Observation Report, 23 Jan 2012

Clear skies were forecast today, so I got the Mak 127 out early in the afternoon so it would be cool as soon as I wanted to use it. Then the clouds rolled in and it started to rain. I was certain another night’s viewing would be written off because of poor seeing in the moist air.

Sometimes it’s pleasant to be wrong. By 10pm the clouds had cleared nicely and whilst there was a certain amount of haziness around the horizon, the sky generally was clear, bright and steady. Just as well, as I wanted to try out my new illuminated reticle eyepiece as well as counting the stars in Orion for the CPRE Star Count.

To centre a planet in the webcam image my usual method thus far has been to start with a 32mm or 25mm eyepiece and centre the image then keep stepping down the focal lengths to around 6mm, then add a barlow, and finally swap to the webcam, swapping back and forth with an eyepiece if it didn’t immediately show up on-screen. Plunging straight in, I lined up Mars with the RDF, centred it in the new eyepiece, added the barlow and re-centered and then switched to the webcam. The image of Mars was immediately visible in the capture program and needed nothing more than a little refocusing. I was most happy with this improvement and set about capturing some images.

That done I spent a bit of time just re-familiarising myself with the winter skies. There have been precious few opportunities to get out under good skies in the last six months, so I’m a bit rusty. Six stars were easily visible in the Pleiades, perhaps seven at a push, and the Beehive Cluster was quite clear for direct viewing with the naked eye, so I broke out the binoculars and took a closer look.

As soon as I put the eyecups up to my eyes a large fuzzy blob leapt out of the sky, causing me a few moments confusion. It didn’t look like I remembered M44 at all. It took a few moments to dawn on me that it was M67 I was looking at and a quick slide northwards revealed the Beehive in all its glory. Swinging back to Orion I had to have a look at the nebula. Not a huge amount of detail visible with the binoculars, but the extent of the gas cloud was vibrantly clear and impressive.

Three of the first few Messier objects I saw through a telescope were M36, M37 and M38 in Auriga. I clearly remember spending a couple of nights working out how to find them, probably with the ST80. Auriga was right in front of me now, so I scooted across to the southern end and hopped up to the first one following a “bent tuning fork” asterism. Within five seconds I’d located all three with ease. Having collected almost half “the set” now, it’s surprising how much easier it is to recognise a grey fuzzy blob when you see one…

Remembering that I also wanted to count the stars in Orion I ran through the constellation a few times picking them out. The “rules” are to count as many stars as possible visible with the naked eye within the rectangle formed by Betelgeuse, Bellatrix, Rigel and Saiph. The “belt” stars count, but the four corners don’t. After a couple of recounts I decided that twenty-five was a fair result. I could possibly pick out a couple more with averted vision, but I couldn’t be sure.

By this time it was gone 1am and the sky was starting to become quite hazy so I happily decided to call it a night. More clear skies are forecast for the tail end of the week. Hopefully I can get some footage of Venus and Jupiter, and perhaps go hunting a few binary stars.

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