Vincent Safuto’s Weblog

Notes and observations

Backyard astronomy — in the backyard

I took out my trusty Celestron C8 telescope last night and did some backyard astronomy, but unlike on most nights, I observed from a new site: the backyard of my house.

Usually, I put the telescope in my driveway and offer views to others, but it’s a pain for several reasons, not the least of which is the streetlight across the street.

Even more than a full moon, amateur astronomers despise streetlights. They turn every night sky into a washed-out mess and radiate light uselessly into the sky. When I lived in Vero Beach, in a new subdivision, the realization shortly after I moved in that I was going to have a streetlight right next to my driveway was a huge disappointment.

But at my house in Ellenton, Fla., I benefit from a backyard that looks out on somewhat wooded open spaces, and there are no streetlights in sight. Even the sky to the west, where my hated streetlight is, is not a total loss, and my north, east and south views are awesome.

Setting up involved bringing the telescope’s parts and my table and folding seat through the house, around the cats, onto the back porch, out the side door of the porch and into the grassy yard. I walked the already-assembled tripod and mount around the side of the house and found a good spot for it in the yard.

As the sun went down, I assembled everything and then brought my laptop out because I was going to use a sky program to try to find some objects using setting circles.

The only fly in the ointment was that someone a couple of blocks away was mowing a lawn with the loudest lawnmower I’ve ever heard, but he eventually ran out of grass to mow and stopped.

It got dark, and I did the most accurate polar alignment I could. Some people, me included, usually just line up on Polaris and start observing, but I tried to align to the North Celestial Pole, which is near Polaris, using the polar alignment scope in the mount. I was successful and started with the planet Venus.

The clock drive was balky but I managed to get some good views, and then it was dark enough to try some deep-sky objects. Until I get a new telescope (after I find a new job that pays and offers benefits), this is the way to go for me.

I suffer from an intense lack of imagination, so I go for the easy stuff, like M42 in Orion. I observed the nebula through different eyepieces, then decided to try for two Messier objects in Auriga, M36 and M37. I found them using the right-angle sweep method (here’s the list of objects), and was ready for a new challenge: using setting circles to find an object.

I was running my laptop on battery power, but had neglected to lower the screen brightness. The laptop suddenly went dark, then shut down. The battery had run too low.

I hadn’t recorded the right ascension and declination of the star I wanted to point at or the object I wanted to try to find, so I was stuck. I could have run an extension cord to the laptop, but decided not to. As luck would have it, the sky began to cloud over. I took a last look at M37, then started shutting it all down.

As luck would have it, after I moved everything back in, the skies cleared again. Drat, foiled again.

I’m thinking I may do the backyard thing a couple of nights a week when I’m home. It’s definitely a fun way to observe without having that supernova of a streetlight ruining the views.


February 26, 2009 - Posted by | Observations with Vinny | , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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