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Urban observing with the Observer's Handbook

DChapman's picture

It was clear in Nova Scotia last night, but I did not fancy the drive to Saint Croix Observatory, so I observed from my light-polluted backyard with my 12" Skywatcher "Go To" telescope.

The seeing was OK, but there were moments of clarity, which I used to observe Jupiter. The Galilean satellites were all on display, far from the primary, so there were no "phenomena" to view. The not-so-Great not-so-Red Spot was due to transit at 1:09 a.m. local time, so I stayed up for that. It is very pale, more of a hole in the SEB than a thing in itself.

One of the cool things about a Go To telescope is the ability to quickly switch around between objects of interest. A few years ago, you would never have heard these words from me! (It is next to impossible to star-hop when you can't see the stars!) While I was waiting for the seeing to stabilize and the GRS to transit, I decided to look up a few things from the Handbook.

As far as double stars go, the SynScan software has a very short list; however, I have a workaround: before I went out, I wrote down some target stars and looked them up in SkySafari. (If I had a PC I could have used the  ECU "OH Edition" software to look these up directly, no Handbook required!) That gave me the SAO catalogue number. SynScan has a lot of stars listed by SAO number in its data base, so that is how you get to these double stars automatically. The next evolution is to get one of those gizmos that allow SkySafari to directly control the telescope. Technology!

So I looked at a few nearby (to Jupiter) double stars: 26 Aur, a nice yellow and blue coloured double, 14 Aur, 16 Aur, and 118 Tau.

When Orion rose over my house roof, I looked at the Orion Nebula. Deep sky objects used to be hopeless from my backyard, but the 12" dob seems to punch through, as long as I supply enough magnification, 150x in this case. I was surprised out how much detail I could see from the city. In fact, the view was very similar to Kathleen Houston's sketch on the back cover of the OH 2013.

Another delight was NGC 2264, the Christmas Tree Cluster, the "cluster of the year" for 2013 (see p. 313). I did not know this cluster before, and it looked fine in my telescope. I even saw some nebulosity. I encourage everyone to look this one up, and to read the article by Peter Jedicke and Anthony Moffat, who did a particularly fine job this year. By the way, NGC 2264 is a "Deep-Sky Gem".

It's going to be overcast tonight, and tomorrow I will have lens replacement surgery on my remaining natural eye. So those were the last astronomical photons collected by a lens I was born with. The cataract is not so advanced, but it already interferes with observing, and I know it is getting worse, so out it comes! My right eye is my dominant eye, so the reduction in visual acuity is quite bothersome. I am "looking forward" to my next observing session!