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.

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