Saturday, August 14, 2004

Cold Night in August

Last night Richard Navarrete and I set up our 18" Obsessions on a hilltop in the bay area. Only one other observer was present at the time, and as the sun dropped below the western mountain range, we enjoyed a pastel swath of filtered light along the ridge line that ranged from golden orange to magentas and violets. I've been so busy this season that typically, I would be setting up scope and equipment late into the sunsets and dusk, and miss this spectacular show. The Belt of Venus was rising in the east, and with a chill breeze blowing steadily through our coats we stood, chatting with more arrivals, waiting for the dark.

And more people did arrive, well into the start of real dark. I was surprised then, and later when they departed, how few know to arrive and leave an observing site with lights dimmed, parked such that upon departing they needn't back up and glare out those remaining, or to at least announce they were departing and there'd be white light. Hopefully, they will learn...

We looked over our list - the ones we'd been working on over the years, and determined that the only objects left were winter and spring targets. Same exercise every year at this time - look over the list, determine there's nothing new, joke that we can pack up and go home, then, look for other stuff to observe.

Once dark was on us we began poking around using an observing list Richard had brought that had been put together for the Lassen Star Party in 1998. Lots of objects predominantly suggested by Jack Zeiders, Doug Ferrell, Ray Galak and me. Later, we would open the Night Sky Observers Guide to Lacer and Pegasus.

NGC 6894 was our first target. A nice planetary nebula in Cygnus easily located using the bright stars 39 and 41 Cygni as landmarks. It was obvious in the 20 Nagler, although faint and small. With the 12 Nagler its ring shape was brighter on its western edge, with a 9 Nagler and OIII filter some extensions to the SW and NE became visible, although the brighter ring portion was more even in appearance than with the 12 and no filter - which showed the brighter western portion better. The planetary is V mag 12.3 and 44" in size.

NGC 6930 is misplotted in The Sky, which Richard and I were both running on our laptops. This galaxy was easy to see with galaxy NGC 6928. The challenge objects were galaxies NGC 6927 and NGC 6927A. 6927 is v Mag 14.5 and I assume 6927A is about the same - both are claimed to be in the mid 15's on The Sky. Turned out NGC 6828 is also misplotted, but not as far off as NGC 6928. With my 7 Nagler, even the two dim little galaxies were quite obvious pieces of fluff - definitely there.

NGC 7240 in Lacer turned out to be part of one of two excellent galaxy groups we observed. This one, small, at mag 14.5 but a higher surface brightness, formed a nice group with NGC 7242, IC 1441, UGC 11963 and MCG 6-44-22, all dimmer galaxies. The MCG was unquestionably the most challenging in the group - but the four fainter galaxies were all at or dimmer than mag 15, according to NED. Only the UGC and 7242 showed any distinctive shape.

NGC 7248 is a nice galaxy at v Mag 12.4 and sb 12.7. It has a bright core elongated WSW - ENE, and an extended halo that is brighter on the SE side. NGC 7250 is clearly elongated and involves a bright star. Its core is small, elongated N-S and shows a stellar point. There are some extensions running NE-SW.

IC 1434 is a nice open cluster with a very notable chain of about 20 stars running WWSW - EENE. Worth looking at.

IC 5217in Lacer is given away by a nice long chain of stars close by to the NW. This is a stellar planetary. Richard used his OIII on a 9 Nagler, saying it helped. I could tell it was a planetary by its color alone.

We also poked around looking at some doubles and the big globulars.

While all this was going on, the fog that had begun covering the valleys started up toward us. By 1:30 it had reached us, and soon thereafter the stars disappeared.

I woke once during the hour prior to dawn and saw Venus, through the dark tinted window of my truck. Amazed that is could show so well through the fog, I opened the door. There was brilliant Venus, north of Orion, the sky clear and blazing with stars. I went back to sleep, and woke with the sunrise breaking over the eastern hills. High up in the sky I could see Venus still, clearly visible in the daylight.

I packed up, and began the drive. I descended through the little remaining fog, past the lake, and back onto the freeway. Another new moon spent on a hilltop, with friends and the sky... on a surprisingly cold night in August.

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