Saturday, July 20, 2019

Going Deep Sky

It was not a great night.  The air was turbulent and you could see Saturn and Jupiter burbling.  (Something best done only with mutually consenting planets.)  The Sun is now setting early enough for me to pursue the fainter dark sky objects.  The big reflector has the Sky Commander digital setting circles.  These have been an occasional source of frustration.  You aim the telescope at two of several dozen bright stars and press ENTER.  It should then let you pick any of about 8000 objects, and as you rotate the mount in azimuth and elevation, it shows you how many more degrees to go. The instructions warn you to sight in stars at high magnification to reduce error.  I can see why.  I did it at 78x and the results were disappointing.  Tonight I used 222x to align on Arcturus and Polaris.

The first target was M13, a (sort of) nearby globular cluster.  I showed it one person several years ago and he described it as looking like diamonds on black velvet.  Yup.  I was not exactly on target but it was bright enough for the finderscope to hint at it,  Using the 40x eyepiece it was obvious.  At 78x, a sack of diamonds.

M57, a planetary nebula in Lyra was next.  No luck.  This surprised me because I used to find it pretty easily with my smaller reflector; it is a bit less than halfway between beta Lyrae and gamma Lyrae. 

M5, another globular cluster, was in the field at 40x; no hunting.

M51, the Whirlpool Galaxy was next.  This is a faint galaxy with a low surface brightness.  I have seen it once through another 17.5", an Obsession in the Angeles National Forest.  I was so interested in looking through that size of Obsession that I flew to LAX and rented a car.  It really looked like a spiral galaxy!  Of course it was a very dark sky, and I had lots of time to dark adapt.  Tonight I needed to move around a bit before it was in the eyepiece and our skies really are not that dark.  It was visible, but it will not be a cloud pleaser until North Korea EMPs Boise dark.

So I tried it on Jupiter and Saturn, which were easily visible with the naked eye.  Neither was exactly where Sky Commander expected.  I am thinking the asphalt is not terribly level where I have parked Big Bertha which might explain the near misses.  Tomorrow night, I will use a level.

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