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First Observatory Upgrade Completed;
Zodiacal Light, Gemini & Orion, Comet Catalina

Posted: 3 February 2016

Sunday, 31 January 2016, dawned with clear skies but strong winds. Late that morning I did some preliminary work in preparation for one of the observatory upgrades. I had planned to install two handles on the dome to make it easier to pull the dome off the POD Zenith Table (PZT). I took measurements where the handles would be mounted, but I then discovered that I didn't have a 3/8" drill bit that would drill through the steel plate on the handles. Clouds from an approaching winter storm began arriving mid-afternoon along with increasing wind. By sunset the sky was mostly cloudy with strong winds blowing. I missed out on an excellent pass of the International Space Station (ISS) that night. There were several power dropouts and one 50 minute outage due to the strong winds Sunday night. Received 0.2" rain overnight but the forecasted snow did not occur. Monday, 1 February, had periods of sunshine and clouds, with occasional brief periods of rain and snow. I did get a new drill bit on Monday. The sky was cloudy that night.

The sky cleared Tuesday morning, 2 February, giving hope that I would be able to capture the ISS during that night's excellent pass. There was still some strong wind blowing during the day. I used the new drill bit that was supposed to work with steel. I managed to get the two holes completely drilled on the first handle and about half the first hole on the second handle before the bit was too worn. Wow! Hard steel on these handles! Wife picked up another drill bit while she was out doing errands on Tuesday and I was able to (barely) complete the other handle. Here are the handles attached to the dome:


The "marine grade" plywood for the PZT is scheduled to arrive on Thursday. And my visit to OPT is scheduled for Tuesday, 9 February. The excitement continues to build.

Open: Tuesday, 2 February 2016, 1805 MST
Temperature: 45°F
Session: 914
Conditions: Clear

1812 MST: slewed to Rigel and tweaked finderscope alignment for upcoming ISS pass. Updated the ISS TLE in the AutoStar. Mounted the D7200 DSLR at prime focus + 2X PowerMate. Did a focus test using the Spike-A Bahtinov Mask on Rigel. 1823 MST: ready for ISS pass. During the pass did a 6m23s HD video recording, 1.3X crop factor, 60fps, at 1/1600sec, ISO 6400. The image was not as sharp as I expected (and have achieved in the past). Here is the International Space Station as seen on two frames near mid-pass:


1859 MST: removed the camera from the 8" LX200-ACF telescope and viewed M42 (Orion Nebula), 83X. Then began setting up to photograph the Zodiacal Light shining nicely in the western sky. Mounted the D7200 DSLR on a photographic tripod. Did a focus test on Sirius using the Gerd Neumann Bahtinov Mask for Camera Lens. This is a f/3.5, 30 seconds, ISO 2000, FL 18mm, photo showing the Zodiacal Light (above the tree on the left) and the observatory dome (right):


Next, I aimed the camera high in the sky for this photo of the constellations of Gemini (left) and Orion (right) with a portion of the Winter Milky Way between them, f/3.5, 30 seconds, ISO 4000, FL 18mm:


1945 MST: powered on the GC Wi-Fi Adapter and used SkySafari 5 Pro to GOTO Comet C/2013 US10 (Catalina). The coma was visible at 83X. Added the Antares f/6.3 focal reducer and mounted the D7200 DSLR at prime focus + focal reducer. Did a focus test using Castor with the Spike-A Bahtinov Mask. Then slewed back to Comet Catalina. This is a 60 second, ISO 12800, unguided exposure:


At that point I decided I was too cold to continue the session and began closing up for the night.

Close: Tuesday, 2 February 2016, 2036 MST
Temperature: 29°F
Session Length: 2h 31m
Conditions: Clear

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