Sunday, April 12, 2015
About five years ago, muchachos, a young amateur astronomer and ardent Trekkie, Clara Scattolin, had a great idea; she’d go through the Star Trek canon as it stood at the time (with the exception of Enterprise)—STTOS, TAS, TNG, VOY, DS9, and the original movies (not the reboots)—and make an observing list of the real astronomical objects that were mentioned.
Clara’s list was a big hit with Trekkie amateur astronomers including moi. I downloaded the .pdf, converted the list to SkyTools format, and spent an evening looking at and showing off some of the Trek objects. Six altogether. That’s only a fraction of Clara’s observing plan, which consists of 37 objects, so the other evening, I decided to knock off a few more of ‘em.
Should you do the same? Darned right. If you are a Trekkie, you will thoroughly enjoy the experience, even though most of the Enterprise’s destinations and the other astronomical objects at least talked about in the shows are “just” stars. But, what’s wrong with looking at a pretty star? Some are doubles, and almost all are bright and look good in small telescopes. As Clara says:
"You might wonder why anyone might want to look at stars that are probably irrelevant. I don’t know about you, but I would love the opportunity to look at a star that someone believed was a solar system with habitable planets in orbit."
So it was that one recent evening I hit the backyard at 8 p.m. (curse this DST) to do more voyaging. How would I do that? I originally intended to set up a C8 on my Atlas mount. I’d just downloaded the new SynScan firmware build, v3.37, and needed to give it a test run. Unfortunately, clouds were predicted to be on their way in, and I don’t like to lug the Atlas out unless I can keep it set up in the back forty for at least two nights. Severe weather was said to be in the offing, so I decided C8 and Atlas would stay snug and dry.
So, my Celestron C102, a 4-inch achromat, would be my starship of choice for the night. This refractor, “Amelia” by name, is easy to waltz out into the backyard or onto my deck despite her longish tube. I can have her set up in 5-minutes, and she requires almost no thermal equilibration whatsoever. My backyard skies are hardly perfect, with a limiting zenith magnitude of about 5 on a really outstanding night, but the only challenging object on the list this evening would likely be M1, the Crab Nebula, which isn’t that hard for a 4-inch, even under bright skies.
Or it wouldn’t be with clear skies. Unfortunately, there was significant haze building in advance of the front, and I wasn’t at all sure old Crabby would appear in my eyepiece. At least there were no drifting clouds, not yet, so there’d be nothing to prevent me from scoring my other targets, mostly bright double and single stars.
So, out on the deck went the C102, into the diagonal went my Zhumell 100-degree AFOV ocular, The Happy Hand Grenade, and…
When the U.S.S. Amelia emerged from warp space, we were at Orion’s beautiful sapphire, magnitude .13 Rigel, the 6th brightest star in the sky, which looked lovely in the big eyepiece field. The seeing was not perfect, but it was good enough that the sparkler was not dancing around much. How was the chromatic aberration? At the reasonable focal ratio of the C102, f/10, and the reasonable magnification with the HHG, 63X, I didn’t note much. Something besides the color purple was missing, however.
Rigel is not a single star, but a double, boasting a little magnitude 10.4 companion a hair less than 10” away. Actually, Rigel is really a triple star; Rigel B is itself a binary, but a spectroscopic one that cannot be resolved by any scope. Even given the huge magnitude difference between the primary and the B star(s), the relatively large separation makes the pair easy to resolve with a C8.
I expected Rigel B to be nearly as easy with the C102 as with the SCT, but nada did I see of the little comes when I put my eye to the ocular. Well, 63X was a little low in the magnification department, I thought, so I upped it to 142X with my 7mm Uwan 82-degree job. There was the spark of Rigel B. Maybe not as prominent as in a C8, but not bad, not bad at all.
“Wolf in the Fold” (STTOS). Takes place on a planet orbiting Rigel, Rigel IV, and involves grisly killings done in Jack the Ripper style. The crew is enjoying shore leave in a gloomy fog-enshrouded city, with Scotty doing some good, old-fashioned whiskey drinking, when a grisly murder takes place. Scotty is initially suspected, but it’s soon obvious to his companions that a sinister force is at work.
One of the best original show episodes in my opinion, “Journey to Babel” (STTOS), has Rigel as its destination. Specifically, the planet Rigel V. The story concerns the Enterprise’s journey to a diplomatic conference on the planet, and features Spock’s father, Sarek, and mother, Amanda. I won’t give anything else away if you somehow haven’t seen it. If you haven’t seen it, you will love it.
“The Cage” (STTOS). This is another great (2-part) episode, and was the original pilot for the series. Its relation to Rigel is only peripheral in that yet another inhabited Rigellian planet, Rigel VII, is mentioned. See this episode not just for a great SF-like (as opposed to Sci Fi) story, but for a look at the proto-crew of the enterprise, with Jeffrey Hunter as Captain, Majel Barrett as his Exec (Number One), and John Hoyt as the ship’s doctor (Dr. Phillip Boyce).
“Mudd’s Women” (STTOS). Can you believe that there’s yet another (semi) habitable planet in the Rigel system, Rigel XII? There is, and we visit it in this one for replacement dilithium crystals thanks to the (probably) unintentional actions of conman Harry Mudd. The balance of the episode is played out in the harsh environment of Rigel XII’s a mining colony.
In “All Good Things” (STTNG), a movie-length episode, the finale of the show, we are told Enterprise Engineer Geordi LaForge lived on Rigel III following his retirement from Starfleet.
Rigel IV is mentioned in “Prodigal Daughter” (STDS9) as a “pergium” ore processing facility.
Since we were in the Orion neighborhood, Mintaka, Delta Orionis, was our obvious next destination. This westernmost belt star is another bright beauty, a blue-white B0 monster shining at magnitude 2.14. It’s a triple star with a very noticeable 7th magnitude companion 52” away. The other component is closer and way dim, magnitude 14, and was, of course, invisible in my refractor.
Mintaka’s sole appearance is in an STTNG episode, “Who Watches the Watchers?” The Enterprise is studying a race of Bronze Age level people who appear to be related to the Vulcans. The Away Team is discovered, violating the Prime Directive and putting the normal development of the people of Mintaka III in jeopardy. Not a great episode, but a good one.
Messier 45, the Pleiades
Taurus’ Seven Sisters is a beautiful open cluster, but really too big for an f/10 4-inch. I enlisted my 35mm Panoptic to allow me to take in the whole of the cluster’s main “little dipper” shape, but to be honest the group’s many blue sparklers really looked best in the Orion 7x50mm RACI finderscope I use on Amelia when we are observing in light polluted environs.
The Pleiads are mentioned in just one episode, STTNG’s “Home Soil,” as the destination of the Enterprise, which has been tasked with surveying and cataloging planets in the star cluster. Before it can get to M45, however, the ship is diverted to a planet along the way, Velara III, to check on the faltering progress of a terraforming colony there. What the Enterprise finds is a crystalline lifeform that appears similar to one discovered in the (nearby, we assume) Pleiades.
Messier 1, the Crab Nebula
The next logical destination for my starship of the mind was one of the other relatively few deep sky objects in the Trek canon, Messier 1, the famous Crab Nebula. I turned the scope on it, or at least thought I did. The Crab is undeniably subdued in a 4-inch in light pollution. Not surprising given its relatively dim magnitude of 8.4 and relatively large size of 8.0’. I think I saw I as a dim little oval. I was convinced enough that it was there that I didn’t go looking for a light pollution reduction filter, anyway.
The Crab is mentioned in one of STTNG’s light-hearted episodes, “Manhunt,” wherein Picard must deal with a menopausal Lwaxana Troi (mother to Deanna, natch).
Regulus, Leo’s alpha star, is now nice and high above the trees to the east at mid evening, so it was our next port of call. While this star, another blue one, a B7 this time, doesn’t look overly impressive in the eyepiece, it is a pretty remarkable one. It’s a quadruple star with the primary being a very young star that has assumed a strongly oblate shape due to its fast rotation.
Of these wonders, the only thing visible to my little scope other than the bright primary, was the star’s b-c companion. The (unresolved in my little scope) pair is 175” from the planetary and shines at a combined magnitude of 7.6, which made it easy and pretty in the C102. The 4th system member hugs the primary closely and is only detectable spectroscopically.
Regulus is referred to in one of the most famous and beloved of the STTOS episodes, “Amok Time.” While the story doesn’t visit Regulus V, it is discussed as the home of a giant bird that returns to its nest once every eleven years to mate. Not unlike poor Mr. Spock, who s suffering from something called pon farr, the Vulcan equivalent of the Regulan bird’s need to return to home to fulfill its biological imperative or the terran salmon’s need to swim upstream to do the same.
Regulus is also talked about in a rather minor first season episode of STTNG, “The Vengeance Factor.”
Our current target also comes up in a STDS9 show, “Fascination,” as the location of the Regulus III Science Academy.
Aldebaran, a huge, red K5III star couldn’t be more different from the blue stars we’ve visited so far. They are young and it is old, having moved off the Main Sequence and swollen to a huge diameter, almost 45 times that of the Sun. In the eyepiece, it is glorious, a shimmering orange vision.
You’d think we’d hear more about such a prominent star, but no. It does come up in “The Deadly Years” (STTOS), but only in passing. Aldebaran III is the home of the Aldebaran Music Academy.
It also makes a brief appearance in an in the STDS9 episode “Past Tense, Part I.” It seems one of Quark’s relations has been picked up by the federation cops on Aldebaran III and he wants Sisko to do something about it.
After watching Aldebaran, who began to not just shimmer, but to dance, as the seeing degraded and the haze thickened, I figured it was about time to wrap it up. I didn’t want to do any more of the list on an evening that was becoming putrid, but I wasn’t quite ready to haul Amelia back inside, either.
Venus is the bane of achromatic refractors. Not only is she usually intensely bright, she’s usually small. That makes her the A-number-one victim of chromatic aberration. But the love goddess suckered me in as she always does. She just looked so bright and pretty. In truth, she was not that bad. Yes, there was a substantial purple halo, but the little gibbous disk was sharp and clear in the midst of it when the seeing occasionally cooperated.
Back in the Sol system, I studied the second planet on my ship’s “viewscreen” for quite a while. Longer than I thought I would. I am glad I did. I don’t want any of the sky’s wonders to ever become mundane, muchachos. And none of them ever have. Not even too bright Venus, who seemed to still radiate some of the mystery she had in excess back in my youth, when she was a Strange New World, a water rich swamp world trod by dinosaurs, and I couldn’t stop looking at her.
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