February 24, 2017 Friday – Kartchner Caverns & the night sky at Dragoon Mountain Ranch, Arizona, USA
Garry reserved (a few days ago) the Big Room Tour for the Kartchner Caverns for this afternoon. We depart around 1PM so we have time to look around the visitor centre before the tour starts. Unfortunately, photography is not allowed, and they even insist that we leave our cellphones behind in a locker. The tour starts by everyone being taken up the hill in a tram, and then we enter the caverns through a series of doors and air locks. The Big Room is indeed very big, and the history of the caves is interesting, with lots of stalagmites, stalactites, and other cave objects to see. We also learn about the bats who inhabit the cave and use it as a nursery.
On the way back, we go to the Benson Golf Course for dinner. It is a modest place, but the food is good and inexpensive. This is our last meal together, since John, Wendy and I leave the group tomorrow.
We head back home to do some observing – my last night at Garry’s observatory. Garry and Matt struggle to get focusing working while using the Ha filter, but eventually have to admit defeat. Garry restores the system back to normal so I can image an object of interest – NGC 2174, an emission & reflection nebula. I stay inside the house to stay warm while the system takes the images until the series finishes at 2AM. Garry and Diane get up at that time to observe Omega Centauri (photo), so I join them to have a look before heading off to bed. My observing report
February 23, 2017 Wednesday – Steward Observatory Mirror Lab, University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ, USA
Both Reg and I drive the group into Tucson to visit the University of Arizona’s Mirror Lab. John and Garry have visited the lab before, but come along again since it is fascinating. For Reg, Diane, Matt and I, this is our first visit. This lab produces many of the world’s largest astronomical mirrors.
The Mirror Lab’s current multi-year project is to make the seven 8.4 metre mirrors for the Giant Magellan Telescope (GMT), which will be located at Las Campanas Observatory in Chile. Combined together, the seven mirrors will form a single parabolic surface some 24.5 metres (80’) across! GMT is scheduled to be operational in 2022 with four mirrors, and will be fully operational in 2024 with all seven mirrors. The first mirror is completed, and the second through fourth mirrors are currently in the process of being made.
The weather is wonderfully clear this evening, so Diane, Reg and I use the 25” telescope for visual observing from Garry’s observatory. My observing report
Feb 21, 2017 Monday – Dragoon Mountain Ranch, St. David, Arizona
Today is a “down day”, meaning we have no daytime activities planned, so the group can relax and do what they want. I catch up with my social media and email, and work on my journal entries. My blog is still behind – the last entry was for Victoria-Seattle – the first days of my travels, but at least I now have the material to write those blog posts.
It is my turn on the imaging telescope this evening, but when John and Garry try to take some flat frames before sunset, the sensor ices up. This means the desiccant inside the CCD camera is saturated with moisture, and needs to be baked so it dries out to make it effective again. This delays my imaging session of M1 the Crab Nebula by an hour and a half, however I am imaging on the 20” Newtonian Astrograph by 9:20PM and wind up my run just after midnight. Without a doubt, this is my best image of the Crab Nebula. The detail within the object is fantastic, and this is the first time I’ve imaged the green fringe around the nebula! My observing report