Friday, May 9, 1997

Galaxies, Dark Skies and Warm Nights!

Several members of The Astronomy Connection (TAC) spent a great evening at Fremont Peak last Friday. The top-side weather was more cooperative than we'd seen in many weeks, and down low, the fog rolled in sufficiently to turn it into one of the darkest n ew-moon weekend nights in the past few years.

I was set up with my rickety-old 14.5" f/5.6 dob. I was surprised to find the collimation almost exact upon set up. A quick tweak and all was right with the world, at least within walking distance. My two children, wife and 6 year old yellow lab "Jones " were along. Jones and my son were having a great time with a long time astronmer who is an accomplished juggler. My friend got help from our resident collimation expert "Gary" and his 18" f/4.5 Obsession was ready for action. The rest of our group we re less convinced than we that down on Coulter would be the best southern horizon, so they set up just up the road at the overlook parking lot. I guess they just liked the eye-popping view of the California coastline from Santa Cruz to Monterey that can be had from their vantage point. Aside from Gary, who was set up for CCD, Jim was there with his 16" home-built "big-blue" dob, Bill with the 12" LX-200, Richard with his double mount holding a C90 and Orion 80mm short-tube, Dean with the 5" Astrophysics, Akkana with the 4" and 6 " RFTs, and an assortment of others. The rest of "the group" were set up over by the observatory... John with a 7" Astrophysics, Rich with a 7" Astrophysics, Gil with his 100mm Zeis-o-Physics, Mike with the JMI 18, and David with the 12" Orion dobbie. SJAA pres Jack Z was set up there with his 17" home-built dob as well.

Thin clouds hung off the coast, but did not move inland at all. Slowly, fog moved in over the coastal cities, raising expectations that we could have a very good night. Before dark, I spent time viewing the thin crescent moon, Petavius' main crack, was very obvious, and a great sight.

Wondering what power would resolve the Ghost of Jupiter in the still bright twilight, I was able to find a couple guide stars just blinking in and out. The big blue ball appeared quickly at 107X. Nice greenish-blue, and unmistakable. Thnking that was e asy, I jumped over to M104. Someone commented that the bright twilight was not really very good for galaxy hunting, but there it was, nice and broad, with the dust lane prominant. I jumped up to M51, which already showed good spiral structure. Quickly, before Gemini dropped into the horizon, I took a look at the Eskimo nebula to confirm what someone on sci.astro.amateur had told me... that they liked the blinking effect of that planetary more than that of the Blinking Planetary in Cygnus. I think I have to agree!

As darkness began to settle in, and the fog became thicker, my wife made dinner. Several of us sat, ate, had some cold drinks and watched the stars appear. My daughter took off to the ranger's house to spend some time with his daughter. The Peak is a magical place to bring a family.

Once it was reasonably dark, Alan and I got back to the Herschel list. This would be a fine evening for that endeavor. The sky was cloudless and it was getting truely dark. There was no need for hats, boots or jackets... the temperature was very comfor table. We began our searches back in Coma Berenices, where we had left off last week. There are enough Herschel objects just in Coma for several observing sessions, and my time in that area is surely going to span several years.

As usual, I chose the Tele Vue 19mm Panoptic for viewing. It has a sufficiently wide field with which to locate objects, yet, enough magnification to show them well. Not in this order, here are the galaxies Alan and I viewed in Coma:

  • ngc4189 - large and round galaxy, with galaxies ngc4193 (small) and ngc4206 (large edge on) in field.
  • ngc4237 - elongated galaxy, close to M98. ngc4283 - Round galaxy close companion ngc4274, IC779 (mid 14's?), NGC4314 and ngc4245 in or near field.
  • ncg4312 - nice elongated galaxy very close to M100. ngc4377 - small round galaxy with bright core.
  • ngc4379 - round galaxy, in same field as edge-on ngc4396. ngc4421 - round galaxy very near 4379 and 4396.
  • ngc4455 - nice eleongated galaxy. ncg4489 - very eleongated galaxy, same field with ngc4498.
  • ngc4525 - small elongated galaxy in same field with very dim ngc4502 (both my references are mag 15).
  • ngc4540 - fairly bright roundish galaxy with ic800 and ngc4523 in same field.
  • ngc4595 - smal, dim galaxy, alone in the field, but close to large elongated ngc4559. ngc5016 - small roundish galaxy alone in the field.
  • ngc5116 - nice dim elongated galaxy. ngc4634 - with ngc4633 - nice view of 2 dim elongated galaxies.
  • ngc4286 - nice field with ngc4278 and ngc4283.

During the night, Bill, Jay and Akkana, came by and asked to view IC4167 in Hercules. This is a small and elusive galaxy between M13 and ngc6207. I had seen it on several occasions through a 17.5" dob that TAC member Ray owns, but never in the 14.5". With averted vision, I had no trouble seeing its dim glow. Others requested more power, so out came the 19mm and in went a 10.5. I liked the view better at lower power. Of course, since we were right there, we enjoyed the views of M13 and ngc6207. Onc e our friends curiousity was satisfied, Alan and I got back to real observing. ;-)

Since there are times that Alan and I do not find our targets simultaneously, we will stray off looking at other objects while waiting for each other. Mine included M3, Barnards Galaxy, M22, M28, M2, M15, LDN108, ngc6522 and ngc6528 ("twin" globulars), M4, ngc6144 (globular by M4), Veil Nebula (no filter). I especially enjoyed the tendrils and blackness of the dark nebulae in Sagittarius. The darkness snaking and curling through the star fields of the central bulge of the Milky Way are truely delightfu l. And, as usual, looking at the brighter objects listed in this paragraph (with a few exceptions!) after looking at faint fuzzies all night is a real treat.

The most unexpected thing I heard all night, prompting a quiet chuckle, was Bill, after looking at IC4167, commenting on how bright ngc6207 is. My, my, just a few months ago, he'd be remarking about how dim 6207 is! Its all perspective... and experience...

All to soon, the east began to brighten. Jupiter was rising high, and my eyelids were getting lower. My new cot was calling. I lay back with the expanse of the universe my ceiling, watching the million suns glow in the distance, until the blackness of sleep put them out.

Observing with a group is great fun. If you are an active observer, or want to learn about techniques and equipment, and live in the San Francisco bay area, you are welcome to join us for our observing get-togethers. The schedule is on our web-page.

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