May 1st, finally a night that wasn’t freezing! Tonight’s forecast had vacillated between mostly clear and partly cloudy, but I’d decided that tonight was a night I’d be going out – no matter what!
Mother nature has been brutal. Two days ago Lake Placid saw several inches of wet snow, and we had plow-able snow here in Keene the higher elevations.
Today’s sunshine and mid 70’s temperatures were tempered by passing showers and building clouds in the afternoon. Still, the forecast was for clearing. Broken clouds by 8:00PM – just enough to find some alignment stars and with a bit of good luck – I polar aligned the CPC-800 and wedge. I was joined by Chris and Christine as we watched and waited.
The air was warm and beautiful – and no bugs!
We finally saw a few star clusters among the remaining clouds and eventually turned our attention to Jupiter, just rising in the southeast before 10 PM. It was bold and bright as the clouds gradually dissipated.
I played around a bit with my iAstroHub setup and its auto-guider program, which I’ve had trouble with and only limited opportunities to test for real. I finally had a breakthrough when I realized that the correction signal of the declination axis was reversed. Yikes – positive feedback – kinetic runaway!
This revelation fully explained why errors in that axis tended to take off rather quickly instead of correctly tracking. Meanwhile, the right-ascension axis seemed to be holding course so I knew I couldn’t be too far away from success. Clicking one checkbox in the setup screen quickly fixed things and I was finally auto-guiding for real.
Nearly 11:00PM – the moon had risen enough to wash out the now nicely cleared sky. It was too late to seriously think about trying to capture any deep sky objects. Nonetheless, I decided to give it a shot with my DSLR camera. I turned the telescope towards Bodes nebula (M81) and captured a couple of three minute exposures. Auto-guiding seemed to be working reasonably well. One can almost pull out some spiral bands from this galaxy. I think that without the moonlight and given some more time and image stacking, maybe better focusing – I might actually be on track to collecting a decent image here.
Still, at nearly 12 million light years distant and awash in moonlight, this three minute exposure and first attempt at real auto-guiding is a notable achievement for this neophyte astronomer.