Observing with Street Lights

Observing with Street Lights
Dark sky sites not always necessary to see the Milky Way (This image was taken ouside of a B&B in Julian, CA)

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Missed SAS conference (we were on vacation, darn!), but good times at Black Star Canyon star party

Greetings from Palmia Observatory,

Finally, we had a chance to do some astro viewing at the Black Star Canyon OCA event, but first, a few other introductory topics.  It was good after being away on vacation to pack up the scope, but I recalled I had to miss the Society of Astronomical Sciences (SAS) annual conference.  Darn it, the conference in Ontario, where hundreds of a amateurs gather to review the latest news about amateur contributions to real science, etc, just happened to be scheduled right in the middle of our vacation cruise.  I attended the conference last year and met David there and wanted to go again this year.

I remember when I was working, there was a trade off between work and vacation.  Now I have a conflict between one hobby and another hobby of a traveling vacation.  Oh well, I guess if you have to trade off and prepare a schedule it can't get much better than that.

 One thing we learned on vacation in Europe is that Europeans mostly serve bottled water and would never dream of serving tap water.  Well guess what?  We really enjoyed sparkling mineral water and are now really hooked.  Our shopping cart now comes home with multiple bottles of San Pellegrino.  I never thought I would ever start drinking bottled water at home or at restaurants but again I guess I'm now hooked.  The good news is that this is water that is imported into California.  I guess I should get some brownie points for helping to lessen the California drought?  Hey, don't be rolling your eyes.  I'm at least doing a little bit to help.  What are you doing?


New telescope observer, David, attended SAS again this year offered to keep me up to date.  He also alerted me to a new IPhone app that measures the darkness of the night sky.  That is really cool and I will be trying it out tonight and see what it indicates for the city lights view here at the observatory.  David said the app show that at his new mountain home that the app indicates, and the eyes agree, he has a very dark sky location.  Good job David.

Lastly, let's get back to the Black Star party.  We started with dinner with Marty and Bonnie at the Outback and then drove the half dozen miles to Black Star.  It was fun to set up the scope and discover what had been left at home.  I had forgotten the Allen wrench needed for changes to the alignment of the red dot finder, but the alignment was close enough.   Some of the old timers had some wrenches, but it wasn't necessary to make any adjustments.

While resident astronomer Peggy relaxed in her zero gravity lounge chair with her binoculars, I tried to go through a full alignment with two stars.  Other folks, about 45 or so showed up, and began setting up as Steve presented a guided review of the night sky and what was going to be visible.  David and Sheri?, who also attended the first telescope class for new users, were there too and everyone was having a good time.

Previously, I had just relied on a solar system alignment, using Jupiter or the moon and hadn't bothered to perform a full alignment because at the time the skies were not that dark and seeing a a lot of stars just wasn't going to happen. But now, I had darker skies and wanted to go after some deep sky objects and wanted to use the aligned telescope go to features for that.

That is when things started to go wrong.  First the alignment menu let me pick Spica for the first alignment star and I knew where that star was so that was fine.  For the second alignment star, the scope controller presented a list of stars, none of which I recognized. Wow, what was I supposed to do.  As, I was fiddling withe the controller, trying to figure out what to do, and slewing to another star, the drive motors started to slow down and just whine.  Oops, I was out of battery juice and I had just charged it up that afternoon.  I wasn't going to be able to use the scope under automatic control and would have to move and position the scope the old fashioned way.

As it turned out, the battery was dead and was not going to hold a charge.  Also as it turned out, the scope alignment meme was not so difficult to understand and use.  If I had just selected any one of the suggested alignment stars, the scope would have slewed to where it thought the star was, and all I had to do was of find and identify the star and then command the final alignment movement.  Oh well, one more learned lesson.  Next time.  (By the way, I ordered a new battery on Sunday from Amazon and it just showed up today, Monday.  Wow, that is quick delivery and it's one thing I like about Amazon Prime).

But all was not lost, so I just manually slewed the scope to some recognizable objects and took a look and took the photos below.  My first manual attempt was to see if I could track an airplane well enough to get a picture of it.  Hey, I lucked out and got a pretty good view of the planes landing lights.  Black Star is probably no more than 15-20 miles from John Wayne Airport, so we had several planes overhead.  Note that the main landing lights are very bright and the wing red and green lights are very visible.  I couldn't make out any of the wing or fuselage structure.

Jupiter was visible, as were the moon's, but the big event was Venus.  In the past, I never tried to get a good view of Venus, but that night I heard that the phases of Venus were easily seen.  So I moved the scope to Venus.  The red dot finder worked perfectly and is so easy to use, but without any battery power, the earth's motion meant the planet kept drifting out of the field of view very quickly.  So, I just tried to focus quickly, adjust the shutter quickly, and re center the planet in the camera view and hope for the best.

The image of Venus came out fairly well, given the circumstances, and the image shows the phases of Venus.  Somehow, in all my astronomical reading, etc, I missed the discussion about the phases of Venus.  Yes, the phases of the moon are well know, but I had never attempted to look at Venus in the past other than just a bright round object in the sky.  But there it is with the crescent view, not the round perfect sphere I had somehow erroneously assumed it to always show up in the camera as a perfect circular object.

The final image, courtesy of skytonight.wordpress.com, shows the predicted phases of Venus for the rest of the month.  The increase in apparent size is quite amazing and I never would have imagined any such thing.  So get out there and take a look at the phases of Venus.

Until next time

P.S.  I just got the Dark Sky Meter on my phone and measure 18.82 SQM units here at the observatory in Mission Viejo.  The units are in magnitudes and I'm not going to try to explain and go into all of the discussion regarding square arc seconds, etc, now, but David said that his new dark sky observatory shows up at about 20.3.  Wow, that is a great dark sky spot, David.  I'll try to make measures around and about, even at the community tennis courts.  (Oops, I mean the observatory grounds.)
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