings to Capella, but the handbox display reads “center scope on brightest star” instead of saying center on Denab. The find level and find home routine was no faster than before. Apparently I got the second “brightest near star” correct too as the display reads “alignment successful.” I don’t find this change to be positive. I haven’t used a reticule eyepiece for the alignment, but when I Go-To Denab the star is centered. So I can’t bitch.

19 Dec 05; 19:21 hrs. Asteroid 138 Tolosa shines at 13th magnitude, and I locate it with the 12” and a Nagler 31mm eyepiece (98X) by star-hopping up from a configuration of 10th mag stars to the south. Tolosa is 47 km in dia. It orbits the sun at 2.4 AU, and is presently 1.9 AU from Earth.

19:42 hrs 13.9 magnitude asteroid 491 Carina is beyond my capability given tonight’s conditions. Maybe I have it in and out in the 17mm, but I don’t see it in the 12 mm due to poor seeing. So I let it go.

19 Dec 05; 19:55 hrs. 335 Roberta is a 13.6 mag minor planet 94 km in dia. It lies between an 11 mag star to the N and a 10th mag star to the S. I’ve got it in the 12” after shifting up to 179X. Roberta orbits the sun at 2.6 AU, and is presently 2.0 AU from Earth.

19 Dec 05; 20:05 hrs. Asteroid 419 Aurelia shines as 13.5 magnitude. It is presently about 4” to the E of an 11th mag star, and I’ve got it in the 12” at 179X. Aurelia is 133 km in size. It orbits the sun at 2.9 AU, and is now 2.3 AU from Earth.

19 Dec 05; 20:17 hrs. 727 Nipponia is a 13.6 mag asteroid 37 km in dia. It lies at the end of a 3 star chain of 13th mag stars, and I’ve got it in the 12” at 179X. Nipponia has a heliocentric radius of 2.3 AU, and it’s now 1.7 AU from Earth.

19 Dec 05; 20:36 hrs. 912 Maritima is a 12.9 mag minor planet 87 km in size. Star hopping in from a 9th mag star to the SE, I’ve got it with relative ease in the 12” after shifting from my 31mm to a 17mm Nagler (179X). Maritima has a heliocentric radius of 2.8 AU, and it is currently 2.0 AU from Earth.

19 Dec 05; 20:56 hrs. 1547 Nele is a 13.7 mag asteroid 47 km in dia. I’ve eventually go it in the 12” at 179X, as well as two nearby 13.9 and 13.8 stars. But it’s really tough and requires averted vision and scope movement. The poor seeing conditions limit me to the 17mm eyepiece – shifting to the 12mm just yields garbage. Nele orbits Sol at 2.0 AU, and is presently 1.2 AU from Earth.

19 Dec 05; 21:06 hrs. 418 Alemannia shines at 13.4 magnitude. There are 4 very bright stars in the fov to provide orientation. This asteroid is really dim for a while – until I notice heavy dew covering the eyepiece. A quick blast from the ever handy hair dryer and I’ve got it with the 12” at 179X. This 38 km dia. asteroid orbits the sun at 2.4 AU, and is now 1.5 AU from Earth.

19 Dec 05; 21:06 hrs. 344 Desiderata is a 12.9 mag minor planet 138 km in size. It’s moved a bit from the position plotted for 19:30 hrs, but it lies just to the E of a 10th mag star, and I’ve got it dimly thru the 12” with the Nagler 31 (98X). Desiderata has a solar orbit of 3.0 AU, and it is presently 2.2 AU from Earth.

19 Dec 05; 21:44 hrs 289 Nenetta is a 13.2 magnitude asteroid 41 km in dia. There’s an inverted V shaped pattern of 10th mag stars to the W, and I’ve got it thru the 12” with a 17mm eyepiece (179X). Due to the rising moon the sky is now badly washed out. Nenetta orbits Sol at 2.5 AU, and is presently 1.6 AU from Earth.

Mars is smaller, as expected – since it’s regressing. I can see no detail in the unfiltered 17mm Nagler (179X).

I’ve reached the end of tonight’s observing list. The moon is making even the brighter objects hard to observe. The thermometer reads 24°F and I’m badly chilled. So I pack everything in and take a hot shower.

Conclusions & Observations:

Meade’s new 4.0i firmware works OK, but so did the 3 version old 3.1 firmware.

Chalk up 9 new (to me) asteroids.

Gotta do something about cold feet. My feet were freezing even with thermal boots and heavy socks.

Although the air was dry and there was no dew, I couldn’t have done this deep-freeze viewing at a site where I couldn’t use the 120V hair dryer. It was in almost constant use on the eyepieces, and occasionally on my fingers. My little 12V hair dryer just doesn’t cut it in severe conditions.

The LEDs in the handbox were not bright to start with, and they dimmed as they got colder. I kept the lettering visible with frequent applications of the hairdryer while viewing. But the next day I powered up the scope on the workbench and increased brightness and contrast to minimize this problem next time out.

20 Dec 05

We’ve got a second clear night in a row coming up. The forecast is a bit “iffy”. The IR satellite and the Clear Sky Clock suggest that transparency is poor. The forecast is for partly cloudy, but the Jet Stream has moved to the S and it might be worth gambling. Dave helps me carry the 14” out around 16:00 hrs. I’m still running the 3.1 firmware on this scope so I’m not going to lose another hour training & calibrating.

18:30 It’s 29° and falling with a forecast of 16° tonight. I’m wearing 3 heavy sweaters under my insulated snowmobile suit. I’m wearing new fingerless gloves with mitten swing-up end covers. And I’ve squeezed 2 pair of heavy socks into my thermally insulated boots. The 14” auto-aligns on Capella and Denab. My across the street neighbor has his 3-bulb lamp post blazing away again tonight, but because conditions look really good I go over and ask him to please turn it off for tonight. He doesn’t turn on his Christmas display but seems to forget turning off the lamp post. It continues to throw my shadow against the side of the house. I just keep my right (dominant) eye closed when it isn’t against the eyepiece.

20 Dec 05; 19:12 hrs. 696 Leonora is a 13.7 mag asteroid 79 km in size. Using an 8.5 mag star to the NW as my starting point I star-hop and increase magnification until I’ve got it in the 14” using the Nagler 12mm eyepiece (296X). I couldn’t use this much magnification last night, and the image is steady, but even so viewing Leonora required averted vision and scope movement plus a dark adapted eyeball. I also had to duck into the house and re-plot as the asteroid had shifted significantly from my 17:34 hr plot. Leonora has a heliocentric radius of 2.4 AU, and is presently 2.1 AU from Earth.

20 Dec 05; 19:23 hrs. Asteroid 163 Erigone is only 14.0 magnitude tonight, but it lies just to the S of a 7th mag star, and I’ve got it quickly with the 14” at 209X. This 76 km dia. minor planet orbits the sun at 2.1 AU, and it is currently 1.8 AU from Earth.

That 3-bulb lamp post is really blinding and I can’t get fully dark adapted. Going back across the street, the lady of the house appears and I inquire as to whether I didn’t say PRETTY PLEASE instead of just please. They’d obviously forgotten, and she complies immediately.

20 Dec 05; 19:48 hrs. 491 Carina is shining at only 13.9 magnitude this evening. There’s a line-up of 11th mag stars running along the bottom of the fov, and Carina is just to the NE of a 12.9 mag star. Using the 14” I have to go all the way to 296X before I can see it – and even then it’s in-and-out with hyperventilating, averted vision and scope movement. Carina is 101 km in diameter. It orbits Sol at 2.9 AU, and is presently 2.6 AU from Earth.

20 Dec 05; 19:55 hrs. 332 Siri is only 14.0 magnitude at this time. It’s just to the E of a 12th mag star, and I’ve got it in the 14” at 209X with no viewing tricks. This 45 km sized asteroid orbits the sun at 2.7 AU, and it’s now 2.0 AU from Earth.

20 Dec 05: 20:10 hrs. 924 Toni shines at 13.5 mag. It lies between two 9th mag stars and I view it thru the 14” at only 115X. Toni is 87 km in size. It orbits 2.6 AU from the sun, and is currently located 1.8 AU from Earth.

20 Dec 05; 20:24 hrs. Asteroid 503 Evelyn is a relatively bright 12.6 magnitude, and it lies just to the S of an 8th mag star. I hop down just one 13.1 mag star and I’m on it with the 14” at 115X. This 79 km dia. minor planet orbits Sol at 2.3 AU, and it is presently 1.5 AU from Earth.

While slewing to view my next target (706 Hirundo) the control box cord got jammed between the scope base and the fork, causing the scope to stall in the middle of a slew. I couldn’t pull it free until I reversed the drive and slewed the scope in the opposite direction. I then did a Go-To to M42 to check out whether I’d lost alignment. I hadn’t. The Orion Nebula was centered and beautiful. The stars of the Triangulum were shining steady with no flicker. Seeing is good. But then I noticed that the control box display was showing Altitude and Azimuth readings instead of RA and DEC. How did that get changed? I started playing with theAutoStar II menu to fix things. I remember finding the handbox brightness and contrast settings first, and I optimized them for cold weather viewing (when the LED readout frequently gets dim due to the cold). I think I found the change I was looking for under Setup/Telescope/something but I failed to make note of it and am not sure. But it was eventually fixed and I didn’t need to realign.

20 Dec 05; 21:03 hrs. 706 Hirundo is presently a dim 14.1 magnitude, and I know that even with the 14” I’m stretching a bit with this evening’s viewing conditions. It lies just 30-seconds to the SE of a 12th mag star and eventually I’ve got it thru the 14” at 296X using all viewing tricks of the trade. Hirundo is right at the zenith, making it difficult to view. This minor planet is 32 km in dia. It orbits Sol at 2.5 AU, and it is now 1.6 AU from Earth.

Moonrise was at 21:05, but it doesn’t seem to be impacting the viewing as of yet.

20 Dec 05; 21:17 hrs. Asteroid 573 Recha is only shining at 14.0 magnitude right now, and it is at the zenith. I’ve eventually got it in the 14” after considerable star-hopping in from a 6 mag star in the W. Viewing is fairly easy with the Nagler 12mm (296X) with no tricks required. This 50 km sized asteroid orbits 2.8 AU from the sun, and it is presently 1.9 AU from Earth.

21:20 hrs. I’ve been star hopping in on 14.1 magnitude asteroid 1304 Arosa, but when I changed up from the 31mm eyepiece to the 17mm the guide stars actually got dimmer! I’ve been constantly warming each eyepiece with the hairdryer before viewing to prevent its fogging up so that isn’t the problem. Looking heavenward I see CLOUD. Well, the forecast was for partly cloudy, and I’ve had a good run of it.

21:25 hrs. Mars is still in the clear so I slew to the Red Planet and view thru the 17mm eyepiece (209X) that’s still in the 14”. Seeing could be much worse, but it could be better. I’m at maximum usable magnification. Adding a red filter I can make out Mare Cimmerium and Mare Sirenum running in a diagonal dark stripe across the face of the planet.

The clouds are only about 50% coverage and moving, but I’m not up to playing hide and peek tonight. So I give Dave a shout and he comes out barefoot in 25° temperatures to help carry the 14” in across the snow covered yard. We manage, an everything’s back in the house (although not put away) by 21:45 hrs.

Conclusions and lessons learned:

The double layer of socks worked. I went in warm at the end of the evening.

There was no snow forecast. I probably should have just covered the scope and left it to bring inside in the morning.

That’s another 8 asteroids bagged, bringing my total to 439 logged as observed. I’m running out of viewable asteroids, and the extra aperture of the 14” makes a world of difference. Aperture rules!

Pete 21 Dec 05
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great report Pete - thanks!

Postby Greg Stone » Thu Dec 22, 2005 8:15 am

Hi Pete:

You sure are thorough - and over 400 asteroids! I think I've seen Vesta and Ceres and that's it :?

I really appreciate the detail you provide and was particularly interested in the rough relationships between size, distance from earth, and magnitude of your targets. I'm getting a pretty good handle on estimating crater size on the moon and find it interesting that the asteroids you are looking at are right in the general size range - roughly 50 to 150 km - of the craters I'm observing - so as I read your report I mentally take that image of a crater and toss it out 1-2 AU - roughly 400-800 times the distance the crater is from me - no wonder it takes the 14-inch to hunt it down!

Like you, I'm aging and wrestling more with the cold. I've just added a "red room" to Driftway Observatory - that is, I've put a red light and a small space heater into the basement room nearest the observatory. The room is heated anyway - the space heater is there to add a blast of hot air to warm gloves and coat before putting them back on. It helps - but this morning I observed from about 2:30 - 4 am - came in for half an hour - thought I was warmed up, but found that during my next hour and a half of observing I was colder. Seems like once you get cold it's really hard to reverse the process.

As to cold feet, I do fairly well for a few hours, but I'm not standing on the ground and maybe my observatory floor provides a little insulation. When the temperature drops below 20 I have, on occasion, added those chemical heating pads to my socks. They're like the little hand warmers, but shaped for your feet . They do help, but like the handwarmers, seem like a pricey solution.

I too keep a heat gun handy for frosted eyepices, but I have also found that this is far less a problem if I make sure my mouth and nose are not covered when I'm viewing. (You probably know this, but just in case . . . ) That is, I don't wear a ski mask, but I do wear something like one. This can be pulled up to cover my mouth and nose - which is comfy, but causes my eyepieces to fog if I leave it that way as I observe. Instead I pull it down under my chin, leaving my face exposed. I don't know if you're wearing a ski mask, or scarf around your face, but if so, this could contribnute to the eyepiece problem.

The last few nights have been good here in Westport and while I haven't gotten around to writing up this morning's experience, I have posted several new reports on my blog as I told you in an earlier email. (I mention this here because other folks may be reading that don't know about the site. ) I've also redone the home page and several other pages to make the navigation more uniform and to focus the home page more on the needs of the visitors to Driftway.

Any feed back on the home page, or the entries to the blog which can be reached from it, are welcome. (see: http://giveyoujoy.net/awe )One recent blog entry some folks might find particularly interesting is my experience with a new Orion 6-inch "Intelliscope." Bottom line - I liked it and recommend it as a beginner's scope - but I also feel beginners should not opt for the computer controller immediately. And speaking of that . . .

I was interested in your comments about the new Meade firmware. I need to switch to it because I understand it corrects the problem with lunar tracking that drives me crazy with the LX90. But that aside, if I understand you correctly they've dropped the star names from the alignment procedure? Sounds like a marketing ploy. I aligned on Sirius and Arcturus this morning - as suggested by the software - but having read your report before going out I also noted that there were no other bright stars in the region. So it seems to me they could have dropped the business of naming the alignment stars at any time without making any substantial change in the software. Which is why I see this all as a marketing ploy - nothing really changes - except now the user isn't encouraged to know the names of a few bright stars - or taught them as he/she does an alignment. That's a step backwards.
He "who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead; his eyes are closed." Albert Einstein
12-inch DOB, 8-inch SCT, 6-inch SCT, 6-inch Dynascope. 100mm refractor, TV 85mm , 60mm Unitron, 50mm refractor, various binos
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Greg Stone
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