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.