Wednesday, December 29, 1999

Observing at Montebello 12/29/99

Several observers met at Montebello Open Space Preserve last night to take advantage of the run of good weather we've been experiencing. The conditions, although a bit hazy, were decent enough to make it a worthwhile night...

Before astronomical dark, in fact, with glow from the sun still obvious in the west, M33 was an easy telescopic object. It was also fun to see Orion risen already as the sky darkened. Once the sun's glow subsided and the winter Milky Way became apparent, running from the back end of Cygnus through Auriga and on toward Orion and Gemini, several of us noticed a very bright band of zodiacal light. The band reached quite high into the sky. It is the first time in months that it has been so obvious.

Still, the night was rather bright and a bit hazy, although things did improve later in the evening. David Kingsley was there with the 7" Starmaster Oak Classic, Richard Ozer showed up with a beautifully built home made 10" Dob (the mirror gave truly beautiful images of M42... nice job Richard!), Kurt ( K brought an outstanding 16" truss tube Dob with a Pegasus mirror, and I shared my 10" f/5.6 Dob with the new "Bob Fies" coatings (primary and secondary) with Ken Head. Joining us with binoculars was first timer Jason Newquist.

Ken and I spent quite a bit of the evening looking in and around Fornax, since Montebello has a good southern horizon. Due to the sky brightness, and the smaller aperture scope than I usually use for deep sky nights.

I found the first object, NGC 1097, rather faint. Since it is a bright object, this meant limiting mag would probably not be all that great, but still, the object was there, and switching from the 20 Nagler to the 12 Nagler, some definite structure could be detected. This galaxy at first just appears to be elongated, which is pretty obvious. But with some higher power, even in the bright sky, hints of its two main arms seemed to show.

The next object was NGC 1201. This elliptical galaxy was two full magnitudes dimmer than 1097, but because it is also much smaller in angular size it was actually relatively easy to see. A mag 7.5 star 17' from the galaxy, and a chain of four stars nearby helped locate this object.

NGC1344, was next. This galaxy, as was 1201, is located below Cetus, in fact, below the eastward curve of the constellation Eradinus. The chains of stars that make up Eradinus were invaluable in locating many of these objects, in an otherwise star poor region of the sky. NGC 1344 is a largish elliptical galaxy, about 2/3rds the size of NGC 1097. At mag 11, its light is rather spread out, making the overall appearance of the object dim. Three stars, mag 9.5, 10 and 11, form a slightly curved line to the east of the galaxy, making a good landmark from which to confirm its location.

I should mention that while I observed these objects, Ken was finding them. Ken has been working at improving his star hopping skills, particularly in relating the view on screen (laptop computer running a planetarium program) to that in the sky. This was a very good night for Ken. He was literally walking from "landmark" star partterns, from star to star, to the location of the target object. In several instances last night, confirming the star patterns and "walking" to a location as described was the only way to have a chance at seeing some of the very dim objects.

The next targets were NGC 1371 and NGC 1385, both fitting in the field of the 20 Nagler. Bother galaxies appeared roundish/elliptical, with 1371 a bit larger and slightly brighter than 1385, but 1385 yielded some mottling when the magnification was bumped up with the 12 Nagler. It is always fun to see multiple galaxies in a field, and this was no exception.

Speaking of galaxy fields, Kurt had his scope pointed at the Fornax galaxy cluster. Five large bright galaxies were obvious in a field and one half view. A number of dimmer small galaxies were also in the field. Kurt's scope would also show some very interesting planetary nebulae during the evening. Perhaps he'll provide a list of observed objects too.

Ken and I moved dimmer in magnitude at this point, going to NGC 1425. This one was a challenge to find, but both Ken and I located it each using a different approach star hopping to it. The galaxy is mag 11.6, but it is a largish lenticular object, so its apparently bight magnitude (dimmed by a bright sky) was diminished by its size. Whereas the last few galaxies were all in the 2'x2' range on average, this one is about 6'x2.5'. What helps to locate it is a flattened "W" of stars, very noticeable about 35' north of the galaxy. When you find the "W", you can orient yourself to find 3 dim stars in a chain to the south. The galaxy sits just south of the chain by a minute or two, and its major axis in parallel to the chain of stars. This one is a nice find. Magnified with the 12 Nagler is seems to show some central brightening.

NGC 922 is a small galaxy listed at mag 12.5. It is in a star poor sky south of Cetus, just west of the Cetus/Eridanus border. A nice bright triangle of mag 8-9 stars is close by and provide an easy landmark to shoot for. This galaxy was tough to pick out. You literally had to know precisely where to look to have a chance to pick out the here-then-gone glow with averted vision. Magnification helped this one, by darkening the background enough to make it stand out a bit better. It is about 2'x1.5'. A little bonus in the area is a bright ESO galaxy, ESO497-4, which was barely visible by following a chain of stars from the bright triangle to the exact location. This one gives meaning to the acronym "FFN"...

We finished in Fornax with NGC 686. This one too was all but not there, being found only by it fortuitous position amidst three bright pairs of stars that all fit into the 20 Nagler field of view. I won't go on about this object, since it was detected, and not what I would term "observed"...

The last two available objects in Fornax on the list I am again working (the Herschel 2500) were too dim for Montebello's sky, so they will be left for better conditions.

On the Herschel list, we did one other object. NGC 2124 is in Lepus, below Orion. It was a tough object owing to its magnitude (13), and that it is in a rich eyepiece star field, which if difficult to star hop. Still, we bagged it, clearly noting it ghostly (almost not there) elongated shape (size 2.5'x0.5').

The observing session was relaxed, and unhurried. We also observed many regular bright objects such as M81/M82, M35, M1, M42/M43, M78, the Eskimo Nebula, M47, M46 and its planetary nebula, Thor's Helmet (NGC 2359) which showed remarkable detail, M97, M67, NGC 2903 in Leo, Sigma Orionis and others.

By moon rise, we'd had a very good night. Some scattered clouds had appeared over the last hour before moon rise, but everyone was satisfied with a nice night out. Winter observing is really great... properly dressed, one can spend 6 hours under the sky, and still get home for a good night's rest.

Tuesday, December 28, 1999

Bright night with the Messier Monster...

I've been out in my backyard with Mimi tonight. Since all my smaller scopes (10" and 8") are disemboweled... all the secondaries are removed and in for recoating, I put Mimi's 10" Coulter outside. Thing is too short for me to really use, but the girl loves the scope. When she saw it out back, she ran for her coat, gloves and hat.

In a matter of minutes, she'd zeroed in M42/43, M78, M35, M36, M37, M38, M1, M31, M32 and a host of bright NGC's. I am still in awe at how fast she finds this stuff. She's seeing stars in Orion that are just not there for me in this bright sky! Must be great to have 11 year old eyes.

We've been working off the older version of Tirion Sky Atlas 2000, and the companion book full of descriptions. She is so much fun to watch, running, I mean that literally, from chart to telescope... moving the scope and WHAM!!! Up go her hands as if to not disturb the scope as she pulls them away to look in the eyepiece.

When she can't find an open cluster here and there, she says they "took a walk"....

Kids are fun. I've got to get her back out to a darker sky.

FWIW... even in this not so great old Coulter, M42 is gorgeous.

11:15 pm and I've had a day full of downloading crud from my Internet account. So many megs of data that it took literally hours and hours. Glad its done... now if my ISP blows up on Y2K, at least I have my data. Hope everyone else is taking reasonable precautions. I hope you don't need to contact Microsoft for help like I did... what a rats nest.

Can't wait to get out and observe again.... wife wants me to go tomorrow and Thursday nights. I get my secondaries back tomorrow.

G'nite all!

Saturday, December 11, 1999

Observing at Fiddletown

At Fiddletown, Rashad found the temps and dew problems Friday night. I'll let him go into the details. Saturday, when I arrived, it was almost completely clear skies. Before dark, there was dew on my observer's chair seat. After dark, the temp had dropped to a low of 35 degrees F, with relative humidity up to 98 percent. I tried a chemical toe-warmer taped to the metal can housing the secondary mirror in my 18" Dob, and that was sufficient to clear the dew. Later, the relative humidity dropped to below 75% and we were dew free. My layers consisted of:

1 pair Sorrell Caribu boots (20 years old and still great).
1 pair long ski socks.
1 pair long-john bottoms.
1 pair blue jeans.
1 pair Polartec pants (REI).
1 t-shirt.
1 long sleeved heavy shirt (almost sweatshirt material).
1 long sleeved heavy fleece shirt zipped to the neck.
1 soft neck gator.
1 long jacket by LL Bean.
1 "Triceratops" wool cap.

I was not cold until I got tired at about 3:30 a.m.

The sky was not as transparant as I've seen it at Fiddletown other times, and the seeing was changable, going from brief moments of superb clarity to usually somewhat soft, to occasional horrid.

Breakfast at diner in Plymouth was great before the drive home.

I don't know what I logged yet, but I had returned to my Herschel 2500(?) list to pick up winter objects that had been El Nino'd or La Nina'd out the past few years.

Next month, if the weather cooperates, I would like to go back to Michelle's for a change of pace.

Saturday, October 30, 1999

Dogs, Hicksons, AAA and time warps

Saturday the 30th of October, TAC went to Pacheco State Park for a short night of deep sky observing. Moonrise was minutes before midnight, but conditions were so nice for an end of October that we had a very good turnout, and an enjoyable evening.

There were two mishaps worth noting, one before observing and one after. The before involved my 18" Obsession, and a neighboring property owner's dog. The canine marked his territory on the side of the scope's rocker box. What a shock to turn around and see a leg-raised dog in mid-relief. I cut his actions short by instinctively yelling an unusually profane command, which the dog obeyed, running off at full tilt.

My friends, enjoying the spectacle, suggested that I should mark over the dog's claim, in order to reassert my ownership. No way.

As the sun set, them temps dropped, but soon settled into a comfortable fall evening. By dark, the Milky Way was overhead and the hum of pre-observing activities settled into the quiet of dozens of observers doing what they came for. It was a really pleasant evening.

We were also surprised by Rich Neuschaefer and Jay Freeman showing up in new vehicles that were much more astro-friendly than either's previous ones. Rich handed out mortar-shell sized ice cold Fosters, which we all enjoyed, and Jay pulled out two delicious large pizzas!

The largest aperture we had on-site was a 25" Obsession. There were several 18" scopes, a 17 or two, a 16", 14.5" StarMaster, multiple 12.5" inch, various sized SCT/LX-200's, a 6" Takahashi and more. I could not keep up counting the people and scopes in the area by true dark, but there were at minimum 25 scope.

My program for the evening was to continue in the Pegasus entries on the SAC database. It was to be a relaxing, slow-paced session for me. One observer logged some 80+ objects for the night in his 16" Dob, mostly on compact galaxy clusters, but I spent quite a bit of time talking to other observers, looking in other scopes, and letting my observing buddy catch up to me (or try anyway.... he's jumped into the deep end with little star hopping experience, so it takes a bit of time to develop the skill). Here are my finds for the night. I used an 18" Obsession with two oculars, a 20mm Nagler and 12mm Nagler. My star atlas for the night was Software Bisque's current high-end version of The Sky for Windows.

NGC 7568 is a round galaxy that Dryer described as extremely faint, pretty large, irregularly round and with several stars involved. The Sky lists it at mag 14.5, with SAC showing mag 13.5 with a 12.6 surface brightness (sb). I found it faint, small and rather unremarkable. It is under 1 arc-minute in size, elongated slightly E/W. It sits about 14 arc-minutes NE of a mag 8 star that is the closest in an easily identifiable chain of 5 stars. Another bright star, mag 6.5, sits 20 arc-minutes N. Find this object by placing your Telrad circles inside the NW corner of the Great Square of Pegasus. Three naked eye stars in the mid to high mag 4 range are visible there. Use those to orient your Telrad.

Next was NGC 7624, UGG 12546 and UGC 12545. Dryer says it is a round galaxy, very faint, little extended or irregularly round, diffused, very little brighter middle and shines at magnitude: 13.4. SAC is close at mag 13.1 with sb at 12.6. This, while dim, is not difficult to locate since the 2 degree circle on the Telrad lies just S of the Great Square line from Scheat to Alpharatz. While difficult to detect the galaxy, there are some distinct star patterns that give-away the correct location. About 26 arc-minutes WWNW of the galaxy lies a bright pair, at mag 6.4 and 7, the brighter one closer to the galaxy. Forming an arc N-S on either side of the mag 6.4 star is an easy chain of dimmer stars. Between the mag 6.4 star and the galaxy, slightly off-line to the N is another bright star, mag 7.6. Using those guideposts, you should be able to pinpoint the galaxy's location. ESE of NGC 7624 by about 10 arc-minutes is a parallelogram of stars, two brighter one on the galaxy side, two dimmer away. Roughly 10 arc-minutes further ESE, barely visible was UGC 12546 and UGC 12545. I confirmed these by identifying a very tight triangle of stars almost N of the galaxies. The brightest of the three stars was closest to the galaxies, dim at mag 14. A third UGC galaxy in the group eluded me.

NGC 7056 sits alone in the eyepiece. At mag 13.8 (The Sky), it is not difficult to perceive as a smallish round glow. There are not many identifier stars in the field, but very nearby, maybe 30 arc-minutes S, is a distinct pattern of four bright stars with a few nice yet dim straight chains involved. These will help confirm the correct field. Some observers will find the locating the piece of stellar real estate to hunt a challenge. It is in the middle of the empty sky between Enif (Pegasus' nose star) and the eastern wing star in Cygnus - 53 Cygni. In fact, you should note a mag 4 star between them. That star is 1 Pegasi, and should be touching the northwestern 2 degree Telrad circle.

NGC 7347 is probably in the easiest location of any target I looked at. Find Pegasus' neck, and note the bright star between Markab (beginning of neck) and Biham (end of neck). That star, is called Homam, easy to see at mag 3.4. The target galaxy is right there, such that the inner 30 second Telrad circle's east edge touches the star. The galaxy is described as extremely faint, pretty large and elongated. There is another galaxy in the field, but too dim for me this time. I found I needed to confirm star fields to make sure I was seeing NGC 7347. About 16 arc-minutes N of the galaxy is a chain of stars, one mag 10, another mag 11.4. There are distinct doubles in that chain. There is also a mag 10.8 star 6 arc-minutes to the NE.

NCG 7461, NGC 7463, NGC 7465, NGC 7448 and NGC 7464. This galaxy field is fun. There are plenty of bright mag 9 stars to use as references when star hopping in the eyepiece, and the galaxies are fairly easy to pick out. NGC 7461 et-al are in an even easier to locate naked eye position than NGC 7347 (which now moves to number two in ease of locate ratings for the night). If you can find Markab, you can find NGC 7461, as it is one degree west of the bright star. NGC 7461 is small and, at mag 14.3 (SAC 13.3 and sb 12.7), not too difficult to pick out as its fairly compact. It sits 4 arc-minutes W of a mag 11.7 star. Three mag 10 stars are W and SW of the galaxy about 20 arc-minutes. To the north, you should see a mag 8 star. Find it and you've found NGC 7463, NGC 7464 and NGC 7465. It is easy to see NGC 7465 and NGC 7464, since they are large and close to the bright star. NGC 7464 is particularly nice, although dim at mag 14.27, it is an edge-on about 1x4 arc-minutes in size. I could tell there was something unusual about the object, so in went the 12 Nagler, and out popped NGC 7463, small and perpendicular to NGC 7464 on its S side. About 20 minutes W of this group was NGC 7448, very easy to see and quite large at mag 12 and 2x4 minutes size.

During all this, I was wandering around, helping confirm a star field here and there, peeking through other scopes, having a few coffees, chatting about clubs, equipment, observing sites and anything else that typically comes up at a star party. I began to head toward the restrooms when I noticed the 25" Obsession aimed in the direction of the Veil. I climbed up to find it on NGC 6990, along the "Witch's Broom." I could see the difference aperture makes. My 18" does very nicely here, but the 25 had more "pop" as I was seeing definite structure within the tubular shape of the ribbon of nebula. It was a very good view.

Sometime during the night I was also called over to Steve Gottlieb's scope, to have a look at a very nice planetary ring-nebula in Grus. This was a very low object, but Pacheco State Park has a very good low and dark southern horizon. At about 100x, the object looked like a dead-ringer for the more well know Ring in Lyra. It was big and bright. He also showed a great view of a diffuse nebula in Cepheus, near NGC 6946, but I do not recall the numbers. Perhaps he'll chime in here and fill in the blanks.

The night was getting along, and midnight was too close. I pressed on with NGC 7485. It is a mag 14 round galaxy with a bright core. It's location is tricky. I had success reeling this one in by using a chain of stars that hook off the belly of Pegasus, between Scheat and Alpharatz. Coming from Alpharatz toward Scheat, you'll note a chain of three or four stars, all in the 5's mag-wise. By imagining the first three continuing out, I could see the position should be 2 degrees beyond where the temporary imaginary star would be. This landed me almost dead-on the target. This was not easy, since I tried perhaps three other methods to locate it first. The galaxy was small and dim, seeming to have some elongation NW-SE, but it was subtle. A chain of bright stars ran NE/SW to the NW of the galaxy, about 5 arc-minutes away at its closest point. The brightest star was at the W end of the chain, and was the center point of a small but distinct chain of stars. Another chain of stars helped confirm, running E-W of the galaxy, to its NE. This was a pleasant field to confirm, since there were so many identifiable star patterns in the field.

The last galaxy I went after was NGC 7558. This turned out to be a really nice surprise. The first thing I noticed when preparing to track it down was a difference between the reported magnitude in The Sky (says mag 16.0), and the SAC database which catalogues it as mag 14.9 but sb of 12.7. I did not think I'd see mag 16 that night. I moved the scope to the area just inside the square near Markhab. A mag 5.8 naked eye star was blinking in and out of view, but I could see it. I placed the SW edge of the Telrad just outside the star and was in position. After a bit of looking, and again pumping up the magnification with a 12 Nagler, I could detect 5 galaxies. NGCs 7549 (3'x1' N/S) and 7550 (round at 2'), at mags 13.8 and 13.6 respectively were easy, jumping out 4' apart and nailing down the location. A mag 10.7 star is within one minute of 7549. Soon, NGC 7547 at mag 14.7 popped in, 3' W of NGC 7550. NGC 7547 is elongated E/W, and is maybe 2' in length and 1' width. Next in view was NGC 7558, my initial target. This was very faint, and could not be held steady more than half the time. I do believe the mag 14.9, but not 16.0 for this object. Finally, the last of the group began to glow E of NGC 7549 by perhaps 5 arc-minutes. This was CGCG454-15, a mag 15.3 elliptical. The group turned out to be cross-catalogued as Hickson 93 and Arp 99. Steve Gottlieb looked at it, and e-mailed later that NGC 7558 (HCG 93e) had a much higher red shift than the other group members. As a point of interest, here are Steve's notes:

This is also HCG 93 and Arp 99. The redshifts are interesting: once again (like Stephan's Quintet, etc.) this group has a discordant member -- HCG 93e -- which has a much higher redshift than the other members. The radial velocities (heliocentric) in km/sec are:

Name v
(million l.y.)
HCG 93a 5140 260
HCG 93b 4672 235
HCG 93c 5132 255
HCG 93d 5173 260
HCG 93e 8881 445

Someone (Jamie?) asked about distances we are observing when tracking down some of these dim galaxies. There's an answer!

About 28 arc-minutes mostly east of NGC 7558 was another pair, which I finished the night on. NGCs 7578A and B are a double galaxy system. With the 12 Nagler I was able to begin breaking these apart. I'd like to try them with more power and more time. But by this time, the moon cresting the eastern hills, silhouetting a lone tree on the horizon from behind. It was a beautiful view, but signaled the end of the night's observing.

A few of us stood around, reminiscing about the great Loma Preita earthquake in 1989 that shook us all, comparing notes and talking about other earthquakes. Our observing site sits very close to California's notorious San Andreas fault. A few more bites of Jay Freeman's garlic and cheese pizza, and I was packing up to go home.

Then, for the final excitement of the night, a friend came over and said there was a car stuck in the drainage ditch that borders our setup area. The car was nosed in, with the chassis on both sides resting firmly on the ground. I had a huge laugh when told about the good soul (sorry about this, if you're the one, and are reading this) who tried helping the driver out. Standing on the opposite side of the ditch, he was looking at the left front tire from in front, and told the driver to try backing out. Well, the tires spun and launched dusty soil forward, engulfing the helper. As the dust settled, there he stood, slowly emerging from the clouds and patting himself down to clean off! This had to be one incredibly funny sight!

One person suggested not rolling the car out, since its frame was on the ground, saying isntead to call a tow-truck. The driver (who we shall all keep anonymous) shot back "sure.... how am I going to get a tow truck out here at this time of night".... I thought of calling AAA, but decided to watch for a bit more...

One of the observer pulled up his Jeep behind the stuck car, hooked on a tow-rope, and all was again well with the world.

It pays to observe in a group!

It was 1:47 a.m. and I was driving out of the park. Daylight savings time would end in 13 minutes. I arrived home almost an hour later, cleaned up and crawled into be at 1:46 a.m.

It was a great night. We had good skies, good friends and lots of laughs.

I'm looking forward to next weekend already.

Saturday, October 9, 1999

Horse Bits and the Hunter Hunted

I awoke in my tent at Pacheco State Park on the morning of October 9, 1999, my daughter still soundly sleeping. The sun was now baking the tent as one of the other observers had just driven off for home, and the shade of his SUV no longer blocked the heat. I made a quick exit.

After a nice breakfast, we sat and let the day pass. I cleaned my eyepieces, dusted off the primary mirror (still dusty from Henry Coe the weekend before).

Company began arriving and by dark we had a larger group than the prior night. Everyone was impressed with the observing site at Pacheco.

I have to note how good the sky was the night before, the better night of the two (something that I say whether it is true of not, for the benefit of those who came out only one night). I had views of M31 and M42 that were absolutely spectacular. M31 was in my opinion superior to any view I've ever had at Mt. Lassen. I mistook the spiral structure at the galaxies northern extremity for M110. When I did go to M110, it was so big and bright, on any other night a view like that would surpass M81 or M82. It was amazing. Over in the southern section, by NGC 206 (the blue giant star cloud), the dust lanes *wrapped* around, dark lanes obviously curving to head to the other side of the galaxy. M32 seemed more like a globular cluster than a galaxy. M42 had six stars without trying in the Trapezium. The dark lane between M42 and M43 had clearly defined areas of grayish nebula incised at the edges by a river of dead black. The view had nearly the effect of some psychotropic substance! I could hardly tear myself away, but by that time of night I was literally stumbling around. We also had an absolutely rock solid view of the Horsehead Nebula, using my scope and Ray's H-Beta filter. The curve of the head off the neck was easy.

It was a good night.

As sunset turned to dark, there was a hum of excitement in the air. It is fun to be at a good site and listen as the night sky comes out. By dark, the sky had less of a light dome toward San Jose than the prior night, but there seemed to be poorer transparency. I think the humidity was up.

I began my second night as I had my first, in Pegasus. My first target was NGC 7567, a mag 15.4 (The Sky) galaxy just under 3 degrees east of Markab on the southerly line of the horse. Mag 15.4? Maybe the transparency was okay. The galaxy shown almost between a close pair of dim stars (mag 12+), which were part of a recognizable chain. The dim stars were a "crook" in the chain, with four other stars attaching to the crook and leading away to the southeast.

NGC7387 is 4 minutes west of a tight pair that is part of a recognizable chain. 2 minutes ESE is MCG2-58-23, blinking in and out on the edge of vision. 4 minutes ESE then 2 minute more are NGC7389 and NGC7390. Mostly W about 14 minutes are 2 bright and large galaxies, NGC7385 is about 2 minutes in diameter and elongated N-S, while NGC7386 is to the NW about and about 2 minutes in size. Still another, NGC7383 is 14 minutes E of 7385, and sits close to a dim star. This excellent field is found easily just off 46-Xi Pegasi, along the neck of the horse.

Now I moved back toward Andromeda. I knew before looking at a chart or the sky, since the NGC number was so low. NGC41 is just east of the center point on the line between Algenib and Alpharatz. The only thing that might stop you from seeing this one is not aperture, or bad condition. I had both working in my favor, and logged the object as having a nice sine-wave of stars (Ken Head found this one, showed me the sine-wave) beginning 20 minutes south and extending to the edge of my 20 Nagler's field. NGC42 is 7 minutes N and halfway to a nice tight double star.

NGC7033 and NGC7034 have a bright star 20 minutes ENE. Both galaxies are about equal brightness, and are small and dim. They are in the middle of no-man's land, sitting between Enif (the bright star at the nose of Pegasus) and toward Delphinus. This was no easy find, without decent guide stars in the neighborhood. Both galaxies are listed as in the mid-14's. NGC7033 is a bit easier to pick out, with NGC7034 being identified more by its position than its shape (it looked like a fuzzy star).

Next I placed the Telrad in the crook of the horse's neck. I could form an almost perfect parallelogram with the target position, Homam, Biham (where the neck joins the head) and Enif. Soon I was viewing NGC7236, a fairly bright small galaxy sitting inside a small triangle of stars all about 4 minutes away at the N, E and SSW. NGC7237 is very close and only shows at higher magnitude. NGC7236 is also listed in the SAC database as 3C442, and there is a bright point embedded in the galaxy (whether this is a foreground object or not, I do not know).

I was taking my time this night. I had no choice. Up almost all night the prior evening, little sleep, the heat of the day. All things that sapped energy. I was tired and would as much visit other observers as I would do my own observing. I looked through a beautiful AP 180 EDT, saw some great CCD taking place using an ST7 and Tak 152, peeked through various aperture Dobs, and saw a local master astrophoto watching ones and zeros.

I would eventually continue, pointing the scope at NGC7345. This was a nice edge-on galaxy, faint, 2 minutes N of a chain of 3 stars, the brightest at mag 9.5 as the closest of the three. Also in the field was NGC7342, a round galaxy 14 minutes W. The pair sit very close to famous NGC7331, but a bit to its N (on the opposite side of 7331 from Stephen's Quintet).

By this time, things were wearing down. It was close to 3 a.m. and many of the partiers had left. I wanted to go on, but there was only a handful of objects left before I was exhausted.

I move to NGC7514, sitting by itself in the field, not quite halfway between Scheat and the Blue Snowball. This is another area spare in naked eye finder stars. But, I recall using a chain of naked eye stars that began along the line from Alpharatz to Scheat, that looped out away from the square and to the west. These dim stars pointed the way th NGC7514. The object's magnitude is in the mid 13's. It sits 5 minutes S of a bright star that is art of a straight chain. My notes call it fairly large and bright. Oddly, The Sky refers to this object as extremely faint. Sure.

My last object in Pegasus for the night was NGC7586, located on the opposite side of the constellation, on the Pisces border in the rich galaxy fields between Markab and Pisces' Circlet. The galaxy was dim, but decent size. An arced chain of 5 stars begin 15 minutes NW of the object and end at the edge of the 20mm Nagler field of view. There were other galaxies in adjacent fields, but it was getting late.

I shot over to the east, to have a few moments hunting the Hunter. NGC1924 was first on my list. It was very nice, bright and round at about 2 x 2 minutes, west of the Hunter's sword. A dim pair of star were 4 minutes WWSW and EESE. A bright star was WWSW of that double. A chain of 4 dim stars were evenly distributed at the opposite end of the FOV. What a nice field!

I ended the night with NGC1661. This object sits on the Orion - Eridanus border, close to Taurus. It is in a star poor area and only the presence of a pair of mag 4 stars that sit inside and outside the Telrad make it less than impossible to locate. The galaxy was small, faint, with a chain of four stars, dim, dimmer, dimmer, dim, very close to its south.

I had had enough. I said goodnight to the few remaining observers, mostly planetary types, and crawled into my tent. I awoke the next morning, packed up quickly and left, having a meeting at 2 p.m. that afternoon. I had spent two nights off the beaten path, enjoying some objects that are rarely seen by the human eye.

I turned off highway 152 again at Bloomfield Road, and tried a new way back to highway 101. Through the fields, orchards, following an unknown stream past small roadside businesses and ramshackle homes. There was still a bit of adventure left in me after all.

Friday, October 8, 1999

Horse Bits and the Hunter Hunted

Friday afternoon the traffic on highway 152 out of Gilroy was miserable. The other main highway south was closed for some reason I was unaware of, and all traffic was now heading down the dozen or so miles of two lane rural highway 152. I came to a stop just outside the Gilroy Garlic Works (I'm sure that is not the correct name), and sat, in a big city traffic jam, right next to the factory that loves the Stinking Rose. And there, traffic crawled, giving me ample time to divert my attention from the drive, to what I would do that night.

Just as one take a lemon and makes lemon aide, I had enough negative impetus to try something I'd never done on that drive. I saw some other drivers turn down a small side road, and there I went too. It was an adventure, as I didn't know where it led to, but I knew it was going the right direction and I had a 4 wheel drive vehicle. Bloomfield Road is a beautiful detour from the tedium of heavy Friday afternoon traffic. The road bisects a broad valley, 152's stationary vehicles to the east, and highway 101 somewhere to the west. We rode between, on this small thread of blacktop between fields of tomatoes and peace.

What a relief... of the beaten path!

And that's what I decided to do with my weekend, get off the beaten path. I would set my sights on logging objects within two constellations, using a printed copy of the Saguaro Astronomy Club's Deep Sky Database as my list. I had downloaded the list and sorted it by constellation and then diminishing surface brightness. It is a very healthy sized two folder set of objects in small font, mostly off the beaten path.

I had my 18" Obsession, a laptop computer with the current version of The Sky, a deep cycle marine cell batter and inverter, a Telrad and would use two eyepieces, a 20mm Tele Vue Nagler and the 12mm Tele Vue Panoptic.

The observing site is Pacheco State Park, near the top of the eastern portion of California's Coastal Range mountains. The park itself is an exquisite piece of California's heritage and is historically significant from the time of the great land grants to the gold rush, to modern day commerce and transportation as a crucial link between the San Francisco bay area and southern California. Horizons at the park are outstanding, access is excellent as good freeway virtually drops you at the location, and it is farther removed from light pollution than other local observing sites.

As the sun set, our group prepared and watched the Milky Way appear, and it did so very quickly after the Summer Triangle became obvious. An hour later black clouds of interstellar dust and gas stood out prominently, especially north of Deneb. There was the slightest breeze, the temps were cool but not unseasonably, and other than the sound of highway 152 to our north we were alone. Perhaps 25 observers shared the location that night.

I began in Pegasus. I'd completed logging Herschel's in Pegasus, so now I was down to the Horse's bits and pieces. I would also change the way I observed, deciding to take detailed notes while observing, rather than using The Sky to log objects.

NGC 7594 is located almost a little south of mid-point between 10-Theta Piscium, which is the member of Pisces' Circlet closest to Pegasus, and Alpha Pegasi, which is the southwestern-most member of Pegasus' great square. The object is very faint, in fact The Sky lists the magnitude as 15.6. It was very difficult to get even a glimpse of it. There are a pair of dim stars, perhaps 12th magnitude, pointing at the galaxy, and other pair of mag 10 stars almost paralleling the dimmer ones a few arc-minutes west.

An easier object in the same field was IC 478, a mag 14.7 galaxy that showed well, and give hints of N-S elongation when I bumped up my magnification with the 12 Nagler. I am not trying to give dimensions on most of the objects, as it is enough of a challenge right now to estimate angular distances accurately. I'm sure the ability is earned. Anyway, IC 478 is much easier than NGC 7594. It sits just minutes NE of a noticeable chain of 3 dim stars. The thee dim stars are just NE of the brighter and dimmer pair mentioned before.

NGC 7244. This is where the difficulty lies in non-DSC/GoTo amateur astronomy. Objects like NGC 7244 that lie in no-mans land, away from any good asterisms or lack bright stars that put the object on a "line"... But there was a way. 42-Zeta Pegasi is the brighter of the stars in the horse's neck. Using it with the "bend" star in the neck, and the nose star (Enif), you can create a parallelogram. With the SW corner of the Telard's 4 degree circle on "the spot" where the 4th star of this imaginary parallelogram should be, you will be in approximate position. The first thing you'll notice is the rich field of view. There are lots of stars in the field. There is a nice bright chain of 3 stars 6 to 9 arc-minutes almost due east, then a much dimmer arced chain of stars just south. The galaxy appeared small and elongated, and a difficult find at mag 15.0.

I found NGC 7360 to be dim, round and small. There was a small chain of stars pointing with equal brightness at the galaxy in a very tight formation minutes to the NE. The object is located close to the intersection of Aquarius, Pegasus and Pisces. A tight grouping of three stars above the Y of Aquarius was my key to logging this object.

NGC 7584 is just northwest of the wonderful Pegasus 1 Cluster. It is located on the same line as NGC 7594, but closer to Pisces. NGC 7584 is very faint. It sits between two bright field stars, and appears as the westernmost member of a dim triangle of stars between them. Also in the same field is NGC 7587, an elongated mag 15 galaxy approximately 14 arc-minutes north of NGC 7584.

NGC 7712 is a moderately dim galaxy, mostly round but with a slight elongation N/S. About 14 arc-minutes NNW of a nice pair of stars, each being a double, both having relatively equal brightnesses in their components. To the ESE is another double about 10 minutes away. To find NGC 7712, look for 68-Upsilon Pegasi, two-thirds to the center of the Great Square from the northwest corner star (Beta Pegasi), and place the 3 o'clock position on your Telard just east of Upsilon. Happy hunting!

Next we head northwest, out toward Ophiuchus and Serpens Cauda. From Beta-Pegasi, find the "leg" stars of the horse, Matar (44 Eta-Pegasi) -- which many of us know as a pointer to NGC 7331 and Stephen's Quintet, and further out on the same line to 29-Pegasi (mag 4 star). The target is NGC 7275, one-third the way from 29 to 44 Pegasi, and a tick north. The galaxy appears very dim and small, 7 minutes W of a bright pair and 3 minutes E of a very tight dim pair of stars. The bright pair of stars also point at NGC 7270, which is bright and about 12 minutes west of the westernmost star. NGC 7270 appears to be either round or a small face on spiral.

NGC 7803 is very dim, sitting 3 minutes W of a pointer pair of stars. On a really good night, there would be several other galaxies in this field. This night, there was one other, NGC 7810, which I saw as dim and involved with at least one star. These galaxies are found by placing the Telrad's outer northern edge so it just touches three degrees west along the line from Alganib (88 Gamma-Pegasi) to Markab (Alpha Pegasi).

All the while this was taking place, people would come over and look, asking where the object was in the field, and when told would give a knowing "ah-ha"... Maybe they see them, maybe they don't. I do. I would take a break, go over and look at the new AP Voice-controlled 1200 mount set up next to me, have a peek at Jupiter (with my non-deep-sky eye) through a friends 180mm AP, and then visit with some old and many new friends. It is relaxing (but tiring on a Friday night).

Back to observing, I hit NGC 7286 next. This was a bit dicey to find. Again taking the line from 29-Pegasi to 44-Pegasi, as we did on NGC 7275, but instead of one-third in from 29 and north, we come in one-third from 44 and place the northern 4 degree Telrad circle just south of that line. The galaxy appears dim, small, and perhaps elongated. A bright star sits 24 minutes E and another 20 minutes W. The first star has a nice double pair close to its N.

NGC 7362 is not as dim as the others, I call it moderately dim (holds steady with averted vision), roundish and easy to see. There is a bright wide pair of stars 10 minutes N and NW, another pair S and SW by 12 minutes. Finding this made me feel as if I was running around the horse, since each object seems to be alternating corners. This one places the N edge of the Telrad Circle on Homam, the bright star in Pegasus' neck (Zeta Pegasi). The top of the Telrad circle is just slightly east of this star.

NGC 7387 treated me to other objects visible in the same field. Just a bit NE from Homam is the star 46-Xi Pegasi, at mag 4.2 it is an easy pair with Homam. The middle Telrad circle should touch this star, and the outer one should be just east of Homam, and the center of the Telrad south of the "neck" of Pegasus. NGC 7387 is 4 minutes W of a nice tight pair of stars, but the galaxy is dim. NGC 7386 is easy at about 11 minutes NNW of the pair. NGC 7385 10 minutes due W of the pair and right next to an equally bright pair of stars. NGC 7383 is 7 minutes SW of the pair. UGC 12202 is 30 minutes S of the pair and an easy find.

By this time of night, Pegasus was in full descent to the west, and the Hunter was well up.

I would spend a few hours on Friday night or Saturday morning hunting the Hunter.

The first object in Orion was a welcome change of pace, a stellar planetary nebula! The object catalog is PK190-17.1, for which I used an OIII filter. The object is also catalogs as J320. It is nearly stellar using my 12 Nagler (to my friends, yes, I promise to buy a 7mm eyepiece), but a bit roundish and has distinct coloration compared to the surrounding stars (with the OIII filter on). The planetary is 7 minutes N of a bright star and about 18 minutes W of a bright pair. I would not have identified this at lower power, and especially not without the OIII filter.

On to PK198-6.1 (Abell 12), also in the Hunter. This was a neat object, and very easy to find! If you know where to find Betelgeuse, you can find this one. The first star in Orion's "club" is mag 4.12 61 Mu-Orionis. That's the spot. On a high power eyepiece and OIII filter, and in the glow of the bright star, when you avert your vision, you'll see a nice small planetary nebula, ghostly in the glow.

By now I was beginning to become weary. I would walk and feel almost as if I were stumbling, but I could still stand at the eyepiece, and what a wonderful night it had been already. My notes reflect my condition, as they were scribbled and short.

I went to NGC 1719, south of Orion's bow (or shield). The last two stars in the bow bend sharply east compared to the others to their north. We want the last two. Place the northern edge of the outer Telard circle on the last and most eastern star at the bottom of the bow. The center of the Telrad is slightly east of due south. In the field, you will find not only NGC 1719, but 25 minutes W is the elongated galaxy UGC 3214, ghostly but there. About 8 minutes N of 1719 is mag 15.5 MCG0-13-61, just popping in and out, and involved with a star on the way to our UGC buddy is MCG0-13-51, between two bright stars about 16 minutes apart. Very nice field!

I was on to another dim planetary, but other observers were now dropping like flies. There were three left standing. Many had left for home, other crammed into places too small to really sleep, and a few in tents and sleeping bags. My tent and sleeping bag waited. I was doing two nights and intended to be comfortable.

PK197-14.1 is not too bad to find. I used an OIII and found it was not stellar (what a relief!). It is 25 minutes E of a bright star with a chain of dim stars to the ENE. This object also carries the designation of Abell 10. To find it is pretty easy. Take Orion's western shoulder, mag 1.6 Bellatrix and place it just inside the western outer Telrad circle. Now, place the center 2 degree circle's S end on the line between Bellatrix and Betelgeuse. There you are.

I had two objects left in me. The remaining observers were closing shop, and I was tired. I moved on toe NGC 1691, positioned so the bottom two stars in the bow (we've used these two before) are on the outer and middle circles of the Telrad. The southern more star sits on the outer Telrad circle just east of south. Notes describe NGC 1691 as bright and compact, elongated E/W, and with a chain for 3 stars 7 minutes to its ESE.

NGC 1819 was good sized, elongated NE/SW, with 3 bright stars at the perimeter of the field of view, forming a large triangle. The brightest of the 3 stars has a dimmer triangle of stars pointing directly at the galaxy. You can also see CGCG421-36, in and out, between a two pair of stars. These are located back toward Bellatrix from the bottom of the bow. The S edge of your Telrad should almost touch naked-eye star GSC 103:2874 (mag 4.6).

Finally, I observed NGC 1875. This was an easy find, as the inner 2 degree Telrad circle's eastern edge almost touched Bellatrix (it sat just east), and the center of the Telrad lay on the line to the center star of the bow (mag 4.3 2-Pi2 Orionis). I did not make any note on 1875 other than I observed it. I was probably too wasted to write any longer.

I soon was in my tent. Mimi, my daughter was sleeping well in her bag next to me. The top of the tent is mesh, and as I lay back, the sky was brightening in the east and Orion was visible overhead. I had enjoyed a great night of challenging objects... bits and pieces Pegasus, and later in Orion. I would hunt these areas again the next night.

Thursday, September 30, 1999

Smokin & Drinkin...

It had been ages since I'd put a telescope out in my backyard. Even with what everyone said was a cruddy sky, the warm temps and dry conditions were just too tempting, and after the planetary observing remarks on this list over the past day or so, I figured at least I could burn my retina on Jupiter later at night.

I'd been working hard all week, and the household consensus was that I should stay outdoors, to relax and mellow my rather frazzled attitude. I opted for my favorite backyard observing drink, the Mexican Coffee. So, about 9 p.m., out I went, to peek through my 10" f/5.6 Dob, which I'd set up on an Equatorial Platform. The night was wonderfully warm, and the sky looked great.

I would sip my coffee, look up and wonder just how much the smoke from Big Sur was going to hinder transparency. I could probably wonder the same about what my drink would do to steadiness. The combination of smokin and drinkin (hey.... just one coffee, a small one) were part of the observing elements last night.

I began by placing the 20 Nagler in the scope. Up toward M15 I went, and I could tell it would be a decent, if not pretty good night. The cluster was nicely resolved at low power. The wide field of view framed the object nicely... so many times I look in someone's eyepiece at an extremely overblown image, where there is no way to tell what the object really looks like in relation to surrounding "empty" space. The view with the surrounding star field was quite pleasing. I would come back to it later.

My wife Pat came out, coffee in hand, and sat down. We talked about life, business, kids, all sorts of things. It was very relaxing. I pointed the Dob at NGC 7331, just to test transparency. It was there, but barely. Still, "barely" is pretty normal for my backyard, for that object. I called Pat over, and since the Dob was driven by the platform, I was able to place the phantom galaxy in the center of the field so she'd have a chance to pick it up. No dice. Maybe there is something to having a few observations under one's belt to help spot the toughies. BTW, I did not look for Stephens.

Next, Mimi came out. She looked up, grabbed the scope and popped The Ring in, dead center. She still gets a charge out of finding objects. She has 18 Messier's to go before she completes that list. She has begun the Hershel 400 while waiting for the other M's to rise before she tires.

Later, my son and sister-in-law would also come out back, yack with Pat and me, and enjoy the evening. A telescope creates a nice social atmosphere. I like it when my entire family gets out, away from the TV and computers, away from the bright lights, and enjoys time together under the stars. Early fall is a great time, and makes for great memories.

While the others talked, I began looking for Hershel 400 objects. I had to fight my neighbor's kitchen window, where light was spilling out in excessive quantity. I'd shield my eyes every time I'd turn that direction. But, stick-to-it-ivness pays off...

I began in Aquarius, looking for NGC 7009. Some of you will recognize that number as the Saturn Nebula. After a bit of reconoitering in the brighter part of the lower southern sky, I was able to find it, above Capricornus' "bikini", just west of the bellybutton star (13-Nu Aquarii). With a Meade 10.5mm it appeared small, oblate and somewhat green-grey. I had no trouble identifying it, even with the 20mm it was definitely non-stellar.

Just for the heck of it, I decided to look at M2. I don't usually observe it, as it is kind of out in "nowhere"... not a lot of commonly known objects or recognizable asterisms around as reminders. In fact, I had to refer to the chart I was using, an old version of Tirion's Sky Atlas 2000, and the companion book, to find it. M2 is a grand cluster. I found myself marvelling at how large it is. I'd really forgotten. The 20mm eyepiece gave a wonderful view, making me believe that outside the main bright core, where it looks like the cluster begins to diffuse, even out past there, I could detect faint stars that are part of the object.

Back to the Hershel's though.

I moved up to Cygnus, which was just west of zenith. This was high enough to avoid much of the lower light dome. NGC 6866 is an open cluster along the western "wing" of the bird, just north of a line between Gamma and Delta Cygni, closer to Delta. It is not difficult to locate. The cluster seemed large and fairly bright, taking up at least 1/4 of the field (20 Nagler). It appeared somewhat square, with the corners of the square extending in an exaggerated way away from the square, as if someone grabbed each "corner" of stars and pulled them away...stretching out the corners.

NGC 6810 is another open cluster. Cygnus has no shortage of open clusters. This one was interesting too. It occupied perhaps 1/3 of the field. Easy to find, it is just north of Gamma Cygni (the center star in the cross), and in the same field, several bright components in the group.

Now for the challenge. NGC 7008. Arrrhhhh. A darker sky would definitely help this object. When I finally found it (after maybe half an hour... or maybe it was just the smokin and drinkin), it was smudgy, like NGC 7331 had been earlier. There are no really good naked eye guide stars by this object, and all I was using was a Telrad as my finder. I was finally able to notice that this dim planetary nebula was on a line between Alpha Cygni and Alpha Cephei. That helped a lot. The planetary appears (if you could call it an appearance!) to be distended, and have a star involved at one end. It is not what I would call a small planetary, but it is no Dumbell or Helix either.

NGC 7044 is another open cluster. This one was very puzzling, as there were few stars where I expected to find the cluster, yet, around the area were rich star fields. I finally did see it, but I needed to first find NGC 7027, the small planetary nebula close-by, so I had a point of reference to start from. I star hopped to an area that showed a large, sparse cluster with no central concentration. A no shape cluster in the Milky Way. Good luck!

The last Hershel I went for last night was NGC 7062. Another open cluster. Remember the old "pieces-parts" TV commercial, I think it was either about fast-food or chicken? Well, its not that I like going after open clusters, but after a while, all these objects become "pieces-parts" with a few being memorable "meals"... Open clusters, dim globulars, faint galaxies, dark nebulae that you only know is there due to the lack of stars at that location, bright nebulae that is anything but, well, it becomes the "hunt" that is the draw for me, and probably to almost an equal degree, trying to pick out some form or feature from these distant cities of light and dark. But, NGC 7062. There were four bright stars forming a loose square, two brighter ones opposite each other, then two dimmer ones completing the other sides of the square. Along with these four bright stars, there were dozens of dim ones in the group. This was another "in the middle of nowhere" object. I found it by splitting the distance between 62 and 81 Cygni, to find a 5th magnitude star. The cluster is right next to the star, and also has a chain of several, maybe up to 7, stars in the same field of view.

By now it was getting late. I looked up and Jupiter had just cleared the trees east of my house. I put in a 7.5mm eyepiece and went blind. But, it was a nice blind, with all four bright moons lined up on one side, lots of banding showing and several big and long festoons trailing through the equatorial zone.

I cursed the tree that hid Saturn, took in my eyepieces and went to bed.

Not a bad night out back, despite the conditions.

Saturday, September 11, 1999

A dark night at Coe

Saturday afternoon, the 11th of September, my daughter Mimi and I headed south of San Jose to a little used observing site, Henry Coe State Park in the mountains east of Morgan Hill. We had suggested it for a star party since our usual location at Fremont Peak has recently been used as a staging are for building construction, and the longer term question of access to various parts of that park, actually, the preferred areas in the park, are in flux and seem rather ill defined. So, it seemed like an opportune time to check out some of the other observing locations. Next month, plans are to again use an alternate site. Perhaps we will find a better situation and realize that for many, the attachment to Fremont Peak is only sentimental.

We drove up East Dunne Road, which climbs rapidly above the valley containing Morgan Hill and Gilroy. Soon, civilization gave way to a windy mountain road paralleling for a time Anderson Lake (man made), then turning into the wilds of California's coastal range mountains. 30 minutes later we entered a large parking lot 1/2 mile before the park entrance (if you are driving this, the lot is just after the only cattle guard you will drive across). There were a handful of observers, mostly the die hard regulars, standing in a steady breeze and looking at the high haze visible in all directions from the excellent horizons at this location. We thought we'd be alone.

As sunset approached, others began arriving. By nightfall, we had between 25 and 30 telescopes set up, with others still carefully driving in taking the last parking spots around the lots perimeter. We had quite a crowd. We met new people, who somehow felt the saw an SJAA announcement for a Coe star party while visiting Orion Telescope, and others who went to Fremont Peak and found it empty other than the crew from Orion training on equipment. There were a good number of first timers too. It is great to have such a wide range of experience and abilities, and equipment at the star party. It is one of the benefits of joining in. The new observing site was very nice for such a large group, as is Pacheco.

Once dark, my daughter took up the Herschel 400. Eleven years old and I had her using my 18" Obsession. I sat back and did a little coaching. While she may be a Messier Monster, this was not so easy. Of course, while doing the Messiers with her 10" Coulter, she was using about 75X, and the Obsession, a much larger instrument to aim and maneuver, was at 115X. At that magnification, I am pleased that she found anything. Mimi located several Herschel objects, and found out for the first time what it is like to be unable to find a target. She located NGCs 6934 and 7006, globular clusters in Delphinus, was unable to get to NGC 6905 (a smallish planetary in the same constellation), so she tried the familiar, M13. But, the sky had turned so much she couldn't place the Keystone in Hercules. Some minor coaching, starting at Arcturus, moving up to Corona Borealis, and she found the right place. Then she said something that startled me. "I can see M13"... what? I can see it. I looked up to the spot. Nothing. I've seen it naked eye at Lassen and Sierra Buttes, but here, at "bright" Henry Coe? Mimi grabbed the 18", swung it toward her mark, and it was immediately in the eyepiece. What better proof could she have chosen? Mag 5,9 M13 unaided in 11 year old eyes. Can you imagine what that must be like?

After M13, Mimi moved to Andromeda and found The Blue Snowball (NGC 7662) which showed remarkable color. Then she tried a new Messier for her, M34 in Perseus, which she had no trouble identifying, then back to Andromeda to NGC7686, an open cluster at the other "end" of a three star asterism used to find the Blue Snowball. Mimi had a friend spend the night the day before our observing trip, so she was tired. After finding one last object, M74 in Pisces, she turned in. Inside the truck, her head just a few feet away from me, as I used my computer at the tailgate. I stepped away for a short minute to say hi to a friend, came back and asked Mimi how she was. She was already sleeping.

Now I began my program, after three hours of watching my daughter having fun. My plan was to work out of The Night Sky Observer's Guide (TNSOG), beginning in Andromeda. Since it was rising nicely in the east.

Before describing what I observed in the eyepiece, I can report that many people expressed their pleasure with the observing site. Excellent horizons, and it seemed close enough in darkness to Fremont Peak to be a good alternative. This night however, would get nicely dark, as the fog would fill in all the valleys, including over San Jose, and by the end of my observing session only glowing circles of light softly illuminating small areas of the underside of the fog would be visible from Henry Coe. If not for the possible forest fire smoke, or just general haze in the atmosphere, it would have had all the ingredients of a perfect night. As it was, it was a very enjoyable night.

I began on NGC 80. This object is an easy target, sitting at the southwest border of Andromeda, where it meets the great square of Pegasus. Using the eastern stars of the great square, Apharatz and Algernib, NGC 80 sits just east of the mid-point of the distance between these stars. It is an easy Telrad find., the western edge of the Telrad almost touching the "line". The object was easy to detect due to a small triangle of mag 11 stars about 10' NE. Right at the triangle is NGC 83, a faint smudge that at first glance might be mistaken for a forth star making a parallelogram out of the small triangle. Both NGC 80 and 83 are in the mag 13 range, and were not difficult to detect. 7' WNW of NGC 80 is another small galaxy, NGC 91 at mag 14.2, near a 13th magnitude star. NGC 91 is one of the Arp Peculiar Galaxies, and is interesting looking on the DSS image. While there were several other dimmer galaxies in this area, I moved on.

Next was NGC 160. This galaxy held a treat, since there was a *very* close pair in the same field. But first, NGC 160 is also easy to locate with a Telrad. Find the first pair of stars in the sweeping constellation Andromeda, starting at the singular star Alpharatz. You should be on mag 3.3 Delta Andromedae, and see mag 4.3 30-Epsilon Andromedae 1.5 degrees south. These two stars point to a spot where the center of the Telrad will point, with the left edge of the Telrad almost touching mag 4 star 34-Zeta Andromedea, a few degrees to the north. In the eyepiece, two stars of mag 7.2 and 6.2 make for easy field identification. Mag 13.2 NGC 160 is almost south of the mag 7.2 star, while a pair sit about 5' SE of the mag 6.2 star. The pair are NGC 169 at mag 13.2 and, perpendicular to it and virtually touching is IC 1559, a mag 14.7 glow. Both galaxies are elongated, and higher magnifications help break them apart into individual components.

Want a really easy galaxy? Go back to the dimmer of the finder stars in the sweep of Andromeda, mag 4.3 30-Epsilon Andromedae. Put the Telrad right there. If your sky is dark enough and your scope large enough, you'll find NGC 183, a mag 14 round galaxy around 10' north of the bright star. There are several other galaxies in the field, but I did not detect them. If you want another easy NGC galaxy (which was in TNSOG for the night, but I've seen it so, skipped it) is NGC 404. Look it up... an easy one for beginners.

NGC 214 was next on the list (after skipping NGC 205 [M110]). NGC 214 lies about 8' SW of a mag 9 and mag 10 tight pair of stars. It is faint and diffuse. I did not detect a nucleus. This object too is easy, if you use your Telrad and 34-Zeta Andromedae for reference.

NGC 233 came next (after skipping M31 and M32). This is another easy target, where the Telrad's 2 degree circle virtually touches Delta Andromedae (the mag 3.3 star in next to Alpharatz). The galaxy sits 15' E of a couple mag 9 stars, and there is a linear complex of mag 7 and 8 stars containing two pair mag 9, 10 and 11 stars between, and to the E and N of the galaxy. The star patterns are very noticeable.

Now we begin to find groups of galaxies, beginning with NGC 252. Placing the mag 4.3 star 30-Epsilon Andromedae just outside the NW edge of your Telrad circles, you should find the field. You should see a mag 5.5 star 30' east of NGC 252, and four pairs of stars all with the same position angle to the galaxy's west. Roughly 10' EENE of mag 13.3 NGC 252 you will see mag 14.2 NGC 260 (on the way to the mag 5.5 star), and not all that difficult to the WNW will be mag 14.5 IC 1584.

NGC 679 yielded a large number of galaxies all easy eyepiece field star-hops from each other. NGC 679 is located in Andromeda, on the Triangulum border, just west of the bright open cluster NGC 752 (a good landmark). The galaxy is nearby two nice pairs of mag 7 stars, slightly offset from each other in the same PA, with a mag 9 star between the closest components to each pair. It is very distinctive. This mag 12.8 galaxy is about 13' west of the mag 9 star, and bright enough to be an easy target. I had at first accidentally landed on a very nice small edge-on galaxy, NGC 669 at mag 13, roughly 32' WSW of 679. Moving W from 669, you cross a mag 7 star, and 11' further north you find UGC 1251, a dim little spiral galaxy at mag 14.9. Moving back to 669, then E from there, you will find mag 14.2 UGC 1277 next to a 8.1 star, then further east, near a mag 9.6 star is mag 13 NGC 688. Moving back up to the two pair of bright stars with the dimmer center one, I found IC 1732 (mag 14.93) between the northern bright pair. East of the middle star were two obvious galaxies, UGC 1338 (mag 14.99) and UGC 1339 (mag 14.68). To their NW I also logged UGC 1319 (mag 14.5), and further NW UGC 1308 (mag 13.77) and NGC 687 (mag 13.20). There were many other galaxies in the area, but a lot of this exploring is really just a diversion off the main targets, so I moved on.

I next began by moving over a tick to the east, to the area containing NGC 710. If you consider this group along with that of NGC 679 (above), you can see it is a very rich galaxy field. NGC 710 is a spiral galaxy around mag 14, about 1.3 x 1.2 in size. The easily recognizable group of two bright pair of stars (mag 7's) with the mag 9 between is just SW of NGC 710 by about 20'. You can follow a chain of stars off the western end of the pairs and go ENE to get to NGC 710. But what will really catch your eye here is the group of NGC 704, 705 and 708 in a chain. In the same general area, I was able to hop to NGC 714, but could not see its neighbor NGC 717, and then to UGC 1344, UGC 1350 and UGC 1347. All of these galaxies (and more, if it were darker) were in the FOV of the 20 Nagler I was using. What a great spot to catch galaxies.

Continuing in the same area, I was very surprised to pick up MCG6-5-63, as it is listed as mag 15.6. Either this is a misprint, or there was a moment of exception clarity and steadiness. I saw it, as did others looking in the scope.

I next move onto NGC 752. It is an easy cluster to identify, rich, but spread out, it took up the entire field of the 20 Nagler. It was only possible to appreciate the group by moving to the edges of the cluster in order to get some perspective on its real size. This was nice in another scope using a 35 Panoptic.

I think about this time, a few of us took a break. Cars had been leaving during the night, and while I was beginning to tire a bit, the sky became progressively darker. This was indeed a good night. A bite to eat, some hot coffee, and I was ready to resume.

Again in the same part of the sky (which was by now getting quite high, nearly overhead), I hunted down NGC 759, an elliptical galaxy also called a cluster in Software Bisque's The Sky. It is a mag 13.4 galaxy, pretty obvious. It is WSW of a mag 8 star by roughly 10'. There is also a dimmer pair of mag 10 stars E of the mag 8 star, running NE-SW and about 3' apart. This field would prove frustrating to me, but I would sure learn the star patterns well. I moved NNE from 759, past a mag 7.3 star to IC 178, a faint mag 13.9 smudge. The bright star and a complex chain of stars to the N of the IC object helped identify the proper location. I came back to 759 and headed toward the mag 8 star ESE, then to the two mag 8 stars which I used as pointers to go NE about 4' to IC 1460, a mag 14.6 galaxy that was not too difficult to pick up between three dim stars. I was to try only two more objects, so I moved back across the two mag 8 stars about 18', past a nice easy to ID chain of about four stars in a tight line, to NGC 753. This object was larger than most I'd been looking at, so at mag 12.5 it still seemed rather dim, due to its light being spread over a larger area. From there I decided to head west, past a mag 10.8 star with a nice tight pair close to its S, past another tight pair with the brighter component being about mag 10, beyond still to a mag 9.3 star, where I would turn N toward another mag 9 star. Between the two mag 9's was supposed to be UGC 1400, a mag 13.8 edge-on galaxy. But I did not find it. Maybe I was too tired, and by now the first brightening of morning was showing in the east.

I played around a bit more, looking at the big Messier open clusters in Auriga, then shot down to M42. I finished up looking through a friend's SCT at Beta-Monoceros, the nice triple star, but the seeing was a bit unsteady.

After saying goodby to some friends who were leaving, the rest of the crew crawled into their trucks to grab a few hours sleep before heading down the hill in the morning.

It was a very good night at Coe. I plan to go back. The sky is big there, as the horizons are very good. With the brightness now evident at Fremont Peak, coming from Salinas, Hollister and Soledad, it may be that there is little left to keep me, and perhaps others, at Fremont Peak. There may be little difference between Coe's sky and the Peak's. And, if we are squeezed out and find it difficult to use that park, it is good to know.... better locations are there...

Saturday, September 4, 1999

Fog lay down, stars come out, fun time Fremont Peak

Last Saturday I piled my 18" OBSESSION into the back of the truck and, with my young protege in tow, headed out toward Fremont Peak around 2:15 p.m. I had expected bad traffic given usual patterns and the fact that this was a major holiday weekend. Yet, as I passed the usual slowdown where San Jose spills out of old El Camino Real toward the south, things could not have been better. In fact, I was not the fastest driver on the road by a long shot, so I was guaranteed a quick trip and reduced odds of a speeding ticket. After a few grub stops, Mimi and I turned up G1 to follow the creek up San Juan Canyon Road to the end, its termination, at the base of what had once been known as Gavilan Peak, but later renamed after Colonel John C. Fremont. The drive up the canyon brings home that we are leaving summer and facing a change of season. The bovine population was busy eating the few shreds of green grasses left, and many were picking green leaves off the trees. The bounty was gone, dormancy and the chill of winter were on approach. All around were the tan and golden hues of California's foothills at the end of summer. Trickles in a stream that just yesterday, or so it seems, overflowed its banks and caused one to slow down in passing.

Spanish Moss still overhung the road from the oak trees spanning above. Looking out from the open ridges halfway up the road, we could see a good fog bank laying low over the coastal cities, and the possibility of a dark night on Fremont Peak. Yet, there was a lot of haze in the air, perhaps from the state's multiple forest fires. So, perhaps dark with reduced transparency. Whatever, we were pulling into the parking lot and found several of our friends already there.

It was hot out. Whereas at my home in Los Gatos one could stand outside in an 80 degree sun, now it felt like the mid-nineties, and of course the paved parking lot was hot, making me think of my toes as small sizzling sausages. But the option of barefoot on the frying pan was even less appealing.

The parking lot was a construction zone. We had less room than usual, but still packed in a good number of scopes. I set up the 18 and shared a cold beer with friends. The sun was dropping and things felt like the old Fremont Peak. But this is a park in transition, which is a topic for another posting. The fog stayed down, the stars came out, and the fun began on a little island of observers at the southern tip of 6 million other people occupied with TV, traffic, and other plagues of modern "civilized" life. We were free, with nothing but the diamond sky to reign us in.

Mimi had come up with me, not as the Messier Monster, but this time, without telescope, just to "be" there. She enjoyed the company of Ray Gralak's son Brandon, while I planned to split time on my scope with my observing friend Ken Head. Ken is seriously looking at increasing his aperture. He currently owns a Celestron Ultima 8", but wants to add 10 more inches. He had asked about working on my 18 together, and I thought could be fun.

At true dark, the fog killed most of the city light to the west. Salinas still made the south bright over the right shoulder of Fremont Peak. But overhead, the sky was good, and the Milky Way was putting on a spectacular show. Not a "Lassen" type show, mind you, but there is still a thrill to look 20,000 light years away at that great galactic arm. We began our observing session, using The Night Sky Observer's Guide, in Aquila. Jack Zeiders was set up next to me, and heard me pronounce Aquila "uh-KEE-luh", and said it is "A-kwill-uh".... is that right?

The first object I found was NGC 6709, a nice mag 6.7 open cluster about 5 degrees SW of Zeta-Aquilae. This is really a fine open, about 13' in size and previously unknown to me. I suspect it is not all that well known, since it is not part of the Herschel list. The cluster is bright and rich, easily standing out from the surrounding field. It has many bright components, some showing fine color (blue and yellow). I felt as if there were dark lanes in the cluster.

I turned the scope over to Ken for the next object, LDN 582. Lucky him, a dark nebula in a bright part of the sky! This would be a challenge. How do you know when you're there? Well, since the object is in a bright part of the Milky Way, you could reasonably expect the star density to dramatically change once you found the intervening construction debris. The cloud was in an easy location, found by following a naked-eye chain of pointer stars trailing off 16-Lambda-Aquilae (the top of the two tail stars). There was a 6th magnitude star described in the book, which also stated the nebula was 45' due west from there. Since my apparent field was 39' with the 20 Nagler, it was easy to move one field west and see that yes, the population of stars in the eyepiece diminished dramatically in that spot. This would be a fun object to hunt in a dark sky, where you could more distinctly see the boundaries. Ken was not successful in "newbie mode" finding on this one. I got it.

On next to NGC 6738. This cluster was poor in comparison to NGC 6709, yet it had its own character. The stars are much more sparse, but it is easy to tell when you are on the object as it has a very distinctive north-south line of bright stars cutting right through its center. Now, I never knew how to determine direction in the eyepiece, I'd always heard some whispered methods, but never really paid much attention. One day at Sierra Buttes, Steve Gottlieb sat down with me and, since he is a teacher by profession, spent adequate time to make sure I understood the method, including estimating distances in arc-minutes. I now get a locator star in the eyepiece, put it dead center, walk away for a minute and read a bit about the object I'm looking for. Then I go back to the eyepiece and see which direction the star has moved toward. That's west. Counterclockwise is north, and so on. It is really pretty easy. And so, it was easy to identify north-south and the chain of stars that marked NGC 6738.

Did I mention how hot is was during the day at the Peak? Well, I was slugging down Coronas (the beer). I guess I had quite a few in a valiant attempt to not dehydrate. But I was a bit loopy. I was having fun, but yes, I was well, having fun. I lit up a smoke. Jack Zeiders, who has forgotten more about observing than I've ever known, started in on me by telling Jamie Dillon, sitting right behind me, that you lose about 1 mag by having alcohol, and another mag by smoking. I figured I was down to about mag 9 for the night, but later, I would prove that my vision suffered little if at all. So, did I mention how hot it was? Even late in the night, in the early morning hours before twilight, it was pretty much shirtsleeve weather. What a wonderful night.

Our next objects were three Barnard Dark Nebulae situated between the two end stars in the tail, 16 Lambda-Aquilae and 12 Aquilae. All three were difficult in the bright sky, and we can only assume we saw them where stars were obviously missing in the otherwise busy field. The description in TNSOG is very good, and in a darker sky there ink-spots would be more fun to track down.

We moved on to another object in Aquila, Planetary Nebula PK36-1.1, or Sh2-71. This object required an OIII filter to confirm, although the star field was not difficult to identify. The location is not difficult, since the outer Telrad circle almost touches mag 4.62 star Alya in Serpens Cauda (63-Theta 1 Serpentis). By boosting the power from about 100x to 170x, we could pick out the mag 13.8 central star easily. The disk is fairly even in brightness and distribution around the central star. This is also an interesting area as the density of field stars changes dramatically just at the location of the planetary nebula, as if we were at a transition point between a moderate Milky Way and a dense area. The change in density helped confirm we were in the correct field while hunting. I found this and the prior object. Ken was still getting his feet wet with the Telrad and big scope.

On to another planetary nebula, NGC 6741. Go ahead an look for this one. It'll prove your star hopping skills if you can pick it out. It is nearly stellar, and is betrayed by blinking it with an OIII filter. It is a nice green/blue bubble, but tiny. What helped here was knowing (from using a computer planetarium program in the field) that there is a slightly concave line of four nearly equal brightness stars, all about mag 8, just outside the field of view with the planetary centered, and a tight double at about mag 8 about 11 minutes to the south, and another roughly mag 8 wide pair of stars just outside the field opposite the line of four. These types of details allow one to pinpoint even the most difficult object at reasonable power, then blow the thing up to try seeing it. It worked. The 12 Nagler showed a small disc. I found this one too, but Ken was getting noticeably better at star hopping, getting within about a degree of the correct location!

After looking for another Barnard object as Aquila (a-kweel-a) dropped more into the light dome of Salinas to the west, we headed over to galaxyland, in the string of fish called Pisces.

We began with NGC 7428, a mag 14 (TNGOG says 12.5), this galaxy is round with a bright core. It is not very large, nor is it very distinctive. It was difficult to see initially, until we found a pattern of stars, two equally bright one with three on a line in between them, then a string of stars coming off one of the bright stars, leading right to the galaxy. Many times, identifying star patterns is the only way to locate a difficult object. In this case, the finding was the fun, whereas observing the object was just a result. If you want to find this object, find the Y in Aquarius and use the brightest member, 62-Eta Aquarii, and the next star down the eastern side of the constellation figure, mag 4.2 90-Phi Aquarii. Place the western edge of your Telrad circle just north of the halfway point between the two stars.

Two galaxies in the same field, in fact, nearly touching each other, were our next target. NGCs 7537 and 7541. Ken found these. They are just off the western-most bright star in Pisces "Circlet." These are fairly bright and easy to identify at mag 13.6 and 12.5 respectively. What was real fun was hunting galaxies in the nearby fields. We found CGCG406-27 and CGCG406-34 both about mag 14.9.

Another pair of galaxies were next, NGC 7541 and NGC 7562. Our target was 7562, and it was easy to find and identify. More difficult was 7541, at almost mag 15. These galaxies are in an easy to id star field, with NGC 7562 being in-line with three mag 9.2-9.4 stars.

NGC 7611 was a blast. Not because of that particular galaxy, but look at the surrounding galaxy field using a planetarium program and you'll see that it is dense. 7611 was easy to find, but initially two other galaxies in the field grabbed my eye. NGC 7619 and NGC 7626 are both about mag 12.3, and easy moderately large round galaxies. NGC 7611 is about 11 minutes SE of 7619, with a mag 7 star about three minutes to the south. Seven minutes WNW of 7611 we found IC 5309 at mag 14.6, and about 10 minutes NNE of there UGC 2510 showed. Roughly 7 minutes NW from there, forming a right angle with two pair of bright stars (three of the four are mag 9) is NGC 7608 at mag 14.9, and by continuing N about 15 minutes you'll find mag 14 NGC 7612. While in the area we also snarfed up NGCs7623, 7631 and 7617. Only tonight did I learn that this rich area is known as the Pegasus I galaxy cluster.

By now I was certain that my other vices were not materially harming my observing. We were having a blast.

Right in the center of Pisces' Circlet sit a pair of galaxies, NGC 7679 at mag 13.3, and about 4 arc minutes away to the east, NGC 7682 at mag 14. My notes do not say much about this pair.

Again in the Circlet, and easy to locate on a line between two brighter stars, sits NGC 7714. 7715 (mag 14.5) and NGC 7714 (mag 12.9) are two galaxies between mag 5.6 and mag 7.1 stars. There is no mistake when you find them. 7715 is elongated, and 7714 is involved (line of sight of course) with the mag 7 star. 7715 is in the Arp catalogue of peculiar galaxies, showing a galaxy over a galaxy. This might be worth looking into more deeply.

NGC 7716 is a mag 12.7 gorgeous spiral galaxy, at least in photos (see the DSS shot). It sits very close to a mag 12 star and has, if I had known to look (right.... good luck here) an Abell Galaxy Cluster (#2631) and Zwicki Cluster (#8895) in the same field. This must be one dim cluster, as I did not have a hint of it.

The last galaxy and entry from TSNOG we looked at was NGC7731, again located on an easy line between two of the Circlet's stars. 7731 is a faint, small, mag 14 galaxy with another mag 14 galaxy, NGC 7732, just perhaps an arc-minute SE.

I don't know much about galaxy clusters, such as Abell or Zwicki, but I can say that my planetarium program shows a lot of the, especially in the area around Pisces' Circlet. I would like to explore the possibility of observing some of them.

We finished the night looking at Jupiter and Saturn through some friends 6" Takahashi and 7" Astrophysics refractors. The views were outstanding, even though the seeing could have been just a bit steadier. Bob Czerwinski asked about using his high power Pentax eyepieces on my 18" and we tried, but they would not come to focus, requiring just a bit more in travel than my focuser would allow. Then he brought out a Tele Vue Big Barlow, and all the eyepieces worked. We were looking at the planets at up to 812x and getting very pleasing results. I have been trying to decide whether to get a 9mm or 7mm for my high power eyepiece, but now, I think I may solve my problem inexpensively with that Barlow.

Feeling the effects of a long hot day and full night of star and party, I was well cooked by 4:30 a.m. I crawled into the truck with my daughter, placed my head on a pillow, and was out.

The next morning just a few of us remained. One went home, two others joined Mimi and I in San Juan Bautista at Dona Esthers for a breakfast of chorizo, rice, beans and black coffee. Rejuvenated, I made it home, sat down in a soft chair and was again sleeping.

Wednesday, September 1, 1999

Montebello last night...

Like David Kingsley, I drove toward Montebello under the threat of fog. I had a late start and it was dark by the time I arrived. The drive north from highway 9 along highway 35 was tougher than usual, since visibility was poor, and I am aways aware that Bambi lurks in unexpected places, adding to my discomfort. Still, when I arrived, about a dozen cars were in the parking lot and people were beginning to observe as dusk was settling into night.

It had been a busy and difficult work week, and I was in need of some relaxation. When I stepped out of my truck and looked up, the sky was clear, and the Milky Way was obvious. Stars were everywhere overhead, and in fact, although there is obviously a big difference in location and what one can see, I instantly felt the same peace and serenity come over me as at Mt. Lassen the two prior months. Amazing what the beauty of the night sky can do, even so close to home.

I had arranged to meet a newbie from San Francisco at Montebello. I purchased a Virgo Astronomics Sky/mount from him. I had given my father a pair of Orion Ultraview 10x50 binoculars, knowing that it would probably be my mother who would use them (she likes the sky). I told them both I would get a mount for the binos. This will serve them very well. They are just in their early 70's and holding 10x50's for any period of time would prove difficult.

Anyway, back to the sky. David was working away, he is a diligent observer. Others visit, David observes. I used to be like that! After finishing my "business".... I pulled out my 10" f/5.6 Dob and, with Ken Head, began hunting Herschel galaxies, open and globular clusters and various nebulae. The seeing was soft, but it was still fun to find things. I think my favorite find of the night was the view of NGC 6440 and NGC 6445 in the same field of view. I was using the 19 Panoptic, and while both objects seemed to be unresolved globular clusters (in Sagittarius), only one is. NGC 6440 is about mag 9.7 and 5.5 arcminutes in size. It is by itself a nice, but rather unremarkable globular, like so many one can find in Ophiuchus, Sagittarius and Scorpius. But sitting closeby, NGC 6445 is a nice planetary nebula that is catalogued as small (0.6'), but appears nearly the same size as NGC 6440, and seems to be brighter on one size than the other leading me to consider that it may be bipolar. I know there is a writeup in The Night Sky Observer's Guide, but that is still packed in the back of my truck as I write this. In a darker sky, there are also two Barnard dark nebulae in the field of view. I think David described seeing (well, do you really "see" dark nebulae?) one, how the Milky Way "disappeared" suddenly, where it had been a rich star field very closeby, which would indicate dark nebula intervening, but I could not detect it. Oh for a darker sky!

I guess Lassen really was better.... but it sure did feel good to get out, even for a few hours. It is very refreshing. Can't wait for Saturday.

Wednesday, July 14, 1999

35 Stars in a Magical Sky

As I drove to the rendezvous point for our small core group of Mount Lassen Star Party regulars, I felt like I had not been home for some time. I had just finished two nights of nearly all night observing at Sierra Buttes with Steve Gottlieb, Ray Cash, Jim Shields, Marsha Robinson, Mimi (the Messier Monster) Wagner and Rashad Al-Mansour. I was wondering how I would last four nights more. Upon arrival at the appointed location, seeing the group ready to go, my energy level recharged, and off we were to the 6th year of Mount Lassen star parties.

Driving north away from the greater San Francisco bay area, the city falls away and turns into the rolling farmland that makes California's Central Valley a breadbasket to the rest of the states and the world. It is a wonderful drive, between the coastal range mountains to the west and the towering Sierra Nevada to our east. Somewhere out there, to my east, were several of the gang I spent the past weekend with, still up at the 7200 foot observing location. I thought it would be interesting to compare skies, although it is subjective and difficult to do without same real-time data. But, I would come to some definite conclusions by the end of my four nights at Mt. Lassen.

Finally reaching our turnoff from northbound highway 5, we were heading east and uphill, with the peaks of Mt. Lassen to our face, and hints of Mt. Shasta to our left. These peaks are interesting geological features, Lassen being a plug-dome volcano, and Shasta being a composite example of the earth's eruptive forces. Those of you who recall Mount St. Helen's 1980 blast, Shasta is the same type of volcano. Also notable is the fact that although others will say we were observing in the high Sierra, Mt. Lassen is the southern most mountain in the chain of the Cascades, which run perhaps from north of the Washington - Canadian border south, to our observing site. Mt. Lassen is also notable in that it has examples of every form of volcano, plug-dome, shield and composite. It is geologically unique in the world of volcanism. Mix in boiling mud-pots, steam vents, The Devastated Area, Boiling Springs Lake and Devil's Kitchen portions of the park with abundant lakes (ranging from glacial to nearly desert), the Pacific Crest Trail (made famous by John Muir), waterfalls, meadows full of wild flowers and wildlife, and observing sites at 6,000 and 8250 feet, and there can be no better location to hold a star party for the solitary observer or one with family in tow.

This year, after hearing glowing reports of steadier, darker skies at the Bumpass Hell parking lot, our group decided to give the location a try. Some of you may wonder at the name of this area. Briefly, in 1864, a hunter and mountain man named Kendall Vanhook Bumpass, discovered the largest geo-thermal area of the region. He was also the first person to accidentally step through the thin crust and suffer a severe burn (his leg had to be amputated for lack of treatment as he packed out by horse). The name "Bumpass Hell" serves as a warning to other people entering the area. Our observing site, at 8245 feet was at the trail head to Bumpass Hell.

I can't help but tell you of the view. You can keep Glacier Point in Yosemite, with the crowds, the long drive, the sometimes cranky rangers, the concession stands, moving your vehicles away from your equipment... Bumpass Hell is a paradise. Facing south, the only obstruction on the horizon is a solitary tree. Behind you, and just outside the parking lot, are Lake Helen and Emerald Lake. Ice was still on Lake Helen, which was turquoise blue at its shores. Snow banks rimmed the lake, and lay heavy along the sides of the road and along the less sun-exposed areas in the region. Emerald Lake, a bit lower on the south-west slope, lived up to its name. The colors of the waters were simply magnificent. Nature's paintbrush was never more creative, nor beautiful. Still facing south, Lassen Peak was behind us to the north-east. Huge areas of lava plugs jutted out from the Peak, as enormous rock formations jutting out of an otherwise nice cylindrical cone. Pilot Pinnacle and Mt. Diller rose over 8,000 feet to the north-west, Brokeoff Mountain just south-south-west and Mount Conrad to the south-east. At our feet, over the edge, was 8200 feet of descending forest land. But curiously, the area between us, Pilot's Pinacle, Brokeoff and Mt. Conrad, history holds a secret, called Mount Tehama. The huge open area we were looking down upon, between the aforementioned peaks, is 11 miles in diameter, and constituted the base of ancient Mt. Tehama. The Mt. Tehama "strato-volcano" had built up over eons of eruptions, finally collapsing about 600,000 years ago. If not for its caldera being breached, it could have developed into an area reminiscent of Crater Lake. If you visit, stand at the steaming vent of Sulphur Works, thought to be the giant volcano's main vent, and imagine the mountain that once there stood. It is stunning.

So, our view was over this ancient caldera, and the jagged colored peaks surrounding the area. As sunset's light played against the colored rocks, snow and forests, the area took on a magical feel. When darkness faded the caldera into hues of gray and black, it was easy to feel as if I were standing on the edge of forever... civilization faded away, the Milky Way rose in front of me, and I felt all my 46 years of life in the soup of current American culture fade away, and I was transported back to a time when only the earth and stars existed. Before me lay an ocean of geologic history, and celestial delights, all at over 8,000 feet of dark, transparent, steady skies.

My 18" F/4.5 Obsession was at the ready, Telrad serving as my finder and a 20mm Nagler in the focuser. I was planning on continuing the Herschel (2400+) list. My atlas was the current high end version of Software Bisque's The Sky on a laptop computer hooked to a deep-cycle marine cell batter and inverter. These observing tools are pretty standard for me now, and offer endless possibilities of discovery and confirmation.

As the sky darkened, the Milky Way became a living entity, glowing, divided by the Cygnus Rift, fingers of darkness snaking their way into the thick star fields. Behind Deneb was black. The Pipe Nebula in Ophiuchus was just a part of the dark horse. Things hard to see in lesser skies were jumping out. Messiers naked eye. The eye was overwhelmed, and it would be easy to sit and watch the earth turn all night.

But, the eyepiece beckoned. Rather than list all the objects observed, I will give a smattering of the more interesting and/or challenging objects.

NGC 2908 and UGC 5203 in Draco. I had a very difficult time locating this NGC in between Dubhe (Ursa Major) and Polaris. In fact, I gave up and star-hopped back from NGC 3057, which was the next object on my list. I mention this pair of galaxies since the UGC immediately broke the mag 15 barrier early in the evening, and low toward the northern horizon where the thicker atmosphere tends to extinguish such dim light. UGC 5203 was a nice elongated smudge of light about 12' south of the NGC. A pair of 10th magnitude stars sits NE-SW between these objects. These two stars make an excellent guidepost. The UGC is about 2.5"x0.5" running NW to SE.

NGC 3215 and NGC 3212. I began looking for NGC 3215, and was pleasantly surprised to see it has a close companion, NGC 3212. Both are round galaxies in the mag 14 range. There is very little separation between them, perhaps an arc second. There is supposedly a third galaxy in the field, and The Sky shows a 7ZW327 at a dim mag 17.6 nearby, but it was not visible in my view. The field for the two visible NGCs included a number of mag 10 - 11 stars in easy to identify shapes. It was fun to see the two NGCs show close together.

Sitting on the borderline between Sagittarius and Ophiuchus (Ophiuchus is a great constellation, it has everything!), sits Palomar 6, a dim globular cluster. It is not difficult to find the correct location, as it sits on a line between the tip of the Teapot asterism in Sagittarius (star is 22-Lambda Sagittarii, mag 4.2 aka Kaus Borealis) and mag 4.3 Theta Ophiuchi (the easternmost star in the bottom of that constellation). This globular was dim, but not difficult to make out. It appeared to be about 12' in diameter and its core about 6' from a mag 8.5 star to its south (the brightest star in the field).

Since that globular was fun, I went on to Palomar 7. East of Ophiuchus in Serpens Cauda, this object is not difficult to find either. I used an asterism that was once its own constellation, Pinotubo's Bull (60, 62, 67, 68 and 70 Ophiuchi), in Ophiuchus, to help locate the correct field. Pal 7 is a bit larger than Palomar 6, and is not difficult to observe (but maybe it was just the great skies we were under). Helping to identify the field, the globular sits between two mag 7.5 stars widely spread.

I moved to Palomar 8, and found this one a challenge. I am sure I saw it, but as I recall, it required averted vision to detect what appeared to me a haze, reminiscent of observing a faint large planetary nebula (which I would spend time doing later this trip). Palomar 8 is north of the "teaspoon" asterism east of the Teapot in Sagittarius. A Telrad finder makes locating the position a relative snap. But, observing the object was a challenge. Fortunately, it sits between two mag 6.5 stars, one about 26' west and the other about 36' northwest of the object. A chain of about 7 mag 9+ stars run between the two brighter ones, helping mark the correct location for Pal 8.

My favorite Palomar Globular of the night was to follow. Just between the end of the teaspoon (37-Xi2 Sagittarii) and the top outside star of the handle of the Teapot (34-Sigma Sagittarii) sits a small round ball of light with stars embedded. Palomar 9 is interesting... I can't tell if I see stars in the globular, or some foreground stars that are fortuitously positioned to appear a part of the cluster. Still, it is small and easy to see, just off the very bright mag 5 star 35-Nu2 Sagittarii. This one is a winner!

I finished the my Palomar observing with Pal 11. This was a bit larger than Pal 9, but not nearly as noticeable. It was not a difficult object, but was obviously diffuse compared to the smaller one just observed. A mag 8.6 star sits almost in the cluster (perhaps 4' from the center), just east of due north.

I also tried for Palomar 5 and 12, without success. These were fun objects to hunt down, and I will go after others.

I thought it would be interesting to check out objects in my newest acquisition, The Night Sky Observer's Guide (NSOG). A number of use made a list of objects in Aquila and Bootes with volume two, during the day. The list consisted of mostly dim planetaries and galaxy groupings. Here is some of what we observed using that source (all planetaries used a 2" OIII filter):

NGC 6772 - bright and smallish planetary in Aquila. This was at an easy location and presented little difficulty. Using the Telrad and the "tail" star in the Eagle, the object in on the line from there (16-Lambda-Aquilae) to Altair. The disk appears annular. I did not note a central star, but do not recall looking for one. If I remember correctly, this one looked like an "Owl" nebula to me.

NGC 6760 - this is a rather dim globular cluster, perhaps the only one in constellation. It was granular, but not well resolved. I would estimate its size at about 6 arc-minutes. A mag 7.5 star 36' northeast and a mag 8.8 star 25' northeast point at the globular, with a close pair (mag 8.5 and mag 10) southwest about by about 14'. This is a nice find.

PK47-4.1 is also known as Abell 62. It is a challenge. It sits on the line between Altair and 17-Zeta Aquilae, the tip of the western wing of the Eagle. Without the OIII, this object would have been hopeless... IMO. It was very faint even with it. It was as if we (several of us found it) were seeing a slight background "glow" that was barely a change in the contrast. However, with averted vision, the object would show some definition. We were able to confirm by matching the star field with our computer displays.

Next was PK33-5.1, or Abell 55, a very small mag 15.4 object, according to The Sky software. It is positioned favorably just west of the line from 17-Zeta Aquilae to 30-Delta Aquilae, which is the center of the "wings" of the Eagle. Although the NSOG description says this is a difficult object, it was not so at Lassen. The mag 10.5 star was the brightest of the close stars, but there were other brighter ones at the periphery of my field.

The last object in Aquila was PK38-25.1, Abell 70. At mag 14.3, this object too was not exceedingly difficult. A small grouping of stars seems to be almost interacting with this planetary. I wonder if the planetary is part of the group?

I will finish this report with a few objects out of Bootes, then an impression of our last night in the park, when we held our public observing session. We began going after NGC 5490 (page 31 in NSOG), to see the group. It was so low on the northwestern horizon by this time that only the brightest members shown. So, we went after higher targets in the constellation.

NGC 5673 (pg 35) and IC1029 were excellent. Both primary galaxies shown easily, and should present no problem in a good dark sky with transparancy. In the area, I also picked up NGC 5676 and NGC 5660, without trouble. I was unable to find MCG8-26-38 nearly at mag 15, but it may have been a moment of softness.

NGC 5869 (pg 36), NGC 5683 and NGC 5682 were also no problem. 5689 was big and easy to detect, with a definite extended streak of a core. A bright group of seven stars sits near the edge of the field, some of which can be used to point at the galaxies. NGC 5682 was also easy, but breaking NGC 5683 out was not. While in the area, I also picked up NGC 5700 and UGC 9426. I mention the UGC, as it is listed at mag 16.5.

NGC 5795 and companions (pg 38) had me puzzled. It was easy to pick out the main object, and three of the other four. Three of the galaxies lie in a line away from NGC 5795, separated by a mag 6 star. NGC 5797, 5805 and 5794 are no problem to see. 5795, the one listed as the primary object in NSOG, is in fact the most difficult of the four, a dim streak almost touching a dim star. As for NGC 5804, I tried and tried again and again, but could not find it. Interestingly, Steve Coe's drawing shows a position where The Sky will point to (enter NGC5804, click, it shows the correct location), but even with the program set to mag 18, nothing appears on screen. Is it a real object? I sometimes think I see things that are nothing more than.... Lumpy Darkness.

The last night, Saturday, the seeing was tremendous. Before sunset, we could look out over the great expanse of Mt. Tehama's ancient collapsed caldera, across the Central Valley of California, and clearly see the outlines of Sutter Buttes, a series of volcanic peaks jutting up out of the valley floor some 90 miles to our southwest. We could actually see well beyond that, but there is nothing but flat-land until one reached the coastal mountain around Lake County, and Clear Lake, probably one hundred fifty miles away. The sky would remain essentially perfect for our last night, and the public would turn out, there at 8240 feet elevation, standing on the edge of the smaller eternity of geologic time, and the vast eternity of our universe.

I showed the big and bright. M13, M4, M3, M31, M51, M11, M22, M15, M57, M8, M20, M17. All were exquisite jewels, resolution to the max. Dark lanes where none had been seen before by my eyes. The public was so appreciative, many coming from nearby towns, knowing that we put on this show every year. Old friends.

I finally turned the scope toward 52-Cygni, put the OIII back on the eyepiece, moved the scope a nudge toward the beginning of the section of Veil Nebula some call the Waterfall. One by one, I allowed people to move the 18" scope and follow the sinuous threads of the creation's hand across the sky. People would literally gasp in amazement at the beauty and wonder of this object, creation out of destruction. Question after question.... people making the transition from observational astronomy to cosmology, to philosophy, religion, back to creation. It is an inspiring sight. It opens the wonder and curiosity of the human mind.

It was a great night.

Back at camp that night, equipment packed away for the drive home after some sleep, the core group sat around, sipping cold beers, and reflected on times gone by, new people, people we'll never see again, friends, and so on. It is an after-observing tradition.

I mostly listened that last night. I looked up, and quietly counted 35 stars in the Great Square of Pegasus, with no effort. No averted vision, no work. Mag 6.5 with no effort.

Lassen's skies are Magical. When I think of Kendall Bumpass, I can't help but think...

One man's hell is another's paradise.

I can't wait to return.