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.

Friday, August 21, 1998

Terror at 7200 ft. (part II)

I crawled out of my truck, sleep deprived and feeling much like gum on the bottom of a boot on a hot day, sticky and undesirable looking. I put a hat on immediately to hide the spikes that were once hair, now sticking up in all directions. I craved a toothbrush and face wash, but knew that there was no hope of a shower. However, the two hygienic rituals I was able to perform did much in the way of making me feel at least semi-human, and a bit more awake. Unfortunately, there are no "facilities" at this observing site, and while the view of the valley below and inspiring and Buttes to my side fabulous, there is no substitute for certain creature comforts. But it is a small sacrifice for dark skies, and that we did have the night before, with the promise of another full night ahead!

Steve and Jim took off to Packer Lake, for breakfast at the Lodge. Those two know how to live. I opened my ice chest, relieved that the mysterious creature-bear-spirit had not robbed me of my food (or worse), and I ate heartily.

During the day, there is not much to do other than try to find shade. Some discussions with Steve and Jim, regarding calculation of true field of view, various object lists, and looking at foreign astronomy magazines (Germany's Interstellerum looked great, I'd love to see it in english) were about it. I decided to check my collimation from the prior night. Close but no cigar. I worked on it and after about 15 minutes had it text book perfect. In fact, I have never had such nice collimation. Feeling full of myself from that success, I walked over to Marsha, screwdriver in hand, and said "do you trust me with your telescope"? Since she was half asleep, she probably didn't know what she was say yes too, and off I went to attack the Little 10 that won't (collimate). The Orion Premium 10" is a beefy dob. Its Sonotube (c) wall is thick and heavy, and this one had a nice Crayford style focuser and good rigid spider. I do not like the cheap primary cell, as it is very heavy and too closed (I'd like better circulation for quicker cool-down). This scope has NEVER been properly collimated, and a number of TACos have tried. So, out in the full sun I sat, on an observing chair, one eye peering in the collimation tool, the other turning a screwdriver. No matter what I did, I could see about 10 percent of the side of the secondary holder. I do not like the holder either, it is roughly made and hides too much of the reflective surface of the secondary. After a while, using a crescent wrench, I had the secondary finally centered in the focuser, but I could still see the side of the "can". Argggghhhh. I began to take apart the focuser to get at the very inaccessible shimming screws. After moving the aperture end of the focuser about 1/10th inch away from the tube wall, I could see the secondary holder was almost right. I didn't dare move the focuser out further, as there was already what I considered a large gap developing. I think it still needs work, but we could test the much improved collimation later that night. One and one half hours, and it was time for a cold drink.

During the day, our group had a revelation about our observing site. Starting at 10 a.m., vans and busses carrying mountain bikes on top and riders inside, pulled up to the mountaintop where we were set up. Every two hours until about 6 p.m. this scene repeated itself. It was unbelievable, and so was the dust the vehicles created when turning around to leave. Still, I thought "wow, these people are really serious about their hobby, coming all the way out here"... but then I learned they get driven up, and it is essentially a downhill ride for several hours to the town of Downeyville. Its kind to like mountain biking with a GoTo computer.... no work involved, just pay attention and enjoy the scenery ;-)

So,the day passed, watching mountain biking dust blow, collimating, etc., until my sleepless night caught up to me. About 3 p.m. I crawled back into my truck and promptly was unaware of anything. About 6 I awoke to the last group of mountain bike laden vehicles arriving. I began preparing dinner and getting ready for the evening. Time passed very quickly, and we were soon watching an incredibly red sun set, and the stars begin to pop out.

Predictably, the bright stars repeated their order of appearance from the night before, and before we knew it, the sky was filled with the Milky Way pouring out of the spout of the Teapot to the south where the core of the galaxy shines like a bright haze. It ran into Ophiuchus and Scorpius, and then swung its arm up into Scutum, Aquila, Delphinus, Hercules, through Saggita, Vulpecula, Cygnus and over into Andromeda, Cepheus and Cassiopeia down to the northeastern horizon. Wall to wall Milky Way, what a fabulous sight! Even the caramel nougat center was obvious.... dust blackening the foreground between our little solar speck and the vastness of the great arm of our galaxy. Fingers of nougat wove in and out at the edges of this delicious sight! It was time, on to the observing!

Between visitors, I again worked in Bootes. I had logged 30 objects the prior night... not the most I've done, but certainly among the most enjoyable and fulfilling. There was no way I'd finish Bootes this year, it is already too low, but, I really would rather not finish, so leaving some for next year is not so bad after all.

The first object I chased down was NGC5492 (U09065 = M+03-36-074). With a surface brightness of 13.2, this class Sbp galaxy was no problem to see. It size is an elongated 2.4x.7. It was very easy to find, by placing the left hand outer edge of the inner Telrad circle on Arcturus, and placing the line from Arcturus to Beta Boo halfway between the center Telrad circle and next circle out, the target was in the eyepiece when I looked. Bingo. Easy as riding a bike downhill! I also visited PGC50510 while in the neighborhood, but failed to take notes on it.

On to NGC5548 (U09149 = M+04-34-013). I found this object by taking the line from Arcturus up to 25-Rho Boo (the outside member of the naked eye double star where Bootes bends at the waist). I placed that line so it was right between the left outside Telrad line and the next one in. Thinking of that line as a clock pointing at 12, I then put naked eye (mag 4.8) star 12 Boo on the 4 o'clock position. A little moving around and I was looking at a type S0 galaxy, nearly round at 1.3x1.4, surface brightness 13.1. Nearby were three other visible galaxies, PGC51037, PGC51144 and UGC9165. Touring the lesser known objects is a nice relaxing diversion too!

I moved on to NGC1060 (U02191 = M+05-07-035 = Z505-038), in Triangulum. This is a rather difficult area for me to observe, as other than the three bright stars that make up the constellation, there is little else in the neighborhood. In fact, when one looks at a chart, this object sites in a remote corner of the constellation's boundary, near Triangulum's intersection with Aries and Perseus. To get the object in the eyepiece, I had to use Algol in Perseus (26 Beta Per) and Hamal in Aries (13 Alpha Ari) to describe a line. The search area is about 10 degrees from Algol, on that line. or from the other direction, about 12 degrees from Hamal. Soon I had the surface brightness 13.2 galaxy in sight, showing a nice smudge at 2.3x1.7 arc minutes. But that was not all. In the same 2/3 degree field of view were NGC1061(M+05-07-036 = Z505-039) an irregular galaxy at the same brightness but small at .9x.6, NGC1067 (U02204 = M+05-07-043) with a brightness of 13.6 (small too, at 1.0x1.0) and NGC1066 (U02203 = M+05-07-042), a bit larger at 1.7x.16, but very dim with a surface brightness of 14.3. There were other galaxies in the field that with more time or perhaps larger aperture, I would be able to detect. This is a rich cluster.

As usually happens during an observing session, I had to take a break. I had mixed up another batch of Mexican Coffee, brewing up some very strong java during dinner. Richard, Steve, Jim, Marsha and I all had a cup full. A few of us had more than a cup full. It was a welcome break, as there had been a steady breeze all evening, and the temps were such that Jim and Steve both commented that the prior month had been warm, just a light sweater was all that was needed. I had on several layers, and was comfortable, but the breeze would be a bit chilling without the proper attire. Jupiter and Saturn were now high in the sky, as it was past 2 a.m. I looked through Marsha's newly collimated 10" dob, and Jupiter was a gorgeous sight. Looked to me as if there was a split in a very long and thin festoon coming off the northern (?) belt. I could see what appeared to be the GRS. It was fun watching the moons dance around the planet during the evening. It is always fun to see the "action" on this planet. Saturn was spectacular, especially through Ray's 4" Tak. What an eye-fest!

As happened the night before, members of our group began dropping out, heading for bed soon after this. I wanted to stay up to greet Orion again. About 3 Jim and Steve called it a night, Ray having proceeded them just a short time. I had continued observing in Triangulum.

I hit NGC614 (U01140 = M+05-04-075 = Z502-118 = N627?), a class S0 galaxy, perfectly round at 1.4x1.4 with a surface brightness of 13.3. Along with 614 was NGC608 (U01135 = M+05-04-073 = Z502-117) close by small and bright at .8x.5 and 12.2, and ugc1125 (MCG6-4-39, GCG521-47, ARAK53, PGC 05873) which The Sky (software) lists at magnitude 14.50.

This was turning into another successful evening. Richard and Marsha were both going strong. Marsha was working on her Herschel 400, having completed about 1/8 of the list already. Richard was having fun trying to keep up with the 14.5" scope I was running. I didn't intend it, but we ended up working together, and he was having decent success in seeing in the 10" dob most of what the 14.5" was getting. Even when you could not see it in his scope, it was obvious he was on the right part of the sky. I wonder, was he using the DSCs on his scope?

NGC735 is located by finding the mag 5.4 star 3 Epsilon Tri, just on the Andromeda side of the triangle (described by 4 Beta Tri and 2 Alpha Tri), and placing the bottom of the Telrad's largest circle just between the star and the line, but slightly to the right of 3 Epsilon. If you are lucky, NGC735 will be sitting alone in the field of view, showing a size of 1.8x.9, the type Sb galaxy will glow with a surface brightness of 13.6.

I had three objects left to complete my Herschel list in Triangulum. I went for NGC807 is located almost dead center between mag 5.4 star 6-Tri and mag 6.0 star SAO 75048 (just below 2-Alpha Tri), but slightly away from the recognized constellation. I had trouble with this because I tried using two other stars at first, based on what I saw on the planetarium program I was using... mag 6.5 SAO 75148 and mag 6.7 SAO 75100, which would both flit in and out of view. The two brighter stars made the difference for me, and soon I saw the target, a 13.4 glow, nearly round at 1.8x1.3. I was also able to hop to NGC805 (U01566 = M+05-05-050 = Z504-004 = NPM1G +28.0063), close by, showing at 13.2 and a smallish type SB0 at 1.1x.8. I also ran into my first Markarian, outside the famous chain in Virgo.... MK365. Unfortunately, I do not have any info handy on this object, maybe someone can tell me about it.

Two objects to go. Shields and Gottlieb turned in. It was the Three Musketeers (or should that be Stooges) left standing. Who would win the "Big Dog" award this trip, as the last one at an eyepiece? On to NGC780, and I was now beginning to grow weary. No coffee left either. NGC780 is found by pointing the Telrad at the tip of Triangulum, then dropping down such that the inside edge of the inner right circle is just "outside" the star we just visited for NGC807 - - - mag 6.0 star SAO 75048. What a nice sight. Alone in the field of view is a small elliptical galaxy with a bright core, shining at 13.6 and measuring 1.6x .9. It is nice because by moving just one eyepiece field north, you find NGC784, a long bright slice of the universe. Too cool! And now I was on my way. Last one! What will it be, a lone view in the field, big, small, bright, dim, spindle, round, face-on, what? There is such variety. I could never tire of looking at these, thinking to myself that each is unique, perhaps teeming with life, older then my mind could fathom.

So, beginning to stagger, I went after NGC1066 (U02203 = M+05-07-042), elliptical and fairly decent size at 1.7x1.6, but at that size, and with the dimmest surface brightness of the night at 14.3, this one could be a challenge. I began that approach by realizing that Sheratan (6-Alpha Ari) and Hamal (13-Alpha Ari) could be used as a pointer. Using the distance between them as a measure, I would go almost four time that distance and hopefully drop on the object. It was not so easy. I kept finding NGC1056, and I knew that at 2.3x1.1 this was not the right shape, and certainly too bright to be my target. Not only that, the planetarium program said there should be other galaxies in the view too. No, I kept hunting, and would always end upon 1056. This to me is frustrating and could be a sign of fatigue. Eventually, Richard told me I was not quite far enough away from my guide stars. I tried again, swept around a bit and viola, just as easy as falling off a bike, there it was. NGC1066 was dim. But, it was fun as I could detect NGC1062 and 1060 in the field. Had I not been so tired, this area would also have possibly yielded UGC2222, MCG5-7-34, NGC1061, NGC1057 and UGC2174, all within one field of the original target.

It was a nice night. I had finished a constellation, which is my current target when I go out. I know that with so much left in Ursa Major, Coma Berenices, Virgo and Canes Venatici, I will have plenty to do in the future, and not every night will "ring up" another closed chapter on the Herschel hunt. Any way, it is fun.

Richard and I started putting away our equipment, eyepieces, Telrad, miscellaneous observing aids. Off to our north stood the new "King of the Hill" (I certainly can't call Marsha the "Big Dog"). She was still busting Herschel open clusters up in Cepheus. Richard and I naked eyed the sky for a while watching the newest of the deep sky die-hards having fun. Marsha would dance when she found an object. What a sight. Up on the top of the lake country portion of the Sierra Nevada mountains, at 4 in the morning, Orion pointing his bow to the zenith. It was all a great sight to see, a great place to be, and a great feeling to have.

Soon though, it was off to bed and I was snoozing in my truck. Window up, to keep night visitors from sharing my mobile abode, I was much more comfortable than the night before.

Still, the strange music accompanied me to bed. It is an unusual and magical place.

The drive home was uneventful. A few convenience stops, but the trip from Lake Tahoe to the bay area was quick and easy. Ray had left before us, and the real deep sky die-hards, Jim and Steve, remained at the observing site, taking their time packing up, probably savoring the last of the experience. I don't blame them!

Now, a bit about the observing site. It can hold perhaps 10 telescopes. It is not large, and has some obstructed views, but there is plenty of sky to enjoy. There is some light dome from a few nearby cities, but they dissipate quickly at low altitude and were really not much noticed. The site is dusty, there is no water. If more than three people wanted to set up equipment is becomes necessary to have the vehicles away from the telescopes. I hope we can arrange perhaps 10 scopes for a trip next year, but it will need to be people who do not need their vehicles nearby in order to observe. I shall return.

Terror at 7200 ft.

Friday at 11:30 a.m., a small number of TAC subscribers met at The Coffee Tree restaurant in Vacaville to begin a scouting trip to Sierra Buttes north of Truckee, in California's Sierra Nevada mountain range. This location was suggested by Marsha Robinson after reading an observing report posted by Steve Gottlieb. Steve and Jim Shields teach an astronomy class at San Francisco State's field campus near a turn in the road known as Basset's Station, along highway 49. Along with Steve, Jim and Marsha were Richard Navarrete, Ray Gralak and myslef. This group was kept small on purpose, as the site we were heading for is quite primitive, having no amenities whatsoever, and other than Jim and Steve, the rest of us had no idea what to expect in useable set up or camping space. To get to the good news first, the site is quite useable, but only under very specific conditions. I will get to that later in this report.

With a fresh cup of coffee and muffin, Marsha and I followed Richard out of the restaurant parking lot. We were the last to depart, with Ray, Steve and Jim leading the way, knowing how to get to our destination. Our next stop was the town of Truckee, which I have only seen in winter on my way to various Lake Tahoe north shore ski resorts. The town is quite active in summer, so much so that in town and along interstate 80 we ran into heavy traffic. After a short lunch in Truckee, Ray, Richard, Marsha and I headed north along highway 89 toward Basset's Station. On the way we passed several nice campgrounds along the Little Truckee River, and eventually found ourselves driving along the south west perimeter of a wide high valley between the burgs of Sierraville and Stattley. Richard, Marsha and I talked by CB about this very large (literally miles), very flat, and very high valley (at least 6,000 ft elevation) as a potential observing location for a large group. I naturally wondered about it as a site for a large star party, as the total area could hold tens of thousands of amateur astronomers. We, of course, would only need a small portion of the land. It will be worth checking into.

So, we followed highway 49, climbing the thickly forest lined mountain roads higher toward Basset's Station. We arrived, relaxed for a while, and eventually Jim and Steve pulled in. Unbelievably, Steve met some friends from Los Angeles at the small store/restaurant, out here in the middle of Sierra County. Small world. After a short stay, we headed up to the target observing site, to set up and have dinner, since it was now getting late in the afternoon.

The site has an unbelievable view of the Buttes, jagged mountain peaks rising up over 8500 feet to our southeast. To our left, down a relatively severe fall line, sat beautiful Packer Lake, and other smaller lakes among the pine tree forest. The sky was blue, but some cloud, or perhaps haze, lay low along the horizon to the east and west. The site was dirt, with fallen trees, dead standing trees and some pines to the south east. The ground was covered mostly with Mule's Ear, which gave off a noticeable "spicey" smell, reminding me somewhat of a bay leaf or some other pungent herb. The yellow flowers of the Mule's Ear mixed with some other windflowers to paint the otherwise drab brown surface atop this portion of the high range of mountain that defines California's eastern extremity.

We prepared dinner, individually, as Jim and Steve drove back to Basset's Station to eat. When they arrived back, the sky was beginning to darken, after an absolutely glorious red sunset over multiple pine covered mountains to our west.

We stood alone, six humans atop the Sierra's, ready to meet a dark sky. Ancient photons from a location mostly unchanged, or at least mostly unimproved, over the course of human history. Then it got dark. Night revealed the beauty of our place in the Milky Way. Stars were everywhere.

I looked to the west, seeing how low Arcturus was getting. Arcturus setting with the sun mean an end to summer for me, and a portend of winter. In fact, my nights on this trip would end with views of Orion, the archetypical symbol of winter throughout human history, laying on his side, rising from his summer's sleep.

So there was Arcturus, begin its slow goodby. I knew then that I had only a short time to continue observing the constellation Bootes, before another observing season drew to a close. I had planned to observe with Ray Gralak, but i got so caught up in my own experience that first hour, that I found I was observing on my own. Even when observing with friends, this is an experience so personal, the quest, the successes and failures, that it is almost always a very personal experience, with only a few exceptions I can recall.

I will skip the objects I showed the public, as they were not on my observing list, and I've written much about the big and bright before. But, I will mention the public, as you are probably wondering *how* did the public find you? Well, I don't know. We were literally about as far from any publicity or main roads as I can imagine. Yet, as sunset drew near, people camping in the area, or day hiking came by and were astonished to find what they perceived as "awesome" telescopes out in the middle of nowhere. As if nowhere had a middle. So, these people must have said something back at their campsites, or at the general store miles away in the little crook in the road thing that passes for a town, and people showed up. I was amazed.

The first object I viewed for myself was NGC5600 (U09220 = M+03-37-013) in Bootes, this is a type Scp galaxy at RA 14 23.8 Dec +14 38 and 1.4x1.4 size, at mag 12.7 surface brightness (all mags in this report are surface brightness). It is found easily, drawing a line from Arcturus to 20 BOO, visible at mag 5.0, then continuing that line beyond and about half again the distance then slightly toward 30 Zeta-BOO. The nearest galaxies to the eyepiece field were NGC5587 (mag 13.2) and NGC5591 (mag 13.3). But I did not seek them out.

Next was NGC5665, also in Bootes. This galaxy is also known as U09352 = M+01-37-024 = Arp 49. I will need to start keeping track of Arp numbers now. I wonder how many I've actually observed without knowing it? NGC5665 is a class Scp round galaxy, at RA 14 32.4 Dec +08 05, size 1.9x1.3, and mag 12.8. It too sits alone in the star field. This find proved rather difficult, and took some time. Not until I could find a chain of stars extending down from Arcturus, did I know how to approach locating it. The stars I "walked" there are Arcturus to 20 Boo, to 18 Boo, to the wide double star 15 Boo, where I turned almost 90 degrees toward the galaxy finding Wide Double Star 9427 (SAO 120426, mag 5.1), then 31 Boo. Sitting between SAO 120426 and 31 Boo is NGC 5665.

On to NGC5687. It is so good to be able to recognize the constellations, as it make star hopping a cinch. This object is a short hop off what I perceive as the raised arm of the shepherd.... or 27 Gamma Boo to 19 Lambda Boo, to mag 4.1 23 Theta Boo. Looking at the distance between Lambda and Theta, go about 1/3rd that distance beyond Theta and you should be right around the target, an elongated galaxy class E-SO, 2.4x1.7 in size, located at 14 RA 34 52.3 and Dec +54 28 33. This object shines at mag 13.1. sitting just 2 minutes away from 5687 is MCG 9-24-19, a small .4x.4 galaxy about mag 14.1, glimmering in the field.

NGC5820 is a bit more of an obscure hop, but easy if you study the sky a bit first. We were at 23 Theta Boo on the last hop. Just off that star is a naked eye double... 21 Iota (itself a double with a mag 8.8 companion) and mag 6.1 SAO 29086 on the Theta side of Iota. Think of 21 Iota pointing to Theta, then continue that line about 5 times the distance, toward but not to mag 5.2 SAO 29407. If you measure correctly, you should find the double star SAO 29372 (mag 6.8) and SAO 29370 (mag 7.4) with a separation of about 1 minute, in the field of view... in the field should be NGC5820, aka U09642 = M+09-25-001 = Z273-038 = Z274-004 = Arp 136 (look at that! Another Arp!), a mag 12.9 elliptical galaxy (1.7x1.1) with two close companions. Can you see the others? NGC5821 at mag 13.9? How about UGC09632?

The next object was NGC5859. Above the line described by 30 Zeta Boo and Arcturus, closer to Zeta, are two stars almost equal mag: the wide double 29-Pi Boo and 35-Omricon Boo. Using these two stars to point away from the previously mentioned line, and going about 4 times the distance between Pi and Omricon, you will land in the vicinity of a mag 13.3 glow 2.9x0.9 in size. This is NGC5859, and right there with it is NGC5857, virtually part of the other one, visually, but a bit brighter at mag 12.6 and smaller in size. For those of you with setting circles, these are located at RA15 07 34.8 Dec +19 34 58. Worth looking at, since they are so close together.

Still in Bootes, NGC5930 was next. It is also called U09852 = M+07-32-007 = Z222-007 = Arp 90 = I Zw 112 = VV 823. Another Arp! I wonder if I'll have any Arp's to do once I finish the Hershels? 5930 is a class Sbp galaxy at RA 15 26 07.9 Dec +41 40 34, measuring 1.8x0.7 minutes. It is fairly easy to see at mag 12.3. This is a bit of a relief for me, since I have grown accustomed to working sub mag 14 and into the 15's. I need more half done constellations! Anyway, it is fun when bright stars point right at an object. This is the case for Arp 90. Seginus, the common name for 27-Gamma Boo, points to Nekkar, or 42-Beta Boo. Continue past Beta a bit more than half the distance you just covered, and you will find NGC5930 and at 1 mag dimmer, NGC5929, virtually touching 5930. NGC5929 will appear as a smaller glow right there with 5930.

As much fun as it is to find these distant galaxies, to think of the age, the distance, oh, heck, to hunt them, I do take breaks while observing.

I might have a beer, or in colder climes such as at 7200 feet in the Sierra, a warm Mexican Coffee (2/3 strong coffee or espresso, 1/3 tequila, full teaspoon of sugar topped with whipped cream). I don't care all that much about some demunition of my night vision, after all, this is for enjoyment, and I seem to see okay regardless of a slight reduction of my night vision. I am always careful that I share my thermos as well, so as to not become blitzed and useless. Everyone seems to enjoy the libation, and it helps with socialization and general comraderie, things I find are important to a star party!

While relaxing, I will look in other scopes, or just gawk at the sky naked eye. Those were to outstanding passtimes at this location. Over the two night period, I was able to observe through Steve and Jim's telescopes many astonishing objects. Among these were Palomar Globulars, Sharpless 2-71 (neat nebula), several Abel Planetary nebulae, Jones 1, the bright HI regions of Barnard's Galaxy, and much much more. I can't wait to see an observing report from them. I also enjoyed views of Jupiter and Saturn through Ray's 4" Takahashi, Marsha's and Richard's 10" Dobs, and the great views of Jupiter with a blue filter in Richard's 8" SCT. Lots of bright meteors too, from the very fast to bright and slow with obvious trails.

It was outstanding!

I was not done with Friday night. While Bootes was still up, I was going to work in it. I moved on to NGC5481, located between 23 Theta Boo (top of Bootes' raised arm) and Alkaid ( 85-Eta UMa) in the Big Dipper. With such easy stars to work with, 5481 was a snap! NGC5480 is also U09026 = M+09-23-035, GX type Sc RA 14 06.4 Dec+50 44, size 1.7x1.1 and mag 12.7. Right next to it, in the same field of view is NGC5481 (U09029 = M+09-23-036), GX class E+ at RA 14 06.7 Dec +50 4, size 1.8x1.5, mag 13.3. They make a very nice pair to observe.

By now Bootes was slipping down to the horizon, and I had to start looking for those objects in the constellation that were still high up. I moved to NGC5515 (or U09096 = M+07-29-052 = Z219-057) GX type Sab at RA 14 12.6 Dec +39 19 at 1.3x0.7 minutes and mag 12.6. This object was tricky to find, until I realized I could use 49-Delta Boo to draw a line to Seginus, then half again beyond, and land almost on the target. 5515 is a round galaxy with a bright core, with UGC9081 visible close by glowing at mag 13.9. I also moved over to NGC5536, about a field away... showing nicely at mag 13.1. It is fun when you find a bonus galaxies, and can verify it on a planetarium program in the field. What a blast!

NGCs 5520 and 5541. 5520 is near 23 Theta Boo and the wide double 21 Iota Boo, so it seem not difficult to find. But it was. Richard found it in his 10" Dob, but I just could not land on it. Eventually, Richard told me I was too high up toward the double. It was a piece of cake from there. 5541 was easy to find, since it is one field of view away from NGC5515, which I described above. 5541 is a spiral galaxy, under 1 minute in size, but bright at mag 11.8. In the field was NGC5536, at .9x.9 and mag 13.1. After a while, it becomes very easy to hop around a constellation, as many of the objects are in areas previously visited!

My last object in Bootes for the night was NGC5602, easy to find 3/4 up the upper arm of Bootes between 19 Lambda Boo and 23 Theta Boo. At mag 12.6 this one is easy to see. It's class is Sa, RA 14 22.3 and Dec +50 30, size 1.4x0.8. In the field was MCG+8-26-22. My notes are incomplete on this object, other than I saw it along with NGC5602.

That was it for Bootes, 20 objects before it got too low to be worthwhile. I'd hit it again the next night. Now I'd move to Andromeda, and the dim end of the Herschels, since I'd logged most objects in the late summer sky. I began with NGC845, mag 13.1 and 1.8x 1.0 in size. In the field were NGCs 841 and 832. I love it when there are multiple galaxies, as long as there are not too many to identify. This was found by coming off Beta Triangulum and looking up to mag 4.8 58 Andromeda. A short left turn right there and the galaxies were in view. Star hopping can be easy! I can also be terribly frustrating.

I moved on to NGC982, and had difficulty star hopping. It should have been easy, as the stars 2 Alpha Triangulum and 4 Beta Triangulum pointed right at the position of the galaxy, at about the same angular distance as was between the two stars. But it eluded me for quite some time. I kept finding the bright galaxy NGC1003 just below my target. However, after much sweeping, I saw the glow of a mag 12.2 glow, revealing an elliptical galaxy 3.6x1.9 in size. Target acquired. In the same field of view was NGC980 at mag 13.4.

I was getting on toward the end of the evening. Two of the other observers had turned in, and two more were making noises like they were about done. But I still had a few objects left in Andromeda and Aries, and I wanted to finish those constellation's Herschel objects.

The last object on my list in Andromeda was NGC7707, listed on the NGP database at mag 15+. Magnitudes are seem so subjective, and very by program or database. The one I use for this report is put together by Steve Gottlieb, and NGC7707's surface brightness is listed at 13.6. I prefer surface brightness to visual magnitude, as it gives a truer idea of how bright the object will appear visually.

So, off I went, after NGC7707. Those of you who have viewed the Blue Snowball planetary nebula are probably familiar with three stars in a distinct pattern, where if you imagine a position for the forth star, you'd find the planetary nebula. Two of those stars are mag 4.3 19-Kappa And, and at the same magnitude, 17-Iota And. NGC7707 forms a nice triangle with these stars, on the side of them away from M31. It was not an easy find, regardless of its easy position.

That ended the Herschel's in Andromeda. My final three targets for the night were the remaining objects in Aries. I had begun Aries in September of 1995, slow going for a small constellation. NGC781 is a mag 12.2 spiral galaxy 1.5x.4 in size. It is dim, yet noticeably a very elongated galaxy. It sat alone in the field of view. It was difficult to find, as I was tired and there were no direct bright pointer stars to help me get to the correct location. I settled on making a parallelogram out of three stars, 111-Xi Psc at Mag 4.8, 106-Nu Psc at Mag 4.7, and below the corner where the galaxy should be, 65-Xi Cet at Mag 4.5. After some sweeping, this method worked. Perhaps an easier method is taking 5-Gamma Ari and 65-Xi Cet as a line.... in retrospect, it seems more direct.

Three objects left. I moved on to NGC774, an S0 class galaxy, 1.5x1.2 in size, at mag 13.5. As this object is only 1.2 arc minutes toward mag 4.6 Gamma Aries, it was not difficult to track down, sitting by itself in the star field.

On to NGC1030, this one was found using the mag 3.8 star 41 Ari and mag 4.4 87-Mu Cet to make a line. The target is just under halfway from Mu Cet to 41 Ari, and just a touch toward zenith from there. 1030 was a 1.6x.7 mag 13.1 glow. Close by, I found MCG+3-7-40, which I do not have any data on.

I tried to finish Aries, having only NGC1088 left, but by then, around 4 a.m., with Orion laying on his side reminding me of sleep, I could go no further.

Sleep. Into my truck I climbed. It had been a great night of observing, and I had another yet to go. As I lay in the truck, high in the primitive Sierra Buttes, I could hear the eerie sound of the gentle breeze playing against the shape of my truck. Perhaps it was just the right angle to blow into the grill, or exhaust pipe, but it was as if some spirits were playing unknown wind instruments... it was very unsettling. Then I heard it. Something ran around my truck. I had left a window down so I would not bake in the morning, and now I regretted it, as my ice chest was in there with me. Suddenly, I heard a sound IN the truck with me. It scratched around up near the driver seat. It sounded as if it was at one of the paper grocery bags on the floor. My breathing quickened. I could hear my heart pound and each inhale and exhale. I finally bolted upright with my red flashlight shining around. It was quiet. I lay back down, the wind instruments began playing again, and the scratching returned. Again, I looked around. Nothing.

I lay there listening to the ghostly music, having decided the creature in my truck must be more afraid of me than I was if it. Yet, I could not sleep. It was terror at 7200 feet.

Sunrise came, my observing companions arose, I got up and removed everything from my truck. No wind instruments, no sign of company.

I would sleep that afternoon, preparing for the next night's observing session, which I will report on in another posting. However, one of our party reported a small bear was across the road when he awoke earlier that morning.

Saturday, August 15, 1998

Breaking the Winged Horse...

Saturday the 15th of August,1998 looked to be the perfect day to head to Fremont Peak for a 3rd quarter moon star party. A quick drive down past the new earthquake damage on highway 101 (El Camino Real) near Betabel Road, and we were heading toward San Juan Bautista and up San Juan Canyon Road, just a few miles from the epicenter of the magnitude 5.4 earthquake earlier in the week. The Fremont Peak observatory suffered no noticeable damage, and would be open and manned by TAC member MoJo for the night's public program.

Pulling into the parking lot just behind my observing friend Dean, several local amateur astronomers had already arrived. Michelle, Ken, Rich, Rashad and John K were relaxing in the bright and hot California summer afternoon. Not a breeze stirred, and a thick blanket of fog lay over the coastal cities, promising to put the local light pollution to bed for the night. It looked perfect. This seemed to be the type of summer pattern I cut my teeth on at Fremont Peak in the early to mid 1990's.

Others began arriving... Bunny and Glen, Alan, Jeff C, Jay, Bob H (I hope I get your name right, you with the big boxy blue Coulter). There were several newcomers that seemed to know some of the regulars, as well as some almost regulars who I can't identify by name. It was a nice sized group. Other than our group, only a lone 16" Orion Dob and two employees of the Watsonville Orion store were to be found down Coulter Row, and Jane Houston set up by the 30", where she could help Mojo with any overflow crowd.

As the sky began to darken, we spotted Arcturus, then Vega, Deneb, Altair. My daughter, who has really keen vision asked me what the two stars were below Deneb. I looked and looked, and thought how great it would be to see with 10 year old eyes. When I finally admitted to not being able to see them, she giggled and said she was pulling my leg. So, the sky darkened and we looked at the fog. It was filled in to our north, into the valley leading to San Juan Bautista and Hollister. This could really be a good night!

Once dark set it, the wind kicked up. Alan and I had planned to resume our Herschel hunt, but with our dobs, the wind was just too much. Everyone complained about the wind (but nobody did anything about it!). So, Alan and I sat back in our chairs and watched the sky naked eye. It was so clear and dark, the sky at zero power was a sight to behold.

My daughter wanted to learn some constellations, so I sat in a beach chair that reclines comfortably back, and sat her on my lap. With our heads right next to each other, I could point directly to stars and she could easily follow my descriptions. First Cygnus, then Capricornus, Lyra and Sagittarius. She loved it. On the way home the next day she was looking at them again in Rey's book on constellations. I need to buy a 10" Coulter for her... she want's to do deep sky.

Looking to my right, I noticed Alan at his scope, and realized the wind had settled down quite a bit. He was looking at NGC7331, and it looked great. Detail like I have never before seen. This was a dark and transparent night! He began picking off small galaxies around 7331, and telling me their magnitude as noted on The Sky (we use a computer as our chart). Once Alan dropped below mag 15, I suggested that Pegasus was up high, and all we had left there on the Herschel list was the dimmest of the dim that Herschel had cataloged. So we returned to our quarry.

Alan had not been feeling well on observing weekends over the past few months, so I thought he'd be out of practice. No. He took right off, nailing everything on our list. We began with NGC7805, a mag 14 small round galaxy at 1.1 arcseconds in size. I had looked for this one at Lassen this year, without success. The galaxy is located close to Alpharatz, the star that is common to both constellations Pegasus and Andromeda. The conditions must have been exquisite, as there was no doubt about this object, although it certainly did look dimmer than mag 14. Along with 7805 was NGC7806, another round galaxy approximately the same size and very close to 7805. While we were in the neighborhood, we tracked down three other targets, NGC7819, which at mag 14 appeared slightly elongated, UGC12864, which was noticeably elongated at approximately mag 14.5, and tiny IC 5370, dim at mag 15.

The next target was NGC7810, located close to Algenib, the back shoulder of Pegasus. This object was easy to find, as the star 86 PEG, at mag 5.7, describes a line with Algenib, pointing right to the galaxy. 7810 was easy, due to its bright core. While in the area, we star hopped in the eyepiece to UGC12854 (mag 14.4), UGC32 at mag 14.1, and NGC 7803 at mag 14 (very close to 7810).

Just off the front shoulder of the horse, where his neck begins, can be found NGC7432. This is a fairly non-descript galaxy, at mag 15. It has a bright core, which helps it to pop into view. But, what caught our eye was on the computer screen. Just back toward mag 5.9 star SAO 108463 was Pal 13. This is one of the Palomar globular clusters. Neither Alan or I had ever looked for one. Mag 13.1 does not sound too difficult, so we set off on a diversion.

It was easy to get to the right location, and the star patterns matched, but Pal 13 was *very* elusive. A little chain of 3 stars pointed right at the spot the glob should be, and a little dim star was in the right place, just off to the side, but where was our Pal? After some very averted vision, I began to detect a slight difference in contrast where Pal 13 was supposed to be. I can't exactly convince myself I saw it, but I suspect I may have. I will try again this weekend from darker skies, hopefully. After returning home, I read Jim Shield's "Adventures in Deep Space" web-page, and see I will need high power to confirm Pal 13. As Arnold would say... "All bee bock" ;-)

Moving on, we headed for NGC7436B, located just off a line between mag 2.6 Sheat (53 Beta-Peg) and mag 3.8 48-MU PEG. I think 7436B is actually NGC7433, as both galaxies are so close to each other. 7433 is very elongated, 7436 is much rounder. They are mag 14 galaxies. Along with those, in the same field were mag 15 NGC7435 and the tiny mag 15 NGC7431.

By this time, I realized Alan was nailing everything that he tried. Machine like, I'd call out the next number and shortly thereafter I'd hear "got it" and he'd start describing the surrounding star patterns. I, however, was barely keeping my head above water in the deep end. Frustrated, I decided, like a batter in a hitting slump, that I needed a change. I removed the cover of my Telrad and replaced the reticle I had been using, just a small circle, with the original 4 degree circles. New "bat" in hand, I was ready to resume the hunt.

7478B is located just under halfway to the center point of the Great Square of Pegasus from Markab (54-ALPHA PEG). It is in a small cluster of galaxies. We were nearing the end of the Pegasus portion of our Herschel hunt (all H objects), and the moon was coming up. Up on my ladder I had to consciously keep from looking at the moon, and blowing my night vision. In the group were NGC7602 which I could not see, 7597, 7598, 7588 and 7572, mostly around mag 15. Off on the "other side" of 7478 was a line of galaxies, 7558 (mag 16, forget it!), 7550 and 7547 (both mag 15), with 7549 at mag 14 and very elongated off to one side of the line, sitting perpendicular to the others. This area was fun!

Now the moon was really starting to show. We had four galaxies left to complete the constellation. The change in my Telrad made the difference. We hit, in rapid order, NGC7647, a mag 15 round galaxy located on a line between 62-Tau Peg and 70-Peg. This one was easy to ID as it sat completely alone in the star fields. NGC7659 is an elongated galaxy with a bright core, located just toward 62-Tau Peg from the previous location. This spot is very easy to find. The galaxy was definite, even though it glows at mag 15.

The race was on. We were tired, the wind was picking up a bit again, and the moon was definitely there. Fortunately, transparency was excellent, and the moonlight was not as big a factor as it could be with a lot of moisture in the air.

NGC7681 is on the line from 68-Upsilon Peg and 70 Peg. At mag 15, this round galaxy sat alone in the star field. It was not particularly difficult. NGC7760 could be found by putting the edge of the Telard circle on 78 Peg (mag 5.0) and the line described between Alpharatz and Sheat (the stomach line of the horse). This small round galaxy was right there.... using such easy landmarks is quicker and more fun than a GoTo button!

Now we were down to the last object. NGC7559 is on the opposite side of the Great Square, and using the Telrad again, one can place the edge of it on the line between Algenib and Markab, and the outer circle of the Telrad on the naked eye star 66-Peg, with the circles toward Markab, and there you are.... NGC7559 and others in the field of view. NGCs 7570 and 7563 are in the same field, and many others just outside.

It was with a sense of accomplishment that I closed my Hershel list for the night. Pegasus has a large number of objects on the Herschel list. I know that I have much to do still, up in Coma B, Ursa Major and especially in Virgo. There is a lot of fun ahead.

Alan packed up and by 2:15 a.m. was on the road. Dean left at the same time, followed by Ken, Bob and others. Glen and Bunny remained, along with Rashad, Rich and myself. I took at few peeks at Jupiter through Rich's AP. Too bad the seeing wasn't steady, as in moments of steadiness, the view was astonishing. Too many bands to count. The Great Red Spot rotated to the leading limb, with a wide white "break" in the SEB's color. In the NEB there were many festoons, looking gray, hanging down into the Equatorial Zone, and what is assumed to be a barge on the other side of the NEB. What a view!

Out of the darkness, walking toward us, was the visage of a compact amateur astronomer. It was Jane Houston, having finished with the public over at the 30". We looked at Copernicus on old Luna for a bit. Detail was beautiful (even with the wind). We looked through Rashad's completely home-built dob, and continued to marvel over the images he gets. Truly amazing! What a group we have.

It was such fun, my plans of getting some shut eye at 1:45 soon turned into 4:30 a.m.

As I lay in my sleeping bag, behind my truck in the southwest lot of Fremont Peak, I thought about finishing my list in Pegasus. I had tamed the winged horse. With the stars overhead, and the world fading into the muffled sounds of sleep, I head footsteps retreating. A voice said "good night Mark." I wished Jane goodnight and soon was sleeping, my only companions being my wife and daughter in the truck, a few friends, the stars and the wildlife of Fremont Peak to keep me company.

Friday, August 14, 1998

Salt Lick

The afternoon of Friday, August 14, 1998 was starting to look promising for my last volunteer evening at Lick Observatory, atop Mt. Hamilton, and my excitement began to grow. The earlier hours of the day had been cloudy, humid and warm. I was bringing my wife, Pat, along this evening to help me (I was still recovering from a summer cold), and to enjoy the program of the Music of the Spheres concert series, and hopefully the summer Milky Way overhead.

It is always a treat to be able to participate as a volunteer, either at the concert series or the Summer Visitor's Program. The public program at Lick was begun as a bequest of James Lick. The famous observatory, sitting 4,000 feet above what was then known as "The Valley Heart's Delight" (now called Santa Clara Valley, Silicon Valley, or to locals just the "south bay"), completed in 1888, was to be used 6 days per week for scientific persuits, and on the seventh day open to the public. For an amateur astronomer, it is a complete thrill to be able to be part of that history, continuing the 110 year old tradition.

Pat and I exited the freeway near the eastern foothills of San Jose, and headed up Alum Rock Blvd. After a few minutes, we turned onto Mount Hamilton Road. The road was built by the city of San Jose in 1876 for the purpose of transporting materials up the mountain for the construction of the observatory. The views of the bay area from along this road are spectacular. One can see the entire "south bay", up the peninsula to (presumably, on a clear day) San Francisco, out over the coastal range mountains to the Pacific Ocean, and south along the San Andreas earthquake rift to Morgan Hill, Gilroy and the mountains south of San Juan Bautista where our regular ovbserving site is atop Fremont Peak. I reminded Pat of how, in the early days during Lick's construction, this road was travelled by stagecoach, and other than that, the only method to get to the top was horseback or a very long hike. It was not until years later, when then director of the observatory W. W. Campbell injured his back in San Diego preparing a telescope for an eclipse trip to South America, did anyone on the mountain own or drive a vehicle up there. It was Phoebe Apperson Hearst, the rich widow of Senator George Randolph Hearst, who gave Campbell the car, making his journey up the tortuous road much easier (especially in light of his serious back injury). So, there we were, Pat and I, riding up that same road, toward the Eye In The Sky. What a feeling of excitement and anticipation I would get, history, science, a place that I feel helped the modern Renaissance in which we live find its beginning, riding up that two lane twisted path to both the past and future.

The road has something like 370 turns in its last 11 miles. But, after about a half hour, we found the complex of buildings, turned right and soon were passing just below the dome of the great Clark & Sons 36" refractor. A brief orientation (which volunteers are required to go through no matter how often they participate) by current director Remington Stone, and we were all at our positions. I began to set up the 14.5" f/5.6 Dobsonian reflector I had brought for the public to view through. Along with us was Richard Navarrete, bringing the most portable scope for its aperture and ease of use, his 10.1" Coulter.

As we prepared, the shadow of the earth began to rise in the east. A hundred or so guests were inside the hallways of the observatory, seated and listing in the wonderful acoustics to Markahuasi "Music From The Highlands Of South America." I must say, the haunting sounds of the pipes, and the rythym of the music, along with the fine performance of the band and the view of the San Antonio Valley and California's Central Valley to our east, changing color in the fading twilight, provided a magical backdrop for the evening.

Soon it was dark. There was some wind, making even the 36" bounce a bit and requiring the wind shade to be raised in the dome. But, things were manageable. Some late arriving guests would stop by our telescopes and enjoy that which amateur's dream of, transparent skies and pinpoint images. At intermission a number of guests lined up at the telescopes waiting for the concert to resume. It was not until after the concert did the lines really form and keep us busy.

We had a constant stream of observers at our telescopes, as the arrangement to view through the 36" was that groups of 10 at a time (maximum) could enter the dome. This meant between 17 and 20 groups. In the meantime, those waiting were lined up at the amateur telescopes.

We showed them M11, explaining how young clusters, open clusters, of stars are born in cocoons called nebulae, and how their stellar winds would blow away the cocoons, revealing the youthful stars. Much like adolescents, they would begin to wander off in their own directions, and later, really spread out, as happens in middle age (this got an unintended chuckle from the crowd). I moved my scope to M17, the Swan, as an example of a nebula. Putting on the UHC filter, this object was in full glory, generating gasps from many who viewed it. I also showed them Alberio, describing the pair as topaz and sapphire, sitting 410 light years distant, how luminous they must be to appear so bright in such a humble little telescope, and how, amazingliy, the distance between the two components was 400 billion miles. It is a mind trip for people. It makes them think and evaluate the place in which they live, who they are, and what is and is not significant. I moved the scope to M13 and M15, telling how the globular clusters are ancient, and how, as figures for the age of the universe change with the Hubble Constant, these groups of stars can be, as unthinkable as it sounds, older than the age of the universe. The brightest among the visitors realized that what I was really saying was, science has a problem, that the stars really can't be older than the universe (or can they?).

I showed NGC7789 in Cygnus, The Veil Nebula, M51, M57, M27, NGC7731, the Saturn Nebula and many others that no longer require charts to find. Late in the evening I moved to M31. Lines of up to 20 people were now waiting, and I opened a copy of Burnhams, turning to a full photo of the great galaxy and showing M32 and M110. I could get M31 and one of either satellites in the field of view of the 27 Panoptics at the same time. The photo made it much easier for the public to appreciate the view through the telescope. And the photo was taken at, Lick Observatory. Fitting. :-)

As the crowds drove down the mountain, Jupiter climed up over it in the east. And what a view. Steady and transparent seeing. The moon Io had just egressed and appeared as a little bump on the side of the giant planet. We watched it move further away from the planet, marvelling at the detail in the 27 mm and 19 mm eyepieces.

About then we learned that the volunteers were being asked to come in to the dome o of the 36". Sadly, we had to turn some of the public away, put away our eyepieces and other gear, and leave them. Inside the dome, we learned that the consensus opinion (which several of us were not part of, so it was a consensus of some other's opinions) was to view that awe inspiring object, the Blinking Planetary.

I almost fell over. The Blinking Planetary? How many times have I seen that? A thousand or more? Others in my group agreed, we can see that anytime, and that perhaps a more esoteric or more difficult to see object would be interesting. Beside that, the Blinking Planetary does NOT blink at high mag, and you'd need a 90 or 120 mm eyepiece to get to low enough power in the 36 to enjoy the effect. I won't even look at it in the 30" Challenger at Fremont Peak for the same reason. It was the wrong object, and made me feel like coming to Lick and participating in history is like the finest "dessert" an amateur could have, and now someone was putting a salted "rotten cherry" on top. I took a cursory glance at the planetary nebula, and sure enough, no blink. Just a pinpoint star, and yes, a nice pinpoint, and a gray disc with no other detail. The Saturn Nebula a month earlier was spectacular. This choice was like looking at the old test patterns the you'd see on TV in the old days when the broadcasting day was over. Just boring.

The funniest part though, was hearing the professional astronomer look at it. This is the same woman who, a month ago, when someone on staff used a white flashlight to read by the eyepiece, replied to my offer of a red flashlgiht by saying "well, you know what they say... real astronomers use white lights, amateurs use red ones." How snooty! So, this woman looked in the eyepiece at the Blinking Planetary and said "if I move my eye around, it seems to subtley change shape.... maybe that's what "Blinking" means...." Well, I suddenly realized she might as well use a white flashlight, as it seems she must only look at objects on a computer screen. I don't ever want to become a professional astronomer! FWIW.... last time out, another professional astronomer, looking in the eyepiece of the 36" at M15 said "hello old friend" and proceeded to state he'd studied the object for 2 years. I asked if he could show me the planetary nebula in it, since we had such a large instrument at our disposal, and he replied "what planetary." Ego is a killer, isn't it? ;-)

While I thoroughly enjoy the music and treat of being at Lick, in the historic dome, I need to reevaluate whether I want to continue as a volunteer. It is an opportunity that has historic importance. However, until the volunteer amateurs are not "looked down the nose" at by some of the staff (and just some, as others are extremely friendly,open and considerate), and until the volunteers are given an "unsalted cherry" for their very willing efforts, which they do without recompense or any "need' for a thank you, I will have to ask myself, is "appreciation" of our time, energy and effort just lip-service? I hope not. I hope in the future the volunteers, who really love and know the sky, will be given the opportunity to look at more than just a single, uninteresting object. Perhaps volunteers could fill out a 3 X 5 card upon arrival, listing three objects they'd most like to see in the 36", and the staff thereby satisfy the majority of volunteers. Just a thought.

Pat and I loaded up the 14.5", and headed down the mountain. Just below Grant Ranch a few deer jumped onto the road into my headlights. One did not know where to go, and just ran down the road a way, looking left and right, out of it's element. I thought of those astronomers who never look at the night sky.

Here's to the amateurs. Long may they live.

Wednesday, August 12, 1998

Perseid Party at Montebello

Feeling mostly recovered from a summer cold, I hauled my 10" f/5.6 "Garciascope" dob into the back of the truck, loaded up charts, clothing, cold drinks and ladder and headed up to the Mid Peninsula Regional Open Space District's Montebello Open Space Preserve about 7:15 p.m.

The sun was already low in the sky, on this hot August 12 Wednesday in Los Gatos. I was running the air conditioner in the truck, as I had worked up a good sweat tearing my office apart searching for my ever disappearing red flashlight, which I didn't find. I settled for a less evenly beamed one that a friend had lent me. As I cooled in the truck, I began to think, for some odd reason, about my spare Telard sitting in the office closet at home, when I realized the other one was with the 14.5" scope still sitting in the garage! A quick peek over my shoulder at the 10 incher behind me confirmed it. I'd left my Telrad at home! Was I ever aggravated... a lousy head cold, tortuous and fruitless flashlight hunt, and now this! Well, at least I had a 6x30 finder on the scope. I thought to myself that I would make the best of it and get in some practice finding objects the old fashion way, "earning them."

So, up I went taking a leisurely drive up highway 9 to Skyline Blvd, heading north, looking at the colors of summer through the shade and of the tree lined mountain crest road. It was a beautiful drive, topped off by courteous drivers pulling over to allow my 7,000 pound vehicle to pass.

Pulling into the parking lot at Montebello, I found Michelle Stone setting up her Pronto. Except for one other car, the lot was empty. I could hardly believe it... the sky was perfectly clear, it was warm, and nobody, not even the usual hikers or cyclists were there. As I set up my scope, we talked about the lack of people there and things such as how the tire fire in Tracy may mess up Michelle's plans to observe from her property near Mariposa over new moon. A cyclist pulled up and went nuts over the telescopes (being a smart fellow, he immediately went to the largest aperture there) and began asking question after question. He took a TAC info sheet and left after about 15 minutes, soon to be followed by Jay Freeman pulling in.

Jay barely broke a sweat unloading Refractor Red, his 55 mm Vixen fluorite, painted in dayglo color. He was comparing it to the paint on his car, exclaiming just how bright the "little scope that could" was. I guess I was in a 60's mood, hearing the Doors pouring out of Jay's car as he pulled in, and I mentioned that his scope looked more like an electric mango. It sure looks ripe (this followed a discussion wherein Jay exclaimed that he would not purchase a green Tele Vue Pronto or Ranger, since looking at them tells you they are certainly NOT ripe).

We were having a good time talking and watching the earth's shadow rising from the east, remembering the party at my house last Friday night and how Mr. Panda saved us from the party turning into a political discussion, when Jay found Arcturus. First star out. Okay, there's Vega, and to the south I could barely believe I was seeing Antares so high in the sky. This is certainly the peak of the Milky Way season! I was thinking about my finderscope, and how this was going to be, when I asked Michelle if she brought a Telrad along, since she wouldn't be using one on the Pronto. Well, she sure did! The friendly chatter and an available Telrad had succeeded in raising my spirits. This was going to be a fun night.

Jeff Crilly pulled in, parking next to me, and unloaded a full size reclining beach chair. Armed with binos, this would be a Perseid and wide field night for him. Another pair pulled into the lot and began unpacking, planning on Perseid hunting too. The ranger pulled in and asked them to park outside the lot, since unlike us, they did not have a permit. Soon the couple were introduced to TAC, and joined our group, bringing their vehicle back into the safety of the parking lot.

The sky was now dark. Overhead we could see Mir pass. It was incredibly bright, travelling west to east (roughly). Not only did we see Mir, but about a dozen other satellites within the first couple of hours. Due to the early evening lack of Perseids, we began wondering aloud if the high number of satellites constituted a Perseid/Satellite shower. At times there were two or three sats in the sky at once. Our thoughts went to condolences for our astro-photograhpy friends, as it was obvious that satellites were the newest form of light pollution that amateur astronomy must contend with.

After seeing a few Perseids, they began becoming more plentiful. Not much of a shower, but there were certainly several per hour. Some very bright with long trails, others so fast that you'd only see them in peripheral vision. But, they were out.

Other observers pulled up to the closed gate. Alan Adler and his friend Isaac, followed soon by PAS member Ken Lum and a 10" f/6 dob. Then two friends of Jay Freeman arrived. Suddenly, it seemed as if cars full of people were arriving. I'd never seen Montebello like this... but then, I'd never been there on a prime Perseid evening. Between a dozen to eighteen people piled out of cars, bringing beach chairs, to occupy other parts of the large parking lot. This was beginning to look more like a Fremont Peak star party.

Many people visited my telescope, enjoying views including Alberio, The Veil Nebula, M57, Epsilon Lyra (double double), ET Cluster (NGC0457), M8, M20, M17, M22, M28, M15, M13, M92, Saturn Nebula, a lousy looking M51, M31, M110, NGC7331 and Stephen's Quintet (very difficult), M11, B86 and the blinding Jupiter. All this observing was punctuated by a regular stream of Perseids, not a storm, in fact it was not a very active shower, but there was enough to keep everyone looking.

When I had a chance, I was chasing planetary nebulae in Sagittarius, using Tirion 2000 as my charts. There are a number of dim ones that may be on my Herschel list (probably unlikely), but I was just doing some casual hunting, and thought it would be fun to simply pick a constellation, see what was on the charts, and try to view it. It was a very enjoyable way to observe.

I have no mosquito souvenirs, even though I was in shorts and t-shirt all night. About 11:20, the moon peeked over the eastern hillside, and soon everyone but some of the public and Jay Freeman (and his guests) were on the road home.

It was an outstanding night out.... very steady seeing with quite good transparency. I am ready for more of the same. Tomorrow night at Lick Observatory I have the pleasure of bringing my telescope to entertain and inform the public about the amazing place we live in, with the concert series in progress behind me. What a great time of year for astronomy! See you all at the Peak on Saturday.

Sunday, August 2, 1998

Gold Country Trip

I was in the town of Jackson over the weekend. The night sky was superb up there. The moon looked as if someone cleaned it.... like looking through a car windshield just after its been carefully washed. Wish I had a scope up there. One of our list members, Steve Gottlieb, goes up to gold country regularly to observe near Fiddletown. As it turns out, I was on a backroad between highway 88 and the small town of Volcano, and the road split. One direction went to Fiddletown, just a few miles down the grade, the other way went back to Volcano. As I got toward Volcano, I took a right turn to go back into Sutter Creek. A mile after the turn I came upon a historic marker. The site is the location of the first recorded amateur observatory in California. There, the owner (and damn if I can't remember his name!) observed the Great Comet of 1861.

As I faced the marker, a small number of cows stood behind it under a tree, their black and white coats somehow making me think of the moon, or even other objects that seem to have no other color at night. I paused, looking out over the large empty field, facing south as the landscape rose slowly here and fell away toward the central valley there, and imagined the night sky up there 137 years ago, with the raucous camps, saloons, brothels, breweries and general mahem of the gold rush going on just a few miles down the road.

I also imagined this site, close to where one of the real premier dark sky observers (Gottlieb) goes, as being an appropriate location for a California Star Party. I don't know what it would take, or how much cow crap is in the place, but, the gold rush towns, the rivers, the dark skies, the fine restaurants, shops and more would make a wonderful "got it all" location.

I really did not want to leave.