Sunday, February 22, 2015

Saturday, January 3 - Sunday, January 4, 2015 - Clouded out for the Quadrantid peak

 
  By midnight as Saturday the 3rd began, the peak of the Quadrantids was less than 24 hours away (since the IMO was predicting it for 9:00 PM EST January 3, or 2:00 UT January 4). As expected, conditions in my area made observing anything impossible. There was such a thick cloud overcast that not even the bright Waxing Gibbous Moon could be seen. By 1:00 AM light rain showers moved in, and rain and drizzle continued for the next few hours. Temperatures remained just above the freezing point, so by 4:00 AM I saw no sign of freezing rain, sleet, or snow. I also noticed that the National Weather Service had removed the Winter Weather Advisory from counties just to our north, though it remained in place for the northern third of Indiana.

  By sunrise (8:06 AM) we'd climbed to 35°F, and temperatures kept climbing all day long. At the same time, bands of rain kept moving through all during the daylight hours and winds were light to moderate. At sunset (5:32 PM) we'd reached an unreal 52°F. It was a gloomy, wet, and muddy day, but at least the air felt springlike! I should also mention that the Air Pressure fell from 30.18" near the start of the day to 29.73" by 5:00 PM as the center of this low pressure system passed, then started to recover a little after dark.

  After dark on the 3rd, the back edge of this big system with the cold front started to work its way into the area. The main line of rain had moved on, but smaller bands started to enter Indianapolis by midnight. Winds also started to pick up. At midnight we were back down to 44°F with a wind chill a few degrees colder.

  The best time for me to observe the short, sharp-peaking Quadrantid Meteor Shower would have been from midnight to dawn on Sunday the 4th. The display would have been winding down by that time, but I'm sure I still could have seen several. But the weather just didn't cooperate at all. For hours after midnight we had periods of light rain and drizzle along with mist and fog, then maybe some broken clouds around 4:00 AM - 5:00 AM, but definitely overcast skies from dawn through sunrise (at 8:06 AM again). Winds became strong and gusty. By sunrise we'd dropped to 34°F but wind chills were in the low 20's°F range. The Pressure fell back to 29.73" between 3:00 AM - 5:00 AM before starting to rise again.

  After daybreak on Sunday, things didn't improve much. The sky stayed gloomy and overcast and we had some brief periods of light drizzle and light rain. Winds remained strong and gusty. By 10:00 AM we'd dropped to the freezing point, and by Noon we were down to 31°F with a wind chill of 20°F. By 1:00 PM a mix of rain, sleet, and snow pellets starting falling; the gusty winds made the ice bits "ping" against the windows. As the afternoon went on this changed to bigger flakes of snow whipped by the wind, and it fell hard enough to whiten the grass. This was the first real coating of snow I'd seen in over 2 weeks, and it was also the first measurable snow of 2015.

  Sunset on Sunday was at 5:33 PM. By dusk it was still windy with light snow falling. Roads were starting to get slick with ice patches here and there. The snow tapered off later in the evening, but it remained overcast, windy, and cold through midnight. By midnight it was 12°F with the wind out of the west at 18 mph giving us a wind chill of -5°F. (Wind gusts at midnight were still as high as 29 mph!)

  Full Moon occurred at 11:53 PM EST on Sunday the 4th (4:53 UT January 5). There may have been a few fast-moving "holes" in the overcast by midnight, but it was too cloudy to even get a decent naked-eye look at the Moon.

  And that was how this year's Quadrantid Meteor Shower went for me this year. As I've written, it would have been a difficult shower to observe anyway because of bright moonlight interference, but in the end it didn't matter since the big weather system interfered anyway! The next major annual meteor shower was over three months away; so this part of my amateur astronomy hobby was over for a while!


Catch-Up Notes - PM Sunday, December 28, 2014 - Binocular Observation of Comet Lovejoy C/2014 Q2

 
  I'd been reading about Comet Lovejoy C/2014 Q2 online since at least November 2014. This was the fifth discovery of Australian amateur Terry Lovejoy, who had found it in August in the southern constellation Puppis on wide-field images that he'd taken with an 8" telescope. At the time of discovery, the comet was at a faint 15th magnitude. However, it was expected to become a fine binocular object (and perhaps a faint naked eye object) by the end of December throughout January, and possibly beyond, as it slowly crossed into northern skies. I downloaded a couple of finder charts for it from the Sky and Telescope magazine website in early December, and thought I might be able to spot it in southern skies below Orion by Christmastime.

  My first chance to see it, with clear evening skies, and the comet placed high enough above the southern horizon, was on Sunday evening December 28th. Sunset that day took place at 5:27 PM (we'd already gained 11 minutes of daylight since the earliest sunsets that ended on December 13th). Sunrise the next day would occur at 8:05 AM (it would happen at 8:06 AM from December 31st - January 9th). The Moon was just about four hours past First Quarter at sunset, in central Pisces. (First Quarter Moon had occurred at 1:31 PM EST that afternoon.)

  During the day on Sunday, I wasn't really expecting to get a look at Comet Lovejoy or anything else. All day long we'd had a layer of thick clouds in place, left over after light rain and drizzle before dawn. We'd spent the daylight hours a few degrees below the freezing point with wind chills in the low 20's°F range. By sunset we were at 29°F and there was still no sign of clearing skies.

  By 9:00 PM (2:00 UT Dec. 29) the NWS Website was reporting broken clouds and even mostly clear skies, but every time I looked outside all I saw was the just-past-First Quarter Moon shining through a thick veil of clouds. By that time we were down to 25°F with almost no wind chill. However, when I looked outside at 10:30 PM (3:30 UT Dec. 29) I saw that the sky had cleared out a lot, with a few stray clouds that seemed to be scudding off to the south.

  By 11:00 PM (4:00 UT Dec. 29) I put on my old tennis shoes and my winter coat, and put the 16x50 binoculars around my neck. I walked out past the back yard and through the gate to the easement by Feather Run, to get a good view of the southern sky. The ground was still a little muddy but the grass in the easement, which was all bent over into piles and frost-covered, crunched under my shoes. There was still a lot of moonlight around from the Moon, which was still fairly high up in the West-Southwest.

  I was sure of the position of the comet from the charts I'd downloaded, in Lepus. I'd had some careful looks at them before going outside. I used the Moon to focus the binoculars carefully. I also got a few good looks at M-42 (the Great Orion Nebula) before lowering the binoculars to the south.

  Comet Lovejoy C/2014 Q2 was easy to find using the 16x50 binoculars! It was clearly a smudge of light; a glow maybe 10' in diameter, just a degree or so east of the 5th magnitude star HIP 25045. It was also very close to the globular cluster M-79, though I can't write for sure that I was able to spot this Messier object. After taking a lot of long looks at this comet, I went back inside the house. I printed out a chart from my Starry Nights planetarium program on the computer and drew the rough appearance and location of the comet on it. This is it below:


    Through the predawn hours it remained mostly clear outside with just a few high clouds here and there. I thought about staying up to do some meteor observing, but we were still pretty far from the peak of the Quadrantid Meteor Shower and I just wasn't prepared to sit out and freeze with little chance of reward. By 3:00 AM it was 22°F with a wind chill of 15°F. I hoped for clearer and at least slightly milder nights soon.
 

Friday, January 2, 2015

Friday, January 2, 2015 - Still Hoping to see the Quadrantid Meteor Shower


  Cloudy conditions persisted during the predawn hours of Friday January 2nd. By 4:00 AM the sheets of high clouds that I'd seen on Thursday evening through midnight had given way to big clumps of altocumulus drifting slowly by. Some breaks in those clouds let me see Arcturus and some of the brighter stars in Bootes and Ursa Major, but way too much of the sky was covered to do a decent meteor observing session. We were about 41 hours away from the predicted peak of the Quadrantids. Had it been clearer, some decent visual data might have been obtained! By 4:00 AM the temperature had fallen to 25°F and though winds from the southwest were lighter than they'd been earlier in the night, the wind chill was still 16°F. This turned out to be the low temperature for the night.

  Temperatures started to climb again even before sunrise (at 8:06 AM). By mid-morning we were above the freezing point, and we topped out at 39°F for an afternoon high. Winds were light for most of the day, but picked up a little after dark. It was a dry day, but a bright overcast stayed in place that occasionally let filtered sunlight through. Sunset happened at 5:31 PM. Temperatures stayed above the freezing point after dark, but a thick overcast had settled in. By midnight there was light fog in the air and we were still at 34°F.

  That big low-pressure system I wrote about yesterday was still moving our way from the southwest on Friday, and radar images showed rain bands drifting toward us from Arkansas, Missouri, and southern Illinois all day long, but falling apart in the drier air still over Indiana. The first showers were supposed to reach us before dawn on Saturday, and forecasts still called for some of that precipitation to fall as freezing rain until turning to all rain after sunrise. Indiana counties just north of Marion County all the way to the Michigan border were under a Winter Weather Advisory from 3:00 AM - 9:00 AM on Saturday morning, with more of an icing threat from this same system.

Catch-Up Notes - AM Friday, December 26, 2014 - Meteor Observing and Possible Early Quadrantid


  My wife and I spent Christmas Day in Fort Wayne visiting her family. Christmas itself was a mostly cloudy but fairly mild day, with some very light rain in the morning and an afternoon high (in Indianapolis) of 41 F. The clouds started to break up in Fort Wayne not long after sunset, and by the time I went outside to warm up the car and start packing up the gifts, the sky was just amazingly clear. The Waxing Crescent Moon was shining in the Southwest sky, showing some bright Earthshine on its disk. To the East, the stars of Taurus and Orion were blazing away. While I was out there, I saw a fairly bright meteor shoot through the constellation of Cetus, seeming to originate near the Hyades in Taurus. It seemed like a great way to end Christmas 2014!

  Skies remained mostly clear throughout our drive back to the Indianapolis south side. After we'd dropped some passengers off in Greenwood and we were almost home, Adrian spotted a bright meteor zipping to the north which she described as bright as Jupiter. I didn't see it at all. Then, when we finally reached home, I went outside to the back yard to "supervise" our two little dogs after they'd been inside for over 12 hours. (I try to get out there with them after dark because of concerns like stray dogs and even coyotes wandering around the neighborhood at night.) While I was out there, I spotted yet another meteor that might have come from the Taurus area. Skies were crystal clear, the Moon had set, and I was starting to wonder if maybe some unusual meteor shower activity was going on! I decided to try and do a meteor watch, even though it was getting pretty cold out there!

  I did two sessions of meteor watching total during the predawn hours of December 26. I was lying in the lawn chair on the patio, about as bundled up as a person can get. I had on two sweatshirts over a t-shirt, my thick winter coat over that, two pairs of sweat pants, two pairs of socks under my shoes, my hat and gloves and the hood of one of the sweatshirts over my head, and I also had a pair of hand warmers in both pockets of the coat. I carried some BRNO Atlas charts outside with me, and I also had my digital voice recorder on hand so I could just record the information about any meteors spotted by voice. Each session lasted a little over an hour, and by the time I was done my hands and feet were numb and painful from lying out in that cold air. The temperature was about 30 F but there was a breeze that probably put wind chills in the low 20's F range.

  The first session lasted from 1:00 AM - 2:05 AM, and it was a frustrating one. In all that time outside I was only able to spot one faint Sporadic meteor. I'd seen two earlier that night without even trying, and after purposely staring at the sky, I saw nothing at all! I was facing south, looking high in the sky near Gamma Geminorum. The limiting magnitude was 5.3; about as good as it gets from my back yard!

  This is the plot of the Sporadic seen during that first session outside:


  I had a lot better luck during the second session. This one was from 3:00 AM - 4:05 AM, and I had turned the lawn chair to look high in the northeast this time, in the direction of the "bowl" of the Big Dipper, since a lot of current minor shower radiants were located in this area of the sky. During this time I was able to spot and plot a total of four meteors. Two of them were Sporadic and one very slow one (#2) was almost without a doubt a late member of the Ursid Shower, even though this shower had peaked four nights earlier. The brightest one of the night was also the most puzzling (#4). This one seemed to have a speed and a direction that identified it as a member of the Quadrantid Shower. However, all of the sources I'd read told me that Quadrantid meteors weren't visible until December 28 at the earliest. Had I really seen one two nights before the "official" start of this shower?

  These are the plots of the last four meteors seen tonight on the BRNO Atlas pages:



  By the end of the second session, high thin cirrus clouds started to drift over the sky from the north and west, so I gave up doing any other meteor watching. (I was shivering by now anyway in that frosty air!)

  I posted the question about whether or not I'd actually seen an early Quadrantid meteor to the Yahoo Meteor Observing Board on the 26th, and generally the comments from experienced observers on that message board were negative. Most replies told me that it was probably a Sporadic that just by chance happened to be in the right area at the right apparent speed. Still, I'm not totally ready to just dismiss this one as a random meteor instead of a Quadrantid! Maybe time will tell.

  The Ursid meteor seen tonight was the first one I'd ever seen!

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Thursday, January 1, 2015 - Hoping to see the Quadrantid Meteor Shower

  A strong Arctic high pressure system had settled over Indiana during the last few days of December, but the center of this system had started to slide east and bring us wind and clouds from the Southwest by the 31st. When midnight struck and we rang in 2015, the night sky was mostly clear with a few scattered high clouds and bright moonlight from the Waxing Gibbous Moon on the Aries / Taurus border. It was also 19°F with a steady moderate breeze that gave us a wind chill of 9°F. I'd thought about getting outside during the predawn hours of New Year's Day to try and see some early Quadrantid meteors, but the frigid air already took away my enthusiasm, and as the night went on more and more of the sky became cloud covered. By 3:00 AM the Moon was veiled by clouds and surrounded by a glow. Stars dimmer than 2nd magnitude were difficult to see. The conditions prevented any meteor watch.

  Sunrise on January 1 happened at 8:06 AM. This is the time of the latest sunrises of the year (Dec. 31 - Jan. 13). Thursday the 1st wasn't a bad day at all, to start January. It was mostly sunny with a lot of thin high clouds, plus some thicker altostratus by late afternoon. The high temperature reached 34°F but we couldn't get rid of that steady, moderate wind, so the wind chills made it feel 10° - 15° colder. There was no snow cover anywhere (Indianapolis had just finished one of the most snow-less Decembers on record). The ground didn't feel like frozen concrete today, like it had on Wednesday.

  Sunset happened at 5:31 PM. (Sunsets have been coming later since Dec. 1 - Dec. 13, when they occurred at 5:20 PM.) Skies remained full of high clouds after dark. The Moon (this time a brighter Waxing Gibbous in Taurus) had a bright ring around it by the time it was highest in the sky during late evening. Unfortunately it looked like these clouds would be with us throughout the night. Satellite images showed them streaming up from weather systems that were bringing rain and some wintry weather to Texas, Arkansas, and Louisiana, and this was slowly making its way toward the Ohio Valley.

  My priority as the new year starts is observing the annual Quadrantid Meteor Shower. This has always been a tricky one to watch. It's one of the best shows of the year; right up there with (and sometimes exceeding) the Perseid Shower in August and the Geminid Shower in December. What makes it tough is that it happens during a time of the year where clear skies and comfortable conditions are hard to come by, very early in January. And though the shower lasts for about a week and a half, from December 28 - January 7, the shower has a sharp rise and fall in activity that lasts only about 12 hours around January 3-4. Very few Quadrantids can be seen before or after that half-day surge!

  In 30+ years of amateur astronomy, I've only managed to catch one decent viewing of the Quadrantids. This was before dawn on Saturday, January 3, 2009 ... 6 years ago. I was able to see 13 meteors that morning; 9 of them in just half an hour of constant watching from my back porch, including one that was at least as bright as Jupiter and had a long-lasting, glowing train! The drawing below is one that I made that night in my journal showing the rough paths of these meteors against the constellations. I also shaded out the areas of the sky that were blocked from my view that night.


 
  This year, the Quadrantid Shower is supposed to be at peak at roughly 2h Universal Time on January 4, which is about 9:00 PM EST on the evening of Saturday, January 3 my time. From my location, the radiant of the shower (extreme northern Bootes) will actually still be below the horizon, so nothing much can be seen on Saturday evening. European observers will probably have the best prospects for seeing anything. The radiant will clear the horizon here around midnight. I figure that the strongest peak of the shower should end roughly between about 4:00 AM - 5:00 AM on Sunday morning, January 4. The morning of the 4th should be the "prime time" to try and observe it, in other words, with just some stray meteors possible on the mornings just before and after that date.

  However, there's another issue with observing the Quadrantids this year. There's going to be a bright sky because of the Moon. Full Moon actually happens 4:54 UT January 5; 11:54 PM Sunday, January 4 EST. On the morning of Sunday the 4th the Moon is going to be very high in the Southwest sky in Northern Orion, and it will be washing out the sky so that only meteors of maybe 2nd - 3rd magnitude will be bright enough to see. That's going to spoil a lot of observing, though the Quadrantids are known to produce some bright ones and even fireballs, so it might still be worth a look.

  Finally, at least locally, there are a lot of weather concerns this year. The forecast in Indianapolis calls for that system that's now far to our Southwest to move through Indiana on Saturday. It's supposed to bring temperatures warm enough to make it a "cold rain" event here for most of the day instead of a snow event (though there are warnings that there might be freezing rain briefly early on Saturday before the precipitation turns to all rain). After the rain bands pass, a cold front is supposed to bring snow showers to us by Sunday. It isn't looking likely, at this point, that I'll have any clear skies on the best night for this shower.

  I'll see what happens and post the news on this blog. I'm planning to use this website more this year than any other to keep track of what I observe (or don't observe!) since, unlike the notes I've kept in the past, it's much easier to keep track of those observations if I keep posting them here. Plus, being stored in "the cloud" makes them much easier not to lose!

Monday, October 20, 2014

AM Wednesday, October 8, 2014 - Total Lunar Eclipse




 When I drove home from work between about 1:55 AM - 2:50 AM the sky was clear and moonlit, but there were major issues with low fog banks. The fog was thick in places along the roads through Adams and along Michigan Road between Adams and the Love's Truck Stop, and it was also surprisingly thick on the Interstate itself from there to Shelbyville and between Shelbyville and Fairland Road. I ended up following behind a semi-truck through a lot of stretches, concentrating on its tail lights. There was also low fog in Southeast Indianapolis all the way to my neighborhood. It was an eerie sight in the bright moonlight!

  I walked out to the patio at 3:40 AM. The Moon could be seen clearly, gleaming above the foliage of the Red Maple Tree. The patio pavement wasn't too wet but everything dripped with dew. It was very tough, even high in the eastern sky, to see 3rd magnitude stars. It was chilly, but I thought that it might still be possible to see the Eclipse through the telescope from our patio. It looked like it would stay clear of the Maple foliage from there, and probably set behind the bare Scotch Pine trees.

  4:00 AM Conditions - 46°F, Dew Point = 44°F, Humidity = 93%, Wind = Southwest at 7 mph, Wind Chill = 42°F, Pressure = 29.92". Interestingly, in spite of the high humidity, it looked like enough of a breeze had kicked in to clear away some of the fog that I'd seen in the air an hour before.

  The Moon entered the Penumbra at 4:14 AM local time. Of course, no change was visible at that time.

  I set the telescope up outside by about 4:45 AM. It was plugged in and the dew cap was on. By that time, even with the naked eye, the Moon had taken on a duller appearance than before, and there was a barely noticeable gray shading on the Southwest edge of it from the limb to Mare Humorum. It was still half an hour until first contact with the Umbra.

  5:00 AM Conditions - 47°F, Dew Point 44°F, Humidity = 90%, Wind = Southwest at 8 mph, Wind Chill = 43°F, Pressure = 29.94".

  I was outside to start observing at 5:05 AM. I had my digital voice recorder with me, the Nikon digital camera, and I used my cell phone as a way to keep time, since I'd broken my old watch the week before. I was wearing a hooded sweatshirt and another jacket on top of that. I could see my breath in that chilly, humid air. Dew was on everything. I had a folded towel on top of the little glass-topped table that I usually set by the scope, since that table top was so wet that I didn't want to set the control paddle on it. Crickets were very quiet with only a chirp heard every now and then. Low aircraft flew over often (probably departing FedEx planes from the airport) and the him off traffic on I-65 picked up in volume as the morning went on.

  When I started, the Moon, from my point of view near the kitchen door, was barely clearing the foliage of the Maple. There was a very noticeable shading now on the Southwest limb. I also noticed that the Moon had taken on a slightly white - yellow tint. This might have also been due to the light fog I was viewing it through.

  It looked to me like Algol in Perseus was dimmer than usual, and might be going through an eclipse of its own. (A check of the AAVSO website showed that Beta Persei was at mid-eclipse at 7:45 UT - 3:45 AM that morning.)

  Just about 30 seconds before the Partial Phase of the eclipse started, the shading on the Southwest Limb darkened to the point where it was at least as dark as Mare Humorum. Then, right on time at 5:15 AM, the limb itself started to disappear from sight as the Umbra started to take a "wide bite" out of the Moon, west of Mare Humorum. Mare Humorum itself was starting to get covered up by 5:20 AM, and the dark basin Grimaldi had disappeared by that time. I noted that though the shadow was, of course, very dark looking, it wasn't so dark that I couldn't see the limb that was covered. It was still faintly visible.

  By 5:26 AM I'd tried taking my first photos with the digital camera. I'd taken 5 under 78x power but then changed eyepieces to take 5 shots using 39x power. By this time, Mare Humorum was totally covered up and a pretty good "chunk" of the Moon was missing. Interestingly, through the telescope, the leading edge of the Umbra looked darker. The limb looked lighter in color by comparison away from that leading edge.

  Another interesting observation I made then was that it looked like the eastern edge of Mare Nubium was darker than it normally looked, though the Umbra edge was still not covering it. It might have been an optical illusion, though the photos I took seem to show this as well. Maybe this was because it was deep in the Penumbra?

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  By 5:29 AM I noted that the edge of the crater Tycho had just been touched by the Umbra, and the shadow had also almost reached the crater Kepler.

  At 5:34 AM I used 102x power to view the crater Aristarchus area. It looked like the Umbra reached the western edge of Aristarchus at 5:36 AM. This crater had a very interesting appearance as the shadow approached. Instead of looking like a bright "splash" at the center of swirling rays, it looked more like a blotchy white oval, with a dark edge surrounding it. I wondered if the deep Penumbra had cut down the glare from the surrounding rays and just let the shape of the crater stand out more. Aristarchus looked entirely covered up by 5:38 AM. This crater never vanished from view; a faint oval could be seen under high power even after the edge of the Umbra had passed to its east.

  I switched back to 39x power and by 5:42 AM I'd taken 11 more photos of the Moon. It still didn't look quite halfway covered up.

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  After taking a short break, I went back outside and by 5:59 AM I'd taken 8 more photos under 39x power. The Moon was getting very difficult to photograph by now with my Nikon camera, since well over half of it was covered by shadow and the built-in light meter wasn't compensating very well to give a clear image of it. The covered part of the Moon, with the naked eye, looked deep red in color. It appeared reddish also in the telescope, especially the Oceanus Procellarum, Mare Humorum, and Mare Nubium areas. The edge of the Umbra by this time was covering Mare Nectarus, and lay along the western edges of Mare Fecunditatis, Mare Tranquillitatis, and Mare Serenitatis.

  6:00 AM Conditions - 44°F, Dew Point 43°F, Humidity = 96%, Wind = West at 8 mph, Wind Chill = 39°F, Pressure = 39.96".

  At 6:03 AM I saw that the sky was now dark enough for it to look much more starry than it had before. When I'd come home and first looked at the sky, I'd had a tough time seeing anything but 2nd magnitude stars or brighter. 3rd magnitude stars were very difficult to make out. Light fog along with the bright moonlight had also been a factor. Now with more of a breeze and much less moonlight, I estimated my naked eye limit to be at least 4.5 magnitude. The Winter Constellations were really blazing away to the south and east! The Pleiades were nearly overhead. The Moon itself looked like a strange crescent with a deep red dark side to the naked eye, and from the patio it was starting to get low over the Scotch Pine trees. It still hadn't sunk behind them. It was a really awesome sight.

  By that time, in the other direction over the roof of our house, the whole "bowl" of the Big Dipper could be seen, and I could see the dimmer parts of Ursa Major that looked like legs and claws to me. This reminded me that I should start observing SW Ursae Majoris again regularly before dawn, to try to catch one of its rare outbursts! Further south, the "head" of Hydra was also easy to see over the roof, and Jupiter sparkled brightly in the faint stars of Cancer between the Sickle of Leo and Gemini.

  At 6:13 AM, through the telescope, I saw that Mare Crisium was now getting covered by the edge of the Umbra. Though most of the Moon was now deep in the Umbra and had taken on a dark coppery reddish color, with a brighter red color in the southern highlands and in the Oceanus Procellarum area, through the eyepiece I had no trouble seeing the outlines of the maria and also no trouble seeing the brighter craters. Copernicus, Tycho, Aristarchus, Censorinus and many others were all easy to see. The edge of the Umbra by now had taken on the appearance of looking like a fairly thin, purplish-gray line with a lighter gray right behind it! It was a spectacular sight!

  There were also stars visible in low power around the Moon which would have normally been drowned out by moonlight, including a very noticeable one just off the limb near Mare Crisium. A check of my Starry Nights planetarium program showed me that this star was 5th magnitude 96 Piscium. Unfortunately, it was only after I'd finished observing that I remembered that the planet Uranus was also very close to the eclipsed Moon, and would have been easily visible in my low power eyepiece to the Southeast! I'll be kicking myself over that for some time to come. 

  As I watched through the eyepiece, between 6:24 AM - 6:25 AM, the last sliver of bright limb was swallowed up by Umbra and the Total Phase of the eclipse began. During the first minutes of totality I described the area between the northern and northeast limb and Mare Crisium, Mare Serenitatis, and Mare Imbrium as a very bright, light coppery color. The area that included Mare Fecunditatis, Mare Tranquillitatis, Made Serenitatis, and over through much of Mare Imbrium were a dull copper red color, and the southern highlands by the crater Tycho, the area of Mare Nubium and Mare Humorum, and Oceanus Procellarum were a bright coppery red color; much redder looking than the rest of the Moon's surface. Interestingly, the western limb past the edge of Oceanus Procellarum, looked almost silvery through the telescope to me, though this might have just been my impression since it's a lighter part of the Moon anyway. I haven't seen evidence of this on any photos I've seen of the Moon during totality. I still had no trouble making out the edges of the maria or the bright craters during this part of the eclipse.

  Soon after Totality began, the Moon was so low from where I had the telescope set up on the patio that it was starting to shine from behind the bare Scotch Pine branches, so I had to end my observing and start packing up the equipment.

  That was about all for observing tonight. I would have stayed up to watch the total phase end, but from where I was observing the Moon would have been out of sight through distant trees in a brightening sky. 

  Before ending this entry, I would like to show a series of photos taken by Mr. Jason Edward Van Osdol in Columbus, Indiana. Used by permission. Jason used a Celestron C8 Optical Tube mounted on a CGEM with a Celestron Field Reducer, and a Canon 60D using Live View to focus. I asked to use this after seeing his post in the Indiana Astronomical Society Facebook Page, since he was able to capture the eclipse in detail, and I thought that it looked very close to what I could actually see through the eyepiece visually. Also, he was able to image the later parts of the Partial Phase and the start of Totality, which my primitive setup couldn't quite handle! 

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  All in all, this was an awesome eclipse to watch, even if I only had a clear view of the first half or so! It had been years since I'd had a view this good of a Total Lunar Eclipse. Two more will be visible in 2015 during the morning of April 4 and the evening of September 27, though the April event will occur even closer to dawn for Indiana and probably not be as showy as this one was. The September event should be easily visible from start to finish. 

Sunday, October 5, 2014

PM Sunday, September 28, 2014 - Observing Notes

  Sunday was a mostly sunny day but we had variable high and low cloud cover throughout the day. Sometimes the sunlight was filtered, but it was rarely gone long due to passing clouds. Winds were light. We had a low temperature in the upper 50's°F at sunrise and reached the low 80's°F during the afternoon. Dew Points were in the low to mid 50's°F all day, so once again the air was dry and comfortable. Cicadas were still buzzing away all day long; they probably won't be around much longer.

  At sunset and dusk on Sunday there were just a few scattered clouds around, and I saw the Waxing Crescent Moon low in the Southwest once again. It was about 4.8 days since New Moon this evening.

  Even though there were scattered high clouds around, I wanted to get at least one look at SY Andromedae tonight. Since I made two estimates in the hours near mid-eclipse last night, I wanted to see it a few hours prior to it returning to "normal" brightness tonight (the eclipse should end around 3:00 AM tonight).

  I had the telescope outside with the dew cap on, all plugged in, and pointed near M-31 in Andromeda by 9:30 PM. I was outside looking through the eyepiece at it not long after this and star-hopped over to the area of the variable.

  One problem I had was that more bands of cirrus and some puffy mackerel type rows of cirrocumulus clouds were moving in. I kept checking to make sure this area of Andromedae stayed fairly clear of them. I believe my naked eye limiting magnitude was only about 4.5 away from the clouds, and the telescope limit was probably 13.0 or even less. Crickets and other singing insects were filling the air with sound. The Temperature was about 71°F, the Dew Point was 54°F, the Humidity was about 55%, Winds were Calm or nearly Calm, and the Pressure was 30.05".

  9:47 PM (1:47 UT Sept. 29) - I estimated SY Andromedae as 10.9 magnitude. This wasn't a really easy estimate to make; the cirrus "murked up" the sky a little and made faint stars tough to see. I used 102x power. I could see right away that SY And was obviously brighter than the nearby 11.9 star (the approximate magnitude of the star at RA 00:13:17 Dec +43:43:58 that I used last night). It took a long time to compare it to the 11.1 star (the approximate brightness of TYC 2794-1345-1), but after a lot of long looks, I decided SY And was slightly but definitely brighter than this star. It was much fainter than the 10.3 star (the approximate brightness of TYC 2794-2356-1). The ratio seemed to be about 10.3 - 3/4 - SY And - 1/4 - 11.1. I'm certain that the accuracy of this estimate lies at +/- 0.01 mag. I used Chart 11953BPA. I'm certain I saw it just below it's usual magnitude out of eclipse.

  This was the only estimate I made tonight. I thought about leaving the telescope outside and looking again in a few hours, but by now the sky was full of those mackerel cirrocumulus clouds and larger thin altocumulus clouds. There's still a weak disturbance moving through Indiana generating those clouds and a lot of stronger systems closer to the Gulf Coast that are sending clouds through the area as high pressure parked now pretty far to our east keeps bringing mild air from the south into the Ohio Valley. As it turns out, I had the telescope in for the night at 10:00 PM Sunday evening.

  I should point out that this was the 4th time out with the telescope since last Tuesday morning the 23rd. I've now made 14 estimates for the Fiscal Year, which ends this Tuesday morning. 13 of those estimates were made in the last 6 nights. At least I'm in the double-digits and, as bad as those numbers are, I'm finally making progress in observing neglected eclipsing variable stars! I think I'll have much more success with variable star observing in the next year, not to mention other amateur astronomy.