Saturday, May 12, 2018

bit of escape

It was quite a long work week so I was looking forward to observing Friday night.  Since I have weekend plans I reserved the Challenger.  Weather was predicted to be clear but seeing was to be poor -- a jetstream flow moving in.  Sometimes it's hard to judge the accuracy of the forecasts, so I went to the Peak anyhow.

I arrived after 7pm after fighting traffic on the way down.  Ric was there set up for some astrophotography.  I opened up the Challenger to let it cool down and had dinner.  At 9pm I started the routine, aligning the finderscopes etc.  I had hoped to chase some close doubles, but after starhopping (always somewhat of an ordeal) to STT 277 in Bootes, found the seeing was truly awful; bloated stars and dense diffraction.  I applied more power and could see elongation in the mess -- it's 0.2" separation, equal 8th magnitude -- but no way to resolve, not this night.  I was encouraged, though, that the scope should be able to resolve the pair on a better night.

I switched to some low power sweeps of the Virgo and Coma clusters, not with any particular intent, just for sight-seeing.  There was one striking group with two large ellipticals, a small round one in the middle, and a long diffuse edge on up in the corner, somewhere in Virgo.

But by 11pm the wind gusts were continuing, and getting stronger, and the Challenger would start to move with the wind.  I would be on the floor trying to star hop somewhere, and by the time I climbed the ladder the scope had moved well off course.  It was getting dangerous so I closed up around 11pm.

I slept in the van, fitfully at first.  At around 3:20am I woke to sounds of screeching tires -- I saw some headlights on the road.  Seems some thrillseekers were racing up and down the Peak at top speed to see how fast they could take the turns.

Since I couldn't sleep I got up and found my Vixen 2.1x42 binos and sat on a bench to take in the Milky Way, which had risen well up by then.  I scanned the dark lanes in Scorpius, up to Aquilla, and up further to Cygnus.  Nice star clouds and fields of stars.  Not really great like at a truly dark sky, but nice anyhow.  Saw a couple meteors, one with a smoke trail.  Jupiter, Saturn, and Mars made their arc; at the start of the night Venus was high in the west.  With that I was able to go back to sleep until nearly dawn. 

I will heed the weather forecast better in the future, though I was nice to have a bit of escape.  As I was driving down I realized I had forgotten all about work, so the night out did its trick.

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