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The morning after Stargazing Live

Posted: Wed Jan 13, 2016 7:46 am
by rwilkinson
As I'd not been indulging in the Pluto Sunset cocktails and Nebula champagne which the BBC team at Jodrell Bank were enjoying in last night's programme, I was able to get up at 6:30 this morning, to catch some clear sky before sunrise. 8-)

My main target was Comet Catalina - I'd seen it twice with my binoculars before Christmas, but never in a telescope, so this morning I put my little TS70ED refractor on the simple mount which I'd made from my tripod-stand. But the comet was almost overhead - which is as difficult with an alt-az head as looking near to the pole with an equatorial mount. And the Skeye app which I could use to help aim the 'scope doesn't show comet positions, so I had to rely on star-hopping from Lambda Bootes with the help of the red circles from my Rigel Qwik-Finder to locate the comet.
I was using a 20mm eyepiece (x21 magnification) to give a field-of-view of around 2.5 degrees, so I soon found the comet, although it was not as distinct than I'd expected - there was a noticeable brownish background sky-glow, so there must have been some faint haze around.
Changing to a 10mm eyepiece (x42) didn't improve the view, so I went back to the brigher image of the 20mm.

Then before packing away, I fitted my 6.5mm ocular (x65) and had a look at Jupiter (and three of the Gallilean moons), Mars (a tiny pink disc), Venus (a dazzling fat crescent) and finally Saturn - which was surprisingly faint, low down in the morning twilight, but spectacular as always.

So there's plenty to look at in the pre-dawn sky at the moment, and the forecast for Saturday is promising (although it will be quite a bit colder and frosty by then).

..and the evening before Stargazing Live

Posted: Fri Jan 15, 2016 1:40 pm
by rwilkinson
Last night I managed to fit in some astrophotography before the programme started.

Comet 2013 X1 PanSTARRS is in Pegasus, which is now getting lower in the Western sky, so I had to set up my 'scope further down the garden, in order to get a better view of it over the house roofs.
It was my first chance to try a newly-upgraded polar-finder: the old one which I'd had since 2001 was suffering from so much internal condensation that I could hardly see Polaris through it! But using the new one (with a bigger aperture, and the circumpolar contellations shown on its reticle) quickly gave me the best polar alignment I'd managed in ages.
Using the Cartes du Ciel program to control my Celestron CG5-AGT mount (linked via a BlueTooth wireless interface) I first synced it on the star Algenib, which then enabled me to slew straight to the comet's position nearby.
For imaging, I was using my StarWave 80ED refractor and StarlightXpress HX916 CCD camera fitted with a focal-reducer. I found that I could manage 90-sec unguided exposures (whereas 120-sec gave some trailing), so I left this running for an hour until the comet disappeared behind a house-roof:

Then with the mount and camera set up and seeing Orion rising high in the SE, I couldn't resist a quick shot of the M42 nebula:
M42 nebula. 5x 90-sec using HX916 (through Orion broadband filter) on SW80ED at f/4.7, rescaled 0.5x
m42_lpr.png (153.93 KiB) Viewed 2862 times
And finally I had a whim to see if I could detect the Horsehead Nebula with this system:
Horsehead nebula. 5x 90-sec using HX916 (through Orion broadband filter) on SW80ED at f/4.7, rescaled 0.5x
horsehead_lpr.png (298.63 KiB) Viewed 2862 times
I think I'll have to devote a session to this object with my hydrogen-alpha filter!

And I was packed up and back indoors just before 9pm - just in time to watch the next instalment of Stargazing Live.

But that wasn't the end of the night's activity: I'd set up a small imaging system working through an upstairs window, enabling me to capture Comet Catalina in the early hours: