Sunday, May 21, 2000

Seeing double in Los Gatos

I was out in my backyard last night, with my 10" f/5.6 Dob. The sky seemed bright and after some frustration trying to find some galaxies, I resigned myself to splitting doubles.

The seeing had to be outstanding. I used my Meade 7mm and 4 mm Research Grade orthos, but mostly the 7, yielding magnifications of 203X and 356X.

I revisited several doubles I had seen at Montebello Saturday night, but he seeing was obviously better last night.

I began in Bootes with Izar (36-Epsilon Bootis). This double split easily with the 7mm. Its separation is listed at 2.9", with the primary at mag 2.7 (an easy in town naked eye target), and the companion at mag 5.1. It is a true binary sitting almost 210 light years from us. Both stars looked yellow to me, but the companion seemed a bit whiter. Some references call the companion blue-green.

I next moved to three dimmer double in Bootes. Zeta Bootis was just visible at mag 3.8 (indicating how frustrating galaxies were!). It is a wider double at mag 4.8 and 6.9, true binary, 317 light years away. Note the discrepancy? The magnitude 3.8 is Vt from The Sky (Software Bisque), whereas the 4.8 is on the Bootes Astro Card.

The binary 29-Pi Bootis is closeby Zeta, and an easy split at 5.6". Both components appeared white and about a mag apart, the primary being mag 4.9 (naked eye) with its secondary at mag 5.8,

My favorite double for color was a revisit to 37-Xi Bootis. This pair, another true binary, is a close neighbor of ours at only 21 light years. It is interesting to see the difference in brightness compared to Arcturus, which is 37 light years distant. Xi shines at mag 4.8 and 6.9. It is worth regular visits due to the contrast between what I saw as the creamy yellow primary and a topaz or almost rust colored companion. This to me is a more obvious color contrast than Alberio or Gamma Andromeda. Check it out, really a nice sight. Separation is about 6.7", so not difficult at all to split.

Looking next at Virgo, I recalled Porrima to be a challenge in the past. Easily naked-eye at mag 2.75, this double is another binary relatively close at 38 light years (again, showing what a monster Arcturus must be!). Both components of Porrima are white and mag 3.6. Oddly, the Astro Card lists their separation as 5.2", but with the 7mm I could not get a split, just a hint that something was not quite "single"... In went the 4mm and I had two beautiful white stars, cleanly split. These must be about 1" separation. It is exciting to get these types of splits... seeing a single point source clearly become two. The thought of two brilliant white suns so close together made me want to again look at Gamma Leonis.

The golden twins in Leo were awesome. I never tire of looking at them. I know some people go for color, which Gamma Leonis has, but I mean color differences. Yet, there is something warm and friendly about this double. I suppose the warmth I feel is familiar, being a creature that daily is exposed to light from a local yellow star. Looking at Gamma Leonis on a warm summer night, like last night, is a wonderful experience.

I moved back to Virgo, to another naked eye double. 51-Theta Virginis sits just off-line between Spica and Porrima. This one is not a binary, but have common proper motion. The double is an easy split at 7.6", with a good difference in mag, 4.4 and 8.6, and fairly distant compared to the previous stops during the night... 415 light years. Imagine how bright these stars would be were they 10 times closer! I also enjoyed the color contrast between the two, yellow and a subtle redish.

I spent a little time looking for SS Virginis, which is described on the Astro Card as a fiery-red variable, but without a better chart, this one was too elusive. I thought I was in the right place, but nothing appeared very red.

All in all, it was just nice to be outside on such a warm night. I looked over the temps recorded by NWS for Los Gatos, we had a hih of 99 yesterday. I think it was in the 80's still when I closed up my eyepiece case at 11:15. Another note of interest was that last night was the first time I've been able to use my astro-blind (I have to get a better name for it, astro-blind sounds like something peopl in a visual hobby would run from). Although I could see a glow around the edges of the tarp (4'x15'), I no longer am looking at the direct bright light from the neighbor's kitchen window. The blind went up in about 2 minutes, and came down even faster when I was done for the night. About $25 in goodies to build it, and I again have a decent backyard form which to observe.

Thursday, May 18, 2000

Full moon fuzzy fun...

My 10" Dob had sat in the back of my Suburban all week, since Houge Park last Friday night. Eyepieces, ladder, the whole deal, out in the truck. Why not... lousy skies, in fact rain (we did have rain, remember?)...

But today, well, summer paid us a visit. BBQ out back, patio screen door letting the outside come in, windows open. What a change. So, about 7 o'clock, I unloaded the truck, bypassing the garage and taking everything out back.

As expected, the scope was hot. The eyepieces were hot. So, there I stood, out back, watching the sky begin fading in the east, looking for the first star of the night. Mimi came out, drawn by the lure of a clear night. I explained this was a full moon night, but maybe we could try a bit of bright sky observing. "What are you looking for" she asked as I squinted eastward. I told her I was watching for Arcturus, which I expected would be the first star visible. Showing her about where it might be, we stood and talked. She is studying astronomy in her 6th grade science class, and was able to identify a slide of the Beehive in class today. She's revelling in her knowledge. Other kids haven't a clue, but at least some are interested. She talked about seeing a Stephen Hawking movie about black holes in class. She talked of the insignificance of humanity when compared to the great mysteries of the universe. It was amazing, and inspiring to hear the growth toward maturity and depth of understanding she is gaining. Children are wonderful teachers.

While all this was going on, she spotted Arcturus. Keen eyes.

We looked at the golden star.... nice images, although lower power, using the 19 Panoptic. Still, the view filled me with a feeling of peace, relaxation, wonder. I think it was the same for Mimi. She talked of observing in terms that I told her were meditative. She equated it to becoming absorbed in a great book, losing the world around you. Like I said, quite a discussion.

The sky continued to darken. She spotted Regulus, Procyon.... I beat her to Spica.

I pointed the scope at Izar in Bootes. The double split but the image was fuzzy. I collimated, and the star was a tight but good split, one component much brighter than the other. The mirror was still cooling too, but the night would be short, so we decided to move on.

Mimi wanted to find things. So, the scope was hers until her school night bedtime. She put Alcor and Mizar in, and enjoyed the bright pair with other nice white stars in the field. I described where to find M3, and in the 11x70 finder she spotted a fuzzy. In the eyepiece, the cluster was easy to spot, even in the bright sky. I said I could see individual stars, that it looked like sprinkled sugar. Mimi was not so sure, saying it was powdery. I suggested she try M65/M66, and soon she said I could see them with averted vision (cracks me up to hear her say that, don't know why.... just does). She was right, barely there, but there. I popped the scope up into the heart of Virgo and saw either M86 or M84. Then over to NGC 3608 (guessing) in the tail of Leo. This was fun. I was thoroughly enjoying being out.... it felt like summer.... I could feel the approach of wonderful nights, warm weather, friends. Its not far off.

Mimi had turned in. I was alone out back... the moonlight was washing out the east. I thought perhaps I'd work some double stars for a bit. Up to Gamma Leonis.... what a wonderful sight. Two bright suns glowing, easily set apart from each other in my 7mm Meade. I stood looking. 125 light years from my eye, so bright and warm. Summer in the eyepiece. The combination of warm air, clear sky and the perceived warmth of the golden double... this was enough. I thought of what Mimi had said earlier in the eveing, huggin my telescope to push it around.... "I'm hungry for photons" ... I knew how she felt. Gamma Leonis was gorgeous, and the perfect way to finish off a short night with a rising full moon.

Get your scopes ready... observing season is here.