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.

PM Saturday, September 27 - AM Sunday, September 28, 2014 - Observing Notes

  Saturday the 27th was partly to mostly cloudy during the morning with mostly high clouds but some low clouds. The afternoon, however, cleared up quite nicely and high clouds were scarce. Winds were mostly light with some moderate afternoon winds, and we went from the mid-50's°F near sunrise to a little above 80°F during the afternoon. The Dew Point ranged from the low to mid 50's°F so except for the early morning the air stayed pretty dry. It was mostly clear at sunset with a few clouds hugging the West and North horizon.

  At deep dusk I walked outside to the patio and had a glimpse of the Waxing Crescent Moon partly obscured by tree foliage low in the Southwest. A bright object was less than 3 degrees away to the east of the Moon, and I later learned that this object was Saturn. Mars also would have been visible about 22 degrees away to the east and south, just 3 degrees above Antares, but these last two objects were lost in thicker tree foliage from my vantage point on the patio. The Moon was about 3.8 days past New Moon when I saw it, in Western Libra.

  I'd debated whether or not to get the telescope outside to do some observing, mainly because satellite images showed lots of clouds scooting away to the North and Northwest parts of the state but more moving toward us from Southern Indiana. It didn't look as if the clear sky would stay with us for long. The high pressure that's been with us all last week is still parked over the Eastern Great Lakes, but weak systems out in the Great Plains and along the Gulf Coast keep trying to stream clouds into the Western Great Lakes and the Ohio Valley.

  However, around 8:45 PM I thought I remembered something I'd looked up last week, and searched SY Andromedae online using VSX. I was right; mid-eclipse was predicted for 6:07 UT September 28, or 2:07 AM Sunday morning our time.

  I'd observed this star out of eclipse a couple of times last summer, but before this there were no estimates in the AAVSO database since 1998! Just to help commit this to my own memory, SY Andromedae is an eclipsing binary (EA type) with a range listed as 10.7 - 12.2 magnitude and a long period of 34.90847 days (34 days 21 hours 49.8 minutes) and the eclipse duration is listed as 6%, so each eclipse lasts about 2.09451 days (2 days 2 hours 16.1 minutes). It should take roughly 25 hours from the start to the middle of each eclipse and the star, if the brightness drop was linear, should drop about 0.1 magnitude every two hours (very roughly!).

  Session #1 - 9:15 PM - 9:50 PM (1:15 - 1:50 UT Sept. 28)

  Knowing that I could catch SY Andromedae getting toward eclipse, if the predictions were right, I started setting up the telescope. I had it plugged in with the dew cap on and pointed near M-31 (the Andromeda Galaxy) by 9:00 PM. It was clear outside with maybe a very light haze in the air. The wind was calm and crickets and other singing insects were chirping and buzzing away like crazy. There was music coming from a loud party somewhere to the south in the neighborhood; typical Saturday Evening noises really! It wasn't really dewy at all. I figured out later that my naked eye limiting magnitude was about 4.8 and the telescope limiting magnitude was maybe 13.0 or slightly dimmer (I really need to clean the optics!). It was mild enough to wear a T-shirt and I didn't have any mosquito problems while I was out there. The Temperature was about 70°F, the Dew Point was about 52°F, the Humidity was about 53%, the Wind was from the Northeast at 5 mph and the Pressure was 30.14".

  By 9:22 PM I had the Andromeda Galaxy M-31 in the telescope under 39x power with it's central glow plainly visible. The satellite galaxy M-32 stood out easily, but I can't say with any confidence that I could see the other satellite galaxy M-110 at all! I guess I'll chalk that up to some murk in the sky and maybe light pollution. This area was also still fairly low in the East-Northeast. I star-hopped from this to the area of my variable about five degrees away, and found it by 9:28 PM.

  9:35 PM (1:35 UT Sept. 28) - I estimated SY Andromedae as 12.1 magnitude. This was a difficult estimate and I had to use 203x power to make out the variable and comparison stars, but I'm very confident with the estimate. I used a star at RA 00:13:17 Dec +43:43:58 (approximately 11.9 mag.) and another at RA 00:13:11 Dec +43:41:12 (approximately 12.6 mag.) for the comparison stars. The coordinates are 2000.0 and the brightness of these stars came from the website last year, which uses the USNO catalog as far as I know for faint stars and the Tycho and HIP catalog for brighter stars. I used Chart 11953BPA. The 12.6 star was very tough to see and I only glimpsed it from time to time. The 11.9 star and SY And were fairly easy to make out. The ratio seemed to be 11.9 - 1/3 - SY And - 2/3 - 12.6 to me and I'm sure this is accurate to at least +/- 0.01 magnitude. SY And was slightly but definitely dimmer than the 11.9 star, which usually implies a 0.02 magnitude difference from past experience. This star was definitely in eclipse!

  This is my "makeshift" AAVSO Chart for SY Andromedae used when making this estimate:

  9:46 PM (1:46 UT Sept. 28) I estimated VX Andromedae as 8.2 magnitude. This was a far easier estimate to make and I used 39x low power. I used the 7.6 and 8.5 comparison stars on Chart 11953BPI (this chart hadn't been revised since I printed out in the summer of 2013). The ratio seemed to be about 7.6 - 2/3 - VX And - 1/3 - 8.5. I had to be careful not to stare at this star for too long since it's much redder than most of the surrounding stars. It's an SRA with a period of 375 days, and I mainly estimated it because I estimated it last summer and it's close to SY And and easy to find. I am confident with this estimate.

  After this estimate I put the eyepieces and the telescope OTA inside and left the mount and tripod and cords outside, unplugged. I did this because I wanted to check sky conditions later to see if it stayed clear enough for more observing, but I didn't want the optics to get dew covered.

  Session #2 - 12:20 AM - 12:35 AM (4:20 - 4:35 UT Sept. 28)

  I went outside just after midnight to see that there were a few visible high cloud bands around, and satellite images online showed a lot of thicker clouds streaming quickly toward Indianapolis from the Southwest. I decided I'd better hurry and get the OTA back onto the mount and make another estimate for SY Andromedae. I had it all back together and got my charts and voice recorder back outside by 12:20 AM. By this time the thicker high cloud bands were moving in and I was racing with them to make the estimate!

  By 12:25 AM I had the Andromeda Galaxy M-31 back in the 39x field of view. M-32 still stood out easily, and, in spite of the increasing "murk" and high clouds, I was able to see M-110 as a slightly brighter glow against the background. Maybe the higher position in the sky had something to do with this?

  12:33 AM (4:33 UT Sept. 28) - I estimated SY Andromedae as 12.2 magnitude. I once again used the 11.9 and 12.6 magnitude comparison stars on Chart 11953BPA (see the earlier estimate in this entry for the start coordinates and the source of the magnitudes). I had several good looks at this star under 203x power and I kept checking the sky to make sure the big bands of cirrus clouds were still keeping clear of this part of the sky (they surrounded it bit didn't encroach on it). I also did my best to stay unbiased, but it seemed clear that SY And was between these two stars in brightness and just slightly closer to the 11.9 star. There did seem to be a bigger difference now between SY And and the 11.9 star than there was three hours before.

  The sky was about half-covered with thin cirrus clouds when I made this estimate. In the clear areas I thought my limiting naked eye magnitude was still about 4.8 and my telescope limit was still about 13.0 - 13.1. It felt a little cooler than it had felt earlier in the evening but I was still comfortable in a T-shirt. Of course I wasn't out very long! The Temperature was about 64°F with the Dew Point at 51°F and the Humidity was 63%. The Wind was still from the Northeast at 5 mph and the Pressure was 30.14". I didn't feel a breeze at all. Crickets and other singing insects were still fairly loud. The neighborhood party I'd heard earlier in the evening seemed to be over, but there was still some local car traffic and some distant traffic. There were some neighborhood dogs barking.

  I had the telescope inside by 12:45 AM and called it a night. If it's clear this evening (Sunday evening EDT) it might be valuable to make one or two more estimates of SY Andromedae, since the eclipse probably won't be totally over until about 3:00 AM Monday morning EDT. Though tonight's session was cut off a little by clouds, I was glad to see one of my "personal program stars" fading into eclipse, and I was glad that this was the third time in less than a week that I'd been out looking at variable stars through the telescope, after not doing any variable star work with it since last September!

AM Friday, September 26, 2014 - Observing Notes

When I drove home from Greensburg from about 1:30 AM - 2:15 AM the sky was clear. I didn't drive through any low fog banks anywhere. It was chilly but there wasn't any dew to speak of on the car. I came home and heated up dinner, and then started to take the telescope outside to the patio after 3:00 AM. It was plugged in with the dew cap on and I'd pointed it at the Lambda Orionis area before 3:30 AM.

  I wore a hooded sweatshirt tonight. This was comfortable enough, but the dewy and chilly conditions started to get to me by the end of my second session outside.

  This was the second time I'd had the telescope outside this week, and for the first time ever I had my voice recorder outside in place of a notebook. I used it to record variable star magnitudes as I made them, intending to type them into the Evernote App on my tablet. I think this might be a good, faster method of keeping my observing notes up to date from this point on. I'll see how it works.

  It was a clear night with fairly still air. There may have been a light high fog, but my limiting naked eye magnitude was around 5.1 and the limiting telescope magnitude was about 13.1 or 13.2, so it was almost ideal from our back yard.

  I DID see one small cloud band low to the west when I started observing just after 3:30 AM, but it never moved close to the southeastern sky where I was observing and I didn't see it or any other clouds after 4:00 AM. By the end of observing there was a pretty good amount of dew on the dew cap and telescope tube but the eyepieces remained dew-free.

  At 4:00 AM the Temperature was 59°F, the Dew Point was 51°F, the Humidity was 75%, the Wind was North at 5 mph, and the Pressure was 30.21". By 5:00 AM the Temperature was 58°F, the Dew Point was 50°F, the Humidity was 75%, the Wind was from the Northeast at 5 mph, and the Pressure was still 30.21". I didn't feel any wind tonight; it just felt chilly and dewy.

  Crickets were chirping away the whole time I was out there. They weren't as lively as they'd been during really warm and muggy nights just a few weeks ago, but their sound filled the air. I also heard the usual low rumble of traffic on I-65 and some neighborhood dogs barked. After 4:30 AM a lot of low jet aircraft started flying overhead. Otherwise it was a quiet night. I had no mosquito problem at all.

  The chart below was obtained from the website. I drew in the rough positions of the variables seen tonight on that chart (unfortunately, FM Orionis was a little off the top of it!). It also shows the brighter stars in Orion and the nebulae M-78, M-42, and M-43. 

  Session #1 - 3:32 AM - 4:30 AM (7:32 - 8:30 UT Sept. 26)

  3:46 AM (7:46 UT) - I estimated FM Orionis at 11.2 magnitude. I used ASAS 050844+1022.3 (approximately 10.5 magnitude) and ASAS 050907+1037.6 (approximately 11.5 magnitude) as the comparison stars. I used Chart 13621ESD. The ratio was about 10.5 - 2/3 - FM Ori - 1/3 - 11.5. 78x power used. I was confident with the accuracy of this estimate. I star-hopped to this variable star from Lambda Orionis and it was fairly easy using a finder chart I'd printed from my Starry Nights Backyard planetarium program. This star is just five or six degrees west of Lambda. After making this estimate I carefully checked the field to make sure the magnitudes of the other stars seemed accurate, since I'd gotten them from the ASAS website just the previous night. I also used 102x power to do this. They seemed just fine. I also noted that the variable and all of the comparison stars fit into the 102x field of view (which is roughly 20 arc minutes), for future observing. This was my first ever look at this long-period eclipsing binary (type EA) and there are no estimates at all for it in the AAVSO database. The Lichtenknecker database has 20 visual estimates for it but no CCD estimates. The range is listed as 11.3 - 12.9 P magnitude and the period is a little over 22 days long. The next predicted eclipse will be centered around 16:45 UT September 28, or 12:45 PM this Sunday for me. The eclipse duration is about 37 hours, so if this prediction is right the eclipse would start around 7:00 PM on Saturday the 27th and end around 7:00 AM on Monday the 29th. The next predicted eclipse would happen October 20. This looks like an interesting star to keep following.

  I pointed the telescope at the Orion's Belt stars next and used a finder chart I'd printed last autumn to star-hop to the area of M-78. I had a look at this nebula several times while I estimated the next three stars, it was a nice, fairly-bright glowing patch through the eyepiece with two dim stars shining within it. Then I made these estimates.

  4:11 AM (8:11 UT) - I estimated GT Orionis as <12.5 magnitude. This was a true challenge! I tried like mad to make a positive estimate for this star, but I just couldn't do it. I barely saw anything where it was supposed to be even with 102x power, and after struggling to see the area under 203x power I thought I could glimpse it now and then along with the 12.8 comparison star, and thought maybe it was slightly brighter at 12.7 magnitude. This was the estimate I was originally going to give, but I had to be honest with myself and admit that I wasn't sure if I was looking at the right star (whether it was GT Ori or the 12.8 comparison star since I only rarely thought I was seeing them both). Since the faintest star I could consistently see was the one marked as 12.5, I had to settle for the "fainter than" estimate. I used Chart 13622LTK. This UXOR star must be having a deep fade!

  4:22 AM (8:22 UT) - I estimated V351 Orionis as 8.6 magnitude. I used the 8.2 and 9.2 comparison stars on Chart 13622LSM. There's an 8.5 comparison star on this chart that I could have used, but since this one has a close companion star I didn't want to use it. This was a much much easier estimate to make than the previous one! V351 Ori seemed to be about halfway between these stars in brightness but slightly closer to the 8.2 star. 78x power used. This UXOR star is near the bright end of its magnitude range.

  4:27 AM (8:27 UT) - I estimated V1380 Orionis at 9.9 magnitude. After a lot of scrutiny using both 78x and 102x power, I found it equal to ASAS 054657+0020.2 (approximately 9.9 magnitude). There were times when it looked slightly brighter or dimmer than it, but I settled for equal. It was definitely brighter than ASAS 054635+0036.9 (approximately 10.2 magnitude) and definitely dimmer than ASAS 054844+0023.9 (approximately 9.6 magnitude). I used Chart 12635AOB and I looked up the comparison magnitudes on the ASAS website last autumn. This eclipsing binary has a range listed as 9.6 - 10.0 V magnitude and a period of a little under 2.5 days. There are only 2 estimates for it in the AAVSO database from 2 different observers, one in 2008 at 9.9 mag. and one in 2002 at 9.7 mag. I made a few estimates of it last autumn, but as of tonight I still hadn't entered them into the AAVSO database. I plan to do that soon. The Lichtenknecker database doesn't have this star on its list at all. The next eclipse was predicted to happen at 7:30 UT Sept. 27, or 3:30 AM tomorrow (Saturday) morning. If it's clear I should definitely get a look at it. The eclipse duration is either unknown or not listed on the VSX site.

  Session #2 - 4:40 AM - 5:10 AM (8:40 - 9:10 UT Sept. 26)

  After a short break, where I went inside to get more charts, I went back to the telescope. Right when I started recording again, trying to make sure it was just as clear as it had been before (it was), I spotted a really bright meteor that streaked from just east of Capella and "the Kids" stars to north of Auriga. This happened around 4:41 AM (8:41 UT Sept. 26). It was brighter than Capella so I figured it was -1 magnitude, had a swift speed (around 4), and had a train that lasted for at least one second, and was yellowish in color. It wasn't a long-lasting meteor. From its speed and location, I was fairly sure it was a member of the Orionid Shower.

  The telescope had been left set on the Orion Nebula M-42. I only had a brief look at this under 39x power, but it was beautiful as usual. Then I panned over to Iota Orionis and a little further south to make the next two estimates.

  4:48 AM (8:48 UT) - I estimated V380 Orionis as 10.2 magnitude. I used the 9.8 NW and 10.5 NW comparison stars on Chart 13622LOK (D scale). 78x power was used. V380 Ori seemed to be right in between these two stars in brightness but slightly closer to the 10.5 star. I'm sure this estimate is accurate to +/- 0.01 magnitude. As always, the star looked "fuzzy" compared to the stars around it, since V380 Ori sits in the middle of the nebula NGC 1999.

  4:52 AM (8:52 UT) - I estimated BF Orionis as 10.3 magnitude. I used the 9.9 and 10.5 E comparison stars on Chart 13622LOR (D scale). 78x power was used again. The ratio seemed to be about 9.9 - 2/3 - BF Ori - 1/3 - 10.5 to me. Once again I'm certain that this estimate was accurate to +/- 0.01 magnitude.

  I then star-hopped from Beta Eridani to make the next two estimates.

  4:58 AM (8:58 UT) - I estimated UX Orionis as 9.7 magnitude. I used the 9.5 and 10.2 comparison stars on Chart 12584ZJ (D scale). 78x power was used. It was slightly but definitely dimmer than the 9.5 star but much brighter than the 10.2. I'm sure this is accurate to +/- 0.01 magnitude again.

  5:06 AM (9:06 UT) - I estimated FL Orionis as 10.9 magnitude. I used ASAS 050735-0244.0 (approximately 10.3 magnitude) and the 11.1 comparison stars on Chart 12585AUO (E scale). 102x power was used. This wasn't a really easy estimate to make since the 10.3 star sits between the variable and the 11.1 star, and it was very distracting! However, after a lot of looks and trying to stare below all three stars, I decided that FL Ori was slightly but definitely brighter than the 11.1 star and much dimmer than the 10.3 star. FL Orionis wasn't predicted to be in eclipse tonight, but I wanted to get a better idea of what its "normal" magnitude is visually. I'll probably estimate it every night whether it's in eclipse or not (more often during actual eclipses of course) since I don't think enough observers do this for eclipsing binary stars. Plus, it's also listed as a Delta Scuti type!

  Although I was going to look at SAO 58521 again in M-37, like I did 3 nights ago, these 8 variable star estimates had taken longer than I thought (especially GT Orionis!) and I was getting very fatigued, so I decided to call it off and save this for another night. As I was packing up the telescope the Winter Stars were all over the eastern half of the sky and the Pleiades were nearly overhead. SiriusProcyonand the stars of Gemini were all well over the roof of our house and the neighbors' house to the south and Orion was sparkling well over the trees. I could also see the gleam of Jupiter hidden in the foliage of the tree across the street over our roof.

  One Final Note - I went outside at 6:15 AM and I'm pretty sure there was a hint of dawn in the sky. I spotted Regulus just peeking over the roof of our house from the edge of the patio to the right of that tree across the street, and the top of the Sickle of Leo above that tree. This was my first Regulus / Leo sighting of the season. Jupiter by this time was gleaming pretty high over the roof between Gemini and Leo. 

Saturday, October 4, 2014

AM Tuesday September 23, 2014 - Observing Notes Part 2

  I had very clear skies overhead when I pulled into the driveway around 3:00 in the morning after getting home from work, and by 4:00 AM I had the 10" f/4 telescope set up out on the patio with the dew cap on, plugged in, and ready to go. This was the first time I'd had it out in months, and the first time I'd used it for variable star observing in a year.

  Skies remained crystal clear throughout the session, and there was no moonlight interference since New Moon was only a day away. I figured my naked eye limit was about 5.1 magnitude while the telescope limit was maybe 13.1 magnitude or better. The temperature while I observed was 50°F; chilly enough that I had a sweatshirt on. The dew point was 44°F and the humidity was 80%. The wind was light and from the north at 3 mph and the pressure was high at 30.29".

  There was a lot of dew on the cap and the metal telescope tube by the time I was done. A few chilly-sounding crickets were chirping, and the only other noises were the usual rumble of traffic on I-65 a mile away (which picked up in intensity as morning rush hour kicked in), and a few neighborhood dogs barking. After 4:30 AM the usual steady procession of low-flying jet aircraft started roaring low over the neighborhood from west to east. These were mainly FedEx planes outbound from the Indianapolis International Airport.

  I was outside between 4:10 AM - 5:40 AM (8:10 - 9:40 UT September 23). My main goal was to take some long first looks at SAO 58521 (see the first part of tonight's entry) so I started with the telescope pointed at Beta Tauri and star-hopped to the cluster M-37 in Auriga from it. This was my first look at this cluster in my 10" scope ever (I'm not much of a deep sky observer!) and I'd have to call the view stunning! Under 78x power the cluster filled my whole field of view. It looked like lots of brighter stars against a background of glittering diamond dust! Interestingly, the star cluster sometimes seemed to be "rippling" faintly, and I think this was due to poor Seeing conditions (lots of turbulence in the atmosphere).

  It was fairly easy to pick out the star SAO 58521, since it was the brightest star near the center of the cluster and had a reddish tint. I also found the comparison stars labeled as 9.9 and 10.2 on the chart. Since this was my first observing session with this star I decided to just try to get impressions instead of trying to make actual magnitude estimates. I first used 102x power and concentrated on the brightness of SAO 58521 compared to these two chart stars. I tried to stay as unbiased as possible; treating each look through the eyepiece as a new estimate. Here were the notes I made when looking at it under 102x:

  4:39 AM (8:39 UT) - SAO 58521 slightly brighter than 9.9.
  4:41 AM (8:41 UT) - SAO 58521 slightly brighter than 9.9.
  4:44 AM (8:44 UT) - SAO 58521 between 9.9 and 10.2?

  I decided to change eyepieces after this and take a look at SAO 58521 along with the 9.9 and 10.2 stars using 203x power. This cut the field of view down to just ten arc minutes or so and made the small brightness differences in the stars easier to see. I also tried the old trick of bringing the field slightly out of focus so that the stars looked like small circles of light instead of points. This always helped to exaggerate brightness differences and make variables easier to estimate. Since SAO 58521 is a red giant star and at least one of the comparison stars looked whiter in color, I tried to not look directly at any of the starts to avoid the Purkinje Effect. Here were the notes I made while gazing at it off and on using 203x power, again trying my best to remain unbiased from one look to another:

  4:47 AM (8:47 UT) - SAO 58521 definitely brighter than 9.9.
  4:48 AM (8:48 UT) - SAO 58521 definitely brighter than 9.9.
  4:50 AM (8:50 UT) - SAO 58521 definitely brighter than 9.9.
  4:52 AM (8:52 UT) - SAO 58521 same as 9.9? Not definitely brighter this time.
  4:55 AM (8:55 UT) - SAO 58521 definitely brighter than 9.9.
  4:57 AM (8:57 UT) - SAO 58521 definitely brighter than 9.9.
  4:59 AM (8:59 UT) - SAO 58521 much brighter than 9.9.
  5:02 AM (9:02 UT) - SAO 58521 much brighter than 9.9.
  5:04 AM (9:04 UT) - SAO 58521 much brighter than 9.9.
  5:06 AM (9:06 UT) - SAO 58521 equal to or dimmer than 9.9?
  5:08 AM (9:08 UT) - SAO 58521 definitely brighter than 9.9.
  5:13 AM (9:13 UT) - SAO 58521 definitely brighter than 9.9.

  Though it seemed possible that SAO 58521 was varying in brightness as I watched, and might be changing rapidly, I don't think these observations are really conclusive. As I mentioned, the Seeing seemed poor tonight. Also, though I tried to stay unbiased and tried to not expect to see any changes like those described by Wilson, I have to admit that this was a lot easier said than done! Another issue was that while SAO 58521 lies right near the center of the star cluster and is viewed against a bright background, the two comparison stars that I used are off to the side of that cluster and viewed against a dark background. This leads to it being tougher than I thought to make estimates. Still, this was just a "first look" for me. The next time I do this I'll try to make actual estimates of the magnitude of this star every few minutes to see if it actually "behaves erratically."

  I did end up pointing the telescope to the southwest part of Orion before calling it a night, to make an estimate of my favorite YSO (Young Stellar Object). This estimate was worth reporting to the AAVSO:

  5:23 AM (9:23 UT Sept. 23) - I estimated UX Orionis as 9.6 magnitude. I used the 9.5 and 9.8 comparison stars on Chart 12584ZJ (D scale). I used 39x. UX Ori seemed between these two stars but closer to the 9.5 star, and in fact was just barely dimmer than (almost equal to) 9.5. I'm sure this estimate was within +/- 0.1 magnitude in error.

AM Tuesday, September 23, 2014 - Observing Notes Part 1

  I feel like I need to provide a little background information before describing my observing run on this night ... Auriga is a constellation in the winter evening sky far north of Orion and Taurus. This is an interesting area of the sky for a lot of reasons. Capella, the 6th brightest star visible from Earth, shines in its northwest corner. The Milky Way runs through this constellation, and it also features a lot of very stunning star clusters for small telescopes and binoculars. This is a chart of the constellation I copied from the web, from the Arecibo site:

For the past two winters I've noticed some interesting posts on the AAVSO website forums from Mr. Bill Wilson in the UK. He's an experienced variable star observer who started looking at the cluster called Messier 37 (M-37) in that constellation. There's a red giant star that gleams near the center of this cluster called SAO 58521.It can be seen fairly well in this photograph of M-37 taken by Emil Ivanov that I also copied from the web:

 Though SAO 58521 is listed as Constant by the AAVSO with little to no variability in brightness, Mr. Wilson has been observing and reporting very unusual "behavior" in two years of studying it through the eyepiece. VSX lists it at 9.2 magnitude, but he's reported it as bright as 7.7 and as dim as 10.6. What's more, he has also reported some very quick changes in brightness, with it rising and falling almost half a magnitude in the space of a few minutes. Wilson (by his own description in his posts) was reluctant to send this information to the web, since no model of red giant star structure allows for such rapid changes in brightness. However, he was convinced enough that this needed to be investigated by other observers that he ended up sharing it in the AAVSO forum. Some have stepped up to look at it and there has even been a CCD imaging run, but so far no one else seems to have confirmed Wilson's observations of rapid brightness changes.

  Wilson's posts intrigued me last year, but bad winter weather and my job schedule pretty much grounded me from getting outside with the telescope. When he started posting about SAO 58521 again in late September, now that this part of the sky has started to come into view before dawn, I contacted him to let him know I'd try to observe it and see if I saw anything unusual.

  The important thing about this kind of amateur astronomy is that one can't look through the eyepiece expecting to see something unusual, or the mind will take over, and convince you that unusual things are happening! During the turn of the last century, Percival Lowell observed Mars and sketched an intricate network of canals on the surface of that planet. He was convinced that he'd see canals, since he'd read about Schiaparelli observing Martian canals years before. Sure enough, he saw them. Unfortunately, it's been obvious since the start of the Space Age that Lowell was wrong. Mars has natural dry canyons winding around parts of its surface, but only one of these might have been large enough to have been mistaken for a canal by Lowell. There is no network of straight, artificial canals like he saw. His expectations biased his observing. Bias is also something I keep in mind when doing some of my Lunar Observing, since I'm checking some areas of the Moon for LTP. But if I go to the telescope, point it at the Moon, and expect to see unusual red glows or small temporary clouds, I'm sure I'll see them just like Lowell saw his canals!

  It's probable that the brightness changes in SAO 58521 might not be real at all, but sort of an optical illusion since the star is embedded in a rich background of stars. It might be a trick of poor Seeing (the turbulence in the atmosphere that makes stars seem to twinkle). Mr. Wilson himself readily agrees with this. At the same time, his observations of unusual brightness changes in SAO 58521 warrant further investigation, and the others who have looked at it seem to agree that it's at least a star that shows some variability instead of being constant.

  On Sunday evening September 21 I went to the Variable Star Plotter page on the AAVSO Website and generated this chart for SAO 58521. Comparison stars had already been added by chart team members that are 8.9, 9.9, 10.2, 10.5, and 10.9 magnitude. The suspected variable is marked with cross-hairs at the center of the cluster in the middle of the page. I waited for the next clear night to start observing it, and that came on the morning of Tuesday the 23rd.

Displaying IMG_20141004_155402.jpg

  (See Part 2 of Observing Notes)

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

2014 Meteor Roundup So Far

  Since I missed the Perseid Meteor Shower peak last week due to bad sky conditions and my work schedule, and since weather and other factors seem to lie in the way of me observing this shower as it fades away until next year, I decided to take a little time today and go over the notes I've kept so far in 2014. I wanted to tally the number of meteors that I've seen since the year began and the number of showers, both major and minor, that I've been able to detect. Here's what I've come up with; and though it might look impressive, experienced meteor watchers can see numbers like these on one good night, not 18 nights like I've had so far!


  Sporadic (SPO) (No shower membership) = 15
  Anthelion (ANT) (Year-round source) = 5
  S. Delta Aquariid (SDA) = 5
  Lyrid (LYR) = 4
  Perseid (PER) = 3
  Camelopardalid (CAM) = 2
  Pi Piscid (PPI) = 2
  July Pegasid (JPE) = 2
  Alpha Capricornid (CAP) = 2
  c-Andromedid (CAN) = 1
  Sigma Capricornid (SCA) = 1

  METEORS SEEN BY SESSION (asterisk * means that I reported my totals for that session to the I.M.O.)

  1. AM Sunday March 16 (Unplanned Observation).
      ANT = 1, Total =1

  2. AM Sunday March 30 (Planned Observing Session).
      ANT = 1, Total = 1

  3. AM Sunday April 6 (Planned Observing Session).
      SPO = 2, Total = 2

  4. AM Thursday April 10 (Planned Observing Session).
      SPO = 1, Total = 1

  5. AM Wednesday April 23 (Planned Observing Session).
      SPO = 1, LYR = 4, Total = 5

  6. AM Saturday April 26 (Planned Observing Session).
      SPO = 1, Total = 1

  7. AM Monday May 19 (Planned Observing Session).
      Total = 0

  8. AM Friday May 23 (Planned Observing Session).
      CAM = 1, Total = 1

  9. AM Saturday May 24 (Planned Observing Session).
      CAM = 1, Total = 1

  10. AM Friday June 27 (Planned Observing Session).
        ANT = 1, Total = 1

  11. *AM Sunday June 29 (Planned Observing Session).
        ANT = 1, CAN = 1, Total = 2

  12. *AM Monday June 30 (Planned Observing Session).
        SPO = 1, PPI = 1, Total = 2

  13. *AM Friday July 4 (Planned Observing Session).
        SPO = 3, SCA = 1, PPI = 1, Total = 5

  14. AM Wednesday July 16 (Unplanned Observation).
        JPE = 1, Total = 1

  15. *AM Friday July 25 (Planned Observing Session).
        SPO = 1, ANT = 1, JPE = 1, Total = 3

  16. AM Monday July 28 (Planned Observing Session).
        SPO = 1, ANT = 1, CAP = 1, SDA = 3, Total = 6

  17. *AM Sunday August 3 (Planned Observing Session).
        SPO = 3, CAP = 1, SDA = 2, PER = 2, Total = 8

  18. PM Wednesday August 13 (Unplanned Observation).
        PER = 1, Total = 1

  There are still plenty of meteor showers coming from now through the end of the year. Hopefully I can keep getting experience watching and recording them, and get some good clear nights in which to do this.