Saturday, April 8, 2000

How was the FP last night?

I was able to do some comparisons between Fremont Peak on Saturday night and Henry Coe Friday night. I came home between observing session (had some sleep, shower and good meal).

I did not leave for the Peak until after 8 p.m. Saturday night. All my gear was still in the truck from Friday. The entire drive down was under cloud cover, and I wondered if I would arrive at the top and find it clouded out and deserted.

When I arrived at San Juan Canyon Road and began the last 11 miles of the drive, I saw some strange objects through the windshield of the truck. Slowing so I could look, I was astonished to see the odd vision was of stars, a sky full of them.

Pulling into the SW lot, I found newcomer Todd Rogers, Jamie Dillon, Nilesh Shah and David Cooper. Jamie and David's sons were along too.

No sooner had I stepped out of my truck than Jamie commented that his Telrad had dewed up in the last minute or two. I decided to leave my 18" Dob in the truck.

The moon was quite bright, but still there was some deep sky observing going on. The cities were buried under low cloud and fog. We walked over to the observatory and found Robert Hoyle there with a few park campers on their way back to the campsites.

Arriving back at the SW lot, the moon eventually set. I was looking through Jamie's 11" Dob, Nilesh's 6" and David's 5" AP. Nice views. Jamie and I would think up objects to hunt. The ones I liked best were NGC5053 just off M53... nice contrast in globulars, NGC 4565 (Jamie's first time finding it), Nilesh's view of NGC4490 and its interacting partner up in Canes Venatici, The Antennae in Virgo. Nilesh "found" a large mag 10 galaxy in Coma Berenices, but could not see it... at 13'x10' it must have a very low surface brightness (Nilesh, if you have the NGC number, I'll check how dim it really is). Nilesh also found a nice edge on galaxy in Coma that I think is nicknamed "the Slug"... it has two other edge-on's in the same field (one of the two others were visible in the 6"). Dave had been fighting dew, but we did get a beautiful and contrasty view of M5 through his scope.

All of a sudden, I looked east and saw the fog rising up from the valley. Within 5 minutes we were in the soup. We stood around talking for a while and the fog settled down. After a bit more observing I noticed the stars to the west disappearing. I could tell the fog had come up very high suddenly and looked like a dark approaching tidal wave. The wave broke over us, the sky disappeared completely. Everyone tore down and by 2:15 a.m. we were driving down the hill.

It was nice night observing although I did not set up any equipment.

While there, after the moon dropped, I had a chance to look for dim stars naked eye around Ursa Minor. I was able to see SAO 3020 (aka Lambda Ursae Minoris), mag 6.4, blinking in and out. Not too bad. I commented that our faces lacked detail, and this was how I remember the Peak from ten years ago.

That Saturday morning, at Coe, before driving home, Rich Neuschaefer and I were talking about how dark it had been. At Coe on Friday night, the fog lay in through all the valleys and took out San Jose too. Rich's comment was that Coe is certainly as dark as the Peak. I have to agree. When there is no fog, the Peak has to contend with a very bright skyglow from Salinas to the SW and SJ to the N. Coe contends with SJ to the NW, and the south county cities to the S. Neither place seems to have an advantage over the other for skyglow these days. What is better is that Coe has the large parking lot with excellent horizons, and is further removed from the ocean, meaning the "tidal wave" of fog we experienced at the Peak on Saturday night would have had to push in significantly further inland to take out the observing site at Coe. The downside at Coe is the dirt lot, but that might be changing in the next year or two.

I was beat when I arrived home at 3:30 a.m. Sunday morning. Two nights out takes its toll. I don't know how we do 4 or 5 nights at Lassen each summer. Still it was fun, even without setting up a scope.

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