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.

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