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!

Wednesday, May 9, 2001

14.5" backyard report.

Last night Nilesh Shah came over to do some backyard observing. I had the 14.5" f/5.6 set up on La Caja, and a great light-blind placed between us, my house and the neighbors. Everything worked perfectly. This was essentially the real first use of a larger aperture scope in my backyard, as we had at least a few hours of dark sky.

Conditions were not the best as there was significantly more sky brightening from the north than on the really good nights out back. Still, we had very good success using both 20mm and 12mm Nagler two eyepieces. Nilesh had his laptop set up running TheSky, which we used to peruse Herschel objects and some NGCs that appeared near by or were well placed.

Our first target was NGC 3610, a small galaxy in the bowl of the Big Dipper. It is nicely placed almost equadistant into the bowl between Dubhe and Merak, the famous "pointer" stars in the Dipper. It is funny how perception and assumption are easily proven wrong under certain conditions. I had thought all the stars in the Dipper were about equal in brightness. It is such a landmark asterism that little thought is given to the individual components, it is kind of "known" subconsciously as an entity. But earlier last night, as the sky was beginning to darken, there was Dubhe, standing out very plainly, while none of the other stars of the Dipper were visible. Turns out Dubhe is 0.5 mag brighter than two and 1.5 brighter than the third other bowl stars.

But back to NGC 3610. A line of mag 8 stars arcs gently from ESE to WNW next to the galaxy. Nice small groups of dimmer stars cluster at the east and west ends of the arc. This makes a recognizable landmark in the eyepiece, taking up nearly all 47 minutes of the 20mm. Just south of the middle mag 8 star is a small smudge, at first dim and non-descript, but with some study detail emerged. Really, adding the 12mm provided some detail. With the 12 in, we could see a nearly stellar core, bright, and a halo of what might be a dim disk or halo surrounding the bright center. The galaxy seemed slightly elongated north to south, and maybe 2.5' in diameter. The listed magnitude is 10.8, but it appeared significantly dimmer, which its surface brightness of 12.8 correctly tells us.

Following the line of stars back ESE you run into a tight group of three bright stars, with another pair to their SW. By continuing perhaps 50 minutes past the pair of stars you will find NGC 3613. This sits a short distance away from a dimmer galaxy, NGC 3619. I first noticed NGC 3613, situated between a pair of roughly mag 10 stars. The stars sat about 5 minutes NNW and SSE of the galaxy, while the galaxy galaxy appeared elongated E/W. The elongation was quite evident. Off to thw SE beyond one of the pair of stars, NGC 3619 shown itself unexpectedly, since I didn't know where to look for it at the time. I described the scene to Nilesh who confirmed everything at the computer (although my direction in the eyepiece still needs some brushing up). 3619 was much dimmer than 3613. 3619 seemed round and perhaps a bit small than its neighbor, with a very slight elongation N/S. 3613 is 3.9'x1.9' at mag 10.9 and surface brightness of 13. 3619 is 2.7'x2.3', 11.5 and 13.4 respectively. This was a fun group to find and observe.

Nilesh mentioned another galaxy back across the pair of stars at the south end of the three that comprised the mag 8 chain. So we went after NGC 3690. This one was tough. The best I can say is we saw a brightening in the field. There was nothing conclusive, or at least "galactic" about the view. It was in the right place. I don't think my eyes or Nilesh's were tricking us, but it was "kind-of" at best. In a good dark sky with some aperture this object would be fun to view. Located in nearly the same position is IC 694, nearly the same magnitude as 3690. Very close by to the NE is MCG-10-17-5, and again almost in an identical position to the NGC and IC galaxy is the very dim MCG-10-17-2A. The washed out DSS image of the two brightest members shows a very disrupted shape. Oddly, NGC 3690 is smaller, has a higher magnitude and surface brightness than some of the earlier object we did see. Perhaps it was a moment of poor transparency?

Another "ain't there" object for the night was NGC 3642, a large galaxy NE and across the line of bright stars from NGC 3610. We looked for some time but only suspected some brightening in the correct location. 3642 is almost 5' in size and mag 11.2 with about a 14 surface brightness. This was pushing it on a rather bright night in town.

Next we moved out of the bowl of the Dipper, SSW from Merak to two degrees to the mag 5 star 44 Ursae-Majoris. The target was NGC 3448, an elongated galaxy, 1.2'x0.8' and mag 12.6, but a slightly higher surface brightness at 12.5. Finding the star in my 11x70 finder was easy. I knew two stars sat NNW of 44, and on the other side was a mirror image, but instead of two stars it was one and a galaxy. The galaxy was an easy pick. Its elongation was very evident, with brightness increasing evenly from its extemities to the core. Its position was ENE/WSW, and was about 20' SE of 44 Ursae. Nice view.

Since we were already out away from the Dipper, Nilesh spotted another galaxy on the laptop that was just about 1/2 a Telrad away from where we were. If I kept our current position and thought of Merak as 6 o'clock on the Telrad, 44 as the middle of the clock, then the next star I needed was at 10. That method dropped me right on the star, mag 5.5 SAO 27724. Sitting 11' S of the star in the 20 Nagler was NGC 3310, a nice round galaxy at mag 10.8 and surface brightness 12.8. It is roundish, but has noticeable elongation N/S. It is also listed as Arp 217. The DSS shows an interesting image of a rather face-on looking galaxy, stubby spiral arms. But I could not see such detail in the eyepiece.

By this time it was getting late. We started looking for a few other objects, and in fact tried one (NGC 5466 in Bootes), but it was time to just poke around a bit and finish up. Instead of dim galaxies, we looked at a few doubles. Izar looked gold and blue to me. Nilesh felt the companion was a bit green. Then I shot over to Xi Bootis, a nice wider double with red and gold components. After that it was over to Pi Bootis, a whilte pair of near equal magnitude, and finally over to another white pair - Zeta Bootis. These were all fun, but Xi is always my favorite in this area.

`The night finished up on M3 and M13. Globulars are to me the most fantastic celestial entities around. Don't know why, but the view of M3 was more pleasing the M13. I guess I was looking for NGC 6207 around M13, which may have slightly detracted from the showpiece itself.

All in all, a fine night in the backyard. The 14.5" will be even more fun as sky conditions improve.

Monday, May 7, 2001

Full Moon Observing

With such beautiful weather, I could not wait to set up the 14.5" f/5.6 Dob that had been sitting in my garage for most of the past 3 years. This is the scope I used for almost five years of observing, prior to my buying the 20" and then the 18" Dobs. I have wonderful memories of using the 14.5. Many nights at Fremont Peak, Henry Coe, Pacheco and Mt. Lassen. I had begun to wonder what backyard observing would be like with some reasonable aperture, since I had been doing decently with my 10" f/5.6 and recenly the 8" f/7.

So before dinner, I hauled out the beast. I think the mirror box on the 14.5 is about equal in weight to my 18. The 14.5 is nothing to look at. Plain gray paint on a home-made box. Beat up. Dinged up. Over-used. Really needs a rebuild.

But the mirror. A gorgeous Galaxy Optics with one nice figure! This scope would keep up well with the 18" I now own, over the five years the two stood side by side at Fremont Peak.

After set-up, I popped in a Cheshire eyepiece and was surprised to find it very well collimated. So I went in, ate diner, attended to a few tasks, and around 9 p.m. walked out back with the 20mm and 12mm Naglers in hand.

I had forgotten how tall the scope is. It must be taller then my 18. I had brought out a one-step Rubbermaid case to get to the eyepiece. I had seen Randy Muller using one of these, and thought is made a lot of sense. Well, near zenith, I am on tip-toe at the eyepiece even on the step. But, I like to stretch, so the case remained.

It was now about as dark as it would get tonight. Behind the big oak to the east of my backyard, the moon was rising. It was a bright full moon. The tree was a silhouette against the bright ball.

I pointed the Dob at M65 and M66, using the 20mm. After a bit of adjustment, I found both galaxies well in view. Not a lot of detail, but no doubt about them being there with direct vision. This was interesting, as this observing session, while short by intent, would tell me a bit about what I should expect in using the 14.5" compared to the smaller apertures I'd been bringing out. The galaxies were telling, but still, rather washed out with the big moon.

Looking up to the northeast, I saw Arcturus and Cor Caroli, and landed on M3. The 20mm gave a tantalizing view. I could see it was breaking up like fine sugar on black cloth. I grabbed the 12mm and the view was resolved to the core. While a bit washed out, the view was still spectacular, filling a good portion of the field. Several brighter components sprinkled over this mind-boggling ball of stars. Only one star stood apart from cluster, a bright one at the edge of the field to the south... shining gold, alone. M3 told me I would absolutely love using this scope at home. I suppose the 10" or 8" will be relegated to Houge Park or going to friends.

Mimi came out. I was looking at the spread of M104. She described it wonderfully at the eyepiece. The oak to the east was now a dark mass with a bright silver sky above it. It was almost time to call it quits.

I looked up one last time. Regulus, high to the south. Above it the twin gold suns of Gamma Leonis. I pointed the Telrad just north of Gamma, looked in the eyepiece, and there were NGC 3190 and NGC 3193, easily.

I'm going to like using the 14.5". My observing pad is its new home. The trees are full of leaves blocking out the streetlights, the sky is big. I can't wait. I don't know why it took me so long to get to this point, but now the fun will begin.