Sunday, October 4, 2020

Mars or Bust

Clear sky last night.

Predicting seeing?  Just average.  Well, that is much better than not being able to see the sky at all, I suppose. Shoo, clouds!

When I pointed the Cat at Mars, I saw the typical, for average seeing, slightly boiling in atmospheric shimmering, face of Mars.  Bright red.  Brighter than Jupiter, now that it is at opposition.

Features were visible, when viewing through the eyepiece.

I put my planetary imager, the ZWO ASI224MC, on the Cat and captured tens of gigabytes of data, hoping to have some success via "lucky imaging."

Here is the resulting image:

Hello, Mars, God of War

Yep. The image captured some surface features on Mars' face, but what are they? To answer that, I like to get a frame of reference by comparing my images with other sources.

Recently, I stumbled across a, new to me, tool that provides a model of what one should expect to see when observing Mars.  I decided to use last night's observing session to test it.

It is a web app provided by the British Astronomical Association and with last night's date and time, it provided this:

The face of Mars, 10/03/2020, at 2306 EST

I think the model and my image line up pretty well with each other!

Now that Mars is at opposition, I'll be keeping a keen eye on the "seeing" forecasts.  It has been months since we've had good or excellent seeing.  We are overdue, aren't we?

Sunday, September 27, 2020

A Window to Mars

Yet another week of clouds and rain.

As I usually do each morning, I checked the astronomy forecast at Astropheric.  It has been pretty tough to find a clear night with steady seeing that lines up my schedule, but I'm always hopeful.

Yesterday, Astropheric presented me with this forecast:

A Window of Above Average Seeing!

It didn't look like much, but Astopheric was forecasting a brief amount of time when the sky would be clear and the seeing above average. 

I went outside at 2030 (EST) and took a look at the sky.  Humidity was really high, but the sky looked promising.  I brought out the CAT, leveled it, and attached the imager and waited.

The humidity was high, equipment was wet, and fog was threatening.

I'm glad I persevered.

This is the Mars image for the night.

Hello Mars!
It was captured at 2309 (EST) using my planetary imager, a ZWO ASI224MC, attached to my Celestron CPC-1100.

Fog started to roll in shortly afterwards and everything was drenched... Except for the corrector plate on the CAT.  The dew strip and shield did their job.  This session was a really good test.

Bonus Image

While waiting for Mars to rise high enough to get out of turbulence of the lower sky, I played with the imager while focused on Jupiter.

Ganymede was nearby, so it was captured, as well.

Hello Jupiter and Ganymede!

It was a fairly success astronomy session, even though the viewing window was so narrow!



Monday, July 27, 2020

Super Powers? I'm Waiting.

When Comet C/2020 F3 (NEOWISE) was a morning object, I managed to observe it by taking a trek down the road and peering around the neighbor's monster magnolia trees.

It was naked eye visible, without averted vision, and was beautiful through binoculars.

I kept an eye on its progress through several mornings, and even captured a nice image of it with my Google Pixel 3XL Android phone.

Click here to see my blog entry!

So, now that Comet NEOWISE is an evening object, what does that mean to me?

Super powers!

Monday, July 20, 2020

Mars, 2020 Opposition T-Minus 86 Days and Counting

Can you believe it?

The Mars opposition in 2020 is just 86 days away!  It seems like we had a Mars opposition just a little over two years ago, doesn't it?

I took advantage of the nice seeing conditions this morning and spent some time focused on Mars.

What did I expect to see?

The Virtual Planet Atlas, free software for planetary observation and study, has a really nice model of Mars.  One look at its graphics will tell you everything.

For Mars this morning, the model predicted this:

Mars, via the Virtual Planet Atlas

And this is what I captured:

Saturday, July 11, 2020

The Best Camera

The best camera is the camera that you have with you when you need to take a photo.

In my case, this morning, my camera was my phone, a Google Pixel 3XL.

Most mornings of this week, I've been strolling up the road a couple of hundred feet to see around the monster magnolia trees in the neighbor's yard.  These trees obscure the northeastern part of the horizon where comet C/2020 F3 (NEOWISE) has made an apparition.

Through binoculars, the comet is gorgeous.  Without binoculars, it is a naked eye comet, but tough to see.  Until this morning, that is.  This morning, the comet hung low in the sky and was very obvious without needing to find it with binoculars first.

So, after reveling in the appearance of NEOWISE and basking in its brightness, I pulled the phone out of my pocket and tried my hand at impromptu astrophotography. 

Yes, there a billion better photos of the comet C/2020 F3 (NEOWISE), but this one is mine.😎

The image is cropped, a bit, to remove the neighbor's house and some of the dark, featureless ground, but is otherwise unedited.  The comet is in the lower left of the image.

Not bad for an image made with a phone, eh?

Friday, July 3, 2020

Third Time is a Charm

The last two observing sessions were beset by clouds. Shoo, clouds!

Not last night, though.  The Clear Sky Chart called for average to good seeing, so I set a wrist alarm for 0130 to test the forecast.  And I wasn't disappointed. 

I went outside and looked up.  The sky was still.  Very little twinkling of stars and the planets were solid.


Mars had risen, but was still obscured by the neighbor's house. I whiled away the time, waiting for the Cat to acclimate to the outdoor temperature, by imaging Jupiter. I'm glad that I did because I caught Ganymede, the largest of the Galilean moons, as it neared the end of its transit across Jupiter's face. 

A few hours earlier, Ganymede's shadow preceded it, though.  Sorry I missed that, but I'm happy with this image.  Moons in front of Jupiter are really difficult to see in the glare of the planet.

Finally, Mars.

Monday, June 8, 2020

Mars, on Fire

Clear sky was forecast for this morning, along with below average seeing.

I had a vibrate only alarm set on my Garmin.  I planned to test the forecast.  I used the "silent" alarm on the Garmin so the kitties wouldn't be confused and think it was breakfast time for them.

Yes, we are a multi-cat family.  We have the furry kind of cats.  And we have my Schmidt-Cassegrain telescope, which is a member of the catadioptric family.

 Buzz.  The alarm did its job.  I dutifully went outside to check the sky.

It was clear.  Nary a wisp of a cloud.  Blessed with a clear sky.

I moved the car out of the garage into the driveway.  I put the ramp down over the step from the house to the garage.  I rolled the Cat over the ramp, through the garage, to its location on the driveway.  Next, the observing table, on wheels, too.  And finally, the chair.  All of the equipment was out.

Ten minutes later, the Cat was leveled and powered up.  Laptop was booted and USB cable attached to the Cat.

I looked up, ready to start the alignment.  Gotta build a good model of the sky to be able to find objects.

This is what I saw.  Horrors.  Cloudy horrors.

Hey!  Where did the clouds come from?
I sat, dejectedly, in the observing chair, observing clouds.

Occasionally, a hole would open and I could briefly see a star or two.

More importantly, Polaris would peak through to torment me.  At least I could use that to tell the Cat where true north was.  That's the first step of alignment, anyway.

The laptop was running CPWI, Celestron's telescope control software, taking place of the old handheld controller.  I used CPWI's representation of the sky to find other alignment stars as they peeked through the holes.

Finally, the Cat was aligned.

I sat waiting.  Hopes were not high.  More coffee.  

The clouds were moving quickly, though.  That tempered my expectations as to seeing conditions should the sky clear.


Look closely.  Mars.


I pointed the Cat at Mars and it was beautiful.  Polar icecap was evident.

But, the turbulence made it look like Mars was dancing and on fire.

Here are a couple of frames from the imager. Click to make bigger.

Mars, on Fire, imager frame

Mars, on Fire, another frame

I ran the imager for dozens of minutes, hoping to be able use "lucky imaging" to tease something useful out of the data.

I think I was successful.

Mars is tiny and its opposition is still four months away.  Here, you can see hints of some of Mars' surface features, including the northern polar icecap.

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Mars or Bust

Clear sky last night. Predicting seeing?  Just average.  Well, that is much better than not being able to see the sky at all, I suppose. Sho...

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