I don’t want to beat a dead horse about past problems, but the context is really important for this post. Let’s just say that I have had some challenges with getting proper alignment with my scope. And my posts have reflected that…Finally learning with the Celestron NexStar 8SE led to some success, but then eventual frustration such as Attempt #0 of 5 to save my hobby, and then some more success with Solving alignment problems with the Celestron NexStar 8SE. When I was done, I wrote up all my lessons learned as Best alignment process for the Celestron NexStar 8SE, and it is one of my most popular pages on my website. I don’t however always listen to myself, and if I’m in a rush, I can forget or skip a step and my subsequent alignment is hit or miss. Last year wasn’t a good year, and I am determined that this year, I WILL PERSIST!
My second outing of the year
For my first outing of the year, I did a basic alignment, didn’t really worry about levelling for example, I just wanted to blow the cobwebs out of my head. On Saturday, May 4th, the local RASC Centre was having members-only observing at the Fred Lossing Observatory (FLO) near Almonte and I was hoping to go. But the sky clouded in near me, the forecast was looking iffy for anything longer than an hour, and I was a bit tired. So I bailed. Apparently, I missed a good night though. Sigh.
But Sunday night had decent darkness, clear for skies, and transparency was average — about the best I can usually do, so I decided I’d go out to FLO for that night instead. I thought there might be one or two other people, but I was by myself initially. I unlocked the gate, set up my scope, and realized that I no longer knew where even West or North was in relation to the mound I was using. My phone wasn’t much help initially, so I eventually had to resort to the old school method — a physical compass that I keep in my gear for just such an emergency!
Another member dropped by, Nathan, and while he didn’t have a scope, we got by just fine using mine. The first star we saw was Capella, and almost the same time, Castor, Pollux and Arcturus. I decided to go for the full setup — setup with all the tightenings in the right spot and tube at the right height from the mount; levelling; aligning the spotting tool (although I skimped a bit on that one, I was pretty much dead centre already); and full GPS location coordinates. While my research tells me I should be choosing Arcturus and Regulus, or Polaris and Mira, when I chose Arcturus as the first star, the second star it suggested was Capella. Almost 180 degrees away. Okay, why not? Did the alignment, almost instant success, and when I then tested it back to Arcturus, it was DEAD CENTRE. A perfect alignment, first try.
So Nathan and I started a sky tour. Which we did for an hour, with some globular clusters, Mars, open clusters, some faint fuzzies, and a couple of decent doubles. It was fun, but Nathan couldn’t stay too late, and off he went. My alignment was still holding and I realized I have never really had a full sky tour from the settings, not really. Never with full proper alignment. So I reset to the beginning and started again.
I did almost three hours more for the sky tour of about 100 objects. Or about 1-2 minutes per item. I swapped out my 2″ x 42mm wide-angle for a 1.25″ x 32 mm decent size and when I could go tight, I used my 17.3″ mm Delos, my favourite eyepiece. Mostly I stayed at the 42mm size unless I was doing doubles or checking out how tight I could go on a globular cluster.
My best viewing ever
Everything worked. And with the 42mm guiding the majority of the star tour, pretty much everything I was looking for was easily within the Field of View. Of course, at 42mm, it seems like half the sky is in the FOV, so that’s not saying much. But it did mean I could find EVERYTHING that wasn’t below the horizons or caught in some trees. Here’s what I saw…
For open clusters, I found 21 objects:
- M103 showed me an orange star at 42mm; still nice at 32mm; and good bright centre for an open cluster at 17mm;
- The Christmas Tree Cluster was more impressive earlier in the night, but when I returned to it, it was a bit low on the horizon. Earlier, I could see lines of stars and a bit of structure in the shape of a triangle at 42mm;
- M38 was a bright open cluster at 32mm;
- M36 was slightly dimmer, and best seen at 42mm;
- M37 is apparently the richest open cluster, but only mildly interesting at 42 and 32mm…however, at 17mm, it looked like a dark maze between stars;
- M35 was good at 42mm;
- M67 was good at 42mm but had a bright centre at 32mm;
- The Beehive Cluster at 42mm didn’t seem to have a particular overall shape, but some structure was visible;
- I loved the structures more apparent in the Stargate Cluster (still clear at 17mm), Seven cluster (at 42mm), Arrow Cluster (at 42mm), Crown Cluster (at 42mm), Coma Star Cluster (at 42mm, with arcs), Mini Coathanger (although hard to see shape), S Cluster (at 42mm), W Cluster, Coathanger (not much structure, even at 42mm), and the Horseshoe Cluster;
- Spiral Cluster, M29 and M39 were all open at 42mm, but not super impressive;
For globular clusters, one of my favourite types, I saw 9 of them:
- The Double Cluster was big at 42mm, good at 32, and still tight at 17mm;
- M48 was pretty close to the treeline but nice at 42mm;
- M5 is a tight cluster, at 42, 32 and 17mm;
- Hercules is too;
- As is M12;
- And M10;
- M92 is equally tight;
- M3 is like M5, only brighter in some ways; and,
- M52 is pretty faint.
For double stars, I saw 28 of them:
- 19 Lyncis was visible at 17mm;
- Castor was barely split at 17mm;
- Tegman was supposedly a quad, but all I could see was a double at 17mm;
- Theta 2 at 42mm showed a double of equal magnitude;
- Iota cancer showed a blue and yellow/white double at 17mm;
- Algieba was a very bright double at 42mm;
- 54 Leo could be split at 32mm;
- M40 was a double, but it was very faint at any size EP;
- Algorab could be split at 42mm;
- 24 Com was a colour double at 42mm;
- Porrima required the 17mm to split the double;
- 35 Com is supposedly a triple colour, but at 17mm, it was only clear that it was a double;
- Cor Carroll split at 32mm;
- Mizar separated at 42mm;
- Kappo Bo was average double at 42mm;
- Epsilon Bo was a bright double at 42mm;
- Xi Bo was average double at 42mm;
- Delta Set was bright double at 42mm;
- Graffias was a triple/double at 17mm;
- Rasalgethi was a bright double, even at 42mm;
- Nu Dra was an easy double at 42mm;
- 95 Her had different magnitude stars, even at 42mm;
- Epsilon Cap is a quadruple star, but it shows more as a double+double, even at 42mm;
- Zeta Lyr easily doubles at 42mm;
- Albireo is one of my favourite bright coloured doubles, even at 42mm;
- 17 Cyg could be split at 42mm;
- 61 Cyg was easy at 42mm; and,
- Delta Cep was another easy coloured double at 42mm.
For other DSOs, there were 47 objects :
- There were a lot of faint fuzzies, mostly visible at 42mm – M95, M96, M105, M108 (could go to 32mm), M109, M98, M99, M106, M61, M100, M84 and M85, M86, M49, M102, M107, M56, M87, M88, M89, M91, M90, M58, M59, M60, M94, M53, M83, M101,
- Other galaxies were soft fuzzies too at 42mm — Sombrero, Black Eye (a little brighter), Sunflower, Whirlpool, Cat’s Eye, Dumbbell;
- The Perseus Cluster is a collection of galaxies, but mostly I just saw a bit of structure and a curved line of stars at 42mm;
- The Little Fish asterism had a bright yellow star in the centre, possible double, viewed at 42mm;
- M81 (spiral galaxy, Bode’s Galaxy/Nebula) showed in the same F.O.V. as M82 at 42mm. You could also see the core at 32mm and a faint core at 17mm;
- At 32mm, you could see M82 as elongated galaxy;
- The Eskimo Nebula is a planetary nebula, but all I saw were some basic stars at 42mm;
- M65 had three galaxies showing at 42mm, along with M66 and NGC3628;
- The Blinking Planetary Nebula didn’t seem like anything, even at 42mm; and,
- the Ring Nebula and Ghost of Jupiter were both hard to see, even at 17mm.
In total, there were 21 open clusters, 9 globular clusters, 28 double stars, and 47 other DSOs = 105 objects for the night!
There were probably a couple of other ones in the first hour too. Like Mars, for instance.
Wrapping up the night
I tried taking a couple of photos but had no luck at all, and I was pretty tired at that point, so I started packing up. I noticed as I was moving from the parking lot to the mound though that Jupiter was above the trees if viewed from the parking lot, while still hiding where the scope was. Soooo, last effort for the night, I picked up the scope and carried the whole kit over to the parking lot and set up quickly again (without alignment). I focused in and saw four moons easily, and bands out the wazoo on the planetary surface. Normally, I’m lucky to see a band or two; this time, I could see smaller shadings too. What the heck, I thought, I might as well go for broke.
So I swapped my 17mm out for the 10mm Delos and looked again. I forgot for a moment that I`m looking at an inverted image, and I thought I was seeing a transit shadow — until I realized it was red/orange and it was in the right place since the image was inverted. The Great Red Spot! I saw it, for the first time!
What an amazing night. I packed up and headed home. My three-hour sky tour was awesome. And my best viewing night EVER. I felt like an astronomy god!