2004 Observing Sessions

Weather Note

2004 is off to a very cold start: In January we had several nights where the temperature was around minus 27 deg C. February was not much better!

January 24
Time: 15:00 & 18:00 EST Telescope: none
Location: My backyard Activity: Daytime Venus Viewing + Nighttime Digital photos

Spotted Venus in the daytime just 4 degrees away from a very thin crescent Moon. I first saw it with 10 x 50 binoculars, then with the unaided eye. I actually looked from inside the house through an open window. Being inside a room help a lot in reducing glare and blocking sunlight.

Here are a couple of photos I took around 18:00 from my backyard with a Canon PowerShot A60. Another very cold night - the temp was minus 19 deg C when I took these photos.

February 28
Time: 19:00 - 20:00 EST Telescope: 10-inch SkyWatcher Dobsonian
Location: My backyard Activity: Moon, Venus, Saturn digital photography

For the first time I tried some digital photography thru my 10-inch Dobsonian with the Canon A60. The photos were taken afocally by hand-holding the camera up to the eyepiece! With a little practice and some image processing I should be able to get much better planetary results.
Tonight was mostly clear with some haze and a few clouds, but the temperature was a comfortable + 2 deg C. The seeing was above average

Taken with a 26mm Meade SuperPlossl eyepiece Taken with a 15mm Televue Plossl eyepiece
Venus: Saturn:
Taken with a 15mm Televue Plossl eyepiece + 2X barlow. Taken with a 15mm Televue Plossl eyepiece + 2X barlow
This is a single photo, no processing, hand-held at the eyepiece This is a single photo, no processing, hand-held at the eyepiece

March 10
Time: 20:00 - 21:00 EST Telescope: Celestron NexStar 114GT (4.5-inch Newtonian)
Location: My backyard Activity: Casual observing

Set up on the deck in my backyard with the Celestron NexStar 114GT with my young son. The sky was clear, temp was a cool zero deg. C
I did a very quck and rough auto-align (Sirius and Betelgeuse) but the goto accuracy was still pretty decent! We looked at Saturn, Jupiter, M42, and M45. However, the goto missed Jupiter by about 10 degrees, probably because it was in the east, and all the other objects (including the alignment stars were in the west).

I crancked up the power on Jupiter to 200X (10mm + 2X barlow) and the image was still pretty good! Tracking at 200X was much better than the last time I used this scope - the planet stayed in the field of view for at least 5 minutes (maybe longer). Looks like the tube balancing has to do something with tracking accuracy.

March 13
Time: 21:00 - 23:00 EST Telescope: 10-inch SkyWatcher Dobsonian
Location: Near Enniskillen Activity: Deep Sky Observing

I drove to Long Sault Conservation Area, one of my usual observing sites, but when I arrived the entire site was taken over by Search & Rescue training exercises!! The parking lot where we usually set up was turned into a central command post with a diesel generator and bright floodlight! I asked how long they would be there and was told till morning - that was my cue to leave and go find another place to observe. In my twenty years of using Long Sault Conservation Area this has never happened!

I met up with Andy Schuh on my way out of the conservation area and we set off looking for nearby Enniskillen Conservation Area, but after half-hour of searching, we never found the site, despite having a local detailed map and after asking the local convenience store for directions!!
So in the end we settled for a dead-end country road just south of the village of Enniskillen.

Ready to observe by 21:00 with the 10-inch SkyWatcher Dobsonian. The sky is pretty good but there were some clouds low in the west. No wind, cool (about minus 5C), no snow, ground is frozen. I looked at several Messier objects: M35, M36, M37, M38, M41, M42, M43, M45, M65, M66, and even M13 which was just a few degrees off the north-eastern horizon. Saturn was pretty good at 240X (10mm + 2X barlow), but Jupiter was pretty crummy due to bad seeing in that area of the sky. I observed one "new" object: NGC 1999, a reflection nebula in Orion.

Clouds started rolling in from the west around 21:50 and it became mostly cloudy until we left at 23:00, although we did some observing through sucker holes before giving up!

April 29
Weather Note

A freak heat wave hit Toronto for two days and the temperature soared to plus 25C.

May 16
Time: 22:00 - 23:00 EDT Telescope: 10-inch SkyWatcher Dobsonian
Location: My backyard Activity: Comet NEAT C/2001 Q4

Set up in the backyard to observe Comet NEAT C/2001 Q4 with my young son. Clear and cool (about +10C), no wind, pleasant. I first spotted the comet easily in 10x50 binoculars, just north of M44, the Beehive Cluster. Through the 10-inch the comet's coma is quite large, diffuse, and relatively uniform in brightness. My rough magnitude estimate is about 3, and my rough visual size estimate is about 3 to 4 times the size of M13. There was the slightest hint of a tail when using the Meade 14mm Ultra Wide Angle (86X)

The sketch to the right is a very rough drawing done from memory the next day to represent what I saw at 86X

I also tested the sky on M65 and M66: These were barely visible in the 10-inch at 86X. I could not see the nearby galaxy NGC3628. Increasing the power to 120X did not improve the views. On the other hand, M51 and its companion galaxy NGC5195 were more obvious at 86X with each galaxy's nucleus clearly visible with even a hint of spiral arms around M51. Lastly I looked at M13 but this time I could not see the galaxy NGC6207 located less than one degree north.

May 28/29
Time: 23:30 - 2:00 EDT Telescope: Celestron NexStar 114GT (4.5-inch Newtonian)
Location: My backyard Activity: Deep Sky Observing

Set up in the backyard, clear, no wind, temperature is 8'C at the start, later fell to 6'C, first quarter moon is lighting up the sky.
The purpose of my observing session was to test the replacement hand controller that I received a few weeks ago from Celestron and to test my new
Orion UltraBlock narrowband nebular filter. The new hand controller worked very well and so did the Orion UltraBlock narrowband nebular filter, although when compared to my Lumicon OIII filter the difference is not big, however much more testing will be required with more appropriate deep sky targets.

After a quick two-star alignment I was very pleased to see that the scope placed every single object in the field of view with a 26mm eyepiece (38X). I observed and wrote a description of the following objects (in my paper logbook):
M57, M13, Markov 1, M4, M80, M5, M3, M9, M10, M12, M14, M19, M62, M22, M11, M27, M56.
Objects that I tried but could not see were: M16, M107, the Veil Nebula.

The moral of this observing session is that even from the city, with a quarter moon, with a small telescope one can still have a lot of fun!!

June 8
Time: 06:30 - 07:30 EDT Telescope: 10-inch SkyWatcher Dobsonian
Location: My backyard Activity: Venus Transit

Set up in my backyard to observe the first Venus transit in 122 years. Used my 10-inch SkyWatcher Dobsonian and my Canon A60 digital camera to take the photos below using the afocal method. The filter was a Thousand Oaks Type II. The angular size of Venus against the Sun was impressive and so was the roundness of the planet I was able to observe the "black drop" effect, however I viewed it through the digital camera's LCD display, which is rather small and not very crisp. This observing session was totally unplanned and I wish I had done more homework on my equipment setup well before the event. For example, I found focusing using the camera's LCD display to be difficult so I ended up with many out-of-focus photos.

6:42 am: 26mm eyepiece afocal + camera 1x zoom   7:07 am: 15mm eyepiece afocal + camera 3x zoom
7:14am: 26mm eyepiece afocal + camera 3x zoom   10-inch SkyWatcher used to observe and photograph the transit

June 19/20
Time: 23:00 - 3:00 EDT Telescope: Meade 10-inch LX200
Location: DRAACO Activity: Deep Sky Observing

Drove on back country roads (instead of on Hwy 401) and arrived after 1 hr and 20 min (the distance is 77 km).  Took a bit longer because of a couple of missed turns, and not being able to find a dirt road (not marked with any signs, other than "not open to traffic"!!).  That section of road is Henry Rd., just south of Tauton Rd. - definitely not a recommended route!!

On site were Mike Cook, Len Benschop, Dieter, Marty Utton, John Ruta, Stephen Keefer and a few others. It was very windy and cold (temp was 10 deg C), but the wind chill made it much colder. The wind did not subside till I packed up for the night around 3:30 am. I was wearing my full winter gear, including snow pants - the wind was terrible! No mosquitoes and no dew at all (no big surprise there!). The sky was excellent, and other than light pollution from Oshawa and Toronto to the west, the sky was comparable to a Starfest sky.

With 10x50 binoculars I could see stars just one degree about the southern horizon (looking over Lake Ontario), and I could also see stars in Corona Australis with the unaided eye.

During evening twilight I saw Comet NEAT C/2001 Q4 through the 10-inch telescope. It was about 5th magnitude with no tail and it looked similar to a globular cluster. Through the night I used binoculars to look at several Messier Objects, including M33, the North American Nebula, and Markov 1

Earlier in the evening I did a quick comparison between my Lumicon OIII filter and my Orion UltraBlock filter. Both produced nice views, with the UltraBlock giving slightly brighter images, but it's hard to decide which one is better when looking at M27.

I observed 13 new objects: NGC 4346, NGC 4217, NGC 4220, NGC 4242, NGC 4389, NGC 4460, NGC 4138, NGC 4143, IC 750, NGC 4051, NGC 4013, NGC 3938, NGC 3917.  All are galaxies in Canes Venatici and Ursa Minor

I quit observing at 3:10 am, left the site at 3:40 am and got home at 4:45 am. I was in bed by 5:00 am.  It typically takes me about 2 hours from the time I stop observing to the time I get to bed - how I wish I lived under dark country skies!!


My web site is in Sky & Telescope!

Sky & Telescope featured this on-line logbook, including a couple of screen shots!  See the "Astronomy On-line" section on page 120 of the July 2004 issue.

August 19 August 22
Starfest 2004 - My 21st consecutive year!

Arrived on site at 4:15 pm on Thursday Aug. 19. As previous years, I set up the minivan to be my "home" for 3 days. I slept comfortably on a real mattress, however, even in the van it still got quite cold at night. Camped with Raymond Li and Walter MacDonald just a few meters south of the Main Tent. I presented for the fourth year in a row - the topic this year was "Doing Real Science from your Backyard", presented on Saturday afternoon in the small tent. I left the site on Sunday morning around 11 am.

Raymond Li (left) and Paul Markov (right)


August 19/20
Time: 21:00 - 1:00 EDT Telescope: Meade 10-inch LX200
Location: Starfest Activity: Deep Sky Observing

Thursday was sunny and cool all day (19' C). Set up the Meade 10-inch LX200 and the Celestron NexStar 114GT (for my son). At sunset clouds started to roll in, quite cool (9' C) with some dew. Partly cloudy throughout the evening, so I did some casual observing (ie saw many Messier objects). My six year old son had a blast with the GOTO NexStar telescope!  I also looked through Raymond Li's new Meade 10-inch LX200 GPS scope and it produces very nice views (the optics appear to be very good!). Stopped observing at 1:15 am and was sleeping by 1:45 am.


August 20/21
Time: n/a Telescope: Meade 10-inch LX200
Location: Starfest Activity: n/a

Friday was overcast and cool (20' C) but the wind made it feel much cooler so I had to wear a jacket! Night time was mostly cloudy with very few sucker holes. No observing.


August 21/22
Time: 23:00 - 5:00 EDT Telescope: Meade 10-inch LX200
Location: Starfest Activity: Solar & Deep Sky Observing


On Saturday afternoon I did some solar observing and photography through the 10-inch with a Thousand Oaks type II filter.

Saturday night was perfectly clear and cold. I was ready to observe by 21:20 but noticed by Kendrick heater was not working! A quick check determined that the heater was good, but the controller was faulty. Raymond Li, who had a gas soldering iron, was able to put together a temporary cable so I could connect the heater directly to the 12V battery - he saved my night!

I started the observing run by looking at a supernova in NGC 2403. I then star hopped my way to 11 new deep sky objects: NGC 7286, NGC 7303, NGC 7490, NGC 7512, NGC 7514, NGC 7497, NGC 7539, NGC 7550, NGC 7720, NGC 7722, NGC 7768 - all galaxies in Pegasus.

Later in the night I had some GOTO fun with the LX200. I looked at several previously seen NGC objects in Andromeda, Aries, Triangulum, and Perseus, as well as several Messier objects including M42! M33 and M76 were very nice in the 10-inch.  By 4 am Orion is nearly completely above the horizon and Gemini is at least 10 degrees above the horizon. Venus (located in Gemini) is very bright! I quit observing at 5 am because morning twilight was getting strong.


October 5
Time: 22:30 - 23:30 EDT Telescope: 10-inch SkyWatcher Dobsonian
Location: My backyard Activity: Double Stars & Deep Sky Observing

Setup in the backyard under a seemingly clear sky, however a thin layer of clouds blanketed the sky. No wind, 8'C, cool. Most of the clouds dissipated around 23:00.

  • Observed M2 and M15 - both also visible in the 8 x 50 finder from the city!
  • M31, M32, M110 - nice view of all three galaxies in the 40mm 2-inch eyepiece at 30x. Although M110 (the furthest from M31) is extremely faint. It's more visible at 46x.
  • NGC 404 is a high surface brightness galaxy next to Beta Andromedae. I could not see it at 30x, but it's easily visible at 86x. It is mag. 10.3 with a surface brightness of 12.8.
  • M33 - I could not see M33 from my urban location. M33 is the exact opposit of NGC 404. It has a bright magnitude ( mag. 5.7) but a faint surface brightness ( mag. 14.2)
  • Beta Aquarius - double star, could not split even at 240x.  Noticeable yellow tint.
  • Zeta Aquarius (55) - this is the middle star in the "water jar" asterism. Unable to split at 120x, but can barely split at 240x with little black sky between the two stars. Mag. 4.3 and 4.5, separation of 2.1 arc-seconds.
  • 34 Pegasus, 36 Pegasus, 46 Pegasus - not able to split any of these stars, even at 240x.


October 11/12
Time: 22:00 - 2:00 EDT Telescope: Meade 10-inch LX200
Location: DRAACO Activity: Deep Sky Observing

Arrived on site at 21:15 after 1hr 5min travel time (81 km). Many people already on site - Steven Keefer, Jeff Dutton, ,Brent, Dan Hilt, Marty Utton, and others. Clear, cool, not very transparent, lots of dew at first, but then the wind picked up and dew was not a problem. As a "warm up" I observed several Messier objects, as well as the Helix Nebula. As the night progressed the temperature dipped to 4'C and it was uncomfortably windy.

I observed 9 new objects: NGC 6967, NGC 6964, NGC 6962, NGC 7184, NGC 7180, NGC 7185, NGC 7183, NGC 2024, NGC 1964

The highlight of the night was Jeff Dutton showing me the North American Nebula through his 10-inch Dob with a Lumicon UHC filter and a 2-inch 30mm wide-scan (Magellan) eyepiece. I could clearly see the entire shape of the nebula - an amazing sight!


October 27
Time: 20:00 - 23:00 EDT Telescope: 10-inch SkyWatcher Dobsonian
Location: My backyard Activity: Total Lunar Eclipse


Clouded out. Set up the 10-inch dob in the backyard under mostly overcast skies. Saw a little bit of the partial phases through the clouds, but it was completely overcast for totality. The sky cleared around 12:30 am, as per the forecast, but by then the eclipse was over.

The next day I found out that just 25 minutes from my house (town of Brooklin on Hwy 7), the sky was completely clear!!


December 19
Time: 22:30 - 22:45 EST Telescope: 10 x 50 B&L Legacy binoculars
Location: My backyard Activity: Comet Machholz - C/2004 Q2

Extremely cold night at minus 24 deg C. !! Observed from the backyard for about 15 minutes. Comet Machholz is very easy to see in the 10x50 binoculars and is located about 14 deg west of Rigel (about 2 fields of view). Compared to the open clusters in Auriga (M36, M37, M38) and M35 in Gemini, the comet is much brighter and somewhat larger.




Year End Stats
No. of observing sessions 14
Approx. telescope time 28 hour
"New" deep sky objects found 34
No. of comets seen 2
No. of auroral displays seen 0
Total deep sky objects observed 973

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

Final Comments An average year in terms of number of observing sessions, telescope time, and new deep sky objects. The highlight was definitely the Venus Transit in June. I was hoping to get to 1000 deep sky objects this year, but I'm still 27 objects short. It should be no problem in 2005!


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