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.

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