Return of the Observer

Hi Everybody,

These past months have been somewhat difficult. My telescope was experiencing technical difficulties. However, I was able to resolve the issues, and I can continue observing now. Here is my recollection of my latest observations:

During the night of Saturday March 8, 2014 the skies were clear. Before that, an old Newtonian was discovered in my family’s closet. It’s a cheap one with only 30x magnification, but works nonetheless. That night, I looked at the moon with it. It definitely projects an image, but not a clear image. It looked very dusty. The image is not as good as my 8″ SCT (Schmidt-Cassegrain Telescope). After observing the moon, I decided to take my SCT outside the driveway to find Jupiter.

Because of my issues with my telescope, I had to recalibrate my finderscope with my Telescope. Luckily, the Moon was above the horizon. I was able to find the moon after some struggle, and calibrate my equipment with it. It was satisfying to see the moon up close since my telescope developed problems. Pointing away from the light side of the moon I saw, without light interference, how the dark side of moon and the darkness of the sky look compared to each other. It was intriguing.

Sketch of the Moon meshing with space.

Sketch of the Moon meshing with space.

After that, I decided to find and look at Jupiter. It was easy to find Jupiter, falling to the horizon on the western Sky. Looking at it through my 25 mm eyepiece, it looked the same as always. In addition, three of its four moons are visible. It was lovely. However, I had an idea. The newtonian telescope that my family found has a 20 mm eyepiece. I know that when you divide the focal length of the telescope with the focal length of the eyepiece, you get the magnification of the telescope. A 2032 mm telescope with a 25 mm eyepiece will yield 80x magnification. Knowing that, I decided to put the 20 mm eyepiece from the newtonian onto the SCT. If the math is right, then my telescope should have 101.6x magnification and, as a result, Jupiter should appear larger. I put on the eyepiece, and then my put my eye on the eyepiece, and I saw a slightly bigger Jupiter. It was beautiful. If the math continues to hold, then I plan on getting smaller eye piece to get closer to Jupiter. It was a step forward in my astronomical journey.

My next object I wanted to observer were the galaxies located at opposite sides of Benetnasch, which is part of the Big Dipper. It took a while to set up. I had to dig out an area of snow in the backyard to place my telescope. After a while, I was able to safely move my equipment to the dug out area, where I set up my equipment. I went about aligning my telescope to the limited about of stars visible. The first time failed for some reason. However, the second time was a success. I pointed my telescope towards the big dipper scanning for that object. However, I failed to find anything. During my search, I stumbled upon a star that had a clear halo around it. It was quite amazing to see such a star like that. I was thinking it was a deep sky object. However, I didn’t know. But it did look like this:

The star halo I saw was a bit more pronounced than the image.

Looking at my clock, I realized it was three in the morning. Daylight Saving Time had already come into affect, which means it was actually four in the morning. Knowing that, and that the cold is starting to get to me, I decided to pack it in for the night bringing all my equipment inside safely.

Overall, It was a successful observation. I saw the beauty of the moon, Jupiter, and an intriguing star. When I was doing research and talking to experts, I learned that it might be a deep sky object with only the heart visible, either M51 or the Ring Nebula. It’s interesting that a galaxy could look like that to my eye. However, I can’t be sure; not until I see it again and image it. I have taken many steps forward in my astronomical observations. I hope to continue that in the coming days.

IMAGES USED

The RASC Members event at the DDO

On Saturday, January 25, 2014, braving the bitter cold, the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada (RASC) hosted a members’ night for all the members at the David Dunlap Observatory (DDO). At these events, the members get together, socialize, listen to the planned lectures based on the theme of the event, and, if conditions permit, then observe the night sky. These events are hosted every month on Saturday evenings. This month’s theme was “Our Galactic Neighbours”.

I arrived at around 6:00 pm. Once I came in and found the gathering place, I met the members who were present. From the moment I arrived, until the time when the lecture started, I socialized with many of the members present. It was great to meet with a very diverse group of astronomers, teachers, academics, and other members.

At 7:30 pm, the lectures began in the presentation room. As per the theme of this member’s night, all the lectures were about galaxies.The first lecture that was presented to us gave a general overview of what a galaxy is, what we know about them in the past and now, their shape, and composition, satellite galaxies and other cosmological phenomena, such as black holes, dark matter, and dark energy. The second lecture given to us talked about distances with respect to galaxies. For example, We looked at the distances to our immediate neighbours. The Milky Way is 100,000 lightyears (lyrs) across, and M31 (Andromeda Galaxy) is 2.58 million lyrs away. Eventually, we start to expand our horizons and look further out seeing many galaxies clustered together, such as the Virgo supercluster, and when we expand our horizons further at a distance of 400 Mlyrs (Mega-lyrs) across, we see voids in the clusters 100 Mlyrs across. It was very intriguing.

Our final lecture talked about how we can observe deep sky objects ourselves. He gave us tip and tricks to help us identify what we see, how we can best see deep sky objects from Earth with proper positioning of our telescope and our eyes, and the obstacles we will face when observing deep sky objects.

After the lectures, the evening concluded. However, one of the members, who happened to be the chair of the DDO offered to give the members a tour of the main telescope used in most observations. Most members, including me, took advantage of that opportunity.

The telescope became operational on May 31, 1935, and was the second-largest telescope operating in the world at that time. This telescope was used by many renown astronomers throughout the years to study deep space objects. In 1971, most notably, the DDO was able to confirm that the Cygnus x-1 binary system has a black hole. In 2007, the University of Toronto intended to close the telescope down. However, in 2009, RASC put forward a proposal to run the telescope for educational purposes. As a result, in July 2009, it was reopened for public use by RASC and has since remained like that.

In the observatory, we saw the giant telescope that was used to observe the stars. It has a Schmidt-Cassegrain design, with a primary mirror concentrating the light to a secondary mirror and then reflecting it to the instrumentation.

Telescope used at DDO.

Telescope used at DDO.

Telescope used at David Dunlap Observatory

Secondary Mirror of Telescope.

Every time the telescope operators want to use the telescope they need to manually remove the covers of the mirrors.

The chair showed us how its mount works. It is an equatorial mount that follows the Celestial Equatorial Coordinate System, which slews the telescope based on Right Ascension (RA) and Declination (Dec) coordinates. (Think of it like Latitude and Longitude of the stars) Believe it or not, the mount is not computerized, and relies on a manual switch, and it also includes a hand crank for turning the telescope on its RA axis. It’s quite fascinating.

In addition, he showed us the spectrometer used in the telescope as well as the telescope very large 100 mm eyepiece. It gives the telescope 330x magnification, which is pretty good. It was quite a sight.

We then saw the electrical system of the telescope. It is quite old, since it still uses DC currents. One notable feature of the electrical system is a light bulb. It is notable because it is used to prevent the electrical system from freezing in these frigid Canadian temperatures. It is also worth nothing that the light bulb is still active after 60 years of use. It’s very intriguing. In addition, we learn that the dome rotation was powered not by gears but by a pulley system balanced with 10 stones (140 lbs) of weight. I say 10 stones because the weights were made in the UK.

In the other side, we saw the equipment used to recoat the primary mirror. Every two years, the aluminum coating on the mirror is recoated to maintain its reflective properties. The process they use is the same process used when it became operational. First, the operators use a manual elevator to bring the two ton mirror to the ground level. Before that, the bottom of the elevator needed an additional two tons attached to balanced the elevator. Once the mirror is at ground level, they use sodium hydroxide to clean the aluminum off, using diapers to wipe it down. It was quite astonishing.

Once the mirror is completely clean, they put the mirror in a vacuum chamber. Attached in the upper rim of the chamber are evenly-spaced diodes. Each diode requires three slivers of aluminum on it to coat the mirror. Once the aluminum is in, and the mirror is in place, they vacuum seal the chamber. In a specific sequence, they activate each diode which evaporates the aluminum and evenly applies the aluminum across the entire mirror. Once it has dried for a day, they take the mirror and place it back into the telescope. The secondary mirror goes through a similar process inside a smaller vacuum chamber.

Fun Fact: The primary mirror was so big that they had to bring it inside using an unfinished opening in the wall. It would not fit through the doors.

After that, our tour ended and we all went back home.

Overall, the event was a great success. I learned a lot of new interesting and informative facts about the universe around me. Closer to home, I learned the history of the DDO, how the DDO’s main telescope works, and what it takes to maintain it over the years.

If you like what was read here, please check out my facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/jolyastronomy

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WORKS CONSULTED

http://rascto.ca/content/members-nights-ddo

http://www.theddo.ca/History/tabid/58/Default.aspx

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cygnus_X-1#Discovery_and_observation

http://www.alcoat.net/al_2.htm