Friday, November 29, 2002

Friday after Thanksgiving

I began the day driving east, over the Altamont thinking of Hooterville, but looking at the soupy skies had me wondering if this trip to Hwy 49 was going to be worth it. I'd planned on two nights, but reports by like Two-Dob Bob's suggested skies south of Eureka would prove futile. So at Hwy 5 I decided to turn away from the southern goldfields and head north, where skies might be friendlier. I stopped in on friends in Sacramento, an ex-banker friend that I had not seen in several years. He greeted me as I pulled into his rural driveway in Rio Linda. A 2 acre spread, I had once set up my old 10" Dob out past the sheep paddock, only to discover how bright the skies of Sacramento, in the bottom of the Central Valley's soup bowl could be. This day I was going to visit, watch the skies, and check plans of TAC-SAC observers via the Internet.

While skies were not overly encouraging I finally decided it was only an hour to Blue Canyon, and there had been some discussion on TAC-SAC by a few observers of BC or Fiddletown - so I posted from my Yahoo account that I was on my way, hoping to see some of the gang.

I always enjoy the drive. Names from the gold era abound along Hwy 80 - Gold Run, Dutch Flat, Auburn, Nevada City - combining with the beauty of the pine covered foothills as I climbed to the little airport at 5000 feet elevation. I found the gate dummy locked upon arrival, and just as I was putting the chain back in position Marsha Robinson pulled up. We parked on the eastern fringe of the tarmac, noting an older black truck parked outside the SVAS observatory. Bud Bafia soon emerged. Bud is one of the SVAS board of directors - approaching us asking if we were observatory members. Well - - no - - but we were there as guests of SVAS members who we expected to be arriving later. In particular, Randy Muller. This seemed to appease Bud, who returned to working on the robotic Meade 12" LX-200 in the observatory.

Marsha and I set up, with watching for other arrivals. Tony Franco, a TAC transplant to Rocklin arrived on foot. He had parked his car outside the gate, thinking it was locked. Tony had been to CalStar and we talked a bit about Fremont Peak, Coe, and SJAA. He was contemplating joining SVAS to have access to BC, but learned that use of the site is limited to once per month for SVAS members. Ironically, being there as an SVAS member places observers under the rules of the SVAS permit - once a month access only - as part of the club's dark sky observing night. But, being there *not* as an SVAS member keeps one from falling under the restrictive permit. Tony did not bring a scope, and soon left.

Another observer showed up shortly. Brian and a 22" StarMaster. As Brian and I talked, I found he too was at CalStar, camping one night near the TAC-SAC gang. I suppose one night was enough near Ster, Muller and Smith! Turns out Brian was a wonderkind - an SJAA board member at age 15 back in the 80's. I was astonished. Brian received his StarMaster only four months ago - and had been out of astronomy almost 15 years - typical reasons - babes and brew - but now was reacquainting himself with the hobby. As a teen, he had a 17.5" home-built Dob - if I heard him correctly, he'd ground the mirror with Earl Watt - I'd sure like to see that mirror!

Well, nobody else showed up. Brian, Marsha and I were the only observers, with occasional visits when Bud would make a foray from the observatory. But we were rewarded with some fine observing for almost six hours. While far from perfect - we had bands of cloud coming through and at times either the north half or south half of the sky was poor - and the seeing ranged from reasonable to ugly - the transparency was quite good - allowing decent deep sky observing. Just as a note - Saturn and the Trapezium were pretty bad even at 100x.

I didn't really have an observing plan for the night. I thought at first of yoinking out the Night Sky Observers Guide and working my way through a couple constellations. But then, reaching into my book box, I found my file with S&T deep sky articles I'd culled from the past 10 years. I grabbed a handful of November and December - and was off and running.

FWIW - the temps were not bad. I had on my thermals and several layers - but never actually got cold. I doubt the temps were below 40 degrees - but I think I chose the right night - as snow was forecast for Sunday morning.

My first object was globular cluster G1 in Andromeda. My guide was a rather poor rendition in the 1995 S&T - Celestial Calendar section by Alan MacRobert - very few stars on the wide-field (2.5 degree) chart - but a reasonable blow up of the area snowing the star field. I ended up using The Sky on my computer to determine the position. I recently received a 7mm Nagler and had not used it. This new eyepiece saw first light in my 18" Dob on an extra-galactic globular! The object was obviously non-stellar, and seemed to have brighter portions to the SSW and NNE - quite a find - a first for me. Makes me realize just what a great bunch of observers we have on TAC, when David Kingsley (and Gottlieb) talk about observing gobs of these objects in M31, and Albert Highe scours the Perseus Supercluster logging hundreds of galaxies. What a crew!

The next S&T article I pulled out is the November 1999 James Mullaney article "Celestial Spectacular in Cepheus"... a revisit for me to three objects. I began with Struve 2816 - a beautiful triple star system - a yellow-gold primary set between two steely blue components - like a yellow diamond set between two blue saphires. Well worth a look. The system is also embedded in IC 1396 - for me a tough object - it has always given me trouble. This night was no different. While I felt I could detect nebulosity using a 20 Nagler and UHC filter, it was far from obvious. The best I can describe it is as a granular feel all around Stuve 2816 - but with some brighter knots that looks more nebulous about 40' south and ... shoot... my notes say north, but I know that's not correct. Hints of nebulosity. I wonder if I need a widefield scope at low power to better see this object? And, I wonder if the granularity is really just dim stars throughout the area - that make up the open cluster Trumpler 37? Finally, the view of Herscehl's Garnet Star, Mu Cephei was quite nice, no doubt with the near-bloody color - deeply copper-red.

I spent most of the rest of the night hunting down galaxies from Richard Jakiel's December 99 S&T article "The NGC 1023 Group." Twelve objects are included, covering an area 10 by 5 degrees in Andromeda, Triangulum and Perseus. Here are my brief notes:

UGC 1807very dim and more between 2 stars than close to the bright one, as shown in The Sky.
NGC 891spectacular - easy dust lane bifurcating the entire length of the galaxy, but more pronounced at the center where the brighter core brackets it. In a 12 Nagler I guess the size at 18' x3' N/S.
NGC 925large irregular galaxy about 8' x 4' E/W with big bright core that diffuses out at the E&W ends. Possible bar with dim arms to the N&S.
NGC 949bright and elongated with a brighter core, small stellar central point. 4'x2' E/W with a bright star approx 3' to SW.
NGC 959looks at low power like a largish planetary nebula. Elongated 3'x2' NNW/SSE in 7mm. Perhaps more diffuse to N/S.
UGC 2023found 6 stars in a N/S line - but no galaxy. Question if this one is there.
UGC 2034No way! DNF.
IC 239faint glow reminded me of a reflection nebula. Situated in "elbow" of 2 pairs of stars offset, both running N/S. Approx 6' in size - spiral with slightly brighter core. Nice but dim.
NGC 1003a bright spindle galaxy 6'x2' E/W with brighter core that appears slightly offset to the main axis of the galaxy - EENE/WWSW.
NGC 1023another spectacular find. Very bright core with long tenuous arms to the E&W. This one is a must see. NGC 1023A - which the article describes as a small irregular galaxy possibly being tidally distrupted by 1023 - was visible using the 7 Nagler - a drawing by Jakiel accompanies the article and provides a very good idea of what the small galaxy looks like.
NGC 1058this was my last object for the night. It was roundish - but I noted it looked a bit like Pac-Man - with a darker area (opening?) to the SW.

I also enjoyed several views through Brian's 22" StarMaster. Of note was what he called the "Fetus Nebula" - the same object Jamie Dillon noted at the beginning of this writing. This is NGC 7008 - a truly wonderful planetary nebula with a pronounced brightening on one edge, and a bright star opposite it just about touching the nebula. This is a very good target - visible from locations such as Houge Park. Here's a teaser image:

About midnight the wind came up a bit, and the stars were quite bloated, so the three of us called it a night. Brian and Marsha headed down Hwy 80, with me being the last one heading down the hill. I quickly realized I would not make the three to four hour drive home - just too tired, and turned around going back to the airport where I spent the night.

Next morning the clouds we in. I drove to Sacramento - called Richard Navarrete to see what plans were - if others were heading out my way - but it was obvious to us both conditions had deteriorated to the point where a trip home was the best choice.

I slogged through the Fairfield - Vacaville backup and arrived home to a nice fire in the fireplace.

All in all, I am very glad I went.

Monday, November 18, 2002

Leonids from San Jose

I don't think this year's Leonids were forecast to be like last year, at least for us here on the west coast. With the bright moon, and our position relative to the peak of the shower, the best we were to hope for was some long bright streakers with little of the dimmer ones that comprised so much of last year's storm.

I went outside about 11:30 p.m., looked up at the scud around the moon, the streakiness in other parts of the sky, the lack of any but the brightest stars (Gemini was made up of about 4 stars) .... watched the sky while Jones was doing his doggie biz... saw nothing to get excited about and, went to bed.

Last year was awesome.

Thursday, October 3, 2002

CalStar 2003 - the who, what, where and wow!

The best time I had other than observing at CalStar was seeing so many familiar, and so many new faces. The Astronomical Unit, a club from Santa Barbara was there again, occupying the shade under the big tree to the south of the observing field. Kern County was there too, from Bakersfield. We had a strong contingent from south of L.A., it was great to see Jeff Gortatowski, Nilesh Shah, Bill Dean and the Alsing clan. TAC-SAC had a strong showing including Jane Smith, Jim Ster, Randy Muller and the newest TAC-SACo... Marsha Robinson. Many, many regular TACos from the bay area were there as well. Mike Koop, president of the SJAA kept things moving along nicely, with the swap and raffle, group photo (post them soon!) and even a bit of mischief (I was involved too).

Temps kept climbing over the three days and nights, and this was by far the best fall trip to Lake San Antonio. The sky was getting mixed reviews.... some thought it had been darker the first CalStar, but how can you complain when several people this trip picked out M15 (mag 6.4) naked eye?

Our catered dinner was also a *great* success. The folks with Valley Catering (King City) are to be commended for bringing enough to feed even those who had not signed up, but decided on-site that it was just too good to pass up. And that it was. People were going back for seconds.

I also have to admit to doing some planetary observing... through my own 18" Dob. I had a 3.8 mm eyepiece in with a 3X Powermate... which works out to 1624X. It was the first time in my life one of the gas giants really looked gigantic! Yes, it was quite mushy at that power, but there were moments when everything just snapped in, and what a view! When I initially put in the 3.8 mm, I though the view was somewhat soft. But backing off from 1624X, the view at 541X was just stunningly sharp!

For those wondering what I spent the bulk of my time on, I was finding galaxy trios in Miles Paul's Webb Society Atlas of Galaxy Trios.

Friday afternoon we were also treated to a spectacular dog fight between a pair of F18 Super Hornets overhead. What a show!

Glad everyone enjoyed themselves, and I'm looking forward to a possible Spring Astro-Fling at LSA next year!

Friday, September 6, 2002

TACos at Bear Valley observing site.

I was at the "southern" (private) Sierra foothills observing site, outside Bear Valley near Mariposa, for two nights.

Friday night I looked at many brighter objects for a deep sky article I'm doing for the SJAA. Lots of fun seeing how much detail was visible in such objects as M52, NGC 7662 and NGC 40. I had a gorgeous field of galaxies around NGC 7619 in Pegasus. This was all using an 18" f/4.5 Obsession. The clear winner the first night was 7662 - where I used magnifications ranging from 103 to 172 to 294X. Here is some of the report - at 103X very bright and distinct turquoise blue (planetary nebula). Central star visible occasionally direct and more frequently averted. No filter view at 103X hints at a bright core with dimmer smaller halo. At 172X I see two shells more obviously - possibly a number of stars, dim, in the bright shells. A dim large envelope surrounds the two bright shells. A star to the NE seems to be in a brighter portion of the outer shell (envelope). With an Orion Ultrablock filter the center is dimmer and takes on an annular appearance. The outer envelope is more pronounced with this mag and filter. At 294X the planetary is clearly annular with brighter extensions a short distance away to the ENE/WSW. At this mag with the filter a glowing somewhat irregular "neon" ring shows, overlaying the inner and outer sections. There are no stars embedded, but may be some bright small sections of bright ring protruding into the outer halo, looking like pinpoint stars.

NGC 40 was a wonderful contrast - As large as NGC 7662. Bright central star with dim halo containing two shells. Seems at 294X to have two dark lanes surrounding the central star, arcing slightly around it to the N and S. The western of these lanes seemed more pronounced. A star sits at the S tip and a very dim star at the E edge. Looks almost like a tight spiral galaxy with a western arm curving around to the S and an E arm curving to the N.

Nice objects.

The second night I began by finding Pease 1 in M15. One of the other observers had a finder chart off Doug Snyder's site. As time wore on other observers were needling me about how long I was spending. Upon returning home I read other reports where people had spent up to or in excess of 2 hours hunting down the dim planetary. Not until I returned home did I truly feel I had found the planetary. The seeing while I was attempting this "star hop" within the globular was spotty... and it was exacerbated by an 1-1/4" OIII filter, which I found useless to blink the object or to have in the eyepiece.... it seemed very difficult with the filter in place to get sharp focus. So I found it without the filter, which allowed the stars (and the star-hop directions) to be easier to follow. When I completed the observation, two other people who had said they wanted to "do it next" declined :-) I would like to do it again under a bit steadier skies (I was at 428X, which was as high as the sky would allow).

I then went on to a list of Abell Clusters Steve Gottlieb suggested as summer targets. AGC 2197 was awesome, and I was hitting virtually every object I went after in this and other Abell targets that followed. I was easily into the dim 15's and brighter 16's. I hit 21 galaxies all within a short distance of initial location (Steve's note says he observed 25). I also thoroughly enjoyed AGC 2666. Quite a night!

Temps were very nice, better on Saturday, when I wore thin thermal over jeans and t-shirt with lightweight PolarTec shells. I turned in around 4 a.m. Sunday morning.

I can't wait to get out again next month. Same place for me on 3rd Q, then CalStar.

Tuesday, August 27, 2002

Backyard fun 8/27/02

I've had the 14.5" f/5.6 Dob set up in my Los Gatos backyard, uncovered, for the past few nights. I finally went out last night about nine o'clock for a few hours of observing. Well, actually, a friend phoned just as I was walking out to put my eye to the eyepiece. So, it was initially more yacking than observing.

The seeing began decently, although the sky looked rather bright. I will do some star counts in the future to know about what the limiting mag is, but I estimate about mag 3.5 last night. Of course the 10x70 finder helps a great deal under such conditions. In fact, I used the (RA) finder extensively during the night. The eyepieces I used were a 20 Nagler and 12 Nagler, both type II. I thoroughly enjoy these eyepieces... they yield 103x and 172x respectively. The only other equipment used was a Telrad, Volume 2 of the Night Sky Observers Guide (NSOG), older Tirion SA 2000 and older Uranometria 2000.

Cygnus was nicely placed and I began with NGC 6811. This is a nice open cluster just off the "wing-tip" of Cygnus' western arm. Start from mag 2.9 delta Cygni and move past mag 5.1 SAO 48718, past mag 6.25 SAO 48697 and a bit further to an obvious cluster. This is a nice cluster of medium density in an oval or even with some imagination a triangular pattern encircling an area devoid of stars. A nice bright group of about 10 stars sat just at the western edge of my 48 arc-minute field of view. The contrast between the cluster and bright stars so close-by make this a fun visit.

Moving back from Delta Cygni toward Gamma a bit over 4 1/2 degrees I hunted down NGC 6811. It sits just north of an imaginary line between the two bright stars. I also use the stars 32 and 31 Cygni (the later a nice double) to "point" toward the intersection with the line between Delta and Gamma. Worked great! Those of you using The Sky should note that the position appears mismarked. Look at it and you'll find a rather sparse grouping of stars designated at 6811, but look just to the north and you'll find what I believe is really the open cluster. NGC 6811 is a nice open, rich in the center with some haze off to the east side of its densest part, then showing some "wings" extending out to the east and west. There seemed to be more dim haze to the northeast of center as well and possibly another dim arm off to the south.

NGC 6871 was next, lying close to Eta Cygni. I used Gamma to draw a line to Eta, helping establish some scale that I could translate to the Tirion charts. This open cluster sits south-southwest of and very close to the mag 5.4 star 27 Cygni, which appears to be part of the cluster. This is a big, bright and sparse open cluster... appearing to me as a large splash of chains of stars in a line curving in a line north to south. There are about 6 bright members of the group overlaying many dimmer members. I noted what I thought was more of the cluster separated to the east, more bright stars, but dimmer than the members of the western portion. I also found myself marveling at the description of this cluster in the Night Sky Observers Guide! It was amazing in its detail... so precise, what a piece of writing! I can think of only one person that gets such detail.... initials SG. Look at this cluster and read the description. I'm sure you'll be as amazed as I was.

I looked around in the NSOG for other targets in Cygnus. I was quite surprised to find Biurakan 1, another open cluster, listed at 3 stars (relatively easy). Looking at the coordinates I thought they looked familiar... right next to NGC 6871! Heck, it was still in the eyepiece. It was then that I realized Biurakan 1 was the other dimmer cluster of stars east of NGC 6871. The cluster was sparse, just a handful of bright stars with the brightest in the center of the western edge. There were many dim stars in an arc running north to south and arcing slightly back to the east. I also felt there might be another "branch" of the cluster to the west, but it was very dim.

I finished the night looking for NGC 6874. By this time the seeing had deteriorated significantly, and I had to keep adjusting focus and felt I just could not get sharp stars. I could not find this object on the Tirion charts. So I looked at Uranometria. Not there either. What was this about? I spent several minutes checking and rechecking the RA and Dec and going back to the charts, but it really was not there. I then read the NSOG, which called it non-existent. I could not find it. NSOG does claim it is there, and even notes it as more conspicuous than Basel 6. In fact, I thought Basel 6 might have been NGC 6874, and shared locations! But no, I got skunked. However, I did hunt down Dolidze 39 - a hazy open cluster comprised of dim stars north to south about 10 minutes long with a turn on the south end toward the east. A bright seim-circle of four to five stras arced to the north.... this was a very small grouping of stars within Dol 39. Again, it found myself being somewhat confused at what I was looking at... maybe this small knot of stars (the semi-circle) was part of IC 4996. Was it? I now think so.

It was almost 11 p.m. No moon yet, but the seeing was crappy. So, I decided to tear down. Eyepiece in case, books under my arm, I walked the 25 feet to my back door. What a great way to observe!

When I awoke today I found it very windy in Los Gatos. So windy my bino-mount blew over in the afternoon. I now think the bad seeing around 10:30 last night was the very start of the wind picking up, maybe just a shift in direction causing turbulence. It was obvious when it happened. But, I sure had a good time. For the first hour I was looking through the eyepiece while yacking on the phone, not easy to do. The second hour I was well dark adapted and having a wonderful time, enjoying being out in my backyard (t-shirt and sandals, btw!).

Friday, August 16, 2002

Light Pot Cooks The Green Pea ;-)

Friday night at Houge Park the seeing was about as good as I can recall for a few hours after astronomical dark.

The turnout was very good... maybe a couple dozen telescopes and very interested crowds sharing views. I had my 8" CPT(1) (aluminum frame collapsible Dob) riding on a Compact Equatorial Platform(2). The tracking of the platform was flawless, allowing me to center a target and either study it uninterrupted, or allow the public to view without my having to nudge the scope every couple minutes.

The tracking also allowed easy use of higher power. This came in very handy as I went after targets that would otherwise be difficult.

Immediately I found the view of the 1st quarter moon exceptional. I quickly removed the 12 Nagler and went to my 7mm Meade, taking the magnification to 200x. The views down into several of the larger high-walled craters showed intricate detail. Peaks stood out crisply with black shadows in stark relief pointing at the terminator. This was some spectacular seeing. So much so that I soon swapped the 7mm for an Orion 3.8mm Ultrascopic, taking the magnification to 368x, near the theoretical limit of an 8" scope.

What a view! The inner crater walls were showing detail more clearly than I have even seen. I wished, and I know this will come as a shock to those who know my aversion to planetary observing (they are so darned bright!), yes, I wished I could view Jupiter under these conditions.

But alas, I was stuck with awesome views of the Great Light Polluter.

The sky was so washed out due to haze, mag 3 would be generous. So, other than the bright thing, I found myself searching for targets. Aha! Antares was very close to the moon. I swung the Light Pot (hey... its bigger than a saucepan and smaller than a bucket) over, put the 3.8mm back in and... and.... WOW! The Green Pea!(3) Sitting at the edge of Antares glare and the somewhat swimmy diffraction rings was a dull grayish-green dot, in and out, chucking and jiving, but there. I had never seen it in any of my telescope (not that I try often). I called out to a couple other observers next to me. Over they came and one by one looked. The first one asked me as he walked over where to look relative to Antares, and I suggested he look and tell me if he saw it, rather than my biasing him. He looked and nailed the position. Two others looked and also nailed the position.

I called over a very experienced observer and had him look. But the seeing had slightly deteriorated mushing out the little vegetable. Pea soup. Frustrated, the observer claimed a bad-hair day.

I moved the scope up to the Double Double(4), finding it with the 7mm. The conditions again looked superb. Super clean split, even on the tighter pair. In went the 3.8mm. Awesome! The pairs of stars sat still at opposite sides of the field of view. The splits on the pairs was very wide and each of the four tiny stars had beautiful concentric rings surrounding them. If I could only put this seeing in a can and save it! Passers-by looked. They loved the sharp views of this target.

A couple of hours had now passed by and the seeing suddenly trashed. I could get nice splts on the Double Double at lower power... in fact I should not complain... at 200x it still looked good... but I was now jaded by the earlier views. I looked around for other targets.... oh my.... what a poor looking naked-eye sky. I guessed at where M15 should be and got lucky landing right on it. Poo. It was not a very pleasing view. Up to M57. More poo.

Back to doubles. Alberio was drop-dead gorgeous. People came by and would take it slightly out of focus and marvel at how distinct the colors would become when "spread out". Over to Eta Cassiopeia(5). Again, the colors were the show. Very nice!

Then I looked back over at the polluter. Thin clouds had moved in and masked it down so it was less irritating, making it somewhat brown. I looked overhead at Vega and, try as I might, I just could no longer see (at zenith!) Epsilon Lyrae. The sky was going.

I decided to tear down. I talked with friends while putting my equipment away. Looking around I noticed the number of scopes had dwindled to just a handful.

I stowed the equipment in the truck of my car and was home by 11 o'clock.

Nice night. Surprised me as I didn't expect to do much with the scope due to conditions. I'll be back out tonight, trying to put the "DeathStar" into the Light Pot. :-)

  1. CPT -
  2. Compact Equatorial Platform -
  3. Splitting Antares -
  4. Double Double -
  5. Eta Cassiopeia -

Sunday, July 14, 2002

Mag Limit at SSP

My star count gave an estimated limiting mag at 7.2

Pretty good skies!

Last night the Milky Way was the show. It had been a long time since I'd looked at it just laying back and looking up. That's what I did at about 2:30 a.m. after packing up my scope. I was feeling a bit sad that the star party was over, so I took out my reclining camp-chair and started looking up.

Soon the Milky Way took on a shape that I don't think I've ever seen... it was really cloud-like... as I looked at one part or another it occurred to me that the rest of the Milky Way, where I was not focused, took on the Milky look the ancients saw and named it for. It was stunning. Toward the core the main arm of the galaxy and the "off-ramp" seemed to intertwine at their junction, and the core of the galaxy emerged from that area and extended into the middle of Ophiuchus. Bright knots and dark lanes and fingers were everywhere. I thought that some night I'd like to just lay back under such skies with a tape recorder and literally describe the view from one end to the other. There was sooooo much detail that I was truly overwhelmed.... remarking at one point to the remaining observers that the little faint fuzzies I look at normally are fun to find and try to see detail in, but the real show was our own galaxy.

Finally, we began talking about the sugary appearance, especially through Cygnus and points north into Perseus. Then it dawned on us just how much Milky Way was really showing.... the length was horizon to horizon, as already aptly described by Phil Terzian when he returned. But, what astonished us was the width... looking carefully I could see the galaxy extending from Alpharatz (the star that joins Andromeda to Pegasus) across to nearly Polaris. That's nearly 60 degrees. Never before have I had such a view, such an experience. It was the perfect way to finish the star party.

Friday, June 7, 2002

Shingletown Observing 6/7 - 6/8

A group of TAC subscribers spent Friday and Saturday observing at Shingletown, east of Redding, on the western slopes of the southern Cascades. Ancient Mt. Tehama's remnants, including Lassen Peak, stood snow capped against the deep blue sky to our east. While viewing conditions were poor in terns of stability and wind, but transparency was excellent.

The strong winds we had are unusual in the area this time of year. Those conditions made the airport unusable, so we took out binoculars, both hand held and on a bino-mount, and observed many bright Messier objects from in the street out front of the George and Althea Temple's home, there on Star Trek Drive. Dean, Ken, Evan, Kevin and I were joined later by Jane and Jim. The sky was no less than spectacular. I could not get over the feeling that I was standing in the lot at Bumpass Hell on a good night. We took in M4, M5, M13, M92, M57, M3, M101, M81 & M82, M27, Comet IK, M10, M12, M11, NGC7000, M53, and I'm sure more. We had a great time just being out under a wonderful sky and seeing what we could do with binos.

The next night was also windy, and we decided to set up in Temple's side yard. There are tall trees all around, which is a drawback, but overhead the sky again amazed. The Milky Way was highly granular through Cygnus, and the star clouds in Scutum heading toward the spout of the Teapot were billowy white. Our group was joined by Bob, Mags, and two amateurs from the Redding area that are part of the new TAC-Shasta mailing list. It was a very good group.

At one point I did a star count in the Finnish triangle described by Alpha CrB--Gamma-Alpha Boo, and came up with 61 stars, four more than I've seen at Bumpass Hell. 61 stars put my limiting magnitude at 7.2. Since I count stars that I feel reasonably sure I see, but not but may not be 100% sure of (those that are at the limit of my perception) I usually throw out some. I discarded 10, and the limiting magnitude at 51 stars drops only to mag 7.0. Not a bad sky, and bodes very well for our Shingletown Star Party next month. By the way, the horizons at the airport are awesome!

Since we had limited horizons Dean and I picked one part of Draco and opened the Night Sky Observers Guide. We used 18" Dobs with powers ranging from 100X to 212X.

Copied from The Sky, we observed:

NGC 6742
Other description Planetary nebula disc.
Constellation Dra
Dreyer description Very faint, stellar.
Magnitude 15.0
RA 18h 59m 18.8s Dec: +48 28'02"
RA 18h 59m 18.0s Dec: +48 28'00" (Epoch 2000)
Azm 55 07'42" Alt: +40 14'07"
Size 0.5'

NGC 6690
Other description Very elongated galaxy.
Constellation Dra
Dreyer description Pretty faint, large, round, between 2 stars.
Magnitude 13.0
Surface Brightness 14
RA 18h 34m 43.0s Dec: +70 31'57"
RA 18h 34m 48.0s Dec: +70 32'00" (Epoch 2000)
Azm 25 25'20" Alt: +45 25'41"
Size 3.9' x 1.1'
Position Angle 170.0

NGC 6667
Other description Elongated galaxy.
Constellation Dra
Dreyer description Very faint, pretty large, little extended, very faint double star nearby.
Magnitude 12.0
Surface Brightness 13.5
RA 18h 30m 38.2s Dec: +67 58'56"
RA 18h 30m 42.0s Dec: +67 59'00" (Epoch 2000)
Azm 28 59'08" Alt: +46 06'11"
Size 1.9' x 0.7'
Position Angle 104.0

NGC 6654
Other description Round galaxy with bright core.
Constellation Dra
Dreyer description Star of magnitude 12 or 13 in pretty bright, pretty large nebulosity.
Magnitude 11.6
Surface Brightness 13.7
RA 18h 23m 59.3s Dec: +73 10'55"
RA 18h 24m 06.0s Dec: +73 11'00" (Epoch 2000)
Azm 21 28'54" Alt: +45 45'41" Always above horizon. Transit: 10:25
Size 2.8' x 0.6'
Position Angle 62.0

Galactic Longitude 94
Galactic Latitude +27.1
Angular Size 115
Mean Radial Velocity:
RA 18h 21m 48.8s Dec: +64 21'29"
RA 18h 21m 51.2s Dec: +64 21'35" (Epoch 2000)
Azm 34 07'27" Alt: +47 20'12"
Size 1.9'

All but the PK were easy. The PK required higher magnification (212x) and an Oxygen III filter to reveal a hint of the object and its central star.

The remainder of the night was spent on eye candy. Most notable were:

The Veil Nebula (NGC 6690, NGC 6992-95) - marvelously twisted strands of warm taffy looking very 3-dimensional. The OIII filter revealed detail that I only see when in a true dark sky. The view was sufficient to create a line at my telescope, even at this small backyard star party!

The Crescent Nebula (NGC 6888) - only time I've seen it better was at Bumpass Hell parking lot. Even on Saturday night the view was of a complete "egg" shape - empty inside other than the bright star at the and nebulosity trailing off it to where it joins the brighter western and northern sections of the "egg".

M27 (NGC 6853) with an OIII filter - the apple core was obvious, in fact very bright. The rest of the nebula showed well, filling in the "eaten" parts and extending away into a somewhat oval shape.

It was going on 3 a.m. and the wind was coming up, blasting us on occasion with clouds of dust.

We were tired but satisfied. It was fortunate that we had our scopes set up where we were staying for the night, as we'd also been enjoying some wonderful coffee with Bailey's and Kahlua, which also helped warm us against the wind chill. Thank you again "Two Dob" :-)

One other object of the trip was attending a meeting with the Shingletown Activities Council and to again visit the airport. I will post under another topic the additional information we obtained this trip about the Shingletown Star Party.

Thursday, May 30, 2002

Notes from "Out Back"...

No, not Oz, but my own "out back", just west of the swimming pool at La Caja de Los Gatos Observatory....

Last night I uncovered and collimated the 14.5" f/5.6 that has been waiting, under wraps, for what seems an eternity. The conditions were very pleasant and after letting the primary cool down (I think it was baking all day covered with a dark tarp) I settled in for about an hour of fun, frustration and fascination.

I decided to use the Night Sky Observers Guide (NSOG) and play around in Serpens Caput, which was nicely placed at 10 p.m. My other references were Tirion's Sky Atlas 2000 Deluxe, an old Uranometria 2000, 20 and 12 Naglers (type II), Telrad and University Optics 11x70 finder. I had a warm Mexican Coffee to sip on, to help me split some double stars.

I began with a wonderful field. 5 Serpentis is an easy split at 103X, showing its bright yellow primary and dim red companion quite well to the NNE. A third member of the system is much more distant, and I did not hunt it down. The great globular cluster M5 shares a lower power field with 5 Serpentis.

M5 just would not leave me alone. The more I looked at it, the more I saw. I was very pleased that I took time to touch up the collimation on the scope.... for deep sky observing it really pays off on objects like globulars. M5 was truly beautiful, condensing to a bright core overlayed by individual halo stars. The core was distinct from the extended halo. The halo appeared sparser to the W and seemed to almost "curve" back around the core to the S, N and finally trailing off to the E, almost like a bow shock and wake peeling around and away from the object. As I looked even more, I saw two halos of stars around the (unresolved) core... the first halo was distinct from the core, and had resolved stars. It extended about three core diameters, with the core slightly off center to the W. This halo was still quite active, with many resolvable bright stars. Then I noted another more distended halo beyond the one surrounding the core. This second halo was perhaps half as populated as the inner one, and varied in its width from about 1/3 to 1/2 the diameter of the inner halo. The outer halo was unevenly distributed, with less stars to the W and NW, and thinning a bit to the E. These observations were made at 172X, and to say it was transfixing certainly states the obvious.

Next on the list was 13 Serpentis, what I would call a classical bright close double. Easy to find too! Both stars are clean white, although IIRC, the book called them yellow. To me, there was no mistake... white as can be. The stars are unequal magnitude, but not greatly different as was 5 Serpentis.

For a really wonderful color contrast, I moved to Struve 300, a nice wider double star containing a bright golden primary and dim deep blue (maybe even purple?) companion. The color makes it woth the trip.

I made NGC 5921 my last object, as I saw lights in the house turning off and thought I better save a bit for Friday and Saturday nights. 5921 was moderately difficult, even though it is a 4 star object in the NSOG. This galaxy is set in a busy field of perhaps half a dozen stars. The first thing I noticed was the core of the galaxy was quite stellar, and appeared in line with two other nearly equal magnitude stars forming a line to its W. As I would avert my vision, I could see the galaxy was dim and extended, containing a brighter inner halo that may be off axis to the main WWNW/EESE extension of the galaxy.

That was it. Two minutes to put away eyepieces and point the scope down, and I was in the door.

Its great, being able to get in an hour observing "out back"....

Saturday, May 11, 2002

Big Night At Coe!

We had quite a turnout at Coe last night! While I didn't do a scope count, there were certainly 20 to 30 scopes. The most interesting new piece of equipment to show up was a Fujinon 150mm binocular. I had a spectacular view of M81 and M82 in the same field.... both very bright and nicely framed in the 2.5 degree view. Spring observing also saw the return of Glenn and Maria with their 10" Starsplitter, and Kurt with his 22" Starsplitter. Charlie was there again with his RTMC award winning 20" driven aluminum Dob.... a real jewel of a telescope. I also want to thank JT for his needling me about commercial scopes and the RTMC "rules" about entering such. Too bad innovation is not recognized unless it is non-commercial! :-( But, their event, their rules.

As others have already reported, conditions were near optimal at Coe last night. We could have used some fog in the valleys and over SJ, but other than the light domes the sky was very good.

Of particular note were a few accomplishments....

Richard Navarrete finished the Herschel 400

Marsha Robinson completed the Herschel 400-II (Rose City Amateur Astronomers list)

I checked of the remaining 8 objects on both of those Herschel lists, completing both on the same night.

I also know Stacy Jo was knocking down M's, as was Rebecca (Andy's daughter).

Along with the wonderful views of Comet IZ in Herc and the summer Milky Way, I think we had a most congenial and fun group.

Great way to kick off the 2002 observing season!

Thursday, May 9, 2002

Short report from Los Gatos

I said short, and short it is...

Uncovered the 14.5" f/5.6 ... light bulb had kept the primary in great shape for over a month...

Pulled out my Night Sky Observers Guide and opened it to Bootes. First object I looked for was NGC 5248 - a 4 star object in NSOG. Man... was it dim! I determined it must be a bad night.

My sister-in-law came outside so I pointed the scope at M3. Dull.

Bad night.

Went in, had a Mexican Coffee.

Went back out, looked at M3 again. Bad.

Put away my eyepieces and pointed the scope west for the night.

Finished the coffee outside, and did a star count in the Bootes - Coma B and came up with, er, 21 stars. Scary. That's mag 6.1. I figure that even if I knock out the stars that were at the limit of my vision...down to about 15, that's still mag 5.8 or 5.9.

That from a Los Gatos backyard.

So... why did the objects I looked at respond so poorly?

Tuesday, May 7, 2002

Solar system stuff

Beside the gorgeous sunset planetary show in the west each night we've all been enjoying, I took a cue from Jeff Crilly and last night after 10 moved my bino-mount and 10x50's to where I could see Draco's head and quickly scanned for comet Izzy. Easy to see... even in the San Jose glow to the north of my home. Large and (to me) obvious. My 17 year old son and wife came out to look. I had to tell them to look at the edges of the field (averted vision) so they would more readily see the glow in the center of the field. Both saw it. We went to ask Mimi, already in bed on a school night, if she wanted to come down and see it through the binos.... she declined, saying she'd had a great view of it naked-eye and through a telescope at Coe last Saturday night.

Today I put the solar specs on the binos and peeked at the sun. Lots of sunspots.... a large group across the meridian, lots of smaller ones, and a new large one (group?) just on the surface's trailing edge. It feels to good to see this and feel the warmth of the sun on my face.

I'll probably uncover the 14.5" tonight and get in an hour or so out back after the Sharks whomp the snowmen tonight.

Friday, May 3, 2002

Another For Coe

I went to Coe last night. There was a lot of high thin cloud visible close to sunset and a steady breeze. The cloud must have settled out as the limiting magnitude was quite good. But the breeze made it chilly, although it was not so bad as to make using the 18" Dob a problem. One thing of note was the fog. While not thick, it settled down to about 1,000 feet, as I drove through it on my way home coming down the mountain. I was above it at the parking lot, in fact the RH dropped from about 80 to 47 as the night wore on. If tonight is like last night, I think elevation is going to be important. Once I passed through the moisture level on the way down hill the sky was obviously washed out. So, I plan on going back to Coe tonight.

A side note, about how things sometimes go when out observing... my Quickfinder battery crapped out immediately and so did the 9v batteries in two of my flashlights. I found one more flashlight, so that worked out okay, but I had to resort to star-hopping through my 10x70 finder ... which has no crosshairs! It was a challenge!

FWIW... I was hitting around mag 15.5 at times.

Two Nights Observing

Over the past weekend I took my 18" f/4.5 Obsession to Henry Coe State Park to observe objects on three Herschel Lists. One is the Herschel 400 from the Ancient City Astronomers in Florida, another is the Herschel 400-II from the Rose City Astronomers of Portland Oregon, and the third the entire Herschel catalog of objects observed by Sir William Herschel. I am very near completion on the subsets, and 80 percent of the way through the big list.

Friday night was breezier than Saturday, and colder. But the transparency was a magnitude better Friday. Or so it seemed... the combination of a few Fosters before sunset and a late night on Saturday certainly could have reduced my light grasp!

Friday night there were just a few observers. I observed until moonrise and was the last to leave, arriving home after 3:30. As I reported before, there was a very good fog layer at about 1000 feet muting all the cities. Saturday night we did not get the same effect until well after midnight.

Both nights I used 20mm and 12mm Nagler-II eyepieces exclusively for 100x and 171x magnifications. Friday night I limited at mag 15.8 (mag 13.1 surface brightness). Saturday I was in the mid-14's.

Saturday we had a large turnout, perhaps 25 scope, and a surprise visit by the Belgian Club of Northern California who were there on a group outing (a few amateur astronomers in their group brought telescopes).

By the end of the weekend I was down to 2 objects remaining on the H400-I and 8 on the H400-II. The big list I have about 500 remaining of the 2500+, almost exclusively spring objects in Virgo, Coma Berenices and Canes Venatici, with a couple dozen now remaining in Ursa Major and Corvus. The big list is daunting, especially getting to some of the lower mag where sky conditions play a huge role in detectability. Once again I feel rushed on the big list, as skies are typically poorer in spring than any other time of year, and I have so much left!

Objects I observed were:

Leo I - first deep sky object Friday night. I star hopped through the eyepiece for this one, verifying star patterns on my laptop running Software Bisque's TheSky. The object is subtle and responds with averted vision. I feel a darker sky (maybe later at night) would have helped a bit. My notes say "very dim, change in contrast, followed pairs of stars from Regulus then off at a right angle... large in 12mm with very faint stars just E and possible dimmer star foreground to the galaxy just W of the other star."

NGC2965 - small have at first, looks almost stellar, eventually revealing a halo.

NGC3394 - small and elongated at 3x1 NW/SE with a stellar core - possible spiral close to edge on. Nice chain of stars - 3 pairs of stars helpd ID this object.

NGC3400 - small but seems to have mottled irregular core. Elongated more E/W. Perhaps the core looked irregular due to a star overlaying it.

NGC3418 - close to NGC3400 - with NGC3414 in the fi8eld. Largish and elongated E/W with possible stellar core. About 1/2 the size of 3414.

NGC3074 - very faint - averted vision only - not real small - pair of stars close by almost due N with an E/W orientation.

NGC3099A (MCG6-22-58) in a pair with NGC3099 - barely separated with the 12mm - oriented NNW/SSE with a bright pair forming the base of a very narrow triangle to the galaxy's W. Very good star patterns for hopping to these objects.

NGC3245A - only occasionally suspected.

NGC3493 - Definitely there - dime star close to the SW - amorphous.

NGC3099B - on my big list, but could not find any references.

NGC5303A (MCG7-28-66) in and out with averted vision. Due S and close to NGC5303.

NGC5351 - Big and bright! Pointer stars are a triangle to the W. Elongated E/W with a thick central bulge. Core is moderately brighter than rest of the galaxy.

NGC5380 - star hopped through the eyepiece from prior object. Smallish face on spiral with bright core. Possible arms wrapped. In field with NGC5378.

That was on Friday - almost exclusively in Leo Minor. On Saturday I spent time hopping around. Here - without description (I was too tired) - are objects I logged that night:

  • NGC3102
  • NGC3188
  • NGC3205
  • NGC3207
  • NGC3286
  • NGC3374
  • NGC3470
  • NGC3499
  • NGC3530
  • NGC3577
  • NGC3589
  • NGC3714
  • NGC3769A
  • NGC3824
  • NGC4097
  • NGC3288

I do have a question about the Herschel 400... I have NGC6541. This is one of the lowest declination objects on the list. Did Big Daddy Herschel really see this thing from his northerly location? It is WAY below the bottom of Scorpius' tail! I didn't think it reasonable to tip my scope that far down. :-(

During the night on Saturday I also took time to show some of the Belgian group several of the more spectacular objects, and to give the two nice college co-eds some help in observing objects for their class assignment. I also took many breaks and visited friends during breaks between objects.

By 2:30 a.m. Sunday morning I was very tired, and slept in my truck until 8:30 a.m. When I woke all the observers had left. Down the hill all of the valleys were blanketed with fog.

On the drive home, at the Jackson Ranch, a male peacock was in full display - Argus' eyes in full glory - this coupled with the wildflower displays off the sides of the road and the mist on the lake made for a perfect finish to a nice weekend out.

Saturday, April 13, 2002

SJAA Messier Marathon night at Coe!

I have to say, it was a very good evening to be out under the stars. Experienced observers, rank newbies, friends, guests from countries far off to our east and west.

First I want to commend the SJAA, and particularly Mike Koop and Bob Havner for rescheduling the SJAA Messier Marathon after bad weather scrubbed it in March. They prepared observing lists for participants, were there until the sky began turning bad, and were helping beginners. I am sure they had fun, and it was fun to hear it going on in the background. It is what a group star party should be like, with experienced observers helping newcomers. There were also around four SJAA loaners scopes in use, which speaks well for that program. Those of you who don't know it, the SJAA loaner program is a great way to find out if you want to buy a telescope.... it is try before you buy with no pressure, and only cost is an inexpensive club membership.

I looked at some of the bright Messiers as the skies darkened. The Trapezium showed 6 stars pretty easily in my 18" using a 12 Nagler.

I peeked at the big planets, again, before dark when they wouldn't ruin my dark adaptation (at Coe, sure!). Rich Neuschaefer's reported a moon of Jupiter swinging behind the planet. I was getting very good images of this in my 18". It was fun to check in on it now and then to see how it was doing. Saturn showed Cassini's even at low power.... it was pretty darn good.

The sky to the west was the worst part of the sky, and bands of thin stuff would move across west to east making the transparency variable. I was getting down to about mag 14 according to the database in Software Bisque's TheSky.

I found that early on I could use my big Herschel 2500 list for targets, since I had not finished Leo Minor, which was up overhead. So overhead in fact that I was literally in Dobson's Hole (can we come up with a better name please) for quite a while. Must have looked like I was dancing with the Dob going around in circles! I actually got dizzy at one point looking up and twisting the scope around.

In Leo Minor I found:

  • NGC3021
  • NGC3381
  • NGC3510
  • NGC3380
  • NGC3451
  • NGC3104
  • NGC3106
  • NGC3265
  • NGC3327
  • NGC3334

Most were faint little buggers that you would have to know they were there to see. Several newbies attempted to see some of these, but no amount of imagination could help them. No clue. Most nights, with better skies, these would be somewhat bright targets (things being relative).

While I was in the midst of finding these faint smudges, David Finn showed up with some ESL students. An 18 year old Chinese man, Japanese woman 21 years of age, and a guy from Tunisia now had their citizens at my eyepiece. Some others showed up too, a tall guy and female friend. We looked at some highlight objects. I was able to explain what the band we call the Milky Way was by showing M51 and emphasizing the spiral structure visible in the arms. The LOVED M3, so I went next to M13, then M92. The guests were, as are we, awe struck to think of how old these stars were, and how the coalesced into such fantastic structures. They asked if all were the same, and what will happen to them. So, I moved the scope to M53 for comparison to M13, and the difference was subtle to the first timers, so I then moved from M53 to NGC5053 just a degree away. It was interesting to see their reactions when the finally saw the dim sparse globular. I also showed them M44 though my 10x70 finder, so they could see the difference between globular and open clusters. The liked seeing some of the oldest, and some of the youngest stars in these two types of objects.

Then I moved to the big end of Markarian's Chain. The tall guy put it simply and correctly by looking through the eyepiece and talking about eternity. The fact that they were actually seeing such old light was probably the most amazing thing they came away with, I expect.

After a while I got back to my own observing program. By now the two lists I'm working on had objects high enough to pursue. I didn't hit too many, but the views of one in particular was wonderful.

On the Herschel 400 I nabbed NGC5694, a nice little globular cluster at the way eastern end of Hydra. Bright and easy, but it sure in a little one!

ON the Herschel 400 II I was in Virgo and got:

NGC5750 - this is an elongated galaxy with a distinctive set of star chains to it SE.

NGC5775 - a fun sight. A large very elonated galaxy with a dim round galaxy immediately to its NW. Lots of other dimmer small galaxies in the area.

NGC5806 - another elongated galaxy, but not so much at 5775. Another bright galaxy is in the field with several other dimmer ones.

NGC5850 - this was my last object and maybe the best. A chain of 5 galaxies running E/W in a single eyepiece field, two bright and three dim. Other galaxies were found close by to the N and W.

By this time I was hearing others breaking down. I looked up and zenith was cloudy. Everything to the W was gone.

I'd had enough. It was a nice night, never cold. Just had on a lightweight Polartec top and bottom. I was thinking about summer and the remaining Herschels. I have 3 left on the 400 I and 8 on the 400 II. I won't say how many on the big Herschel list, but it is many.

Thanks again to the SJAA for the fun night. It was a good group that helped make it a good night.

Saturday, April 6, 2002

Shingletown Star Party preliminary report....

I took Friday off and drove to Shingletown, site of our July star party. Saturday morning, after a great breakfast at the Shingle Shack, I attended a meeting with the Shingletown Activities Committee to discuss the status of the star party, and to help make arrangements. I am happy to report that we are going to have a GREAT time, no question about it. The community is very interested in the success of our event. I'll report more later, but I will offer that a smaller star party will happen there (at the airport) at the beginning of June. A limited number of attendees are encouraged to join us, I think it would be good to get some imagers to go so we understand any needs they'll have that have not be thought of.

Saturday I went to Lassen Park. It is amazing under snow. Manzanita Lake was 80% ice covered. Cross country skiers were the only traffic on Hwy 89 south of Devastated Area. I'll try to post some digital images later tonight or tomorrow.

After dinner we drove to the airport and set up. I have my 8" Skelescope. We had some dew and cold temps, getting down to 38 degrees. But, the view east of the airport at sunset of Lassen Peak, Mount Brokeoff, The Crags and all the other remnants of Mt. Tehama glistening in the distance as light faded was, well, breathtaking.

This is a beautiful location.

Once it was dark I began working my Herschel 400-II list. It was more challenging than with the 18", for sure, but still, objects were found with little difficulty. The seeing was a bit soft, but still, we had what looked like an excellent night. I guess I got lucky this weekend.

At one point, when Bootes was high enough, we did a star count. I got between 53 and 56. That, according to the chart at gave us a sky at or better than mag 7.0.

Not bad, eh? And, it was not even what we considered a "best" night.

At dark, the Zodiacal Light reached from the horizon to near zenith, into Leo.

For now, what you should know is, this is a primo observing site, with tons of room

I'll try to write more later.

Tuesday, April 2, 2002

When Galaxies Come Out

It was a very productive night. Consider that it was foggy for several of the dark hours.... maybe 2 out of 4 1/2. We were able to observe some objects when the fog was just a haze, with "blooms" around the brightest stars. I logged most objects in at most 3 hours, and I ended up with 76 new galaxies logged. Those were in about 45 different eyepiece fields. A few fields contained 5, 6 or 7 "easy" galaxies. Some solitary galaxies were outstanding due to their position among bright stars, or as parts of star chains.

But I'll start with the beginning. Getting to Coe was a contrast between the city at its worst and the tranquility of a country road. My usual one hour drive from Los Gatos to Coe took nearly an extra half hour. The Friday afternoon traffic was much worse than usual, starting back on highway 85. Dead stop, 5 mph was "speed"... but, this was Tuesday, at 3:30 p.m. What was at play was construction on 101. And not really construction, but a sign to go slow for trucks entering. It was life as a snail. 10,000 snails on southbound 101.

The traffic broke finally at the Coyote golf course, where the construction zone ended. Good news is this is due to be completed in 2003. I have to report also that when I finally entered normal rush hour traffic, there was a big rig driver trying to do 90, weaving and tailgating. Never seen anything so dangerous in traffic (at least not since I was a teenager).

Fortunately I've learned when in those situations, to go with it, rather than earning an ulcer or accident.

Once off the freeway I found my gas foot relaxing. The drive up East Dunne road was a treat. Green grasses, California Poppy, wild mustard, blue lupine, the old oaks overhanging the road as you rise above the lake climbing the eastern hills. I find this a great prelude to the night. Driving to local observing sites, within an hour or so of home, is really a treat.

I was the first at Coe. There was a steady western breeze and definite chill. What was more a concern was the high haze layer. Only a small part of Mt. Madonna's peak across the valley was visible. The valleys south toward Dinosaur Point were high with thick white fog, looking as if it was about spill over. Fremont Peak was invisible.

Sunset gave us a spectacular view of a heavily darkened orange sun that, when dropping into the top of the thick haze layer, developed an oblate brighter orange "hat" that flattened and finally disappeared. As the sky grew dark, the top of the fog stood up high to our west and began to move over us,

Things were very wet. We were trying to observe when the fog was not "too" thick. Richard was being successful, although I kind of hate to look at objects under those conditions, since I know it has to be a lousy view :-( But I did it anyway.... heck, I was set up, and I could see things, sometimes. Richard got off to a ripping start, just landing on target after target. I heard him laughing "hey... I can't believe how easy this is.... I'm going to buy a lottery ticket!"... but not so easy for me. He probably had 10 objects before I landed my first.

We went on like that for a couple hours. A 14.5" primary dewed up. We used a hair dryer to clear secondaries and eyepieces. It seemed every time the sky opened up for five minutes or so my secondary would fog over. One of our party was ready to pack it in and leave. But, it was early, and we all decided to wait.

What happened was amazing.

All at once it was as if the tidal wave washed back to sea. The fog dropped hundreds of feet. It was clear. Then it came back up, and dropped again. It did this three or four times, then the fog stayed down.

There were no city lights. Anywhere. The ranger's house was the only visible light (well, one other downhill to the west, but it was not "in your eye"). It was awesome. The sky was quite black, not gray. I should have done a limiting magnitude count, but I wasted no time and got right to my Herschel lists.

I won't describe all the views I had. But here are a few highlights.

NGC4264 is a small round galaxy in Virgo that has 6 other galaxies under mag 14 within 90 x 40 minute section of sky. I assume this is the heart of Abell 1516. The location is a bit tricky, since there are no bright reference stars, but I used mag 3.9 Zaniah (Eta Virginis) to point to mag 5 16-Virginis 4 degrees to its north, then continue that line another 2.7 minutes. This was a fascinating field.

NGC4438. It is almost cheating to list this one, as it is part of the famous Markarian's Chain in the heart of Virgo. The entire chain was easy tonight. I counted 10 galaxies as part of what I think is the Chain. NGC4438 is easily located using a line from Vendamiatrix and Denobola.

NGC4608 sits in the eyepiece field with NGC4596. Both are bright. I don't want to give away what I find so unusual about this pair of galaxies. Have a look at a DSS image. I will say that I love their setting, with three bright stars framing them just to their east. Note also IC3467 north of NGC4608. This is listed as Abell 1586. I wonder how many members there are to this cluster. I could see three.

NGC4612 is one of those targets that, if in an empty field, would have little appeal. I like it due to its setting in a string of stars. In fact, the star pattern is so distinctive that when I saw it, I would have been able to pick out a galaxy at the limit of visibility. Fortunately, this galaxy is plenty bright, and it shares the field with NGC4623.

NGC4760 again provides views of a pretty galaxy field (3 in one field) mixed in with a interesting star field. At the W end of the field sits NGC4742, a bright galaxy close to a the nice doulbe star WDS 8684 (mags 6.5 and 9.3). NGC4760 is in the middle of the field and is part of a notable curved chain of stas running predominantly N/S. NGC4781 completes the eastern end of this line of galaxies, sitting just SW of a bright star that combined with WDS 8684 brackets the galaxies like bookends. The star is also part of a notable "L" shape of stars that trails away to the E. NGC4790 is also nearby, and combined with the other three galaxies forms a larger "L" mimicking the shape of the stars.

I'll mention NGC4929 only because you will notice NGC4921 WSW in the field, and as you move that direction you'll find Abell 1656 and several bright galaxies. This is an easy location to find in Coma Berenices... I used Arcturus to draw a line through mag 2.6 Murphid and to SAO100439 which is the S end of Coma B's stick figure (this is where M53 and NGC 5053 are located), then turned N almost 10 degrees to the double star (Beta Comae Berenices) at that end of Coma. The galaxies are just W of this double.

The star Gamma Hydrae forms an easy to find right angle with Spica and the southern stars of Corvus. Just about 5 degrees N is mag 4.7 GSC 6116:1517, providing a jumping off point to NGC5037. This is a wonderful field to observe. Several galaxies immediately jump out, but NGCs 5054, 5047 and 5044 dominate the field. My target was 5037, which is WSW of 5047, and NGC5035 to the NNW of 5037 completes a nice rectangle of galaxies. To the W of 5035 is NGC5030, just off one of the brightest field stars. Looking a bit more carefully, you can also pick out NGCs 5049 and 5046 E and NE of 5044.

The next two object that were interesting were NGC5447 and NGC5462, both emission knots in M101. Using field stars as references, it was very easy to pick out these targets. I can understand how they could come to have their own NGC numbers, as both look like they could be small galaxies in front or behind the huge sprial. M101 was magnificent. It appeared to fill a good half of the field of view and showed nice, but subtle, spiral shape extending far from the core. The more I looked, it seemed the more I saw. This was a nice target on which to slow down and enjoy the view of a real showpiece. For detail, I think only M51 surpasses and a small handful of other galaxies surpass this one.

Down low in Virgo toward Libra are the stars 107-Virginis and Syma (Iota or 99-Virginis). These two point west a short distance to NGC5426 and NGC5427, a very close pair of spiral galaxies that, in DSS images, appear to be interacting. It is an easy location to land on.... there are some good bright stars in the field, but hardly necessary, as the galaxies are readily apparent.

I finished off the night with a few more targets, the moon had risen, and the sky was brightening. I was very pleased with how everything had turned out.

I packed up and sat back for a while. The soft glow of moonlight on the tops of the clouds hugging the mountain landscape to the south was almost surreal. Think of the tranquil feeling evoked by the paintings of Maxfield Parish and you can get a flavor for what the scene appeared like. The sky was still dark, the 3rd quarter moon hung low in the east over the mountains of fog.

I looked up at the sky for a while. I thought about the ancients who looked at the same sky, wondering what was out there, attributing to their gods shapes that humanized the great mysteries of night.

Spring was overhead, announced by Arcturus and Spica. I thought about the tale of the poor murdered farmer Icarius, his Virgin daughter Erigone and their Little Dog who took their lives in grief. I had spent a good part of the night hunting jewels among the stars that remembers the girl. I looked west for her Little Dog, but could not see it any more.

I drove down the mountain, through the thick fog, and emerged below and under it where the sky disappeared into a pleasant memory.

Monday, April 1, 2002

When Galaxies Disappear

14.5" f/5.6
La Caja de Los Gatos Observatory
37:13:36N 121:58:25W
04/01/02 21:30 to 23:00 PST

I was outside again tonight, set up with the 14.5" Dob, cozy and so close to home in my own backyard. About 9:30 p.m. the sky seemed unusually bright, especially to the northeast toward San Jose. I decided to try for more targets on the Herschel lists, and pointed the scope toward the position of NGC4258 (M106), a big and bright galaxy in Canes Venatici, from where I would move to my target, NGC4248.

I was able to quickly identify a nearby star field. Less than a degree to M106's WSW is a nice bright group of stars in a curved chain, four of them, two bright then two dimmer, with another dimmer and bright pair "cupped" closely on the acute side of the curve... a very good landmark to start from. But after repeated tries, M106 was at best barely there... just a small smudge of light where a large galaxy should be.

Looking up at Virgo I pointed the scope at Markarian's Chain, since it was in the darker southern sky. This too was disappointing. I could see M84 and M86, but wasn't sure I was actually on the Chain until NGC4438 and NGC4435, aka "The Eyes" winked at me ever so feebly.

It was not a night for faint fuzzies. Tonight, the galaxies had disappeared.

So, what does one do in such situations? Throw in the towel and watch TV? No!

My first good target of the night was 2 Canum Venaticorum. This double is located almost 3 1/2 degrees west of Chara (which was barely visible), the dimmer star that along with Cor Caroli make the main line of the constellation. The golden primary shines at mag 5.9 and the companion, 115" away at PA 260 at mag 8.2, has a silvery tone. Easily split with the 20 Nagler (103x). A nice chain of six stars arc around the northern side of this pair.

The next target was the well known double Alpha Canum Venaticorum (Cor Caroli). This double might be the Alpha of doubles! The primary is searing white, brilliant white at mag 2.9. Its companion is 200" away at PA 228, shining golden at mag 5.4. This double is relatively close, just 110 light years distant, compared to the prior target's 834 light years. The initial view of Cor Caroli made me immediately think of fireworks... or a sparkler, after seeing 2 CVn. This target too was very easily split at 103x.

The list of doubles I was using comes from the Saguaro Astronomy Club's website at

There is also a list of the best colored double stars at the site.

Since Bootes was in decent position I went after 30 (Zeta) Bootis. I've certainly looked at doubles in Bootes before, but I doubt I'd tried this one. Both components are white. The pair is very tight, at or under (?) 1" and virtually equal magnitude at 3.8. I thought the star looked "fuzzy" at 103x but upon increasing the magnification to 172x I realized the seeing had just been a bit unsteady before... there was no hint of a split at this higher power. I nearly doubled the magnification and again, no split. Finally, I put in a 3.8mm and at 542x I saw two bright dots floating in a shimmering haze with a PA of 307. The seeing was not perfect, but good enough to split this tough star. Zeta Bootis is 180 light years distant.

37 Bootis is another favorite, better known at Epsilon Bootis, or Izar. It is an easy naked eye star at magnitude 2.7. I had left in the 12mm Nagler, and at 172x Izar easily split with a PA of 321. The primary was bright white and the companion a very nice coppery gold at mag 5.1. Izar is 209 light years distant.

Gamma (41) Leonis, or Algieba is also a regular stop for those who enjoy doubles. These stars are a pair of brilliant golden suns at mag 2.5 and 3.5. I wonder if this is really a triple, with a third component spectroscopic, and much dimmer at mag 9.3? Does anyone know? When I look at TheSky as a reference it indicated WDS 7724 is a triple. Whatever it is, this is a magnificent pair (or more), easily separated at 172x.

I had viewed Gamma Leonis through tree branches, and while I could still see it as a pair, the obstruction did not help. So I moved next to Leo's hind quarters.

88 Leonis is easy to find in bright skies even though its primary is only mag 6.4. This double is located almost on the line between Denebola and Cheritan, two of the three "triangle" stars making up Leo's back end. At 146" separation it is a very easy split. The primary is a nice gold, but the companion, described as blue, seemed rather indistinct to me. The pair have a PA of 318 and distance of 75 light year, making it a relative neighbor of ours.

My final stop was another sub-naked-eye target (in tonight's sky), 90 Leonis, nearly halfway between Denobola and Zosma (I like that name!), again, in Leo's hind-quarters. This pair are both white and mag 5.9 and mag 8.8. Their PA is 208 and separation only 30". It was a good split at 172x. It was astonishing to think of the difference in distance between 88 Leonis and 90, with the latter coming in at 1988 light years.

Funny, how 2000 light years seems so far, when compared to the other stars I'd seen tonight, and even though I am usually looking at much more distant galaxies. Somehow, tonight, the distance to 90 Leonis seemed lonely. I closed up the scope for the night and went in, leaving 90 Leonis outside, a lonely 2000 light years from home.

It turned out to be an enjoyable evening after all, even though the galaxies had disappeared.

Sunday, March 31, 2002

A night a La Caja de Los Gatos Observatory 3/31

Last night I had the 14.5" f/5.6 Dob set up in my backyard, to take advantage of a few hours of dark. I planned to use the Night Sky Observers Guide's selection of deep sky objects in Leo, then move on to some remaining targets on my Herschel 400-I and 400-II lists.

At dark, about 7:45 p.m., the transparency was outstanding, maybe 8 of 10, and steadiness very good, little twinkle even on Sirius. I guess temps were about 65 F. Very comfortable, I began the night in a t-shirt.

The first object was NGC2903. This is an object I use regularly when up to gauge transparency. The view at 103x (20 Nagler II) was astonishing. Obvious, large, bright, easily seen with direct vision. This had to be one of the best in-town views I've had of this object. I could easily see the small bright core, while the rest of the galaxy's thick body extended about 6'x2.5' NNE/SSW. The core was also interesting, as usually a core seems to be either stellar or just slightly fuzzy... but in this case it was clearly fuzzy and elongated along the major axis of the galaxy. NGC2903 is easy to locate, 28' S of Lambda Leonis (Alterf, SAO 80885) a nice type K5 star marking the nose of Leo and shining at mag 4.3. NGC2903 has a surface brightness (SB) of 13.6 and is about twice the size I detected.

NGC2911 shares the field with NGC2919 and NGC2914. These were very faint but identifiable. Increasing the magnification to 172x (12mm Nagler II) helped by increasing the contrast. The galaxies have surface brightnesses of 14.2, 12.8 and 13.4 respectively. I began with the pretty double star (golden and blue/purple) 6 Leonis centered in my finder. The small galaxies are framed by a distinctive pattern of stars... I saw them forming more or less a rectangle of six stars, in two pairs of three running NE/SW. The most obvious galaxy was NGC2911, just outside the line formed by the pair of stars making the SE end of the rectangle. The galaxy would swim in and out of view, and seemed to be elongated NNE/SSW. NGC2914 was fainter and located just E of the SE star in the same pair. It appeared elongated N/S. NGC2919 was the most difficult, a small roundish hazy glow with averted vision was all I could detect.

Next I moved back to NGC2903 in order to hop to its close neighbor NGC2916. This object is at the end of a chain of four stars E of GSC 1409779, which sits close and NE of NGC2903. The chain terminates when it intersects another chain of five stars (including the last star in the chain of four) running mostly N/S. NGC2916 is just beyond the intersection of the two chains and just N of a close pair of mag 12.5 stars. The galaxy appeared elongated in the same PA as the pair of stars. NGC2916 has a SB of 13.4 and is 2.5'x1.7' type Sb.

I thoroughly enjoyed the view of NGC2964. This target seems to be in the "middle of nowhere" but using Alpha Lynx, 38 Lynx and SAO 61254 (Lynx) as guides it is easy enough to move back toward the empty space above Leo's head to SAO 61633 (mag 5.9). A nice close double star sits just E of my finder star, SAO 61633, and helps determine direction. The galaxy sits at the end of a chain of stars to the NNE. It is elongated WWSW and seemed to be about 2'x1.5' in size. I could hold it with direct vision. Another galaxy, NGC2968 is visible about 6' to the other galaxy's N. When visiting these two galaxies make sure to note the gorgeous gold star that begins a chain of three pointing directly at NGC2964. Very pretty star field!

I spent some time next looking for NGC3020, 3016 and 3024. I certainly identified the field, there is a nice elongate "L" of stars (GSC 834:395, GSC 834:1197, GSC 831:505, SAO 98778) to the SW. In all, four galaxies sit in one field here, but this night they just teased me. Sometimes I thought I saw them, then I would doubt it. Ghosts playing hide and seek. I think this would be a very nice field from a dark sky. Their surface brightnesses are 13.5, 12.9 and 12.9, which makes me think conditions were beginning to deteriorate since similar SB targets were found earlier in the evening.

Next was NGC3032 - which I found much easier to observe than the 2 star rating in NSOG infers. Finding it was pretty easy too, using SAO 81004 (Epsilon Leonis) and SAO 81064 (Mu Leonis) as guides. The galaxy sits nicely framed between a pair of stars, mags 9 and 11. It has a bright core surrounded by a small round glow, making it look more like a planetary nebula than a galaxy. This object has a SB of 13.8... but the bright stellar core made if much easier to find than the SB would otherwise indicate.

The next target was NGC4133, the first object of the night on my Herschel list. Located in Draco, it is just E of the halfway point between the pointer stars in the Big Dipper and Polaris. A naked eye "teaspoon" asterism of mag 5 stars helps locate the field. The galaxy is elongated N/S and is easy to hop to from the handle of the teaspoon - SAO 7540.

It was now about 10 p.m. and conditions had changed. I put on two more layers of clothes and could still feel a damp chill in the air. Books, notes, laptop, all were feeling a bit wet, and I was finding the 20 Nagler fogging up. I kept trying but would quit after two final objects...

NGC4168 is a roundish bright galaxy set at the W end of a chain curving away to the E. I felt lucky to pick up this galaxy, it was quite dim (SB 13.2) due to increasing moisture content in the air. What was neat was the accidental view of NGC4216 one field to its E. In a darker sky, 4216 would make a great target combined with two other edge on spiral galaxies framing it (NGC4206 and NGC4222).

I finished with NGC4241 - a pair of stars sit just S of this galaxy, with an elongated triangle of dimmer stars still further S and pointing to the E. This pattern helped locate the galaxy. I had to use averted vision to pick it up, and there was no hope of finding its neighbor IC3115.

It was now 11 p.m. and I realized the moon had risen almost 40 minutes earlier, although hidden by the large oak in my neighbor's yard to the E. No wonder things were getting more difficult! I thought it was only the moisture, but add to that the brightness in the eastern sky, and it was time to pack it in for the night.

I tipped down the scope and put it to bed with its night-light. It was great to be out back again.

Thursday, March 14, 2002

In town observing report 3/14/02

Last night I was able to observe twice with two different equipment setups.

Early in the evening, just after supper time.... I took my 10x50 binos and Virgo binocular mount around the corner to Fisher Middle School in Los Gatos, and set up on their outdoor basketball courts. My wife Pat, daughter Mimi and her friend Ashley accompanied me. I set up in a dark area near the gymnasium.... which actually looks like a primo spot for a small (8") scope.

I described to Mimi where the comet was, talking her from Alpha to Beta Arietis and then halfway to Eta Piscium. The comet was there, easily visible, very bright coma that looked fuzzy but really almost stellar in its brightness and compactness. The tail was quite long, reaching eastward toward a single bright star near the top of the field. One could almost imagine a two-headed comet! Everyone enjoyed looking at this, but to Pat this was a rather disappointing view since her idea of comets is Hayakutake and Hale-Bopp! Mimi and I have, I think, a different appreciation for the nice view, since we have spent many nights together hunting much fainter objects.

I then turned the binos on other object. M31 was first. I did not describe it, but told Pat to look and tell me what she saw. She described an elongated glow pointed "up and down" (E/W) in the field. She felt it was not something she would have noticed without my telling her there was something there. True, it was low in the sky, but I knew transparency was not all that great. M31 should be a great binocular object.

Next were M47 and maybe M46, M45 (Pat loved this!), M42 which showed as a nice glow around some bright stars all involved in a much larger rich star field. Up to the belt stars to enjoy the view of all three in one field with the gorgeous sweeping chain snaking through the western pair. What a view! Both Pat and I saw M81 in the binos. Soon, we packed things up and headed to drop off some videos at Blockbuster.

I had uncovered and checked collimation (perfect!) on the 14.5" f/5.6 Dob in my backyard. Because the Herschel objects I am interestd in are mostly spring targets, I waited until after 11 p.m. to go outside. The breezes that had been blowing in Los Gatos during the afternoon had subsided. It was not all that cold out and seemed a perfect opportunity to get 2 to 3 hours observing in.

I began in Crater. This was just over the "tree-line" (my neighbor's 25 foot tall untended shrubs) to my south, but I could see Corvus and a few of Crater's stars. So off I went to find NGC 3892. Well, I decided to follow my rule, if I don't get it in 10 minutes, cut my losses. I was able to identify mag 4.7 Theta Crateris, but could not find the galaxy from there.

Well, that one was a Herschel 400-II object, so the next one would surely be easier as it was an Heschel 400-I. NGC 3938 is in an easy to locate position in Ursa Major, high overhead, nearly in Dobson's hole. I swung the scope up and soon had located a good landmark... 67 Ursae Majoris. That star is a wide double and beside being easily identifiable it is plain gorgeous.... a close grouping of bright stars ranging from mag 5 to mag 9. Using these stars I could determine what direction to go. Soon I saw a galaxy.

What surprised me was how dim the galaxy was. And its shape. I looked at first like a fuzzy star, but soon I saw a bulge and long extensions. This certainly did not fit the description of NGC 3938! I had found the dimmer NGC 4013, on the way to the brighter galaxy. I pumped up the magnification and wrote the following:

Stellar core with 12 Nagler. Around the core was a round glow, like a small dim globular cluster. Soon the galaxy revealed extensions ... quite long, running WSW to ENE. I thought I might be detecting a dark lane along the major axis and just N of the bright core.

I kept coming back to this object while attempting for find NGC 3938, but I never did find it. I began to think the seeing was deteriorating, as NGC 4013 was becoming increasingly difficult to detect. Soon I began noticing bloated bright stars. I could not get focus.

What I had been concerned about earlier in the day, the jet stream plowing down directly over us from the north, was making it difficult to pick out dim object. The seeing had gone bad.

Looking at the sky again I noted how high Arcturus was, and decided to try the seeing on M3. Very soft. Many stars, but not pinpoints.... defined, but rather hazy looking.

I knew the night was over.

But, before tucking the scope away for the night I pointed it between Denebola and Vindemiatrix, deep into the heart of the Virgo Cluster. Even fuzzed out, this was a great sight. It seemed everywhere I moved there were galaxies... barely a field went by without something non-stellar. At one point I wondered about two bright galaxies... elipticals.... could these be M84 and M86? Was I at Markarian's Chain? The answer was yes... I could identify NGC4308, that makes the galactic triangle I associate with the start of the chain. I could not see dimmer NGC 4402, and when I saw that NGCs 4438 and 4435 (The Eyes) were pretty dimmed out... I knew the night was done.

Although I had not gotten to see what I had hoped to, it was a nice hour out back. I felt refreshed and had, in fact, had a number of nice views during the evening. Looking this morning at an image of NGC 4013, I felt good that I had gleaned so much detail on a rather mediocre night.

Friday, March 8, 2002

Houge Park fun

At Houge Park we had intermittent clear and murk. There was very good planetary detail, a couple very dark barges transited Jupiter as the night wore on. We too had a nice view of the comet, best at low power. I thought the view through binos was the best... a very bright coma and obvious tail a good 5 degrees long or more, as a guess based on the FOV of the binos. In my 8" f/7 with a 50mm eyepiece the coma was very pronounced, but the tail faded a bit compared to the view in binos.

The public turnout was okay early on but grew sparse after about 9 p.m. I was showing them M42, which had wonderful detail, M81/82, M35 (NGC 2158 was barely detectable). NGC 2903 was nearly impossible, which to me meant the transparency was not so great. M65/66 were there, but nothing to write home about. The Eskimo Nebula was plain gorgeous.... it was funny too, since I found it with the 50mm eyepiece.... someone asked if it was in the field so I told them yes... it appears nearly stellar ;-) which at that power it did. But we pumped up the power and the disk and central star were a wonderful contrast with the close by bright star.

I then began looking at double stars. The public enjoyed Gamma Leonis.... the nearly identical close golden stars were spectacular in color and brightness. Then, for a challenge, I found Zeta Cancri at about 75x and could see two of its components. This is a really outstanding multiple star system... I put in my 3.8mm eyepiece to bump the magnification to about 375x and the star split again.... two very tight stars with the dimmer tertiary close by. The system is probably contains five stars... but one is too tight to detect visually (companion to the tertiary) and the other thought to be a white dwarf. Zeta Cancri is well documented in Burnhams, worth a read, worth a look. I was most pleased at the views my 8" gave on this star.... beautiful pinpoints... even though I did not collimate the scope after arriving late.

The rest of the evening was spent with friends hanging out. We had a nice surprise when Ken Miura showed up, stopping in to see the old gang while travelling from Tokyo to Boulder. We may get to see him again next weekend at Coe or Dino. Others who stopped by were Rich N., Denny W., Marsha R, Ken H, Daniel S, Kevin R and Kevin S, Bob H, Mike K and others. Fun night of in-town buds and observing.

Wednesday, February 20, 2002

Saturn and the Moon close together.

I had my 14.5" Dob looking at Saturn when my daughter Mimi came home with her friend Andrea. They came out back and Andrea looked first. She liked the view of the moon, and I asked her what she saw. "The moon" she said. I told her there was more, not mentioning what the "more" was. She looked again, and excitedly said "I see it! I see it!" Andrea didn't say what "it" was... so Mimi could try to find "it" herself. At first Mimi didn't see it... just the moon. Then it suddenly popped out, across the field of view from the moon. She was very pleased.

Just then my 17 year old son Daniel came home and seeing us outside joined us. He looked and saw Saturn and thought too it was a very cool sight! Kept looking and talking. I had to ask him to get off the ladder so I could have another look. Daniel was still there talking. Then I realized that while he thought the view through the scope was pretty cool, Mimi's friend was even more effective at holding his attention!

Saturday, February 9, 2002

Good While It Lasted! Observing at Coe

On a last minute whim I packed up the truck and headed south at 4:30 p.m. last Friday, January 19th. The sky looked great when I arrived just after sunset from Henry Coe State Park. There was a light breeze from the east, and haze hung over San Jose helping dim the light dome. After dark Marsha Robinson, Bob Czerwinski and Bill Schultz joined me.

I did not have much of an observing program in mind, I am still waiting for the galaxy rich areas of Coma B, Virgo, Canes V and Ursa Major to be better positioned earlier in the evening, so I can continue on the Herschel list I've been working over several observing seasons. So, I helped Marsha with her Herschel II project, she using her 10" Dob, me with the 18" Obsession.

The first object was a nice cluster in Orion, NGC 2112. It is a nice view, located about 2 degrees east of M78, the famous reflection nebula in Orion. The cluster has many dim members, noticeable in the 18, but the fun part about the grouping was noticed by Marsha, who pointed out the bright members made a perfect question mark, with the "dot" at the bottom defined by the brightest star in the group. In dark skies, the proximity to M78, along with four naked eye stars ranging from mag 5.2 to 6.4 close by to the NE makes this cluster easy to find.

We next moved to M78, which shown beautifully. In fact, I found this object fascinating. With two stars clearly embedded, one side of the nebula had a very well defined edge, kind of a hard edge, to it. This was the side that aligned with several other dim nebulae in the area that defined a rather straight line either side of M78. The side of M78 facing away from the "line" of nebulae was quite diffuse, seeming to bleed out into space unevenly. This was probably the most detailed view I've seen of this object.

Next we moved to the three other reflection nebulae in close proximity to M78, namely NGCs 2071, 2064 and 2067. These were obvious using a UHC filter, although none would draw the attention of most observers without knowing where to look. The view of these three other nebulae around M78 reminded me just how active a star forming region this entire area really is. The views of the dimmer nebulae juxtaposed against the bright nebula of M78 reminded me how fleeting and rather ghostly many objects we view are. Conditions were certainly good this night!

The next stop was called the "Tank Tracks"... but I know it better as The Flame Nebula. Without a filter I moved over to the position, so easy to find just sitting just east of Zeta Orionis. Now, I've seen The Flame a good number of times, with results ranging from just visible and not very exciting, to "oh yeah.... it is flame shaped"... This night was special. Not only was it there, but I could see well defined edges all around it perimeter and in the dark central section. The definition was so good, it was like looking at the jagged edge of a leaf and seeing somewhat of a saw tooth pattern all around. And, it was bright. And, there was no filter on the 20 Nagler.

Man o man, I almost jumped out of my many layers of clothes with excitement. I said "hey... this is a night for the Horsehead'.... and so, from The Flame, I south to a pair of bright stars that formed a nice "L" with Zeta and looked for the bright nebula NGC 2023, which appears to be involved with one of the pair of bright stars. Once that was identified, I knew to move west along a chain of stars until I reached a double, which pointed back somewhat in the direction from where I'd just come (NGC 2023) but a bit south, right to the Horsehead.

Well, it wasn't hard to find. IC 434 shown easily as a bright swatch of light glowing across the field of view from SSE to NNW. And there, buried in the glow was a hole. Not just a hole... it had shape. It was upside down in my view, with the neck being up top to the east and a hook shape forming the other end bending toward the north. There was no doubt. I stayed on this view for quite some time, absorbing it, letting some of the subtleties work on my brain. I am sure my UCH filter helped bring out details, but I really wondered what this would have been like using an H-Beta filter. Maybe next weekend at Lake San Antonio.

I called Bill Schultz over to look. He'd never seen the Horsehead and said it was one of the objects that he'd really hoped to see. I also have to admit, after several years of observing at looking at this object through other people's scopes, this was the first time I'd found it myself. Bill celebrated by offering me some of a very nice herbal extract drink he brought along. I don't recall the name, but it is made with yarrow and vodka. Zippy! It is quite good!

Now was time to move away from the shores of our home galaxy. Gone are local points of interest like reflection and dark nebulae. I was moving toward some galaxies Marsha had on her Herschel list.

The first was NGC 1670 is in Orion, tucked in the southwest corner by the northeastern limit of Eridanus. I use the naked eye stars Nu Eridani (mag 4) to point to nearby Mu Eridani (also mag 4), then across the border about 1/2 that distance and slightly north. The galaxy is reasonably bright, when considered with other ones on the complete Herschel list. At mag 12.1 with a surface brightness (sb) of 13.4, the galaxy appears mostly round but with a bit of elongation east to west. Initially I had landed on two other galaxies to the southeast, NGCs 1682 and 1684, and once identified, I was able to quickly work my way along a zig-zag of brighter stars that form somewhat of a Cassiopeia (but with a long western leg) back to 1670.

A notable double star lies about 20' east of NGC 1670, providing direction to mag 13.2 (sb 12.8) galaxy NGC 1678, which appeared round and small, along with galaxy MCG0-13-18 at mag 15.26 (from The Sky database), small and elongated N/S when averted vision allowed the view to pop in.

Now this was fun! There were galaxies all over the place.

Off one of the stars in the zig-zag of the false Cassiopeia, the western star in the base of the W, sits MCG 1-13-22, a little edge-on galaxy at mag 15.13. This one was no problem. It was quite easy to note the long E/W elongation, perhaps 4:1 in ratio. Very nice!

Moving about 10' north I found, and barely, MCG-1-13-17, one of the dimmest finds of the night at mag 15.63 (The Sky). If there was any detail in this ghost of the deep, it was a hint of elongation NW/SE.

Back to the W asterism, and I was back at what originally caught my eye. NGCs 1682 and 1684. This actually describes a bit about how I hunt galaxies. Something bright or notable will catch my eye... a galaxy, a pair of bright stars with some unique grouping very close by, a chain... it is not usual that I just drop on the object I'm after and see it right away. No, I need guideposts, and have learned to look for them. I must admit, a laptop computer in the field is quite nice for helping identify those guideposts.

Anyway, the two NGCs were very prominent, with 1684 being the larger and easier of the two to identify. Around 7' north of 1682 is a very dim galaxy, NGC 1683 at mag 14.8 flicks in and out of view... what helps is its small size and generous sb of 13.5. It is elongated N/S at about a 2:1 ratio.

Easier was NGC1685 8' to 1683's NE. It was much larger, about twice 1683's size, and both mag and sb are in the high 13's. This galaxy appeared round.

A pair of bright stars lie just ENE of 1685 another 7'. I used these as a guide to move east fo 1685 to find galaxy MCG-1-13-33, a mag 15.3 (The Sky) roundish galaxy with a slight elongation E/W. Not much detail, but still, fun to see hints of dim and distant giant traveling galactic families of stars. All relatives in a big travelling group.

By now the wind had begun picking up. No dew whatsoever, and transparency that could not be beat. I'd had a couple hours of great observing. I struggled against the increasing breeze from the east. Leo was rising. Maybe it was the breath of the lion approaching. I couldn't keep the scope still. After a few more galaxies bounced through the field of view, I tipped the scope down to the west.

The wind blew for over 3 hours. I was talking with Bob and Marsha, both sitting in Marsha's car to protect them from the incessant wind, and suddenly, it was dead calm.

I noticed it first, but didn't say anything. Bob then said "hey... I don't want to say anything, but something has changed out there" ... he too noticed the wind die.

We went back to our scopes, and all exclaimed how lousy the stars looked! Round, oscillating, blinking and winking!

About midnight, with high clouds approaching from the northwest, I packed up the truck. I was home in less than an hour.

I still don't know how other locations were that night. I think people went to Montebello. But I can tell you, two hours of exquisite transparency and steadiness provided some of the finest observing I've had. I crawled into bed telling myself that that might be it for the weekend. But it was good while it lasted!

Observing at Dinosaur Point - 2/9/02

We had a great turnout at Dinosaur Point Saturday, as spring-like conditions brought out many observers, old and new, for late afternoon BBQ and picnic dinners followed by a full night of stars for desert. One of the better winter nights I can recall.

I had my 18" f/4.5 Dob and used a combination of 20mm and 12mm Naglers with an occasional 6.7mm Meade Ultrawide, Rigel Quickfinder and 10x70 finder, TheSky by Software Bisque along with The Webb Society's Atlas Of Galaxy Trios. My main targets for the night were remaining objects on the Herschel 400-I and 400-II.

Since the Herschel targets were in Puppis and points east, I spent the early evening chasing some of the galaxy trios.

My first target was the galaxy trio of IC1534, IC1535 and IC1536 in Andromeda. These are actually in a rather empty part of the sky for starhopping. I began in Cassiopeia making a line from Nevi (the center star in the W) to Shedar and extending twice that distance beyond. The star SAO 36236 was just visible at mag 5.86 and put me within a short hop of the correct location. A nice pair of bright stars, SAO 36148 at mag 6.1 and SAO 36151 close by at mag 7.6 marked the beginning of a chain of stars that led east then south next to the target galaxies. I moved to the bend in the arc and hopped off. Immediately I saw NGC 51 to the northeast of the IC galaxies. Then, sitting just at the end of a NW/SE chain of four stars IC1534 came into view. It was dim and small, elongated in a mostly E/W direction. Stepping across a star just to its NE I quickly found IC1535 also faint but more extended and laying almost due N/S. Almost immediately to the E is an asterism that forms a Y. Sitting atop the open end of the asterism is the third galaxy in the trio, IC1536, the faintest of the three. It seemed mostly round and more compact than the others, but offered no additional detail.

To the north of the IC trio sat the next trio. A real treat, seeing these six galaxies in the same field. The next three were NGC51, NGC48 and NGC49. As already mentioned, NGC51 jumped right out and provided a starting point with which to tease out the other two NGCs. A slight 2' to the W sat the faintest of the three, NGC49, round and diffuse. A short hop further W was NGC48 which appeared extended N/S with some slight hints of structure.

Here is a link to an image of the field:

Next I move to NGC996, NGC999 and NGC1001, a galaxy trio in Perseus. Thank goodness for bright stars! They make navigating the sky so much easier! My target was located almost dead center between the famous variable star Algol in Perseus and the excellent double star Gamma Andromeda. But what really sealed the deal getting dead-on location was using my 10x70 finder. I found a distinct haze at what I thought was the correct location and upon looking in the eyepiece found an outstanding open cluster. This was NGC1039, and was stunning. How could such a treasure be just an obscure NGC number I wondered? Well, it is not obscure. Now I know it is easy to get to the galaxy trio by first locating M34. Just a degree to the SSW the galaxies shimmer into view. But aside from the trio, there were another six galaxies in my 47' field of view. What a great sight! Other objects seen were MCG7-6-53, UGC2111, NGC995, NGC1000, NGC1005 and the toughest of the bunch was UGC2135. Here's the image link:

The last galaxy trio I observed for the night was NGC1024, NGC1029 and NGC1028 in Aries. This target is in another easy to get to area. If you've found M77 in Cetus, you can find this group. The "head" of Cetus is comprised of Alpha, Gamma, Lambda and Mu Ceti. Hopping of Mu opposite Lambda put you in the area. Making it even easier, there is a pair of stars off Mu to the WNW, close by. Cross those and go the same distance beyond that you went from Mu to the pair. Easy stuff! NGC1024 and NGC1029 are easy and bright elongated galaxies capping off the ends of a Mercedes symbol of stars. NGC1028 is misplotted on TheSky 1'50" SW of its actual position and took some work to find... it was very dim and elusive. Here is an image.... I am curious if anyone can comment on the fuzzy double star SW of NGC1029:

Aside from the galaxy trios above, there were a few objects that were notable of the over 60 logged during the night. They were:

NGC2525 - Galaxy in Puppis, large and amorphous with some mottling. Sitting close by an easily identifiable zig-zag string of 4 stars.

NGC2539 - Open cluster in Puppis, gorgeous - large with many stars of almost equal magnitudes, offset by a bright blue and gold double star of differing magnitudes touching the SE perimeter of the cluster. Go see this one, the double is like two jewels atop a rich setting.

NGC2610 - Planetary Nebula in Hydra. This is an unusual object visually. Part of what appears to be a small bright open cluster, the planetary is round and solid with a star touching its eastern boundary. With about 280X the planetary appears to somewhat ragged on its western edge and have a few very dim stars involved. I did not try any filters.

NGC2613 is a bright edge on galaxy with a notable bulged central core in Pyxis. It is a bright galaxy, so even moderate instruments should reveal its shape. I felt as if there was more eastern extension of the arms than western, but the image shows a fine spiral with much dust in its tightly wound arms. I had asked one of the imagers to shoot this thing, but the seeing had softened by then, and especially so in the southern sky. Still, this is a beautiful object, as this image shows:

NGG3073 - Galaxy in Ursa Major. This one provided some eye candy as a bonus. The target was a small but reasonably bright target, but when landing on the field my eye immediately fell onto NGC3079. NGC3079 is a large, thin, long disturbed looking slash of a galaxy. I could hardly believe its appearance. Have a look, and at the same time take in NGC3073 and sitting perpendicular to the major axis of the big galaxy you'll find MGC9-17-9. This is a very interesting field.

NGC3115 - Galaxy in Sextens. A wonderful large elongated galaxy with a stellar core. The DSS images do not do this one justice... another web-site refers to it as the Spindle Galaxy, and their image of it shows why

NGC3158 - Galaxy in group in Leo Minor. This is a wonderful field. I counted 9 galaxies. NGC3158 is easily the brightest of the group and stands alone just NNW of a chain of several other galaxies running E/W in close proximity. Others observed were MGC7-21-19, NGC3159, NGC3161, NGC3163 (four in a line), NGC3151, NGC3150, NGC3152 and NGC3160. The seeing had softened so I did not try for the dimmer ones in the area. Check this out (15 arcminutes wide/tall):

NGC3254 - Galaxy in Leo Minor. This is a large tilted spiral that gave hints of dusty arms. Nice pair of stars off the eastern edge.

NGC3513 - Galaxy in Crater. This one is paired visually with NGC3511. Both are bright and mottled with dust. NGC3513 is a great example of a barred spiral. My notes refer to dark intrusions on NGC3513 from the E and W, which may be the dark areas between the arms and bar. I want to review this one under more magnification. The image is a hands-down winner:

The last object I'll write up is NGC3621, a nice bright galaxy in Hydra. It is large and bright, and framed beautifully by a cross of four stars that surround its core almost at the cardinal points of the compass. The actual extent of the galaxy far overruns the framing stars, but visually, only the core could be seen. The image is another winner:

I don't really know what time we called it a night. I was having a great time. The only thing that stopped me was feeling unsteady walking around. Someone said they heard us talking still at 5 a.m.

Been a long time since I had an observing session like that one!