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More Mercury Observing, Comet C/2011 L4 (PanSTARRS)

Posted: 5 June 2013

On the previous report I mentioned discovering a swarm of bees in a tree near the observatory. I received a comment from a bee keeper who is also an amateur astronomer. He said that the bees have "the appearance of being Italians, Apis mellifera ligustica". However, he noted that Africanized bees look similar. There have been reports of Africanized bees attacking people in Tucson, but that is 2000' lower in elevation than here, if it matters. Thanks to Len for trying to ID the bees from my hastily acquired photo and video. I checked the tree on Tuesday about an hour before sunset and the bees were gone. Guess they have moved on. Whew!

The observatory was opened Tuesday, 4 June 2013, at 1836 MST, 100°F. The sky was clear, with an occasional light breeze. At 1848 MST, viewed Venus, 83X. I then slewed to Mercury and using 133X looked for the surface detail I had seen on the previous evenings. It was not visible at 133X. Increased the magnification to 364X and added a #21 Orange filter. The detail was now clearly visible again. This screen capture from SkySafari Pro on the iPhone 4


shows that I was seeing the area surrounding "Rembrandt".

Returned to Venus at 1913 MST, 133X, and checked the finderscope alignment in preparation for the first of two ISS passes this night. I locked the 8" telescope focus. As neither of the passes were to be as good as the previous night's pass, I had decided I would not image the space station, but would instead view it through the telescope at 133X. I updated the ISS TLE with the AutoStar.

At 1922 MST, viewed Saturn, 133X. It was just becoming visible in the 7x50 finderscope. Sunset occurred at 1930 MST. At 1935 MST, Saturn appeared very crisp at 133X. Cassini Division, shadows, and cloud bands were all clearly visible. Seeing was excellent.

At 1946 MST, I was ready for the first ISS pass. At 1958 MST, the first Kissing Bug of the night was seen and terminated. The ISS pass started about a minute earlier than the AutoStar software had calculated. Tracking was not good but I was able to manually keep the ISS in the 15mm (133X) eyepiece field-of-view (FOV) for most of this low elevation pass. Unfortunately, there was too much movement in the eyepiece and the ISS was so bright that I couldn't make out much detail. The station core and solar panels were visible however.

At 2012 MST, I resumed Saturn observing. Switched to 364X.

I began preparing the D7000 DSLR for imaging of Comet C/2011 L4 (PanSTARRS) at 2019 MST. Dr. Clay Sherrod had sent me an image he had acquired at his Arkansas Sky Observatory (using his professional equipment), and that prompted me to want to do an image of the comet. I had last imaged Comet PanSTARRS in March 2013 when it was visible in the western sky. The comet is now near Polaris. Due to the size of the comet, I added a f/6.3 focal reducer to the 8" telescope and mounted the camera at prime focus with the off-axis guider. Did a focus test on Vega using the Bahtinov Mask. I used SkySafari Pro on the iPhone 4 to control the telescope via the GC Wi-Fi Adapter and did a GOTO to the comet. I did a 1 minute, ISO 6400, framing test exposure of the comet. Framing was OK. As I waited for astronomical twilight to end, four more Kissing Bugs were terminated in rapid succession. Once the sky was dark, I did 2, 5, and 10 minute, guided (on a star, not the comet), ISO 6400, exposures. This 5 minute exposure (cropped) was captured at 2108 MST:


The image shows both tails.

I ended imaging at 2125 MST. The last Kissing Bug of the night was then terminated, for a total of six.

At 2141 MST, I began watching the 2nd ISS pass of the night. This pass was even lower in the sky than the earlier one so I just watched it with my naked eyes. As I was watching the ISS, a polar orbiting satellite appeared, moving south. At times, it was brighter than the ISS.

At 2148 MST, viewed Comet PanSTARRS, 83X. The coma and a short tail were visible. I then took a quick look at Saturn, 83X.

The observatory was closed at 2207 MST, 76°F.

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

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