Tuesday, 30 December 2014

Is this the last session of the year????

Good morning to you, and thanks for stopping by for a quick read.  It's been a bit of a race against the new year clock to fit in as much observing as I could before the end of 2014.  Not only a race against the clock, but also the brightening moon, and to make the most of this window of clear skies.  It has been very cold and clear here in Herefordshire, but each night, more and more low level mist has been appearing because of the lack of wind and temperature inversions being created by the current weather conditions.
So, with that in mind, I decided to abandon my permanent pillar mount for the evening, and break out the original tripod, bringing it around to the side of the building.  I did this to get better views of Orion and when it comes into view, Jupiter.  It was only going to be a short session for the evening, but an enjoyable one nonetheless.
First targets were the favourites M42 and M43 in Orion.  Perhaps one the most popular at this time of year, it was the first time this winter I had chance to observe them.  The nebula was visible, but somewhat washed out through the light mist and light that it reflected.  I was still able to resolve the stars within the nebula and spent my time getting familiar with it once again.
For reference whilst observing, I was using my Sky & Telescopes Pocket Sky Atlas, in particular the section that looks specifically at this area of Orion,  Using this, I picked out the cluster NGC 1981.  A bright and pretty cluster next to M42 and M43.
Next on the agenda was Alnitak, the first star in the belt of Orion as I looked at the constellation.  This is flanked by the Flame Nebula and Horsehead Nebula.  However, conditions and capabilities of the night and my scope meant I wasn't expecting to see them.  But, while looking at the star using my 8mm EP, was able to resolve a faint star next to it.  However, at this point, I am unable to confirm what star that it was.  Nevertheless, I was pleased with what I had observed.
Sticking in the constellation of Orion, I moved onto M78 which is another nebula.  At magnitude 8, it was going to prove a challenge in the deteriorating conditions, but I did manage to locate it.  It looked nothing more than a light grey smudge on a slightly darker grey background.  So, I decided to leave that for the time being.
And finally for the evening, I turned the scope to the East and saw Jupiter as it began to rise up over the horizon,  Straight away, Jupiter presented itself in all its glory.  The 4  moons, Ganymede, Callisto, Io and Europa were pretty evenly spaced each side of the planet, two moons either side.  As the planet was still quite low in the horizon, whilst observing, I did notice periods of high atmospheric disturbance as the planet flicked in and out of focus.  I observed the planet using my 8mm and 5mm BST EPs, and though the image was obviously larger in the 5mm, the 8mm give me the better view on this occasion.  When the atmospherics allowed, the image was actually quite clear considering.  Was was able to make out the Northern and Southern Equatorial Belts with each, but also make out the darker colour in the polar regions.  The only thing with observing at such a high magnification is the constant requirement to make amendments to the EQ mount to keep the planet in the field of view.  It is still an ambition of mine to see the Great Red Spot on Jupiter, but until we get better conditions and the planet is higher in the sky at a sensible time I think I am going to struggle.  Perhaps by mid to late January, I will be able to give it a better go.
So there you go.  That is possibly the last Astronomy According to MountainMadMan blog post for 2014, unless things prove good for observing tonight.  For everyone that has stopped by and taken the time to read my gibberish, and for people who have contributed, thank you very much.  I really appreciate it.  Here's to a successful 2015!  Happy New Year!

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