Friday, May 3, 2002

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.

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