2003 Observing Sessions

January &
February
Weather Note

Both January and February were the coldest on record for the past 10 years. Went for days with temperatures not higher than minus 15C. Snow started to accumulate on the ground on Dec. 25, 2002 and stayed till nearly the end of March (usually 20 to 30 cm of snow on the ground at any time). Also, the entire winter was mostly cloudy and whenever it was clear, the temperature was minus 15C or less! Overall a miserable winter which lingered well into April

March 15
Time: 23:00 - 00:00 EST Telescope: Meade 10-inch LX200 SCT
Location: My Backyard Activity: Jupiter Digital Imaging

Set up in the backyard with the LX200 to take some digital images of Jupiter with a Logitec Clicksmart 510 camera (CCD based). Had a difficult time coming up with a method to mount the camera on top of the eyepiece, then it wad difficult to position the camera in the light path of the eyepiece, then it was quite difficult to focus! The results were poor, therefore no pictures shown here! There is lots to learn about the camera’s software setting and the image processing, and little time to do it.

March 31
Time: 22:30 - 23:30 EST Telescope: 5.1-inch SkyWatcher reflector
Location: My Backyard Activity: Double stars and deep sky

Set up in the backyard with the 5-inch SkyWatcher, some clouds but then clear. More clouds by 11:30pm, temp was minus 8C.

Observed Jupiter with a variety of eyepieces and got some pretty good views. I could easily see M94 in CVn, and of course M3 as well. Observed double star Cor Caroli (Alpha CVn), which was easily split at 65X, but could not split at 20X.

April 3 - 4
Weather Note

Ice storm!About 10 cm of frozen rain accumulated on the roads then turned into a block of ice with the strength of concrete! It took several days for the ice to melt due to the below seasonal temperatures.

April 8
Bought a used pair of Bausch & Lomb Legacy 10 x 50 binoculars
April 12
Bought a new 10-inch f4.7 SkyWatcher Dobsonian telescope
These telescopes are so affordable now that I could not resist buying one. They are excellent for quick setup and ease of transportation (compared to my 10-inch LX200)


April 12
Time: 22:45 - 00:15 EST Telescope: 10-inch SkyWatcher Dobsonian
Location: My Backyard Activity: Telescope testing and deep sky

Set up the brand new 10-inch SkyWatcher Dobsonian in the backyard in the early evening and let it cool off till 10:30pm. Clear and cool (close to zero deg C) and windy. The wind is making observing somewhat unpleasant. The moon is nearly full.

Observed a variety of deep sky objects, Jupiter and the moon. Tested the scope mechanically and optically.Overall quite happy with the scope.

April 13
Time: 21:15 - 22:15 EDT Telescope: 10-inch SkyWatcher Dobsonian
Location: My Backyard Activity: Telescope testing and deep sky

Set up the brand new 10-inch SkyWatcher Dobsonian in the backyard in the early evening and let it cool off, however by 9:15pm I could still see tube currents and fuzzy star images! The weather is cool (+4C) but pleasant, no wind, but lots of hazy clouds. Moon is nearly full.

I adjusted the collimation of the scope in the daytime, but no noticeable improvement at night. Continued testing the scope.

Capella – out of focus images show a perfect diffraction ring, and the in focus image with a 14mm Meade Ultra wide angle is quite sharp. The collimation is nearly perfect, but could use a final tweak.

Castor – double star - Even at just 86X I can see a hit of a double star, then with the 3X Barlow (258X) the pair is clearly split with dark sky between the two stars. Pretty good!

Saturn and Jupiter - Used cheap 10mm eyepiece plus 3X Barlow = 360X. The images are still decent, even at such a high power. I was especially impressed with Saturn where the Cassini division was still clearly visible at such a high power. I suppose good seeing and good optics made this possible.

April 14
Weather Note

A freak heat wave hit Toronto for just one day and the temperature soared to plus 28C. But by the evening of April 16 the temperature dropped like a stone to minus 5C and we had some freezing rain!!

April 23
Time: 22:15 - 00:15 EDT Telescope: 10-inch SkyWatcher Dobsonian
Location: My Backyard Activity: Telescope testing and deep sky

Set up in the backyard with the 10-inch SkyWatcher Dobsonian. Clear, cool (zero C), no wind, no dew. Pleasant but cool for this time of the year. The azimuth (left-right) motion of the scope is poor because it “sticks”. Looked at a variety of objects (mostly galaxies) and observed two new deep sky objects: NGC 4636 and NGC 4753 (both galaxies in Virgo)

April 26/27
Time: 22:00 - 03:00 EDT Telescope: 10-inch SkyWatcher Dobsonian
Location: DRAACO Activity: Deep sky observing

Arrived on site at 9:30 PM. Clear but extremely windy where we set up near the “driveway”. At around 10 PM we moved about 50 metres east, where the ground slopes downward a little, and there the wind was substantially less! Also there were Stephen Keefer, Michael Cook and Len Benschop. This is the first time under a dark sky with the 10-inch SkyWatcher Dob.

I observed a slew of Messier objects. M51, M81 and M82 are even visible through the 9 x 50 finder! Excellent view of M81 and M82 at 86X through the 14mm Meade Ultra Wide Angle. I also used the “new” B & L 10 x 50 binoculars and saw may Messier – very pleased with these binoculars.

I observed 10 new deep sky objects: NGC 4900, NGC 4845, NGC 4904, NGC 4665, NGC 4600, NGC 4630, NGC 4586, NGC 4580, NGC4536, NGC 4527.

Quit observing at 3:35am and only took 10 minutes to pack up the equipment!

May 8
Time: 22:45 - 23:15 EDT Telescope: 10-inch SkyWatcher Dobsonian
Location: My Backyard Activity: Casual observing

Set up in the backyard with the 10-inch SkyWatcher Dob around 7 pm. Since Jupiter was only 4 degrees away from the moon, I was able to easily see Jupiter in the daytime through the finder. Started observing around 10:30 pm, mild (+11C) a little windy, the quarter moon is flooding the sky! Observed a few brighter Messier objects, and Jupiter.

May 18
Time: 22:45 - 00:15 EDT Telescope: 10-inch SkyWatcher Dobsonian
Location: My Backyard Activity: Deep sky observing

Set up in the backyard with the 10-inch SkyWatcher Dob. The sky is clear and transparent, no wind, no dew, +10C. Looked at Jupiter and some Messier objects. M85 was barely visible (mag 9.3). I could not see M100, M98, M99, NGC 4350, and NGC 4437. Bad allergies made my observing eye water all night, making observing difficult. The azimuth motion of the scope is terrible and small movements are difficult because the base sticks. I have to fix it soon with some ebony star laminate and magic sliders!

June 16
Time: 23:00 - 00:10 EDT Telescope: 10-inch SkyWatcher Dobsonian
Location: My Backyard Activity: Deep sky observing

Set up in the backyard with the 10-inch SkyWatcher Dob. Cool night and quite transparent. Experimented with the OIII filter on M57 and M27.  Given the fast f-ratio of this telescope (f4.7) views through the OIII filter are quite good and much better than unfiltered views. Previously I noted that on my 10-inch LX200 at f10 the views with an OIII filter become too dim. I also observed the Markov 1 asterism in Hercules.

Once again I was able to just see NGC 6207 (mag 11.6 galaxy very close to M13) at 86X. I confirmed this observation by drawing the field of view and the galaxy, then comparing it against an atlas.

June 21/22
Time: 23:30 - 01:30 EDT Telescope: 10-inch SkyWatcher Dobsonian
Location: My Backyard Activity: Double stars and deep sky observing

Set up in the backyard with the 10-inch SkyWatcher Dob. Warm (+18C), no wind, the sky in not very transparent, some clouds floating by, pleasant night. I installed handles to side of the mount and these work very well for moving the entire scope. Observed three double stars:

Alpha Herculis – cannot split at 30X, clearly split at 86X, but much better at 120X. Significant magnitude difference between the two stars. The brighter star is orange, the other is white.

Epsilon Lyrae – At 120X it is just barely split, but cannot really see much black sky between each pair.

52 Cygni – This is the star that’s in the middle of the Veil Nebula (NGC 6960). Clearly split at 86X but difficult. Large magnitude difference between the two stars. Cannot see the Veil Nebula, even with the OIII filter.

Spent quite some time hunting down NGC 7048 (Planetary Nebula in Cygus), but I had already seen this object. Can only see with the OIII filter.

June 30
July 1
Time: 22:30 - 02:30 EDT Telescope: 10-inch SkyWatcher Dobsonian
Location: DRAACO Activity: Deep sky observing

Arrived on site around 9:30 pm, clear, some light wind, no mosquitoes, very little dew, the sky seems very good (perfect night!!). Also there were Steve Bevan, Gil Tennant, John Ruta. Set up the 10-inch LX200 (I took my time and it took about one hour!!), ready to observe at 10:30, but twilight won’t end till 11:30. Took some digital photos of the site while there still was a little light. I had a cold starting (runny nose) so I was not feeling very good, and I actually got worse during the night.

I observed 7 new objects: Pal 5, NGC 5928, NGC 5980, NGC 5984, NGC 5957, NGC 5964, NGC 6012.

Also looked at several of the better Messier objects through the scope and through the 10 x 50 binoculars. M33 was clearly visible through the binoculars.

Looked at M27 and M57 with the OIII filter, but the view is much too dim! Better without the filter (that’s because this scope is f10).

August 14
Time: 22:00 - 22:30 EDT Telescope: 10-inch SkyWatcher Dobsonian
Location: My Backyard Activity: Casual observing

Blackout started at about 4 pm Thursday, Aug. 14

Largest blackout in North America. Set up the 10-inch SkyWatcher Dob in the backyard and observed for a few minutes before the nearly full moon rose. The sky is quite dark (relatively speaking) and the Milky Way is visible, although it’s not quite as pronounced as at DRAACO. It was absolutely amazing seeing such a dark sky from the city!! I looked at M13 and NGC 6207 through the telescope. NGC 6207 (mag 11.6) was clearly visible – amazing!

August 22
August 24
Starfest 2003: My 20th consecutive year!

Arrived on site around 1 pm on Friday, Aug. 22, just in time for my presentation at 3 pm in the small tent (“Effective Deep Sky Observing”).

I was supposed to arrive on Thursday afternoon, but because of the house inspection I could not go, also on Thursday night thunderstorms were forecast. I “camped” (I actually slept in the minivan) near the small tent with Peter Lukic, Raymond Li, and Walter Macdonald. Wayne Louie and wife were there on Friday night only.

Aug. 22/23
Time: 22:00 - 02:00 EDT Telescope: Meade 10-inch LX200 SCT
Location: Starfest Activity: Deep sky observing

Mostly clear, a little haze. Cool with dew. Spent part of the night showing objects to various people through my telescope. I had some time for searching for new objects and I accidentally found B93 and B92, two dark nebulae near M24. These are the first dark nebulae I have ever seen, after 21 years of observing!! They clearly look like “holes” in the sky and even match the shape outlined in Sky Atlas 2000. I also found NGC 7137, a galaxy in Pegasus. Found 3 new objects.

Aug. 23/24
Time: 21:30 - 01:30 EDT Telescope: Meade 10-inch LX200 SCT
Location: Starfest Activity: Deep sky observing

High cirrus clouds at twilight in the west and east, otherwise clear, cool, no wind, some dew already at twilight. Around mid-night, some clouds and haze, and lots of dew! I observed 5 new objects: NGC 6058, NGC 6146, NGC 6173, NGC 6166, NGC 6155.

October 30
Time: 20:00 EST Telescope: none
Location: My Backyard Activity: Aurora

Very bright and extensive aurora, but very brief (about 15 minutes) around 7 PM. I only saw the tail end of the aurora around 8 PM and I saw a fainter red glow in the north-east, plus lots of fainter white activity in the north. Apparently a bright red aurora was clearly visible from downtown Toronto.

November 8
Time: 19:45 - 21:15 EST Telescope: Meade 10-inch LX200 SCT and 10-inch SkyWatcher Dobsonian
Location: My Backyard Activity: Total lunar eclipse
Started observing and photographing the eclipse just before the start of totality (about 8 pm). It was rather cloudy until about 7 PM so I was unable to polar align my telescope till the last minute. It was a rather bright eclipse with the southern portion of the moon barely inside the umbra. Here's a photo I took through my 10-inch LX200 at f6.3 with ISO 800 for 3 seconds.
December 23
Bought a new Celestron NexStar 114GT telescope (4.5-inch f9 reflector with goto mount)

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I bought this telescope because it was relatively inexpensive and because it is small and portable with goto capabilities.
I also plan on mounting my 5-inch f5 SkyWatcher (a very good little telescope) on the GT mount
December 25
Time: 17:30 - 19:00 EST Telescope: Celestron NexStar 114GT
Location: My Backyard Activity: Telescope testing

Tonight was first light for the Celestron NexStar 114GT. The scope was behaving very erratically - failed auto-align, hand-controller lockup, missed goto slewing, etc... - which I later determined were caused by insufficient amperage from my AC adapter. I was using an AC adapter that supplied 500 mA, but the scope requires 750 mA.

I also took my first digital astro-photos with a Canon PowerShot A60. This is a wide-angle photo of the crescent moon and Venus taken at f5 and 1/6 sec exposure


December 26
Time: 17:30 - 21:00 EST Telescope: Celestron NexStar 114GT
Location: My Backyard Activity: Telescope testing

Second night of testing the Celestron NexStar 114GT. The auto-align worked well tonight and the goto placed all targets within the 25mm field of view - I am impressed! There still were a few oddities: one goto slew completely missed the object, but found it after re-trying. and a hand-controller lockup. Also, the two-star align always fails and when trying to choose stars only stars that start with the letter A thru F are listed (this is a known bug and Celestron is supposed to fix it). The optics show crips images towards the centre of the field of view, but star images were rather elongated (coma) starting about half-way out from centre. Not very happy with the optics, however when using a higher power eyepiece (like a 10mm) the coma goes away.

Although I was observing from the suburbs, this little 4.5-inch scope did very well, showing me just about all the winter Messier objects, including M78 (which is rather small and faint). I was also able to see the Eskimo Nebula! I am impressed with the views of the various Messier objects.

Saturn was mediocre, with the Cassini division barely visible. I did not even bother trying the scope on Mars, which is now very small.

December 27
Time: 10:30 - 11:30 EST Telescope: Celestron NexStar 114GT
Location: My Backyard Activity: Telescope testing

Third night out with the Celestron NexStar 114GT. The auto-align worked well again, however goto accuracy is off tonight. Objects always end up just outside the 25mm field of view. I guess I did not align the scope very well! Also, I checked the tracking, and a star at the center of a 12mm reticle eyepiece drifted outside the field of view in about 3 minutes! The drift was mostly is RA (motor too slow) but also a little in Declination. I am quite disappointed about the terrible tracking.

I had to quit observing early because heavy thick fog rolled in - quite a sight!

Year End Stats
No. of observing sessions 17
Approx. telescope time 34.5 hours
"New" deep sky objects found 27
No. of comets seen 0
No. of auroral displays seen 1
Total deep sky objects observed 939


Observing Frequency
Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
0 0 2 4 2 3 0 2 0 0 1 3


Final Comments Not a very productive year in terms of observing sessions or number of deep sky objects observed. However, I acquired three new pieces of equipment and I had lots of fun observing with them. I guess the highlight of the year was the blackout in August - too bad it was just past full moon!

 

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