Back At It, Finally!

Reports for 2019
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Apollo XX
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Back At It, Finally!

Unread post by Apollo XX »

Friday, December 20, 2019

It’s 18:45 and I’m pining to get out the door. Supper is done and the scope has been outside for more than an hour. I feel like I’m falling behind on my observing project, so I really want to get some stuff done and get caught up. The sky is forecasted to be clear this evening, with average transparency and poor seeing and the temps will be dropping into the teens overnight. All in all a fine night for plying the sky with a telescope.

The project I’m working on is affectionately referred to as my ‘DSC60 Quest’, as in the Astronomical League’s Double Star Club done with a 60mm telescope. The original idea to do it this way is not mine. I came across it on a website called ‘Star Splitters’, which is penned by a local fellow named Greg Stone and a west coast guy named John Nanson. Both very big double star buffs, it was Greg’s idea to pursue the list with a 60mm scope. I’m not sure how far Greg actually got, as the website hasn’t been updated in a long time, but the idea stuck a chord with me and I finally got down to the business of getting done earlier this year. So far it’s been a very enjoyable project.

I actually began pursuing the double star club certificate about 10 years ago. I was making good progress and was nearing the hallway point, when for some reason or another I got distracted and stopped. That was in June of 2010. Fast-forward to June of 2019 and I’m back at it again, this time though with a distinctly different approach. I’m attempting the list with a classic 60mm F15 refractor, about the smallest instrument you can use to make a serious attempt at it with, and even at that there are a couple of systems that are just too tight to be resolved with this aperture. No matter, my plan is eke every last ounce of resolving power out of the old scope, and when it can’t do it I’ll sub in a larger instrument to get those few done.

Since re-beginning the DSC quest back in June I’ve observed 55 stars on the list, and in all of those only one has required confirmation with a larger scope. Some took several tries and the luck of good seeing to get done, but the 60mm has proven up to the task in every instance so far. That’s about to change on this night. Because the weather has been largely crap over the past month or so, the last serious effort I was able to expend on the list was back in late October, and late November got away without a good go at it. Double star astronomy is often touted as an ‘any sky’ activity, whether it be hazy or moony or whatever, you can usually still do double star work. And while that’s often true, it’s not necessarily the case when your chosen observing instrument is broaching the lower limits of viability. I’ve been sticking to the dark sky period around new moons.

It’s 19:00 and I’m at the eyepiece. I’d spent the prior ten minutes in the darkened garage getting a little adaptation done. Ultimately I’d like more, but the sky is turning and I want to get to work. If I don’t make some progress soon I may be forced to seek an alternative observing location with lower horizons, something I’d like to avoid if at all possible.

First up tonight is Psi 1 Piscium, a double system with nearly even components at mags 5.6 and 5.8, and a separation of 30”. So while the brightness and separation are no problem for the scope, Psi 1 is located in a barren section of the sky when it comes to guidepost stars, or in other words good stars to hop from. The reason for the lack of guidepost stars is simple – light pollution – but ultimately I’m finally able to spy 4th mag 34 Andromeda, and using the excellent Uranometria 2000 charts the hop by looking through the eyepiece is a piece of cake. I make a quick sketch of the system and jot down a few comments and we’re off and running.

Next up is Zeta Piscium, which at mags 5.6 and 6.5 and a separation of 23” is again no problem for the scope, but again we’re dealing with a dim field to work in. This time we’re hopping off of a series of 4th mag stars in Pisces, which are very difficult to see in the lower reaches of my southern sky. Again, the very good charts in Uranometria 2000 guide the way and we’ve got Zeta observed and logged.

Gamma Aries is the next target for the evening, and this is a beauty! It’s formal name is Mesarthim, and while at 4.5 mag I can’t see it with the naked eye, I can see the much brighter and nearby Sheratan and it’s a very easy drop down from there to Gamma. What a sight! At the dead-even magnitudes of 4.8-4.8 and a separation of just 7.8”, the view of this system at 120x is one of a perfect set of eyes looking right back at you. The little scope contends well with poor seeing conditions, and those two perfect globules are just a sight to behold. It’s in moments at the eyepiece like these that you don’t even notice that it’s 20*F outside and getting colder, it’s that mesmerizing.

Continuing our adventure in Aries, next up is Lambda Arietis. At magnitudes 4.9 and 7.7 with a separation of 37”, this pair provide a nice contrast in the eyepiece. And while the primary is at mag 5, it’s an easy hop from Hamal, the brightest star in the constellation Aries. Looked and logged – onward!

Dropping back down into Pisces, the next star on our list is Alpha Piscium. At magnitudes 4.2 and 5.1, I can barely see the primary with the naked eye. Pisces is one of those funny constellations where the star that is designated ‘Alpha’ is not the brightest star in the system. In fact it’s not even close. There are at least three brighter stars in the asterism that I know of, but there it is, Alpha-not-so-bright. Anyway, the red-dot finder does the job and I’m on the star quickly. And this is where the buck stops. At just 1.7” separated, I’m about to be handed my first full-on defeat of the project. But I give it the ol’ college try and ply the star with 150x, 180x, and 200x. And while I *think* I might be able to maybe if I use my imagination and think really hard and focus really fine and squint a little this way and a little that way, that I could perhaps see a tiny bit of elongation to the west, but probably not. I log my findings and resolve to go back on the next clear night with a larger scope and split it just for the sake of it, and even though it’s not really necessary in the larger scheme of things, I want to anyway, just because.

The next star we go to work on this evening is Gamma Andromeda, and while it is can’t-miss-it bright up high in the sky, it presents a different kind of challenge – getting it in the eyepiece! It’s now sometime around 20:00 or so, and Gamma And is at 89* altitude – no kidding! You’ve heard of the ‘dob-hole’? Well that same hole exists with any alt/az mount, and that’s exactly what I’m using. So there I am, practically laying on the ground to see up through the finder and I’m spinning the mount in circles around the azimuth in an attempt to line up the star which I finally did, but it’s never where you’d think the mount should’ve been positioned. And so in those situations you’re always crawling around down there and bending into all kinds of contortions, and God help those within earshot if you happen to bump the scope in getting back up. And even once you get the star in the eyepiece it’s tricky to keep it there. Viewing at true zenith has its challenges and nothing seems to come naturally, and then you see the satellite go through the field. Was it one of those LIDAR mapping ones? Am I going to go blind? Well, probably not at 60mm, but let’s get this done anyway. Gamma And at mags 2.3 and 5.5 with a 9.3” separation is a nice sight and a good challenge for the 60mm. 90x shows them off well, and with the sketch and notes in the books we’re off to the next one.

Iota Trianguli is a mag 5.3-6.9 system separated by just 3.9”, and it presents a wonderful challenge for the 60mm scope. Finding it with a red-dot was a straightforward act of triangulating (no pun intended) from 7-tri and Mothallah, two of the stars that make up the asterism of the constellation. Once on it, I had to jazz up the power to the limits of the small objective to pull the secondary far enough away from the primary for viewing. The view at 180x of the system was spectacular, with the secondary just visible to the northeast of the primary. It’s when you achieve an observation like this that you feel especially accomplished in pushing your equipment and skills to get it done, and again you tend to forget that you can’t feel your feet anymore – for the moment anyway.

Our final official target for the evening is Gamma Ceti, and while I can actually make out the mag 3.5 primary behind the head of the whale naked eye and it’s quickly in the eyepiece, resolving the mag 7.3 secondary sitting just 2.8” away is another matter. What I’ve found with this project is that systems with large differences in magnitudes and under say 10” separation are more challenging than say an even mag pair at 3”. Even so, eventually after forays at various powers between 150x and 200x, I settle back at 150x and am able to pull out the secondary to the west of the primary. However, it’s not the most convincing observation I’ve ever made so I’ll go back to this one with a larger scope to confirm my findings, the third or fourth time so far in this project that I’ve chosen to do so.

That’s it for our observing goals for the evening. I’m now back in a good place with the project and am seeing the light brighten at the end of the tunnel. We checked off 8 targets tonight, and I’ve now got 37 to go to finish it up. There is at least one more system on the list that won’t be resolved with the 60mm, but I’m feeling really good overall about the project.

With the list, maps and logs packed away, I decided to drop in on some old friends just for the fun of it. Polaris is on the list and I’ve already observed and logged it with the 60mm, but I like to go back anyway for the fun of it. I have a certain eyepiece that I often gravitate to when working doubles and planets, which has always provided a particularly sharp and contrasty view. It’s a Garrett Optical 10mm SWA Plossyl, and although the company is no longer in existence I’d recommend that you grab one if you happen to see it on the used market. In the 60mm F15 scope it provides a 90x view with ample true field, sharp right to the edge. Polaris and its secondary is no small feat in a 60mm scope, but there it is in this eyepiece, the mag 2.0 primary star known by all of humanity and its 9.0 secondary sitting just NW on this cold last night of fall.

10mmSWA.jpg (1.2 MiB) Viewed 2335 times
If you see one of these eyepieces on the market, grab it! It's got a generous 72*APOV, is sharp across that field, and is very contrasty. It's typical of a plossyl in that they tend to have fairly tight eye relief at shorter focal lengths, but the strengths of this eyepiece make up for that shortcoming in my opinion.

Swinging the scope around nearly 180*, I land on another system that’s on the list as well, but I’m done logging for the night. It’s not a worry to me, this system will be around for months and I know the challenge well. The Trapezium in the Orion Nebula is easily resolved by the little scope at 90x through the Garrett eyepiece, and the nebulosity is quite evident even with this limited aperture on this cold, clear night. Orion is an old friend that I’ve visited many times over the years, and I always look forward to going back.

It’s after 21:00 and I’m feeling the cold now. For kicks I drop on down to Rigel, another system on the list and this time I do consider getting the log back out if necessary. It wouldn’t be necessary however, because splitting Rigel is what I thought it would be with the little scope – a big challenge. The seeing was nowhere near good enough to do that on this night, and even after dropping a barlow under the eyepiece and making the power 180x, no dice. They say that viewing Rigel is good practice for splitting Sirius, what with a similar separation and large magnitude difference. It’ll be interesting to see if I actually get it with the 60mm. It may be one of those cases where I have to work two scopes side-by-side, with one telling exactly where to look in the smaller one. We’ll see.

So that’s it for the night. The sky is still clear and very workable, but I’m done. It’s 20*F and I’ve been out for two and a half hours. That’s about my limit, my feet are always the first thing to go. I’m really looking forward to the rest of this project, and the next week actually looks like it might have some workable nights that are actually twice as warm as this one. Wahoo! See you under the stars!
"The purpose of life is the investigation of the Sun, the Moon, and the heavens." - Anaxagoras
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Re: Back At It, Finally!

Unread post by Pete »

Mike, I remain fascinated by the variety of astro interests.
Pete P.
Bruce D
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Re: Back At It, Finally!

Unread post by Bruce D »

Great report Mike!
Bruce D
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