I planned to spend two nights at Oracle Observatory this trip. The weather forecasts for Saturday, 31 May, were good but cloudy skies were forecast for the night of 1 June. I arrived at Oracle Observatory at 1310 MST. The temperature was 90°F. The sky was mostly clear with a few high clouds and there was a slight breeze. The bad 8" LX90-ACF that replaced the first bad 8" LX90-ACF that was supposed to replace the extended backordered LXD75-8"SC that was to replace the stolen LXD75-8"SC had not yet been repaired by Meade so I took my ETX-90RA, ETX-125AT, and PST (Personal Solar Telescope) telescopes. I started to set up on arrival but stopped at 1400 MST to monitor the Space Shuttle launch with my Apple iPhone. I completed setting up at 1435. Here's what the setup looked like this visit:
The ETX-125AT is in the foreground right of center, the PST is piggybacked on the ETX-90RA near the center, my observing chair is at the left, and my various accessories are on the table at the right. In the background you can see the "astronomer's quarters".
At 1450 MST, temperature 93°F, I did some solar observing with the ETX-90RA and PST. The Coronado White Light Filter was on the ETX-90RA. No sunspots were visible in white light but two nice prominences about 90 degrees apart were visible in hydrogen-alpha light (PST).
At 1500 MST there were still some high clouds as seen in this photograph:
I then spent the next hour and a half walking around the 3 acres and taking some photographs.
At 1640 MST I and a neighbor looked at the sun. Now there were four prominences visible! One aside: when I came up to the telescopes about this time I noticed that there were many many many small brown ants investigating the telescopes and tripods, my observing chair, and my accessories table. In the 3+ years of coming to Oracle Observatory I have never seen this type of ant before nor had any ants of any type on my equipment! I wonder if these are the same type of ants that are causing problems with electrical equipment in Texas. The neighbor brought some ant spray but it didn't have much affect. Once the sun set, the ants went away until the next day.
One other aside: based on a tip I learned during my SkyShed POD investigations, I took a dryer sheet with me on this trip. It is supposed to keep the bugs away. I didn't use it for 30 minutes and the flies and gnats swarming around my head were a nuisance. I then placed the dryer sheet under the back of my cap and let it hang down over my neck. No bugs! Maximum effectiveness seemed to be about 2 hours, but I continued to wear the same sheet through the evening and the next day, and it continued to be reasonably effective. I will be adding ant spray and dryer sheets to my observing kit!!!
Sunset was pretty:
At 2010 MST with the temperature down 30 degrees from its high of 93°F just 4 hours previously and the clouds having gone away, I looked at Mars with a 9.7mm eyepiece (196X) on the ETX-125. Seeing was not too good, but I could just make out some dark areas near the center of the planet's disk. Some neighbors came over and looked through the ETX-125. They got to see Mars, Saturn, M13 (Globular Cluster in Hercules), M51 (Whirlpool Galaxy), and M57 (Ring Nebula). They left at 2120 MST, and I started tonight's astrophotography at 2200.
First up was M13 at prime focus on the ETX-125. I used my Nikon D70 DSLR. I set the focus using the Stellar Technologies International Stiletto Focuser (a great focusing aid!) and took many images (all at ISO 1600) over the next 40 minutes. The first eleven were 30 second exposures each, and the last 20 were 15 seconds each. After I returned home, I used Lynkeos 2.2 on my Apple MacBook Pro to align, stack, and crop the best 6 images (mostly 15 second exposures) and here is the result:
I then photographed M57 at prime focus over the next hour. I took 22 images (ISO 1600), all but 2 were 15 second exposures. Here's the cropped, aligned, and stacked version of the best 12 images:
I then did some more testing with the Meade mySKY. In the past I've mentioned some pointing problems with it, and tonight was no exception. The temperature was 57°F, and the mySKY was still consistently 5-7 degrees in error on Identify and Goto functions. This is a bummer as the first unit I had worked almost perfectly right up until it failed (locked up getting the GPS alignment). This second unit gets GPS OK but is lousy at its main function, which is Identifying and Goto-ing objects!
At 2350 I retired to the astronomer's quarters and listened to an episode of "Wild Bill Hickok" on my iPod. After the episode was over, I came back out to do some astrophotography of the Milky Way. I piggybacked my D70 DSLR on the ETX-90RA, set the lens at 18mm focal length, and did 3 minute, 5 minute, and 10 minute exposures, all at ISO 1600. The 3 minute exposure was the best. Jupiter is the bright object on the left.
At 0150 MST I looked at Jupiter and its four brightest moons with the ETX-125. After that I retired for the night. The skies were still clear and the temperature was 56°F.
At 0830 on Sunday, 1 June, I came out of the tent to clear skies with the temperature already 80°F. But the Clear Sky Chart forecast it to cloud up about sunset. For the next several hours it was sunny and hot and I spent a lot of time taking photographs:
At 1330 MST the skies were still clear and the temperature had reached 99°F. But by 1420 high cirrus clouds had arrived from the southwest, the temperature was beginning to fall, and the breezes were getting stronger. I took one more photograph before sunset:
At 1600 the temperature was down to 95°F, and clouds covered about 75% of the sky. By 1730 MST the temperature was 90°F, and clouds covered most of the sky. I began packing up. I finished packing up most items at 1905. The temperature was now 77°F under cloudy skies. As sunset approached I took this photograph:
A few minutes later nearly the entire sky turned a golden-orange as the clouds began to pick up the light from the Sun that had already set. This was the most gorgeous sunset I have ever seen. This wide-angle photograph shows a portion of what I saw:
I finished packing up and left Oracle Observatory at 2000 MST. Even though the visit was cut short it was a nice one!
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