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.

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