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Guests, Mercury Surface, ISS Imaged,
Barnard's Star, Milky Way & SkyShed POD Video

Posted: 4 June 2013

Before opening the observatory on Monday, 3 June 2013, I went to check on the pack rat traps near the observatory. As I approached one of the locations where we had removed two pack rat nests, I heard a lot of buzzing. As I got closer I saw a LOT of bees flying around. I approached the area from a different direction and saw a large bee hive:


Click the photo above to view a short HD video recording (8.8 MB) made with the D7000 DSLR and 300mm lens.

The hive wasn't there Monday morning when I went to check on the traps, so the bees set up house during the day in Monday. Something else to maybe deal with! We haven't yet identified the bees. (By the way, no pack rats were trapped today. Just one scared antelope squirrel.)

The observatory was opened at 1856 MST, 97°F. I first set up my folding recliner chair on the observatory patio; it would be used by guests (human, this time) and myself later during the session.

At 1906 MST, I began observing Mercury, first at 83X and then at 364X. The surface detail I had first seen on the previous session was visible again this evening. I tried some of my filters (a limited collection) at 364X to see which ones might enhance the view of the surface detail. The Light Blue filter (#82A) did improve the view of the surface detail somewhat. The Light Yellow filter (#8) yielded a slightly better view of the planet's surface, with it appearing slightly larger. The Orange filter (#21) improved overall viewing of the planet (now getting lower in the sky) with the surface detail still visible. At 1925 MST, Mercury was too low for good viewing. I took a quick look at Saturn, 83X, at 1928 MST. Sunset occurred at 1930 MST.

I updated the ISS TLE in the 8" LX200-ACF in preparation for this night's excellent ISS pass. Viewed Saturn, 222X, at 1955 MST. Two moons were initially visible, then two minutes later a 3rd moon appeared as the sky continued to get darker.

At 2000 MST, I terminated the first of 14 (!) Kissing Bugs seen this night (through about 2145 MST). Apparently the mitigation efforts of spraying and removing pack rat nests near the observatory has not been totally effective. At 2005 MST, my (human) guests arrived. The new telescope user I've been helping had been having some problems slewing the Celestron telescope, so I asked her to bring it by and we would try to determine what was wrong. She brought a friend along. They got to view Saturn and three moons through the 8" telescope using a magnification of 222X. At 2038 MST, I began making preparations to image the ISS pass through the telescope.

With my recent success imaging an ISS-Moon transit, I looked forward to tonight's excellent ISS pass. I wanted to try increasing magnification. The D7000 DSLR was mounted at prime focus of the 8" LX200-ACF with a 2X Barlow Lens. A focus test using Spica was done with the Bahtinov Mask. A HD video recording (8m 13s) of the ISS was done at 1/2000sec, ISO 5000. Using the Antares 7x50 Illuminated Crosshairs Finderscope made me more confident that I could keep the ISS within the narrower field-of-view. This is the best frame from the video:


The high ISO and fast shutter speed resulted in some digital noise, but a lot of the space station structure is visible. I will adjust the exposure settings for future ISS imaging. But the increased magnification seems to work.

After the ISS pass was over, we continued to troubleshoot the Celestron refractor. Slewing worked for a short while during the initial alignment steps but then failed. After that, slewing never worked. After checking connections, I began to suspect low batteries as the NexStar handcontroller display would momentarily dim when pressing a slew arrow key. We decided to have her change the batteries at home and see if slewing worked. The guests left at 2120 MST.

I then started to prepare for my next task, but kept getting interrupted by more Kissing Bugs. I spent the next 20 minutes terminating Kissing Bugs that appeared in the observatory. Whew.

On the previous session I had attempted to image Barnard's Star. However, I was not able to identify it on the resulting image. During the day on Monday, I processed the image using with this result:


Using the center RA/Dec from, I was able to ID the stars with SkySafari Pro for Mac OS X and discovered that Barnard's Star was just out of the field-of-view. I did another image this night, prime focus + focal reducer + visual back, 30 seconds, ISO 6400:


This time I'm confident I captured Barnard's Star, but I will take another image in two weeks and use the star's high proper motion to confirm it.

I then started my final photography of the night. I prepped the D7000 DSLR for sky imaging by attaching the Vello Wireless ShutterBoss Timer Remote. On 31 May I had done some sky photography using the D7000 DSLR with an 18mm lens aimed at Polaris. On 2 June I did more sky photography using the D7000 DSLR with an 8mm fisheye lens aimed at Polaris. I used StarStaX to create "star trails" images. Using QuickTime Player 7, I created videos showing the rotation of the sky. This night I set up the camera to photograph the Milky Way rising over the observatory. I used the 8mm fisheye lens and did two hours of imaging, starting at 2238 MST (once the lights at the local school football field were turned off). The exposures were f/5, 1 minute, ISO 5000. This is one of the sky fisheye photos, taken shortly after midnight:


Click the above image to view a time-lapse video (5.5 MB) of the 104 images, showing the 120 minutes of rotation of the sky in 10 seconds.

I completed the sky photography at 0038 MST. To end the night, I observed three DSOs using the 2" 24mm Ultra-Wide Angle Eyepiece (83X): M20 (Trifid Nebula), M17 (Swan Nebula), and M16 (Eagle Nebula). Lovely views.

The observatory was closed at 0104 MST, 70°F.

On the previous report I posted a still photo and a video that seemed to show "aurora" from here in southern Arizona. I received a comment from a long time aurora watcher who thinks the green bands were actually upper atmosphere pollution and not aurora. Although I've never seen images of that, it does sound plausible as there were no reports of aurora this far south. Thanks Steve! In any case, what was imaged was definitely a strange occurrence in my sky.

Comments are welcome; use the Comments section below, or you can Email Me. Thanks.

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