Sunday, November 13, 2005

Observing session: 12th Nov. 2005

Winter months usually bring the most exquisite vistas for UK astronomers to gaze upon through their telescopes and binoculars. It also brings cold, dew and frozen conditions here in the UK. Last night was no exception.

I had set my Meade ETX105 out in the garden at about 4pm to give it a few hours of cool down time so that it would be at thermal equilibrium by the time I was ready to start observing.

7.30pm, I step outside. Oh yes, it’s cold! First task for the evening was to take out the clothes rack on which I normally dry my washed clothes. However tonight it was going to be used for something totally different. The rack serves as a perfect platform on which I can balance my torch. The torch is pointed directly at the infrared sensor under the flood light in my neighbour’s garden. This fools it in to thinking that it's day time and allows me to move freely around without lighting up the neighbourhood. Oddly enough, the warehouse that about 1Km behind my house has all it’s security flood lights turned off tonight. I’m not complaining!

I take the cover off my telescope and set it up for initial alignment, a task I've done so many times that it only takes a few short minutes to complete the procedure. All set up now and ready for a night of observing. I notice some wispy thin cloud but I can see right through it. Over to the west is a large clearing and no further cloud beyond it.

I've decided to dedicate the whole evening to Mars. Seeing conditions are steady and the view I'm seeing through the Meade 9.7mm eye piece augmented with a 2x Meade Barlow is steady and clear. There is no "jelly fishing" synonymous with turbulent atmospheric conditions and poor "seeing". The disk of Mars is crisp and steady and I can pick our very faint dark regions on the surface. To bring out the detail I slip out the eyepiece and attach a Meade red filter. This helps bring out the details in the dark regions of the Martian surface. The telescope is tracking very well tonight and there's hardly any wind which helps reduce vibrations when looking through the eye piece. I pull up the stool and allow my eyes to become dark adapted and keep peering through the eye piece at Mars.

After some time I pop indoors and find my binoculars. The stars fields in the constellation of Cassiopeia and Cygnus are incredibly rich. The 10 x 50 binoculars I use bring out the faint stars in these regions of space which are normally invisible to the naked eye from this part of the world, largely due to the intense light pollution and also the low magnitude of the stars themselves. An annoying problem with my binoculars is that I see double images through them. I think this was causes by the optics being knocked out of alignment when I dropped the telescopes a few months ago. I wonder if this can be repaired at low cost or if it’s better buying a brand new pair of binoculars?

It's now at least two hours in to the observing session and the whole telescope is dripping wet. Dew has settled on everything and even my clothes are damp. The temperature outside is close to zero degrees Celsius and the bite of the freezing cold air is very noticeable on my face. I decide not to take out my laptop computer for fear of it shorting out in the dew laden conditions outdoors. I had intended to do some CCD photography of Mars tonight but this will have to wait until another day. I've just ordered a 5 meter USB2 cable for the CCD imager. This will hopefully allow me to sit indoors and track objects in the warmth whilst the telescope does all the hard work outside in the cold. The cable should arrive on Monday. I'm in no doubt that the rest of the week will be cloud and rainy. Murphy's Law!

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