Tuesday, March 3, 1998

Montebello's open sky...

Last night, I spent a short evening observing at Montebello OSP with Rich Neuschaefer, Marsha Robinson, Leonard Tramiel and son Alex (?), and a newcomer to our close-to-home get togethers... Dave Kingsley.

The sky was incredibly clear, and the cold was obvious as soon as I arrived at 6 p.m. Rich and Marsha were there already. Since this was a last minute star party, Marsha was in work attire and needed loaner warm clothing. Fortunately for her, Rich and I usually have plenty of stuff with us, so Marsha made out fine.

The first object we looked at was the obvious one, la luna. I had only brought one scope, the 10" f/5.6, so I again used it as a loaner and pretty much let Marsha get in more practice. The moon was quite sharp. We enjoyed looking at sections of Mare Chrisium and over into Sinus Amoris, then just off of Mare Tranquillitatis and Sinus Asperitatis down into the complex floor of Theophillus. Outstanding view, and the first time I have really used my several month old copy of (prepare for a shock, my deep sky friends) Rukl's Atlas of the Moon. Very fun stuff (when its too bright to look at anything else ;-)

Now the sky was reasonably darkened, and I whipped out the list of open clusters I had been working on in my backyard. Marsha took out her Tirion 2000 and she proceeded to hunt these nice little groups of young stars. Up first into Canis Major. Some of the targets were so sparse it was difficult to tell them apart from some of the richer star fields near the "back end" of the dog. Usually, around Theta, things got pretty crowded. I have to admit, it is fun to let someone take your scope, and find success and fun in learning to take a map and find their way around. Marsha did an outstanding job, even finding things I couldn't. Having an early work day (today), she left soon, but not until she'd finished logging all the remaining opens on my list in the Big Dog (the list ended at mag 10).

Leonard Tramiel was unintentionally making me jealous with stories about his eclipse trip. His son is fortunate to have a father that would take him along, which Leonard did. What a treat as a kid to see such a spectacular show of nature on that grand of a scale! At Montebello, Leonard had an 8" SCT (sorry, I forget which kind, by I think it may be a C8). He was hitting all the usual suspects, from what I could tell, occasionally stopping by to look through my 10" and ask where this or that was in the sky. He and his boy seemed to be having an enjoyable evening, but his son apparently nodded off early, and they followed Marsha out the gate by just a couple minutes.

Rich had brought his 4" Takahashi and was telling me about this or that which should be done to make it work primo again. I think they are all minor things, in fact he told me so, but he uses it rarely compared to the big guns he owns. Still, it is an optically spectacular instrument, and the views I had of some of the Messier open clusters through it last night were very pleasing. I had to keep walking away, out of fear that someday, as remote as the possibility might be, I could begin to want one of those beautiful little finder scopes ;-)

The last of our group was Kingsley. He was talking with Rich about binoculars. Boy.... did he find the right guy to talk to! Out came a sampling of Rich's bino-arsenal, and Dave got to try some rather nice equipment. What better way to learn what you do and don't like! Dave would come over and look through my scope whenever I'd pop a galaxy or cluster into it, but spent quite a bit of time at his.... uh.... hey.... what kind of telescope is that anyway? Dave told me it was a 4" f/5, and I noticed it was tripod mounted. As I got closer I said "wow.... its a Zukascope!".... I had never seen one. Dave unmounted it and showed me how to use it like its namesake bazooka. What fun! The images, using a Vixen zoom eyepiece, were quite pleasing, and at $350 per unit I think it is a great portable scope. Too bad they didn't catch on better, this one appeared to be nicely manufactured, and gave very pretty images of the moon, M42, M81 and M82... the objects I tested it on. Great scope Dave, thanks for bringing it out! See gang... you just never know what you'll run into when you get out.

I spent the balance of my night just shooting down stuff I knew was up, and could find without charts... big and bright things. The only one that eluded me was the Ghost of Jupiter :-( It is closer to Crater than I'd remembered.

I should also mention that during the night, I happened to put my hand on the roof of my Suburban and found the early evening moisture had frozen into a sheet of slightly slushy ice. It was c-c-c-c-o-o-l-l-d-d-d-d-! But it was great fun.

Dave wanted to stay, and promised to lock the gate when he left, and Rich and I packed up and drove our vehicles up to 35, over to 9 and then home.

The evening had begun, for me, by Marsha and Rich pointing out two deer on the hillside shadowed against the sunset... really a very nice site. Unfortunately, when I said you never know what you'll run into when you get out.... it also can apply to animals. On highway 9, bordering Saratoga and Monte Sereno, a deer jumped in front of my truck. It was no contest. No damage to the truck, but believe me, something like that wakes you up! How lucky I was that I had not driven the 280Z last night.

A sad ending to a wonderful night in the open sky.