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Posts Made By: Darren Crooks

March 19, 2003 03:21 PM Forum: Solar System Observing

Transit of Io

Posted By Darren Crooks

Last night at about 0400 UT (11:00 PM local) I was out with my humble 4.5" Christmas scope (Bushnell newtonian), casting about for interesting objects. I didn't hold out much hope, because of the full moon, so I aimed it at Jupiter. Suprisingly, the view was fairly crisp at 135X (using the awful 3X Barlow that came with the scope - a waste of good plastic, really). I saw three of the moons, two equatorial bands and both polar regions quite distinctly.

Then I saw a small black dot on the planet's surface between the two equatorial belts. At first, I thought I was seeing a defect in the crummy eyepeice supplied with the scope ... but after viewing for a few moments, I realized it was maintaining its position on Jupiter's surface as the planet crossed my field of view. I realized that I was viewing the shadow of one of the planet's moons as it passed in front of its parent. Sure enough, I saw the black dot move slowly to the left (the view is inverted) and evntually the satellite emerged from Jupiter's limb. I was pleasantly surprised that this scope would reveal these sorts of details given the poor quality eyepeices supplied with it.

I checked on my Starry Nights software later on and learned that the moon was Io.

So in spite of the truly miserable accessories, the optics on this scope seem to be working fine... I am anxiously awaiting delivery of the new Plossls (20mm, 10mm and 6.7mm) that I purchased here a week or so ago. That should improve viewing significantly.

Clear nights ... dark sites,
Darren

March 29, 2003 06:02 PM Forum: Solar System Observing

Great Beige Spot?

Posted By Darren Crooks

Well, I finally got a view of the Great Red Spot. But frankly, there's nothing red about it. It was closer to tan -- in fact, it really didn't have much colour difference between it and the South Equatorial Belt beside which it appeared.

I should preface this by saying that Wednesday March 26 was the first night I had been able to use the Plossls I had purchased here a week previously -- it having been overcast every night since then! I finally had some decent eyepeices for my cheap department store Bushnell 4.5" Newt, and I was anxious to try them out.

At first I was dissapointed -- was I actually seeing double images of bright starts and Jupiter? Horrors. But that was as a result of not letting the scope cool. The 20mm (45X) had a 10 degree wider apparent FOV than the 20mm that came with the scope, and I could almost fit Jupiter in with M44 in the same view. That was a pretty sight.

I also noticed that M44 seemed brighter and crisper than with my original eyepiece. Altogether, I was quite pleased with the improvement.

Even in combination with my crummy 3X Barlow (again, original equipment), the images were considerably sharper and more contrasty. For instance, I was able to clearly resolve the Cassini division (which had heretofore been nothing more than a faint suggestion) and even saw a dark band on Saturn itself.

Jupiter gave me some very clear views of the polar regions and both equatorial belts. I was able to resolve the SEB into two distinct bands when the image settled down. And I finally got a view of the GRS -- looking like a tan swirl in the SEB, accented by a darkish eyebrow south of it. But there was little contrast between the colours on any of the features on the Jovian disk -- I got two shades: off-white and tan. The great red spot was no redder than anything else. Maybe I need more aperture to get better colour contrast. Maybe viewing from my light-bathed driveway had something to do with it.

Well, that's about it for now. I'm awaiting the deilvery of yet another Plossl, a Meade Series 4000 7mm that I purchased here. That way, I can dispense with the crummy Barlow altogether.

Please excuse the long-windedness. I've only been using this telscope for three months, and every new image is an adventure. Besides, it is (alas) overcast once again, so this is the next best thing.

Clear nights ... dark sites,
Darren



April 10, 2003 10:06 PM Forum: Solar System Observing

Another Jovian transit

Posted By Darren Crooks

Finally a clear night after a week of snow, freezing rain, and ice pellets. Got out to a friend's back yard last night, where seeing is much better than my light-strewn driveway, and passed a pleasant evening of viewing.

I found tube currents to be a bit of a distraction when viewing Jupiter,even after letting my humble 4.5" DS reflector cool for an hour (saw the GRS coming into view around the western limb about 0330 UT -- nice!), but the view of Saturn was quite sharp and steady. The Cassini division was easy at 135X (6.7mm Meade Series 3000 plossl), and I could make out surface detail as well ... a tannish band near the equator, and a brownish dot at the north pole). The moon was spectacular. Mountain ranges, valleys, rilles, craters ... they just sprang up in sharp relief.

A real treat was seeing both M44 and Jupiter in my buddy's 8" Meade SCT using a wide-field eyepeice ... beautiful. So was M42, which showed some gorgeous detail even when near the horizon, under a quarter moon.

And a bonus! Got Mercury just before it disappeared behind the trees. First time!

Tonight I was out again with my 4.5" reflector (which I have decided to christen Heep, by virtue of its being so 'umble) and again got some excellent views of both Jupiter and Saturn. I find Saturn to be less of a challenge than Jupiter. The Cassini division was again very sharp, this time at 90X with a 10mm Silvertop plossl. I could even see faint surface banding with the same eyepeice. Once the scope cools down enough, Saturn shows a rock-steady image that rarely changes ... but Jupiter! That's another story. So many features seem to appear out of nowhere only to be lost again just as quickly. But this night I sat patiently for about 2 hours, watching Jupiter, starting around 0300 UT.

I was watching what I thought was a shadow transit of Io. But at about 0400, I saw another black dot appear on the following limb ... and realized that the first tiny speck I saw was not the shadow of Io, but the moon itself. Another first. The Jovian disk was clear and sharp this night, and although the polar regions were not ask well defined as I had seen them before, I did notice a thin, sharp line running between the equatorial belts, neatly bissecting the planet. This feature was discernable only with difficulty, and disappeared from time to time. Another feature I hadn't seen before was a division in the SEB itself. At times it appeared as though the SEB were split in two. This was using my 6.7mm plossl.

All in all, an exceptional couple of sessions for planetary observing. Heep and I can hardly wait for Mars!

Sharp, steady seeing,
Darren

April 17, 2003 07:11 AM Forum: Deep Sky Observing

OT: Whirlpools in Space?

Posted By Darren Crooks

Check out the following picture of M106. Yeah, I took that with my 4.5" DS reflector smile. It's actually a picture I downloaded from Astronomy Picture of the Day (http://antwrp.gsfc.nasa.gov/apod/astropix.html). I sometimes use them as my background on my computer screen. But here's the thing: the blurb on the website indicates that M106 is a Seyfert type galaxy, which has a very bright core that is supposedly powered by a massive black hole.

If that is the case, then could the spiral arms of these galaxies (and perhaps others) be explained by the rotational effect of matter being pulled in towards the core by the overwhelming gravitational power of the central black hole? Could we, in fact, be looking at a vast celestial drain? Compare the picture to water going down the drain in your sink. Are they not similar? Is the Whirlpool galaxy (M51) exactly that?

If this is in fact the case, then can we assume that the galaxy in question is rotating clockwise?

Can such a hypothesis be tested, or is the rotational period of galaxies so long that their movement escapes detection?

Just some thoughts. I know it's off-topic, but I couldn't help but be intrigued by this picture and what it seems to suggest.

Clear nights ... dark sites,
Darren


April 25, 2003 09:49 PM Forum: Deep Sky Observing

Favourite Season (Was: Spring the Season of ...)

Posted By Darren Crooks

Well, Mr. Fedosov has opened something of a can of worms, hasn't he? But it's an interesting topic for discussion, so ...

What's your favourite season for observing? What time of year finds you peering at your favourite objects most frequently? What time of year do you anticipate the most, and why? I don't just mean what time of year has the prettiest objects ... but what time of year do you enjoy observing the most?

For me, it's probably late summer (say July to September). The summer skies have a vast array of wonderful sights, visible even in the humblest instrument (Albireo, M6, M7, M8, M13, M25) and later in the summer, in the wee hours, the terrific fall/winter objects are visible (M45, M31, M33, M42, the Double Cluster) without having to freeze to death. In fact, really, the whole astronomical season begins in April for me, and ends in October. I do observe in winter, but only from my light-strewn driveway, so I don't see as much.

So ... thoughts? Comments?

Clear (and warm) nights,
Darren

April 28, 2003 08:23 PM Forum: Deep Sky Observing

Observing Log - 04/26/03

Posted By Darren Crooks

Observig log, Apr 26, 2003
Location: Port Stanley, Ont.
Equipment: 4.5" Bushnell Newtonian, focal length 900mm, f/7.9, GE mount
Eyepeices: 20mm, 10mm, 6.7mm plossls

Got invited to a friend's farm on Lake Erie, outside of London, Ontario. He is the president of the astronomy club where I live (York Region Amateur Astronomers), and often has club members down for an observing session. So I packed up Heep (my dept. store 4.5" Newt, so christened because it is so very 'umble) and drove down for the night. The only other place I've been observing is on my light-strewn front lawn. Here, there was not another source of light for miles.
Well, let me tell you, what a difference. Aperture doesn't rule. Dark skies do. We started in the evening twilight, on Jupiter and Saturn, but wind off the lake prevented us from getting any decent views. I tried to locate M1, but no luck. I got a beautiful view of M35 in both Heep and my buddy's tripod mounted 20X80 binoculars.
Moving on to Cancer, I got a pretty view of M44 in those same bino's, and in my scope, the whole cluster looked much brighter than in my suburban front yard.
We forsook the galaxies in Leo and Virgo (they wouldn't look like much in a 4.5" Newt anyway), so we swung over to the east to get a view of the late spring/early summer objects. I was able to find M13 (first time in this scope) and was even able to resolve individual stars at the edges using my 10mm plossl (90X). I was also able to track down M57 (first time ever!), which showed a somewhat darker core at 90X, and was surprisingly bright. It sort of looked like a dime.
Later, as Lyra and Cygnus were higher in the sky, we saw Scorpius and Sagittarius appear in the southeast. Eventually, we could actually make out the shape of the Milky Way, from the thin dust-cloaked edges of the spiral arms to the bulging central core as Sag rose higher above the southern horizon.
Seeing was spectacular in the south, and I was able to bag several more globulars, including M12 in Ophiuchus, M22 in Sag, and M4 and M80 in Scorpius. Sweeping with the scope just about anywhere in the region produced dazzling discoveries. The Lagoon showed at least two dozen stars, plus dark lanes intersecting a bright central cloud in Heep, and both it and M20 were visible in the bino's. I found M17 quite by accident just slewwing around in Sag - beautiful. At first I didn't know what I was looking at, but its appearance was quite suggestive of its nickname - the Swan.

All in all, a fantastic night of viewing. The naked-eye view of so many faint stars was staggering. All of the seven Little Dipper stars were visible, and a few others besides. Every constellation was laden with dozens of hitherto-unseen jewels. I saw more different objects on that one night than every other night put together since purchasing Heep in December.

Clear nights ... Dark sites,
Darren

May 23, 2003 11:27 AM Forum: Deep Sky Observing

Observing Log - 05/22/03

Posted By Darren Crooks

Observing Log 05/22/2003
Location: Newmarket, Ont. 44 degrees N, 79 degrees W
Equipment: 4.5" Bushnell Newtonian, EQ mount, focal length 900mm, f/8
Eyepeices: 20mm, 10mm, 6.7mm plossls


Last night, skies were clear, so I set Heep (my humble 4.5" DS reflector) outside to cool down a little and see what Jupiter was up to. Didn't get back until nearly 11:00 local time (0300 UT). By that time Jupiter was just above my neighbour's tree, and the views were somewhat unsteady as a result of a greater degree of atmospheric turbulence than when it is near the zenith. So I gave up and tried a few other objects of interest.

I tried to get M13 in the eyepeice. This proved much more difficult than I anticipated because it was near the zenith, and I wasn't aiming the scopr properly. When I did find a globular cluster, I didn't recognize it as M13 - it appeared too small. After sighting down the scope, I realized I was looking at M92 - I must have been a good 10 degrees to the north (left) of M13. M92 is still an interesting object, and with the 10mm EP (90X) I could make out some granularity in it.

After hunting around a bit more, I finally did get M13. There's no mistaking it. It was big and bright, much more so than M92. Even at 90X, I was able to resolve some of the outer stars. With the 6.7mm EP (135X), I was able to resolve perhaps two dozen stars near the edges, but overall brightness was not reduced significantly. It may take even higher magnification.

I wandered over to Lyra, which due to its small size and easily recognizeable shape (not to mention the astronomical delights to be found there), is one of my favourite constellations. If what you want to see is in Lyra, chances are you'll find it -- and I did, M57, which showed a small, round shape, almost like an out-of-focus star, with a slightly darker core. A darker site may have shown more contrast.
I once again attempted to get a glimpse of M81/82 ... and once again, my efforts were in vain. I've had Heep since December, and it has yet to cut its teeth on a galaxy. I need a really dark site.

I packed it in shortly thereafter. It was nearly 1:00 local time, and I was pretty beat.

Alas, I seem to be in a dry viewing spell now. Saturn is gone, Jupiter going, and Mars not quite there yet (for those of us who prefer to sleep when it's dark). A 4.5" reflector from a suburban back yard isn't going to be much good on DSO's. 90% of my viewing time is on planets. Although now might be a good time to check out M4 and M5, which I have heard are even easier to resolve than M13.

Clear nights ... dark sites,
Darren

July 8, 2003 08:36 AM Forum: Deep Sky Observing

Heep Bags First Galaxy

Posted By Darren Crooks

Observing Report 06/30/03
Equipment: Heep ('umble 4.5" DS Newtonian on EQ mount, 900mm, f/8), 16x50 bino's
Eyepeices: 20mm, 10mm, 6.7mm Meade Plossls
Location: Vallentyne, Ont. (approx. 44n, 79w)
Time: 0230 - 0500 UT
=======================================================

Yeah, I know this is late, but I've been swamped. Should have gotten to this much earlier, but work comes first.

The York Simcoe Amateur Astronomers held an impromptu observing session at the home of one of its members on
the evening of June 30, due to the fact that July 1st is a national holiday here in Canada, and no one had to
be up early for work. The skies at this location are extremely dark, as there is no ther source of light for
five miles.

I set up Heep and tuned up on Jupiter, which was, unfortunately, swimming in the twilight haze. Did a half-assed
polar alignment when Polaris became visible. Several other members showed up, one sporting a pair of tripod
mounted 20x80 bino's, and one with a long (f/6 or f/7) focal length 10" Meade Newt on a G11 - first time I'd
seen one of those monsters.

This night, I my focus was on DSO's. I wanted to take advantage of the dark skies to seek out objects that
just wouldn't be visible from my back yard. But you know what they say about the best laid plans. So I ended
up taking part in an informal observing test: the double-double. I was able to separate them cleanly at 135X.
This compared well with two 8" scopes, one of which barely resolved the two pairs. Heep and I also got our
first glimpse of Albireo: absolutely stunning, showing a vivid, beautiful colour contrast between the golden
yellow primary and the deep blue of the secondary.

Another highlight of the night was seeing M13 through the 10" at 275X. It was resolved right to the core,
showing at least 200 stars. And the mount was rock-steady. Also, using a really wide-field eyepeice in the same scope, I got my first view of the Veil, like sinuous tendrils of smoke, throughout the field of view. What a sight!

(Coninued in second post)

July 8, 2003 08:38 AM Forum: Deep Sky Observing

Heep Bags First Galaxy - Part 2

Posted By Darren Crooks

Observing Report 06/30/03 (cont'd)
Equipment: Heep ('umble 4.5" DS Newtonian on EQ mount, 900mm, f/8), 16x50 bino's
Eyepeices: 20mm, 10mm, 6.7mm Meade Plossls
Location: Vallentyne, Ont. (approx. 44n, 79w)
Time: 0230 - 0500 UT
=======================================================

I later attempted to locate the North America nebula through my buddy's 20x80 bino's but it was too faint for
me to detect. I was able to locate M39 in these bino's which showed a tight grouping of perhaps a dozen stars.
I searched for M29 as well, but was unable to locate it. The problem with Cygnus is that the volume of stars
is so great, one never knows whether one is seeing a cluster or just a rich star field.

I used my own 16x50 bino's to view an interesting looking star cloud south (to the right) of Aquila. It's a
very prominent, well defined puff of smoke near the Milky Way's center, and these objects are quite delightful
in binoculars. I spied a concentrated roundish glow inside this cloud, and mistook it for a globular. Later
one of the club members (he of the 10" Meade) pointed to it and said "Point your scope there. That's where M11
is." Sure enough, it turned out to be the same cluster I had seen before, resolved beautifully at 90X.

Another highlight was my first view of M4, which was easy to locate due to its proximity to Antares, but by
that time dew had set in - the view was not spectacular, although at 90X, some granularity about the edges
could be detected.

Alas, my attempts to find both M3 and M5 were once again fruitless. They don't show up in my crappy 5x24
finder, and there isn't anything bright enough nearby to use to find them. It's not like M13, whose spot
in the Keystone I could find with my eyes closed.

But the highlight of the night had to be M51 - which, because I knew exactly where to look, I was able to
locate even with my binoculars as a faint circle of light close to a triangle of stars south of Alkaid.
Dark skies RULE! Through Heep, at 45X, both M51 and its smaller partner were visible, with brighter cores
and faint edges. No structure was evident, but just to be able to see with my own eyes an object 50 million
light years away ... it truly takes one's breath away. So Heep and I finally bagged a galaxy! Time to put
another notch on my tripod leg.

Clear nights ... dark sites,
Darren

July 15, 2003 08:23 AM Forum: Deep Sky Observing

Finally!

Posted By Darren Crooks

Observing Report 07/14/03 (cont'd)
Equipment: Heep ('umble 4.5" DS Newtonian on EQ mount, 900mm, f/8), 16x50 bino's
Eyepeices: 20mm, 10mm, 6.7mm Meade Plossls
Location: Newmarket, Ont. (approx. 44n, 79w)
Time: 0230 - 0400 UT
=======================================================

The afternoon sky was peppered with thunderheads, so I figured observing was out of the question last night. But I stepped outside at about 0130 UT and found that the sky was perfectly clear (srendipity!), Arcturus and Spica were already visible, and grabbed Heep to set outside to cool.

Started observing in earnest at 0230. Sky was still somewhat light. Seeing was not terrific either, the atmosphere seemed somewhat thick and soupy. My targets were M3 and M5 (my personal Waterloo's). Once again, I was able to get M3 in the binoculars, but not the scope.

But I was determined this time. I would point the scope, sighting along the tube to be sure I was in the right area, then move the scope along the RA axis slightly. If I was unable to find the object, I reversed direction. Then I would resight the scope, moving it along the declination axis, and repeat the procedure.

Finally, I spotted it just at the corner of the field of view, next to about an 8th mag. star. By my estimate, it would have been roughly 0300 UT or so. It was a roundish patch of light in the 20mm (45X). The 10mm showed some graininess in the center, but I was unable to resolve the stars near the edge. I think darker skies and better seeing would have resolved several outer stars, because even with the 6.7mm, the cluster's centre was still quite bright, and there was a faint, grainy light around it.

So far, my experience with globulars has been a bit of a dissapointment. The only one I've seen so far that will resolve at all is M13. But I took a grim satisfaction in finally catching up with my elusive quarry. My first thoughts were "Now I've got you, you SOB. You're mine."

I made another attempt at M5, but only a half-hearted one. I was happy enough to have bagged M3, so I wandered over to Cygnus, one of my favourite summer constellations. By this time, though, the moon was up and hampered things considerably. Nonetheless, Albireo was (as always) a beautiful sight. From Albireo, I pointed the scope south, and was able, with a little searching, to find M27. (Another first!) It revealed very little of its dumbbell shape, it was more like a rectangle with rounded edges, and rather faint (due to the affliction of the moon), but enormous in comparison to M57, another planetary in the same general area.

I packed it in after that. Heep got two notches on his tripod leg last night, from light-bathed suburban skies, under a nearly full moon. I crawled off to bed completely satisfied.

Clear nights ... dark sites,
Darren