Saturday, September 12, 1998

A small party at Fremont Peak

After a nice night observing with my 10" f/5.6 Dob in my Los Gatos backyard with a few friends Friday night (9/11/98), I was looking forward to what promised to be a pristine early fall night at Fremont Peak. With an early moon rise, I did not expect much of a crowd to show. Friday's shadow transit of Io on the disk of Jupiter was so enjoyable to watch, I could hardly wait for views of Saturday's transit of Io from a better site and hopefully through better equipment. But, with the moon rising at about 12:15 a.m., I planned on a short night of observing deep sky objects on the Herschel list.

Sunset came, and we all watched the sky turn colors over the Pacific Ocean, stretched out before us to the horizon. Through binoculars, the last gimmers of sunlight on the fog looked like neon red antique crazing. But, I could see some high thin clouds well above the fog layer that sat just off coast. I think they may have moved in during the night, making the transparency mediocre, and capturing the lights of the cities nearby, providing us a fairly bright northern and west/southwest sky. This would not be the night for real "deep" deep sky.

Among the more interesting parts of the night was waiting after sunset for dark, looking around at the equipment that had shown up. It was not a usual "big" Peak turnout, with just a bit more than half the number of scopes we can see on a really good night, but this was pretty darn good. I did not get a complete list, as other people arrived after dark while I was observing, but here is a sample of what a Fremont Peak star party can be like (mostly with the group on TAC's mailing list).

In order of setup from southwest to northwest, the back down then other row from northeast to southeast: 15" Obsession on Equatorial Platform, 18" Obsession, 18" SkyDesigns, 5" AP refractor, 16" homebrew dob with Pegasus primary, 8" Celestron Ultima 2000, 14.5" homebrew dob with Galaxy optics, 10" f/5.6 dob (homage a' Jerry Garcia), 8" Orion dob, 8" Vixen f/4 Newtonian, 5" Vixen binocs, 10" Starsplitter dob on Equatorial Platform, 4.5" Celestron (C10?), 17" homebrew, 14.5" Starmaster dob (retrofitted to track), 6" Takahashi FS152 refractor on NJP mount, AP 180mm f/9 EDT APO refractor on AP 800 mount, one Zeiss 5x10 miniquick., 8" Homebuilt dob and 17.5" Coulter.

Harvey (C14) and Jay set up on the other side of the park, by the 30" FPOA Challenger being operated by Mojo and (assuming) Jane.

Not a bad turnout for a small party. Notably missing were an 18" Starmaster, Ceravollo (sp?) HD216, 20" Obsession, a number of Meade LX-200's (10 and 12 inchers, one of which was presumably at the Peak Friday night), 10" Orion premium DSE, 12.5" gorgeous dob build by Chuck Dethloff, Meade 8" SCT and 10" Coulter. I'm sure I've forgotten some of the other regular attendee scopes (apologies!).

With so much equipment at hand, it is only natural that eyepieces and filters would begin moving from one scope to another in comparisons. It was fun to see the differences and similarities these comparisons would show. I was frankly amazed at how beautifully the little Celestron 4.5" performed.... at F/9 its view were so contrasty, it was certainly food for thought for an X-Mas present for my kids (okay... maybe I'd use it too ;-) But this is how the show went on, during this observing session. While I did track down a few Herschel's, the sky was just not that good, and time passed all too quickly going from (or being called over to) other scopes. One of my observing buddies did get me to find Polarisima, the nearest NGC to Polaris. That was interesting, but much of the real "sky time" I spent was helping someone become reacquainted with the sky, learning to star hop a bit. It was fun to get her to locate M31 and find the companion galaxies, and the cluster of blue giants.

What really stole the show at this star party, IMHO, were the big refractors. The view of Jupiter with the ball of Io easily visible against the big planet, and the moon's shadow sitting just at the limb of the moon, was, well breathtaking. The detail in the bands, the number of white spots, splits in the belts, big festoons, amazing. Also, there was a very interesting "white river" of material streaming toward the GRS on the polar side of that belt (within the belt), and going up around the GRS. At first it looked as if the material was flowing into the spot, but it soon became obvious there was a dark line, delineating two different areas... one, the GRS, the other, the river of material flowing *around* the GRS. Very impressive sight. This was fun in both the 7" AP and 6" Tak. I also looked at Saturn in the 7"... and saw what was described to me as Enke's minima. Oh, these views were certainly not harmed by being through such accessories as a Zeiss bino-viewer, Zeiss Abbe-Ortho eyepieces, Brandons, TV's, and all sorts of others that were placed in the big-guy for comparison.

The next object was the moon. Through the 7" AP, the view of the area between Copernicus, Eratosthenes and Stadius was superb. Even with the seeing swimming a bit, the number of small craterlets in the area, viewed through the bino-viewer, was certainly among the most detailed I've witnessed.

It was a good night. As the deep sky was not in best form, I had decided to make the best of what was, not become frustrated trying to see what I was not allowed to, and visited friends, talked, had a few drinks, joked, and generally had a very pleasant night with a very good and fun group of amateur astronomers. Oh, and the weather.... sandals, shorts and t-shirt, all night long. Wonderful!

I am already looking forward to next weekend. Think I'll do a 2-niter, just me, no kids (my daughter came along this time). Can't wait!

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