Saturday, March 31, 2001

Moonlight observing with Mimi

It was the Saturday after the bay area aurora. We headed out to Henry Coe State Park, in order to gain some elevation and escape the potential for increasing wind at Dinosaur Point. Reports from the prior night at Coe was of beautiful balmy conditions, and an awesome auroral display. But this night a steady chilling breeze would keep up nearly all night. We still had a great time observing a handful of clusters and visiting with other observers.

I let Mimi use the 10" f/5.6 and the 8" f/7 scopes I'd packed. Since it was a bright moon night, I decided to leave my big scope hope. Really, the trip that night had been as much to take advantage of any potential residual aurora from the prior night, and to knock off a few more Herschell 400 objects on Mimi's list.

Although there was no aurora, a number of objects were observed before sleep caught up with a young girl who'd been up late with friends the night before.

Targets logged:

NGC 2311 in Monoceros. This is a loose and rather poor open cluster located between Procyon and Sirius. The location is rather easy, other than 3 bright members, the cluster was dim and elusive in the bright moonlight.

NGC 2421 in Puppis. More interesting than 2311, this cluster was fairly rich and large. Two interesting chains of stars ran NE/SW either side of the group. The chain on the SE side was more defined, more linear, the one opposite the cluster was more scattered. Nice view. We had come off of M93 very closby to find this one.

Again in Puppis, Mimi moved to NGC2438 and NGC2437. Not knowing what to expect, she found herself viewing M46, and noted the little puff of a star sitting there. That was 2438, the planetary nebula foreground to the famous Messier. Dim, but there, in the moonlight. NGC2437 was noted, just because it was there... M46. This was a very nice contrast with M47, next door. Where M47 is coarse and bright, M46 is delicate, evenly distrubuted, contains more stars and are dimmer overall.

Mimi was surprised to find she'd already logged the next object on the H400, it was M47. But, just north was her next object, NGC2423. It is a dimmer, and again, delicate open cluster. Really rather pleasing, especially being able to move swiftly between M46, M47and NGC2423. A wonderful area to view. And, easy to get to... Mimi had picked the clusters out unaided in the bright moonlight.

Now it was time to tackle another planetary, NGC2440. Mimi used some interesting navigation to locate this dead star. Starting with naked-eye M47, she picked out mag 5.3 SAO 174592, which is the middle star of the three bright ones just east of M93. She told me the planetary should be about one third of the way from M47 to the star. She tried with the 8" without success. Using the 10 though, she was on it in a flash. With a 20 Nagler yielding about 75X, the little ball was obvious.

By now, Mimi was tiring. The chill wind was a constant. The warm nights of a few nights before had given over to winter again. Soon, she was sleeping in the back of the truck, tucked into a sleeping bag. I visited with friends for a while more, watching for the elusive aurora.

Mimi slept all the way home. She is now almost halfway through her Herschel 400.

Wednesday, March 28, 2001

GoTo backyard observing in Los Gatos

I had a great time out in my backyard tonight. I didn't find anything.

My 10" f/5.6 Dob was set up prior to dark, and my light blind was in position to intercept the nearby streetlight. Everything was set. Cooked some chicken on the BBQ, thoughts of summer as the smell permeated, I was ready.

Dark came and my daughter, Mimi, looked outside and, running back in, said "its beautiful out there"...

"I know" I told her.. "that's why my scope is set up and waiting"...

I knew the next line... "can I observe too"....

Of course. But Mimi's 10" f/4.5 Dob is in pieces, contributing parts to Frankenscope (aka Skelescope), the new 8" design I'd taken out to Dino Point last Friday night. She immediately said how much fun it would be to use "that cool scope"... so, out it went.

Out too came her list of Herschel 400 objects. She wanted to tackle them in an 8" f/6.8 in bright town skies. Well, she had a lot of stuff left to do in Monoceros and Puppis. Why not. Well, one reason "not" was the moron neighbors contributing to our energy crises running their porch kleigs while inside running their AC, every appliance light they could burn. Amazing people. I wish their antithesis on each and every one of you reading this. No matter where we stood in the backyard, it was like a Psycho stabbing scene to the eyes. Damn! So, we evacuated the Caja de Los Gatos Observatory and took refuge, huddled against the eastern fence, ducking down below the burn line to avoid the pestilence. Sorry, that's a rant, but I feel better now.

Mimi took control of the scope. She loved the feel of it, its open design, the easy motion. As she looked at objects she'd talk of how few people on earth are even aware of the beautiful sights she was enjoying. Not just enjoying, but finding. I'd forgotten what a knack she has.

There's little to Monoceros in a hazy and wet city sky. A few glimmers here and there, and empty gray surrounding it. But she hit targets. I stood back and waited for the views. My own favorite GoTo in action. I'd call the object number, she'd look up the coordinates in the SA2000, then talk with me about where it was in the sky. Very cool stuff. Things were kind of better in Monoceros, as we had our backs firmly pointed toward the "light are on... but nobody's there" neighbors. I think I'm still steamed.

Mimi began on NGC 2215 (Mel 45, CR90), a mag 8.5 open cluster 11' in size, just below the line described by SAOs 133310 and 133312 in the southwestern corner of the constellation. I could hardly believe Mimi found this, it was quite dim. But, a double star below, and two other bright stars one below the other below the double confirmed the view. The longer we looked, the richer this dim cluster became.

On to NGC 2232. I can hardly believe there is a cluster where this object is indicated. Mimi was surely on the right spot. It was not identified in the SA2000, but she found it in Uranometria, right off 10 Monoceri. The star field matched the Urano view perfectly. Maybe there was a faint smattering of stars in the indicated spot. Maybe a darker sky would show something more definitive. Maybe the stars around 10 Monoceri, the bright ones in the field, were the mag 4.0 rather large open cluster. Anyone have anything on this one?

Next was the Christmas tree cluster, NGC 2244. Mimi dropped on this one, after we talked about how to get there from lower Gemini. She immediately exclaimed how beautiful it was. What fun. What a way to spend time with your kids. Think she'll remember this when she's grown? :-) She wanted to see the nebulosity, but I suggested we wait for darker skies, or just another season. She liked the star hop off of Gemini's foot, down SAO's 96074 to 114258 and finally 114034.

Now Mimi was on a roll. She almost pushed me out of the way heading for her observing list and star charts.

NGC 2251 (CR 101). "I think I have it dad"... here we go again.

Yes... that's it Mimi. Gorgeous, long, stung out open cluster, broken in the middle. Mag 7.3, but it seems brighter. I like this one quite a bit. Another similar cluster would find its way into the eyepiece later this session. 2251 was just up from 2244, easy hop. Who says opens are boring (tongue sticking out at RN ;-)

I went into the house for a second. Walking out, Mimi asked me to confirm NGC 2264 (Mel 49, CR 112), an easy find sitting essentially on SAO 114258. This whole area, from 2244 to 2264, is a rich and fun area to look at opens. Rich hardly describes it. Diverse too. 2264 is relatively large at 20', and bright at mag 4.0.

Finally, I convinced her to try for a dim one, mag 6.0 NGC 2301. This open cluster is an interesting star hop. We used the two SAO's that started our night, down low in southwestern Monoceros. With that, we jumped up to SAO 134330, a nice naked eye wide double on a line toward Procyon. We combined that star with the lowest star in the three that dropped off Gemini's foot, the one we used to locate NGC 2244. 2301 was one third of the way between 134330 and the Gemini hop star, but slightly below the line those two stars describe.

Mimi fell on it. What a smile. White teeth in a big grin shining in the night. If you've never viewed this open, it is unique, interesting, and beautiful. I enjoy it every time I run across it. Mimi put a special notation by the number on her list. It was rather like 2251 in that one component of the open cluster was very linear, but a dimmer section seemed to bisect it running perpendicular off one side. A really nice sight.

Mimi had spent about an hour observing. Happy, she headed upstair to bed, literally with stars in her eyes. I had enjoyed an excellent night observing, not finding a thing.

I'd observe this way any time.

Good night group. I hope others of you with kids will try this. It is really the best observing experience a parent can have.


ps - the neighbors lights went out just as we finished observing. I went back out an hour later and found too much dew. I plan more backyard observing as the weather improves later in the week.

Wednesday, March 7, 2001

I see the light! Fun in the sun

Just went out back and took a peek at the sun with my 10x50 Ultraview binoculars. Three nice spots on ole Sol today. The after-effects remind me of looking at the bright moon through my 10" Dob... I have a darkish spot remaining in my vision.

Using the binos was fun. At first I tried on a pair of eclipse sunglasses (the astronomical equivalent of Frank Zappa's Cheap Sunglasses).. and felt I could see a naked eye spot. Well, maybe. So I thought "why don't I take my big glass solar filter and hold them up in front of my binos"....

Instead, I saw a poster tube that looked about the right size to fit over the objective end of the 10x50's. A quick check showed the tube to be just right. I exacto'd the tube into pieces that fit down over the barrels of the binos. Then I cut pieces of the Baader solar paper and rubber-banded it over the two tubes. Onto the binos and out I went.

At first the view was very shakey, but I recalled Jay Freeman's famous "observing with binoculars" talk that I'd heard at the SJAA years ago, and his recommendations on how to hold binos. I regripped the binos back near the eyecups and placed my thumbs and forefingers around my eye sockets. Viola! Nature's own image stabilizers! The view was great!

Now I have image stabilized solar binos on the cheap! Quick, easy and fun.

I bet these sunspots would be good through a bit more aperture....