2006 Observing Sessions

Jan. 15
Time: 12:15 EST Telescope: 10 x 50 B&L binoculars
Location: Inside the house Activity: Venus in daytime sky

Yesterday, Jan. 14, Venus was in inferior conjunction.  Today we finally have a beautiful blue sky after weeks of clouds so I tried spotting Venus near the Sun.  Because Venus is just 6.4 degrees north-west of the Sun I had to be extremely careful not to aim the binoculars at the Sun by mistake, therefore the best solution was to position myself so that it would be impossible to point the binoculars at the Sun.

From inside a room in the house I opened a window and crouched so that the room wall / window ledge would block the Sun.  To give you and idea of how close the Sun and Venus were, while observing Venus with binoculars, the top of my head was in the Sun and getting quite hot!

I was able to spot a thin crescent Venus right away in the 10x50 binoculars, although it was quite small (due to just a magnification of 10).  I then spent about 15 minutes trying to see Venus without any optical aid, but did not succeed.

If you decide to try to observe Venus in the daytime, be extremely careful!! You can blind yourself if you point your optics at the Sun. Proceed at your own risk!!

 

Jan. 20
Equipment Purchase

Purchased a lightly-used Meade 10-inch LX200 GPS (less than one year old).

 

The photo at right shows the "new and improved" brass gears on the declination assembly.  In older models these used to be plastic and had a tendency to wear out over time.

 

Jan. 21
Time: 21:00 - 23:00 EST Telescope: 10-inch LX200 GPS
Location: My Backyard Activity: Telescope Testing

I was lucky to have clear skies the next night after the purchase of the Meade 10-inch LX200 GPS. The sky was quite clear and the temp was about -7°C. Around 11 pm clouds rolled it.  The Sky Quality Meter reading was about 17.75

I set up the scope on the deck in alt-az mode and the scope had no trouble with the alignment routine, quickly picking up the GPS signals it requires. Mechanically the scope worked very well. Optically it was very nice, and delivered images similar to my older 10-inch LX200 Classic. However, I noticed the optics were a little bit out of collimation, so after I align them properly, it might be even better!

Just for fun I pushed the optics hard to 500X (10mm eyepiece + 2X barlow) and despite the insane magnification, images of Saturn and Castor (double star) were still reasonable.  I looked at several Messier objects and even a couple of NGC's in Orion: NGC 2169 and NGC 2194

My 10-inch LX200 Classic will be going up for sale soon!

 

Mar. 4 - 5
Time: 23:30 - 1:30 EST Telescope: 12-inch SkyMentor Dobsonian
Location: My Backyard Activity: Deep Sky Observing

It was great to get out observing after a mostly cloudy February.  I set up the 12-inch Dobsonian on the deck earlier in the evening so by the time I got out the scope had cooled off. The sky was quite transparent but the seeing was poor, the temp was minus 2°C, and there was no wind.  I bought this telescope in June 2005 and this was only the second time I have used it.  I found the azimuth motion quite poor as the teflon pads would "stick" each time I tried to make a small adjustment to the scope's position.  I will have to add ebony star laminate to the bottom of the board as soon as possible.

Sky Quality Meter measurements:
Time Measurement Comments
20:25 17.53 crescent moon in the sky
23:30 17.81 the moon is quite low

Tonight I observed two "new" NGC objects that count towards the completion of my Herschel 400 list: NGC 3593, NGC 3489 in Leo

M65, M66 - spotted easily at 58x, but not impressive and easy to overlook.  Cannot see NGC 3628 nearby. At 107x these two galaxies are much better defined, but still cannot confirm NGC 3628 (something might be there but not sure). I have seen NGC 3628 before with my 10-inch so tonight may not have been as transparent as other nights, however, it's usually quite difficult to see from the city.

I also took a few minutes to observe M3, M104 (Sombrero Galaxy), Saturn, and Jupiter. Pictured above is the 12-inch telescope. It is considerably larger than a 10-inch Dobsonian, and although it's not much heavier it's much more difficult to handle and carry through doorways and into a car or minivan.

 

March 11
Time: 20:30 - 22:30 EST Telescope: 12-inch SkyMentor Dobsonian
Location: My Backyard Activity: Deep Sky Observing

Setup the 12-inch Dobsonian (pictured above) on the deck well in advance so it could cool off.  By the time I was ready to observe some haze moved in. It's nearly full moon and with the haze the sky in rather poor. No wind, cool (about 2° C) and pleasant. I sprayed Armor All on the base and now the azimuth no longer "sticks" (see problem noted on March 4 -5 ).  The purpose of tonight's session was to view some brighter open clusters in the Winter sky before they sink too low in the West.

I observed 7 "new" NGC objects that count towards the completion of my Herschel 400 list:
NGC 2354, NGC 2353, NGC 2343, NGC 2335, NGC 2311, NGC 2286, NGC 2506.

All the above were rather poor due to the haze and full moon, so one day it would be good to observe them again!

 

Mar. 26 -27


Special Night:

Logged my 1000th deep sky object !!

 
Time: 21:45 - 00:15 EST Telescope: 12-inch SkyMentor Dobsonian
Location: My Backyard Activity: Deep Sky Observing

Setup the 12-inch Dobsonian (pictured further above) on the deck well in advance so it could cool off.  The sky is very clear, no wind, cool (about 0° C) and pleasant. I sprayed Armor All again on the base but this time the azimuth is "sticking" again! (see problem noted on March 4 -5 ).  The purpose of tonight's session was to view some galaxies in Cancer, Leo, and Leo Minor.

I observed 5 "new" NGC objects that count towards the completion of my Herschel 400 list:
NGC 2775, NGC 3640, NGC 2964, NGC 3414 , NGC 3486.

The Sky Quality Meter reading at 00:15 was 18.29 (about as good as it gets, although I've had a few nights last September that were a bit darker - around 18.60)

 

Apr. 8 - 9
Time: 23:15 - 5:35 EDT Telescope: 10-inch LX200 GPS
Location: My Backyard Activity: Deep Sky Imaging with DSI Pro

Set up the 10-inch LX200GPS on the deck in the early evening in alt-azimuth mode to see if imaging was possible without a wedge. Controlled the telescope remotely from inside the house - no technical issues of any kind!!  Use the f3.3 Meade focal reducer on loan from a friend. The sky is quite clear with a waxing gibbous moon (3 days past 1st quarter). The temp is fairly steady between -1'C and -2'C.  After a lengthy setup, I started imaging around 1:15am.

The scope was tracking well for alt-azimuth setup and I was able to image 15 sec to 20 sec exposures without trailing. 30 sec exposures trailed. Drizzle was able to de-rotate the images very well.

I did not set up the f3.3 reducer with the proper spacers so all images suffered from vignetting and elongated star images at the edges. Took images of M104, M49, NGC4535, M90, M100, M64, M3 and the comet.

Comet 73P/Schwassmann-Wachmann 3:
20 x 15 sec = 5 minutes

 
M3 - 28 x 15 sec = 7 minutes M90 - 50 x 15 sec = 12.5 minutes

 

Apr. 19 - 20
Time: 21:45 - 1:45 EDT Telescope: 10-inch LX200 GPS
Location: My Backyard Activity: Deep Sky Imaging with DSI Pro

 

Set up the 10-inch LX200GPS on the deck in the early evening in alt-azimuth mode. Controlled the telescope remotely from inside the house - no technical issues of any kind!! The temp was 16'C at the start and decreased to 13'C by 1am. Short imaging session because it's a week night.

Setup the f3.3 reducer correctly this time, but I was plagued by dust donuts on the CCD. I will need to take flat fields in the future!

Took images of M65, NGC3628, M66, Comet SW3, Comet P/2004 VR8 LONEOS, M64

 

  M64 - 40 x 15 sec = 10 minutes
M65 - 40 x 15 sec = 10 minutes M66 - 26 x 21.2 sec = 9.2 minutes

 

Apr. 28 - 29
Time: 22:00 - 5:00 EDT Telescope: 10-inch LX200 GPS
Location: My Backyard Activity: Deep Sky Imaging with DSI Pro

Set up the 10-inch LX200GPS in the backyard in the early evening on the wedge.  I did a quick polar alignment, so I could not take images longer than 20 or 30 seconds due to trailing. Controlled the telescope remotely from inside the house - no technical issues of any kind!! My friend Raymond Li joined me for several hours to see how I run the equipment.

During evening twilight I took flat fields by using the "white shirt in front of the scope" technique to diffuse the light.  That went well, but I later found out my flat fields were not really usable, either because the exposure was not right or because I had to re-focus my light images.

I took images of M3, M63, NGC4565, Comet SW3, M13, NGC6166, M51, and M57

 

M3 - 20 x 15 sec = 5 minutes
M51 - 11 x 21.2 sec = 4 minutes M57 RGB - 15 x 15 sec = 3.75 minutes
M63 - 12 x 30 sec = 6 minutes NGC4565 - 40 x 15 sec = 10 minutes

 

May 6 - 7
Time: 23:00 - 4:30 EDT Telescope: 10-inch LX200 GPS
Location: My Backyard Activity: Deep Sky Imaging with DSI Pro

Set up the 10-inch LX200GPS in the backyard in the early evening in polar mode (with the wedge).  Went out around 23:00 and did an iterative polar alignment - after only 3 iterations the two stars were dead centre. Then I did PEC training on Spica.  The sky is quite clear, but a quarter moon is making the sky bright. The temp was about 4'C at the start and decreased to 0'C by 4 am.

Earlier in the day I cleaned out the CCD chip window and was able remove all dust, so no dust donuts tonight!!  Later in the night I noticed that I still could not take images longer than 30 seconds, even with PEC, so I turned it off and saw no difference!  Obviously something is not quite right. Took images of M5, NGC4565, Comet SW3, M57, M27, Comet c/2004 B1 Linear, NGC6781.

M5 - 20 x 15 sec = 5 minutes M27 - 23 x 42.4 sec = 16 minutes
M57 - 12 x 42.4 sec = 8.5 minutes NGC6781 - 22 x 21.2 sec = 7.8 minutes

 

May 7 - 8
Time: 22:00 - 0:00 EDT Telescope: 10-inch LX200 GPS
Location: My Backyard Activity: Testing

The 10-inch LX200 GPS was already set up in the backyard from the previous night.  Refined the polar alignment by doing an iterative polar alignment and got it very precise.

Then I did a two PEC training session using the 12mm reticle eyepiece plus a 2x Barlow lens for a total 417x.  Even after the PEC, the RA is still not right (if I recall correctly it was running too slow, so I’d have to press the West button).  On hindsight, I may have been correcting movement caused by bad seeing at such high power!  Next time use less magnification.

Around midnight M57 and Comet SW3 cleared the roof of the neighbour’s house in the east and I was able to see the pair extremely close to each other. Interesting sight!  I would have liked to have taken an image, but it was getting too late and had to get up for work the next day.

 

May

 

Night Sky Magazine Article

The May/June 2006 issue of Night Sky Magazine (page 24) featured the asterism "Markov 1" in an article by Sue French. More info here about Markov 1 - http://www.astrobuysell.com/paul/markov1.htm

 

June 20 - 21
Time: 22:00 - 1:00 EDT Telescope: 5.1-inch reflector on Meade LXD500 mount
Location: My Backyard Activity: Deep Sky Imaging with DSI Pro

Set up an older 5.1-inch SkyWatcher reflector on a Meade LXD500 equatorial mount in the backyard for some experimenting. I did a very quick polar alignment using the polar scope and was able to obtain good tracking with exposures up to 1 minute. The slight problem was that I had trouble reaching focus so for future use I may have to move up the mirror inside the tube.  This setup has great potential for quick setup and wide-field imaging.

M57 - 22 x 30 sec = 11 minutes

 

 

   
July 8 - 9
Time: 22:00 - 2:30 EDT Telescope: 10-inch LX200 GPS
Location: My Backyard Activity: Deep Sky Imaging with DSI Pro

Set up the 10-inch LX200GPS in the backyard in polar mode mainly for filming a video presentation I was preparing on remote imaging (the video presentation was made at the RASC Toronto Centre July 12 meeting). After the filming was complete, I could not resist doing some CCD imaging.  The temp was 23'C around 22:00 and decreased to 18'C by 2:00.

Below are identical images of M57, but with different image processing. It's an LRGB image with the following specs: L = 50 x 15 sec, R = 25 x 15 sec, G = 50 x 15 sec, B = 50 x 15 sec

M57 - processed with more blue M57 - processed with more green

 

July 19 - 20
Time: 23:30 - 3:30 EDT Telescope: 10-inch LX200 GPS
Location: My Backyard Activity: Deep Sky Imaging with DSI Pro

Set up the 10-inch LX200GPS in the backyard in polar mode. Clear and transparent sky, but some thin cloud at times. Temp 21'C to 18'C.  Did an iterative polar alignment and got excellent centering between Polaris and Altair after 5 iterations. Then I did two PEC training sessions, this time with just the 12mm eyepiece (208x), but as before PEC did not seem to help any.  The scope also had a strong north shift in just a couple of minutes, meaning the polar alignment was off. Not sure what's going on, so my only solution may be a drift alignment next time.

Sky Quality Meter reading: zenith - 18.2, west - 17.9, east - 18.3

M27 - 25 x 30 sec = 12.5 minutes NGC7332, NGC7339 - 15 x 30 sec = 7.5 min

 

July 28 - 29
Time: 23:00 - 4:00 EDT Telescope: 10-inch LX200 GPS
Location: CAO Activity: Deep Sky Observing

Arrived at the CAO on Friday afternoon July 28 - sunny and hot (about 30'C). Some clouds at sunset but it got progressively worse. It was very windy, so imaging was not possible. Looked at many Messier objects while dodging clouds.

Sky Quality Meter reading: 20.8 to 21.0 depending on direction.

NGC7000 with binoculars:
I was able to clearly see the North American Nebula and clearly pick out the Gulf of Mexico and East Coast areas in the 10x50 binoculars. (M33 is also easy to see in the binoculars.)

M57 in the 10-inch with 14mm Ultra-Wide-Angle eyepiece (178x):
Just next to M57 were two very faint stars - using star atlas software program I was able to determine the two stars were mag. 12.3 and mag. 13.1

I also checked the tracking on the scope. After 5 minutes the RA was dead on, but I had a slight northward drift in declination. After 10 minutes there was a very small RA drift but a continued northward drift in declination.

 

Aug. 1
Weather Note

Today was the hottest day I've ever experienced in Canada. In Markham (a suburb of Toronto) it got to 38'C (100'F), yet the humidity was only 40%.  The humidex made the temperature feel like 47'C.
 

Aug. 4 - 5
Time: 23:00 - 3:30 EDT Telescope: 10-inch LX200 GPS
Location: My Backyard Activity: Deep Sky Imaging with DSI Pro

Set up the 10-inch LX200GPS in the backyard in polar mode and did a very fast and simple polar alignment. Quite clear but warm. Temp was 20'C at 23:00 and decreased to 16'C by 4:00.  Tonight I used the IR filter for the luminance frames.  Sky Quality Meter reading: 18.5

M27 - 30 x 30 sec = 15 min (IR filter)
Compare it to the M27 above taken without
the IR filter - not much difference.
NGC7331 - 16 x 30 sec = 8 min (IR filter)
The streaks above are caused by incorrect
dark frames

 

Aug. 24 - 27
Time: Thursday - Sunday Telescope: 10-inch LX200 GPS
Location: Starfest 2006, Mount Forest, Ontario Activity: none!  Cloudy all weekend!

Arrived at the campground around 3 pm on Thursday Aug. 24 under partly cloudy skies and warm temp.  Set up in the usual place – just south of the main tent.  The forecast for the weekend looks terrible – clouds and rain only, no clear skies are forecast. I did not pull out the scope from the case all weekend.

Raymond Li and Mahesh Aravamudan from my work place joined me for part of the weekend. Camped with Walter MacDonald and David MacDonald as usual.

I slept in the minivan as usual but this year I added a camping cot with an air mattress - quite comfortable!

 
The gazebo tent was essential in keeping some of the   camping gear dry   Getting ready for the group photo

Thursday, Aug. 24: Mostly cloudy, wondered around the campground and looked at a few telescopes. Caught a brief glimpse of M13 thru a 25-inch dobsonian thru a hole in the clouds. The night was fairly warm, but then cooled off in the early morning hours as the rain started falling. 

Friday, Aug. 25: Rain all day (almost non-stop!). Attended several presentations, and bought a 2-inch extension tube for my dobsonian telescopes.  Night time was overcast and warm.  Participated in “celestrivia” and formed a team with Walter MacDonald, Dave MacDonald, Damien Lemay.  We came in first place and each won a Starfest 25th anniversary hat. 

Saturday, Aug. 26: Some sunny breaks during the day and no rain!  Attended one talk and delivered my presentation at 2:30 in the small tent called “star hopping primer”.  The tent was about half full – not a good turnout. In the evening (around 7 pm) a thunderstorm rolled through and dumped lots of rain.  Attended the main talk by Story Musgrave which was quite good.  Won a 25mm Skywatcher KE eyepiece (low end) in the door prize draw. Night time was overcast and foggy. 

Sunday, Aug. 27: Woke up to clouds, light drizzle and fog. Dave Macdonald helped me pack the van and I was on the road just before 11 am.

 

Aug. 30 - 31
Time: 22:30 - 1:30 EDT Telescope: 10-inch LX200 GPS
Location: My Backyard Activity: Deep Sky Imaging with DSI Pro

Set up the 10-inch LX200GPS on the deck on alt-azimuth mode. Quite clear, cool, and a bit windy. The temp went from 15'C at 23:00 to 13'C by 1:00. Concentrated on taking a colour image of M27. The true colour is less green and more teal.

M33 in 10x50 binoculars!! - I was quite surprised to be able to just see M33 from the city in 10x50 binoculars. It appears to be a very transparent night!

Sky Quality Meter reading: west - 18.4, zenith - 18.5, east - 18.6

 

 

 

Oct. 7 - 8
Time: 23:30 - 5:30 EDT Telescope: 10-inch LX200 GPS
Location: My Backyard Activity: Deep Sky Imaging with DSI Pro

Set up the 10-inch LX200GPS in the backyard in polar mode. Full moon, quite clear, except for a few clouds passing by. I did an iterative polar alignment and for the first time I figured out how to get the DSI Pro and the LX200GPS to guide between exposures.  That eliminates image drift when stacking images.  The temp went from 5'C to 3'C and the humidity went from 91% to 95% by 4:00 !!!

M1 - 157 x 25 sec = 65 minutes (Full Moon!) Core of M42 - 30 x 15 sec = 7.5 minutes

 

Dec. 24 - 25
Time: 23:00 - 1:00 EDT Telescope: 12-inch SkyMentor Dobsonian
Location: My Backyard Activity: Deep Sky Observing

Set up the 12-inch Dobsonian on the deck in the early everning, quite clear and cool (about 4'C). By chance the crescent moon was about to occult a mag 7.3 star in Aquarius (HIP 108958) so I was able to see the occultation on the dark limb. Then I noticed a much brighter star would be occulted next (Iota Aquarii, mag. 4.2) so I decided to film the occultation with a webcam. Unfortunately I did not have enough time to set up everything and I missed recording the occultation by a few minutes!

I observed 3 "new" NGC objects that count towards the completion of my Herschel 400 list:
NGC 2215, NGC 2324, NGC 2204 (all open clusters)

I did a very quick comparison between the Orion Ultrablock filter (narrowband filter) and the Lumicon O-III filter (line filter). A few years ago I wrote this simple article that explains the basics of deep sky filters: http://www.astrobuysell.com/paul/filters.htm  It was not an Orion vs. Lumicon filter test (because they are two different filters), rather it was a comparison between a narrowband filter and line filter.

Since I have two identical 26mm Meade SuperPlossl eyepieces, it was easy & quick to switch between filters. The scope was a 12-inch Dobsonian, giving a power of 58X. The target was M42, the Orion Nebula.

The Ultrablock filter gave an excellent view - lots more nebulosity visible than without a filter. The view was pleasing and not too dim.

The O-III filter gave a good view - a bit less nebulosity than the Ultrablock, but the nebulosity was better defined (ie more contrast between dark sky and nebulosity). The view was still pleasing and not
too dim (but keep in mind I was using a 12-inch scope).

For objects similar to M42 in nature, my preference is the Ultrablock (narrowband filter). Lumicon also makes a narrowband filter called UHC (Ultra High Contrast). My conclusion is nothing new or unexpected - but it was fun to carry out this short "experiment".

Sky Quality Meter reading: 18.15 (taken at 1am)
 

Year End Stats
No. of observing sessions 8
Approx. telescope time  18 hours
No. of imaging sessions 10
Approx. imaging time 46.5 hours
"New" deep sky objects found 17
No. of comets seen 1
No. of auroral displays seen 0
Total deep sky objects observed 1003


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


Final Comments A fairly good year with lots of imaging and some observing. In 2006 I never made it to a dark country sky (Starfest was clouded out) mostly because I can do imaging from my backyard in the city.  The biggest highlight of the year was surpassing 1000 deep sky objects! I am continuing to learn how to take images and how to process them - both are very time consuming tasks with steep learning curves.

 

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