Wednesday, December 16, 1998

Eskimos in Winter

Wednesday the 16th of December, about a dozen bay area amateur astronomers held a close-to-town star party at Montebello Regional Open Space Preserve on the eastern ridge of the Santa Cruz mountains above Palo Alto. The day had set record heat temperatures for the area... very much a spring day. There had been talk of going to Fremont Peak that evening, but reports from Tuesday night were of very strong winds across the entire bay area at elevations above 1,000 feet, and there was the chance that conditions, while improving, might not be calm enough to warrant an hour drive each way, for what could have been disappointment. So, Montebello was the choice... allowing local observers to "risk" only 15 to 30 minutes drive with skies significantly better than down in the light hole.

Early views of Jupiter were outstanding through Peter's 14.5" Starmaster and the two 6" f/7 brand new AP's that were already set up. It was not even dark, but the views of Io sitting on the darkened limb of Jupiter, and the huge NEB festoons, were outstanding. If I had gone to Fremont Peak, I would have packed my larger Dob, but tonight my goal was to continue my near-town Herschel 400 hunt with a 10" f/5.6 Dob. Just for the heck of it, I had done a very fine collimation during the afternoon, and the results on Jupiter and the sharp point of stars made it worth the effort. The view of the small white disk of Io actually intruding onto the disk, then completely against the disk of Jupiter was, fantastic. Nice way to start the night!

As the sky darkened, Mojo (Morris Jones) arrived. He shared views through the various scopes. Others would arrive to join Peter, John, Mike and me. By about 8 p.m., there was quite a star party going on. I'm sure it was the warm December temps and pent up photon deprivation that prompted such a good turnout.

I decided first to look for an object I had seen last week, NGC615 in Cetus, just to get started up again. I had my laptop computer running The Sky as my chart. I decided to go to a higher mag eyepiece, since I was using a smaller scope and wanted near the same field size as I am used to, so I put in the 12mm Nagler and used that almost exclusively for finding and viewing during the night. Well, NGC615 was not there. Well... yes it was, but it was confusing. The star pattern on-screen was not matching the eyepiece view. Mojo and I kept looking and saying it was wrong. But, it turns out the view was correct after all... several of the stars we were looking for were, upon closer inspection of the on-screen descriptions, non-stellar. These were super-dim little babies that would never show up in the bright skies of Montebello. With those items removed form the star pattern, things matched up.

So, on to the other objects. I completed the November Herschels by viewing galaxies (all numbers are NGC) 185 and 278, open clusters 225, 436, 457, 559, 637, 654 and 659 in Cassiopeia. My notes indicate that 663 was very nice, and in fact, another observer (David) had just been looking at it in a pair of Canon 15x40 image stabilizer binoculars. I asked to use the binos. Ever so carefully, he placed the strap around my neck, and I enjoyed the view. They are very nice (and expensive) binos. I certainly understand his being so cautious "handing them off"! One of the other clusters was fun to see (well, several were fun, but...) 436 was right at the feet of the "ET Cluster" (457). I used 436 as an example for other observers of how nicely software works to identify star fields from the eyepiece. Peter and I matched the view literally star for star, between eyepiece and computer screen. There is no doubt about "having" an object when there is such a high degree of confirmation.

For me, observing parties are a combination of serious "hunting" observing (scope and Telrad star hopping) and socializing. I spent quite a bit of time looking through other equipment, which helped keep me fresh at the eyepiece from about 6 p.m. until after 1 a.m. That's a long observing session.

The next objects on the list was NGC 40, the nice little fuzzy planetary in Cepheus. This was an easy target to hit, and a fairly bright "no mistaking it" object. On to the remaining objects in Cetus. NGC 157, and 247 were galaxies, and 246 a very often visited large planetary nebula. 247 was elusive, and I spent far too much time trying to see it. David saw it in his 7" Starmaster, Peter in the 14.5", but I cannot say a definite "yes" in the 10". Oh well, another night... what I got last night was a "maybe."

Now I moved down to Sculptor. I can hardly believe old Herschel saw NGC 613. It must have been a horizon grazer for him. But, it was not difficult to see from Montebello. The object is located nicely on a direct line between Alpha Sculptor and Nu Fornax. The last object on the November list was NGC 598 in Triangulum. I thought to myself, okay, up high overhead, bound to be something dim, but at least it is in the right part of the sky. NGC 598 is also known as M 33. We could see it (detect it) naked eye. Naked eye at Montebello? Hey... that sounds pretty damned transparent, doesn't it?

About that time, Peter pulled the Eskimo Nebula in with the 14.5". At about 220 diameters, there were two nicely defined shells, obvious in the object. People were quite jazzed at seeing this sight. Such clarity was a first for me. Nice scope Peter! I then suggested NGC2371/2372, a bi-lobed planetary up toward Castor and Pollux in Gemini. With enough power, it was easy to see two distinct lobes on the little gray fella.

Back to my scope, I pulled in M 33. Not a bad view, considering the location. With the galaxy up high overhead, the entire central concentration of the galaxy was visible. Hints of spiral arm were in evidence. One and maybe two of the HII regions shown. Oh... to be in a black sky, what a sight this would be!

Now, I moved to the December list of Herschel objects. The way I divided the H400 is, 2 hours of R.A. at zenith at midnight, per month. December's objects were now up high enough that the entire list was available to view.

First was NGC 891, the fine edge on spiral galaxy in Andromeda. In this sky, it was barely visible. I remember looking at it at Pacheco a few months ago, on a cold night, when the dust lane in this galaxy looked black as ink, bisecting the object's nice needle shape. Tonight was a "detect it" night.

I moved back to Cassiopeia, to open cluster NGC 1027, then back down to Cetus for a series of galaxies - 908, 936, 1022, 1052 and 1055. In the process of star-hopping, I couldn't help but notice that it was easier to see Mira than a few months ago... am I right here... has it suddenly brightened? Bordering Cetus is Eridanus, and I moved on to two more galaxies - 1084 and 1407. NGC 1407 was remarkable in that I could also pick up NGC 1393 and 1400 in the same field of view. I wonder what the real magnitude of 1393 is, since The Sky lists it at mag 14, and I don't think I'm picking up that dim an object in a 10" near the city.

I heard some commotion over by Peter's scope. I heard the word Horsehead. Really? From "in-town" (so to speak)? Nah. I went over. David was glued to the eyepiece. He was there perhaps 30 seconds, but it seemed like 10 minutes... I couldn't wait to see if it was true. Well, black as ink, there was a clear view of the elusive object, framed against a brighter background. Not just a "maybe" amorphous darkening, but this time, a distinct black area with shape. The H-Beta filter sure helps! Another nice view in Peter's scope. He wins "view(s) of the night" award with the Eskimo and Horsehead. Outstanding!

By now, the hours of observing were beginning on wear on me, and it was late on a work night All I had left on my December list were several objects, mostly open clusters, in Perseus. Many of these were dim and needed to be confirmed by their surrounding star fields. However, the first two seemed familiar... NGCs 869 and 884. Sure 'nuff, the Double Cluster. The H400 is fun in that many bright familiar objects are in it, Messier and non-Messier, and after looking at the dim "is-it-there" stuff, big and bright is a nice surprise and change of pace. My next object was a galaxy, NGC 1023, but I took no notes on this one... a sure sign of fatigue. But I was able to finish up on NGC's 1245 and 1342, both nice open clusters. I always talk-down open clusters, until I begin getting a good dose of them. Then I find, like galaxies, clusters too have character. Some are big and bright, easy to detect and confirm, others are the faintest wisps of stars, looking like a bit of frost on glass in the cold of winter.

The night was a complete success. Other than my marine cell battery dying, and then my truck battery draining, everything was just right. Even the weather cooperated... no dew, no cold... it was like a warm spring night, all night at Montebello, when really, by all rights, we could have been dressed like Eskimos in winter.

Monday, December 14, 1998

Little by little, the stars came out...

I waited for my neighbors to turn out their backyard stadium lights before going out again tonight to observe...

Earlier in the evening, I had two scopes set up, the 10" f/5.6 (mine) and a 10" f/4.5 (my daughter's). My daughter wanted to learn to star hop. Made me smile. So, I started her off by recognizing the Great Square of Pegasus, which she already knew, and then "hop" a few stars to Mirach (Beta Andromedae), which is the jumping off point for M31. But, to make it easy and test her ability to detect fainter stuff, I had her stop on Beta. There, she had no trouble finding NGC404. She was jazzed.

"How about another, dad?!!!!" she pleaded. So, up to Saturn we went. I instructed her that we were after M77, in Cetus. So, I showed her how to drop down from Saturn to about 7 o'clock (on an imaginary non-digital clock) to a star, then over to the east to the "bend" described by Alpha, Gamma and Delta Ceti. Soon, she was claiming to see M77 every time she moved the scope around Delta. With a bit of help, she found the fuzzy. She liked doing this.

Meanwhile, I was trying to find NGC615 in Cetus, a too dim object for my backyard. But, it was there! I was amazed, and thought "this will be a great night" once the light-cretins turned off their stupidity out back. Mimi then went on to view M45, several individual bright stars and several passing airplanes, before going in to do piano practice. Her scope is still not balanced properly and will need to be torn apart again to get it right.

I began on my in-town Herschel 400 list again. On to NGC185, one of M31's pals. I couldn't find it. Damn. The light. Damn the light. I went in. I had a special coffee and played on the computer. I watch Allie McBoring, weird show. Finally the lights out back were gone.

I ran out, down jacket and Soviet Ushanka on. My Telrad was fogged. I swapped in a fresh eyepiece and resumed seaching for NGC185. I could now just make out the dim star 22-Omicron Cass, at mag 4.7.... uh.... 4.7? But I can nearly get mag 6 in my backyard on a good night! No NGC185. Over and over, the same swath of stars, no joy.

I turned the scope back on NGC404. Barely there, like a mag 15 glimmer. I'd been moisted out. Sheeeee.... well, never mind.

I turned to M42. Always pretty. Bumped up the power from the 20 to the 10 mm. Trap looked decent, but only 5 stars tonight. The black behind the wide stretch of the Nebula's sweeping arms was like a thick cloak. Stars in the bright part of the nebula were points on grey velvet. Really beautiful to see.

I shot up to M35, which was a trick at higher power with a soaked Telrad. Dropped back to the 20 and got the cluster. A quick peek, then over to it's line-of-sight neighbor NGC2158. The NGC was there, but not bright. I decided to bump up the power and try to "see" this thing. Back in went the 10 mm. I looked for a few minutes, and little by little, the stars came out. It pays to take the time to "see" what you're looking at.

It was not a great observing. But... even a bad night observing is better than a date with Allie McBeal.

Wednesday, December 9, 1998

Starting over, back to the 400...

Wednesday the 9th of December, several local San Francisco bay area observers met at the Mid-Peninsula Regional Open Space District's Montebello site for a clear but cold observing session. With frost thickly layering the back deck at my home (a thousand feet or so lower than Montebello) each of the past four mornings, I came prepared for what a Californian would consider Siberian conditions. Fortunately, the chill was not as intense as the prior nights, and other than unusually bright skies for the site, and some high clouds moving in from the north after 10 p.m., it was wonderful to get out, see some new and familiar faces, and spend some time looking through a telescope.

I brought my 10" f/5.6 home-made Dob "Pliskin" (I like it, Dave) to start a list that seemed appropriate from a brighter sky location with a smaller scope (after all, I regularly share observing sites with Jay Freeman, a master of small aperture object detection).

As usual, there is a lot of catching up with friends that goes on, and after about 40 minutes talking about people moving, selling homes, observing from different parts of the country, my eyes were acclimated and I got down to business. I had printed the November Herschel 400 objects off TAC's web-site ( listed under "Observing - what to view". Somehow, my list printed oddly, so I am sure I missed some objects.

The first item was an old familiar one, NGC205, aka M110. While substantially dimmer than M31 and M32, it was easy to view. I could also tell from the diminished brightness of M31, that the sky was indeed rather poor and I would be "working" to detect some of the dimmer objects on the list.

I next moved to NGC404, another good object for calibrating sky conditions. Being located in the same 72X field of view as Beta Andromeda (Mirach), this has to be one of the easiest objects (short of the moon, sun, Jupiter or Saturn) to locate. Can you think of any other super-easy targets (maybe the Ring Nebula) to point a newbie at? Anyway, NGC404 was smallish, after viewing NGC205, but still, reasonably bright and larger than many other Herschel's I have viewed. It is a round galaxy, looking kind of like a smaller, bright Crab Nebula.

Next up was NGC752. My 19 Panoptic was no match for this object, a very large open cluster with many bright stars. I suspect the cluster would make a good binocular object. I could tell I was on the object by sweeping across it and seeing how dramatically the star population dropped off. In fact, this area, just between the wide end of Triangulum and the sweep of Andromeda, is much more a galaxy rich hunting ground than it is a place to find object (or than field stars) in our own Milky Way. For example, just off NGC752, I was searching out NGC688 (mag 13 galaxy in a very rich cluster) from the Sierra Nevada high country last summer.

About this time, two TACies that I had not met before came over and noted I had a Dob. I am terrible with names, and I apologize to them if they're reading, but I don't remember who you are (but I'd know your voice in a flash). One of them asked if he could point my scope at something. Well, I get in plenty of observing, so what the heck, go ahead. Now, I really, really don't mind, because I do observe so much, and I have already seen these Herschel objects while working the entire list in larger aperture, but... after an hour or so, the two newbies left my telescope and began looking at and through the other nice selection of scopes, that included a Ceravollo HD215 (I hope that's right, Peter), a brand new 6" AP, 7" Starmaster Classic, 14x70 binos mounted on a tripod, 3.5" Questar, a 10" Meade reflector on an equatorial mount, 8" Celestron SCT, and probably one or two others. All in all a nice turnout, and plenty for first-timers to a TAC observing session to enjoy themselves with.

Back on track now, my next target was NGC772. This one is also situated in an easy location for Telrad users, being off mag 2.7 Sheratan (Beta-Arietis) and mag 4.8 Mesarthim (Gamma-Arietis). Easy jump from there to this roundish object. The Sky lists it at mag 10.30, my list software shows over mag 11.5. Strange. Anyway, it did appear round and have a bright core. Not difficult at all to view.

Now for the "fun" (being facetious) stuff. Small open clusters buried in the Milky Way. Oh joy. Every grouping of stars in the Milky Way looks like a cluster. Maybe these "clusters" are just "made-up" to drive amateurs batty. Well, I did find the first one, I think. NGC129 in Cassiopeia. Not difficult to find, sitting mid-way between and slightly out from the line described by mag 2.8 Navi (Gamma-Cassiopeiae - center star in the "W") and mag 2.4 Caph (Beta-Cassiopeiae). The reason I have problems with these sort of objects is there is no way to know what the star field really looks like unless you use a computer in the field. Well, I usually do, but last night, although I had it, I did not "power up"... choosing to work for my successes using the Tirion SkyAtlas 2000. The charts are good, but the computer makes print charts seem archaic.

I tried next to locate NGC136, which on the chart is right next to NGC129. I thought I found it, a dim haze, but I now think I missed it. The computer is also very good at giving object sizes, which the print chart did not. If I was thinking, I'd have use my SkyAtlas 2000 Companion. In it, this object is nicely described as 1.2 minutes in size (I was looking for something much larger), and "20 stars; detached, weak concentration of stars toward center; moderate range in brightness; poor, very faint, small cluster; dist = 14.3KLY; br*=13.0p". Such info is invaluable when searching.

Enough work on open clusters... they can be more frustrating than a stellar mag 15 galaxy.

Moving to the south, I began trekking around in Cetus. NGC615 was fun and easy. I used a line from mag 3.6 Eta-Ceti to mag 3.8 Theta-Ceti and beyond until my eyepiece view showed mag 5.9 SAO129371. The chart showed four galaxies around this star - NGC615, NGC636, NGC596 and NGC584. All were identifiable, two pair on each side of the star. I found 596 difficult, and that surprised me as the three of the objects are Herschel 400 targets, with the easier galaxy NGC636 not being on the list. Must be a surface brightness thing. If you get a chance to look at these, you should.... it is fun to see this little galaxies in line with the bright star.

Nearly between the mag 3.9 star Baten Kaitos (what a name! Or... Zeta-Ceti) and mag 3.6 Tau-Ceti, sits NGC720. My notes say this galaxy has a bright core and appeared to both Leonard Tramiel me that it might be barred. My list program says its magnitude is between 11.5 and 12, while The Sky calls it mag 10.19, elongated, with a bright core. I guess the elongation stood out as a possible bar. I'd sure be interested in knowing how one listing can be over 1.5 mag different in brightness than another!

My last object in Cetus for the night was NGC779. This one would prove a bit trickier to star hop to, as at first it appeared to be in an area with few decent landmarks. I had to study the surrounding area before I came up with a plan. I can see how the person who defined Cetus' shape drew in the lines. I would reach NGC779 by using two pair of stars as markers. Both pair are in the "back" of the whale. I began at what many people recognize as the "bend" in the tail, near M77. Those stars (three) are mag 2.9 Menkar (Alpha-Ceti), mag 3.6 Kaffajidhma (Gamma-Ceti) and mag 4.0 Delta-Ceti. From there, looking west, I could see a faint line of four stars that end at a brighter pair. The four stars are mag dim Mira (Omicron-Ceti), mag 5.9 SAO129665, mag 5.5 SAO129490 and mag 5.9 SAO129371.

Beyond those were the two bright stars Theta-Eta and Eta-Ceti. Now, below the first two SAOs I mention, is a mag 5.7 star SAO129624. With these three forming a recognizable triangle, it is easy to drop on NGC779. A lot of work, but the galaxy is quite nice, bright (but dimmer than NGC720) and obviously elongated.

The night was wearing on. It was getting chilly. My toes, regardless of neoprene socks with liners and Sorrels, were feeling like they belonged in the grocery store meat counter. But, it was not yet even 10 p.m.

I next hunted down NGC651 in Perseus. This was fun, since I had to come off the stars in Andromeda to get there, and the constellation was dead overhead. Neck strain, turning in circles until I looked like a drunk (no, no Mexican Coffees last night) about to topple. What a sight I must have been (glad it was dark!). I used mag 3.1 Beta-Trianguli to draw a line to and through mag 2.3 Almach (Gamma-Andromedae) to mag 4.2 Phi-Persei. Just under a degree further on that line and... surprise! The Little Dumbell - M76. It is fun when you don't look at the Messier numbers ahead of time and land on something obviously outstanding. M76 easily showed a bi-lobed structure, was quite bright and for a planetary, relatively large.

I now moved south, down to darker skies, into Pisces. NCG488 would appear to be as challenging to locate as NGC779 was, until I realized it had the same solution. A series of stars defining the constellation's line, which were just identifiable naked-eye. Soon, jumping from mag 4.3 Alrescha (Alpha-Piscium) to mag 4.8 SAO110206, then mag 4.7 Nu-Piscium, mag 5.1 Mu-Piscium. A quick turn south and I could see mag 5.3 89-Piscium. The galaxy lay just between Mu and 89. Not bad! My notes indicate a fairly bright galaxy with a single notably bright star in the field. The Field Guide says the galaxy has many arms, so I'll have to visit this one again in darker skies... it is also 100M-LY distant, which I find simply mind-boggling....

My last target for the night in Pisces was NGC524. This was just a short jump back up above Mu-Piscium, and easy to land on. My notes say it was easy to see, bright, probably face on, and I wondered if I was seeing other galaxies in the field. Only NGC524 shown on the Tirion 2000. Now that I look at The Sky on my PC, I can see I was detecting other galaxies, as this is a very rich galaxy cluster. What scares me though is, other than nearby NGC489 at mag 13.0, the other perhaps dozen galaxies are all mag 14 or dimmer. Probably floaters, right? ;-)

The last two objects for the night were NGC252 and NGC288. I won't go into 253 much, as it is a showpiece object that is probably written about extensively. Let's put it this way, if you haven't seen it, get your telescope out asap and look. It is big, bright, has lots of dust and HII regions. It's a killer galaxy. NGC288 I had seen before, but it never ceases to amaze me how large it is for its dim appearance. It must be at least 15 minutes in diameter (okay, The Sky says 13.8 minutes... close), and is highly resolved, but all the stars are dim. I wonder if this is just extinction due to its low altitude for us northern observers. Anyone still reading this from down under? I know you have Omega and 47 Tucane, but, what does 288 look like to you?

With my toes finally getting really uncomfortable, my fingertips beginning to feel like frozen toes, and the thought of black ice forming on the mountain road if I stayed later, I packed up, poured a cup of full strength and returned to the land of bright skies. I plan to come back to Montebello with my 10" Dob, and continue the bright Herschels. It is fun to start over, when the entertainment is good. Hopefully the weekend will be clear, and I'll get to some really decent skies...

Wednesday, November 18, 1998

Is Bad Luck or No Luck Better?

Yesterday, midday, looking at clear skies, I decided to pack the truck and make only my second mid-week trip ever to Fremont Peak, thinking I could do some good dark sky observing for four to five hours before midnight.

I arrived at the Peak, finding it apparently deserted. No sign of Ranger Mike and family, nor any other observers or campers. Thinking I could leave my dob in the truck and use the 30" Challenger, I went to the lock box containing the observatory key, but found it open and empty. Looking up to the observatory I noted the curtains were open, even though the building appeared closed.

Up I went, to find Robert Hoyle's car parked on the east side of the building. Knocking on the door, Robert greeted me. He was there using the 30" for astrophotography. He has taken some beautiful shots on that instrument, but for me, it would be my scope that night, not the Challenger. Tough luck.

So, I started to set up. The 20" Obsession is not that difficult to manage, with a big enough vehicle and ramps. The scope comes with detachable wheelbarrow handles, and can be up and running in about 10 leisurely minutes. Once set up, I looked at the sky, where some early clouds were now disappearing, and tongues of fog were creeping into the south valley below Fremont Peak. Looking up, I noticed something that always drives me crazy. I had put the upper tube assembly on the telescope.... backwards. I can't believe how often I do that! I know better, but it happens a good one third of the time or more. Am I telescope dyslexic? I stomped around, cursing my stupidity, my repeated stupidity, repeatedly. It was getting cold, and I had to take down again to set up correctly! Bad luck!

But, once that job was done, and I calmed myself down from my self-directed tirade, I got down to the business of collimating. This is always a snap for me (an ability that did not come without much trial and trauma). The secondary looked oddly off center. Damn! What was going on? Out came the tools and after much fiddling, the alignment looked close. Now to tweak the collimation screws on the back end. I turned and turned. Nothing was moving as it should. It was like some cruel joke... turn, turn, crank, whale on the mother, sweat.... nothing... then POP.... the mirror jumped past the dot. Damn, damn! What's the deal? Um.... check the mirror sling.

The mirror was completely off the sling. What BAD luck! Not having the proper tools along to loosen the sling, I tipped the scope well forward toward horizontal and grunted the mirror toward zenith with one hand, while gradually sliding the sling back around its earthly end. Freaking fingerprints on the edge of the glass. Now, I was not only sweating like a Leonid storm (no, not the wimpy type we just had, but the real deal), I was completely, totally aggravated. How could this get any worse? This is such bad luck... maybe I should tear down and go home. I am just glad Robert was mostly in the observatory and did not have to endure my language or demeanor.

The sky was looking sooooo nice by now, and my collimation was so right, I could not leave. I took a walk over to the top of Coulter Row to see the sunset colors and check for others in the park. The place was empty. The view offshore was clear, as far a I could see. There was a rainbow of reds, oranges and purples out far on the horizon where the sun had set. It was one of those California postcard views that don't seem like they could really be true. The crispness of approaching winter, nary a breeze and the quiet of nothing but one soul and the universe laid out before my feet and above me, from the beauty of the place I spend my relaxation hours, to the home above from where I and all I know came from. Fremont Peak's solitude and spectacle are a soothing balm for the spirit.

Feeling much better, I walked back to the observatory side of the park and began to set up my computer, shielded from dew in the rear of the truck. It is a perfect setup. The 20" Dob 12 feet from the truck, my computer running The Sky for my star chart for the evening, and two home-printed books containing a printout of the SAC Deepsky Database, full of enough targets to last more years than I care to think of.

I decided to see what I could in Aquarius, up high in the south, transiting about this time of night. On to NGC6959. After a bit of hunting, there it was. The first object is, for some reason, usually the toughest for me. There were at least four galaxies in the field of view. I was jazzed. This, after all the early problems setting up, was worth it! I walked back to the computer to zoom into the eyepiece field of view and.... the battery died. All I could think of was the trite saying about the only luck one has being of the bad variety. I shut down the computer and thought to myself, I don't have a regular star atlas with me. I'm dead. I'm done. I've seen other observers have temper tantrums at the Peak when things turn to caca, and now I was going to have one. Look at the sky.... it's gorgeous! Then, I realized the power cords on the computer and inverter were probably long enough to reach the cigarrete lighter in the truck. And, after a lot of rearranging and fumbling, I was again happily turning my computer back on and back at the eypeiece. Bad luck? Bah! Real observers find a way to make their own luck! Right?

Looking in the eyepiece, I could not find my little galaxies. It was like I was losing my vision. What was this? Why was this sooooooooo frustrating? Why? Because now, my secondary was dewed up. Waaaaaaaaa! ARrrrrggggghhhhh! Son-of-a-blue-streak!!!!!! This was doom. This was tooo much.

Robert Hoyle lent me an extra Orion dew zapper and battery he had.

Life was good again.

I am sold on dew zappers.

What the heck, it was only another 30 minutes of pain now passed and turned again to joy. I was ready to observe.

On to NGC7301, a faint edge-on galaxy in Aquarius.

Well, I looked and looked, and finally, there was a smudge. Again, like before, I turned toward my computer. Zoomed in and saw what the star patterns should look like in the eyepiece. Back to the eyepiece and...

Are you laughing yet? Can there be anything else gone wrong?


My eyepeice was now dewed. My cherished 19 Panoptic. The eyepiece I use for ALL my deep sky hunting. Taking a bath. Doing the backstroke, or even worse, the deadman's float. What a run of wrong luck.

15 minutes later, I'd de-dewed it. Now, with my gloves off my hands, one over the Telrad, the other sitting over the eyepiece when I'm not viewing through it, now, now.... I was finally ready to get down to business.

But the views were not very pleasing.

It was then I realized I was looking into a solitary cloud. Damn. Okay, maybe another part of the sky. But, the more I looked around, the more the lone cloud's friends appeared.

Someone, something, who knows, intended me to NOT observe. The sky was quickly clouding over, from the west. Not at star in sight that way, and high cirrus overhead and now, dimming out Orion in the east.

I used extreme caution packing up.

I did not want anything else to go wrong.

Cold, frustrated, with wet equipment, I climbed into the truck and said goodby to Robert.

I was relieved to get off the mountain road and back on the freeway without mishap. I obeyed all the driving laws on the ride home. Don't toy with bad luck.

I walked in the door at 11 p.m., Pat most surprised to see me home early. She asked me what had happened, and I related a bit of the night's story. I was going to ask her how things had been at home, and what the weather forecast on the news for this weekend, but decided to not push my luck.

Pat told me if I'd stayed, I would probably have fallen off the ladder. What do you think?

Friday, November 13, 1998

Nice Night

Yes, from twilight until I left Houge Park after 11, Saturn and Jupiter looked very nice. The GRS was as obvious as I've ever seen it, maybe even more, as it spun around the disk over a few hours. There appeared to be several good festoons hanging off the NEB into the equatorial zone. The definition of the zones and belts was quite good, and the planet had very nice color. Saturn was beautiful, with a wonder gold-cream color, easy to see zones, Cassini's Division was obvious enough to drive a Suburban through. I think the best views were with a Meade 10.5mm and Nagler 9mm. We tried a Takahasi 7mm LE, but it was a bit much for the seeing. This was in my 10" f/5.6 Dob.

Knowing to not expect dark sky quality, I put M15 in the 10" and was nicely surprised by the cluster breaking up decently. Several visitors looked at it and were able to see it was a cluster, although its brightness certainly was not as good as on other occasions.

Other objects the public saw were M42 (although low, the nebula was obvious and we could, even at lower power with an 18mm eyepiece, see 5 stars in the Trapezium without trying hard), M35 (Jack Z was pulling in the more distant NGC that is the visual comapanion to M35), M31/M32, M57 (easy as ever), NGC404, NCG7331, ET Cluster, Albireo, negative results on M74 and M33. Alan Nelms then used my old "Season Star Chart" to find several nice double stars... he was knocking them out with ease.

The public at Houge Park was lots of fun. What began as a disappointing afternoon looking at the clouds and cancelling a night a Pacheco, turned into a worthwile evening with friends and visitors.

Saturday, October 17, 1998

Spotted Beast of the North.

Friday and Saturday, the 16th and 17th of October 1998, Several subscribers to TAC met at Pacheco State Park in western Merced county for two nights of dark sky observing. A mild debate had been taking place over the past year over whether Pacheco or Fremont Peak had darker skies. Although the inability to be two places at once makes real evaluation quite difficult, the observing group in particular on Saturday night seemed to conclude Pacheco's skies were indeed better for darkness than Fremont Peak's. Over the past five years in particular (my own experience), Fremont Peak has seen a dramatic increase in encroachment of light pollution, and other than when a thick blanket of fog assists, the location is what I consider more for the education of the public than for serious amateur astronomers looking for a nearby observing site with reasonably decent skies. That is what Pacheco offers, when the winds are not blowing, reasonably dark skies, more removed from the light domes of Hollister, Morgan Hill, Salinas, Santa Cruz and the lower San Francisco bay peninsula. If the bay area were a car, the south bay would, for this area, be driving with its high-beams on. Much of what we had at Fremont Peak has now been blinded by the light. However, "the Peak" will still be my location of choice, when fog drowns, or wind season is in, at Pacheco.

(to skip to the observing report potion, find the ****)

The first night of observing was not one for the books. The winds were changing direction and blowing steadily, making use of my recently acquired 20" f/5 Obsession futile. I would look in the Telrad, and by the time I got to the eyepiece, the scope had moved, no matter how much I tried to stop it. I did find one object I had not seen previously, planetary nebula PK111-2.1 (Hubble 12) located in Cepheus. This planetary is very small, and required matching the eyepiece field with that of the planetarium program _The_Sky_, which I use in the field as my star atlas. The object was, oddly, the first item in my new observing list, but showed up under Cassiopeia. My new observing list is a printout of the Saguaro Deep-Sky Database (I was running out of Herschel objects). So, there may be a mistake in the SAC database. Anyway, the planetary was noticeable, as it did the "blinking planetary" trick.... becoming stellar when viewed dead-on, and growing fuzz (getting hairy) when not looking directly at it. The effect was subtle, but noticeable.

Soon, the wind picked up, my Dob became more hang-glider than telescope, and I took down for the night. I was the group sacrifice, and the god of wind felt appeased, lowering its force to manageable for the remaining observers for the rest of the night. Having Saturday night left, I did not feel particularly disappointed.

Saturday was a pleasant day. There was a mild breeze and temperatures hovered around 80 degrees fahrenheit, with not a cloud in sight. Ranger Clark Dooley stopped by several times. At one point, a few of us were using binoculars to check out the higher peaks to the north of highway 152, when the ranger pulled up. I asked about access "over there" and after a while he suggested that maybe we'd be interested in seeing what else was available in the rest of Pacheco park. Two of us took him up on the offer.... I rode in the cab of the 4X truck with Dooley, and we had a passenger in the back.

Dooley took the truck up a horse trail along the ridge-line forming the northwest border of the park. Highway 152, Casa de Fruita, Pacheco and Fremont Peaks were all easy to identify from the 2,000 foot vantage point. But, aside from one small flat area that I consider inaccessible by passenger car, there are no good observing sites. The views, of the unspoiled wild land laid out before us, were spectacular. I found myself traveling back in time, knowing what the early settlers saw when first viewing this part of California. To our east lay San Luis Reservoir and a wind farm. Dooley told us there were flatter areas over in that direction. Now, you may think "wind farm"... what a terrible place to observe! But, the wind season at Pacheco ends in October, and conditions stay relatively calm until about April.

We drove back down the horse-trail, exited the park, and headed down toward Dinosaur Point a few hundred yards. There, on our right, was a locked gate. Dooley unlocked it and we proceeded up a well maintained gravel road toward the wind-farm. This area looks quite good for observing, being further away from the highway, I doubt we'd hear any traffic, and we would not have any unexpected light intrusion from the neighbors. This area will need to be looked at in more depth, and perhaps a proposal sent to the Park Service regarding astronomical use.

On the way out, I noticed across a ravine, an old road cut into the hillside (maybe 20 yards from us), leading toward the reservoir. I have lately been enjoying learning a bit of California history in the new places I go observing, and pointed the road out to Dooley. He told me it was from the 1870's, and built by a man named Firebaugh (a town in California's central valley is named after Firebaugh). This was the old county road that lasted until the 1920's when the current Pacheco Pass road was built. The old county road had switch-backs, and began down in the area where now sits the San Luis Reservoir. The reservoir also hides the old Rancho de San Luis Gonzaga, owned by a wealthy family in the 1820's. The daughter of the land owner was named Fatjo (not Fat Joe), but pronounced "facho"... and her photograph is shown in a display at Pacheco Park. Fatjo is a hauntingly beautiful woman, who died recently (1992). I found myself imagining her life on the old Rancho, before civilization made Pacheco Pass a main automobile thoroughfare. Her beauty oddly reminded me of a line in the Monty Python movie about the quest for the Holy Grail, where the prince's father talks of marriage to the wealthy princess who had "great tracts of land" (those who saw the movie will recall the scene, and where the hands were located when the line was said). Fatjo certainly had land. She is also responsible for the park as it is today, and as such, for our enjoyment in using her land. Thank you, Fatjo.

Dooley finished the story of the old road by parking the truck and letting us look into the ravine. There, down in the bottom, were large rocks built into a curve. It was the old stagecoach trail, from the time of the California gold rush. I heard how Joaquin Murrieta, a gold prospector from Mexico, who was mistreated, became the feared leader of a group of desperados, and would commit some of his crimes in this area. One could well imagine all these people, living their lives in the Pacheco pass area, under the same daytime sun, and night sky skies (albeit darker) we enjoy today. What a wonderful place to enjoy this hobby.

We returned to camp, ate dinner, welcomed our friends who were arriving for the night, and prepared our telescopes.


I began the night by returning to my Herschel list. The equipment would be a 20" F/5 Obsession, 19 Panoptic, Telard and laptop computer running version 4 of _The_Sky_ by Software Bisque. I had identified several objects in the list that I had not yet observed.

(The coded info represents: NGC number, Other name, Object type, Category, RA, Dec, Size, PA, Vmag, Bmag, Surface Brightness):

N6500 U11048 = M+03-46-003 GX Sab 
17 55 59.7 +18 20 18 2.2x1.6 50 12.2 13.1 13.4

N6501 U11049 = M+03-46-004 GX S0+
17 56 03.7 +18 22 23 2.0x1.8 12 13 13.3

N6495 U11034 = M+03-45-039 GX E
17 54 50.7 +18 19 37 2.0x1.8 12.2 13.2 13.6

N6490 U11033 = M+03-45-038 GX E-S0
17 54 30.4 +18 22 33 1.0x0.8 115 13.5 14.5 13.1
I began in Hercules, observing NGCs 6500 and 6501. I was able to located them, using a Telrad, by finding 86-Mu Herculis (mag 3.5), along what I take to be the leg of the hero bent back toward Lyra, and then finding the naked eye double stars 71 and 72 Ophiuchi (mags 4.7 and 3.7 respectively). The target lay almost in between, with mag 4.7 93 Herculis sitting at the inside edge of the outer Telrad circle. These galaxies were a gorgeous sight, a mere 2 minutes apart. Both are round, and approximately the same size. These were easy to see. While in the area, I also tracked down NGCs 6495 and 6490. All objects were in the same range of brightness, although as you can see, they varied by as much as 1 magnitude.

I then took an unexpected break, as some guests arrived. They looked at the pair of galaxies and couldn't see them. So, I turned the scope on M74. Even though they could see "something" they were not impressed. I turned the Dob over toward M13, now getting low in the west. Bingo... they liked that! They then all got into a vehicle and apparently stayed there until they left at some point later in the evening. A drive all the way down from San Francisco for that? Oh well, some people are just difficult to understand.

I decided that Hercules was now descending into the light dome of San Jose. Although not bad, the light dome is still there. A few estimates I heard was up to about 25 degrees elevation. The skies at Pacheco are actually very good, with excellent horizons in all directions, and San Jose being the only real impediment. One observer did a limiting visual magnitude check and found for his eyes, it was mag 6.4. That's damn good for any area near a major population center!

I looked through my remaining Herschel objects list and decided on trying Camelopardalus.

The four stars that make up the recognizable constellation Camelopardalus are, in lessening magnitude, 4.2 10-Beta Cam, 4.4 9-Alpha Cam, 4.4 SAO 24054 and 4.7 Gamma Cam. The name Camelopardalus means the "camel-leopard"... quite a combination of animals! However, the picture image was used to depict the spotted "camel" known as a giraffe. The celestial enclosure of Camelopardalus, ranges roughly 48 degrees from the bowl of the Little Dipper to the boundary of Perseus, and almost 36 degrees from Cassiopeia to Ursa Major and Lynx. This is a large area devoid of easily recognizable naked eye stars, making non-DSC assisted locating of faint fuzzies a good challenge. I found the most useful non-related stars for star-hopping to be magnitude 3.8 SAO 14908 (23 UMa), mag 3.5 Muscida (SAO 14573, or 1-OMICRON UMa), mag 1.9 Mirfak (33-Alpha Per), mag 2.9 Algol (26-Beta Per). Additional to the previously mentioned Cam stars, a few dimmer ones located approximately between Muscida and Alpha-Cam were useful. But, a few more bright stars would make Camelopardalus a much easier place to hunt. Perhaps the constellation is therefore appropriately named, more the object of imagination and difficulty in observing...

I began this indistinct area by searching for NGC1502

N1502 Cr 45 = OCL-383 = Lund 124 OC II 3 p
04 07 49 +62 19.9 8 5.7

N1501 PK 144+6.1 PN 3
04 06 59.4 +60 55 15 56"x48" 11.5
I am not a big fan of open clusters, but sometimes they can be quite spectacular. The hunt for 1502 provided an unexepect surprise. In trying to identify the shape of the constellation, I made a mistake. Looking in the eyepiece I began sweeping and noticed an nice dim splattering of stars, which I took for NGC1502. Going back to the computer to look at the field on screen, a friend looked in my eyepiece and said "hey.... did you see the big planetary in here?" Well, no, I didn't. I was so intent on looking for open clusters, that I missed a very large planetary nebula sitting on the very edge of the field. It is NGC1501, and was obvious. Large with a surprisingly high surface brightness, and an easy pinpoint central star. Another observer brought over an OIII filter to look, and suddenly the object took on a slightly more oval shape and the central area darkened noticeably and irregularly. Were this object sitting in the place of M57, it would be the most famous planetary nebula. Check this one out... it is not difficult to find... it is on the line between 10-Beta Cam and the northern pair that describe the constellation (mag 4.4 SAO 24054), and on an intersecting line you can imagine coming from Algol through Mirfak in Perseus, to where it intersects the other line. Worth looking at!

Then, another friend with a great 8" f/7 home built work of art Dob, found NGC1502. He too does not like clusters, but said "Mark.... if other clusters are like this one, I'll like the Herschel opens"....

Moving the scope just a bit further on the Algol-Mirfak line, and slightly up, such that the constellation line is just inside the outer edge of the Telard's 4 degree circle, puts you right in the neighborhood of NGC1502. What a beauty! There is a tight condensation of several brilliant stars, and another lone bright pair outside the main body of the cluster. The cluster also has several dimmer components, but this one is no mistaken open cluster! This is a fine example of the class of object!

Now I was jazzed. Even though the constellation itself was nothing to write home about, it did have some very interesting objects. I moved on to hunting for NGC2403.

N2403 U03918 = M+11-10-007 = Z309-040 = Z310-003 GX Sc
07 36 54.5 +65 35 58 21.9x12.3 127 8.5 8.9 14.4
Huge! I could not believe it! Located in the void of Camelopardalis, where the constellation's territory dips toward the nose of the Great Bear (Ursa Major) and the northern boundary of Lynx, this galaxy is a real treat. Look at the size of it! No wonder it has low surface brightness, but still, with work, many of its features are visible. I was so overwhelmed at the size of this find, I failed to look for nearby MCG11-10-13 or UGC3894. I'll need to visit this one again, perhaps next weekend under darker skies. To find NGC2403, you need good spatial relations and a bit of luck. Taking Muscida (the nose of Ursa Major), go just under one-third the distance toward mag 4.4 9-Alpha Cam, and place your Telard's outer circle such that mag 5.8 star SAO 14211 sits just above it. You are now in the area... have fun!

Next on the list was NGC1961

N1961 U03334 = M+12-06-007 = Z329-008 = Arp 184 = IC 2133 GX Sbp
05 42 04.4 +69 22 46 4.6x3.0 85 11 11.7 13.7
Hey... I love it when I hit one of the "famous" list objects. No, not Messier, not Herschel.... I mean Arp or Abell, those types. This one, NGC1961, an eye full, is also known as Arp 184. It is in a rich field of galaxies, and is quite large. Taking the line from SAO 24054 (the top of Camelo), across to 9-Alpha, you can continue to just about hit mag 4.7 SAO 13788 about eight and a half degrees more toward Ursa Major. Using Alpha and SAO 13788, you should place your Telrad's outer circle just above the line and about one third the way from the SAO back toward Alpha. While there, you can also track down CGCG329-11, UGC3342, UGC3344 and UGC3349. These are all easy to identify fainter galaxies near the Arp galaxy.
N2366 U03851 = M+12-07-040 = Z330-038 = Mrk 71 GX Ir
07 28 55.0 +69 12 57 8.1x3.3 25 11.1 11.4 14.6
NGC2366 is another large galaxy. I was beginning to think I'd been missing the boat, staying away from this empty part of the sky. But, it certainly has its share of big galaxies. This one i 8.1x3.3 minutes, but the surface brightness is nominal, in the mid-14's. With enough aperture, that is not too dim, although it was very difficult to find, and equally so to hold in vision. This galaxy is in the emptiness of Camlo also. To find it, get to SAO 14908, the mag 3.8 star between the top end star in the Big Dipper's bowl, and the end star of the bear's nose. NGC2366 is now just about half way between that star and 9-Alpha Cam. Slightly toward Alpha, you'll see two stars close together at mags 5.0 and 5.1, with a 4.7 closer to Alpha. Take the 4.7 and the 5.1 (the northern of the 5.0 and 5.1 pair), and from the 4.7 extend a line through the 5.1 till you find a mag 5.8 star (SAO 14211). Place the middle Telrad circle so the inside bottom edge almost touches the mag 5.8 star. There you are...
N2655 U04637 = M+13-07-010 = Z349-033 = Z350-007 = Arp 225 GX Sa
08 55 38.5 +78 13 25 4.9x4.1 85 10.1 11 13.2

N2715 U04759 = M+13-07-015 = Z350-012 GX Sc
09 08 06.4 +78 05 07 4.9x1.7 22 11.2 11.8 13.4
Another Arp, and a BIG one! Alright! Far from the recognizable shape of the constellation, between Ursa Major and Polaris, this one lives. I felt like I was lost in the Sahara, with not a single good landmark to help guide me. I believe I used mag 5.0 star SAO 7164 in Draco and mag 4.8 star SAO 6022 in Camelopardalus as my guides. NGC 2655 lies a tad closer to the mag 4.7 star, and just north of the line described by the two. To get to this pair of stars, I used the end stars in the Big Dipper as a measure, and went about twice the distance between them to the mag 5 star in Draco. Locating the other star from there was easy. Along with 2655, NGC 2715 was close by, large and elongated. Also found were UGC4701 and UGC4714, both fainter and smaller than the nearby NGCs.
N1569 U03056 = M+11-06-001 = Z306-001 = Arp 210 = VII Zw 16 GX Irp
04 30 48.6 +64 50 56 3.6x1.8 120 11 11.9 12.9
I moved next to NGC1569, dimmer by at least a magnitude than the prior targets. This one was also an Arp, and as can be noted by the NGC number, a good distance away from any prior target. But, that proved a benefit, as the location was actually inside the body of the constellation lines! I used 9-Alpha and a line to mag 4.4 SAO 25054 to get there. I placed the outside Telard circle about 2 degrees off Alpha, toward the SAO, and just slightly below the line. After a bit of poking around, I found the object. My notes call it a bright galaxy, and indeed the surface brightness is listed higher than the prior objects.
N2347 ? U03759 = M+11-09-039 = Z309-026 = IC 2179? GX Sb
07 16 04.0 +64 42 41 1.8x1.3 175 12.5 13.2 13.2
NGC2347 and the nearby galaxy IC2179 are easy to see. It is odd to me that the this above listing suggests that NGC2347 and IC2179 may be the same object, as other catalogs show them as separate, and I was able to identify them as unique. Both are bright, and where plotted on _The_Sky_. Getting there is a snap... it sits almost half-way between SAO 14908 (between the dipper's upper end bowl star and Muscida the nose star of Ursa Major), and mag 4.2 10-Beta Cam, and to help, you also have a right angle formed by Muscida and mag 4.5 15-Lyn in Lynx (you can see a pair of nearly equal magnitude stars forming this end of Lynx). The right angle is formed on the northern side of the two stars.
N4127 U07122 = M+13-09-012 GX Sc
12 08.5 +76 48 2.5x1.2 140 12.7 13.4 13.7
NGC4127 was the beginning of the end for me, for my night with the giraffe. It was getting late now, and my second night in the cold and dark was beginning to take its toll. My visual acuity was waning, and I was having more difficulty recognizing patterns in the sky, even though the constellation was now significantly higher up. This object, and the next, took so much of my observing time, I would have to classify them as most difficult.... but not so much for their view in the eyepiece, as for the inability to locate them. I used the end stars of the Little Dipper as pointers toward mag 5.1 star SAO 7522, at the very boundary of Draco and Camelopardalis. This is about as far from the recognizable constellation of Camelo as one can get. Once I had the mag 5.1 star in the center of the Telard (it was not easy to do!), I moved it to the northern edge of the 2 degree marker on the Telrad's display. That's all it took. Glowing dimly was NGC4127, alone.
N3901 U06675 = M+13-09-001 GX Sc
11 42.9 +77 23 1.8x0.8 165 13.7 14.4 13.9
This was the last object I would attempt on my list for the night. The giraffe had worn me down. It had won. It used its dimness to defeat me. The spotted beast of the north was a tall order which for me, was too much. Yes, after finding 3901, all I have left (for next weekend) in this part of the sky are three dime galaxies. I will have its spots next weekend! Not far from NGC4127 sits NGC3901. It is even closer to Draco's borderline. I think I used Polaris as a stepping stone on this one, first finding the naked eye pair mag 5.3 SAO 1714 and mag 4.6 SAO 1551, then moving still further from Polaris to the pair mag 5.1 SAO 7522 and mag 5.0 SAO 7164. NGC3901 lies between these two, closer to the mag 5.1 star. Place the 5.1 such that is sits in between the outer and middle lines of the Telrad circle, with the mag 5.0 star in a line directly across the circles. This will put you in the right area. It was a lot of work for this almost-ain't-there, and signaled time to call it a night.

However, several observers were still up, and had some objects they wanted to view in larger aperture. I turned the scope over to them. One fellow observer found the Horsehead.... I've had better views, but it was definitely there using an Orion Ultrablock. M42 with the Ultrablock was beyond words. If there can be an "in the presence of God" experience for an amateur astronomer, it is seeing pinpoint stars in the Trapezium and thick frosting like nebulosity extending away, wing like, from the Trap and M43, but forming a complete circle of nebula easily viewed. It was magnificent.

Another observer called me to her scope to look at an object. I found NGC891 easily recognizable. I put it in the 20" and climbed my 5 foot ladder, bracing myself at the top with my knees, and saw a black dust lane bisecting the edge-on spectacle.

Someone put the 20 on M35, then to the small NGC open cluster next to it. The scope was performing magically.

By now though, it was late on the second night. Other observers were turning in, and the temperature was continuing to drop. My feet were starting to get chilled, and the sleeping bag was inviting.

I awoke to find only two other observers at Pacheco with me in the morning. One commented how, after packing up, it was amazing that there was no sign of our having been there. I agreed, knowing that I was taking everything I'd brought along home with me. But I was really leaving with a lot more. It was a rich and rewarding night.

Can't wait until next weekend....

Saturday, September 19, 1998

A Night with the Little Bear (long)

A Night with the Little Bear.

(To skip to the observation list, go to the ****)

Getting there...

On the afternoon of Saturday, September 19, 1998, my observing partner Alan Nelms and I headed out of town to join other observers at Fiddletown, at the invitation of a couple regulars at that site. Neither Alan or I had ever been to the Fiddletown Observatory, but I knew roughly where it lay, as I had been scouting the area just south of there a few months before, a trip where I happened to run across the historic California site of the state's first recorded amateur astronomical observatory a few miles west of the quaint town of Volcano and Daffodil Hill. After a few hours of driving the back road highways across California's breadbasket, we entered the gold country town of Ione and were soon were on our way to Plymouth. Plymouth was once neighbors, during the gold rush, with another town named Pokerville. Plymouth lies along the aptly named highway 49, and is the jumping off point toward the small hamlet of Fiddletown. The drive along Fiddletown Road is one of pastoral beauty, with ancient oaks lining the drive over the rolling hillsides. The dry grasses, stretching far as the eye can see, gives the landscape a golden hue, leading some to believe it is the derivation of California's official name of "The Golden State." I tend to believe the Gold Rush had a bit to do with the name.

Passing through Fiddletown, one cannot help but look at the old buildings, street names, and surrounding area and feel immersed in California history. It is, in a real sense, a time machine. Welcome back to the days of the real 49'ers. To give a bit of the flavor of the time, I will quote from one of the travel books I recently purchased:

"Fiddletown's fame must, in part, rest on its name. Founded by Missourians in 1849, it was named by an elder in the group who described the younger men as "always fiddling." It kept the name until 1879 when it was changed to Oleta at the insistence of a Judge Purinton, who was embarrassed to be known in Sacramento (California's governmental capitol) and San Francisco as that "man from Fiddletown." The old name, whose charm was quickly recognized by Bret Harte and immortalized by him in An Episode in Fiddletown, was restored in the 1920's.

It was here that a certain Judge Yates reached the limit of his patience in listening to an outlandish whopper and created a classic in courtroom procedure. After hearing all he could stand, he finally turned to the witness, banged down the gavel, and said, "I declare court adjourned. This man is a damned liar." After this statement, he again banged his gavel and stated, "Court is in session."

Another bit of Fiddletown history tells of a man who was accused of stealing $10,000 from the town's Wells Fargo safe. "A mob quickly assembled to hang the supposedly guilty party. They strung their man up several times but sympathizers kept cutting him down. He protested his innocence and finally the deputy sheriff and a doctor arrived on the scene. They cut him down and revived him, but he was paralyzed for months. It was later discovered that their victim had not even bene in town the night of the robbery, and that one of the members of the hanging mob was the culprit."

When I visit this area, visions of Mark Twain's stories, stagecoach bandits, gunfights, bustling bawdy saloons and brothels, and gold rush fever come to mind. It is a great place to "get away" to, and provides darker skies than can be had back home, in "civilization."

Soon, we were unpacking our scopes on the historic ground, ready to pan the night sky for treasure. At nightfall, it would be a few observers, the sweet smell of the countryside, and the heavens...


Being there.... u The site is dry. There is an observatory where a few telescopes are stored. There is a building that was intended as a place to sleep and perhaps get out of the day's heat, but is now inhabited by bats. It is not a large observing area, but was able to handle the perhaps one dozen scopes that were there. The observing group ranged from the greenest newbie to some of the most experienced deep sky aficionados on our little rock. The equipment ranged, in ascending aperture, from 20X80 binos on a binocular mount, to two 10" f/5.6 dobs, up to three 17.5'ers, and 18", and two 20". Other equipment remained in the observatory.

The sky was mostly clear, except for a few bands of cirrus to the northwest.

I was using my new telescope for the first time, a 20" f/5 Obsession that was previously owned by my other close observing buddy. I would begin the night using a 27 Panoptic at 94x, but soon found I enjoyed the greater contast with my regular eyepiece, the 19 Panoptic, yielding 134x. I used no other eyepieces, and my finder was a Telrad.

We were going to work an area of the sky that suffers brightness at Fremont Peak, and would play in the den of the Little Bear for the evening. This too is fitting, from a historic perspective, since the state's flag's most prominent feature is a bear.

My observing program is the Herschel list (not the 400). Alan and I have now completed many of the constellation's entries on the list, but have neglected the far northern skies due to brightness in that direction at our usual observing location. Tonight we would begin and complete Ursa Minor's Herschels, along with some interesting diversions and surprises. I use a list generated with Gary Dean William's DOS program NGP (New General Program), sorting the Herschels first by constellation, then in decreasing magnitude (mags are listed in .5 mag steps).

I will list the objects by in the order we viewed them, by NGC name, and with this additional information: I used Software Bisque's _The_Sky_ level IV, version 4.0 (noted as "TS" in my notes) as a chart.. Alan had brought his laptop too, so we used both simultaneously, one showing a wide-field (50 degree) view of the sky with the object centered, the other computer displaying the FOV of a 20 Nagler in an 18" F/4.5 telescope (a bit of a wide view for my purposes). Here is a key to the descriptive notes below:

Other names Type / Class RA2000 / Dec Size / PA VMag - BMag - SB (surface brightness) U2000 / NGC description. (Information generously provided by Steve Gottlieb, only the descriptions that follow are mine)


U10470 = M+13-12-008 = Arp 185 
16.32.7 +78,12
11.2 11.8 13.2
11 B,cL,lE,slBM
This object stood out without difficulty. It is a round galaxy with a bright core, located between to naked eye stars (SAO8257 at mag 5.6 and SAO8612 at mag 6.0) off the handle side of the dipper's cup. Two bright stars in the FOV point right at this fairly good sized galaxy. If you are in the neighborhood, toward a grouping of six stars (two bright, to dimmer, two dim) forming a noticeable V asterism, sits UGC10509 (mag 15.1 on TS).



U08420 = Mrk 256 = 7Z 511 = M+12-13-005 
GX Scp
13 22.9 +70 31
1.2x0.9 150
13.1 13.4 13
26 cB,S,R,g,sBM
This object is located by finding 6 Draconis (mag 4.0) and 4 Draconis, along with Thuban (11-Alpha Draconis at mag 3.7) and its close neighbor10 Draconis. Using these stars as to describe a line, it is easy to find two dimmer stars back toward the end of the dipper. The target stars are SAO7854 (mag 5.7) and more difficult SAO7814 (mag 6.1). Placing a Telrad such that SAO7854 is just outside the middle circle, just away from 4 and 6 Draconis, should put you in the area of NGC5144. This is a round galaxy with close neighbor CGCG336-7 (KUG1318+709 or PGC46524, mag 15.5 on TS). It is easy to find the dimmer galaxy as there is a "box" configuration of bright stars in its direction from NGC5144.



U09649 = M+12-14-015 = Z337-025
14 57 45.3 +71 40 55
3.7x2. 245
12.1 12.9 14.2
27 pB,cL,iR,bp,r
This galaxy appeared large and diffuse, having no readably discernable features other than an amorphous shape. It is easy to identify the correct field, as there is a mag 6.2 star (SAO8140) in the same FOV, which is a very bright lighthouse. This object is easy to locate with a Telrad by placing Pherkad (13-Gamma Ursae Minoris, mag 3.1), the dimmer of the end stars in the bowl of the dipper, just inside the outer Telrad circle, then get mag 2.1 Kochab (7-Beta Ursae Minoris) just outside the other side of the Telard circle. The line described with these two stars should just about split through the centerline between the outer and middle Telrad circles. SAO8140 should be very close to the center of the Telard.



U10124 = M+12-15-038
15 57.5 +70 41
2.2x1.7 140
12.3 13.3 13.7
28 F,R,bM
This object was a blast to observe, as it has a good number of neighbors in or very near the FOV. Other objects viewed along with NGC6048 were, UGC10142 (mag 15.4), NGC6071 (mag 14.8), MCG12-15-47 (mag 15.0), MCG12-15-45 (15.8), IC1187 (mag 16), all mags from TS. Most of these were at the limits of averted vision. But, all these are not available if you don't know how to get there from here. Using Pherkad (mag 3.1) and it's side of the dipper bowl as a landmark, your Telrad circle should be lined up along the ling described by Pherkad and Kochab, such that it parallels the long axis of the bowl of the dipper on Pherkad's side. The closest outer Telrad circle should be about 2 degrees away (the distance between the outer and middle Telrad circles). Magnitude 5.3 SAO17062 and mag 5.4 SAO16962 should sit outside the opposite side of the Telrad circles, by a distance of roughly one degree. Also, using a line described by Kochab and Pherkad, roughly the same distance out past Pherkad, sits mag 5.6 star SAO16794, which should be located just outside the outer circle of your Telrad. Good luck finding these galaxies... it is great fun tracking them down!



U10126 = M+13-11-019
15 55.4 +79 00
1.1x0.7 155
12.8 13.6 12.4
11 vF,vS,lE0,r
You know the old real estate saying "location, location, location...", well, NGC6068 has location going for it. It is a very easy find, located virtually on the line from mag 4.3 16-Zeta Ursae Minoris (the bowl star that attaches to the dipper's handle), to mag 4.4 22-Epsilon Ursae Minoris (the first handle star away from the bowl). The Telrad should be placed such that 16-Zeta is just outside the middle circle. In fact, the outer circle should be just inside the from the star 15-Theta Ursae Minoris (a naked eye double with 16-Zeta). That will place you "right-on" NGC6068. This galaxy is round, and has a dimmer companion (NGC6068A) a short 2' away. 6068A is listed in TS as mag 15.0, but it is not difficult to detect. Along with this pair, UGC10119 and UGC10132 are in the area, but I was unable to detect them.



U10725 = M+13-12-016
17 05.4 +75 24
0.9x0.5 78
12.8 13.8 11.9
11 vF,S,E,S*s
Where NGC6068 had easy location, NGC6324 is completely lacking in any good markers to aid in detection. Yes, there is a mag 6.3 star next to it (SAO8607), but that is getting pretty dim for naked eye. The best method I found to arrive at this NGC is to use the line of the bowl of the dipper described by 16-Zeta and mag 5.0 21-Eta Ursae Minoris, extend the line out further that direction about the same distance, and place the edge of the outer Telrad circle right on the imaginary line. the other outside Telrad line should be in the direction of mag 5.0 star 35 Draconis, which is about as far from the other edge of the Telrad is as 16-Zeta is from the first star in the handle of the dipper (22-Epsilon). In the field with NGC6324 will be mag 8.3 star SAO8710 and mag 10.8 GSC 4568, the two brightest stars in the center of the field. The galaxy is located midway between the two stars.



U08295 = M+12-13-001
13 12 19.1 +70 38 58
0.9x0.7 15
13.2 14.2 12.6
26 vF,vS,R
This round galaxy is located by placing the Telrad outside circle on two dim stars. Almost midpoint between the end stars of Draco (Thuban and mag 4.1 SAO15532 aka Giausar, aka 1-Lambda Draconis) is the jumping off point to find mag 5.8 SAO7814. The Telrad should be placed between the two Draconis stars noted above, with SAO7814 being on the opposite side of the Telrad outer circle. Also, have the outside Telrad circle toward Thuban rest on mag 5.5 star SAO7854. This will place you directly on the lone round galaxy NGC5034. It is easy to identify the location in the eyepiece, as the field has about six stars of equal magnitude, to that are a close pair.



U08867 = M+13-10-014
13 54.4 +78 13
2.0x1.5 120
13.3 13.9 14.3
10 vF,pL,iR,vgvlbM

This round galaxy is in an easy location to drop on. Looking at the end stars in the dipper's bowl, proceed from Pherkad to Kochab, then arc slightly to mag 4.4 SAO8024 (5 Ursae Minoris). Continue on the arc to SAO7958 (5 Ursae Minoris). Drop slightly away from the dipper, just off the line described by 4 and 5 Ursae Minoris. Keep star 4 on the middle circle (2 degree) circle of the Telrad. You should now have NGC5452 in your field of view. The field itself has a few pair of stars to help you identify the galactic location. One pair is next to a bright star, and the other pair is on the opposite side of the field and contains a bright star (but dimmer than the other bright star).



U09189 = Mrk 286 = 7Z 547 = M+12-14-001
14 19.5 +71 35
13.4 13.9 12.8
27 pF,cS,iR,bM,er
This galaxy is the second Markarian I had run across during the night. The other was U08420, viewed when I found NGC5144. The galaxy has a bright core, and its relatively small size makes it stand out even though it has a rather dim magnitude. From this spot, it was a very easy 20' "walk" over to the very dim CGCG337-9, listed on TS at mag 15.7. These galaxies were also easy to locate, as the stars 16-Zeta (where the handle connects to the bowl of the dipper) and Kochab point almost exactly at their position. There is a mag 5.4 star (SAO16035) on the noted line, and by placing your Telrad's outer circle on that star such that the circle's furthest point is just to the right of this star, you will be in the proper position. Try it and let me know if it works for you.


By now, the little bear was becoming a very familiar friend. I was quickly learning the approximate boundaries of the constellation, and its dimmer components off the main asterism of the dipper. I shared views of some brighter objects with other members of our group. The new telescope was an absolute joy to use. Fortunately the observatory had a few extra ladders, as I had wrongly assumed I would be tall enough to reach zenith on my short step ladder. I also made the rounds, filling everyone's cups with my customary observing beverage, which everyone gladly accepted. The party was relaxed and friendly, the sky dark, the temperatures just verging on cool, but thoroughly comfortable. It was not even midnight, and things were going great.

After a short break, I went after...


U10501 = M+14-08-010
16 32 31.8 +82 32 16
12.6 13.6 13.7
11 cF,S,bM,p of 2
This one was a snap to get to, and yielded a treasure of other objects. Round galaxy NGC6251 is almost on the first handle star from the bowl of the dipper. Go to 22-Epsilon Ursae Minoris (SAO2770) and you're there (okay just a tick off the star inside the arc of the handle, toward Polaris. Your field of view will include NGC6251, and right off it will be the small galaxy NGC6252 at mag 15.24 (TS). Traveling form 6251 to 6252 and beyond in that direction, you will find UGC10464 (mag 15.50) at the end of a noticeable chain of stars that begin with a bright field star. Going back to the original pair, look for the side 90 degrees away from your last traverse where there are fewer bright stars. Travel that direction, you will come to several noteworthy pairs of stars that will eventually lead to a line of three stars very close together and descending in brightness, right next to MCG448-5 (mag 15.50) spiral galaxy (I did not detect the spiral, I feel fortunate to detect anything that dim). Coming again back to the original pair, and Traveling the opposite direction from UGC10464, you will see a line of four stars that point to two. When at the two stars, you will see another chain of four, with a noticeable chain of three almost 90 degrees different in orientation, with a tight dim pair off the last star. You are in the neighborhood now of mag 15.2 CGCG367-15. This one was tough to pick out, requiring lots of patience an averted vision.



U08719 = M+13-10-012
GX Sab
13 45.6 +76 50
1.4x0.4 163
13.5 14.4 12.8
10 vF,pS,lE0
Moving on, Alan and I went after NGC5323. This one is at another easy to locate position. Going from Kochab toward the mag 4.3 star arcing away from the bowl (5 Ursae Minoris), you can use their angular distance to go beyond 5 Ursae and ever so slightly away from Polaris. The galaxy should be in your field. This one stands alone in the eyepiece, but it is easy to identify due to the "V" string of stars almost pointing at it. Across form the V is a tight triangle of stars, one of the brightest in the field. If that is not enough, there is a group of three stars (bright, dimmer, bright) just at the edge of the field. No problem hitting this target.



U09095 = Z353-031
GX Dbl
14 09 45.0 +78 36 04
13.5 14.5z 12.2
10 UMa eF,vS,E0
Here is a discrepancy. Gottlieb's notes show the constellation as UMa, yet TS and NGP show it as UMi. Seeing at it is much closer to Draco than the Big Bear, I'll go with it being in the constellation du jour. Again we go back to the arc of stars from Kochab bending back toward Polaris on the acute side of the dipper's handle. Continuing the arc just past the last star (mag 5.0 4-Ursae Minoris), and keeping that star on the 2 degree Telrad circle, will place the target in your view. It is easy to identify this galaxy from the star patters, as one side has a chain of five very evenly spaced nearly identical mag stars, the other side has the two brightest stars in the field pointing from brightest to dimmer right at the galaxy. Piece of cake!



U09297 = M+12-14-006
14 27.7 +69 42
1.7x1.2 45
13.3 14.1 13.9
27 vF,pL,R,bM
Located off the end of the dipper, almost centered between Kochab and Pherkad, and is halfway from Kochab to Thuban (Draco). This galaxy is in a field with three bright landmark stars, although the galaxy lies midway between four stars in a line (two on each side) of equal magnitude. Within easy reach of NGC5671 are UGC9295 (mag 15.5) near the end of a noticeable arc of stars, MCG12-14-4 (mag 14.88) which lies in the chain of stars, and NGC5620 (mag 15.07), found by following the closer pair of bright stars away from NGC5671 toward another bright triangle.



U09778 = M+13-11-010 = Z354-021 = NPM1G+75.0113
15 11 28.1 +75 23 02
1.1x0.5 52
13.7 14.7 12.9
11 vF,vS
NGC5909 should be another easy to locate galaxy. Place the outer Telrad circle on Kochab and place the center of the circles just a tick inside the line between Kochab and 16-Zeta Ursae Minoris (the joint of the bowl and handle of the dipper). It should be that easy. It is not that easy though. Alan and I kept working the field over and over. I would see two galaxies near the edge of the field, as if they were involved with three stars. In fact, the planetarium program showed them as three stars, and no galaxies where they should be in the center of the field. It was driving us nuts, no galaxies where they should be, two galaxies where two stars should be. NGC5909 and NGC5912, very close together. Finally I called Steve Gottlieb over and asked what he thought. he looked in the eyepiece, then at the computer. Finally, he suggested clicking the first of the three stars, and it said "non-stellar"... then clicked the second ... "non-stellar".... then Steve said "click the third star, it will be stellar." It was. We had identified two galaxies that were mis-plotted. After returning home, Steve e-mailed me that the error seemed to go back to the CGCG catalog, and was just copied from catalog to catalog. However, Steve's database had the locations correct. Amazing!



U10047 = M+12-15-016
15 46.6 +72 10
2.0x0.7 110
13.5 14.3 13.8
28 vF,S,E90,vS*f
By placing the Telrad's outer circle in between Pherkad and its closest neighbor (mag 5.1 SAO8207), and the middle circle almost on the line between Pherkad and the dimmest of the bowl stars (mag 5.0 SAO8470), with the center circle to the outside of the bowl, you will be on NGC6011. The galaxy is elongated, about 2.0 x 0.7 minutes. Close by is a bright star with a dim pair on the opposite side from the galaxy..Another somewhat bright star, on the side where there is a small triangle of stars, points toward IC1145. This one is listed on TS at mag 15.0, as a spiral galaxy.



U10228 = M+12-15-052
16 06 33.8 +72 29 40
1.8x1.4 120
13.2 14.2 14.1
11 vF,vS,lE
Another easy target. Seems like the Little Bear is very friendly, making it easy to see its treasures. This object is found by placing the outside circle along the line between Pherkad and the dimmest of the bowl stars (mag 5.0 SAO8470) The Telrad circle should be just slightly toward the dimmer bowl star. That easy step should put the object in the field. It is easy to tell if you're there, as at the edge of the field is a line of four equally spaced, equally bright stars in a near perfect line.



U09664 = M+12-14-016 = Z337-026 = VII Zw 576
14 59 31.1 +73 53 36
13.9 14.7 13.9
10 eF,vS,lE,2* inv
Another easy one! You all have to try this, its toooooo easy! ;-) This location is a naked-eye'er. Look at Kochab, put your Telrad circle just off it to the Pherkad side, you're there. It is 39 minutes from Kochab, and just inside the line to Pherkad. Easy stuff (but dim). The galaxy itself is round, and TS claims it as mag 14.7.


By now we were winding down. There were just a few objects left in the constellation before we completed its Herschel list members. We stopped, took a break, looked at some of the big bright stuff that had risen. The Veil Nebula was astounding with an Ultrablock (guess I will need to get an OIII now), M35 and its little NGC neighbor were spectacular. NGC253 showed loads of dust, even the little planetary nebula in Orion's puny pin-head was interesting, showing distinct greenish hue. M42, event though down low was astonishing... six Trap stars without problem, the wings looking like smooth wet gray clay, M43 showed mottling in its comma shape. I was having a great time with the new scope. Can't wait to get it out again!

But, with only three or four objects to go, we pressed on.

Next, to...


M+13-10-021 = Z354-005 
14 29 41.6 +78 51 51
14.3 15.3z
10 vF,S,R,S Cl p
Oh well, so they're not all easy to find. This one is on the arc side of the bowl of the dipper. However, if you have really sharp vision and can see a mag 6.4 star, then you may find the galaxy easily. Looking at the two stars at the handle end of the dipper's bowl, go from the end without the handle, to the handle star, then about the same distance past (about 4 degrees). The mag 6.4 star is SAO8054, and it should sit just inside the middle Telrad circle. Remember the last star in the arc of stars coming off Kochab, it should be sitting just inside the outer Telard circle. You will then be in the area. The eyepiece view will reveal not only NGC5612, but also (moving away from 5712) IC4470 which is a mag 15.1 spiral galaxy (no, I didn't see spirals), an open cluster also noted as IC4770 (no magnitude noted), and MCG13-10-18 (mag 15.64, which I have noted as observed). Also in the area, but I did not observe it, is UGC9453 at mag 15.59.



M+13-12-015 = Z355-024
17 03.6 +78 38
14.4 15.4z
11 eF,S
This was the last object on the list in Ursa Minor, and what a way to end the Little Bear's Herschels. NGC6631 is in a rich cluster of galaxies. TS lists the object at mag 15.53, and as bright in a rich cluster. It was not very difficult to see this one, and I was able to also see MCG13-12-17 (mag 15.62), UGC10726 (mag 15.02), but not MCG13-12-20 (mag 15.98). However, close by is UGC10704 at mag 15.19, which also was detectable. The location was not too difficult. Looking at the handle of the dipper, on the obtuse side of the curve, I found that I could use the first star in the handle of the dipper away from the bowl (22-Epsilon Ursae Minoris) as a marker for placing the edge of the Telrad's outer circle. The Telrad would circles would be on the side toward the bowl. By imagining another larger circle two degrees outside the outer circle, I would place the imaginary one on the line between the handle star and the star connecting the handle to the dipper (SAO8328, 16-Zeta Urae Minoris, mag 4.3). This placed the center of the Telrad circles virtually on NGC6331.


Ursa Minor is rich in galaxies. In a reasonably dark sky, it is easy to star hop the brighter stars in the constellation. The number of times I ran into multiple galaxies in a field of view made the evening exciting and rewarding. But now, at about 3:30 a.m., after driving from the Bay Area to the Sierra foothills, and doing several hours of intensive observing, I was beat. But the little bear was mine.

As I run out of Herschel objects in the constellations that are currently visible in the night sky, I had begun wondering what I would do for an observing program. I think I now have the answer. First, a larger aperture telescope certainly makes things interesting again (yes, I know Jay would go smaller and have a great time, but I still want to go deeper). Secondly, I have discovered that the SAC deep sky database will list a wealth of non-Herschel object in each constellation. Until the winter sky is more accessible, and I can again resume the Herschel hunt, I will print out non-Herschel lists from the SAC information, and search new classes of objects.

It seems there is nearly an endless number of objects available. A fitting thought with which to call it a good night and get some well earned rest.

In the morning, the group would arise, break camp and descend on Pokerville/Plymouth, visit a local greasy spoon for breakfast together, and leave California's old gold rush towns for the current center of the gold rush... Silicon Valley, and our bright sky homes.

Until next time, clear skies!

Saturday, September 12, 1998

A small party at Fremont Peak

After a nice night observing with my 10" f/5.6 Dob in my Los Gatos backyard with a few friends Friday night (9/11/98), I was looking forward to what promised to be a pristine early fall night at Fremont Peak. With an early moon rise, I did not expect much of a crowd to show. Friday's shadow transit of Io on the disk of Jupiter was so enjoyable to watch, I could hardly wait for views of Saturday's transit of Io from a better site and hopefully through better equipment. But, with the moon rising at about 12:15 a.m., I planned on a short night of observing deep sky objects on the Herschel list.

Sunset came, and we all watched the sky turn colors over the Pacific Ocean, stretched out before us to the horizon. Through binoculars, the last gimmers of sunlight on the fog looked like neon red antique crazing. But, I could see some high thin clouds well above the fog layer that sat just off coast. I think they may have moved in during the night, making the transparency mediocre, and capturing the lights of the cities nearby, providing us a fairly bright northern and west/southwest sky. This would not be the night for real "deep" deep sky.

Among the more interesting parts of the night was waiting after sunset for dark, looking around at the equipment that had shown up. It was not a usual "big" Peak turnout, with just a bit more than half the number of scopes we can see on a really good night, but this was pretty darn good. I did not get a complete list, as other people arrived after dark while I was observing, but here is a sample of what a Fremont Peak star party can be like (mostly with the group on TAC's mailing list).

In order of setup from southwest to northwest, the back down then other row from northeast to southeast: 15" Obsession on Equatorial Platform, 18" Obsession, 18" SkyDesigns, 5" AP refractor, 16" homebrew dob with Pegasus primary, 8" Celestron Ultima 2000, 14.5" homebrew dob with Galaxy optics, 10" f/5.6 dob (homage a' Jerry Garcia), 8" Orion dob, 8" Vixen f/4 Newtonian, 5" Vixen binocs, 10" Starsplitter dob on Equatorial Platform, 4.5" Celestron (C10?), 17" homebrew, 14.5" Starmaster dob (retrofitted to track), 6" Takahashi FS152 refractor on NJP mount, AP 180mm f/9 EDT APO refractor on AP 800 mount, one Zeiss 5x10 miniquick., 8" Homebuilt dob and 17.5" Coulter.

Harvey (C14) and Jay set up on the other side of the park, by the 30" FPOA Challenger being operated by Mojo and (assuming) Jane.

Not a bad turnout for a small party. Notably missing were an 18" Starmaster, Ceravollo (sp?) HD216, 20" Obsession, a number of Meade LX-200's (10 and 12 inchers, one of which was presumably at the Peak Friday night), 10" Orion premium DSE, 12.5" gorgeous dob build by Chuck Dethloff, Meade 8" SCT and 10" Coulter. I'm sure I've forgotten some of the other regular attendee scopes (apologies!).

With so much equipment at hand, it is only natural that eyepieces and filters would begin moving from one scope to another in comparisons. It was fun to see the differences and similarities these comparisons would show. I was frankly amazed at how beautifully the little Celestron 4.5" performed.... at F/9 its view were so contrasty, it was certainly food for thought for an X-Mas present for my kids (okay... maybe I'd use it too ;-) But this is how the show went on, during this observing session. While I did track down a few Herschel's, the sky was just not that good, and time passed all too quickly going from (or being called over to) other scopes. One of my observing buddies did get me to find Polarisima, the nearest NGC to Polaris. That was interesting, but much of the real "sky time" I spent was helping someone become reacquainted with the sky, learning to star hop a bit. It was fun to get her to locate M31 and find the companion galaxies, and the cluster of blue giants.

What really stole the show at this star party, IMHO, were the big refractors. The view of Jupiter with the ball of Io easily visible against the big planet, and the moon's shadow sitting just at the limb of the moon, was, well breathtaking. The detail in the bands, the number of white spots, splits in the belts, big festoons, amazing. Also, there was a very interesting "white river" of material streaming toward the GRS on the polar side of that belt (within the belt), and going up around the GRS. At first it looked as if the material was flowing into the spot, but it soon became obvious there was a dark line, delineating two different areas... one, the GRS, the other, the river of material flowing *around* the GRS. Very impressive sight. This was fun in both the 7" AP and 6" Tak. I also looked at Saturn in the 7"... and saw what was described to me as Enke's minima. Oh, these views were certainly not harmed by being through such accessories as a Zeiss bino-viewer, Zeiss Abbe-Ortho eyepieces, Brandons, TV's, and all sorts of others that were placed in the big-guy for comparison.

The next object was the moon. Through the 7" AP, the view of the area between Copernicus, Eratosthenes and Stadius was superb. Even with the seeing swimming a bit, the number of small craterlets in the area, viewed through the bino-viewer, was certainly among the most detailed I've witnessed.

It was a good night. As the deep sky was not in best form, I had decided to make the best of what was, not become frustrated trying to see what I was not allowed to, and visited friends, talked, had a few drinks, joked, and generally had a very pleasant night with a very good and fun group of amateur astronomers. Oh, and the weather.... sandals, shorts and t-shirt, all night long. Wonderful!

I am already looking forward to next weekend. Think I'll do a 2-niter, just me, no kids (my daughter came along this time). Can't wait!

Sunday, August 30, 1998

Thank heavens for the magic carpet!

It was a hot day in Los Gatos, and I was sweating repairing part of the new deck in our backyard, where the contractor did what turned out to be not so wonderful work. In the afternoon heat, I noted our grapevines now beginning to turn brown and the leaves in the neighborhood trees showing the first yellowing, a clear sign that fall is on the way. This is probably my favorite time of year at Fremont Peak, with the summer Milky Way high overhead at dark, and the first of the winter constellations visiting as dawn breaks after a night of observing. I had been at Sierra Buttes the week before, and was fully satisfied with the photon cache until next third quarter, but, something nagged at me. The weather was so nice, the sky so clear, and the moon would be down just after midnight. I had thought about going to a club meeting in San Jose, but hours of milling around in a small hot room with a crowd helped me to a quick decision. I could finish my work, do the BBQ, clean up and be at the Peak no later then half past ten.

So, I asked my wife, Pat, if she'd like to leave the kids with her sister and come out to the Peak with me, just adults this time. She was enthusiastic, and by 9:15 p.m. we were packed and on the highway, Jupiter up and seemingly beckoning us to come observing all the way down highway 101 to San Juan Bautista. What a great trip, having virtually no heavy traffic! Up San Juan Canyon Road, the drive was completely different at night. Off to our left sat the city of Hollister, lights glowing over a wide and growing portion of the valley floor. Fremont Peak will continue to have to fight for its skies, unless mother nature would intervene as was common many years ago. We needed the fog to come in and blot out civilization.

Pulling into the southwest parking lot, overlooking Moss Landing and the Pacific Ocean, I could tell there was some fog. Rashad and Rich were there, along with perhaps half a dozen other observers. Rich came over and said the fog was moving out, off the coast, and we'd probably have a bright sky. For me, the sky was already bright, as the moon was still somewhat high. I would set up, and relax until it set. Pat and I took a walk across the park to the Fremont Peak Observatory. The park seemed mostly devoid of astronomers, other than where we set up. But, we did find the observatory open, manned by Mojo, Peter and Ed (?). They were testing out use of The Sky software to use with the 30" Challenger reflector. We stayed for a bit, then walked back to our side of the park.

Now, the fog looked as if it were moving in. I took my scope, the 14.5" f/5.6 dob, and pointed it toward Gamma Andromeda, dropped down a bit, and with a quick sweep had the nice dim edge on galaxy NGC891 in view. Fun! Even with the moon up and some city lights showing, I could see the length of the object and its dust lane. Rashad and Rich came over, marveling at its dimness, yet the ability to detect detail. I even amazed myself that I stopped right on it.

After the moon set, I began what was to be a relaxed session, with much sharing of views, going to other telescopes, and talking with newcomers to the site.

I decided to begin with the objects I had remaining in Pisces. They are all listed in the NGP freeware database program I used to make my Herschel list, as magnitude 15 or dimmer. They were sorted brightest to dimmest magnitude, then by R.A. I do not much like using magnitude as the determinant in what I can or cannot see, so I will refer in this report to surface brightness (i.e. sb=13.2).

The first object for the night, aside from a few showpieces for warm up, was NGC213 (U00436 = M+03-02-023 = Z457-026), a class SBa galaxy at RA 00 41 10.0 Dec +16 28 09. It measures 1.7x1.4 with sb=14.1. The object appeared elongated to me, with a bright core. I also felt I saw IC1572 in the same field. I found this galaxy by finding Algenib in the Great Square of Pegasus, then locating SAO 92099 (64 Psc) at mag 5.2 just off the corner of the square. The galaxy is just under one forth the distance back to Algenib from 64 Psc. Easy location, dim object.

Next I move to NGC742. This one is too easy to locate. Anyone who has found M74 in Pisces knows it is right off the mag 3.7 star 99-Eta Psc. Remembering that star, all one needs to do is go to the sharp bend in the constellation lines for Pisces, which is located at mag 4.3 Alrescha (SAO 110291), or 113-ALPHA PSC. NGC742 is just about on a line from Alrescha, one forth the way up to 99-Eta Psc. In the field with NGC742 is NGC741, which appears to be merged with IC1751, and UGC1427, away from the other three. I could not tell a definitive shape for NGC742, although it is listed as elliptical and very small at 0.2x0.2, which explains the surface brightness of 10.8.

NGC7562 is located by finding mag 5.2 star 7-Psc in the Circlet of Pisces, and looking toward four stars in a tight grouping ranging in mag from 4.7 to 5.4, toward Markab, the corner star in the Great Square of Pegasus where the horse's neck begins. From 7-Psc, go just over 1.5 degrees (just under half way) to the grouping of four stars I've mentioned. You need to take care in this area, as there is a dense galaxy cluster nearby. When I found this object, I saw perhaps four galaxies in the field. NGC7562 was bright at sb=12.8, and good size at 2.2x1.5. The other galaxies were too fleeting to tell much about them. I felt I was seeing NGC7557 and NGC7591.

Located mid-point between mag 4.6 Circlet star 18-Lambda Psc and mag 5.2 Circlet star 7-Psc is NGC7685 (U12638 = M+01-59-087), at sb=14.1 (dimmest in group) and 1.9x1.4 in size. NGC7687, in the field, is a small galaxy with a bright core, sb=13.6. Also, close together are NGC7682 and NGC7679, at sb=13.3 and sb=13 respectively, and both about the same size, roughly 1.0x1.3.

NGC7797 (U12877 = M+00-01-011) was the last object I would attempt in Pisces for the night. It was way up in Dobson's hole now, and I needed a break.

This observing session was different from most for me, as Alan was not along and I was working from Tirion Sky Atlas 2000 with the grid overlay to determine where uncharted objects were, and I had two large volumes of Uranometria-like charts that I had printed from The Sky. Still, these were no substitute for a laptop in the field. I did enjoy myself though, as it was a different type of challenge with different tools!

So, the last object in Pisces. I thought this was kind of humorous. I often joke about how bright the moon is, and in fact, how bright Jupiter is. A thread on sci.astro.amateur was titled something like "you know your a deep sky observer when..." and I posted "Jupiter ruins your night vision". Well, to find NGC7797, I had to hold up my hand to block Jupiter from view so I could see the mag 5.9 star 22-Psc. I needed that star in order to use it to draw a line toward the NGC object from the mag 4.6 Circlet star 18-Lambda Psc. The NGC was just about half again beyond the distance from 18-Lambda to 22-Psc. The object was very dim, mostly an averted vision view. It is alone in the star field, sized at 0.9x1.0, a category Sbc and unbelievably sb=13.4 (it looked much dimmer to me, maybe my eyes were getting tired, or I was).

I will finish up a few of these constellations when I go next to the Sierra foothills, which I hope to do next new moon.

I took a break. I walked around, had something good to drink, joked around with the remaining observers (Rich and Rashad), looked through their telescopes, and generally stretched my legs and enjoyed the big view of the heavens.

The fog had come in very nicely while I was observing, and the night had become reasonably dark. That fog is the key to a good night at Fremont Peak. It is the magic carpet that lays to waste the light pollution that can turn a good night observing into a frustrating one, blanketing and burying it like a thick carpet. Thank heavens for the magic carpet! I was enjoying the ride tonight! This was more like the Peak of old.

I would finish three more objects during this "short night" of observing. Off into Perseus, I first looked at NGC1138, and found it sitting by itself, very, very dim, almost stellar. It is not difficult to star hop to, since you use mag 2.9 Algol and mag 4.0 27-Kappa Per to form the base of an almost equilateral triangle, with NGC1138 being the apex of the missing angle on the M34 side of Perseus. This galaxy is classified as SB0, but its size is larger than I think listed at 1.1x0.9. It surface brightness is also somewhat misleading, as it sure appears dimmer than 12.6.

NGC1167 was next, and I was getting very tired now. All the deck work in the hot sun in my backyard during the day was now beginning to catch up to me. But, my eyes were still open so...

This one is what I call "too easy" to find. It is fun to get a "gimmie" and here was a good one. Following the line in Perseus that contains Algol, there are two stars at the end of the open side of that line, mag 4.7 17-Per and mag 5.0 25-Per. 17 point to 25 and just a tick off 25 is NGC1167. There is a bright star on one side of the field of view, and a nice chain of three dim stars opposite it in view. With averted vision the galaxy appears elliptical with a bright core, fairly small in size, but bright compared to many of the others I've looked at. It is type S0, 2.8x2.3, and amazingly, the surface brightness is listed at 14.3 (it does not look that dim to me!).

Now I was on to the last stop before putting away the eyepieces and Telrad. NGC1129. But this would be an interesting hunt, as I would select the wrong side of Algol to look at, and find myself instead counting galaxies int the Perseus Supercluster. One night several years ago, Ed Erbeck and I had the 30" one mid-week night, and counted 17 galaxies in this cluster. Well, here it was again, by mistake, and in my 14.5"scope I counted 7 galaxies in the 2/3 degree field, without really working at it! But, I had to get back to NGC1129 and friends. So, if you used Algol and M34 as landmarks, NGC1129 was about halfway between them. That is really close enough, as you can match up fields of galaxies in this part of the sky, to make certain you are looking at the correct object. Well, I was. In the field as 1129 (U02373 = M+07-07-004 = Z540-006 = Z539-124), a good sized elliptical galaxy glowing ever so dim at sb=15.2. What made it possible to see this galaxy was, it was located between two brighter ones, NGC1130, nearly stellar at 0.5x0.3 and sb=11.9, and NGC1131, also tiny at 0.5x0.5 and sb=12.5. These two bracketed the really dim one. I was also able to, for my last object associated with the Herschel hunt for the evening, see UGC2361, near the edge of the FOV, UGC2361 also is cataloged as MCG7-6-84, CGCG539-119, CGCG540-1 and PGC 10923. I do not have a surface brightness for it, but it is listed at mag 14.06 in The Sky.

That was it for my observing. I prepared my bed. Pat was sleeping soundly. Rich and Rashad pretty much quit too. We pulled out chairs together, sat and talked, joked, looked at the sky naked eye, and had a great time, watching the east growing lighter.

Soon I could not keep my eyes open. I said goodnight, climbed in my truck, lay down on top of my sleeping bag and shut my eyes. There are few indoor meetings that could better this night out, so I felt I had certainly made the right choice. Not a bad 1st quarter moon Saturday! I was soon asleep.