Friday, August 20, 2004

A Night at Bob's

With moon set early last Friday night, I took the opportunity to leave the bay area and head to the Sierra foothills for some observing and a little wine tasting. Both can be done in nice fashion in and around Fiddletown. The wineries are just outside Ol' Pokerville (Plymouth) in the verdant Shenandoah Valley - home to dozens of wineries. The usual backup on 205 eastbound on a Friday afternoon - when does that traffic start backing up? I left a 1:30 and it was already a mess. But soon, I was turning left on Fiddletown Road and veering away from the observing site toward the wineries. Since it was 4:45 by the time I got there (a few extra stops along the way made the trip longer than usual), I got into one winery, and had a few samples of the local fare. Afterward, I headed back to Fiddletown and up to the site, where I set up my 18" f/4.5 Obsession, read, and waited for dark.

A five day old moon was up, although dropping quickly in the west, but I poked around it anyway. Some nice views of Mare Crisium, Theophilis with its bifurcated central peak poking out of the shadows, and hints of the two other craters - Cyrillus and Catherina - to its south right along the terminator - there really was some excellent detail even at only 177X. As the sank into the trees, I was preparing some coffee for the night and enjoying some pasta with fresh pesto along with a bottle of red. Nice start to the night.

After dinner I was tired, and took a short nap in the truck, getting up later to a nice dark and clear sky.

I looked around for new lights, which I'd heard were reported up there. A house high up on a hill to the east had a light on, and some weird light show was going on at a house directly to the north through a break in the trees. Neither were what I considered intrusive, I was looking mostly up and to the south, and had my truck as a light-block. By late at night both lights were doused.

Here are my observing notes in fairly raw form (I have trouble too reading my own scribbling):

Abell 2199 in Hercules. Its brightest member is NGC 6166, easy to identify at mag 11.8 with a surface brightness of 12.9. To its southwest and west are a chain of stars that look like a small Serpens Caput, providing an easy landmark by which to orient and wait for eight other galaxies to come, one by one, into view. All the other galaxies were dim, and part of the MCG - ranging from mag 14.25 to 16.3 (the 16.3 was very difficult!) with most in the mid 15's. I spent a good deal of time on this target at 280X.

NGC 7094 - a nice planetary nebula in Pegasus. Without an OIII filter it was barely visible - just a hint of glow around an average looking star. With the OIII it was a direct vision target- round, annular with a dim central star. The western edge is possibly brighter - with averted vision the central star and dark center are much more prominent.

NGC 7177 is a bright galaxy in Pegasus with possible spiral structure - as I saw it. It is brightens along its NNE/SSW axis with a possible bright knot in the SSW. It has a bright core with an elongated disk - aside from its assymetry of the core. It is fairly round - and the bright section to the SSW is perhaps a star.

NGC 7217 is big and bright with a very obvious stellar core. It is a round galaxy that diffuses evenly. There is a star in the disk to the N and a bright knot ENE and close to the core.

NGC 7331 is always a favorite. It is very bright with a stellar core, very elongated with a bright knot possibly extremely far out in the N arm. At first the three smaller galaxies showed to its S. I detected a possible dark lane in along the W edge. The central area is large with a great elongation N/S. The core is offset to the W. later a 4th galaxy joined the other three to the N. The N end of the spiral arm seems to bend to the E. The faintest extent of the spiral arms appeared to reach over 8 arc minutes.

NGC 7137 in Pegasus is dim with a staller core and a bright star in the W edge. Round, perhaps a face on spiral but with a somewhat triangular brightening and maybe a dark intrusion in the eastern edge.

Stephan's Quintet was great. The eastern most galaxy - NGC 7320 - is large and extended NW/SE. To the N is a dimmer and smaller galaxy extended more N/S. Between and to the W are 2 small galaxies with the dimmer of the two to the E - both have stellar cores - they are very close together but distinctly two galaxies - and are aligned E/W. The 4th is SW and has a star at its NW tip - and it is extended NW/SE. This was one of the nicest views of this group I've had - easily seeing all 5 components.

Galaxy NGC 7332 forms a beautiful sight with NGC 7339. both are edge on - and 7332 is the brighter of the pair. NGC 7332 us NW/SE and has a bright core with notable stellar point. The other galaxy is E/W, dimmer but clearly visible and does not have a stellar core at 100X. 7332 is reminiscent of NGC 7331 in how it diffuses out. The dimmer galaxy may have a dark intrusion W of the core. Its core is also wider and possibly has a very dim stellar point. Reminds me of a smaller version of The Slug.

I like the Blue Snowball - NGC 7662. With a 7 Nagler and 2X Barlow (587X) and 1.25" Ultrablock - the hole in the center jumped out. The ring surrounding it was bright and the the third ring turned out to actually be extensions to the NNE and SSW. The brightest area is the NNE inner section of the second ring. The faintest outer ring - beyond the extenstions - is to the E.

NGC 7448 is a well framed galaxy - in three stars in a chain mostly NE/SW and E/W. It is elongated with a conspicuous central bulge. 2 other galaxies to the E at 100X just NE and E of a bright star. First galaxy is extended 4 or 5 x 1 and the ends seem to spread a bit. There is a very dim stellar core. A higher power the dimmer pair turns out to be 3 galaxies - the brightest elongated N/S with the "new" dimmer galaxy off the S end and close by to the E. The third galaxy is smaller and maybe WSW/ENE. Brighter 3rd galaxy is to the E and more distant - but about the same size as the second galaxy and has a higher surface brightness and a distinct stellar core.

Jumping to The Helix - with a 20 Nagler and 2" DGM VHT filter - chains of stars seem to zig-zag E/W across the nebula. The big planetary appears to have an "open" end to the WNW with the brightest and sharpest defined section being the N and S outer edges. It is VERY large in the 7 Nagler and the brightest knots seemed to be at the W edge of the "horseshoe" shape with N/S brighter than E.

The galaxy NGC 7457 is a modest size disk elongated to the W with a bright core and stellar point. Its elongation is about 1.5 x 1.0. This is a nice looking galaxy. There appears to be a bright knot NW of center about 2/3rds out. A nice chain of stars runs E/W... 2 E of the galaxy, 2 W and a dimmer pair just to its S.

I finished by visiting NGC 7554 and NGC 7469. By this time I was tired to the point of starting to stumble around, so I did not take much in the way of notes. I do show that 7469 is small, round and has a bright core, and that to the NNE is an IC galaxy elongated E/W.

I awoke before sunrise and found Venus blazing in Gemini, and noted too that Saturn has moved, and is now east of the Gemini toward the Eskimo Nebula.

I spent a good part of the next afternoon wine tasting again in the Shenandoah Valley - at Montevina and Deaver. The Barbera and Refusco at Montevina were excellent. So was the "rocket fuel" Port at Deaver.

A 2.5 hour drive back, and the short trip was done...

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