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I woke up early recently before sunrise and not being able to fall back asleep decided to set up the TMB 105mm f/6.2 up for a quick observing session. It was a clear and cold night with a westerly breeze and the limiting magnitude around 5.2. Fall and winter constellations including Orion and Taurus were visible in the western sky, while spring constellations including Ursa Major and Virgo were visible in the eastern sky.
Comet C/2010 V1 Ikeya-Murakami was supposed to be visible near Saturn. However with a astronomical coming up I was unable see it through a pair of Oberwerk 11x70mm binoculars or the TMB 105mm at 16x with the TMB 40mm Paragon.
I swung the scope over to Saturn and inserted the Baader binocular viewer with the 1.7x corrector. At 79x the planet looked nice but the seeing was variable. From time to time the seeing settled down so I was able to use up to 184x. I could see the globe and rings well, with Titan nearby. There were times also when I could make out the shadow of the rings on the globe, and the Equatorial Zone, which had a light yellow color to it. The rest of the globe appeared tan in color. The rings were only open about 9 degrees so Saturn appeared dimmer than usual.
Venus was next and even though it was lower in the sky it looked spectacular through the scope, with a pronounced crescent shape and phase of 0.068. It reminded me of a solar eclipse. In addition Venus appeared noticeably larger and brighter than Saturn did. For example the diameter of Venus was 56.16", while Saturn's equatorial diameter was 16.00". Also Venus was at magnitude -4.4 while Saturn was magnitude 0.9.
It was a pleasant early morning observing session.
I stepped out on the back porch with a pair of Oberwerk 11x70mm binoculars to observe the full Moon, Saturn, and the International Space Station (ISS) which was going to pass below Saturn. Initially it was partly cloudy and I observed the Moon and Saturn through the binoculars. However before the ISS was visible it became mostly cloudy with a mix of mid and high clouds.
I decided to observe the Moon for a while anyway. The Moon looked interesting as the clouds passed in front of it, sometimes looking like prominence visible around the Sun during a total solar eclipse. Other times the clouds reminded me of features I have seen when observing Mars through a telescope. Eventually the it became completely overcast but nevertheless it was a short but enjoyable observing session.
I observed Comet C/2009 P1 Garradd using my TMB 105mm f/6.2 apo refractor mounted on its alt-az mount. The limiting magnitude was around 5.2 but the seeing was only fair at best. Magnification 16x - 65x.
Through the telescope the comet appeared small with a well defined coma and pseudo-nucleus. There was a short dust tail visible. The view somewhat reminded me of Comet Halley when I observed it on April 3, 1986. However Halley appeared much larger than C/2009 P1 Garradd, and the tail length of Comet Halley was about three times the length of Comet C/2009 P1 Garradd.
March 7th, 1970 dawned clear, and it was my first opportunity to observe a total solar eclipse. Totality was to occur in the early afternoon.
In the days leading up to the eclipse the TV and newspapers where full of warnings about observing it as it could lead to blindness. Also the entire eclipse was supposed to be broadcast live on TV. At that point I did not know much about solar filters that could be used to safely observe an eclipse. So I planned to just watch it on TV. However I eventually learned that it was safe to observe the eclipse during the total phase.
The entire eclipse was surreal and awe inspiring. While watching the partial phases on TV the normal bright sunlight levels outside gradually became dimmer. When totality began I stepped outside and was struck by the view: the Sun appeared to have been replaced by a black disk or hole in the sky. Also, there was a delicate glow around the Sun that I later learned was the solar corona. All too soon the total phase ended so I headed back inside to watch the partial phases inside on TV. I could understand how ancient observers would have been frightened by a total solar eclipse, as it was as if the warmth and light provided by the Sun was being taken away.
Since then I have tried to observe other total solar eclipses, but either because of weather or funding it has not worked out, although I have observed an Annular Eclipse of the Sun. Hopefully sometime in the future I will be fortunate to observe another total solar eclipse.
On the day after Christmas in 1978 I went over to a friends house to observe an occultation of Venus by the Moon before dawn. It was a clear and cold morning as we set our telescopes up, me with my C90 and he with his 4.25" reflector.
The Moon and Venus were in the constellation of Libra and about 24 degrees in elevation. The Moon was a waning crescent phase of around 15% and a magnitude of -8.0, while Venus was at a phase around 36% and a magnitude of -4.6.
Through the telescope at low power the Moon and Venus looked impressive. Besides observing the occultation I also wanted to try and photograph it through the C90. However, I did not have an adapter to hook the camera directly up to the telescope. So I tried to photograph the Moon and Venus using the Afocal photography method, where I mounted my 35mm camera on a photo tripod and then tried to focus through the eyepiece. I tried a few shots until my friend mentioned that Venus was getting very close to the Moon, so I better take a look, otherwise I might miss it.
I moved the camera out of the way and looked through the eyepiece. It was a striking view. Venus slowly got closer to the Moon until it seemed to "sit" on the limb of the Moon before suddenly disappearing behind it. It was one of the most memorable observations I have ever had.
When I got my photographs back I realized that they hadn't turn out too well, so I learned my lesson that night. From then on if I want to observe and photograph an celestial event I always make sure that I spend time observing it, in additional to photographing it. That way even if the pictures don't turn out I will still have seen and enjoyed it.
I set the 90mm F/5 apo refractor up to observe an occultation of Saturn by the Moon. The Moon was near last quarter. The occultation occurred around 13:26 UT and lasted for around a minute. The sky was clear with some haze so Saturn was a little washed out. I used a binocular viewer at 77x.
It was neat to observe. When Saturn was halfway occulted behind the Moon it looked as if it had crashed into it. As the occultation progressed only one side of Saturnís ring was visible, so it looked like some strange man-made structure on the Moon, such as the St. Louis Gateway Arch.
Saturn finally disappeared behind the Moon, so I put the telescope away and headed off to work. In my astronomy logbook I noted that I was taking a flight a few days later to attend the AstroFest Astronomy Convention outside of Chicago.
I did not know at the time of the attacks that would occur the following day on 9/11 so no one would be flying for a while. However at least the man who planned them has now gone to meet his maker.
We were fortunate in 1982 to have two total lunar eclipses visible from North America, one on July 6th, and the second one on December 30th. They turned out to be completely different eclipses.
Totality for the July 6th eclipse was unusually long at 107 minutes, and occurred near local midnight. I got together with some local astronomy guys near a bay to observe and photograph the eclipse reflected in the water. It was a warm and humid night, and unfortunately I forgot two important items: the AD/DC converter so I could run the drive on my C8 and my bug repellent. While I was able to borrow some bug repellent I was limited to observing the eclipse and trying to hand guide piggyback exposures of the eclipsed Moon. One of the better photographs is shown above.
Even without the drive it was a neat eclipse to observe. At totality the Moon had a deep rich red color to it, and it was interesting to see the Milky Way become visible during totality.
The December 30th total lunar eclipse was shorter in duration and occured after midnight so it was lower in the sky. This time I made sure that I had my AD/DC converter with me so that I could photograph it. Also I brought my heavy winter cloths as it was quite cold. I was joined by the same friend whom I observed the Venus occultation by the Moon with on December 26, 1978.
The eclipse seemed to progress normally through the partial phases. However as totality began the Moon, instead turning red in color, turned quite dark, and it became virtually invisible to the unaided eye and through the telescope both to myself and my friend. We learned later this was caused by a volcanic eruption from El Chichon in Mexico that put a lot of dust in the Earth's atmosphere.
It was one of the most unusual and unexpected observations I ever had.
In July 1994 fragments of Comet P/Shoemaker-Levy 9 collided with Jupiter. Scientists were not sure if these collisions would be visible from Earth in the largest professional telescopes, or even from spacecraft. So it came as a big surprise when word began to spread that they were visible in amateur sized telescopes.
However when the impacts occurred Jupiter was low in the western sky after sunset, less than 30 degrees in elevation, so the seeing was not very steady. Hence even though I could see the impact scars through an 80mm refractor, it was not easy for me to get a steady seeing long enough to make accurate sketches of Jupiter.
Here is a link to some nice sketches of the impacts made by Bill Greer who had better luck with the seeing that give a good idea of how they appeared though his 10" Newtonian reflector telescope.
I haven't had much luck with observing Jupiter at opposition this fall, as either the weather did not cooperate or I did not have the time to observe it when the weather was good due to my schedule. However I recently had a chance to observe it on a couple of occasions.
On the first night I set up the TMB 105mm f/6.2 refractor on its alt-az mount. I used the Baader binocular viewer with a 1.7x corrector and TMB Super mono eyepieces. Magnification used was mostly 123x. Also I used the Baader Moon & Skyglow filter.
The seeing was mostly good and I made a rough sketch and noted the following features. The North Polar Region (NPR) appeared mottled. The North Equatorial Belt (NEB) was reddish in color and two red color barges were visible along the NEB north. The Equator Zone (EZ) was prominent, and the South Equatorial Belt (SEB) was gray in color. There appeared to be a light colored rift on the SEB. The Great Red Spot was visible, and had a light pink color to it. The shadow of Io was visible in the GRS, which was a striking sight.
The South Polar Region (SPR) did not have the same mottled appearance that the NPR did.
A week later I observed Jupiter again, this time with the TMB 130mm f/9.25 on its alt-az mount. Once again I used the Baader binocular viewer with a 1.7x corrector and TMB Super mono eyepieces. Magnification used was mostly 204x. Also I used the Baader Moon and Skyglow filter.
The seeing was not as steady as it had been on the first night, so I had to wait for periods of steady seeing to record the detail. As during the last observation the North Polar Region (NPR) appeared mottled. The North Equatorial Belt (NEB) was reddish in color and two red color barges were visible along the NEB north. The NEB appeared to curve slightly near the middle of the belt. Also limb shading was noted along the following edge of the planet.The Equator Zone (EZ) was prominent, and the South Equatorial Belt (SEB) was gray in color. There appeared to be a light colored rift on the SEB. The Great Red Spot was visible, and had a light pink color to it. The shadow of Io was visible again but this time it was trailing the GRS in the SEB.
The South Polar Region (SPR) did not have the same mottled appearance that the NPR did.
It was nice to be out under the stars again observing Jupiter.