Sunday, November 3, 2013

An Evening of Stars and Rain!

My buddy Pat wanted to see my Celestron 14" plus Hyperstar in action, plus check out a new site near Benson, so we went out last night for a few hours.  Shown at left, the Hyperstar is produced and marketed by Starizona, a local astronomy shop, and allows a Schmidt-Cass telescope like my 14" diameter scope to be used at "prime focus".  The advantage of the design is the short focal length, leading to wide fields and short exposures.  It effectively transforms the scope to a 660mm focal length, F/1.9 telephoto lens!

We had planned to go out last weekend, but as most any amateur astronomer will tell you, it is most always cloudy on the dark-of-the-moon weekend (or if someone bought a new telescope) and that was true last weekend.  This weekend, the forecast was also for clouds, but some predicted a few hours of clear skies early, so we took a chance and hit the road!

We arrived before sunset (always a good thing to NOT be setting up in the dark!), and the scope went up quickly on my more-substantial AP 1200 mount rather than the one shown above.  After allowing the scope to vent its interior for a bit to cool down, I installed the Hyperstar triplet corrector lens, focused on Venus and I was ready to take some twilight flats to help calibrate the frames I'd take when it got dark.  After sighting the mount on Polaris align it to the Earth's rotation axis, it was ready to use.  Since it had been months since I'd used the setup myself, I went to the brightest fuzzy thing in the sky to make setup easy - the Andromeda Galaxy!  Even though I just shot this a couple weeks ago, it was good practice, and a good comparison to the longer exposures needed with the slower 11cm refractor I used for that shot.  Shown here is a stack of 5 exposures of 90 seconds each - yes, 450 seconds total exposure!  Besides the main galaxy Messier 33, composed of perhaps 200 Billion stars are two of its companions, the smaller M33 upper left and M110 lower right.  Of course, the bulk of the individual stars you can see in the picture are in our own galaxy...

As the forecasts had predicted, clouds formed in the SW and slowly moved towards us, so we hustled to get in a couple more galaxy shots (Pat has a thing about capturing distant galaxies!).  From his back yard in Tucson he had often searched for Messier 33, another nearby galaxy to the Milky Way, and not too far in the sky from the above M31.  But alas, he had never spotted it from home and was amazed at it's appearance in binoculars and in his 10" scope.  Shown here is a single (!) 90 second exposure with the Hyperstar.  So it has some noise, but you get the idea of its spiral structure, and some of the brighter stars and clusters in the 2.5 million light years distant galaxy can be spotted.

Just as the clouds reached the zenith, I started a series of exposures on NGC 891, an edge-on galaxy located not far from the above objects, though this one is much further away at 30 million light years.  Clouds allowed 4 exposures of 4 minutes total exposure before closing out the sky.  But even so, the fast optics allowed a reasonable exposure.  This has a very low surface brightness, and views through a telescope are often disappointing, but takes careful scrutiny to spot the spindle shape and even the dark lane in an 8 or 10 inch telescope.  Note that down on the right border of our blog is a photo taken of it with my longer-focus 11" Newtonian telescope many years ago that perhaps shows more detail...

We got socked in right afterwards and about the time we packed up and drove back to Tucson, it actually started raining!  Rain was NOT in the forecast, but given the sparse summer rainy season we had it is great to see coming down.  By the time I got home (about 10pm!) it was coming down at a good clip, and the Weather Service claims we got about the highest totals in town, nearly .1"!  Not much by most standards, but given the fact we caught the above photons AND got to enjoy some rain showers, it was a nice night!

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