Log, Sep 17, 1999

Saturday: We scheduled an impromptu work and viewing schedule for this evening once Joe heard how good the weather would be. We sent out notices to everyone who has an e-mail address and contacted two non e-mailers via phone. Several folks had conflicts as one would expect, but Joe, Dave, Art and I made it. Dave even got a lift from his nephew until his replacement for his damaged car appears.

What an amazing night! It was our first real night of excellent seeing since the LX-200 came online. The scope performed beautifully, though it could still benefit from a collimation. The GOTO capabilities finally came up to snuff. We caught a glimpse of the moon as we waited for the sky to darken This was because we started the evening by entering the precise time as defined by the atomic clock at Lawrence Livermore National Labs (by way of their Internet time server), doing a 2 star alignment on Altair and Arcturus, and resetting the HOME position for the scope.

Once that was set, we were off and running. Sagittarius got our attention first. We spent some time on M8, the Lagoon Nebula, and tried out our narrow- and broad band nebular filters. They helped emphasize the dark lanes running through the dust clouds, but Joe believes the OXY-III filter that's backordered will be more effective. M22 was gorgeous as always

We compared views in the 12 mm Nagler IV eyepiece, with its 332x magnification and 14.5 arc minute field of view and our University Optics 32 mm Konig at 127x and 28.3'. The 32 mm was able to encompass the entire cluster, showing its size and granularity. The 12 mm took us to the heart of this cluster, showing hundreds and hundreds of individual stars all glowing fiercely to make up this object.

We tried to spin the dome and - chatter - clatter - thok - thok ... thok. After much messing about we discovered the track between dome segments 19 and 20 are heavily abraded. The motor rides up and out of the track. To get things rolling the motor needs to be nudged a 1/16th of an inch towards the center. In pops the gears and away we go nice as you please. We'll need a daytime work party to realign the gear box so it doesn't ride out. Dave and his family left at this point.

Joe tried to do some work with the CCD, but since he forgot to bring the new PictorView update, this didn't get very far. Some very rudimentary shots of M8 were taken, but nothing was saved. Joe wants the autofocus mode to work, as manually focusing is a laborious task! One thing that did get done was that Joe got closer to a parfocal CCD/eyepiece setup with the flip mirror, which will let us get much closer to focus by eye.

M57 had cleared the upper dome shutter by this time, so we spent some time looking at this. A very clear view of the celestial smoke ring was had, but no sign of the central star was seen.

Art took a crash course in using the new scope, and did rather well under my tutelage, slewing the scope to new objects, centering them in the field of view and adjusting the focus. Also included was instruction on how to use the new remote control of the dome, and there was a short discussion on how we might get the dome to operate bi-directionally with the remote.

With the crash course behind us, we spent the rest of the night enjoying ourselves observing. At Art's suggestion we went to M31, the Andromeda galaxy. This was awesome, filling the field of the 32 mm Konig eyepiece with the central core. I slaved the scope to computer control using SkyChart III, and also took us to M32 and M110.

We spent some time on some faint NGC317A and NGC317B to try out the locating features of our combined hardware and software. These twin galaxies are in the same general region as M110.

Next was the Sculptor Galaxy, NGC 253, which was lovely. It was larger than expected in the 32 mm field of view, filling it side to side with its pale, flattened form. Art packed it in for the evening here.

We started off with Jupiter and the four Galilean moons, Io, Callisto, Ganymede and Europa. We didn't try for any fainter moons of Jupiter. From there we went to Uranus in search of moons. I reported 3, Titania, Oberon, Ariel. Their positions were verified with SkyChart III, which continues to prove itself as an extremely valuable piece of software. The 24 mm - 8 mm zoom and the 12 mm Nagler IV were the eyepieces we used in our moon hunt.

Neptune was next. We barely could make out Triton, primarily because Neptune was not very far above the horizon. Unstable air made Triton wink into invisibility.

Last on the moon chase was Saturn. Both Joe and I reported 7 moons. We both logged Iapetus, Titan, Dione, Tethys, Rhea and Hyperion. Joe saw Enceladus wink in clearly just above the planet for a bit, but I didn't make it out. I saw Mimas just off the rings to the left of the planet, which Joe couldn't make at all. SkyChart III was again instrumental in helping determine which moons we saw (and didn't see!) Altogether we bagged 16 moons tonight, Earth and Neptune - 1 apiece, 3 for Uranus, 4 four Jupiter and 7 for Saturn. Each of us saw moons we had never seen before.

M1 was going to be the final object of the evening, since I'd seen it so clearly in my binoculars, but it was disappointing in the scope. Filters would likely have been a big help here, but it was late and we weren't going to pull them out. We were about to shut down when I realized that just above the horizon Orion was making an appearance. There was no way we were going to pass up our first opportunity to view M42 in the new scope!

It was so low to the horizon that it was impossible to get a clear view; the four stars of the Trapezium looked like blobs rather than stars with distinct color fringes, but the nebulosity was visible and almost 3 dimensional, even though it wasn't really in steady focus either. This really whet our appetite for the upcoming months.

We finally closed up at 2:30, too tired to continue. We were thrilled to have the best night in months, and had one of the most rewarding viewing sessions ever.

Friday: 11 people. We had a relatively sparse number of visitors this evening. Clouds scudded across the sky. At sunset there were hints the sky would clear and by 10 PM most of the clouds were gone. The air was very unstable, both because of the rapid chill and the heavy winds that still tagged along after Floyd.

Allyson got her first chance to put the telescope through its paces. She guided the LX200 on the Moon, Jupiter, Saturn and the Pleides. She took home a copy of SkyChart III to practice some of its features. Little by little, the FDO staff is becoming fans of this excellent software. It versatility and accuracy make it an excellent tool for a serious amateur installation.

We've decided that we will have to realign the telescope each week. Somehow, we seem to lose the quality of the HOME during the week. Joe says that Polaris can be used as the second star in a two star alignment which is helpful because it is always ready to be used.

The poor quality of the seeing with its fuzzy wobbly images could not stir much late night interest. By about 12:30 we were closing up the installation. Normally, we'd be home within a few minutes, but we had an annoying surprise. Someone had taken the chain and the padlock from the gate so Joe had no chance to lock it with his newly acquired key. We called the Charlestown police who said they would keep an eye out for the Park.

-Les Coleman

Leslie Coleman
Leslie Coleman
Entry Date:
Sep 17, 1999
Published Under:
Leslie Coleman's Log
Subscribe to Leslie Coleman's Log RSS Feed