Thursday, January 22, 1998

Montebello short (but good) night....

I arrived at Montebello about 5:45, and found the gate locked. Letting my self in, I enjoyed the quiet and solitude of an empty lot. There was little mud, mostly in the south/downhill end of the lot, otherwise firm footing. There was a thick band of clouds running north/south, gradually moving toward the east, revealing clear skies to the west. The colors of the sunset and the pungent smell of my just opened thermos of coffee, the brisk air cool on my face, made it a *great* experience to simply be outside, in the open with the fresh smells and sky overhead. Even the clouds looked good (I must have really needed to get out!).

Soon Jeff Crilly pulled in and we talked about the sky, judging whether we would get in some observing. It was now dark, and another car pulled up to the closed but unlocked gate. It was Marsha Robinson, straight from work, deciding to forgo other responsibilities to see what could be seen in a short night of observing.

The three of us stood, looking at Jupiter emerge as the clouds rolled eastward. Soon after, Mars popped out too, about 11 o'clock to Jupiter. The clouds were indeed clearing toward the east. Jeff pulled out his Celestron 9x63 binos, and we looked at the two planets and Jupiter's moons. I have to say, those binos are a very nice, light weight.

After some naked eye ogling of the sky, by then clear from the west to zenith, Marsha suggested Jeff and I get our scopes out. And why not? We had at least half a sky! So, I did the red flashlight in the collimation tool trick, tweaked my secondary just a tad, and was collimated (well, close enough). Now the sky was totally clear. What a surprise. Onto Rigel, and there, showing nicely was the double. Marsha came over and enjoyed seeing the star split.

I had brought my old and rarely used Tirion 2000 atlas, with comet Hartley 2 marked at tonight's position in Cetus. I had not looked at this comet, but read about it in the January issue of Astronomy. So, I grabbed an eyepiece and popped it in the scope and, with some quick naked eye star hopping, I had the ice-ball in focus. Hunting dim galaxies makes comets like this one easy, as I do the star hop thing on a regular basis. I was telling Jeff and Marsha how much I loved this 27 Panoptic, when Jeff shown his red flashlight on the eypeiece and said.... uh..... its a 12. I doubt I could do it again, but I had use a 12 Nagler as a finder eyepiece to locate the comet. Hartley 2 is, to my eye, a fairly good sized diffuse glow, looking, in the 12mm much like an unresolved globular cluster. Embarrased, I then put in the 27 Pan, which had less contrast making the comet less noticeable, but still, a nice view. Oh, the scope was my 10" f/5.6 dob.

Other views included, of course, M42. It was showing spectacularly in the 12mm. Nice and contrasty. I did not look carefully enough for the E and F stars tonight, I just kind of soaked in the entire field and was satisfied.

Just about that time, Ken Head drove in. Out he came and joined the group for views though Jeff's 8" Orion dob, and mine. A nice small group, all getting photon-fixes.

Now, Marsha asked if she could find something. I had shown her the Seasonal Star Chart that I'd bought years ago from Ed Erbeck. Nice chart! I still like using mine. So, Marsha comandeered my dob and started hunting clusters in Taurus. The first eluded her, she is not used to my Rigel Quickfinder, preferring the Telrad she's accustomed to on her 10" Orion dob. I got the cluster, then she went after another, located (sorry, the charts and NGC numbers are still out in the truck, otherwise I'd name them) it very quickly. It was located just of a midpoint star in Taurus, between Aldebaran, the star "across" from in the the Hyades, and the two "horn" stars, slightly toward the western "horn." Nice show Marsha!

We poked around a bit more, looking at M79 in Lepus and the Eskimo Nebula in Gemini. The Eskimo was doing the "blinking planetary" peek-a-boo for Marsha. She began discusing the rods and cones of our eyes, and what was occuring when the planetary blinked. About that time we noticed more clouds climbing from the west toward zenith.

After a bit of hemming and hawing about it, Marsha left, and soon after Jeff, Ken and I bailed out. I was home by 9 p.m., but felt refreshed and happy. It does not take an all-niter or hunting dim Hershels to enjoy an evening out. A few photons and good company made the night outstanding!

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