Saturday, August 23, 2003

Observing at Coyote 8/23

Coyote Lark Park is a nice place to observe. The parking lot at the boat ramp is large and paved, there are flush toilets, pay phone, garbage cans, picnic benches, and of course, a beautiful view of the lake and surrounding oak covered mountains. The short drive down the Gilroy Speedway makes it a snap to get to, and there's even an all night Denny's at the freeway on the way home, should you need a cup o' Joe to keep 'em peeled if you're nodding off.

I turned down an invite to help docent at Lick as I have much to do before heading to the Oregon Star Party on Wednesday, and opted for Coyote due to the easy drive and that I'd planned to leave by 1 a.m. When I arrived I thought I was alone, with nothing but boaters who were preparing to depart. Then up drove someone wearing an orange vest, pulling in next to me, and waving as I was setting up my scope. In the back of his car a blanket covered something.... the blanket had images of planets on it. Another amateur astronomer.

Out stepped Rev. David Crabtree. I'd never met him before, and I guess I expected someone in some sort of church garb, which is a silly expectation of course, but still, he introduced himself. I'd known him by his postings on the list, and I introduced myself. About that time Bob Elsberry appeared. Bob was a board member at the SJAA when I was, I'm sure he remembers those fun times as well as I do (and others on this list). I hadn't seen Bob in maybe five years, so it was fun just to say hi. Bob had been the club's treasurer until work duties curtailed his club volunteering.

I brought my 10" CPT again, and this time stood the scope up next to my car, sitting on the collimation bolts. I decided to clean the mirror. A little distilled water, a few cotton balls, and my mirror was ready for action. Folks I've never met before began pulling in. Ah... the gravitational attraction of a Big Mars was working. Other TACos I, ones that I knew, pulled in... Kevin Roberts, Rob Hawley, Geroge Feliz, Jerry Elmer, Robert Armstrong, a visit from out-of-town TACo Archer Sully, this was turning into a good group. The Reverend earlier had chuckled at me for posting on my OI that I was going to Coyote, but the "place to be" (in the note section) was The Peak. I was attempting to keep the group at Coyote small, but I failed.

Once I could see Vega, I began observing. The Double Double split nicely, very clean at 206X. Wide gaps, visitors at the scope enjoyed the view.

I have to interject here that TAC's web-page and OI calendar are a real asset in getting people out to observe. A husband and wife last night told me they found the web-page, saw the OI calendar, that people were going to Coyote, that there was a detailed map available right from the web-page, and it was an easy decision from there. Good job Steve Sergeant, and good idea Jim Bartolini!

I didn't really have an observing plan. In fact, Kevin brought a big English beer, which I enjoyed, and then reclined the seat in my car for a while to recover. When I rolled back out it was dark, except for Mars. I asked Kevin what he planned to do, and decided to tag along with him as he logged a few Messiers.

We visited M55, M75 and M70. These were all down in the Gilroy Nebulea, but still they were fun to hunt. I shot up to NGC 7331 and peeked around for the smaller galaxies nearby, found none, that stupidly looked for Stephen's Quintet. Nada.

Went over to 52 Cygni, the "Veil Nebula" star and split it. Nice split again at 206X.

I went over to the Helix Nebula, at 72X it looked quite large, but not a lot of detail. I used the Orion Ultrablock 2", then the Lumicon 2" OIII. The "hole in the doughnut" showed up best with the Ultrablock, but the OIII really showed the nebulosity much better.

Then I asked Kevin if he'd like to chase some NGC's on the Herschel list with me.

I opened the Night Sky Observer's Guide to Cepheus, since it was up high in a decent part of the sky.

We began with the nice combination of NGC 6934 and NGC 6946 in our low power fields. 6934 is a nice obvious open cluster of perhaps a couple dozen or so stars, really kind of a rich cluster, but in Coyote's skies 6946 appeared to be a rather muted galaxy. I am really used to looking at this pair in my 18" scope under dark skies, where they are spectacular. And, these are easy to find, jumping form Alpha Cephei to the red star Eta Cephei, then to the pair of deep sky objects.

We moved next to NGC 6951, since I decided to pass on the dark nebulae in these bright skies. This one too had a decent landmark to find it from, sitting close by to mag 5.6 4-Cephei. The galaxy was faint, but quite noticeable. A dim star sits just off its eastern edge, with several bright stars to its northeast. Once we saw this one, a 3-star in the NSOG, I knew the transparency was good enough to make deep sky worthwhile. This one was listed with a surface brightness of 13.2, so really, not too bad.

NGC 7023 was next. It is listed as and open cluster and reflection nebula. I believe it is a reflection nebula, at least that's what it is from Coyote. The mag 7 star that seems surrounded by an evenly dissipating glow is easy to find. Two other stars near the same magnitude frame it, almost equally far but forming a bent line. I tried and tried to convince myself I saw a cluster, but I can't lie, no matter how hard I try.

Then I went to one of my favorite couple of stars. I pointed the scope at the Garnet Star, Mu Cephei, and just enjoyed the color. Copper-red, bright, dominating its field of view. What a color, like a tiny bright rich Mars. Then I moved the scope over to IC 1396, which was our next target. This IC is a large reflection nebula embedded in a very rich star field. The field is very large, overflowing my 20 Nager, and ever so faintly between those stars was haze. I can't wait to go to OSP and look at this! Not that that view was not enough reward, but I then enjoyed seeing Struve 2816, the nice triple star so obvious in the field. Blue and two gold. Alberio with a bonus!

By now Mars was up high enough. I have to admit to looking at Mars more than any other planet. I rarely look at the planets, there are so few of them and so many other things to see :-) But up I went to Mars, again, and as soon as the view looked mushy, returned to my usual quarry and looked for the next deep sky target.

I think we poked around at some other open clusters, boy, there are a lot of them in Cepheus. But then, with a chill on the air and the hour getting late (with all that work waiting the next day) I decided to try one more object.

We looked next for NGC 7354, a nice planetary nebula in an easy location. Off the southeast leg of the constellation line, about the middle, I put the edge of my Telrad. The bullseye was outside the constellation figure, to the southeast. Looking in at 72X I could see a faint small round glow. No problem seeing this, its small size makes its mag 12.2 glow present a high surface brightness. I tried the Ultrablock here too, and it did help, I even pumped up the power to 206X, and yes, that seemed to help, but nothing could overcome the chill, the late hour and drive home.

I began packing up at 1:30. I was not the first by a long shot, and it seemed that everyone except Rob and Bob were packing up. It was a fun night. I was on the road just after 2:00, having waited for a few friends, and in bed by 2:45.

I slept in. My wife is so nice to me. I had a great night out, and look forward now to a trip with friends to the Oregon Star Party with my 10" CPT, an 18" Starmaster, and the BEAST, the 30" StarMaster.

Have a good week observing, everyone.

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