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.

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