President's Message for May 2011

I’ve been a member of RASC Vancouver for only four years, and look what has happened to me!

Clarification: I’m thrilled to be serving as Vancouver Centre President! And in the past four years, I’ve become so deeply submerged in astronomy, for public outreach at RASC Vancouver and at SFU, and to scratch my personal itch for astronomical imaging, that my family’s lifestyle has been forever changed (more on the latter in a two part story in NOVA: Part 1 was in the last edition, and Part 2 will appear in the next; elsewhere in this edition, please look for a short piece on my encounter with the Horsehead Nebula!).

So after only four years at RASC Vancouver, I have many members still to meet, and many others to get to know still better. Perhaps more surprising is the number of activities put on by our society that I have yet to experience, despite my deep submersion in astronomy, both personally and as an educator, over the last four years. I am continually impressed and inspired anew by the passionate commitment to public service of so many members of Vancouver Centre, and by the wide range of activities for the public as well as our fellow members that is powered by this commitment.

Since the last regular edition of NOVA, I’ve had the particular pleasure of diving deep into two of RASC Vancouver’s signature annual events: “Night Quest,” put on by Metro Parks at Pacific Spirit Regional Park on West 16th, to which we have been invited to participate for many years, and which this year took place on Saturday March 19; and Astronomy Day, which we held this year at Aldergrove Lake Regional Park on Saturday May 8, at the invitation of Metro Parks, in association with their annual “Urban Star Quest.”

(My first participation in RASC Vancouver’s Astronomy Day was last year, when it was held at SFU in September, though that time out I primarily wore my “SFU astronomy outreach” hat. SFU put on a huge science open house to promote its project to build an observatory and science outreach centre, and RASC Vancouver’s Astronomy Day generating the initial impetus for the event. BTW, did you know that RASC Vancouver has provided significant support for this project in particular, and SFU astronomy outreach in general, including a generous matching donation last year on behalf of membership to the observatory’s capital construction fund, and a major commitment of volunteer time to SFU’s outreach activities? I can tell you that this support is well recognized at SFU!)

Metro Park’s “Night Quest” had a huge turnout again this year, this time in excess of 1600 people! We estimate about half that number paid a visit to the RASC Vancouver area, which was located at a very prominent location designated especially for us by Metro Parks. Our many guests enjoyed telescopic views of the night sky, thanks to council members Suzanna Nagy, Harvey Dueck, and Doug Montgomery, and took home additional insights into the cosmos from conversations with Bill Burnyeat and yours truly, along with handouts including some 200 RASC star wheels, and information on Vancouver Centre. The event was also notable for the fact that by about Noon that day, we had “officially” given up on bringing telescopes, with the forecast from Environment Canada calling for late afternoon thunderstorms and heavy rain into the evening! Nonetheless, our guests were treated to some pretty decent skies, and RASC Vancouver was there with telescopes!

How is it that a bad forecast so rarely turns out to be wrong, while good forecasts frequently (usually?) turn bad?

I took a little time off from our station, during a lull between surges of guests, for my first-ever walk the “Night Quest” trail. There were lanterns along the path; a series of inspiring and thought-provoking quotes from naturalists, scientists, and other writers, posted on trees all along the way; and many volunteers in costume, and staffing hands-on displays about nocturnal wildlife, at many stations on the trail. RASC Vancouver’s site was at an elevated clearing close to the trailhead, and just down the slope from us stood a big tent where grade-school age volunteers served up low-cost treats. All of this came together to create a magical and moving experience. My only regret was that I did not discover “Night Quest” when my son Alexandre was a tot, as it is an experience that must surely leave a young visitor (not to mention their familial chaperons!) with an enduring sense of a profound connection to the natural world.

Incidentally, this was the first Vancouver Centre public event where our volunteers wore our new “RASC Volunteer” red bibs. These eye-catching pullovers can be worn even over bulky winter coats and jackets, and are one of the fruits of having Suzanna Nagy as Events Coordinator; among many other initiatives, Suzanna has been busy reimagining and remaking our public display materials. The red bibs certainly had the desired effect on this occasion, most tellingly demonstrated as I walked along the trail, when I overheard comments from numerous passersby who noticed my bib, despite the darkness of the trail: “Oh, there goes an Astronomy volunteer” – I kid you not!

RASC Vancouver’s most ambitious public outreach event of the year is Astronomy Day, and this year a remarkably high number of volunteers came forward to deliver an outstanding slate of activities. Not including Council members who turned out in force, 26 RASCals contributed their time, either in the preparations leading to the event, on event day itself, with many working both ends of this undertaking. Our masterful Events Coordinator, Suzanna Nagy, orchestrated the whole effort with skill and poise! If you see Suzanna at any of our meetings or events, please give her kudos, not just in connection with Astronomy Day, but also for the many events that she coordinates on behalf of RASC Vancouver throughout the year.

Better yet, why not contact Suzanna and volunteer your time, if you haven’t done so already? This can be for any degree of commitment that works for you, from casual to continuing! After all, this is what we are all about. Did you get into astronomy thanks to someone who satisfied your curiosity about some topic in space science, or who introduced you to observing the night sky? If so, then you have a special reason to volunteer your time, either behind the scenes or out in front. No matter how you got into astronomy, email Suzanna at events.rascvancouver@gmail.com, so you can give back to the community at large!

So about Astronomy Day … what the weather gives to astronomers on one evening (in this illustration, consider our “Night Quest” evening in March), the weather seems to take back in spades on another. Hence it seemed almost preordained that the skies would open up, as they did, with a torrential downpour the morning of Astronomy Day. This included hail in some regions of greater Vancouver, and the rain did not let up until after our Noon start time.

Needless to say, plans had to be adjusted accordingly. The original program was to feature an all-night star party, thanks to our Metro Parks hosts, which was scrubbed the day before based on the dismal forecast. Happily, our Noon-6PM slate of activities went ahead without a hitch, thanks to a large collection of ginormous tents, a multitude of electrical power connections, and bathroom facilities, all provided by Metro Parks. Did I mention that Metro Parks underwrote and managed the entire logistical effort for Astronomy Day, with a bargain entrance fee of just $2?! Our volunteers had only to set up some tables and chairs, along with a couple of our own tents, to then get busy engaging the public with our many displays and activities.

I imagine that at this point one might like to know the attendance. At last year’s Astronomy Day we had over 1,000 guests , and this year … about 140 . But we had alot of very positive feedback from those that came despite the morning downpour, and this kept our volunteers and participating groups in very good spirits. And lesson learned: next year, as with last year, we will choose a venue with a fully enclosed interior space in case of rain.

I’m going to take a stab at describing a few of the many highlights of our Astronomy Day program (and you can find more information in Suzanna Nagy’s article elsewhere in this edition of NOVA). But first I want to thank our sponsors, and first and foremost that means the Metro Parks team led by Parks Interpretation Specialist Lori Bartley. Lori and her crew went above and beyond the call of duty to run a professional logistical operation that made all the difference. So on behalf of RASC Vancouver, I want to shout out a ginormous “Thank You” to our friends from Metro Parks.

A set of ginormous “Thank You”-s goes out to our sponsors: the NRC Herzberg Institute of Astrophysics, Vancouver Telescope, and Canadian Telescope. Their generosity showed in our large collection of first-rate raffle and door prizes. See RASC Vancouver Treasurer Wayne Lyons’ article elsewhere in this NOVA for the full set of prizes and the lucky winners.

I also want to single out Sharon Guilford for special mention. Sharon’s kids and their Grade 2/3 elementary school class participated in an SFU astronomy workshop way back in February of 2009. Her family’s continuing involvement in SFU’s outreach program “Starry Nights @ SFU” eventually led them to attend one of Vancouver Centre’s first “What’s Up?” functions at the Space Centre, in March. “What’s Up?” is a new series that is designed especially for newcomers to astronomy, particularly young ones, and which precedes our regular monthly lectures. Sharon was moved to donate  a portion of the Bob Thirsk memorabilia in her possession to RASC Vancouver, including pins from an ISS flight, and autographed pictures of the man himself, the Canadian astronaut who has logged the most hours in space, and who has also spent the longest time in space on a single mission. Sharon knows Thirsk from when her family lived outside Houston. In 2009 Sharon got Thirsk to connect from the ISS via video with the elementary school class attended by her kids. Hence the memorabilia. Sharon gave RASC Council complete latitude to use these items in the most effective ways we could come up with. After much discussion, Council decided to use this treasure trove to acknowledge the work done by RASC Vancouver volunteers. At our May 12 public meeting at the Space Centre, our Events Coordinator Suzanna Nagy will present one of these items to one of our Astronomy Day volunteers, drawn at random.

Among our many presenters on Astronomy Day, Jim Bernath was on hand with his awesome collection of space rocks, which he insists that a visitor inspect hands-on, as well as through his microscope, and which include a moon rock and a passel of meteorites. And then there was Jim’s mind-bending dark bottomless pit in a box! Jim’s display is well known to many RASCals, and has been seen by countless kids, but this was my first time through his collection, and I’ll be back for more! Another first for me was to participate in Ted Stroman’s passionate and authoritative presentation on the Apollo missions; I came away with a renewed conviction that the best public presentations make minimal or no use of “canned goods” such as “Powerpoint”, and maximal use of imaginations fired by compelling story telling using “real world” props, as Ted does with his models of Apollo-era rockets and spacecraft, including the Saturn V. Council members premiered RASC Vancouver’s new set of professional-looking posters on the Sun and planets, simultaneously eye-catching and informative, thanks to the vision of Suzanna Nagy, and genuinely professional graphic design by NOVA editor Gordon Farrell, and drawing on raw material from our partners at the NRC Herzberg Institute of Astrophysics in Victoria.

Another highlight of Astronomy Day was the “Solar System Walk” put on SFU Student Astronomy Club members Ciara Morgan-Feir, Alanna Shuh, Michelle Murvai, and Rohit Grover (who is one of RASC Vancouver’s newest members). What sets this solar system model apart from many others is that an equal scale is applied to the planet sizes and their orbits. Shrink the Earth down to a peppercorn, and walk one kilometer to reach a pinhead Pluto, an honorary full-fledged planet on this occasion! Our SFU student volunteers were kept busy throughout the afternoon with a steady stream of kids of all ages, including many repeat customers .

I’ve just scratched the surface of our program. There were kids crafts and activity tables, with Jill Breckenridge first to jump in as always at the earliest planning stages; an informative display on Light Pollution Abatement by LPA Chair Mark Eburne; a speaker series kicked off and hosted by yours truly; and impressive displays by our partners from the NRC Herzberg Institute of Astrophysics, Canadian Telescope, the Fraser Valley Astronomical Society, and Space Launch Canada. And finally, not to forget our many top-quality raffle and door prizes.

In case the foregoing account of “Night Quest” and “Astronomy Day/Urban Star Quest” is not enough to raise your eyebrows at RASC Vancouver’s major-league engagement with the public, RASCals have been busy over the past two months with much more!

At our March 10 public meeting we hosted science educator and writer Sharon Proctor, who had a intriguing astronomical tale to tell from Vancouver’s early history, “Grouse Mountain Observatory: an early 20th century dream.” We sponsored and participated in “Galaxy Forum 2011” on April 10 at the Space Centre, an education and outreach event organized by the International Lunar Observatory Association based in Palo Alto and Hawaii. Our April 14 public meeting brought us a Members’ night that included a wonderfully personal introduction to the night sky by Treasurer Wayne Lyons, part of our new “What’s Up?” series. Membership Chair Gavin McLeod gave a wry scientific presentation on the Moon as part of “Vancyclopedia” at the Havanna Theatre on April 23. Education Chair Bill Burnyeat presented a public lecture at the Yaletown Roundhouse on April 29, and recently surpassed a dozen special shows at the BCIT planetarium for this year alone. We’ve held a number of “Sidewalk Astronomy” events in recent months, including a very successful two-day program at the Valley Fair Mall in Maple Ridge on April 30 and May 1, organized by AOMO co-Chair Leigh Cummings (who has also brought astronomy to a number of Girl Guide groups in recent weeks) with major assists by Mark Eburne (who wears three hats on Council), and Immediate Past President Ron Jerome. And Yours Truly flew the RASC Vancouver flag at four daytime SFU astronomy workshops between March and early May, hosting a total of about 200 grade-school age kids from 6 schools, with the assistance of RASCals Leigh Cummings, Ron Jerome, and Steve Megahan; and in addition, on April 27, I visited Sperling Elementary in Burnaby, to take a Grade 2 class along with their teacher and some parents on a half-kilometer “Solar System Walk” up Sperling Avenue, with the Principal’s permission of course!

Finally, and by way of an impassioned summing up, I urge you to consider what RASC Vancouver already contributes to the community, and volunteer your time to make it an even stronger leader in public science education and, perhaps even more importantly, in bringing the experience of science to the public. As I wrote above, this is what we are all about, and your participation can be for any degree of commitment that works for you, from casual to continuing. So please email our Events Coordinator Suzanna Nagy at events.rascvancouver@gmail.com!

Here’s to clear skies, and more time under the stars, with membership and the public!

Howard Trottier

President, RASC-VC

Professor of Physics, SFU

 

AOMO LOG June 4, 2011

Members: Leigh, Rohit
Arrive: 9:20 pm
Temp: 14 C
Weather clear and dry, still blue sky.
While Rohit set up his 12″ Dob outside on the pad, I got on with opening up the dome and starting up the computer.  Although it was still a blueish sky outside, I was able to pick out Arcturus to slew the scope to.
I had opened “The Sky6” and once I had Arcturus in the scopes eyepiece, I linked The Sky6 to it.  I then tried to “synch” the scope position to Arcturus on The Sky6.  I could not accomplish this at all.  In fact I was unable to find the button on the program to allow this.  I do not know what setting is wrong on The Sky6 that is excluding this feature as of yet.  I will have to research this more and try to sort it out.
I opened MaximDL and after a few attempts I was able to link the scope to it.  I first had to go into MaximDL’s setup and fill in the AOMO’s location and time in order to get the correct sky map.  Once done I was able to link the telescope to the program and found the pointing of the telescope from that point on to be very accurate.  I did not have time to test the tracking that night.  As nothing has been changed with the mount I do not have any reason to believe that will differ any.
I then attached the SBig camera to the telescope.  My aim for the night was to achieve focus without moving the primary mirror.  After several attempts with various nose adapters on the camera I was able to achieve focus.  I then moved the telescope to nearby Eta Bootes which is magnitude 2.7 to try to refine my focus some more.  After some focusing and imaging and with Rohit’s help at the focuser controls I was able to achieve a FWHM of 5.8 with a count of 58000.  When I tried to refine this some more the numbers started to go wacky on me and went all over the place.  I was starting to get real frustrated when Rohit brought it to my attention that it had clouded over.  OOPS, I hadn’t noticed I was so intense on watching the computer screen.  We can now focus without moving the main mirror for several eyepieces, Canon DSLR, and the SBig camera.
While I had been up in the dome, Rohit was self teaching himself about collimation with his new 12″ Dob.  He had asked for my help from time to time and my opinion on his achievement.  I have to admit, I would be the last person that I would ask for help with collimation, but I was willing to critique his handiwork.  I thought he did real well for a first attempt.  I know like any other endevour,  the more practice you get the better you get and Rohit will get lots of practice after driving his Dob up that road to view.  Hopefully in the future he will have some better mentors than me to help him with his learning curve.
Rohit and I decided to give up once the clouds moved it so he helped me pack up the equipment in the dome and then we loaded up and headed down the hill.  The sky was great while it was clear.  It stayed quite warm and the bugs are not too bad as of yet.  That will change as it stays warmer at night.
Though Rohit’s dob we viewed Saturn, & M57.  Rohit will have to fill you in on what he viewed while I was occupied in the dome.
Things to do: find correct ASCOM driver for LX200 classic.
investigate Sky6 version and compare with others loaded on other computer.
Departed: 1:00 am
Temp: 13C
Darkness meter: n/a

Finally some clear skies

Looks like fine observing weather tonight and tomorrow. The moon is just two days old and the skies are clear.

I need to find the time to put up maps to various observing sites, along with an easy way to announce when people are planning to be there.

I’m planning to go to the Boundary Bay observing site at the south end of 72nd street this evening at around 10:30pm. It would be nice to have company.

AOMO LOG May 19, 2011

Members: Leigh, Rohit
Arrive: 9:00 pm
Temp: Not checked
Weather clear and dry.
I set up my HEQ5 mount with my Eclipse150 on the cement pad next to the power box.  Rohit set up his 12″ Dob on the north side of the cement pad.
We both started the night by viewing Saturn with various eyepieces.  Both of us observed two moons close to the outer edge of the rings.  The sky was nice and clear, however the air was still turbulent from the days heat.
I next slewed over to M13.  I must have done a decent job setting up the mount as it put M13 in the centre of the eyepiece.  The mount continued this performance all night long.  Sometimes you just get it righter than other times.  Rohit found M13 on his own so he can check it off his Messier list.  Next I slewed over to M57 and showed Rohit what it looked like.  He then hunted it down with his dob.  He was successful at finding it and I have to say when it comes to those fainter objects, aperture definately counts.  What a beautiful view through his dob.  Another check mark in Rohit’s Messier list.
We continued this pattern for the rest of our night.  I was able to position my scope to get M81 & M82 in my 27mm eyepiece at the same time.  Rohit then chased them down and give an even more impressive view with his larger aperture once again.  I also viewed M5, however with the moonlight taking away the fainter stars nearby, Rohit was unable to successfully star hop to it.  I know he will get it the next clear dark night.
The moonlight first luminated the tree tops near us at around 11:30 and by 1:30 the sky was getting quite bright.  We decided to call it quits at that point as we both had to get up in the morning.
Overall a good night for a couple of star starved astronomers.
Departed: 1:30 am
Temp: n/a
Darkness meter: n/a

RASC Weekend at ValleyFair Mall, Maple Ridge

On the weekend of April 30 and May 1 we held a display at the ValleyFair Mall in east Maple Ridge.  The Management and staff of the Mall were very enthusiastic about us holding our event at their location.  We were warmly greeted into their fine establishment and given every support they could to make our weekend a success. On behalf of our RASC membership I wish to extend a heartfelt thank you to Nicole and Valerie and their staff for making us feel so welcome.

Mark Eburne brought a whole truck load of astronomy gear to show the public.  Not only did he bring his ED80 and mount, his binocular parrallellagram mount and his freshly made easels for our new posters; he also brought the “water heater”.  Mark also supplied his projector so that we could show slides and presentations when the public gathered.  I brought the RASC solar telescope and mounted it on my EQ3 as well as my Eclipse which I mounted on my HEQ5 as a static display.  Mark also brought a formidable amount of handouts and literature on light pollution.

On the Saturday, Mark and I were kept busy answering the public’s questions about our equipment, light pollution, and viewing in the Maple Ridge, Pitt Meadows and Mission regions.  The “water heater” was a real magnet for drawing people in towards our display table.  Everyone wanted to have a closeup look at the “old beast”.  Many were impressed by that 14.5″ mirror at the back end.  Unfortunately, the Mall is not long enough to allow us to achieve focus so they had to be satisfied with views through Marks ED80 and my Eclipse 150.

Our new posters were also a very big draw and sparked conversations around our solar system and future exploration and discovery.  I took the oportunity to point out that Saturn was in the evening sky and would be available for viewing that evening.  I soon found myself promising children and adults that I would be setting up a telescope that evening in front of the SaveOn Foods to do just that.  The solar posters got me into promising to set up the solar telescope on the next day at the same location.  I had two families as well as a few other groups of people visit me on both ocassions to look through the telescopes.  Their enthusiasm was infectious.

Mark was kept very busy having conversations about light pollution and what we can do to plan for a darker future.  I think he found a ground swell of support from the general public for the cause.  I believe more people spent more time talking to Mark about light pollution than to me about the night sky.  I was almost jealous ;).

I wish to also thank Dave Smith, Operations manager at SaveOn Foods, for allowing me to set up on Saturday night in front of his store.  He also permitted me to store my EQ3 mount and tripod in the store overnight so that it would be quicker to set up the next day for the solar viewing.  Even at that, I had some kids waiting for me on Sunday to get the solar scope aligned up and focused in.

 

On Sunday we also had the help of Ron Jerome. This allowed me to spend the afternoon at the solar scope showing our closest star to the public.  Although I didn’t get to see Ron much, lots of people told me they were sent to me by Ron.  Ron also brought more handouts and reference materials for the public, which was timely as  Mark and I were close to running out of supplies. I also know that one gentleman went home and brought his telescope to Ron for advise and education in its use.  He couldn’t have been luckier than to have Ron manning the booth that day.

Overall I would have to say that the event was very successful.  We promoted the Astronomy Day event as much as possible,  we sold raffle tickets, and discovered a lot of people in our community interested in astronomy as well as a few “closet” astronomers.  I hope we can put on similar events at other malls in the lower mainland in the future.

April 23, 2011

Members: Leigh, Mark
Arrive: 9:00 pm
Temp: 9 C
Weather clear and dry.
Leigh opened dome and started computer in dome.  Leigh loaded drivers for SBig camera into computer from Mark’s flash drive.  Leigh then opened Maxim DL and tried to operate the camera.  It took four attempts to pick the correct settings to allow Maxim to connect to the camera.
Mark joined Leigh in the dome and we attemted to take some basic images of a bright star.  We found that with the current adapters available to us we were unable to obtain focus.  We did not want to change the telescopes prime focus as we have it correct for a Canon DSLR and we do not want to change that if possible.  We were happy with the fact that the camera was working.  We took some measurements with the aim of manufacturing or purchasing the proper spacers to obtain focus.
We then used Mark’s Ethos 13mm on the telescope to view M13.  We both agreed that we were treated to one of the most stunning views we have ever had of M13.  It was as beautiful as most images I have seen on the subject.  We agreed that we also should make some more adapters to allow the use of more eyepieces on the telescope without fudging the clamping in of the eyepiece.  We want to be able to just plop in an eyepiece with the appropriate adapter and achieve focus as we will with any selection of camera.  With a little patience and preserverance we will accomplish this.
Mark had set up his ED80 on his EQ3 outside to view Saturn.  He put in his Ethos 3.7mm 110 deg view eyepiece and we were completely blown away by the beautiful view we were given of our ringed jewel of the night.  It drew a wow!! from both of us.  It was a great way to complete the night.
We went back to the dome and viewed M87 in the Virgo cluster before packing it in for the night.
A great night of viewing to remind us of why we keep going in this hobby despite the lack of co-operation from our west coast weather.
Departed: 2:00 am
Temp: 7C
Darkness meter: n/a

Feb. 25, 2011

Members: Leigh, Mark

Mark arrive: 7:30 pm, Leigh arrive: 8:30

Temp: -8 C

Weather clear with some moisture at hight elevation.

Mark & Leigh set up Mark’s Tak on EQ6 and Leigh set up Vixen 95mm on HEQ5 on outdoor pad. Mark took images of M101 and M42 with DSLR. Leigh tried out new laptop to test battery durability and whether programs set up properly. Leigh was able to control telescope mount with laptop, however the cameras would not be found. Probably do not have correct drivers yet for Windows7 64bit system. Will need to do more work in warmth of own home. Laptop battery performed as advertised. Ran 4.5 hours and still showed 4 hours remaining. Happy!

Liquid mirror telescope working tonight. Laser visible and showed incoming clouds by 12:15am. Bands of cloud moved throug between 1:00 and 1:30am.

Departed: 1:30 am

Temp: -7C

Darkness meter: n/a

Spring is Galaxy Season!

Spring is when the galaxies in Leo and Virgo are at their best.

I bought a 15″ scope in 2008, partly so I could see more objects through the city skyglow, but also to give me better views of things like the galaxies in the Virgo cluster.  Yet somehow, weather and events had conspired to keep me from seeing them in 2009 and 2010.  This spring, I was bound and determined to finally hunt down Markarian’s Chain, the Leo triplet, etc with my no longer quite so new scope.  Until last night, I thought I might be stymied for another season.

I had my scope out on the front lawn on the one clearish night we got in mid-March, but between the haze, the city lights and the rising just past full moon, I could just barely make out M66.  After poring over charts to make sure I was in the right area, I eventually managed to convince myself that I could see the smudge of M65 where it was supposed to be.  It felt like an accomplishment to have found them, but wasn’t very satisfying viewing.

So I was quite excited when the clear sky clock promised decent viewing for yesterday evening.  I decided to drag my scope out to Boundary Bay to take advantage of the darker skies.  The drive there was a bit daunting.  I could see two rainstorms over Vancouver Island, a giant cumulus cloud over toward Maple Ridge and a wall of high haze well up the southern sky.  I feared a repeat of my mid-March near washout, but decided I would set up anyway.  I’m glad that I did.

I set up at the south end of 72nd Street.  The last strollers on the dike startled a heron, a small raptor and a few ducks as they returned to their car and drove away.  I nervously watched the rainstorms over Vancouver Island as I set up and collimated my scope, but they didn’t seem to be coming nearer.  The haze to the south started to clear.

While waiting for full dark, I turned my scope on the crescent moon.  The edges of the sunlit craters were highlighted in sharp relief by the slanting light of the lunar dawn.  The earthshine was bright enough that I could make out Tycho, Copernicus, Aristarchus, their rays and all of the lunar maria.  It was worth setting up the scope just for that.

Next up was Orion.  I used the middle star of his belt to align my telrad, then shifted my view to the nebula.  Even though it was not yet full dark, I could see lots of detail in the dark filaments that give the nebula such a rich texture.  I took a quick peek at Sirius, but the seeing down low wasn’t good enough to let me glimpse its companion.

Finally, it was time to start my galaxy hunt.  I began by returning to M65 and M66, since my March hunt had taught me where to find them near Chertan in Leo’s hind leg.  This time it took me less than a minute to get them in the scope.  Both M65 and M66 were clearly visible, with NGC3628 also easy to spot nearby.  A quick hunt also brought me to NGC3593, a nice edge-on spiral.

I was so excited by how quickly I found these little treasures that I didn’t take time to enjoy them.  I wanted more!  The hunt slowed down as I started looking for things I hadn’t found before.  With the glow and haze of Vancouver skies, there aren’t too many naked-eye landmarks near M95, M96 and M105.  After some poking around and three or four consultations of my Collins Atlas of the Night Sky, I decided that although I love my 13mm Ethos eyepiece, it might not be the right tool for the job.  I switched to the wider field 24mm Panoptic and almost immediately stumbled on M105.  One of the nearby NGCs, 3384 or 3389, I’m not sure which, was quite obvious while the other was invisible.  That had me wondering whether I was in the right place, but once I spotted M95 and M96 there wasn’t much doubt.  From there it was a short hop up to the star 52 Leonis which makes a nice triangle with galaxies NGC3367 and 3377.  Still, I was on a hunt, so once I found them, I didn’t linger.  It was now full dark and Virgo had risen a bit higher above the murk, so I set off for the wonders of the Virgo galaxy cluster.

I seem to be a bit slow at learning the sky and I often get confused about how the charts map to what I’m looking at.  I spent about half an hour trying to find M84 and M86, which are supposed to be bright and easy to locate halfway between bright Denebola in Leo’s tail and fainter Vindemiatrix in Virgo.  There are so many galaxies nearby, it should have been almost impossible not to stumble across at least one of them as I pushed the scope back and forth.  Eventually I realized that the star which I had thought was Vindemiatrix was actually Omicron Virginis.  Oops.  I had been searching one of the few patches of sky in the area that didn’t contain any bright galaxies.

Looking at the right patch of sky brought immediate rewards.  M84 and M86 were visible as fuzzy patches almost immediately.  I could just make out the “Eyes”, NGCs 4435 and 4438 which are the next link in Markarian’s Chain of galaxies.  I spent the next hour or so making my way through the neighbourhood, spotting lots of galaxies and trying to identify them.  Truth be told, there were often big differences between what I could see through my scope and what I expected based on the charts.  Many of the dozen or so galaxies I found were probably different objects than what I was trying to find.  Still, the stars around M87 are distinctive enough that I can be confident I saw it.

I hope to go out again tonight if it’s clear.  Maybe I’ll be able to tear myself away from the galaxies long enough to look at Saturn this time.

Clear skies!

 

Feb. 13, 2011 Log

Members: Leigh

Arrive: 2:40 pm

Temp: 4 C

Weather was drizzle. Inspected dome and found no sign of leakage. I did notice that a roller on the east side of the dome is not taking any of the domes weight. There is actually a gap of between 1/16″ to 1/8″.

Spent rest of time counting inventory in file drawers. Removed all the old disks from the drawer marked “Disks”. There is no drive at the AOMO for the 5″ floppy discs nor for the digital tapes. The floppy discs and the CD’s need to be analyzed to see if they are worth keeping.

Departed 4:40pm

Temp: 3 C

Darkness meter: n/a

Feb. 12, 2011 Log

Members: Leigh

Arrive: 2:40 pm

Temp: 4 C

Weather was gusty, rainy and foggy. I entered dome to inspect for leakage and found none.

Spent rest of time counting inventory in file drawers. Removed all the old hard drives, a zip drive and adapter, two floppy drives and two optical drives from drawer marked “Drives”. My reason is to have one of our tech savy members analyze the drives and see if any data on them can or should be recovered. As these drives will probably never be used again I will recommend disposal in a responsible manner.

Departed 4:40pm

Temp: 3 C

Darkness meter: n/a