From my recent diary

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Monday, June 25

I was longing for clear sky during this rainy season and here it came. I headed for the site expectantly. Nonetheless, fog appeared on the way and the situation seemed to be the same as I approached the observing site. Anyway, I had no choice. Upon arrival at the site the fog slightly cleared off and I started setting up my comet seeker without hesitation.

Waxing moon was on the west that shed light on the ground around the site. The moon set at 3:01a.m. local time, while the beginning of the twilight was at 3:27a.m. The period of dark night was only 26 minutes. At 2:45a.m. I trained my telescope at alpha Andromedae where I started the session. The background in FOV was getting darker as the moon inclined toward the west. A lower part of the sky was covered with fog, but the transparency was good at higher altitude. Though I expected to identify some galaxies, I could none of them even 15 minutes after of moonset.

At 3:27a.m. local time, i.e. the beginning of the twilight, suddenly, many galaxies came into the FOV. I could identified five of them with ease: NGC379, 380, 383, 385 and 403. Though it seemed that there existed more galaxies in the FOV by refereeing to SkySafati 6 Pro, they were obviously not comets and I continued the hunting session as I did not want to spend time for confirmation.

A galaxy group of NGC383 (magnitude of 12.2) in the constellation of Pisces. I identified the galaxies with NGC numbers on the image above, though many others that looked like stars might be perceptible by my eye. The faintest one was NGC385 with the magnitude 13.0. The image is 60f wide.
The Digitized Sky Survey copyright © 1994

Four minutes after, M33 appeared at the center of the FOV with wonderful spiral structure. After a few minutes I came across a pair of galaxies, NGC499 and 507. The magnitude was 12.2 and 11.3, respectively. There are some other brighter galaxies in the area, however, I could not observe them. Probably, all galaxies except for M33 were ones that I observed for the first time. It gave me a sense of satisfaction.

Sunday, June 24

I attended the 48th Annual Comet Conference in Ishigaki Island, last weekend. The conference dared to be held at the time of new moon. The local organizing committee wanted to enjoy star gazing under the dark sky. I hesitated to attend the conference at the time of new moon, but I did this time because the value of clear sky has reduced after moving to Kumamoto as the chance of fine days increased. Unfortunately, we could slightly see starry sky due to approach of a typhoon.

My wife, her friend and I headed for Ishigakijima Astronomical Observatory before the start of the conference. However, the observatory was closed. I made a phone call and the answering machine said it was closed due to the typhoon. The road to the observatory might be dangerous because of fallen trees and landslide. We safely drove through the road but we were forced to return.

Ishigakijima Astronomical Observatory

Today less comet hunters attend the conference in comparison with the past. Even though Akihiko Tago, a discoverer of four new comet, took part in the conference from Kobe. He had observed in Okayama Prefecture, but moved to Kobe where his daughter lives due to aging. He said he stopped observing because of old age.
Tago said he attended the Annual Comet Conference last in 1977 when I did for the first time. I remember that many comet discoverers including Tago and Minoru Honda took part in the conference at that time.

Akihiko Tago (right) and me.

I conducted a comet hunting session on Wednesday 13th June. We have few clear sky now that it is rainy season, but the sky condition was the best since I began to live in Kumamoto. C/2016 M1 PanSTARRS was 9th magnitude with a tail. After observing the comet I began to search with theta Pegasi, and identified nine galaxies including NGC7723 and 7600 with a planetary nebula, NGC246. The condition was satisfactorily for this season with good seeing for comet hunting, though there was cloud at an altitude of 10 degrees and lower. The air temperature was10 degrees Celsius at the site, contrarily, daily maximum was over 30 degrees near my workplace. The site is in the inland with high altitude that causes large daily temperature difference. One must be careful to keep in good shape.  

Thursday, May 24

This was the sixth comet hunting session since having moved to Kumamoto. Ozu town where I live is some 18 km away from the central part of Kumamoto City, i.e. my workplace. The distance between my residence and the top of Mount Aso (1592 m) is also about 18 km in a straight line. Considering the balance between work and comet hunting Ozu is a very good town to live.

Locations of Kumamoto City, my residence, two observing sites. Active crater at Aso Nakadake and Daikanbo Lookout are also indicated (refer to photos below).

I visited active crater at Aso Nakadake that was vomiting smoke. The area is kept out when the concentration of poison gas is getting high.

My observing sites are not near the top of the mountain, but at the outer rim of the crater. There are two sites but I still do not know which one is better. The siteA is at the altitude of 940 m, and the other is 730 m and both of them are some 25-minute drive from my house. However, the direction and a degree of the light pollution is different at each site.

The central cone (from the center to the left) seen from Daikambo Lookout (936 m) on the somma.

Today I started to search from Epsilon Pegasi, at 2:48am. The wind was strong with poor seeing. I often reduce the magnification 97x to 78x, because I cannot concentrate on the session under poor seeing, but today, I used 97x throughout the session. At 3:30am wind got weak and suddenly, seeing was improved. My level of concentration augmented, and as a result I identified NGC7817, a galaxy with the magnitude of 11.8. There are many galaxies as bright as NGC7817 in the Great Square of Pegasus, but today NGC7817 was the only one I observed. I wondered if one of the causes for poor seeing is that the morphology of the site in addition to strong wind. During my course of the hunting session I observed C/2016 M1 PanSTARRS. The comet was in the Milky Way with 10th magnitude, but I could not detect the tail.

Though there were some 7 days with clear sky in May, I could conduct comet hunting session only two days due to being busy with my work. It is sure that the chance of clear sky is 2 to 3 times higher than that in Niigata where I lived until March.

Sunday, April 15

Moving to Kumamoto

I have been transferred and moved to Kumamoto this month. I have been very busy in March and after, and I scarcely conducted a comet hunting session. There are three comet discoverers in Kumamoto: Nishikawa, Utsumomiya and Kudo, with brisk activity on amateur astronomy.

It is easy to approach wonderful observing point, Aso, a volcano with high elevation, from Ozu town where I live. The sky is much darker in comparison with that in Tohkamachi, Niigata, where I lived and a chance of clear sky is higher by far. It takes some time to get settled in but it is sure that I will do fruitful comet hinting life than ever.

Friday, February 23

Though it has been nasty weather of winter time, finally, I conducted a comet hunting session for the first time this month. It took 45 minutes to start the session after arriving at the observing site. The time needed for the preparation is 25 to 30 minutes in summer, but it is time consuming to wear clothes against cold protection in winter.

I aimed my comet-seeker at alpha Ophiuchi, Rasalhague, and began the session at 3:48am local time. The sky suddenly got bright at around 4am because ski resorts started field preparation for opening. The sky condition is poor even if it is cloudless in winter due to the light pollution from the ski fields. I my self is a skier, but I must say there are too many ski resorts around my observing site. I can remember more than a dozen of ski fields easily.

Jyoetsu Kokusai Ski Resort. The mountain in the background is Mt. Hakkaisan.

Matsudai Family ski field at night.

Returning to the comet hunting. The first deep sky object that came into the FOV was NGC6633, a splendid open cluster. The next was NGC6760, a ninth magnitude globular cluster. There was C/2016 M1 PanSTARRS 1.1 degrees north of the cluster, but I could not notice. NGC6760 looked an 11th magnitude globular cluster that I observe when the sky condition is good. Then, I was relaxed to observe a wonderful double star, theta Serpentis. The primary star looked yellowish and the companion light blue that moved like a creature by scintillation. After identifying some open clusters, I identified NGC6781, a planetary nebula in the constellation of Aquila. I completed the todayfs session just after NGC9634, a globular cluster in Delphinus, came into the FOV at 5:21am, 23 minutes after the start of the twilight.

It was breezing with air temperature of -5 degree Celsius and I was a little cold. I used a heater installed pants for the first time. It was an excellent product like the heater installed vest (see Comet hunting Wear).

Monday, January 28

I conducted the first comet hunting session this year on Monday, January 1. Air temperature was -10 degrees Celsius, the lowest record of all my hunting session. I aimed at M12, a globular cluster in Ophiuchus, and identified M10 and M14. No additional DSO was observed. Thin moon rose on the southeast at the time when I completed the session.

After that we had some warm days, but it had been chilly and windy for several days. I think there would be any clear sky this month from now on.

Ten years ago, the Italian binocular fan, Paolo Morini, asked me to write a report on my Russian Army Binocular 15x110. I wrote the original article in English, and it was translated into Italian by Morini and into Japanese by me, respectively.

The other day, he contacted me again and said he purchased the same binocular, but there was a difference; mine was the type PNB-1 while his was PNB-2.

He wanted to remodel his referring to mine, because the highest altitude his binocular can be trained is 60 degrees. Actually, I modified my binocular in 2016. I sent him the photos of my 15x110 binocular before and after remodeling. The reason why I needed to modify was that the weight of the main unit, i.e. the housing with the mount, was VERY heavy: 21 kg in total. I was afraid to get strained back when I place it on the tripod at the breast height.

Remodeled 15x110 binocular. The photo on the right Rigel Systems QuikFinder and the white dew cap (dangling) are atached.
Scales for an azimuth and an altitude are installed that make it possible to identify a deep sky object or a comet by combining with a digital map like SkySafari. I bought the grip rod at a DIY shop that makes it easy to move the binocular.

To solve the problem I remodeled the system so that the binocular housing and the mount can be set up separately. The housing is attached to GIRO ERCOLE Altazimuth Mount that is made in Germany via LBracket, and the original tripod was replaced with GITZO GT5532LS. The mount is attached on the tripod using the Losmandy Dovetail Plate. Using this system it is no need to worry about having strained back.

GIRO ERCOLE Altazimuth Mount

I will report on the detail of this binocular system at another time.

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