Saturday, April 25, 1998

Bright Night at Fremont Peak...

It was a dark and stormy night....

Oops.... scratch that. That was February 1998. This night, April 25, 1998, was completely different. So, I will start again.

The day began under clear, well, sort of clear skies. Or was that high stuff up there? Whatever it was, it was not a blue sky. It was a whitish sky horizon to horizon. But, I was set to take my wife and son to Fremont Peak for their first trip up this year. Their participation was confirmed about mid-day Saturday, and along with them. As usual, when extra family is involved, we got a bit of a late start before finally heading down the highways south toward of destination.

The drive was easy, other than the usual bottle-neck where 101 south goes from 3 to 2 lanes. But then, it was pleasant and easy. I always enjoy the valley where Morgan Hill and Gilroy are located. The closeness of the green hills on either side, the short drive to Fremont Peak or the ocean makes it to me an ideal location in which to relocate. Maybe someday!

The Peak road was still showing signs of the dark and stormy February night, with plenty of sandy soil left on the road where it was washed out of the mountainside. But, it was scenic, relaxing, and under a bright white sky that extended all the was out to the horizon over the Pacific Ocean.

Upon arrival, we found Rich Neuschaefer and John Kuklewicz already setting up. We were the third, followed soon by Richard Navarrete, Ken Head, Alan Nelms and others pulled up. Eventually we had 25 or more telescopes set up in the SW lot, more had decided to go elsewhere since we were out of room. Down on Coulter Row was a contingent of SCT's along with the big blue 22" f/5.6 Dob that everyone knows by that wonderful feeling you get atop an not-that-stable ladder at too high up the rungs. Over by the observatory side were several members of the FPOA and SJAA (many of us at the SW lot are members of those two groups too).

The sky looked so bad, we opted for some cans of Fosters, followed later around sunset by picnic type dinners with white wine. We were picking out appearing stars, noticing how the moisture in the air was turning the sun into a large version of a well banded Jupiter.

The sky was soon as dark as it would get. Time to open the Merlot and relax. Few if any were doing any real observing, mostly passing their time discussing the cruddy sky. Eventually, some of us stated looking at the brightest Messiers. What else are you going to do under those conditions? Marsha Robinson was there, working on her Messier list, and with the help of Alan Nelms and Rich Neuschaefer, doing very well! I had the uncommon pleasure of viewing that spectacular system know as M40 to help Marsha verify it. Thanks for that one Marsha! ;-)

Lots of visiting continued, then, car headlights everywhere! The crews who repaired the Peak after the February storm had removed the gate at the bottom of the road, so now, we had a half dozen cars full of cruisers looking for a party place. Since we outnumbered them, and since they probably thought we were a cult of some type that should be feared, they simply turned around and left us. Other distractions stopped us from trying any real observing, and the sky was still bright.

But... after a while, looking at Ursa Major near zenith, I could see some dim stars. So, Alan and I continued our Herschel hunt up in that constellation. Between about midnight and 2:30, we knocked out about 15 objects on the Hershey list. We had so neglected that part of sky, I was sure we could see at least something. And sure enough.... there are some big and bright galaxies there. In fact, Ursa Major is chock full of galaxies. Alan and I are now at the point in the Herschel 2400+ list that we find ourselves being more and more restricted to just Ursa Major, Coma Berenices and Virgo. Not like we're running out of objects to view though, there are plenty there for a few seasons more, or more! Maybe we'll have to take up some other aspect of the hobby, or decided to be like Jay Freeman and start the list over again, but with different aperture. Jay has been doing this search with a 6" Intes Mak, whereas Alan and I have been using 18" and 14.5" dobs, respectively. My bet is Jay may find them, but we have more of a chance to "see" them.

We finished dup at about 3:30 a.m. sitting and talking, just a few of us left. Soon, Alan was leaving, making room for me to spread out my bedding.

There I was, family asleep inside the truck, safely locked in, my, outside under the bright night of Fremont Peak.

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