Reflections on Star B-Q 2014

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by Josef Chlachula

On Saturday, October 25, 2014, it was a beautiful day in Rochester; quite warm with an azure blue sky.
It was a perfect day for garden work in a T-shirt. That afternoon I decided that I would spend the upcoming
night at a Star B-Q.

If I understand it correctly, it was already the seventh Star B-Q organized b y th e Rochester Astronomy Club, coordinated by
Dean Johnson. It takes place on the farm of Dean’s brother-in-law, about 77 miles south of Rochester, on the border with Iowa, specifically about 150 yards in Iowa, in a field of
mowed alfalfa. Organic corn is grown on the adjacent field, alfalfa is plowed into the soil on the former,
and crops on both fields are alternated.

Because of the weather and other obstacles, originally the two-day August gastronomical event, with steaks in the afternoon and astronomical observations at night, became a one-day and night vent on the last Saturday of October with benefit of no mosquitoes and a much longer night for observation. Late that Saturday afternoon I left Rochester on highway 52 South; in a less populated landscape the wide highway became a narrow country road. I arrived after dark and setting up my tent was out of the question, not to speak of the missed social and gourmet part of the afternoon.
I quickly assembled my small Meade Newtonian go-to telescope and I also looked at the sky with my 10×50 Carl Zeiss Jena binocular.
The sky was beautiful. There were only a few distant lights on the otherwise perfect horizon of the cultivated prairie with no hills or buildings, almost like being on the sea. I remember such a dark sky and almost no light pollution from my early childhood.

Later I walked to the largest telescope in the field. Randy Hemann owns a 30-inch go-to Dobson with a focus length about 12
feet, a product of Optical Mechanics Inc. I had an opportunity to look at M33 and saw it’s spiral structure. The Dumbbell Nebula M27 was just huge and with the help of the nebula
filter I could see the normal dark areas.

We looked at a few carbon stars. Next time I would like to see V Aql with such a large aperture. I believe it’s really red, even though I did not find it in the list of the observer program “Carbon Star Observing Club.”

In th e au tumn morning the conditions were good for seeing the
zodiacal light, which of course I have never seen before. Experienced observers assured that the observing conditions are so good that we would see the zodiacal light in the morning.

Before midnight, I decided to sleep and get up at four in the morning. In dropping temperatures I stretched out my sleeping bag next to the car and I fell asleep looking at an almost winter sky with the constellation Orion. Once in a while departing cars awakened me with tired observers. When I woke up at 4am, I was one of the three alert observers: Randy and Dean were smart to take a nap too.

At that time it was too soon for the Zodiacal light, but around five I began to suspect that I was seeing something and then a cone of pale glowing light from the horizon to the constellation Leo was increasingly apparent. I saw the zodiacal light! Before 6am, I noticed what appeared to be a moving red light on the
horizon. Maybe a car on the road, or a low-flying airplane. After a while,I suspected that it could be a star. I pointed my Nexus 4 smartphone in that direction with the Google Sky App and it really was Arcturus rising. At the same time I was looking at the map and noticed that just below the horizon was Mercury,
so we could look forward to its rising.

After a short time Mercury was rising above the horizon. I asked Randy to view Mercury in his 30-inch Dobson but the Dobson could
not go so low above the horizon. So instead we looked at bright Jupiter with an apparent diameter of 36″, with many details in its bands and with all four Galilean moons. Even at dawn, slowly getting brighter, we looked at the Orion nebula with
embedded Trapezium. It’s hard to explain the sight that we saw, all those details of the nebula in the brightening sky. The Trapezium itself, in addition to the obligatory stars A, B, C and D, we were able to see E and F.

Dean had an idea to look at Sirius B.At first I didn’t understand what Dean was talking about, why should we look at bright Sirius. I realized later that he meant Sirius B, a weak
companion of the brightest star in the sky, which only a few people had the opportunity to see. Randy entered Sirius into the Dobson and it turned from Jupiter to Sirius; we brought the ladder close to the eyepiece and after a while Randy
reported that inside of one of the diffraction rays of Sirius A, Sirius B was faintly visible. Really? After a while I climbed on the ladder to the eyepiece at a magnification of 300 and I saw, in one of the diffraction beams next to bright Sirius of magnitude -1.4, a faint star of the eighth magnitude: Sirius B.
Approximately 10,000 times fainter than Sirius A.

Meanwhile, Dean tried to find Sirius on an increasingly bright sky in his 11″ Celestron Schmidt-Cassegrain telescope on the Orion SkyView Pro equatorial mount and he soon reported that he saw Sirius B as well. I looked into his telescope for a long time, but saw nothing, until I suddenly saw a faint star, quite far from the well formed bright dot of Sirius A. The moment felt the same as searching for Venus or Jupiter on
a bright twilight sky and then suddenly seeing the planet. It was like a dream. I’ve often read in literature how an observation of Sirius B is challenging, and now I’ve seen Sirius B twice in two different telescopes. The distance between the
two Sirius components is about 10-arc seconds. Sirius B in 1994 was at pericenter, its angular distance is growing since and in 2019 Sirius B will in at apocenter, 11.4” from Sirius A.

Contrast reduction was the trick. Meanwhile, Mercury was rising
higher above the horizon, so it was possible to observe it with the big Dobson. Comfortably without stairs, we saw two images in the eyepiece. The first was a rainbow image caused by chromatic aberration and next to it was a nice image of a jagged crescent Mercury in phase 0.29 and with an apparent size of 8.2″.

Going back to Jupiter, there was a surprise: against the bright sky it was suddenly obvious that the Galilean moons are no longer just bright spots but they were tiny discs: Ganymede 1.3″, Europa 0.8″, Callisto 1.2″ and Io 0.9″. When I was climbing up the steps to admire the moons of Jupiter I saw
the sunrise on the horizon. There would be an opportunity to see a green or even a blue flash. Well, maybe next time.

The miraculous night had ended. It was a night with excellent observing conditions, especially the visual conditions, but also with relatively low humidity of about 25%. I wondered all night through the low alfalfa in sneakers and I did not have any reason to put on my high boots. However, the morning temperature
dropped significantly and I saw a layer of frost on the roof of my car.

We were ready to enjoy breakfast and also enjoy the Sun with its giant sunspot groups AR2192 in the Halpha
telescopes the Coronado (Randy Hemann) and Lunt (Kirk
On the way home the clouds appeared on the horizon, but they
could not harm the experience of such a rare night.


pictured: Kirk Severson (left), Dean Johnson, Chris Gawarecki, Josef
Chlachula, Joe Gawarecki, Julie Gawarecki and (behind the camera)Randy Hemann

picture: Dave Gross

pictured: Dean (left) and Josef