Tuesday, December 29, 2015

backyard colorful stars and more

Spent last night out with the 8-inch in the backyard chasing down targets in the Stellar Evolution and Carbon Star lists.  The moon didn't clear the neighbor's roof until about 10:20pm, so there was ample time to observe -- though the moon did wash out the sky for the most part.  M1 and M78 were on the list but were unobservable.  But the stars were really nice.

Epsilon Eridani was just visible naked eye so I could use the reflex sight alone to point to it.  It was a nice orange-yellow color and the brightest star by far in a poor field.  At 10.5 light years it is the third closest star visible to the naked eye and the closest star to host a planetary system (pending confirmation of Alpha Centauri Bb).  It's a young star, 1 billion years old, and it has a massive planet orbiting it at 3 AU, with two asteroid belts, one inside and one outside of that orbit.  SETI has listened to signals from it without success (so far...).

Hind's Crimson Star (R Leporis) is a truly amazing sight.  It is relatively small and faint but a very deep red color.  I was able to resolve the airy disk.  It is a carbon star which varies brightness from 5.5 to 11.7 every 420 days or so.  It is supposed to be its most red when it is most faint.  The current AAVSO Light Curve Generator pegs it at 8.5 now, and brightening.  This will be one to watch next year and into the spring of 2017 when it should be more faint.

Bellatrix (Gamma Orionis) was an icy blue with some hints of green.  It is very young, 20 million years, and is 250 light years away, and is 8.5x the size of the sun and 3.8x as hot.

4 (Omega) Aurigae  was a surprise double star.  The A was a surprising sickly blue-green color, and the B was a tawny brown, nicely split 5" away. 

NGC 1931: I was surprised I could resolve this given the sky conditions and presence of the moon.  It is supposed to look like a mini Orion Nebula, but I was only able to resolve two wings of the brighter nebulosity around a brighter central "star" which flashed into view with averted vision. 

M37: Hundreds of mag 8-9 stars in branches and streams with clouds of fainter stars behind, broken up with dark lanes.  A distinctive red star in the center.  Enough to make one weep for the beauty of it.

UU Aurigae was a bright orange.  The chart says it is a double but there was none seen even at 184x. 

Theta 1 Orionis, the brightest star of the Trapezium.  I hoped to resolve the E and F stars in the 8-inch, but the sky did not cooperate; transparency fell off sharply.

Zeta Orionis: Multiple star.  The A component is the brightest O-class star visible.  I could resolve four components, the very faint D preceding the group.  I could almost imagine the group swinging around its bright A.

Y Tauri was visible in the finder as a very faint red spot.  In the scope the color was nearly as red as Hind's Crimson Star. 

W Orionis: Appeared orange in the finder and in the scope was a deep orange, at the end of a string of three other stars. 

S Camelepordaris was a very long hop from Delta Aurigae, but worth it!  Deep orange-red in a triangle of stars.

Once the ~80% waning gibbous moon had cleared the neighbor's roof I had a look at 184x.  I could see fog blowing past the moon naked eye, and in the scope it was rippling.  But I was very intrigued by the terminator, which I don't often see at this phase.  There were many mons just lighting up in their nighttime craters, and there were many dark bays and channels.  Most interesting was the shadow of one peak projected onto the lit side of another mountain range behind it.  I am very unsure of where this was, exactly.  While I made a sketch of the feature I neglected to make a sketch of the finder view to help me find it in the Rukl atlas later.  A lesson for the future!

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