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.

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