Saturday, July 22, 2000

(old times return) Comet Crazies Invade Coe

What a difference a day can make. After spending an enjoyable evening at Houge Park in San Jose on Friday night, where the seeing was a bit soft and the sky was better than usual but still no great shakes, I ventured to Henry Coe State Park on Saturday afternoon. Arriving in the lot, I was surprised to see many cars and telescopes already set up. I picked a place along the upper lot on the east side and, over the next several hours watched as the perimeter, then middle of the area clogged with amateur astronomers. I couldn't figure out what precipitated such a mass turnout.

As the breeze (which was described as hurricane force prior to my arrival) settled down and the sun turned the west into an incredible display of black silhouetted mountaintops set against a golden sky, stars began popping out. First Arcturus and Vega, then a handful, followed shortly by dozens. All this time, cars were arriving. At one point in the evening, people were being turned away from the lot, as it was full. I've never seen the overflow lot at Coe full with astronomers to the point where there was actually no parking. It was kind of like the old situation on Coulter Row at Fremont Peak, taking me back a decade to when I first began attending star parties.

I had left my 10" f/5.6 scope "Pliskin" in the truck from Houge, and decided that since moonrise was so early on Saturday, I'd leave the 18 home and for the first time in years use one of my smaller scopes at a "dark" site. What a blast! Richard Navarrete and I teamed up with Marsha Robinson to observe objects from the Herschel II list. Marsha was just beginning the project, and team observing sounded fun. Richard had his new 8" f/7, Marsha matched my size and focal length with her own 10" f/5.6.

But before getting to the dim stuff, we all took turns viewing comet Linear S4. Cute comet, and certainly this was the star of the show for most of the crowd. It must be the reason the observing site was so crowded. All those comet crazies... I was wondering how many of them remember the "big" comets from the '90's... Although S4 is fun to peek at, to trace out some tail, it is difficult to get really excited after seeing Hale-Bopp spewing ejecta sunward off its core, watching it twirl in backwards spirals, back into the tail. And the comet's obvious twin tails, the nice whitish "bright" tail and the turquoise thinner, dimmer, ion tail. What a show! Nor did S4 match the sheer awe of seeing Hyukatake stretch out over half the sky, even in less than perfect skies up at Grant Ranch! The comet brought back memories of the crowds at Fremont Peak, ages ago.

And so to, did observing with Richard and Marsha. Memories of early days were strong. Smaller scopes, comparing views, hunting together for objects that were all surprises. It was a return to old times, and even though the night was short, it was warm, friendly, wonderful.

Soon, the moon rose, and the lot emptied out. A short great night in preparation for a trip to Lassen next week.

As a side note, I had been tyring to observe several objects in Ophiuchus and Aquila from my backyard during the week, and Houge on Friday. I had no success. Within the first 10 minutes at Coe, I had logged every one with my 10" Dob. Easy pickins. Then, before moonrise, our small team of observers finished off all the Herschell II objects in Bootes. Some were bright(ish), others however were at the threshold of imagination. A longer night would have meant the 18", in which all objects observed would have been bright. Aperture wins.

Sky conditions
Seeing 6/10
Transparancy 7/10
Temperatures 60's all night.
Humidity 25%
Wind slight breeze.
Limiting mag 6.0 to the east (guestimate)
Objects observed
AlberioDS Cygnus
NGC 6517 GC Ophiuchus
NGC 6539 GCOphiuchus
NGC 6426 GCOphiuchus
NGC 6384 GXOphiuchus
NGC 6804 PNAquila
NGC 6803 PNAquila
M13 GCHercules
NGC 6207 GXHercules
Comet Linear S4Comet
NGC 5481 GXBootes
NGC 5490 GXBootes
NGC 5520 GXBootes
NGC 5523 GXBootes
NGC 5529 GXBootes
NGC 5533 GXBootes
NGC 5548 GXBootes
NGC 5582 GXBootes
NGC 5600 GXBootes
NGC 5602 GXBootes
NGC 5660 GXBootes
NGC 5687 GXBootes
NGC 5899 GXBootes
M8 CNSagittarius

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