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Log, Oct 29, 1999

Monday: Joe spent a work night and suffered our usual highs and lows. The lows came once again from struggles with the CCD unit. The new release of the Pictor software finally recognizes the electric focuser, but the Auto focus option doesn't, and even controlling by hand, he was unable to get stars to focus as anything sharper than blobs. The most frustrating thing was Jupiter. Joe saw Io's shadow halfway across the planet. Unfortunately, even very short exposures were coming up with the planet as a massively overexposed disk. By the time Joe switched back to visual observing, the transit was over. A couple of folks who have seen the CCD images have suggested collimation as a potential cure for the blobs. We need to collimate the scope before any further attempts.

On the plus side, Joe reports that Saturn was great. He saw 6 of the moons, and made a sketch in the logbook. The Cassini division was clear, and it made up for the frustrations of earlier in the evening.

Friday: 56 people. The Observatory had a warm late October evening. Many families arrived with lots of kids giving us an unusually large crowd this late in the year.

Mercury was our first target. We briefly talked about doing the grand slam (all eight planets and the Moon), but waiting until after 3:45 PM for the last planet (Venus) seemed nuts. In fact we closed by 1 PM, after we had seen Mercury, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn. So far as I know we didn't try for Uranus, Neptune or Pluto.

Allyson wanted to try to find the very red variable star R-Aquilia. This star varies between the 6th and 13th magnitudes making it either very easy or very difficult to see. We found the correct star field but we couldn't make out R-Aql. Later, I wanted to see if I could make out the Horsehead Nebula with the newly acquired OXY-III filter. Again we found the star field with no problems but had no luck seeing the very low contrast nebula.

About half way through the evening, the lights went out - not only in the Observatory but all over western Charlestown. Apparently, this was caused by an automobile accident on RI Route 2. We were looking at the Great Globular Cluster in Hercules (M13) at the time. By releasing the brakes on the right azimuth and altitude drives, we were able to hand guide the telescope. As the time went on, we began to be concerned that a long term power outage would prevent us from closing the dome. We weren't the only ones concerned. Coyotes over in the game preserve howled loudly when the lights went out. How do you like that! The doggone coyotes have gotten used to having all the comforts of home - even street light to help them raiding garbage cans.

The great Nebula in Orion (M42), the Ring Nebula (M57) and the Dumbbell Nebula (M27) were prime targets this evening. The OXY-III filter was very effective with all the nebulae. Even with the interference of the Moon we could make a lot of structure.

Towards midnight, the air began to become turbulent. Joe and I watched in amazement as Sirius changed colors to the unaided eye from bright ruby through topaz yellow to sapphire blue. In eyepieces, the stars began to approximate tinsel snowflakes in scintillating colors. After a few minutes ruining our night vision by examining spectacular craters along the Moon's terminator, we decided to call it quits for this week.

-Les Coleman

Leslie Coleman
Author:
Leslie Coleman
Entry Date:
Oct 29, 1999
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Leslie Coleman's Log
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