My Observing Log: October

1:00 a.m. 26 September 1998 PDT (0800 26 September 1998 UTC)

Yes, it's been a while since my last session, for one reason or another. But this was a good one, with a nice view of Saturn, where I spent most of my time. It's odd that Saturn can be crisp and clear, while Jupiter, which was higher and brighter, seemed hazy. But that's the way it seemed.

Again, it took some care to get the light-focusing C5+ to achieve best focus on Saturn, but once I did, the Cassini division was an easy band of darkness nearly all the way around. I also suspected that I could see the crepe ring (Ring C), on the inside of the two main rings, but I wasn't certain.

A new feature which I hadn't been able to see before was the white band or patch near the equator. Limb darkening was severe enough that I couldn't tell whether or not the whiteness (which was quite conspicuous) extended further around the globe of Saturn. I'm going to have to start keeping sketches, because there's no doubt that I'm seeing detail that's probably on the order of 5000 km wide or so.

I also spent some time on the Andromeda triad, M31, M32, and M110. M31 and M32 are still easy marks, naturally, but try as I could, I couldn't find M110. I could find exactly where it was supposed to be (marked by three stars), but I couldn't find it; probably the light pollution is simply obscuring this low surface brightness object.

Other non-observing notes: I've ordered a Thousand Oaks filter for the C5+ from Pocono, and I've obtained a color QuickCam from a friend. I'm going to see if I can't do some afocal (eyepiece) photography through the C5+ with it. I'm mostly interested in some lesser-used image processing algorithms, to see if I can't improve pictures. Plus, I don't want to take apart the QuickCam just yet…

10:00 p.m. 5 October 1998 PDT (0500 6 October 1998 UTC)

Tonight was specifically an imaging session. I wanted to try out the QuickCam, to see if I could see anything at all. I set the C5+ out on The Roost, and hooked up the (color) QuickCam to the laptop. At this point, I still haven't taken the camera apart yet, but I might do that soon. I am a bit concerned about steadiness once I do that.

For now, I'm just holding the camera in place by hand. It fits nicely into the rubber eyecup on the 15 mm Plossl, and is actually steadier than you might think. I was after just the three targets visible at the time: the moon, Jupiter, and Saturn.

It's amazing, actually, how widely the seeing varies. It really helped to take ten different shots of both Jupiter and Saturn (the moon is big enough to withstand seeing changes), and select the best one. Even then, I wasn't satisfied with any of the Saturn shots, so I'll try again tomorrow night, perhaps.

To preface these two shots, I have to say that the seeing was pretty bad—about a 3 on a scale of 0 to 10—so I'm fairly impressed with what you can get.

First of all, here's the moon shot. It's a bit dark, owing to some severe vignetting, but it's just a first attempt; I'll try some different parameters the next time. It's of the northwest limb, showing Aristarchus prominently near the center.

Then, we have Jupiter. Certainly you can see the two equatorial belts, and you can see hints of the North Temperate Belt as well. The NEB does show two of those equatorward spikes that frame the GRS on the SEB, but the GRS (which was actually facing us at this time—it had crossed the meridian about a half an hour before this shot) is not itself visible, unless you possess a vivid imagination. Its location is just to the left of that dark splotch near the lower right limb. (The splotch itself is an imaging artifact.) You can even see some hints of the brown color. The picture was flopped (I took the shot through the 90 degree prism, which was probably moderately sub-optimal) to put north toward the top, and east to the left.

Not great of course, but encouraging enough to try again, maybe in just a day or two!

12:30 a.m. 14 October 1998 PDT (0730 6 October 1998 UTC)

The seeing tonight was interesting, of a sort I hadn't seen previously. (I will admit that I am not a terribly experienced observer.) The distortion was pretty bad, but incredibly slow—each cell seemed to pass over a period of a second or two. It was as if I were seeing through a layer of a very viscous liquid.

Through this viscous atmosphere I did some planetary observing. (The sky's transparency was poor—M31 was barely, if at all, visible through the finderscope, and a generally uninspiring sight at the eyepiece.) Out here on the west coast, I think we missed the Ganymede transit inside the GRS (of course it only looks that way), but in any case I wasn't out that early.

The view of Jupiter was so-so; I was experiencing some glare—I might try my lunar polarizing filter (on maximum, about 40 percent transmission) as a neutral density filter to bring that down next time. For some reason that didn't occur to me at the telescope. Still, I was able to see the NEB and NTB quite clearly, and some hint of the STB.

Again, it was Saturn that was awe-inspiring. At a couple magnitudes dimmer than Jupiter, the contrast is somehow improved, and at precise focusing (I find that Saturn is an excellent calibration for focusing), the Cassini division stands out in clear contrast. This evening, Saturn had a distinctive dark splotch in the southern hemisphere, and I was able to watch as a lobe started out at the left edge (the leading edge in the diagonal) and trailed off over the course of an hour. You really get a three-dimensional impression when looking at Saturn that you don't get with Jupiter—or at least I don't.

I keep forgetting how large these planets look at 167x (the 15 mm Plossl plus a 2x Barlow). I used to have a 25 mm and a 9 mm Kellner that came with my last scope, but I gave these to a young (age 10) friend, along with the old telescope. I hope he enjoys them!

But back to magnification—I always found that with the 9 mm in the Barlow, the image (at 278x) was always significantly inferior to the 167x view. It could be that the seeing manifests itself much more at those magnifications (or it could be that the 9 mm Kellner just can't compete with the Plossl).

7:30 p.m. 17 October 1998 PDT (0230 18 October 1998 UTC)

My first time with the C5+ at a star party. I was invited to one of the Los Angeles Astronomical Society's dark sky parties at the Steve Kufeld site, as a friend of a friend of a member, Richard Usatine. Richard had told me on the way up to the party that David Nakamoto might be there. David's a fellow C5+ owner who's done quite a bit of imaging through it, some of it at the Steve Kufeld (yes, by the way, that Steve Kufeld) location, so I was really looking forward to meeting him. Unfortunately, he didn't show up.

It was the only thing that marred a wonderful night, though. I'd gone out with other scopes before, but not with this scope and certainly not anywhere this dark. It was marvelous once again to be under mag 6 skies, with the W to the northwest side of M27 ringing out by the unaided eye. I had brought the QuickCam, just in case, but I didn't have any red gel to cover the screen, and the seeing was only average in any case.

But the transparency was wonderful—the sky was completely clear—and it was a terrific opportunity to observe deep sky objects. If I had just taken the time to organize my night beforehand, I'm sure I'd have gotten more done, but it was still a ton of fun just the same. Richard had brought his Celestron Firstscope 80, his friend (and mine) Barry had brought a 4-1/2 inch reflector that I had given to him (I wasn't using it anymore), and I had my C5+ of course. We had some interesting experiences packing it all into Richard's van, but we got there all right.

The first thing I looked at was the Double Cluster in Perseus, just off the left limb of Cassiopeia's W. It was great to be able to point to it by the unaided eye—it sure made getting it into the scope's FOV a damn sight easier. Next came the Andromeda Galaxy, an easy shot, and its two main companions, M32, which I had seen before from home, and M110, which I hadn't, and was marvelously bright from this location.

Next came two of my all time favorites, M27 and M57. M57 was first, since it was easier to point to—M27 was near zenith at the time. I have to say, I was astonished at how bright it was from here. The donut was an easy shot, without a filter and certainly without averted vision. When M27 came down far enough for me to point at it easily, I found it too and again I was floored. I know I've said how great these objects are at home, through the filter (or without it), but these views tonight were 10 times better than anything I had ever seen before.

Another reward of going to the party was seeing all the scopes that people had. I got to see the Andromeda Galaxy through a 40 mm Meade Wide Angle on an old Meade 8-inch SCT (before they numbered them the way they do now with the LX10, 50, and 200). I was wowed by NGC 253 through an Intes 6-inch Mak-Newt; NGC 253 is a galaxy like the Andromeda Galaxy and inclined similarly, but more like 15 million light years away. And the big deep-sky treat this evening was looking at the Helix Nebula through a 13-inch Coulter dob with an O-III filter. What a view!

I do have to admit it was kind of cold. It got down to about 25 degrees (F) or so, and even though I'm usually pretty resistant to that kind of weather, just sitting around looking through eyepieces doesn't exactly help keep you warm. So I'll probably wait until next spring to do one of these again, if I do it again. The yearly reg fee is $35, which is eminently reasonable, so even if I don't go to most of the parties I don't think I would mind supporting the LAAS.

Copyright (c) 1998 Brian Tung