2002 Observing Sessions

January 11

Bought a new SkyWatcher 5.1-inch f5 reflector, tube assembly only. Came with 6 x 30 finder, tube rings, SkyWatcher plossl eyepieces (10mm and 25mm, 50 deg apparent field of view). Unfortunatley the secondary mirror did not have a proper coating which resulted in non-round diffraction rings. A replacement diagonal was received direclty for SkyWatcher on January 22. The telescope is mounted on top of a Meade LXD500 equatorial mount with dual-axis drives / corrector. The mount is quite stable for this 5.1-inch scope.

There was some coating missing from the long side of the secondary (depicted as a straight line in the drawing above)

This caused diffraction patters with a straight edge on one side, rather than a completely round diffraction pattern.

January 18/19
Time: 23:30 - 01:30 EST
Location: My Backyard
Telescope: 5.1-inch SkyWatcher reflector
Activity: Telescope testing and deep sky

Quite clear, no wind, temperature is minus 12 deg. C, thus not very comfortable for observing! The telescope and Meade LXD500 mount work quite well, however when reversing directions, it takes several seconds before the scope starts moving (this is due to slop in the gears, but it can be fixed). I used the battery pack to power the mount (10 x 1.5V AA batteries) - started at 15.5V but after just one hour the motors quite and the voltage dropped to 7.5V! I suppose the minus 12 temp was the culprit. The above mentioned problem with the secondary coating actually is not noticeable when images are in focus.

I took this opportunity to observe some bright deep sky objects which I've overlooked during the past 20 years - for a total of 5 "new" objects: Cr 70 (Orion's belt stars), Cr 69 (Orion's head stars), Cr 121, Cr 65, and NGC 1980.

I also observed some old "friends" like M44, M48, M36, M37, M38, M65 and M66 (barely detectable), M45, M35, and the Double Cluster in Perseus. I had a great time observing these magnificent objects in a smaller wide field telescope. It brought back memories of when I first started in astronomy 20 years ago with my 4.25-inch Astroscan.

Then I observed Saturn and Jupiter. I was quite pleased with the views of Jupiter - very sharp images, good details on the disk, good colour and contrast. I am very pleased with the 5.1-inch f5 SkyWatcher reflector.

January 26/27
Time: 23:00 - 00:30 EST
Location: My Backyard
Telescope: 5.1-inch SkyWatcher reflector
Activity: testing replacement secondary

Set up the scope to test the replacement secondary mirror. While setting up the sky clouded over! Managed to see a few stars thru some holes in the clouds and the diffraction pattern is completely circular as it should be. Also happen to catch a shadow transit on Jupiter. There was no wind, temp was plus 3 deg C, no dew, no snow on the ground,, quite pleasant.

January 27 Just a daytime weather note: The temperature went up to plus 11 deg C with sunshine! So far the winter of 2001/2002 has been mild with very little snow!!

March 16/17
Time: 22:30 - 00:30 EST
Location: My Backyard
Telescope: Meade 10-inch LX200 SCT and 5.1-inch SkyWatcher reflector
Activity: Deep Sky & Comet

Set up both scopes, but the 5-inch was used only for looking at Comet Ikeya-Zhang. The sky was failry transparent but the seeing was bad, it was windy, and the temp was around minus 4 deg. C.

Comet Ikeya-Zhang was found easily in the 6 x 30 finder. It's location was about RA 1hr 25m, DEC +15 43'. The nucleus was quite bright and stellar with a diffuse coma and a short thin tail visible, which I estimated to be about 10 arc-minutes.

I observed a total of 3 "new" objects with the 10-inch: Do 26, NGC 2395, and NGC 2331. I also observed some other previously seen objects like M65, M66, M95, M96, M105 and NGC 3384.

March 21
March 22
Time: 20:00 EST
Location: My Backyard
Telescope: 16 x 50 binoculars
Activity: Comet Observing

On both nights I saw comet Ikeya-Zhang from my backyard with a pair of 16 x 50 binoculars. The comet is quite low in the west, just above some trees. It's quite bright (about mag. 3.5) with a short thin tail. Both evenings were cold and very windy with a windchill of about minus 15 deg. C.

March 23
Time: 20:00 - 21:00 EST
Location: My Backyard
Telescope: 5.1-inch SkyWatcher reflector
Activity: Comet Observing & Lunar Photography

Clear, cool, some wind, temp about minus 3 deg. C. Set up in the backyard with the 5-inch scope to see comet Ikeya-Zhang, however I was too late and by 8 PM it has set behind some trees.

Experimented photographing the moon thru the 5-inch with a cheap digital camera - Logitec Clicksmart 510. I hand-held the camera to the eyepiece and took a few shots. Results were barely acceptable. The photo on the right was taken afocally with a 10mm eyepiece.

May 4/5
Time: 21:30 - 02:00 EDT
Location: DRAACO
Telescope: Meade 10-inch LX200 SCT
Activity: Deep Sky Observing

Arrived on site just before 9 pm, clear and cool but comfortable, no wind, no dew at all! Clear till around 1:30 when clouds started rolling in. Lots of people on site: Tony Ward, Dieter, Stephen Keefer, Steve Bevan, Terry Thomas, Raymond Li, Wayne Wu.

There was a beautiful planetary alignment, so I took several photographs. Here are a couple of photos:

28 mm lens, ISO 800, about 15 seconds. Above the tree is
Jupiter. The other four planets are to the right of the tree,
see the next photo for details.
45mm lens, ISO 800, about 30 seconds. Forming a triangle in
the centre are Mars, Saturn, and Venus. At the bottom right
near the tree is Mercury.

Comet Ikeya-Zhang was an easy unaided-eye object, it's large and diffuse, no tail is visible.Through the 10-inch the comet is very large, about one-quarter degree in diameter, very round and diffuse coma, still no tail visible. It's quite a sight! At right is a photo I took:

Among some of the usual Messier object I also checked out Markov1, then Tony Ward showed me M13, M81 & M82 through his 14.5-inch dob equipped with the TeleVue bino-viewer - the view was AMAZING! M13 looked three-dimentional. Using both eyes sure makes a huge difference. I observed a total of 10 "new" objects during this observing session: NGC 4470, NGC 4464, NGC 4492, NGC 4488, NGC 4434, NGC 4416, NGC 4469, NGC 4483, NGC 4442, NGC 4417. All are galaxies in Virgo.

June 10
Time: about 20:30 EDT
Location: Warden & Finch - Scarborough
Telescope: none
Activity: Partial Solar Eclipse

Thick haze created a natural solar filter which allowed direct observation
of this minor partial solar eclipse. This photo was taken by a friend using
a standard telephoto lens and film.

July 4/5
Time: 23:00 - 03:00 EDT
Location: RASC Toronto Centre Observatory - near Collingwood
Telescope: Meade 10-inch LX200 SCT f10
Activity: Deep Sky Observing
Set up in the driveway at the C.A.O. as I did not have access to the actual observatory building and no one else was there. Clear but extremely windy. The telescope would often shake to the point of being unusable, the forecast called fo wind gusts of 50 Km/hr. Considerable light-pollution to the south-east (probably Barrie?). The gusts eventually lessened, but it was still windy throughout the night.

Observed a couple of deep sky objects and a few stars at very low altitudes - the purpose of this "experiment" was to understand how close to the horizon I could observe before atmospheric extinction and distortion made observing impossible. I observed a total of 4 "new" objects: NGC 6231 (3 deg above horizon!), IC 1297 (4 deg above horizon!), NGC 6749, NGC 6906.
With the 10-inch scope at 62X, I observed stars to magnitude 7 at declination minus 43 degrees (which is a couple of degrees above the horizion)!

I also experimented with the OIII filter at f10 and f6.3 (by using a Meade f6.3 focal reducer). I clearly convinced myself that when using the OIII filter, views at f6.3 are much better than at f10, and that's because at f10 the views get too dim. This conclusion agrees with what I thought back when I owned a 10-inch f6.3 Meade SCT.

August 8 - 11
Starfest 2002 - my 19th consecutive year!

Arrived on site around 5 pm on Thursday afternoon (Aug. 8). I stayed on site and "camped" in my mini-van. Set up camp just to the south of the big tent with John Bridgman and Raymond Li.Great weather all week long, but it got progressively warm each day. Woke up Sunday morning to mostly couldy, hazy, hot & humid weather. On Saturday afternoon at 1:30 I gave a presentation in the small tent entitled "From Dusk till Dawn - making the most of Starfest's sky". After 19 years, I still have not won anything at the prize draw!

August 8/9
Time: 23:30 - 05:00 EDT
Location: Starfest
Telescope: Meade 10-inch LX200 SCT
Activity: Deep Sky Observing

The sky was quite clear, it got rather cool, and there was lots of dew. My first target was Comet Hoenig. The coordinates I had were off, so I had to do a little scanning before I found it. At 62x it was large and diffuse with no tail. It appeared similar to a galaxy having a size of about 5 to 10 arc-minutes. I could not see it in the 9 x 60 finder, but I did find it in John Bridgman's 80mm refractor. Its magnitude is around 10. It moved about 15 arc-min in about one hour.

Using the Delphinus star magnitude chart that I prepared for Starfest (included in the registration kit), I determined that the faintest stellar magnitude was 6.1 (unaided eye). Using the same chart, Frank Dempsey reported a limiting magnitude of 5.7

I observed a total of 11 "new" objects: NGC 7172, NGC 7176, NGC 7513, NGC 428, NGC 450, NGC 521, NGC 533, NGC 584, NGC 596, NGC 615, NGC 636.

The last target for the night was Comet C/2002 O6, which I located at 4:26 am. This comet was far off from the coodinates I had, so it took several minutes of searching before locating it. It is large at 62X, very diffuse, brighter than Comet Hoenig (see above), but same size as Comet Hoenig (ie 5 to 10 arc-minutes). The comet is moving even faster than Comet Hoenig. Went to sleep in my mini-van at 5:15 am and was able to sleep till 11:15 am, although it got quite warm inside the vehicle!

My set up, looking north-east

My setup in the middle, looking south-east

August 9/10
Time: 22:00 - 03:30 EDT
Location: Starfest
Telescope: Meade 10-inch LX200 SCT
Activity: Deep Sky Observing
Clear, cool, no mosquitoes, dew started forming right after sunset. There was a small and brief aurora around 11 pm.
The first exercise for the night was to check if I could see some of the Virgo spring galaxies at this time of the year. Using GOTO on the LX200 I was able to observe M85, M98, and M99 in Virgo, as well as M64 in Coma. Next I went off searching for some new deep sky objects -
I observed a total of 7 "new" objects: IC 4634, NGC 6368, NGC 6509, NGC 7419, IC 1470, NGC 7354, NGC 7133.

And before going to bed around 4 am, I also observed again Comet Hoenig, and had an excellent view of M33, which was also easy to see in the 9 x 60 finder.

Aurora at Starfest 2002
August 10/11
Time: 21:00 - 04:00 EST
Location: Starfest
Telescope: Meade 10-inch LX200 SCT
Activity: Deep Sky Observing

High thin clouds at sunset (see picture), which continued into the evening, however there were lots of clear patches in the sky. Later in the evening it got progressively more hazy until by 4 am it was mostly cloudy. Just for fun I crancked up the power on M57 - with an OIII filter and 333x, the image was still pretty good! For the rest of the night I did some "social" astronomy, whereby Walter Macdonald, Dave Macdonald, and Raymond Li joined me at my telescope and we look at a variety of deep sky objects using my LX200's GOTO. However, earlier in the evening my handheld controller for the LX200 stopped working, so I pulled out the laptop computer and using ECU I was able to control the telescope via the computer. A couple of weeks later Raymond Li was able to repair my keypad by fixing a break in the ground line.

Starfest 2002 sunset: Venus (left), crescent moon (right), and my
10-inch LX200 in the foreground.

August 17
Time: 22:00- 23:55 EDT
Location: My Backyard
Telescope: Meade 10-inch LX200 SCT
Activity: Asteroid Flyby

Set up in the backyard to observe the flyby of asteroid 2002 NY40. Took about one hour to finally find it, probably because my the coordinates I had were not very accurate and because it moved so FAST that I kept missing it by a couple of minutes each time.I finally found it a 23:25 but found it to be quite dim - I estimated it to be about mag. 11. The view could be comparted to seeing an earth-orbiting satellite crossing your telescope's field of view, which means 2002 NY40 was moving pretty fast. I estimated it moved about 1 deg every 10 minutes (= 6 deg per hour, very rough estimate. The calculated speed was 4 deg per hour)

August 27
Time: 22:00 - 00:00 EDT
Location: Bracebridge, Ontario
Telescope: Meade 10-inch LX200 SCT
Activity: Deep Sky Observing
Set up in front of the Country Hearts Bed & Breakfast in Falkenberg, 10 minutes north of Bracebridge, Ontario. It was cool with lots of dew, but I was comfortable in my winter coat. I observed some Messier favourites, and I spent some time observing M17 (Swan nebula), and M16 (Eagle Nebula). I also looked at Uranus and Neptune.

I independently comfirmed the non-existence of NGC 6625. It was in my list (however I did not print out the commets section, which says "non-existent"), so I star hopped to the exact location, but nothing was there! And Uranometria did not have anything plotted either! The next day I was able to confirm this object is just a mistake in the NGC catalogue. However I observed 1 "new" deep sky object before the moon rose: Do 28.

September 7/8
Time: 21:00 - 03:30 EDT
Location: DRAACO
Telescope: Meade 10-inch LX200 SCT
Activity: Deep Sky Observing

Arrived on site at 20:30, rather warm (17 deg C), no wind, no mosquitoes, no dew, very comfortable observing weather (daytime temp was 30 deg C!!). Several people on site: Mike Cook, Marty ?, John Ruta, Len Benshop, Gil Tenant, and others.

At 21:10 a massive aurora started! For a brief period of time there was a very bright corona overhead with some reds and it reached as far a Sagittarius!! The aurora was so bright it was almost comparable to the full moon, in terms of the amount of light it cast on the landscape! Otherwise the aurora remained quite active in the north-east allowing me to get some good deep sky observing done.The aurora almost stopped around 3 am. I took several photos, but as of January 2003, that roll of film is still in the camera!

I had an excellent observing session and found a total of 14 "new" deep sky objects: NGC 6765, NGC 6675, NGC 6646, NGC 6702, NGC 6792, NGC 6688, UGC 11909, NGC 7223, NGC 7231, NGC 7248, NGC 7250, NGC 7265, NGC 7330, NGC 7426.

One of the highlights of this observing session (besides the great aurora and the excellent deep sky observing) was looking through John Ruta's 25-inch dobsonian telescope! I looked at M33 and M42 - both were amazing, something I've never seen before. There were some really nice HII regions in the spiral arms of M33, which I was later able to see in my 10-inch scope (after learning what to look for!). I left the site at 3:50 am, got home at 4:40 am, and got to bed at 5:00 am! As usual, from the time I quit observing and get into bed, 1.5 hrs pass (about 50 minutes of that is actual driving time, while the rest is taking down the equipment and loading up the van).

September 19 Daytime note - unusually warm weather for this time of the year: 34 deg C, plus the humidex! So far all of September has been unseasonably warm.

Year End Stats

No. of observing sessions 15
Approx. telescope time 42 hours
"New" deep sky objects found 55
No. of comets seen 3
No. of auroral displays seen 2
Total deep sky objects observed 912
Observing Frequency
Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
2 0 4 0 1 1 1 5 1 0 0 0
Final Comments:
A pretty good year in terms of new objects found, telescope time, and also a good year for comets. I enjoyed using the 5-inch reflector, saw an excellent aurora, probably had the best Starfest weather ever, and saw a beautiful planetary alignment.

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