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.