Saturday, December 15, 2001

Cold bones and warm friends at Dino!

Yesterday afternoon was one of those winter crap-shoots. The skies in Los Gatos began beautifully clear and very promising, and the initial plan was to go to Henry Coe. The night prior had been very cold and the seeing was, even naked eye, obviously poor... the stars were twinkling and the cold breeze made standing outside not a very good idea. By morning everything had a layer of frost or ice. But, the sky looked great.

Plans to go observing went along fine until about 2 p.m. by which time crud began moving in from the north and west. Dice in hand, it was time to roll 'em. Looking at the weather loop on the net, it seemed to me we had just as much chance to skirt the southern limits of the clouds as we did getting skunked. So, the old adage "you don't know if you don't go" won me over. A few conversations with friends and the decision was Dinosaur Point, where several other TACos were known to be heading.

Other than the normal accident related bottleneck at 85 and 101, the drive to Dino was by itself worth getting out. I took 152 east from Gilroy and thoroughly enjoyed the vineyards, horse stables, towering eucalyptus trees lining the route. The greening hills to the east, the pointed peaks ahead of me to the south, coast range hills across the yellow-green valley floor to my west. Clarity, tranquility, peace. This is when driving is near meditation. Soon I was entering a new gate on the Dinosaur Point Road leading down to our parking lot observing location. The gate, two miles from the parking lot, would be locked at night. Our group, known to the rangers for our years of good record, now has its own lock in-line on the gate. On a good night a more ideal situation for safety, quiet and location would be difficult to find. A word of thanks is in order to Albert Highe for his capable efforts with the rangers to provide for this arrangement!

By the time I pulled into the parking lot, clouds were threatening to the north and west. During the night we'd have long period of clear skies broken by bands of crud coming through. It was dark enough that it was difficult to see other observers easily, only dark outlines. The transparency was excellent except, of course, when a band of cloud passed though. I don't know how cold it got, but my fingers were chilled (fingerless gloves). I left at 1 a.m. after six hours of solid observing. When clouds passed through I visited with the others. As the subject line says, it was a night for cold bones and warm friends.

I feel very fortunate to have friends that ask interesting questions. A few months ago Richard Navarrete asked me how many objects I had left on the Herschel 400, and on the second Herschel 400. One night I sat down and figured it out, looking through my list of Herschel 2500+ that I had been using for an observing program. I had no idea how many on the smaller subsets remained. It turned out to be 30 of the first 400 and 100 of the second 400. I printed them out as a list which I am not completing.

It should have come as no surprise to me that these objects would be fun! Many of the larger 2500+ list are truly faint smudges that have little detail and are more of a challenge to find than they are a pleasing visual. But the 130 objects I have left contain many interesting targets. I took my time last night looking at each object and trying to see just how much detail I could pick out.

My tools were an 18" f/4.5 Dobsonian, 20mm and 12mm Nagler eyepieces, UHC and OIII filters, Rigel Quikfinder and a laptop computer running The Sky. My 10x70 finder threw off the balance of the scope, must have gotten some wax on the bearings when cleaning up the mirror box a few weeks ago, so I left it off.


NGC 896
Other description Nebula low brightness.
Constellation Cas
Dreyer description Extremely faint, pretty large, irregular figure.
RA 02h 24m 53.2s Dec: +61 54'33"
RA 02h 24m 48.0s Dec: +61 54'00" (Epoch 2000)
Azm 29 01'50" Alt: +58 06'58"
Size 27.0'

I began by looking for NGC 896. I had on a few very good nights in my backyard detected some nebulosity in this area, but the view from Dinosaur Point was spectacular. Both 896, neighboring IC 1795 and the larger IC 1805 were visible. It was this area that showed me we'd have a good night! Here is an image showing the area:

Make sure to follow the link on the bottom of that page to the telens photo of the area!
NGC 1514
Other description Planetary nebula disc with central star.
Constellation Tau
Dreyer description 9th magnitude star in nebula 3' diameter.
Magnitude 10.0
RA 04h 09m 16.9s Dec: +30 47'15"
RA 04h 09m 12.0s Dec: +30 47'00" (Epoch 2000)
Azm 79 18'12" Alt: +41 24'45"
Size 1.9'

I moved next to a planetary nebula, NGC 1514, in Taurus. What a pleasant surprise! The planetary had a bright central star with a dimmer star embedded to the west inside the shell. I felt there were possibly multiple shells that had a bright outer ring or eastern edge. It appeared asymetrical in brightness across the large circular surface. The western edge also seemed bright, but less so than the eastern portion. With the 12mm Nagler I easily saw the brighter outer shell with a dimmer central portion, the planetary being clearly round. The brighter sections at the east and west were more pronounced, and a dim star was involved in the brighter eastern edge. When I first glanced at this at 100x with the 20 Nagler I immediately thought of the great Hubble shot of the Egg Nebula. The OIII filter was a big plus on this object.

Also called the Dew Nebula, here is an image that gives a good idea of the details:
NGC 1579
Other description Reflection nebula bright.
Constellation Per
Dreyer description Pretty bright, very large, irregularly round, much brighter middle, 8th magnitude star 350 , 2'.
RA 04h 30m 17.2s Dec: +35 16'14"
RA 04h 30m 12.0s Dec: +35 16'00" (Epoch 2000)
Azm 71 36'52" Alt: +39 09'29"
Size 12.0'

I moved on to NCG 1579 - a reflection nebula in Perseus. This too was a surprising and interesting object, offering a wonderful change from the usual galaxies and open clusters found throughout the Herschel list. The nebula had a very obvious "hard" south east edge at first glance. A dimmer extent to the nebula appeared to show in a triangular shape, large, and enclosing two bright stars in the northeastern part of the brightest area. Continued viewing revealed an almost circular glow, like a planetary nebula at the "tip" of the triangle. Another dim circular area shown at the away form the brighter section across what now appeared to be a black gulf of dark nebula. I think this image gives a good idea of the dark gulf and extent of the nebulosity:
NGC 1587
Other description Round galaxy close companion.
Constellation Tau
Dreyer description Faint, pretty small, round, resolvable, but mottled, westward of double nebula.
Magnitude 13.0
RA 04h 30m 46.1s Dec: +00 40'04"
RA 04h 30m 42.0s Dec: +00 40'00" (Epoch 2000)
Azm 105 37'35" Alt: +20 29'29"
Size 0.6'

NGC 1587 was another surprise. A galaxy in Taurus, and with two other obvious galaxies in the field, it formed a nice trio! Close and to the west of 1587 is NGC 1588, both roundish galaxies in the mag 13 range. They are both small. About 22' north is a larger edge on, NGC 1589. The close pair of galaxies are just north of a dense field of bright stars, making a nice view and an easy landmark with which to locate the dimmer targets.
NGC 1663
Other description Open cluster.
Constellation Ori
Dreyer description Cluster, little rich in stars, stars large & small.
RA 04h 48m 40.5s Dec: +13 10'06"
RA 04h 48m 36.0s Dec: +13 10'00" (Epoch 2000)
Azm 91 58'10" Alt: +24 37'16"

I was finding a lot of variety in targets, which made the observing session even more interesting. I moved next to NGC 1663, a rather non-discript and difficult open cluster in Orion near the Taurus border. A pentagon of stars to the south-southwest just past a wide pair of bright stars running north-west/southe-east helped determine the correct position. Without a very detailed chart, mine is on my laptop, I would not have found this grouping. Whereas the references describe NGC 1663 as small, I saw what seems a group of brighter stars over a fairly large and rich dim fields. There were several bright stars to the south-east and north with a dim grouping at the north end and further east. I felt there was another larger cluster interspersed with a few bright stars to the east. NGC 1663 does not display in The Sky, although it has a location.
NGC 1788
Other description Reflection nebula bright.
Constellation Ori
Dreyer description Bright, considerably large, round, brighter middle triple star; 10th magnitude star involved in the nebulosity.
RA 05h 06m 58.2s Dec: -03 21'00"
RA 05h 06m 54.0s Dec: -03 21'00" (Epoch 2000)
Azm 102 51'24" Alt: +10 57'31"
Size 8.0'

NGC 1788 is another hidden treasure! I had no idea this reflection nebula, located between the lower part of Orion and Taurus, was so interesting. In my 12mm Nagler the nebula was small and fuzzy. A bright star sits to the north-west and a dim star is involved directly in the center of the brightest portion of the nebula, and a dim large oval seems to extend to the northwest actually encasing (apparently) the bright star. This was a fine target!
NGC 1977
Other description Nebula bright.
Constellation Ori
Dreyer description Very remarkable!, 42 Ori and nebula.
RA 05h 35m 34.2s Dec: -04 52'03"
RA 05h 35m 30.0s Dec: -04 52'00" (Epoch 2000)
Azm 99 33'58" Alt: +04 26'12"
Size 20.0'

Welcome to the neighborhood of the most visited nebula in the sky. NGC 1977 is just off of The Great Orion Nebula, M42. So it is quite easy to find! The object sits between M43 and the open cluster NGC 1981, just north of NGC 1977. Two lines of very distinct stars seem to be embedded in the nebulosity comprising this object. It is somewhat like looking at photos of the Merope Nebula in M45... the same kind of wispy haze. The view was so good, I borrowed a 25" Dob to get a better look! The three brightest stars are involved in the brightest section of nebula which is large and round ... the three stars run est-west and to the north of the others. A large part of nebulosity sits across a dark chasm to the east of the three stars. It is a wonderful view!

The Digital Sky Survey image is so burnt in, this little gem is much better:
NGC 1990
Other description Nebula low brightness.
Constellation Ori
Dreyer description A magnificent (or otherwise interesting) object!, extremely large, extended, epsilon Ori involved westward.
RA 05h 36m 16.3s Dec: -01 12'02"
RA 05h 36m 12.0s Dec: -01 12'00" (Epoch 2000)
Azm 96 33'13" Alt: +06 33'15"
Size 50.0'

Jay Freeman brought pizza to Dinosaur Point. It does not happen all the time, but Jay is known for pizza at star parties. I've seen him do the same thing at Michelle Stone's Plettstone Preserve. So, Jay showed up at Dino last night with to large pizzas, still hot, from Pinnochio's in Gilroy. Jay knows how to make friends! ;-)

I mention Jay in particular because Jay was walking around admonishing Herschel Hunters on the path of NGC 1990 that is does not exist. It is supposed to be around Alnilam, the center star in Orion's belt. When I looked using both my 20 and 12mm Naglers, I saw what I thought was haze extending well way from the star... a round glow. Was that NGC 1990 or is that just on the eyepiece? Hart to tell. But, after looking for a while, I was convincing myself that the glow was brighter to the south with even dimmer extensions of nebulosity extending away even further to the south. It was very difficult to determine anything, since the star was so bright.

But I'll agree with Jay... it does not exist.

Jay knows how to make friends :-)

Here is an image showing Alnilam and the non-existant nebula ;-)
NGC 1999
Other description Nebula bright with dust.
Constellation Ori
Dreyer description Star of magnitude 10 or 11 involved in nebula.
RA 05h 36m 34.2s Dec: -06 42'04"
RA 05h 36m 30.0s Dec: -06 42'00" (Epoch 2000)
Azm 100 51'27" Alt: +03 06'33"
Size 16.0'

NGC 1999 is indeed a strange looking object. Sitting between the two stars that make the end of Orion's sword, this is a no trouble land on it right way with a finder type object! AT 100x it looks like an irregular nebula with a dim star involved. At 210x it is round looking with a bright star in the center. Looks like a planetary. It seems brighter on the east end where a star is embedded, but a dimmer portion extends in a widening fan shape dimming away from the star to the north-west. There are all sorts fo dark lanes and dim nebulosity around the area. This image shows just how much nebula is in the area:
NGC 2170
Other description Reflection nebula bright.
Constellation Mon
Dreyer description 9th magnitude star in very faint, pretty large nebula, extended 170 .
RA 06h 07m 34.3s Dec: -06 24'06"
RA 06h 07m 30.0s Dec: -06 24'00" (Epoch 2000)
Azm 95 54'48" Alt: -02 48'09"
Size 2.0'
NGC 2182
Other description Reflection nebula faint.
Constellation Mon
Dreyer description Pretty bright double star, large star nebula, extended 90 +/-.
RA 06h 09m 34.3s Dec: -06 20'06"
RA 06h 09m 30.0s Dec: -06 20'00" (Epoch 2000)
Azm 95 33'33" Alt: -03 09'28"
Size 3.0'
NGC 2185
Other description Reflection nebula faint.
Constellation Mon
Dreyer description 11th magnitude star and 4 small stars in very faint, large nebula.
RA 06h 11m 10.3s Dec: -06 13'06"
RA 06h 11m 06.0s Dec: -06 13'00" (Epoch 2000)
Azm 95 13'31" Alt: -03 24'14"
Size 3.0'

I then visited three small nebulae in Monoceros, NGC 2170, NGC 2182 and NGC 2185. These are all in close proximity to each other, so I am doing them all at once. They are somewhat out in the middel of nowhere, but using Orion's belt you can travel a line east into Monoceros to gamma and beta Monoceritos. While in the area, look at beta, it is a spectacular triple star! Just back toward Orion from gamma is where our nebulae are located. Ngc 2170 is a smallish and dim nebula glowing around a dim star. It seems to be part of a larger dimmer nebula extending south and east in somewhat of a veil or sheet. These may in fact be only the brighter parts of a much larger nebula around this entire region since a grayed background seems to pervade the area thorugh which stars are seen. This feeling was best achieved at around 100x. NGC 2182 is a dim glow at 100x, surrounding several stars at the north end of a bright chain that leads to it. Travelling further form 2170 then 2182, you arrive at the bright nebula NGC 2185 which seems to enclose six stars in a one, four (box), one configuration.

Here are links:

2170 -

2182 -

2185 -
NGC 2245
Other description Reflection nebula bright.
Constellation Mon
Dreyer description Pretty large, cometary form, much brighter nucleus southeast almost star, 7th magnitude star-8 to northeast.
RA 06h 32m 46.8s Dec: +10 09'54"
RA 06h 32m 42.0s Dec: +10 10'00" (Epoch 2000)
Azm 78 56'02" Alt: +02 16'05"
Size 5.0'

Another nice reflection nebula in Monoceros is NGC 2245. It is in a very easy star-hopping position relative to south-eastern Gemini. The nebula extends of a dim star extending in a fan shape to the south south-west. There is a bright star to the east and a nebulous area known as NGC 2169 shows around a star to the north. Here's a link to the DSS image of NGC 2245 and NGC 2261
NGC 2261
Other description Nebula bright.
Constellation Mon
Dreyer description Bright, very moderately extended 330 , nucleus cometary form = 11th magnitude star.
RA 06h 39m 16.8s Dec: +08 43'53"
RA 06h 39m 12.0s Dec: +08 44'00" (Epoch 2000)
Azm 79 05'18" Alt: +00 07'24"
Size 2.0'

The next object is NGC 2261. It is also known as Hubble's Variable Nebula, or, locally, as Richard's Comet. I don't look at it often, but when I do it makes me smile, as I recall a very memorable night nearly ten years ago at Fremont Peak, when I first saw this object! I won't go far in describing it any more than what I've already done. There is much literature about this object... if you have not seen it, put it on your list.

No image link. Look at it through an eyepiece first!

By this time of night I had been on my feet over six hours. The temperature was dropping and I was feeling weary. I looked at a few more objects in Orion, then, in the third round of departing observers, I left.

The night had been a pleasant surprise. A lot of observing took place. I'll try to count the scopes... 8" Celestron SCT, 13.1" Dob, 125mm f/5 refractor (?), 14.5" Starmaster, 18" Obsession, 14.5" Starmaster, 8" Meade SCT, 20" StarMaster, I didn't see Baldwin's scope... he can fill us in... 11" Celestron Dob, 12.5" Ultralight Dob, 10" Meade LX-200, 4" Vixen, 8" Meade SCT, another 4" Vixen, imager (Brian?) using an astrograph, 25" Obsession, 12.5" Starsplitter or StarMaster.

Nice collection of scopes. Even better collection of friends. Warmed my bones to be out with them!

Friday, December 7, 2001

Coe report for December 7

The traffic getting to Coe was abysmal. 1.5 hours from Los Gatos. Fortunately, the sunset drive up the mountain with the red clouds reflecting in the lake washed the frustration away. I arrived relaxed and hoping for clearing skies.

When I arrived I found Richard Crisp, Bruce Jensen and Marsha Robinson there and setting up. I set up the 18" and waited for dark to set in.

Just after dark, the wind came up. It was steady for about an hour then calmed intermittently for about an hour before picking up again.

Others arrived. Richard Navarrette and Kevin Scheurman (sp?). Another person I didn't recognize as well.

I looked at NGC 206 off of M31. I found a few other NGC's from my Herschel lists. The best view of the night was the comet. It is easily visible in an 80mm finder. At 100x the coma and tail extended across the full 48' FOV. Very nice comet, heading SSW just SW of Diphda in Cetus. Get a look at this one.

The wind began buffeting us again. I had my scope tipped down and facing away most of the rest of the night.

While Kevin, Richard and I were talking and looking over at Orion a brilliant fireball fell straight down from near northern Orion. It looked almost like a bright Iriduim flare, except for the neon green glow it emitted. Seemed to break up just before the horizon. Worth the trip just for that view.

By 10:30 p.m. Richard and I drove out and closed the gate.

Even with the clouds and wind, it was nice to see the sky, poke around at a few objects and visit with friends.

Wednesday, November 7, 2001

Looking out my backdoor...

I went out to my backyard observatory last night and finding almost zero dew decided to pull off the tarp covering my 14.5" Dob. The sky was quite dark by Los Gatos standards, although the seeing was a bit unsteady. Still for views of deep sky objects it would suffice. I continued my pursuit of objects in Aries listed in the Night Sky Observers Guide. I used 20mm and 12mm Nagler Type II eyepieces, a Telrad, 11x70 Unitron finder, Tirion SA2000 Deluxe and Uranometria.

My first object was NGC 1012. The area was already familiar to me after hunting galaxies in the vicinity several nights ago. I usually think of Aries constellation lines being comprised of only the bright star Hamal and dimmer Sheratan to its SW. But NE of those two is a dimmer triangle of stars, remarkable in the finder, comprised of 41 Arietis at mag 3.6, 39 and 35 Arietis at mag 4.5 and 4.6 respectively. To the SE of 35 Arietis sits another bright star, helping establish direction for hopping off the bright triangle. Arcing gently away to the W from 39 Arietis are mag 8 and 7.5 stars. The galaxy sits between the two stars, just slightly NE. The galaxy was dim. Like whisper only sometimes audible, this galaxy revealed itself after first finding the location with the 20mm eypeiece (100x), then bumping the power up with the 12mm (183x). It appeared round with a possible stellar core, and showed only occasionally with averted vision. A chain of several stars ran E/W to its N. The chain had a "dimple" in the line pointing N near where the galaxy was located. The brightest stars in the chain were to the NE of the galaxy. I enjoyed the easy star hop to this object.

I found the next object listed as DoDz1, an open cluster. This object would take me to the other dimmer triangle of stars that make the other "horn" of the Ram, SSE of the other. The stars making this dimmer triangle all have mags in the mid-4, which make them more of a "glow" to the naked eye, rather than being resolvable. Their designations are 48, 57 and 58 Arietis. It is easy to hop around this area, and I found a pair of stars outside the triangle to the E good markers to tell direction. I headed S off 48 Arietis passing mag 5.8 47 Arietis and continued in that direction 3 degrees until I found the bright pair 45 and 46 Arietis. These stars are in a nice field full of other bright stars that help point the way W almost 2 degrees to mag 5.3 42 Arietis. DoDz1 is conspicuous there even in the finder. 2 bright stars running N/S with 3 not quite as bright running E/W make up the main components of this easy open cluster. At first that is all I saw. When I put in the 12 Nagler a dim haze of stars filled the space between the 5 bright ones. The haze looked rather like nebulosity. With the 5 "jewels" in this mist of stars, I bet the view from a darker site would be stunning.

Next was the galaxy NGC 1134, an easy hop from DoDz1. With my finder on 42 Arietis, I could see the next star in my hop, 43 Arietis, 2 1/2 degrees S. The galaxy was twice that distance S. It was very dim though and required tapping the scope to confirm.

NGC 1156 was in the same category, very faint, requiring tapping to confirm the haze. The galaxy is located between the two triangles in Aries. I used the brighter triangle to draw a line from 35 to 41 Arietis, then continue on to mag 6 49 Arietis, a notable double. To the SE is 52 Arietis at mag 5.5. Using these stars I could find the correct field close by to the W. The galaxy showed just occasional hints, with a very faint star close to its N and a brighter star still further N in the field of view.

Thinking that my night was going to be essentially dim galaxies that were mere hints tapping the scope and using averted vision, I took a break to just look at the sky for a while.

Those of us who look at the sky regularly know we can see it differently than most. Still, at times I am like most folks who, when seeing the stars, look at them as "the sky" and see it as a monolithic, two dimensional ceiling, a "skyscape" that is close, a constant that generations have viewed and counted on to return, familiar, assuring, season after short season. Other times, like last night, when I've lost myself in the eyepiece, those societal restraints peel away momentarily. It then becomes travel in space and time to mysteries created by forces we can't comprehend. At those times I see beyond the familiar and the universe reveals just a bit of its fantastic detail. I see things my ancestors could not fathom consciously or create in dream. The thin veil protecting our physical and psychological existence lifts. It is then I think of how enormous, deep and mysterious a place that perceived "skyscape is. And amazingly, it is just out my backdoor. How lucky we are to be able to enjoy and in a real sense be stimulated firsthand by such amazing creations!

I had finished the list in Aries and now looked for new targets. Andromeda was high and in a good direction from my observing pad. I turned the scope toward NGC 80.

This object sits just east of the Great Square of Pegasus, outside the line between Alpharatz and Algenib. The finder reveals several stars to hop from. The brightest is mag 4.8 89-Pegasi. 45' to its E is a mag 7 SAO. These two established my position. To the N a mag 7 then a mag 6.2 star, then NE is a close double that shows well in a finder. Very near the double is a cluster of galaxies containing NGC 80 and 83, the brightest of perhaps a dozen, mostly extremely faint. NGC 80 and 83 were relatively easy and could be held constantly with averted vision. The pair ran N/S in the field, with 83 to the N and sitting just W of the apex of a small triangle of stars. NGC 80 sat alone.

My final target for the night was NGC 160. It is an easy hop from 29 to 31 Andromedea, which are the first pair of stars in the chain that describes the constellation. Use the two stars as a pointer south to mag 4.0 34 Andromedea. Just over a degree W is a grouping of four or five bright stars that stand out. Another degree W is an obvious bright double with mags of 6.2 and 7.2. NGC 160 sits close by and S of the dimmer of these two stars. NGC 169 is W and close to the brighter star. 160 was much easier to detect, with 169 being only glimpsed occasionally between the pair of bright stars.

It was nearly 11 o'clock, and I had planned on a short night. The night had been very nice. Very little dew had formed. A slight chill in the air was made more noticeable by gentle breeze that constantly rustled the fall leaves on the trees around my house and dancing down the street. Orion was fully risen, helping announce the approaching winter.

I looked up at Taurus and decided to peek at Saturn. I so rarely do this, it is always a treat. The seeing was indeed a bit soft.. the detail was okay but not great. Shading on the planet was obvious in the subtle bands of cream and tan. The Cassini division was black, but beyond that, I did not look for more detail. A bright set of moons stood off to one side. The ring, now tipped steeply toward us, shown behind the ball of the planet. The edge of the planet seemed to have a crisp dark line along its edge where it clipped part of the view of the ring behind it. I brought my wife out to look, and enjoyed the expected ooohs and aaaahs.

Again I looked up at the sky. After a night outside with the telescope, I again saw it differently than others do.

I tipped the scope down, turned on its night light and tucked it under the tarp. The convenience of backyard observing is wonderful. Like playing a musical instrument, practice improves performance, increases enjoyment and appreciation. I like being able to play regularly. I'll practice more tonight.

Tuesday, October 9, 2001

Backyard observing 10/09/01

I set up at dusk out back. That means I put the eyepieces and charts out, and the light blind up. The 14.5" f/5.6 Dob had been outside waiting for a good night. What a nice evening to be out!

I began my session working on Herschel 400-II objects.

First I looked for NGC896 in Cassiopeia. Using Gamma and Delta Cass to draw a line, I moved over to Epsilon and made imagined where another star would be to mimic Delta in relation to Epsilon. This put me immediately in the right field. Using a UHC filter on the 20 Nagler I could detect occasional haze or a subtle change in background contrast. While initially on the object a wobbly satellite tracked drunkenly across the field. There were large areas with few bright stars, in fact, with few stars at all. The contrast differences would at times increase, seeming to cover large areas like the North American Nebula. I wondered if I'd stumbled onto the larger IC 1805. Even in my 11 x 70 finder I thought at times I could detect a glow where the bright nebula was supposed to be. At times, I was quite sure I was seeing some hard edges to the glow through my eyepiece.

Next was the surprise of the night. Very cool, a small bright nebula in Cygnus. I began by hopping off Eta Cygni, which is very easy to locate. Just 1.2 degrees SW is an notable chain of stars that can be counted... 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, skip, seven. Once there is an empty spot in the chain, look close to the NE, opposite a double to the SW. An obvious puff only a few minutes in size each direction but glowing more noticeably E to W. Possibly could be just a very bright section of a larger dim bubble encompassing stars to the E, N and S. The bright glow may be just a very bright knot at the W edge of a larger nebula. It is neat! When using the 12 Nagler I found a very dim star embedded in the NE end of the nebula. The UHC was doing a great job on the object. On close inspection there seemed a glow from the bright section extending dimly to a bright star toward the S. Good in town object!

NGC 6991 was near a bright star that seems a double, bright white yellow and dim gold, close to the NNW. The open cluster was just a hazy area with many dim stars to the WSW of the double. This was not very exciting, and is the type of object that makes people not like OCs.

The next object, NGC 6697, was not on my Tirion atlas or Uranometria. But I could see it was located in the North American Nebula. The cluster was fairly large, medium rich and quite distinct. It is most likely a gorgeous object nestled into the big nebula along the edge and embedded. I could also detect a change in contrast to the S and W when using my UHC filter.

NGC 7082 is a nice hop off 76 and 77 Cygni. There are very recognizable chains off these two easy to find stars that lead right to this open cluster. The cluster is elongated SW/NE with many dozen bright components, but the brightest are a pair to the S and a single star to the N bisecting a large haze of very dim stars. I guess the cluster is over 30' in length along its major axis.

NGC 6793 is an open cluster in Vulpecula. I located it by finding the Coathanger (CR 399) easily without optical aid. Following some bright stars off the Coathanger to the N led me to a large open cluster comprised of two chains of at least several dozen stars joined at the S. The E section has more stars but the W side has the brightest ones. A wide bright white double sits NW about 30' away (guess).

On the way to my next object I began on the star Alpha Vulpeculoruilium (whatever). I was struck by how nice this wide gold double appeared!

Hopping off Alpha Vul, close by to the NNW are maybe 2 dozen bright stars with a hazy background. The cluster, NGC 6800, is nice sized and gracefully situated at the end of a nice arc of stars including the pretty double Alpha Vul.

That was it for my Herschel II list for this month, unless I begin observing in the morning a few hours prior to astronomical twilight.

So, I moved on to Pegasus.

The first object was NGC 7331, very familiar to many deep sky observers. It as bright and elongated. In my 20 Nagler I thought it looked rather like the Sombrero (M104), but what I'd expect he Sombrero to look like in my 10" f/5.6 instead of a 14.5" scope. When I put in the 12mm Nagler, the core of 7331 became very bright.

Most of the time I hear someone mention NGC 7332, I figure it must be a dim smudge right next to 7331. Wrong. Mu and Lambda Pegasi are easy naked-eye stars, and 7332 is an easy hop off them just 2 degrees west. The galaxy is bright and elongated. Quite easy to see located between two bright stars to its N and S, but closer to the N star. With my 12mm Nagler I was surprised to unexpectedly run into NGC 7339. 7332 sites NNE/SSW while the dimmer 7339 lies very close by but nearly E/W. 7339 appeared the same size or larger than 7332. This is a nice view!

Not wanting to bun up the sky, or be out too late during busy week, I finished with NGC 7448. This galaxy is in a great field for dark sky observing, but is more of a challenge from the backyard. I found it just NW from Alpha Pegasi (Markab). The galaxy is mag 11.6, but not all that bright compared to the others I'd seen tonight. Its glow was even across the core without a bright nucleus, and the glow evened out gradually toward its edges at the NNW and SSE.

It was nice to be out again. I didn't push too hard. I found myself spending a good amount of time on objects. I especially enjoyed the bright nebula in Cygnus, it was soooo unexpected.

The scope is still out back. I hope to continue tomorrow night. Amazing what one can see just out their back door!

Saturday, September 29, 2001

More doubles under the full moon.

I was observing in my backyard again last night. It was beautiful outside... I was in shorts and a t-shirt until I came in at 11 p.m.

Using a 14.5" f/5.6 Dob and a combination of 20mm and 12mm Naglers, I observed double stars and several deep sky objects. Seeing was much steadier than the night before, about 7/10.

I began with Alpha Herculis, aka Rasalgethi. I was surprised to learn that Alpha Herc is located so close to Ophiuchus. I always think of Hercules as the Keystone, but it is a large constellation by area. The double has a gold primary with a green companion several magnitudes dimmer and closeby only 53" to the SSE. The primary shines at mag 3.5, which was naked eye low to the south. The companion shines at mag 5.4.

More difficult to find was 95 Herculis. This star required use of my 11x70 finder to locate the proper field. 105 Herc was just visible naked eye at mag 4.3, which aided in getting to the correct area. This star was gorgeous! Two mag 5 stars sitting just 6.8" apart, one gold, the other a brilliant blue-white. I called my wife and daughter out back to see these jewels.

Once my daughter was outside by the telescope, I had to yield to her request to find something. I suggested Gamma Aries, the next star on my list. I pointed out Alpha and Beta Aries and described where to find Gamma. Mimi was on it instantly, thrilled to find a tight pair of equally bright white stars in the eyepiece!

She then pointed the Dob at M13, M92, M57, M15, M31 and the Double Cluster. She was most interested in knowing what happens to collapsing globular clusters, like M15. She noted the compressed core and I explained that in an S&T article within the past year or two that M15 was described as collapsing. Mimi wanted to know if the stars would fall together and become a black hole.

At 10 p.m Mimi went to bed, since it was a school night. But how nice for her to be able to walk out into her backyard and spend an half an hour doing astronomy!

I continued on with more doubles.

1 Aries was next on my list. I find it to be a very tight double of gold and white, with a large difference in magnitude between the pair. I would think this double would be a great field to observe in a dark sky, as there are many galaxies in the immediate area.

I moved to Eta Persei which was another Albiero. I am convinced that the most plentiful combinations of colors in doubles must be blue and gold. Eta is an easy target, although sky brightness made it a challenge in the glare of the moon and San Jose. Imagine, it was hard to pick out a mag 3.7 star! But its location is easy, being the most northerly bright star in the constellation. The stars sat east/west of each other, the blue component more of a steel blue than Albiero's.

Pisces was very close to the most moon-washed part of the sky, but I decided to try my hand at what can only be described as star-hopping by Braille.

I went next to 55 Piscis, another small Albiero. The blue component was much dimmer than the medium bright gold primary, and sat close to its north. The star is close to the Pegasus border and required using Zeta Andromeda and Gamma Pegasi to locate.

I finished the night on Zeta Pisces. This was work. The star was not visible naked eye... it is one of the chain of stars leading north from the Circlet under Pegasus... all dim stars even in dark skies. I used my finder to star hop off my Sky Atlas 2000 chart. When I hit the double it was obvious. The double is comprised of two white stars that area close together, but not what I'd call "tight". The brighter component was to the west, and the companion was a bit more gold than the primary.

It was another nice night outside. The moon does not pose too many problems for double stars. With enough aperture, it is even reasonable to hunt deep sky objects too, as Mimi had proven.

Friday, September 28, 2001

Doubles under a full moon

Friday night at Houge Park was an amazing experience for anyone there with a telescope set up. Even before dark, crowds were beginning to gather, and I could tell something was up. By dark hundreds of interested school kids, mostly 3rd and 6th graders, and their families were amassed.

Once I looked up and saw lines 30 people deep at my telescope and Kevin Schuerman's. Ours were the "big guns" that night, mine a 14.5" f/5.6 Dob, Kevin's a 13.1" f/4.5 Dob. Kevin had thought he'd have the biggest scope there, with so much moon out. Sorry Kevin ;-) Lines at the scopes lasted a few hours, then things settled down.

I began by showing Albiero, but soon realized that my ladder was not tall enough to allow the younger children to reach the eyepiece. For a while I would watch parents strain to lift their children skyward, up on a ladder. I soon concluded there had to be another good double to show that would not entail such risk.

I pointed the scope at Eta Cass. This was much better. As each person looked at the double I would ask them quietly to describe the colors. Since we had a discussion on this mailing list about color perception I was interested in a wide sample of opinions. Amazing what a divergent reply one can get. I do believe that experience tends to be an equalizer, since the replies I heard ranged from yellow and tan to white and orange, white and white (amazing!), red and gray, even white and silver!

Later I began pointing the scope at M22, M13, M31 and other bright deep sky objects. The results were quite good. I attribute it to aperture. I also attempted to show a few people NGC404, which was clearly visible just off Beta Andromeda if you knew where to look. Transparency must have been very good.

I had come to Houge Park Friday night with a list of double stars to observe. Little did I expect an invasion. My list waited until the next night.

Saturday about sunset I rushed out to unpack the 14.5" from the back of my truck and set it up in the back yard. It was nearly a full moon, close enough anyway. But I figured it should still be possible to split some doubles. Someone had mentioned on TAC's mailing list the "astronomy forecast" was favorable, and soon after dark I was collimating. After an hour's cool down, I found the star images were still pretty fuzzy, and this was not going to be a great night for pinpoint stars.

However, the list I had was not tight doubles, but the Saguaro Astronomy Club's Best Multiple Stars. So long as there was sufficient separation, I still could observe.

I began with Beta Cepheus. This is Alphirk, the northeastern star in the "box" that defines the main body of the constellation. The primary is very bright white at mag 3.8 with a yellow or rose colored companion west of and close to the primary, significantly dimmer at mag 7.8.

I moved next to Struve 2816, which had been a topic of conversation on TAC during recent discussions on star colors. This is easy to locate along the southern boundary of Cepheus' constellation lines. Find Alderamin, Alpha Cep sitting between the bottom stars of Cepheus' box. Move south and outside the box past Mu Cephei to this triple star. The primary component is visible naked eye in dark skies, at mag 5.7, is bright yellow/white. Two companions shine at mag 8, one 7" NE, the other 2" WSW. This is a nice triple.

I mentioned Mu Cephei. While it is not a double, the sheer richness of color in this star is amazing. If you want to see pure gold in a star, this is a great example.

Just west of the center of the box that makes up the southern part of the constellation Cepheus is the star Xi Cephei. I saw this as a bright white primary with a dimmer yellowish-red companion almost 2" W. The seeing was not good enough to split the third component apart from the secondary, just 1" to its E. I'll try splitting this one again tonight.

Next on my list of colored doubles was Delta Cephei, which I immediately felt was an Albiero clone. The double sits in an area rich in open clusters, I recall visiting many times over the years. The star sits at the northwestern apex of a triangle of bright naked eye stars, at the southwestern corner of the box of Cepheus. Even with the large moon they were visible, at mags 3, 4 and 5. Delta's primary shines at mag 4 and is a nice gold/white color, not quite as rich gold as Albiero. The companion is very blue and sits a wide 42" south.

Struve 2486 is comprised of a pair of twin yellow/white stars off the eastern wing of Cygnus. When looking at MegaStar, this star appears a triple, although again I only saw a double in the soft seeing last night. I had to work a bit to locate this double, matching star patterns on my Tirion Sky Atlas 2000. The approximate location is reached by starting at Gamma Cygni and drawing a line to Delta Cygni. Continue not quite the same distance past Delta. One odd finding was to see the Saguaro list showing a 2 magnitude difference, mag 6.6 and 8.6, but I found the components to be of nearly equal magnitude.

I moved next to Beta Cygni... Albiero. No kidding, this is easily the most magnificent double in the northern sky for color. Albiero is simply stunning. It is even more impressive after sampling other notable doubles. The richness of color is awesome.

I finished the night working hard to locate h1470, approximately between Gamma and Eta Cygni. I star hopped using Tirion's Sky Atlas 2000. A good landmark to start from was a notable chain of stars running NNW/SSE for about one degree just east of the constellation line. It was easily worth the effort. Other than Albiero, which even in all its beauty is rather pedestrian since it is so popular, h1470 is the winner of last night's observing session. It is like Albiero, but the yellow component is a ruddy yellow/red... so rich it was outstanding by itself. Add to that a secondary component so blue that it borders on purple, and you have absolute jewels of stellar evolution. It is a wide pair, almost 30" between the components. The dimmer star lies N of the primary. This is one to add to an observing list!

I'm hoping the steadiness will be better tonight. The scope is still set up, the moon is bigger, and there are many more doubles on the list.

Doubles under a full moon can be fun.

Thursday, September 6, 2001

Backyard observing 9/6/01

Backyard - Los Gatos. Dim Milky Way visible. 8" f/6.9 Dob with 20mm Nagler, 12mm Nagler and 7mm Meade Research Grade Ortho.

This night's targets were varied.

Sigma CrB - easy split at 70x, the brighter component is EENE of the companion. Colors are equal.

17 Dra - mag 5.6 visible naked eye. Nice white pair with 16 Draconis just 7' N. Pair is tight at about 1.5" with brighter star to the W.

Mu Dra - Gold pair that is very tight with a clean split at 100x. The components are equal brightness and lay N/S.

NGC 6913 - M29 - Open cluster in Cygnus. I find this the most difficult of the Messier open clusters, in the heart of the Milky Way, only about 6 bright stars. Components are in two equal length chains of three stars each, arced away from each other. Hints of other faint stars involved. Chains are N/S in the field.

NGC 6939 - Open cluster in Cepheus. At 70x this cluster is small and faint - rather dull. There appear to be no bright stars, just a faint glow. At 100x many faint stars appear. the cluster is maybe 10' in diameter. I looked for NGC 6946 in the field both at 70x and 100x but did not find it.

NGC 7027 - PN in Cygnus. Easy target close to two bright stars E of Deneb. Fuzzy at 70x. At 195x the planetary begins to show elongation of bi-lobed feature. AT 350x it is clearly bi-lobed and a gray-green. The west end is a bit larger and notably brighter. A star may be embedded in the extreme western end.

NGC 7092 - M39 - Open cluster in Cygnus. 70x is a great magnification for this bright but sparse large open cluster. About 20 bright stars comprise the group. I like this better than M41 in Canis Major, and think of it as something of a poor-man's M45. Measured 35' diameter.

NGC 7209 - Open cluster in Lacerta. AT 70x this is a nice large cluster with many components. It is not exceptionally bright, but is easy to identify among the surrounding fields. 8' to 10' in size, it looks like two arcs of stars to the N and S with a large opening to the W and a much smaller one at the E end. Easy to locate star hopping from Xi to Rho Cygni then again the same distance in the same direction.

NGC 7243 - Open cluster in Lacerta. At 70x I had a very nice view. Large, amorphous - approximately 25 bright stars with many dim but resolvable other components. In three groups ... one of 3 stars, another with 15 and the third with about 9. Empty lanes running NNE/SSW ran between the three sections.

Rho Her - 70\x gorgeous right white pair in a nice field showing elongation. 100x split the pair cleanly. The brighter component was to the SE.


Wednesday, September 5, 2001

70 minutes in Hercules and Cygnus

These objects may be pedestrian, but hopefully others will see that backyard observing can be rewarding, even in San Jose.

I put my 8" f/6.9 scope out back after dinner then went out to run some errands. I returned home at twilight and soon was out back with the sky darkening nicely. With the Edmund Scientific Mag 6 Star Atlas, I turned to the first chart with constellations I could see overead. The sky was not dark, but dark enough for some star hopping. While hunting my first object, NGC 6229, I could barely make out 42 and 52 Herculis, both at mag 4.8. and bracketing my target.

NGC 6229 is a bright small globular cluster north of the Keystone toward the Draco border. AT 70x the globular is granular with some hint of individual stars. It is a nice view, as two equally bright stars, the brightest in the field, stand equidistant 8' west of the glob. Nice triangle. At 100x the granularity is more pronounced and the bright core diminishes evenly out to the edges. Seems to be about 1.5' diameter.

NGC 9341, M92 - globular cluster in Hercules. What a veiw after having picked off the smaller glob just minutes before. The view at 70x is fantastic. It is large and bright (by comparison) with many stars resolved over a wide area surrounding a very bright yet rather small core. 100x results in some stars popping out of the core. There are many stars at the periphery, maybe stragglers, that seem to form a rectangular frame elongated N/S. Estimated at 8' overall diameter. Brightest part of the core may be only 1.5' diameter, but there seemed a dimmer second halo of core stars also about 2' wide may envelop the brighter core. The core area appears brighter and larger on the WNW side. Spectacular object!

Looking overhead, I could now just make out the Milky Way through Cygnus. I had to agree, it was "Milky" looking.

NGC 6826 - planetary nebula in Cygnus. Easy to find off the arc of Theta, Iota and Kappa Cygni at the bend of the western wing of the constellation, this is the Blinking Planetary. Aiming the Telrad and looking in the eyepiece, I found a wonderful 70x view of 16 Cygni, the nice close double 30' W of the planetary. The double appeared almost neon-green tinted and lying NW/SE. All I had to do was let the view drift and the target appeared from the E. At 70x it was an obvious small fuzzy star. The central star seemed blue/green at low power. At 100x the central star was very obvious and I could easily perform the trick for which the object is named. Another star of equal brightness to the planetary's central star sits close to the S. AT 195x the halo is very nice... even and gray. I don't know what I was seeing, but at 350x a slight haze to the SE appeared. At that magnification the planetary was slightly elongated NW/SE and gave hints of two shells.

NGC 6866 - Open cluster in Cygnus. At 70x this cluster is obvious. It is not one of the spectacular opens like M11, or the M3x's in Auriga, but yes, obvious and interesting. I thought it was shaped like a flattened "T" ... a long top and a short leg. The long dimension was 18' long laying E/W across the field. The short leg was defined by what seemed four bright stars falling off to the S about 4' in length. All four appeared roughly equal magnitude, but one was actually a double comprised of two dimmer stars that together gave an impression of equal brightness with the other three in line. The cluster has many dim components, which showed more obviously at 100x (as did the little double in the chain of four) and was perhaps more concentrated E of the estimated visual center of the group. When viewing at 100x I had the impression of a bird in flight.

NGC 6910 - Open cluster in Cygnus. Just N of Gamma Cygni. I went to get the 20 Nagler and something bright hit my eye from the E. Moonrise. I was about done. I hunted briefly for the open cluster and at 70x found a small group of stas, just five of them, where I expected the open cluster. Two sets of stars perpendicular to each other, with a fifth bright member between them. Was this NGC 6910? I'll find out tomorrow after some investigation.

I packed up and was inside in 5 minutes. A nice hour+ in Hercules and Cygnus.

The scope is out there still, waiting for sundown tomorrow.

Saturday, August 25, 2001

Triple Delight!

I decided last minute to head to Coe Saturday night. I arrived just after twilight. A handful of TACos were there, as already reported by Matt Marcus.

Before moon set I was trying to find open clusters with my 8" f/7. Intermittently, I would look at some of the bright planetaries up in Cygnus. NGC 7008 and NGC 7027 were very interesting structurally. I was quite surprised how well 7008 showed detail, especially when compared to my views of it at Lassen just a week prior.

While looking around in Cepheus I had one of those "non-GoTo" moments... where you find something unexpected while hopping/hunting. It was Struve 2816. I don't know how well the entire view will show in suburban skies, but from a bit of elevation and with good steadiness and transparency the 70X view was stunning. The field contained what appeared to be an open cluster about 40' in diameter, fairly rich. Standing alone in the central portion were easily the three brightest stars in the field... in a true sense the center of attention. The stars commanded my attention... evenly spaced and closely set... the colors ... two nice blue stars bracketing a brighter gold center component. It appeared to be so perfect that I thought it the sort of look Hollywood strives for in a space special-effect.

Worth looking at.

I had planned a short night out... after all, I had just felt like drive and knew a few other observers were heading to Coe. I certainly didn't plan on getting back home at 4 a.m.

Nice night out.

Tuesday, August 14, 2001

Observing from Bumpass Hell

I had the opportunity to observe twice from Bumpass Hell parking lot, at 8200 ft, between the volcanic Lassen Peak and the huge mountain rimmed valley crowned by the spiny fractures that define ancient Mount Tehama's borders. My favorite time of day takes place at that spot... the western peaks silhouetted black and featureless against a deepening neon blue sky that fades deeper to mauves, purples and black as night climbs overhead from the eastern wilderness.

At first Mars was distinct, a lone sight, a solitary beacon of bronze light sitting in the darkening sky. Soon Arcturus, Antares, Vega, Deneb and Altair joined in. It was like listening to the first strings warming up before a great symphony. A few bits of Scorpius, Sagittarius, Lyra, the Cross, and suddenly the sky began opening up with hundreds of points. The dim glow of the Milky Way shone, then brightened and darkened, its innumerable flecks of light painting the sky behind dark veils of dust. This was the same on both trips, enjoying the silent symphony of the sky... developing into what would be a most pleasant and memorable routine. I could not help but think of part of Chet Raymo's essay Silence...

I drift in my canoe down the Queset Brook and I listen, ears alert, like an animal that sniffs a meal or a threat on the wind. I am not sure what it is I want to hear out of all this silence, out of the palpable absence of sound. A scrawny cry, perhaps, to use a phrase of the poet Wallace Stevens: "A scrawny cry from outside... a chorister who's c preceded the choir... still far away." Is that too much to hope for? I don't ask for the full ringing of the bell. I don't ask for a clap of thunder that would rend the veil in the temple. A scrawny cry will do, from far off there among the willows and the cattails, from far off there among the galaxies.

The two trips shared excellent skies, but the August trip had much more the feel of Lassen's of old. July had been at times frenetic in camp and at the observing site. August had less than a dozen observers sharing camp at times. Relaxed, friendly. The only concern I had was whether there would be enough telescopes for the hundreds of visitors we have at the "public night" we put on each trip for the park staff and visitors.

August always has fewer people at the star party. Vacations are winding down, family commitments must be met before kids go back to school, the chance of thunderstorms and fires increase. This August we were lucky in avoiding much smoke from the fires. Fire blazed to our west in the wilds of Mendecino's forest, and smaller fires to our north, south and east. During our stay a fire even lit on the western side of the mountain, just outside the park. But we had some exquisite nights as the prevailing winds kept us smoke (and cloud) free with few exceptions. At no time was the smoke a problem nor were the fires, even the one over the hill, any kind of threat.

What did make the August trip more difficult were the Yellow Jackets. I've never seen camping conditions like those. While the day and night temperatures were really perfect, the park was experiencing an unusually high Yellow Jacket population. This was attributed to the very dry year and lack of water. Almost everyone was bitten. This was not a trip for astro-wusses. The flying terror most enjoyed our bar-b-ques. I learned to prepare meals in a covered fry pan, then transfer into covered plates and eaten in our tent. Outside, the constant buzzzzzzzzz was close at hand.

Regardless of the single rather obvious drawback on the trip, the skies and park scenery were terrific. I had several highlights, including my daughter Mimi finally getting me to climb Lassen Peak. The commanding view from almost 10,500 feet is spectacular. Additionally, looking at the jumbled landscape just outside the main vent atop the peak was a treat and testament to the power and scale of nature's forces. Yet, when compared to the views at night, our planet's small place in the cosmos seems insignificant. The span of the Milky Way on a good night at Lassen is amazing. From the hub of activity in Sagittarius pouring out of the spout, the great sweep into Cygnus, the great dark clouds of gas and dust standing out so well north of Deneb and into Cassiopeia... a sky sprinkled generously with thousands of grains of light flicking in and out 20,000 light years away in a neighbor arm of our galaxy. Nowhere else can I spend so much time simply enjoying this view. One of my favorite activities at Lassen is the public night, and talking to people who do not know what that band of light overhead really is. Some had never seen it. In my telescope I'd show them M51 and make sure they see the spiral arms and understand what they are. I use all the tricks... changing magnification, describing averted vision, talking about why our eyes see better that way at night. Then, when I'm sure they understand what they are seeing, I have them step back and look at the Milky Way. I point to the bright haze in Sagittarius and talk. I show the starry sky overhead and explain how those stars are but our close neighborhood, the glowing grainy band of the Milky Way another arm that we are looking at, across the gulf of 20,000 light years of space. 20,000 year old light. Right in your eye. It still amazes me. Then, I tell people the light from M51 may be as much as 35 million years old. Imagine, light that left the stars in a galaxy 35 million times 5.9 trillion miles away tickling, physically, the optic nerve in your eye, and stimulating your brain, inducing a chemical and temporal reaction in your being.

I think public night is my favorite night. If you couldn't tell.

If it weren't for the sky, the Yellow Jackets would have driven me away. One bite left my arm feeling like someone had whacked it with a piece of 2 by 4. One flew down the back of my pants when I was leaned forward sitting, leading to one of the more frightening yet humorous moments on the trip (no, it didn't bite, fortunately). We started leaving camp during the day to avoid the situation. I took another hike with my daughter to Echo Lake, a nice small body of water sitting in the bottom of a small valley near Summit Lakes. No Yellow Jackets there. We went out to dinner another night, refusing to cook. Breakfasts planned went into the garbage. But the sky was great.

I have several favorite views through the various scopes over the two trips. A spectacular Veil Nebula through a 24". The wisps, so deceptively peaceful and delicate, broke into grainy knots instead of just being the interwoven and twisted lacework we see in smaller scopes and brighter skies. M33 was a thick spiral... its two main arms bending around the core, filled with HII regions. At one point I tried a UHC filter on the galaxy and thought I picked out 6 or 7 HII regions. Without the filter M33 was just plain awesome. I hope some day to have as good a view again. Another observer momentarily mistook M101 for M51, its arms were that distinct. Barnard dark nebulae were a special treat through 20x100 binos... dark clouds snaking their way through the Scutum and Sagittarius star clouds. This made me look up again at the dark lanes visible across Cygnus.. and I thought of other cultures where the dark "shapes" were beings along the celestial highway.

Another wonderful view occurred on the first trip, on the worst night. Everyone was being clouded out, but the single area I had objects left on my list, Canes Venatici, was somehow clear. NGC 5350, also known as Hickson 68, was drop dead gorgeous. A beautiful double star of different magnitude and colors dominated the field. Three bright galaxies gracefully arched away from the pair of stars, echoed softly by two other dimmer galaxies, glowing softly as if deeper in the great lake... echoes in the lake.

Some of the other objects that were interesting included NGC 7027, an unusual looking knotty planetary nebula in the wake of Cygnus' flight. I even showed this object to the public on the second trip. I had several interesting views through Steve Gottlieb's scope... one a slender thread of supernova remnant that was new to both of us. Another view was a puff of light around what I assume was a protoplanetary nebula. Yet another was reminiscent of Minkowski's Butterfly... a planetary with jets of bright gas blowing off it. Steve had found some interesting objects as usual.

I also looked at a number of Abell planetaries. One in particular, Abell 70, was noteworthy. This planetary is dim, but can be held with direct vision under good conditions. A UHC filter helps bring out the nice little planetary ring, but leave the filter off and look for a bright piece of the ring. If you can see the brightening along one edge, you are seeing through the transient object through deep space ... across the eons... to a galaxy glowing through the planetary. I came back to this unusual object over several nights.

Speaking of the public star party nights... the second trip provided an unexpected treat. As the sky grew dark, a bright light appeared in the western sky. Soon it brightened easily into negative magnitude. It climbed overhead and you could hear the voices of amazed onlookers... hundreds of them... realizing it was a brilliant pass of the ISS and Space Shuttle. This created quite a stir and kicked off the public program. And, we had plenty of telescopes. My concerns that we would be outnumbered and overwhelmed were unfounded. From various parts of the park amateur astronomers appeared with scopes. We had 20 to 25 telescopes set up. Even with those numbers the crowds seemed unending for a period of a few hours. But, by midnight attendance thinned, and five nights of observing on that trip, combined with six nights the prior trip, had taken its toll. I was tired. But satisfaction of a great two great trips made even the fatigue feel good. It was a great finish to a summer of observing from Bumpass Hell.

We arrived back home late the next evening. Back to the creations of man. Creature comforts. Familiarity. Clean.

I was already missing the sky... the sight of our galaxy sweeping overhead. Blue stars that really looked blue to the naked eye. Messiers unaided. The buzz of friends... in camp, and at night. The light of galaxies physically tickling my consciousness. A self-aware universe. What an amazing place.

Thursday, June 21, 2001

Bon Ton

Let the good times roll!

I spent three nights at Michelle Stone's Plettstone Dark Sky Preserve beginning Thursday June 21. It was a memorable trip, one that I would recommend to any astronomy or history enthusiast reading this report.

I left home mid afternoon Thursday and soon found myself on the eastern flank of Pacheco Pass. Passing through Los Banos and continuing through the broad expanse of the Central Valley, I drove ahead with no definite plan on how to get to my destination, instead, enjoying a relaxed exploration of the unknown enroute. Approaching Highway 99 southbound, I turned off on Frontage Road, followed irrigation canals, cattle grazing, occasional residences and local farmers in the general direction northeast. Amazing places... I found Chowchilla, a growing city that now has three traffic signals. Soon I was driving north on Plainsburg Road to intersect Highway 140 east to Mariposa.

This is a beautiful drive with the Sierra beyond the rolling foothills that lay ahead. Through the town of Planado, then up to Cathy's Valley where the landscape again changes, granite chards with orange lichen breaking through the ground as the road begins to wind and climb. A few miles ahead the road turns north and offers a view west of the Central Valley across to the Coastal Mountains.

My favorite part of the drive begins soon after. Prior to reaching Mariposa, a side road shortens the drive to Michelle's.. the Mount Bullion Cutoff.

I love the name of the place. Mount Bullion. It forms images of the riches of the California Gold Rush. Mariposa and the surrounding area is steeped in Gold Rush lore.

The Mount Bullion Cutoff is at most 10 miles of scenic backroad driving, past small ranches, a driving school, creeks and rolling hills. It terminates at the small community of Mount Bullion, a small town with several quaint homes, an airport the Apricot Inn restaurant and Highway 49. We head north from there to Bear Valley, walking distance from Michelle's property.

Bear Valley is the location of John C. Fremont's home. Fremont had very large land holdings in and around Bear Valley.. eventually selling the property for $6 million around 1880. Amazing as it sounds, I have heard Fremont died broke.

Fremont ran a large hotel in Bear Valley, as well as the Bon Ton, which today is a fine restaurant. I was at first struck by the oddity of a restaurant with a French name here in Bear Valley. It was Mimi, my daughter, who last month noted the name, as she's studying French in school. I've come to recall though that the gold rush was not an American phenomena, but an international frenzy. And so, we have places with names like French Camp, Bon Ton, etc..

Here is a link to the restaurant with their menu, I intend to eat there next time I visit Plettstone:

Here is another link with some local history:

If this isn't enough... an hour upstream you can enjoy the day in Yosemite.

My arrival at Michelle's was uneventful, I found myself alone. I set up the 18" Obsession and my 8" CPT. A dinner of sushi and beer as sunset took place, then a quick cleanup in the outdoor shower. Perfect!

I spent the first night looking for Herschel catalog objects in Ursa Major. I was chasing right ascension as the constellation dove toward the horizon. I needed objects in hours 13 and 14. Of the many objects I hunted down my favorite of the night had to be NGC 5484. This is just a small smudge, but the field it sits in, and that around it are fun. 5484 has a B magnitude of 15.7 and V of 14.7. It was challenging and required study of the star fields around it to nail down the position accurately. In the same field are NGCs 5485 and 5486, significantly brighter, but due to their angular size, still quite dim visually. A chain of three bright stars to the NW of these galaxies, and a distinctive line of stars begin at the SW end of the bright stars and extend E/W. These stars make certain identification possible.

One of the oddities from Thursday night was my inability to observe a few questionable objects. I could not find NGC 3645 or NGC 3911 in Leo. I wanted these two galaxies as they were part of a small handful I had remaining on the Herschel 2500+ in Leo. Has anyone observed these?

The next day temps were high, about 105 degrees, yet staying in the shade and keeping hydrated helped. Mid day Marsha Robinson pulled in, and later Paul and Michelle joined us. Another cool shower after dinner put me in a great mood for observing.

Friday night was better than Thursday... it seemed steadier, although the prior night was quite transparent and gave good results. My favorite sight on Friday was the field that included NGC 4015 in Coma Berenices. A mag 8.3 star anchors a field that contains 13 galaxies within reach of my telescope under excellent conditions. This night I was able to pick out my target object along with 7 other galaxies without working at it. Had I spent more time in the field, I would probably had seen the other 7 galaxies, but I was after specific objects and did not want to dally working off-list objects. Still, the brighter galaxies here were too easy to ignore. 4015 sits about 12 minutes SE of the bright star. Five more minutes SE is NGC 4023. Just SE of the bright star is NGC 4005. NW of the star is a line of three galaxies in line NNE/SSW within 9 minutes of each other, including NGC 3987, NGC 3993 and NGC 3997. A short hop NE of those are NGC 4018 and NGC 4022.

Saturday Bob Czerwinski joined us in late afternoon. Temperatures were pleasantly 20 degrees cooler than the day before. Bob set up his scope and tent while the rest of us attended to preparing a BBQ. Chicken, potato salad, corn on the cob, polska, mixed garden salad, fine bottle of Chardonnay and cherry pie for desert. Great way to start the evening!

The sky at sunset was covered with high cloud, varying between thin and opaque. I lay down in my truck and slept for an hour or so, waking up to improved conditions. As we talked, the sky opened up from zenith westward. This put Coma and Bootes in prime observing position. The sky varied between half open and mostly open off and on during the night. Bob and I called it quits at about 3:30 a.m.

The best view of the night in my scope was the last... not because of the detail, not because of the size, not because there was anything particularly unique about the objects... but for an odd sensation of isolation and fleeting nature the view evoked. The view was in Bootes of NGC 5730 and NGC 5731. Two galaxies dance alone close together in the field of view... but a few brighter stars surrounding them to provide line of sight company. The galaxies are almost identical in size, shape and brightness. Two spindles at the edge of perception, momentary visions of creation that once glimpsed, disappear, like a moment of illumination when some surprising truth is revealed then hidden away again... remaining only as a memory. These two solitary travellers seem to be in a cosmic dance, slightly off angle from one another, otherwise identical. It reminded me of companionship, friendships in an enormous universe, and how transient it all is.

I hope you all had a great time observing over the weekend. Thank you to Michelle and Paul for their kind and generous nature. Their company and companionship make for the best of times!

Let's do it again.... laissez les bon temps roulez!

Saturday, June 16, 2001

Saturdy Night Observings

At Henry Coe State Park Saturday night, Mars was excellent around transit. I had my 8" f/6.8 Dob stopped down to about 3" and riding on an Equatorial Platform. I borrowed 3, 4 and 6mm Radians which all gave very pleasing views. The 6 was best, but even at 458X (with an effective focal ratio of f/18.3) plenty of detail was visible. The biggest surprise came when I used my 18" f/4.5 Obsession at full aperture. The best view was again with the 6mm Radian at about 343X, but even the 3mm performed well at almost 680X.

Two filters were tried. A red filter produced the most detail on the dark southern regions of the planet. However, I felt other details were lost. A neutral density filter produced what I felt were the most pleasing views, cutting the brightness of the planet down and revealing the nice subtle orange-red color of the brighter areas of the surface, while the darker southern sections had the color of a port-wine birthmark.

The only thing that could have made Mars appear better would have been an aperture mask on the 18". I'll do that next weekend.

Deep sky targets at Coe were good to the north, south, west, excellent to the southeast, east and northeast. Conditions were near ideal with low RH, calm to light breeze and warm temps. We also had an excellent turnout with 20 or more scopes.

The obvious light domes were from San Jose, Hollister and Gilroy, and in the distance Salinas just south of Fremont Peak.

Saturday, June 9, 2001

Fremont Peak Saturday night

A handful of observers went down to Fremont Peak Saturday night. Originally this was going to be Bill Schultz, his family, meeting Pat, Mimi and me, with little of no observing, just a "get out of the house" trip to show his family an observing site. As things tend to go, a few other people heard our plans and wanted to join in. Glad they did, we had a very nice time.

On the way to the Peak, Bill, his wife Sally and their two children joined Pat, Mimi and me, along with Jim and Rachel Everitt at The Longhouse restaurant in Gilroy for dinner. Family style, good portions, reasonable price. I think everyone enjoyed their meals. Afterwards we all proceeded to Fremont Peak. Upon arriving the sky had horsetail clouds and fog hugged the coast from the south but did not cover much of the ocean. The wind was moderate, not bad really, but noticeable. Tourists were in the area, some local men from perhaps SJB were hanging out having a few brews and playing Mexican folk music loudly from their car.

Bill and Sally had brought a couple bottles of Genepi they had made from local yarrow the collected. I could become quite attached to this nice drink. Maybe I'll switch from Fosters! After a few drinks along with some imported chocolate, I decided to put up the 8" scope. It is sure fun to take a small car instead of my Suburban. The scope collapsed and easily fit into the truck of my Mercedes sedan along with all my other observing gear and clothes. The only thing in the backseat with Mimi was the base. I will work on a more portable base in the next few weeks.

The scope drew some attention, which I have become accustomed to. Everyone is curious and interested the first time the see it. I used Bill's laser collimator to align. While I was doing that Nilesh Shah drove up. He pulled out his 12.5" Dob, and Jim yanked his 15" out. Bill had his 7" Mak-Newt, which I don't think he'd used in a year. Another fella was there who used to come to Fremont Peak 20 years ago and now lives in Idaho. A TAC lurker (sorry I forgot your name if you are reading this) was set up with a Tele Vue 85 and a C8.

We had a pleasant and good group.

Once the sky was dark the group looked a mostly pedestrian M objects, although I think Nilesh was still knocking off Hershels on his list. I was enjoying the 8", it is fun to use, and having it set up on my Equatorial Platform just added to the ease and pleasure.

I think I looked mostly at globulars, big and bright. I did note that one globular I hadn't looked at in ages was up. NGC 5897 in Libra was a fun contrast in size, brightness and resolvability with the big bright M's I'd been playing with. It is easy to locate, and certainly has a different appearance in an 8" than the others.

A while later I turned the 8" f/almost7 to Mars. The seeing was coming and going. I ran up to my 7.5mm eyepiece without problem, but could not push it past there with good results. The view were still quite good... easily seeing Syrtis Major (is that right? I'm not a planetary type)... sometimes it looked like four lobes of dark area showing on the surface. It also looked to me as if there were some haze on one of the limbs. The fellow from Idaho was asking about filters, what did I have, how did this view compare to others I'd had. Jim Everitt was having a good chuckle at the idea of my having filters for observing Mars, and told the visitor that this is about as much planetary observing as he'd seen me do ever. True. Still, even though I didn't have the normal Mars filters (red or yellow?), I did try several others.

The OIII was a waste. The UHC and Ultrablock were fun... I yelled out "hey... here's Neptune!!!!"... but really, the detail was too reduced. The Lumicon Deep Sky filter proved its uselessness extended to Mars observing too. However, I did like the Orion Moon filter, as it cut down on that incredible brightness and allowed a more enjoyable, yet more muted, view of the Martian features.

Finally, I took my 10.5mm and looked at the Double Double in Lyra. The splits were clean, relatively steady and the inky blackness provided by this combination of eyepiece and longer focal length scope (with a 1.52" secondary) were just great!

After a few more views of Mars, I noticed the light polluter had risen in the east. This would put an end to deep sky observing and offer a good time to pack it up and head home.

This had been quite a nice evening. The only negative I would mention was a lot of vehicles driving into the SW lot during the night with their headlights on. Many of them left when they found the place occupied. One parked, and its contents emptied out and ascended the Peak... from which a seranade of odd noised ensued.

I'm glad they were up there there, and we were not.

The ride home was uneventful. As happens whenever I observe at the Peak, memories of good times with old friends fill my head.

Friday, May 18, 2001

The Home Of The Bear

Friday afternoon my daughter Mimi and I headed for Bear Valley, a small community in California's historical gold rush section of the Sierra Nevada foothills. The closest town of even modest size (meaning, there is at least on traffic light) is Mariposa. Our destination was Michelle Stone's Plettstone astronomy and nature reserve. Our drive was easy and mostly uneventful, except for missing the turnoff to highway 59 north and ending up driving through true California Central Valley backroads, an experience that was both fun and quite unexpected... this state has some amazing roads and curious sights!

Upon arriving we found two observers sitting in the shade of an old oak, sipping beers and sampling chips and salsa. Overhead was an enormous afternoon cumulus formation that we all kept eyeing with a bit of worry. After unpacking my 18" and 8" scopes, the cloud was obviously dissipating. The two observers, Peter and Guilllermo, had 20" and 18" Dobs. Michelle pulled in and opened up her observatory to let it cool down. Later we would be joined by Jim and his 15" Dob.

As evening turned to dark, Mimi decided this would be my night to observe, and she would take her turn on Saturday. This was a good arrangement as far as I was concerned... if I was tired the next night I could take it easy while she used the scopes.

Friday night observing...

As dark set in I looked to Ursa Major. This is one of the many spring time constellations I have remaining on the Herschel list. Spring for me consists of Virgo, Ursa Major, Canes Venatici, Coma Berenices. Perhaps the richest galaxy portion of the sky. It would be only appropriate this trip that, just up the road from Bear Valley, that I spend my time in the home of the bear.

I began with NGC 3795. If the bowl of the Big Dipper were filled with liquid and NGC 3795 floated on top, you'd find it nearly dead-center. It is an easy location just below the rim of the pot. Bright and elongated, this galaxy is a snap in large aperture. It is easy to see the 2.0'x0.5' elonagation running NE/SW. Mag 13.1 and surface brightness (SB) 13.1. Nice sight!

Next was NGC 3971. Located in the SW corner of the of the bear's domain, this galaxy is found by using mag 3.5 Alula Borealis and Gamma Comae Berenices to make a line. The galaxy is nearly at the half-way point. Round and bright at mag 12.7 and SB 13.1, this is an easy target. Helping confirm the find is a straight chain of 3 dim stars just south of the fuzzy spot, pointing right at it just a few arc minutes away.

NGC 4149 was fairly small and very thin. This helped increase its SB to 11.8 from its mag of 13.2. Not particularly dim, but small and fairly bright. There are several notable bright stars in the field, providing plenty of stars with which to confirm the correct location. If you have an optical finder on your scope, this one is an easy star hop off Megrez, the star that connects the handle of the Dipper to the bowl.

NGC 4566 seems to me to be a lonely place. To the eye of the amateur astronomer at a moderately sized telescope, the galaxy sits alone in a relatively poor field of dim stars. This is typical of many Herschel galaxies, rather non-descript, round, a bit of a brighter core, but nothing really outstanding. If they were all like this, the universe could be a boring place (visually). At least the hunt was fun... it is located under the handle of the Dipper, just over 3 degrees SW of Alioth.

Just tick back toward Alioth was my next target, NGC 4646. Just as the prior galaxy seemed to be in a sparse section of the cosmos, so did this one. Other dimmer galaxies were present, but my eyes "wanted" to see them more than I think I actually did perceive them. 4646 was nearly SE of a dim chain of four or so stars, and there even seemed to be a star almost embedded over the small glowing puff. Once you've found this one, it is pretty easy to see. Its dimensions of 0.6'x0.3' give its mag 13.4 a substantially higher SB of 11.4.

Where the prior two galaxies were loney, NGC 5007 was fun to see. It is in a busy field of other galaxies! Using Alioth and Alcor in the Dipper's handle, I drew a line "up" from Alioth to a close pair of dimmer stars half-way to Kappa-Draconis, which is a naked eye multiple star. Back to Alcor, I split the distance again to Kappa and used the prior two dimmer doubles as a landmark. The halfway point from Alcor put me very close to the galaxy. In the field I could easily pick out, at 0.9'x0.6' its mag 13.3 had an SB in the mid 12's. Something about it reminding me of the Merope Nebula, as did the view of two other galaxies WNW of a bright star in the field. The other galaxies, UGC 8234 and UGC 8237 were also easy "wispy" targets about the same size and shape, but dimmer, than 5007. Further to the west of the bright star but still in the field was UGC 8214, dimmer still, but obvious, a round small puff. Next was a challenge, to see MCG10-19-44 at mag 15.7 just about in the same position as NGC 5007. It helped to look thought Peter's 20" to find the location, but once I had seen it there, I coud see it in the 18. Another challenge galaxy lay directly opposite the first two UGC's from the bright star. MCG10-19-37 was also pretty obvious, even though it was in the mid 15's its small 0.5' size gave it some "shine"... This had been a wonderful field.

To our east and south the Milky Way was now rising, reminding me of how the sky used to seem to me at Fremont Peak many years ago. Clouds of stars. As it rose, the area around Deneb took on that famous sugary appearance that dark clear skies reveal. The star clouds around Scutum and Sagittarius was too dense to show detail, other than the clearly defined dark areas around in weaving trough. Same can be said for the dark lanes in through the Cygnus Rift and star cloud. Fantistic. But in a way, sad too. The sky here is so much better than back home. This reminded me of a poem Mimi showed me just a day before:

Somebody Has To

Somebody has to go polish the stars,
They're looking a little bit dull.
Somebody has to go polish the stars,
For the eagles and starlings and gulls
Have all been complaining they're tarnished and worn,
They say they want new ones we cannot afford.
So please get your rags
And your polishing jars,
Somebody has to go polish the stars.

I don't know where she found it. The author is Shel Siverstein.

Thank goodness for people like Michelle Stone, Albert Highe, the folks up at Fiddletown. These patrons of amateur astronomy allow interested amateur astronomers access in safe and secure locations just a few hours from home, where we see what we miss at our other nearby observing sites. The little bit of extra effort to get to these places is small when compared to the views we are rewarded with.

Back to observing.

I was next off to NGC 5216. It is located close to the same set of finder stars I used for NGC 5007, so this was relatively easy to find. I went off Alcor and headed almost due north to a chain of 3 naked eye stars in Draco. The dimmest is the furthest west. Using that star, I found another dim naked eye star halfway back to Alcor. NGC 5216 is right between these two dim naked eye stars. A dim necklace of stars are about 10' to the east of the galaxy. It is a very attractive setting. The galaxy is part of a grouping known as Keenan's System, and Arp 104. This is a rather oblate round galaxy, 2.5'x1.5' N/S in direction. To its north is NGC 5218, just a bit smaller roundish oblate galaxy laying E/W. NGC 5205 was at the edge of my field of view to the SW, and was larger and dimmer than the other two objects. The two close galaxies and nice star field made this system memorable.

NGC 5250 is easy to find near the end of the Big Bear's tail. It is a round galaxy, about 1'x1', and relatively bright. A bright star sits just to its NE and there are several bright pairs throughout the field.

Again just off the tip of the Bear's tail, NGC 5256 hangs between Alkaid and M51 in Canes Venatici. This is a small area, so the galaxy was easy to locate. The field is filled with notable star pairs. One tight pair is just 6' west of the galaxy, and easy to identify. This galaxy is also known as Markarian 266, and listed a peculiar. The DSS image does not show much extraordinary, but visually, it seemed to have a very bright core which took up most of the visible portion of the object. A thin halo was barely noticeable.

By now I was wearing down. I walked over to look through Michelle's pier mounted refractor, and we put in the "Kings Table" or NGC 6231 in the lower section of Scorpius' tail. What a show! There was so much unsteadiness down low that you could nearly get seasick looking at this jewelbox swimming all over the place. Individual stars pulsed forward then back, in the most uncoordinated display of atmospheric jitterbugging I've ever seen. Weird, but fun!

I returned to my scope to finish up.

NGC 5368 is a round galaxy very close to NGC 5216. This is a small spiral galaxy with a pretty high surface brightness at 12.4. A nice zig-zag of stars ran at it from the north, while several pair of stars sat nearby to the south. The galaxy showed at most hints of detail, but it was small, and the sky was now dancing.

When I first tried for NGC 5379 I mistakenly stumbled onto M101. 101 was awesome in detail, HII regions popping out all over the giant galaxy's spiral structure. But that was not my quarry. 5379 is a nice lenticular galaxy about 2.2'x1.0', and fairly bright with a SB of 13.5. In the field it ran mostly E/W, and had another galaxy, NGC 5389, just a few arcminutes to its E. 5389 is almost twice the length as 5379, but still just 1.0' along it minor axis, yet appeared nearly as bright. Half a field to the SSW was NGC 5376, again with a SB of 13. This is an attractive field that includes a nice slow arc of stars to the east of the galaxies.

Appropriately, just as I was calling it a night, the Big Bear was heading down into the valley, and my target, NGC 5486, was trailing his tail, being swept along by Bootes the Herdsman, for nearly straggling into his domain. This was also a wonderful field. NGC 5486 was almost 2'x1' and lay nearly E/W. Just to its south was NGC 5485 at 2.3'x1.9' and significantly brighter and more obvious. A wide pair of bright stars were landmarks to identifying this field, being in the high 7's and 8's. Between them and the galaxies sat a dim little triangle of stars. This somehow reminded me of a different type of Gemini configuration, with the stars being Castor and Pollux, and the galaxies stringing down along the bodies.

Mimi had been sleeping for a while now. A few of the other observers had gone to bed. It was warm and clear. The sweet smell of fresh mountain air provided my good night. Mimi's turn in the Home Of The Bear was just hours away.

Wednesday, May 16, 2001

Backyard Observing 5/16/01

The night did not begin with much promise. As the sun set, the true nature of the sky was revealed. Overhead it had looked relatively clear, just some sparse thin bands of clouds, but not much. I was initially so encouraged that I pulled back the tarp from the telescope, did a collimation check (perfect!), and waited for dark. Yet, as the sun dropped below the horizon the view to the west revealed the true nature of its condition, full of light cloud. Disappointment. Still, I held out hope that conditions would improve, so up went the light blind that shields me from much of the nearby pollution. My entire set up time was under 5 minutes. I could grow to like this!

The hours rolled by. 9:30 I checked and the sky looked bright, and there were obvious patches where stars could not be found. 10:10, back out, much the same. Back indoors to work on the computer. Again I checked at 10:45 and thought things looked improved. Whereas I had not been able to hold mag 4.2 Chara (Beta Canum Venaticorum) with direct vision half an hour ago, it was now much easier to see. Skies were close to mag 5 overhead.

I stepped onto La Caja, opened my SA2000, and went to the eyepiece. This is magic, I thought. Just steps out my back door, and I'm engaged in one of my favorite activities. I pointed the scope at M3 and began.

M3 resolved wonderfully at 103X with the 20mm Nagler. Lots of space around the globular to give some perspective. It is fun to "blow it up" with high power, but without empty space surrounding this showpiece, it loses some of its aesthetic appeal. As I looked at the object, it occurred to me this was far from being just a big ball of stars. There is a ring of bright stars that seems to form a boundary that contains the main portion of the cluster. I put in the 12mm Nagler for 177X. Outside the ring are a number of what I term "stragglers"... stars that appear to be part of the cluster, but fall outside the stellar ring "reef". The ring itself should be obvious to anyone that can resolve the cluster well. I was resolving it to pinpoints in the core, or so I thought. Within the ring, the area to the southeast is sparse of stars. The real activity is toward the northwest inner side of the ring. Here the star city jumps to life, becoming a dense roundish mass of stars. They are resolved, and packed tightly, but not so tightly that space between them entirely disappears. This part of the structure sits noticeably off center in the outer ring, touching the northwest inner side. Gazing at the inner ball of stars, it suddenly appears that while I can see stars "to the core"... that the ones I can see are on my side of the core. The core itself is a glowing haze of gray/white, perhaps half the diameter of the dense pack. It is inside, and suddenly the entire cluster takes on a 3D appearance. Those stars that appeared to be "at the core" are not... they are part of the sphere of inner mass stars surrounding the actual core. This was an amazing view. I also enjoyed looking at the perspective, knowing the cluster sits 30,000 light years distant, and the surrounding stars in the field are all neighbors to us, virtually all under 1,000 light years from home. How amazing to see these individual stars in M3 and witness an object that is real, exists today, yet is so old as to predate written human history.

Next I moved to M51, expecting to see nothing but a couple faint smudges. While the view was not amazing in detail, there were no obvious spiral arms, the M51 and NGC 5195 were plainly there with very direct vision. I could detect a bit of elongation, N/S in M51 and E/W in 5195. While the "smudges" were much more than I am accustomed to from my backyard, their size and brightnesses were notable, I could only occasionally feel that there was a hint of spiral arm. This indicated that the night was not great for detail. Probably still some haze overhead.

Glancing to the east I saw that summer globular season was fast on approach. The Snake Handler, Ophiuchus, was rising. The southern line of stars was up and I knew M5 should be visible, even though relatively low still. It had been so long since I looked at M5 that I needed my charts after spending several minutes flailing around the empty area between Oph and Virgo. The chart made it easy. M5 was obvious in my finder. In the 12mm this object was spectacular. I have to call this one my favorite globular. I won't go into detail on this, I was so busy looking that I failed to take even a single note! Just take my word for it, this is *the* globular! Speaking of globs, once Oph is up higher, you can have a blast hunting there. IIRC, there are 22 globulars in Ophiuchus, more than any other constellation.

By now the sky was looking quite good. Cor Caroli and Chara were easy to see, whereas the latter was at the verge of naked eye earlier in the night.

I looked at my H400 list and started. The Hunting Dogs were as high as they would be this season, and my first target was NGC 4490, the Cocoon Galaxy. I had been to this galaxy before (photon-wise). Sitting off the end of the line described by Cor Caroli and Chara, it is an easy location. The object was large, about 6'x3' and lay SE/NW. It had a rough look, not nice and clean like may elongated galaxies. This object may be tidally disrupted. Although its magnitude is quite bright at 9.8, its surface brightness is nearly 13.

Next was NGC 4618, quite close to the Cocoon. I could almost land on this object since it lay between Chara and M94, which is something I can usually land on using just a Telrad. Halfway between these two landmarks. Indeed, I had no trouble. The galaxy was large and roundish, although rather mottled as if there were some dark patches to its north side. The core was noticeably brighter than the extended portions. A bright star sits about 5' to the SW. This object is also Arp 23. It would be more interesting in a really dark sky. Mag 10.8, surface brightness 13.5, about 4'x3' N/S.

NGC 4631 has been mentioned on this list before, but I didn't recall that until I had it in my eyepiece. This was a bit of a trick to get to. I used Cor Caroli and Gamma Comae Berenices to describe a line. Gamma was pretty easy at mag 4.3. My target was almost dead center between the two... just a bit to the east. Just west of the spot on the line is a nice pair of bright stars, one being SAO 63070. These sits almost N/S in the eyepiece, with a third dimmer star arced away to their SSW. Taking SAO 63070 as a "point" I was able to use a group of three relatively bright stars to the ESE as pointers to the NGC object. This method worked well in an area with no naked eye stars.

The galaxy was astonishing. When I saw it, its size and brightness just jumped out at me. It filled a good two thirds the field in my 12mm. Running E/W, the object seemed to have a "fat" eastern end, dwindling to a point to the west. This is another of the Arp galaxies, number 281. Its odd shape is unusual... I think I've heard it referred to as "The Slug"... its appearance amazing. This is a true showpiece, IMO, at 15.5'x2.7', its magnitude of 9.2 (man, is this bright!) is really spread out, so the surface brightness is only 13.1. Find this one, its worth the trip.

It took some time for the next target, even though it was a close neighbor of NGC 4631. Just outside the field of view to the southeast of 4631 is NGC 4656. In size and shape, it is nearly a twin of 4631. Compare... it is 15.1x3.0, and just a tad dimmer at mag 10.5 (well okay, it is over a mag dimmer). The surface brightness is a killer in the backyard though! I had to identify the stars around 4631 in order to pinpoint where 4656 should be. Once I knew for sure, I could detect a faint glow... it had a brighter section that sometimes seemed to have "more" galaxy to the northeast. Occasionally I would catch some brightening to the southwest as well. This is one strange galaxy! Not due to its challenge as an in-town object, but look at a DSS image and you'll be surprised by its shape. If Arp catalogued oddball galaxies and nailed The Slug, why didn't he note this one?

About this time I thought about calling it a night, but decided to check one more object. I found NGC 4477 in Coma Berenices on my list. Looking up, I was amazed to see Leo dropping toward the western horizon so early at night. Spring is again getting away from me. Will I ever get a good spring and log all the objects left in that quarter of the year?

Looking at my chart I realize NGC 4477 was part of a very well known group of galaxies. In on time I had M84 and M86 in view. Easy, big, bright. Just off them to the south was NGC 4425, again, easily. I moved to the northeast and found NGC 4435. Next 4461 and 4458 stared at me. Continuing north along this chain of galaxies I found NGC 4473 and finally, NGC 4477. All were easy direct vision. I could hardly believe the view... Markarian's Chain from my backyard. Aperture rules! :-)

Well, that did it. I was now having far too much fun to turn in! I looked again at my list.

NGC 5273. This one should be dim.... so, what the heck, a challenge could be fun.

This galaxy was dim and pretty challenging to observe. I had to tap the scope to bring it out (a trick I used with 4656 as well). Getting to the correct location is not that difficult. Using Chara and Cor Caroli along the pair of mag 4.7-4.9 stars to Cor's ENE, you can continue a "zig-zag" pattern to a close naked eye pair of 4.8 and 4.9 magnitude stars to the ESE. These are guideposts to NGC 5273. The SE member of this pair leads further SE to a mag 6 star, with a triple to the east of that. The galaxy is between the mag 4.8 and mag 6 star, just to the east. Its dim glow is round and featureless, but it is there, and fun to find. Mag 11.6, surface brightness 13.6, 2.8'x2.5'. Even though the object is nondescript, the trip there is fun!

The next stop was near zenith. The best place to observe from in town! NGCs 5676 an 5689 are high up on the arm of Bootes, near the handle of the Big Dipper. Kappa and Iota Bootis point to 24 Bootis, which is the turnoff to these pair of galaxies.

NGC 5676 is located between two roughly mag 5.6 stars. It is obvious with direct vision. My notes say it is medium size, which is borne out by its 4.0'x1.9' , but is magnitude of 11.2 and surface brightness 13.2 seem to indicate that its position at zenith really helped show it. Oddly, my notes call the galaxy "roundish"... well... sort of. I'll have to revisit this one.

NGC 5689 is located out of the field to the SSE. It too is fairly obvious, which it should be since at mag 11.9 it is nearly as bright at the prior object. Helping it is a higher surface brightness of 13, indicating that the object is a bit smaller than its predecessor. Indeed it is at 3.5'x1.0'. My notes say it is smaller than 5676, elongated E/W and has a bright core. These two are also fun targets.

I decided to go for one last object, since it was getting onto 1 a.m. NGC 4449 was on my list, up in Canes Venatici. I would finish the night close to where I started the Herschels.

NGC 4449 is an easy object to get to, which means, if you haven't viewed it, you should. Not just for its ease to find, but this is an amazing object, and was a pleasant surprise for a last Herschel for this night. Going from Cor Caroli to then past Chara, then mag 6 star 4 Canum Venaticorum is easy to find. 22' NNE of there is a mag 7 star (in fact, a pair of them) that points very near the galaxy 1.2 degrees further. This is a snap to do. My notes describe the galaxy as large, bright, elongated WSW/ENE, containing a stellar core, looking mottled as if it was disrupted. Compare that to Dreyer's description: Very bright, considerably large, moderately extended, double or bifid (two-lobed), well resolved, 9th magnitude star eastward 5'. Look at the DSS image of this one. It is one strange looking galaxy! Again, easy to find, fun to look at. Mag 9.6, surface brightness 13, 6.2'x4.4'.

Just as I was about to tuck the scope into bed, I decided to have one last look at M5. I had put in my 7mm Meade to look at the last galaxy, and just kept it in. I thought M5 would be fun at almost 300X. What a view it was! Stars everywhere. Downtown in star city! I kept pulling the scope back to get more. This made me wonder if the 14.5" would ride on my Equatorial Platform. I had tried the 18" on it, but the platform bucked, like a horse that didn't like the rider. I never tried it again. Maybe the 14.5" would do okay. What a blast that would be... except... I'd be at least six inches higher off the ground, and this scope is already quite tall.

What the heck. Tonight!