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.

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