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.