Saturday, December 14, 1996

Fremont Peak - Winter skies December 14, 1996

Last night, Fremont Peak hosted a nice array of telescopes. Two 7" AstroPhysics sat next to the observatory, along with what I assume was a 100mm Zeiss objective in an AstroPhysics OTA. Down the hill sat a 7" Questar, 12.5" Orion dob, 12" Meade LX-200, 2 8" Meade SCTs, a 7" Meade Maksutov, 4.25" Coulter, 6" Cave and 14.5" dob.

As sunset approached, several of us began a naked eye search of the western glare for Jupiter. I thought I found it, low in the west below and to the right of the moon, but could not sight in it my scope. While I struggled, one of the women observers nailed it, low in the saddle of Fremont Peak. Looking at Jupiter, it became apparent that while we might have very good transparency, steadiness would be a problem. Soon, we began searching for Saturn. Again, the same woman was the first to locate it (in th e 6" Cave, I believe).

Darkness fell, and so did the temperatures. Soon, it was time to layer the clothing. The wind made strange sounds through the wires of the communications towers next to the Peak. To me, it sounded like a train approaching when the wind would howl.

Still, when the wind would break it was possible to get in some useful observing. Even then, the unsteadiness turned stars into planetary-nebula-like blobs for extended periods.

I started the evening by the refractor owners. My logic was that if I were going to blow my night vision looking at the moon, it should be first thing, before it was truly dark. So, I looked through the twin 7's and indeed, even though the views looked as if I was observing through water in a meandering stream, the detail was astonishing. I am quite sure the AP owners were enjoying the evening, since we saw so little of them as the night progressed.

After true darkness settled in, I began working Herschel objects in Perseus. This night I was without my friend who is working the list with me, so I was not able to check views in his 18" Obsession, nor did I have the use of his laptop computer with The Sky as my chart. So, I used my HB Astro-Atlas. I have to say I am very pleased with the HB atlas, as it is well detailed and provides a well thought-out system of symbols that lets one know key elements about the object you are viewing.

So, on to Perseus. The first Herschel object tonight would be NGC 1582, a bright open cluster about midway between Capella and Epsilon-Perseus. In a 19mm Panoptic, the cluster was rich and coarse, with many bright stars. This was an easy target.

On next to NGC 1205, another open, just 1.5 degrees away in Perseus. This object is small and glows dimly around mag 11. Compared to it's neighbor 1582's bright mag 7, this one was tough. A row of stars forming a nice line sat off to one side of the cluster, flanked by two brighter stars. This made it possible to identify the cluster (without using the LX-200's goto button).

NGC 1624 was a short hop from 1205, but this too proved a difficult object to locate. Open clusters are not my preferred target, since they are easily lost in the rich background of the Milky Way. However, after thinking several groupings were the cluster, it was obvious when I was on it since there is nebulosity involved. This cluster is small, about 5 arc minutes, and dim, roughly in the mid 10's, but a nice sight,

Now the fun was about to start. Just north of Algol, in a rich field of galaxies sits NGC 1186, my next target. At first, the field seems lacking in any notable objects. But quickly smudges begin appearing. 1186 shone at mag 13, and was obviously elongated. Its size is listed a 2.3 x 0.7 arc minutes. From there I spent time cruising dimmer galaxies all in the general area. These included NGCs 1160 (elongated galaxy close companion, mag 13.00), 1175 (edge on galaxy with bright core, mag 12.80), and finally down to Rho-Perseus to find NGC 1207 (elongated galaxy with bright core, mag 13.00).

By then it was time for a break, since Perseus now occupied Dobson's hole. The temperature was now a factor, so I agreed to honor a good natured challenge I had made once by e-mail, and participated in an arm wrestling contest. This is a great way to warm up in cold weather!

Orion was in a reasonable position, so up to (what else?) M42. What a view! My new Tele View 19mm Panoptic showed detail I had never seen. . . just incredible. M43 was so pronounced I kept calling people over to look. The extent and definition on these two objects was astonishing, and this in poor seeing conditions. Someone asked about finding NGC 891, which had been elusive for that particular observer, so with assistance from the owner of the 12.5" dob, I soon had this nice edge on in view. The dust lane was most pronounced, and the sight was a treat after all the faint stuff up in Perseus.

By now Eradinus was high (relatively) in the south. I have spent little time in this galaxy rich constellation, and decided to jump in. The first few were so large I could hardly believe it. NGC 1232 was comparatively bright and easy, classified as a barred and ringed spiral in the HB Atlas. The bar was perhaps discernable, but the ring was a real challenge. 1232 is an easy target, with a size of 8.5 x 7.5 minutes, although its mag 9.90 is spread out over its large size. Next to NGC 1187, also big and bright, is a round galaxy at mag 11 and 6.0 x 4.0 minutes.

At this point, Jay Freeman came by. Jay had arrived under the cover of darkness. A few of us thought we recognized his voice, but were unsure. Then, when we heard him remark he wasn't setting up a telescope, it was a confirmed Hacksaw Reynolds sighting (albeit an audio "sighting"). Jay eventually stopped by and asked if there was anyone crazy in the group. Being a curious person, I volunteered in order to draw out the inferred request. Jay was after M31's satellite galaxies Andromeda 1, 2 and 3. I gave up my scope and got to observe a star hopping aperture enhanced Jay Freeman in action. Soon, the faint glows of all three objects were part of the night's conquests. Jay always brings something new to a star party!

Back to Eradinus. Now, I was into parts of the constellation with galaxy clusters. NGC 1332 was very elongated and had a bright core. It was not difficult at mag 10.3 and 2.2 x 0.9 minutes. In the same field were NGCs 1325 (edge on galaxy, mag 11.6, 2 minutes), 1331 and 1319, both mag 14. After another "warm-up" break, Eradinus was getting low over the Peak, so I finished with NGCs 1395 (same field as 1303), then 1637 and 1084. Eradinus is an area that is so rich, I plan to visit it often in the winter.

Now, after midnight, a mini-van pulled into the observing area, carefully weaving its way between telescopes and other gear. Even with only the running lights on, it seems extremely bright. Who would be arriving so late on a winter night? One of our group went over and said a beautiful 20" dob was being unloaded. I went over and found the owners talking about turning on their car's headlight to aid them in collimating. WHAT! Amazing! A few of us tried using our red-LED flashlights to collimate, but this proved difficult. After some fiddling, we tried star testing. Yuck. . . a field full of bright comets! So, fearing loss of night vision, I went up the hill and brought the owner of a laser collimator down. Within 30 seconds, the scope was dead on.

On went a H-Beta filter, and the 20 gave a great image of the Horsehead Nebula. That done, and our night vision still intact, I returned to my scope to work Canis Major. Fifteen minutes later, the 20" was packing up and leaving. Maybe next time they'll remember their winter wardrobe. ;-)

So, while hunting down open clusters, and looking for NGC 2374, I happened across NGC 2359. What a surprise! Dryer's describes this nebula as: VF,VVL,VIF, size (mins) 8.0. It jumped out at me like cake frosting (upon repeated views, it did eventually seem VF to me). But, if you have not seen this one, and are in the neighborhood, it is worth viewing. It is easy to locate too, starting at Iota-Canis-Major and drawing a line through Gamma-Canis-Major, then continuing just over 4 degrees in the same direction.

By then, I was getting chilled and tired. I decided to finish my Herschel hunt the usual way, poking around at the bright stuff which, after viewing the ANT's (almost not there's), would by comparison seem to me to have the same magical qualities that first hooked me into this nocturnal habit. M42 again, 4565 filling the field even though it was low on the horizon. Up to NGC 2903 in Leo, M51 showing structure at low elevation. Up to M108 and M97 (the Owl's eyes were black pits with averted vision). Back into Leo, there were M65 and M66 in the same field, then nudged over to NGC 3628 (very nice!). Now, with Ursa Major up higher, back over to M81 and M82. . . pull the scope toward me and into view comes NGC 3077 (big blotchy galaxy). Finally, some time spent back in the belly of the lion. What a great sight, all those galaxies filling the night.

Winter observing is great. . . plenty of time to take your time and get a real night-full of astronomy. Summer may be more comfortable, but for getting your "money's worth". . . winter is the winner!

Saturday, November 2, 1996

Observing at Fremont Peak

November 2, 1996

The day began with dense low clouds blanketing the south San Francisco bay area. The prior night's weather reports were for clear skies and warming, but the result did not appear to support the forecasts. By mid day, I was getting phone calls from friends wondering if anyone was going to "the Peak" for the evening. Since the drive is only an hour, I remained optomistic, telling the callers that the clouds would dissipate later in the day. By 1:30 I was packed and on the road. I could hardlly believe I got the 14.5" dob, ladder and all my other equipment into a four door sedan (I usually drive a large truck).

The sky really looked bad... solid thick clouds to the north, and the range to the south, where the Peak is located, was not visible at all as I approached the halfway mark of the drive. Still, the sky above was beginning to open up, and there was little wind. It was the promise of a thick fog layer over the city lights that drove me onward.

I was the second member of the "club" to arrive atop the Peak. We unpacked and talked, my friend unloading his 10" dob. We watched the sky continue to open. Our view of the Pacific Ocean was that of fog... a thick.... light killing banket covering Watsonville, Santa Cruz to the north and south to Monterey. Things were looking better.

Soon, another friend arrived. Out came the 7" Questar and Astrophysics Traveller. The Traveller was placed on a nice Vernon Scope / Unitron alt/az mount. The clouds began moving out to sea, leaving only the fog layer. :-) Up pulled a nice little Mitsubishi 3000, and out came a Tele Vue Pronto. The owner of the Pronto had left his 12" LX-200 home, since the sky looked so bad when he left. Next to arrive was the "first-light" scope for the night, a 7" AstroPhysics f/9 EDT APO on an AstroPhysics 800 mount. What a piece of equipment! The final two members of the group pulled up with an 18" f/4.5 Obsession and a 8" Meade LX-200.

As the sun set, the temperatures began dropping rapidly. Only one band of clouds remained to the west. Jupiter showed a great deal of banding detail, but the air was turbulent just over the right shoulder of Fremont Peak, and the views were unsteady. Smaller aperture reduced the effects... my dob was not seeing the planet well. Too bad... that banding was very distinct!

Next, to the east, Saturn. The night before, from my backyard in Los Gatos (bordering San Jose), I was able to see the Cassini division and clear banding. Tonight, the banding was still there, nice cream colors. I could not see Cassini though, since the air was still unsteady while day changed to night. However, we did see five or six of Saturn's moons. The sixth one was a "maybe-sometimes" observation.

Once dark had really arrived, it was obvious we were in for one of the better nights in recent years at the Peak. The "dark" at the Peak cannot compete any longer with truly dark sites, as the bay area light dome continues encroaching southward, but it can still be quite good seeing.

Out to the west, the fog had small islands of dim white below. The lights of the coastal cities would not be a factor in our observing. To the north, the light dome of San Jose was greatly reduced... it was a huge improvement. To the south, Salinas threw some light, but it was mostly blocked by Fremont Peak. The rest of the sky opened up such that we would could see the dark "blotches" of dust cloud in the Milky Way north of Deneb in Cygnus. It was turning into a great night.

I began working Hershel objects, mostly galaxies, with my 14.5", my friend with his 18". This was easy! It was too bad the moon had to come up (although, a few of the other observers, whose preferences are lunar and planetary, did not seem to share our concern).

Between 7pm and 11:15pm, we "bagged" roughly 20 Herschels. We worked almost exclusively in Aquarius, and finished the constellation (which we had begun last year) with the exception of one mag 15 stellar galaxy. We hit two that were dimmer than mag 14.5, with most in the range of 13.5 to mag 14.

Several of the galaxies were in groups. A great site that I would recommend deep sky observers take the opportunity to view is the grouping of NGCs 7180, 7185, 7188 and 7184. NGC 7184 is big and bright (NGP and _The_Sky_ list it at mag 12, 6.0" x 1.5" approx.). It shows nice easily seen features. The others, all small in comparison, are in the same wide-field view, and range from mag 12 to mag 14. Another galaxy sits just outside the field, glowing dimly at mag 14.4.

In between viewing, our group all enjoyed the comraderie that accompanies a good night among friends. A lot of chatter, a couple enhanced coffees, joking and needling each other about equipment.... along with the usual discussions about how to observe and the merits or failings of various equipment.

It was a relaxed evening. I was asked several times to put the 14.5" on some of the brigher objects... M35, M42, Hale-Bopp, M2, M13, Gamma Andromeda, M74, M33, the Eskimo Nebula, the Helix, the Blue Snowball, M31/32/ngc110, ngc404, double cluster, ngc787 9 (Cass), ngc7006 (Del), ngc 7331, M15.

One thing I like to do when out with other observers, is to familiarize them with hunting the faint stuff (no, I am not a dim-Hickson expert), as developing the ability to detect some of the almost "aint-no" stuff improves visual accuity, helping us see more detail in the somewhat brighter objects. It is also fun to challenge yourself by trying to locate (without electronics) these dim objects. In most cases, it is possible to move naked eye to within roughly one degree of an object, and pull it in with a wide-field eyepiece (I use a 20mm wide-field). Occasionally, I find it is necessary to use my friend's laptop computer and planetarium program, zooming in on the object to identify the pattern of field stars.... but this is usually only when the object is so dim that you have to use the field stars as reference to know where to avert your eyes to!

But, back to the evening... too soon for me, the moon's orange smile shown over the peaks to the east, showing between the branches and remaing leaves of the trees. We had noticed earlier the sky beginning to brighten to the east. To bad for us dark sky types. We poked around for a bit longer, looking at M81 and M82. Some said they looked good... which would be true if viewed from in town. But the moon-glow was washing them out badly. Everyone except the Pronto, Traveller and 7" APO were in the process of or already torn down. The views of Saturn, now up high in the south, were breathtaking (7" APO). Titan sat atop one of the poles of the planet. The rings were nicely detailed. The sharpness of the image could not have been greater. What a machine, and what a night. A quick swing over to the moon, looking at Birts Rill and the spiked peaks casting sharp shadows on the crater floors along the terminator, well, you had to be there! Maybe next time you will.

Bay area observers, you are invited to e-mail me about our next star party. Those in other cities and countries, get out there.... there is *nothing* that replaces a dark sky for observing!

Saturday, October 5, 1996

Public program on the 30" - Fremont Peak

October 5, 1996

What a treat it was to do a public program with the Fremont Peak Observatory Association's 30" Challenger reflector telescope. I was assisting Dean Linebarger and Rich Neuschaefer. We also had occasional help from Richard Navarrete and Alan Nelms.

The evening began with SJAA member Rod Norden donning his wizard hat/grey long hair wig and celestially decorated cape, and giving two excellent talks to the public in the meeting room of the observatory. Dean, Rich and I were already involved in locatin g some of the brighter objects for the overflow members of the public who could not fit inside the meeting room.

The day had been hot, and the evening was one of those memorable t-shirt nites, all night long. With sunset around 6:20 p.m., there was a good six hours of observing prior to moonrise. We began with Jupiter, and followed with M22, M57 (which we stayed on for about an hour, as the talk had ended and the crowd all wanted to see "The Ring"), on to M33, M74, The Helix Nebula, NGC 246, The Crab Nebula, The Veil Nebula, M27, NGC 253, M77, NGC 7331 (and companions), Saturn, NGC 891, M13, M42 and, the rea l treat of the night, the Horsehead Nebula.

After much intensive "faint fuzzy" hunting over the past year with Alan Nelms, I found the experience of showing the public some of the bright and famous objects of the autumn and winter skies to be very relaxing and refreshing. Both Dean and Rich commen ted how enjoyable it was as well. And, I have to admit that it is nice to drive to the peak without packing a couple large scopes and related equipment into my truck.

Other SJAA members present (that I saw or know were at the Peak) were, Jack Zeiders, Jim Bartolini, Bill Arnett, Ray Gralak, and Jay Freeman. I'm sure I left some SJAA members, out, and I apologize, and there were also many other telescopes that brought there owners.

If you are an SJAA member that likes working with the public, having a membership in the FPOA in addition to our club, has wonderful benefits. Fremont Peak is still a premier bay area observing site on 3rd quarter and new moon weekends, and within a reasonable drive from anywhere from the peninsula south. Supporting Fremont Peak helps assure that it remains a valuable and enjoyable resource for all astronomy enthusiasts. It is a regular haunt of many experienced observers from the SJAA (and other clubs), and a great place to introduce yourself to some friendly amateur astronomers who can help you improve your observing skills or learn about the "tools of the trade." The only word of warning I offer is that not every night is a t-shirt night, and one should always come prepared with plenty of warm clothing.

If you are interested in trying "the Peak"..... look for our next star party date in the calendar of events in this newsletter. And don't forget... red flashlights only please!

Tuesday, September 3, 1996

Hale-Bopp... dim and dimmer?

I was in my backyard tonight, catching up on the whereabouts of the next great comet.

Last night, not knowing its current location, I scanned low in Ophiuchus, mistaking some globular clusters for the comet. So, today, I looked in the May issue of S&T, to see where they placed it for early September. Boy, that sucker is moving!

Anyway, I remember it having a very bright nucleus, with quite a large bright coma, diffusing nicely.

Well, tonight I *think* I caught up with it, and either my backyard is suddenly a good magnitude brighter (which I doubt), or the comet seems dimmer.

I place it in roughly in the area of M14 (a fairly generous estimate, not exact at all). Since there should not be anything that bright in the general area, I assume I am looking at Hale-Bopp, but damn, it seems dim.

Anyone else think this guy is fading?

Sunday, September 1, 1996

Best constellation?

I was outside in my suburban backyard last night with two friends, using my 8" f/7 dob, another using a 55mm fluorite refractor. It was an enjoyable evening talking about the sky, observing trips, equipment and so on.

I had once jokingly stated to one friend that Ophiuchus was the greatest constellation in the sky, with more of a wealth of objects for observing than any other. Dark nebula, galaxies, outstanding double/multiple stars, loads of globular clusters, several Messier objects, planets crossing through it.... yep, I said, old Oaf has it all....

Last night, looking up at the Milky Way, one friend started needling me again about that comment. So, I thought I'd ask the question here....

For the average observer, not you guys out in Arizona with 30" buckets and mag 8 seeing, but the rest of us who get out to semi-dark skies on a semi-regular basis.... what constellation do you feel has the most to offer for an evening's observing. I am interested not in just quantity, but variety.

Please give examples to support your choices.

Saturday, August 24, 1996

Smokin Good Star Party!

The 3rd Annual Mount Lassen Dark Sky Star Party rewarded those who had patience. Although early on there was plenty of room for doubt, the seeing was at times absolutely spectacular.

Perseverance, or just survival instinct was my frame of reference for this year's trip. On the way to Lassen, we lost the radiator in our truck. Can you imagine 4pm, 112 degrees F just south of Redding, the vehicle packed to the roof, and my wife, two kids and sister-in law inside? Fortunately, we had left one day early, so spending a night in Redding and obtaining a new radiator the next morning was only a matter of money and ultimately a minor inconvenience.

So, instead, we arrived in camp early Wednesday. Jim Bartolini and John Hales were already there. Hales had spent the prior night at Lassen, and was doing what I had been... watching the thunderstorms rain lightning bolts to the north and west, illuminating the entire sky. This, of course, triggered many fires. The largest sent a huge plume of smoke above Lake County to our west, which gradually drifted to our skies. But, back to the observing and rest of the trip...

Wednesday night, we all assembled at Devastated Area for observing. The seeing was soft, with smoke on the horizons and thin layers overhead. Most of us were tired from the drive, setting up camp and enjoying Hales' (Brewer John) home-made ale. John has quite a knack for brewing! So between midnight and 1 am, I would guess most of the crew turned in.

Thursday we had our group dinner. At least 40 of us dined on hors d'ouveres, BBQ salmon and london broil, various salads, wine, sparkling cider, home-made breads and cookies for desert. Dinner was very enjoyable. Steve and Yoshiko Deiwert thoughtfully set up a table at the observing area and served hot coffee, tea and cocoa for all. What a treat! Only if the sky was as gracious as the Deiwerts! By midnight, the south sky disappeared. The smoke layer soon blanketed us high above, making the Milky Way look more like views on bad nights at Fremont Peak, instead of the great darkness and transparency of we've had at Lassen. Back to camp early (1 am or so), and yacking and enjoying a few beverages till late, by starlight and the red glow of our flashlights.

Friday. What an experience. My son wanted to go fishing, I know where the locals go, and I had a promise to keep. So, away we drove, over the 10,500 foot summit next to Lassen Peak, south past Bumpass Hell, Sulfur Works, and out of the park. A few miles b eyond Mineral, I turned right onto the dirt road that leads to Battle Creek, home of the feistiest trout in the area. But wait... a locked gate! Argh.... another case of litigation ruining access, no doubt!

So, back we drove, to fish in the shallows upstream, without success. Then, driving back into the park, the truck began pouring coolant again. Two hours later, hot and filthy, I knew that it was not the water pump or radiator, which meant a ride in a tow truck and night in Red Bluff for me. A call to the rangers on the other side of the park resulted in SJAA members Haro Schmidt and Pat Connelly rescuing my family and returning them to our campsite. Thanks again guys! Maybe a better choice for the day would have been to go with others on a tour of Hat Creek Radio Observatory, which was organized by Robert Shelton. I heard it was a very interesting and enjoyable trip. Maybe someone will write up that excursion for the Ephemeris?

After spending a Friday night in the "nightlife capital of Northern California", I found myself Saturday morning at Red Bluff's GM dealer. After hours of searching, a pin-hole was found in the heater line. A quick weld and I was headed back to Lassen again. And, what an arrival! Most of our group was sitting by Ed Erbeck's tent near the road, and stood up cheering as I pulled in. Richard Navarrete was there with an enormous bottle of ice-cold beer for me. Even Jack Zieder's ribbing "what's the leak under your truck?" remark was perversly enjoyable! Then, from in back of the campsite, my wife and daughter came running up to greet me. It felt great to get back with the group and have such a warm reception.

After a good dinner, and that cold refreshment, we headed out one last time to the observing site. We were all looking hopefully at a promisingly clearing sky. This was the night of the public star party. Even before sunset park visitors were pulling into the parking lot and looking over the telescopes. We knew to expect a good crowd, as the rangers had announced the star party at their talks, and our posters were up on park bulletin boards announcing the event.

Once dark set in, the crush of people was unbelievable. I was laughing out loud. I couldn't get my scope off M57! There was no break for a good couple of hours. I had looked in Burnham's to learn a bit about The Ring so I could answer questions, and I can now say, after repeating hundreds of times what I'd read, I now know more about the Ring than any other celestial object. Estimates of crowd size ranged from 300 to 500 people. All were well behaved, considerate and interested. I had another laugh at Alan Nelms, who needed to take a break, after being swamped by the crush of people. This event was great experience in a great location.

What really made it so good was, thankfully, a cooperative sky. And once the crowds went back to their campsites, we, the intrepid remaining members of this year's star party, were rewarded with the best skies I've seen since last year's trip. M33 showed so much structure I could barely take my eyes off it. Same for M101. Alan and I worked Hershel objects for hours. Dean Linebarger's 20" and John Kuklewicz's 18" were sucking in Hickson clusters. It was intense but enjoyable observing for about three and a half hours. John Gleason was doing astrophotography with his 6" AstroPhysics, Hales was shooting using the JMI 18.

Just before tear down, we all went over to Kuklewicz's scope for an astonishing sight. There was the Veil Nebula, with so much detail it was mind boggling. Then, John said.... "that's without an OIII filter." Impossible! It was so contrasty and full of in tricate filaments! Then Gleason brought over a 35 Panoptic with an OIII and dropped it in. That sight alone, I'm sure, sold everyone on returning next year. Next, John put in a UHC filter and jumped up to the North American Nebula. It was so thick and det ailed that not only was the NA easy, but the Pelican was obvious too. They looked like warm white frosting on a black cake. Navarrete joked about sending Jack Marling a new quote .... "look, I can see the dolphins in the gulf!"

Back at camp, we had a few drinks, talked about the trip, and looked up overhead at the dark black dust areas north of Cassiopeia. Fingers of black crept into the Milky Way everywhere along the Cygnus Rift. I could follow, naked eye, the dark lane leading from northwest of Deneb back to the location of the Cocoon Nebula. You don't see that at home! What a great night.

The drive back home was easy. Four and a half hours including two short stops.

Thanks to all who came and those helped make this year's trip so much fun: the Rangers and fine staff of Lassen National Park, Dean Linebarger, Terry Kahl, Richard Navarrete, Rich Neuschaefer, Alan Nelms, Ed Erbeck, John Hales, Doug Ferrell, Bruno Beinenfeld, Ray Gralak, John Kuklewicz, Haro Schmidt, Pat Connelly, Robert Shelton, John Gleason, Ken Miura, Jim Bartolini, Kevin Medlock, Jack Zeiders, Gary Papani, Robert Hoyle, Gary Madison and Tony Cirone, and all your wives and children! See you all there next year.

Friday, August 9, 1996

In town with a kid & Hale-Bopp

07:00 UT, 8/9/96....

After looking at M22 / Jupiter, I poked around for a while, finding small dimmer globulars. Later, on to M15.

I'll get to Hale-Bopp in a second, but first, I want to relate a quick story about my 8 year old daughter. She loves looking through telescopes. She's accompanyinng me to Fremont Peak tomorrow night, then for 5 days of dark sky observing next week. But... tonight....

I have a loaner scope from the San Jose Astronomical Association... a 10" f/4.5. It is the *perfect* size for my little girl. She pushes it around by bear-hugging it. She used the Telrad to find Arcturus, Altair, Jupiter and to scan the Milky way under low power.

So, I thought.... let's challenge her. With a 20mm eyepiece in the focuser, I showed her, naked eye, which star Vega is. Pretty easy, right? Very high and bright. Then I described the parallelogram shape of the body, and told her where M57 - The Ring Nebula - could be found. I turned my back and continued using my 10" f/5.6 for a minute or two.

All of a sudden... shrieks of excitement! "I got it! I got it! Come look!"

Sure enough, off to one side, was a very bright, large, gasket. The look on her face was astonishing. She did not want to go to bed. She asked where the Big Dipper was (behind the roof of my home) so she could split the double in Alcor / Mizar (is that right?). What a night.

So, now to Hale-Bopp. The last thing I looked at was the comet. I had read David Knisley's report (on sci.astro.amateur) today, wherein someone had mistaken the coma for a tail. Knisley said, and I believe he's in Arizona, that the coma is quite pronounced, and is pointing sunward. The tail, is quite faint and about 1.5 degrees in length. So, I began figuring the sun direction in my field of view, and suddenly, I was seeing a faint 1/2 degree spread *away* from the coma.... away from the sun.

I would love some confirmation on this. My home, has, for the city, a very good southern sky. It is quite dark... with the Milky Way obvious in Sagittarius, the Cygnus rift is noticeable, and the Ophichus portion was also apparent. I am not yet proficient at estimating limiting mag, but I would guess about mag 5 toward the south, maybe a bit better.

What do you observers on the list think? Am I getting a little tail?

Sunday, July 7, 1996

Fremont Peak, July 7

After a night of clear sky observing until around 1 am, an impomtu wine tasting, then some limited sleep, Rich (Neuschaefer) came and woke me at 5 am. I awakened my daughter Mimi and Dean Linebarger. We stood together with John Gleason half-way up the pa th to the observatory. It was a gorgeous sight... the observatory was open with the 30" Challenger (telescope) pointed skyward and illuminated in preparation for a photo of the Shuttle Columbia streaking across the dawn behind it. The sky was red and golden in the east as the sun approached. Almost directly crossing the zenith was a clearly delineated terminator, separating night from day. It was a dream-like moment as I looked down at the fog covered valleys, the scene above, and with the anticipation of what I was to witness. Then, after a few minutes, far in the west through some trees we could see a brilliant silver-red arc light begin to ascend in a low trajectory, rising quickly leaving a grey-blue trail, then descending just as quickly to meet the sunrise in the east.

I was fascinated at the thought of people riding a candle through the dawn. But the best part, for me, was the look of amazement and excitement on the face of my eight year old daughter, standing in her cowgirl boots and pajamas on the mountaintop with that early morning scene unfolding before her. I know she will never forget it.

Friday, June 7, 1996

Los Gatos

What a great way to spend a Friday evening. After a week of wilting heat, the weather changed bringing the night temp at 10pm to a nice 70F with clear fairly steady skies with reasonable in-town transparency. My kids (Daniel, 11 and Mimi, 8) prompted me to let them look through my 10" f/5.6 dob tonight, since they are not accompanying me to Fremont Peak tomorrow night.

I started off looking at M13, Daniel and Mimi's favorite. Our dark adaptation was not very good yet, but the cluster was easy to locate and resolved well with a 20mm wide-field. I enjoy this eyepiece so much I decided to use it exclusively during the nig ht. From M13, we jumped north to M92. It is easy to find as well, between two well placed bright stars. It looked much more condensed than M13, but lacked in size by comparison. I then tried for the planetary ngc6210 in Hercules, which if I had charts out side, would have been easy to locate (but, my charts were inside past the lights of my family room, so.... no charts). 6210 is such a beautiful turquoise blue when conditions are right....

Next, over to Leo, beginning to set in the west. M65 and M66, faint, for sure, but there they were. Nice size with the 20mm, and the near identical pa's make them a nice pair. I kept asking myself if I could actually see ngc3268(?) by them, but I think I 'd be fooling myself if I did.

Hmmm... what next? Up to... why not.... M51. Yeah, it is supposed to be just a couple small fuzzy eyeballs looking back in the city, but it really shown well for in-town. For those who asked about tricks to locate it, I make a triangle with Alkaid (the e nd star in UMaj's handle, and the just visible (in town) star Canes Ven 21. M51 is almost at a perfect triangle's position away from Alcor/Mizar. The cores of the galaxies were obvious, and there was clearly some arm structure showing. It was not dark eno ugh, and my aperture was not large enough to make out any distinct dark lanes.

As long as we were around Canes, I moved to M63. My kids were having a ball with this stuff. Soon, a discussion about the possibility of stars no longer being there, although we see them, and the topic of ET's was in full swing. Too bad we were missing I Love Lucy reruns for this idle chatter! ;-)

M63 was bright compared to M51. Easy to identify, even for my 8 year old. But soon, Mimi decided she was getting tired, and went off to bed, leaving Daniel to continue observing with me.

I moved the scope to another corner of my backyard to get a better view of Lyra. M57 was a nice sight, even though it sat just above my neighbor's Altar To The Electric Light (all lights on in the back of their house, as usual). My son looked at the Ring and said we could place a paper "hole reinforcing ring" on the secondary and nobody would know the difference....

I moved to the double-double (Epsilon Lyra) for a quick peek, wondering what I could see at 71x. At first it looked like a single-single, but upon close inspection it became obvious that there were two components to each single. Not split, not even a fig ure eight, but certainly it was noticeable that they were not single point sources.

Now, with Scorpius rising sufficently, I popped in M80. I was surprised how bright it was (I guess my dark adaptation had finally arrived) compared to what I remembered. A nice bright small ball. Remembering Bill Arnett's comments about M4, I next swung over and found myself agreeing with him that it was very loose, and thought it certainly could be mistaken for a dense open cluster. No sign of the ngc globular just off Antares though.

Now, Daniel was being overtaken by the long school week of and the excitement of his pending summer vacation. He said goodnight and went inside.

I began searching for M5, but failed. A star chart would help, but my dark adaptation was too nice to lose now. Geesh.... I know about where it is, but I just hunted for a bit and thought.... why not move into Ophiuchus instead. Do I remember where M12 a nd M10 are? Well, M12 came into view with a quick peek through the Quickfinder and a small nudge at the eyepiece. I thought it looked similar to M4... perhaps larger, but it did not look dense to me. Still, a very nice sight. Where was M10? I got lucky an d plopped down right on it. :-) Now, this glob, although supposedly very similar to M12, was significantly larger and denser to my view at that moment.

For a finale, I pointed the scope almost straight up... there.... between Arcturus and Cor Caroli... to M3. What a magnificient sight to finish up on. This is easily one of my favorite objects! Large, dense, to me it rivals M13 (my real favorite globular is M22 in Sag, especially in a bit larger scope...).

All in all, it was an enjoyable evening for me, and my kids. And, it shows how even in town, with its associated light dome and well-lit neighbors, one can find a dark spot in the yard and get in a very relaxing and rewarding hour of observing.