The wind finally died down in the Old Pueblo, and seeing conditions last night were predicted (CSC) to at least be average. So for the first time in longer than I care to admit, the Three-legged Newt gathered some starlight. The night had its moments.
It took longer than usual for the GPS attached to the AVX mount to get a fix. Pesky satellites – never there right when you need them. Fortunately I have the alignment process down pretty well, so the delay didn’t crowd the time I had available. The purpose for the session was to make sure everything is in working order. I have a dark sky trip planned for next week, and I don’t want to get out there and only then realize something needed tweaking, or new batteries. So I just sort of slewed around and looked at objects at random. A stellar shake-down cruise.
Started with M44, and was reminded of how little fits in the field of view of the average eyepiece. So I put the 2” 40mm Paragon eyepiece in the Paracorr to do the cluster justice. It did, revealing a loose scatter of stars in pairs and trios, with subtle colors of pale blue, white, and a few that seemed faintly golden.
After enjoying that sight for I while, I called up M67. That was a different experience. Light pollution over my backyard site has increased in the 17 years since I bought this telescope. The lower in the sky an object is, the more that glow effects the view. It did so big time, on this cluster, leaving it washed out and unimpressive in the 21mm Stratus eyepiece I used.
The degree of change that has crept into the skies here was further revealed when I went to the Leo Triplet. Higher in the sky, a darker sky – but not what it once was. In 2004 when the Newt and I were just becoming acquainted, I could see all three galaxies. Last night they were entirely invisible. The recent winds that have kept me from observing – telescopes being all to effective as weather vanes – have surely put a lot of fine dust in the air. It’s possible some of tonight’s trouble was due to light scattered especially well by that dust, which I’ve seen happen. So I’ll try again some time. Not as much of a loss as it might seem, since I focus on lunar and double star observing when working from home.
And speaking of binaries and their ilk, I put the list of such in the AVX hand controller to use last night. It was as close to an observing plan as I had this time, which is not my usual habit. It worked out well, all the same. I went first to gamma Virginis. It remains a tight but eminently splitable pair in an 8” Newtonian. The best view came using the 5mm Stratus, revealing a matched set of stellar diamonds. They always look bright white to me.
Xi Bootes is another close pair, but the 8mm Stratus did the job well. I seem the primary star as white with a hint of gold, and the companion as ruddy, almost orange. One of those color-contrasted doubles I go back to using the Newt on a regular basis.
24 Comae Berenices was a wide and easily split duo in any of the eyepieces I used. I thought the 8mm Stratus did best in showing the pale wash of yellow in the primary star, and the even more subtle blue tint of its companion.
35 Comae Berenices required very little magnification to split; the 13mm Stratus did just fine. Another pleasing sight, with a distinctly yellow star accompanied by one of sapphire blue. I left the same eyepiece in place for the last two of the night.
54 Leonis was a pair of off white stars of noticeably unequal magnitudes, the brighter on the yellow side of white, the fainter blue-ish white.
Alpha Canes Venatici is an old favorite, one I always see as a bright off white star with a fainter companion with a hint of blue in it.
It was a beautiful and rewarding spring night, and now I know the Newt is ready for a visit to Catalina State Park.