Saturday the 28th of June began mostly cloudy, as viewed from my window in Los Gatos. I had plans to clean the mirror of the 14.5" Dob and slowly pack for Fremont Peak, while watching the sky for improvement. The 14.5 had been washed only a month or so prior, but I had a surprising discovery Tuesday night at our near-town star party at Montebello Open Space Preserve... there was a very well defined pair of raccoon footprints near the edge of the mirror. I had obviously had a curious visitor my last time a Fremont Peak, when it was breezy and I did not use the shroud to shield stray light. The footprints came of just fine, and I decided to lave the 14.5 closed up pending the dark sky weekend 80-90 of us will spend at our star party in the Sierras over 4th of July weekend. So, I took my tie-dyed 10" f/5.6 Dob out for a relaxing evening.
I had posted to TAC's mailing list that I would be happy to help anyone who wanted to tackle the month's Messiers and Hershels (from the 400 list), and knew a few people were interested. So, I would save my intensive observing for the Sierras and just let some "newbies" (a term I wish at times could be applied to me, since I would get to relive all that initial astro-observing excitement!) get some experience at star hopping and training looking at some dinner objects than the usual bright M's.
About 2 p.m. my 9 year old daughter and I pulled out of the driveway, stopping at a grocery store for our picnic dinner. What a feast she chose. Fresh fruit salad, pitted Greek Calamata olives, Havarti and Meunster cheeses, German potato salad, fresh sourdough baguette, extra dry Columbus salami and beer (for me). The kid has good taste already. On the road, we experienced the usual rubber-necking slowdown on the freeway when someone was changing a flat tire. I will never understand the fascination.
The as we approached Morgan Hill, the clouds were sufficiently sparse to encourage me that we might have a good night, but up ahead, past Gilroy where I could now see Fremont Peak in the distance, clouds hung over the mountain like a unwanted visitor that only comes when you have other plans.
Up San Juan Canyon Road, my daughter was enjoying seeing the grazing sheep, horses, cows, longhorn cattle, and goats. It is a beautiful leisurely drive through Eden.
When I pulled into the observing area, there were already half a dozen or more members of our observing group set up. The best spots were gone. I find myself wondering if Jim Bartolini every really goes home. But, I pull out the 10", set up and begin looking at the sky. No clouds. Amazing.
The afternoon wore on, and some of us walked over to the observatory. Kevin and Deni Medlock were set up with a Takahashi CN212 Cassegrain-Newtonian, ready for a night of CCD. A 20" Obsession, 8" Meade SCT, Celestron CG11 and Paul Barton's old C11 were set up by the observatory. Along Coulter Row, John Kuklewicz and Crazy Ed were relaxing, telescopes, set up, along with another observer who I didn't recognize.
Around 5 p.m. a group of us gathered in the southwest parking lot to discuss the future of Fremont Peak for astronomy, what the long term status of the observatory was, and what possibilities were realistic for developing the side of the park with the ranger's quarters. The Medlocks, who are intimately familiar with the California Parks system, had much interesting information, and ideas.
My daughter needed to fuel up, so we had our gourmet dinner, watching Venus brighten in the western sky. We watched fog form to the west, south and east of the Peak, with some spilling over the top. Dew formed on the roofs of our vehicles and on chairs. Would this be a lost night?
As darkness began, the breeze stopped and so did the fog. A layer settled into the valley south of the Peak, and some wisps occasionally fingered around the Peak to the west, but we stayed dry.
Some park visitors wandered through the group's observing site. Imagine the curiosity these first timers must have felt, seeing perhaps 15 telescopes of all shapes and sizes set up. We had an 18" Obsession, 16" home built Dob, 12" LX-200, 10" LX-200, 13.1" Coulter Dob, 15" Obsession, 5" Takahashi refractor, 10" f/6 Dob, 10" f/5.6 Dob, 8" reflector in an aluminum tube on old plumber pipe mount, 8" Coulter Dob, 12.5 "Mellow Yellow" Dob (two part aluminum tube design... a "must see"), Meade ETX, 8" Celestron Ultima 2000, 6" Intes Maksutov, and others I am sorry I do not remember. It was a great turnout. The visitors had views of the bright globulars, Mars, Venus, the Ring Nebula, Alberio and other favorites as the sky darkened more. I especially enjoyed showing objects to the visitors, as they were all very interested young adults from the neighboring town of San Juan Buatista.
Two observers with our group wanted to work the July Hershel, which we had printed out off TAC's web-page. We began with the now famous Cat-Eye Nebula in Draco. This is a very green planetary. The ETX owner joined me in the hunt (I think he considers himself a newbie), as did the owner of the 10" f/6 (who, I believe has thus far spent his time on Messiers). We used the Herald-Bobroff Atlas as our guide, along with a Tirion 2000. I soon realized the newbie had a very good feel for star hopping, and turned the task of chart reading and star hopping over to him. I was just along for the ride, and to be occasional help. The night flew by, working globulars in Ophiuchus. The area is dense in globular clusters (more globulars in that constellation than any other). Some were easy to detect, others were quite faint. One object was a mag 14 planetary nebula that the newbie passed saw, but didn't think was the planetary (I helped confirm that one). The image of the night though was the single field view of ngcs 6440 and 6445. One is a small globular cluster with a very nicely condensed core, diffusing out evenly. The other is a planetary nebula close to the same angular size as the globular. The part that I found interesting was, the planetary was a ring... bright at the edges and dim in the center, while the globular was just the opposite (bright core, dim edges). It was like a photo with its negative in view.
The planetary itself was not really circular, more elongated (perhaps bipolar). Along the long axes, the planetary appeared to dim, looking almost like there was a break in the gas ring. We viewed it under several different magnifications.
In the east, the moon began graying out the sky, subtler at first, then with increasing insistence. Before it got to bright, I popped the 10" on B86 in Sagittarius, always one of my favorite view. My newbie friend enjoyed the view too. Then, up to Jupiter. A large festoon hung off one of the central bands. The view was crisp with two moons on each side in my 19mm Panoptic. Jumping to a 7mm, the image deteriorated significantly.
The moon now sat above the trees to the east, and the party was coming to an end. All had fun. Some worked seriously on observing programs, others who are occasional participants cruised the bright stuff and enjoyed viewing through the wide range of equipment available. For me, the night was an educational one. I had fully expected to have to "walk" a few nebies through use of a star chart, help them star hop, and show them how to confirm a find. Much to my surprise, I had little to do. The newbies showed me that with a decent sky, well collimated scope, Telrad type finder and a good star chart, they could accomplish a lot in one evening.
I wondered... were they really newbies, or not?
The troops pulled out between 2:30 and 3 a.m., and soon Rich Neuschaefer, Bill Arnett and I sat talking about those things that began the evening... Fremont Peak and the State. The sky was still a feast for the eye. The conversation changed to astronomy clubs, boards of directors, how the internet may be changing the way astronomy organizations interact with members. It was an interesting discussion that continues to be food for thought.
The breeze picked up a bit again, and chilled us. We decided that the evening was over and to tear down our scopes. Suddenly, Bill called out that we should come over. In the 12", there sat a Saturn, our first view of the season. The Cassini Division shown clearly, now that the angle of the rings is angle increasing. One dark band was obvious on the planet. It was a very nice view, and a great way to end the night.
I got into my truck, where my daughter was sleeping, and soon I was emulating her.