Monday, June 02, 2008

Canyon of the Eagles: May 30th, 2008

This past Friday, I headed out to the Canyon of the Eagles (COE) site near Lake Buchanan, Texas. This is the Austin Astronomical Society's observatory which conveniently also has observing spots around the main building complete with tables, electricity and wifi!

I went there with a good mate of mine who had been a member of the Society but never visited COE before. We arrived at sunset and set up our scopes just as the sun sank below the horizon. A few clouds loitered around but cleared off about an hour or so after dark.

I didn't have any real observing targets in mind, although I hadn't really viewed globular clusters through the Lightbridge yet. I just wanted a relaxing self-guided tour of the heavens with my trusty S&T Pocket Atlas and scope. Below is a summary from my logbook:
  • Omega Centauri: This was a lovely surprise for the evening! I had always heard that you can see it from Texas at this time of year but never really looked. I noticed parts of Centaurus at the horizon and scanned the area with my binoculars. I found it pretty quickly and set my Lightbridge onto it. Even though it was quite low (and remained low on the horizon for the duration of the evening) I could still see plenty of detail. It is so big it makes M13 look like nothing special! Just a mess of stars and starlight. It wasn't anywhere near as nice as viewing it from Australia (which I'll hopefully get to do in July) but still very pleasing to the eye.
  • Leo Triplet: Again, I'd read and heard about this sight but never bothered to track it down. this group of galaxies (M65, M66 and NGC3628) could be easily seen in the same field of view of my Panoptic 22mm. Very nice sight!
  • M57: First time seen through the Lightbridge. Very clear and sharp, I thought I saw some reddish-orange fringe color (?)
  • M13: Spectacularly bright as it was nice and high. Dozens and dozens of stars easily resolved.
  • M3: Another bright globular cluster. Very nicely resolved and I viewed it for quite some time.
  • M51 Whirlpool Galaxy: This galaxy is nice and high this time of year. I could easily resolve spiral detail with averted vision.
  • M81 and M82: A familiar sight, but also rather high in the sky right now which made for some great viewing. Clear and contrasty image.
  • M17: "Omega" or "Swan" Nebula. This was rising above the horizon shortly before we left for the night. Still, wispy and clear, nice detail within the nebula itself.
  • The Milky Way! I thought clouds were rolling in from the South at about 11:00PM. Much to my joy it was actually the Milky Way coming up, bringing Scorpius, Cygnus etc. with it. Quite a sight!
I did observe other objects throughout the night but those were the highlights.

My friend and I also had fun and games with our scopes. His LX200 wouldn't align until about 45 minutes of various attempts, but then performed admirably as he toured the heavens with it. My Lightbridge encountered two problems, one of which I only noticed tonight, a few nights after using it, whilst storing it away. Firstly, one of the collimation bolts somehow got so loose that it came out. As we drove home from COE the scope was making all sorts of racket and this may have been the reason. Additionally, though, the two bolts that fasten the lower OTA to the altitude ring on the side of the scope were loose, and gave the scope a little bit of play on that axis. These are accessed inside the lower OTA and can be tightened with a regular Philips head screwdriver. I've tightened both up, and gave the scope a bit of a going over tonight to make sure there was anothing else amiss. Odd stuff!

Overall, a decent night despite the hiccups. I probably need to pay more attention to how I move and transport the Lightbridge so that issues like the ones that surfaced tonight don't arise again.

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