Monday, October 31, 2005

Mars Dresses For The Occasion

Planetary observing. A rarity for me.

Last night looked like the best possibility of seeing Mars at least once near its current closest approach. So I put the scope out back in the afternoon and filled the day with work, aikido and and reading about the atomic spaceship "Project Orion". Mars would not clear the trees in my downtown San Jose backyard until about 11 P.M.

The "holiday" had actually been interesting and fun... kids coming to the door in costume. Some were easily recognizable, others looking very home-made (the mom dressed as Bo-Peep was the best!). One boy - big for trick-or-treating - was the last in a large group. I couldn't tell what he was. As I reached out to put a Mars Bar in his bag I said "who are you?" - meaning "what are you".... stunned, he blurted out "Roberto Montoya"... I laughed, not meaning to interrogate him. I think we were both surprised.

The orange and black kidfest ended and I eventually I found my way out back to see what the views were like in the scope - a 10" f/5.7 Dobsonian. In went the 12mm, nice view! At this low power the seeing appeared very steady.

The planet's color was strikingly appropriate for the night - orange and black. I thought about the trick-or-treaters, about Montoya's odd costume, and recalled when as a 9 year old when family money must have been tight and I wore an aluminum colander on my head and a cardboard box decorated to look like I was a robot - from Mars.

In went the 7mm and detail became very apparent. The planet was very steady, really good seeing. The dark markings appeared to form, well, almost a bow-tie, just slightly off center toward the leading edge. A lighter area with a dark spot also showed slightly south and toward the trailing edge. These were excellent views! The bow-tie feature had some extensions, most notably from near the "knot" toward the south. I smiled at the bow tie... remembering my Martian Robot costume had included one as well.

Mars was in perfect Halloween color and dress. I was surprised by the coincidence with my childhood, and how observing it last night brought back those memories. It was a fun night...

ps - Please, no aluminum hats for X-Mas..

Saturday, September 24, 2005

CalStar Highlights

I had an excellent time at this year's CalStar. Conditions really couldn't have been much better. For those of you who were late arrivals, change your plans next year to be there all three nights - Thursday was the hands-down winner for observing conditions. I know a few "can't get enough" types arrived early, maybe their conditions were better, but about the only way I could imagine that being possible is if there were eyepiece bearers to swap my Naglers and maybe a regular flow of pizza being delivered on site!

Before getting into the specifics, I want to extend a general "great job done" to Rob Hawley, Mike Koop and the San Jose Astronomical Association. I can tell you all firsthand that the job of organizing CalStar is time consuming and carries some modest financial risk for the club - and we owe these people a debt of gratitude for their efforts.

So, the highlights....

Seeing the following people make the journey...

  • James Turley
  • Tom Osypowski and Nan
  • Jeff Gortatowksi
  • Paul Sterngold
  • Michelle Stone
  • John Bunyon

All folks who I don't get to see often enough.

Sampling good single malts with Steve Sergeant was a last night highlight.

Kevin scrounging for an air pump in the middle of the night.

His brother Kevin delivering Sharks tickets to me on site.

Heather trying to find a tough object in my 18, with the Quickfinder half a degree off!

Jane Smith wine tasting under her double canopy surrounded by friends.

Rashad reacting to the dust cloud!

Friday night's potluck at Uncle Dan's Country Kitchen.

The buzz of a hundred voices outside in the dark when I woke from an after dinner nap Friday night.

It was a great experience, shared among many friends.

As for observing, I spent much of my time in Lacerta, just going through a printed list of objects catalogued in the Saguaro Astronomy Club deepsky database. It was fun, starting with (now, try to control your excitement) stellar planetaries. Gortatowski and I worked these.... you'd find the star field and swap in an OIII filter to make the planetary stand out. Yes, it was fun. There were also a good number of galaxy groups we ran into. This, by the way, was all interspersed with visits from friends and sipping Mexican Coffee (which is why I think they were visiting!).

The best views of the trip though had to be between 4 and 5 a.m. Friday morning. Lacerta was setting, I was tired, so I decided to just look at some bright stuff. Orion was riding high, and I'd heard someone mention the Flame Nebula. I pulled out a new filter Dan McShane of DGM Optics sent me. I knew nothing about it, other than last year he'd sent me the VHT (very high transmission) filter he was manufacturing. Dan is a long time acquaintance. The VHT had been my favorite filter for the Veil and the bright summer nebulae. But I didn't even know what the new one (the NPB) was called, or what it did. The filter arrived via UPS as I was pulling out of the driveway to head to LSA. I looked at the Flame without the filter and thought it was obvious enough that we might have a good night for the Horsehead. On went the filter, but the Flame did not show much improvement. I thought "okay.... I'll experiment on different objects to see what this is good on"...

It did nothing for the Horsehead, but I do feel it was effective in showing IC 434. I only saw a dark area where the Horsehead should be, there was not detail - just a void.

I kept the NPB filter on and swung the scope to M42. When I looked in the eyepiece I was off by over a degree, but there, subtly in the field, I saw all sorts of thin veils of nebulosity with dark lanes and blobs. I wondered where I was... and noticed it getting brighter as the field drifted. I was on the extreme outskirts of the western edge of the nebula. I let it drift. What a sweet view.... slowly the entire nebula drifted through. The NPB filter brought out details I've never seen. This was certainly one of the greatest views I've had of M42. The view seemed to take on a three dimensional feel, especially around the eastern wing and behind the Trapezium to M43. I also found the Running Man to be spectacular that night - nebulosity surrounding the bright stars like the photos we love of the Merope Nebula in the Pleiades. What a great night!

Happy with the results on M42, I thought this was an OIII type filter, and immediately hopped over to NGC 2392, The Eskimo Nebula in Gemini.

Wow! What a view! I put in the 7 Nagler with an 1.25" PMB filter and had a truly Hubble-like view. Seriously, there was such wonderful detail and nice natural looking coloration I could hardly believe it. I started looking around to call friends over, and realized it was just me and a few snoozing imagers left standing (or, wobbling). I looked again. The planetary's central star was bright and sharp. A black donut surrounded it. Around the blackness was a searing green disk with sharply defined inner and outer edges. The bright ring seemed uneven in places, as if there were areas of filament and areas of void in it. At the outer edge of the bright ring began an almost spongy looking ring - or maybe I should call it "gausey" looking - it was definitely thinner and dimmer - but what got me was the amount of fine detail and that wonderful greenish glow. The view was close to this, really, but without the red - just a nice bright green inner ring and more muted green outer shell....

As far as I was concerned, the two views, M42 and the Eskimo, made it a great trip.

Oh, I finally did find out a bit about the filter - people at CalStar were having a good laugh when asking what it was called and what it did, and I couldn't answer. Here's some info:

FWIW, some of us began calling it the 3D filter. Not a bad name for it!

Again, thanks to Mike and Rob, and all who attended and made it so much fun....

Sunday, September 4, 2005

The Peak again

There was little in the way of fog along the coast when I got to the ridgeline on the drive up Fremont Peak, so it did not look like a particularly dark night ahead. At the southwest lot I found Rashad et up, and Navarrete's car - Richard must have taken a short hike. There were holiday weekend visitors - people up on the top of the Peak and looking at the telescopes in the parking lot. As much as I enjoy observing at Coe - it is clearly the best south bay site in a number of ways - the views and ambiance at the Peak are great.

The night before I had dinner near Chabot in the Montclair section of the Oakland Hills. I had planned to see Venus and Jupiter close together from up there. The house sits atop Skyline Road and has a beautiful elevated deck out back facing west - but the fog came across the bay and enveloped us before dark killing the opportunity. I wondered about Fremont Peak - was it above the fog, or in it? It was a late night, we were awake until nearly sunrise - so at the Peak the next day I was dragging, but did see the two planets after watching a great sunset. I hope Rashad will post a picture he took of the sun, distorted as it set into the low flat cloud cover at the horizon. Then I laid down in the back of the truck. Fortunately, I woke just as dark was really setting in. I expected I'd have a tired night.

At astronomical twilight my impression was that the Peak is a very bright place. The three of us had such recent memories the skies at Shingletown and Lassen. The Milky Way at Fremont Peak was a pale hint of what should be there. Some of the public came by and looked through the scopes. It was reminiscent of old times at the southwest lot, lots of memories there - but now, we'd become just a few old friends observing together - full circle. There were a couple familiar friendly faces over at the ranger's side, and one unidentified observer at Coulter Row. It was quiet, but that would certainly change during the night. Yes, Fremont Peak still lives up to its reputation - astronomy's Animal House - The Freak Peak. But, that would come, and go, later.

I was at a loss for observing targets. The NSOG was always handy, but I'd done that several times. There was Miles Paul's Atlas of Galaxy Trios. Done that too, at least what is visible in summer and fall skies. In my reference box - which weighs almost as much as the mirror box of my 18" Obsession, I had stowed away two volumes I'd printed out of the Saguaro Astronomy Club's "SAC Database" - enough objects to keep me busy for the next few years. Looking up, Navarrete reminded me that we'd just done the all Delphinus in the NSOG while at Lassen. I looked at it in the SAC Database - quite a few more objects in that small area. Being well placed for most of the night, I spent most of my time there.

The first two objects were planetaries. NGC 6891 is a mag 10.5 15" disc. With a 20 Nagler it as round and bright with an obvious central star. Bumping up the power with a 7 Nagler I could detect perhaps three shells, a bright inner one inside a thin outer shell, both round. I felt there was a very faint outer halo extended N/S. I tried a UHC filter which did not help much. The planetary can be found midway between Alpha Delphini and Altair. Three mag 6 stars in a one degree FOV provide a good marker just over a degree northeast.

NGC 6905 is a planetary known as the Blue Flash Nebula. It is larger than 6891, and a bit dimmer. Still, in the 20 Nagler it was an obvious and easy to find. It appeared pretty evenly bright and potentially annular at low power. The 7mm and UCH helped, giving hints of the central star and showing some inner mottling, but not strikingly so. There were hints of an extended outer envelope NW/SE. Steve Gottlieb is quoted describing this object and derivation of its name at:

The Blue Flash is in the middle of nowhere, but I found it using a line from Zeta Cygni to Gamma Aquilae. A chain of stars leads to it from mag 4.8 "29 Velpuculae".

At this point in the evening I had been hoping for a better night. Fremont Peak seemed extraordinarily bright, washed out gray with a big light dome over the Peak in the direction of Salinas. This is the glow behind the Peak we see all the way from Henry Coe State Park. But, conditions improved dramatically after some of the cities around the Peak went to bed...

I continued in Delphinus through a series of at times difficult galaxies. Most were non-descript and the real value in hunting them down was just that, the hunt.

NGC 6928 was large and elongated WNW/ESE with a bulging core. Mag 13.18, 2.9"x0.6".

NGC 6930 was in same field as NGC 6928. With a 7 Nagler it was very dim, elongated N/S - long and thin. Mag 13.62, 1.3"x0.5".

NGC 6972 was a small hazy round glow with a 12 Nagler, barely visible in the 20mm. Mag 14.15, 1.1"x0.5".

NGC 6954 was very small but noticeable in the 20mm. It showed no discernable shape. A 7mm showed it extended 3x2 WSE/ESE with a round core. Mag 14.1, 1.0"x0.6".

These observations are not all that exciting - but hang in there, there's good stuff to come.

Speaking of hanging in there, the Peak on this holiday weekend had the usual contingent of partiers and crazies. Joining us in the SW lot was a carful of local young women. They were courteous about their lights - no problem there, but their music sounded as if we were entering a rave. I'm quite sure they were partying in their vehicle, you'd hear them singing along with "ahas" and various other noises. A group of young men also showed up and at one point a guitar player who thinks he is Richie Havens began "performing" for us. It was hard to believe. And topping it off were the flashes of their cell phones taking photos! They finally broke up maybe around 1 a.m. - the guys left quietly, but the women tossed a bottle out of their vehicle and wished us luck looking for ET. Holiday weekends can get strange.

It was VERY nice when they were gone, and by the end of the night all there was, was quiet, a very good sky, and few people. It was then I felt at home, back up at the Peak.

NGC 7003 too was small and dim, showing a bit of shape in the 7mm - with a slight E/W elongation. Mag 13.76, 1.1"x0.8".

I had high hopes for NGC 6969. Its number just had a nice ring to it - I call them "sticky" numbers, ones that your brain holds onto. But in the 20mm it too was very dim and small. The 12mm showed a possible E/W elongation which in the 7mm showed a stellar core and WSE/ENE extension. Mag 14.89, 1.1"x 0.3".

While this was going on Rashad was looking at Abell 426, the Perseus Supercluster:

I took a peek and guessed that in one field of view he must have had 25 galaxies. I remember him counting into the 20's. It was an awesome sight, even under modest sky darkness. What we did have was excellent transparency and very good steadiness. Another view he had that was amazing was NGC 1023. His view was a mindblower. Big spread out extension in the spiral arms. I can't recall ever seeing them so well defined. Great mirror Buddy!

NGC 6927 and 6927A were fun, because they were so small and really opened the door to "dim" finds for the night. Perhaps my eyes had fully acclimated at this point. These two mini-puffs are Mag 15.5, 0.9"x0.4" and Mag 17, 0.3"x0.1".

NGC 6951 in the 7mm was ghostly and round, with no detail. Mag 11.69, 3.9"x3.2".

NGC 6944 was a faint haze in the 12mm, and had a very nice parallelogram asterism very close by. The 7mm showed a bright core and small round outer halo. Mag 14.79, 1.5"x0.6".

NGC 6956 was a round glow in the 20mm. There are some very good finder star asterisms near this object. Using the 12mm brought out UGCs 11620 and 11623. The 7mm brought out the stellar core in 6956. Mag 13.14, 1.9"x1.9", 14.60, 0.6"x0.4", 14.85, 1.0"x0.7" respectively.

NGC 7025 is a mag 13.71 galaxy in a nice star field that appeared like an open cluster, with the galaxy a good sized glow on its perimeter. The 7mm showed the galaxy as roundish with a stellar core. Direct vision object. It is 1.9"x1.3".

NGC 6955 was seen in the 12 but not the 20 - and averted vision only. Very faint and round. Mag 14.37, 1.4"x1.3".

NGC 6917 in the 7mm was elongated N/S with a star it its S edge. Mag 14.3, 1.6"x1.1".

NGC 6934 is a bright mag 9.75 globular cluster. It resolved well in the 20mm showing a bright core with may outliers. In the 7mm the cluster appeared extended more N/S and star poor along its eastern side.

I tried PK 63-12.1, and occasionally felt I could see a very faint nearly stellar object popping in and out.

One of the finds of the night for me was Abell 72. Using the 7mm and an OIII filter I detected, and times convincingly, a large roundish mottled glow with three stars in a right angle along its edges. This object was surprisingly large! There also appeared to be some mottling and dimming toward the NW. I was very surprised to see this at all from Fremont Peak. Mag 13.8, 2.1'. This image shows the dark section I saw:

While Rashad's view of the Perseus Supercluster was the view of the night for me, certainly running into the galaxy fields around NGC 543 (another "sticky" number - I love sequential numbers, like NGC 6543) in Cetus was the surprise of the night. Right away I counted 7 galaxies in the initial field. NGC 543 is not the brightest member. Two very bright galaxies anchor the group - these two are right on top of each other, giving one the impression of a dark lane bisecting one large galaxy. A chain extends SW from the pair - two more galaxies, the first a spiral tilted toward us, the second one more edge on. In a 1.25 degree field I could see everything down to about mag 16. I forget the count, but a good 20 galaxies were had just moving the eyepiece around slightly. I was recalling how fun it is to use a planetarium program like The Sky and galaxy hop within rich clusters. Here is a page from Andreas Domenico's web-site giving an idea of some of the fields:

While you're there, look at Andreas' drawings, he is quite talented drawing at the eyepiece.

After the galaxy group, I began looking at eye candy. The Crab at high power - no filter, showing tendrils and remembering the views at LSA through Mark Cherrington's 25". Scooting all around the Veil with the 7mm and UHC filter - following the dimmest of wisp, working my eye to stay on it - amazing how delicate, intricate and tenuous an object that is once you step away from the Witch's Broom and Waterfall. The Fetus Nebula - NGC 7008 - showed TONS of detail at high mag. Nice bright edge and darkening off-center within the envelope. Wonderful object.

And, I should also mention Mars. In the 18" with a 7 Nagler it was showing excellent detail. Two large areas of darkness extending across the face of the planet with a dusty rose tinted gap separating them. But, boy, was it bright!

I'd seen some amazing things. Hard to detect objects, rich galaxy clusters, obscure stuff, showpieces that were *really* showing.

Sometime after 4 a.m. fatigue from the lack sleep the night before was catching up with me. To the east Orion was rising. To the west, Cygnus was diving headfirst for the horizon....

A quick peek at M42 and M43 turned into some serious lingering at the eyepiece - even look in the sky, high power brought a great deal of the sculpted dark and bright nebula visible in these great objects - the dark areas in M43 reminded me of the best photos of the Horsehead - wisps and bits of dark stuff extending everywhere against the glow of the bright nebula.

I got into the truck and slept for about three hours before driving home.

Friday, August 26, 2005

Houge Park August 26

Last night I hauled my 18" Obsession to Houge Park. I'd done this once before, but had forgotten how much fun aperture is in the city. I'm used to bringing my 10" CPT out, its a fine scope and I enjoy it. But, the views last night showed once again what da Weasel says... "aperture wins"....

Driving over just before 7 p.m., and yes, I was first to arrive, I was noticing the thick haze in the valley. I worried that this was the start of a condensing marine layer and that taking and setting up a big scope would be a waste. Instead, skies cleared nicely and we had very good transparency and steadiness. The summer Milky Way could be detected running the length of the sky from the Teapot well up through Cygnus and back toward Cassiopeia.

I had a nice time visiting with Kevin Roberts and Cathy, Bob Havner, Jim Van Nuland, Dan Wright, Alan Zaza and Rob Hawley. Later on Robert Perri stopped by, hadn't seen him in a year or so. As the night wore on my daughter Mimi and her boyfriend Jeff came by as well. It was a socially and astronomically fun night!

The public turn out was decent. It sounded like the SJAA's advertising had fallen off for a while and was just getting back in gear. Most people had heard about the event in Bay Area Parent magazine. There was one interesting woman there with an 8" Orion Dob that came by and wanted to look through an 18. She home-schools her kids and has a 20 person astronomy club that meets at her house as part of the "school"...

Objects last night shown well in the 18. The Dumbell with a UHC at about 180X was excellent. The big globulars M13 and M15 put on a great show as well, resolving very nicely. We looked low at the Lagoon, Triffid and Butterfly Cluster. M31 later on was showing hints of dust lanes, and NGC 7331 was easy.

Oh, early in the evening, after going through the collimation "meditation", just after sunset but still with a bright sky I found Venus. Nice slightly gibbous phase and quite steady. Knowing approximately where Jupiter was, I found it easily in the 10x70 finder. It too was very steady in the twilight sky, showing many cloud bands.

About 11:30 I packed up and went out for a late night bite to eat with Mimi and Jeff. It had been a very good night at Houge. I'll probably continue to bring the 18 now... it is not really that much more effort, and the reward in brighter more detailed views was well worth it. If you've got a choice of scopes to bring there, my recommendation is "bigger is better"... the public sure loves it!

Wednesday, July 6, 2005

SSP 2005: Fun With Steve (without Steve)

The 2005 Shingletown Star Party was outstanding. We had more attendees than any prior year, we had excellent day and night temperatures, super door prizes donated by vendors from around the world, a sponsor beyond compare in Sam - the manager of Scope City in San Francisco (representing Lumicon, Scope City and Parks Optical), and, we had great skies!

I arrived a day early and stayed in Redding to make Wednesday easy, and it was, compared to other years. There was still a lot of set up to be done, but our volunteer staff really rolled into gear, and before we knew it our hospitality canopy was up, bathrooms standing at the ready, dumpsters in place, and the shower truck open for business. This was a very smooth year.

It was great to see so many familiar faces, the couple from England were back, as were the ones from Cincinnati, Doug Sprigg - who hosted Albert, Joe Bob and Dr. Kingsley in Arkaroola Australia - also stopped by for a few days as well. And, we had attendees literally from all the western states this year. The biggest scopes were three or four 28"ers.

The nights worked out this way.... Wednesday was a great night, Thursday, although I slept through it, was reported to be a fantastic night. Friday an Saturday we were dodging clouds, and Sunday..... perfectly clear and very transparent! I'm glad I stayed through Sunday night!

The nights I observed I did so with Richard Navarrete (Wednesday) and Jeff Gortatosky (Sunday). Richard and I worked through a few challenge objects and then on the Night Sky Observers' Guide in Delphinus. We were using 18" Obsessions. We logged IC 1296 (the small galaxy next to M57), NGC 3172 aka Polarisima, NGC 6507 in Sagittarius, then through NGCs 6891, 6905, 6928, 6930, 6927, 6934, 6944, 6944a, 6950, 6956, UGC 11620 and 11623, and NGCs 6954 and 6972.

As noted, I was so wiped out on Thursday, I was asleep by 10 pm. It happens, to bad it didn't happen on a lesser night.

I'll skip Friday, which was sucker holes, but fun socializing with everyone, and Saturday, which was a blast when we opened the scopes up to the public.

Sunday Jeff G and I started with the Night Sky Observers' Guide in Ophiuchus and used Steve Gottlieb's SSP Challenge List for every other object. Steve was at SSP last year, and I failed on virtually every one of his challenge objects. This year Steve's in Australia, but his list was still here, so I was albe to have fun with Steve even though he was not present. Jeff and I logged the following in Oph - M107,M12, M10, NGC 6235, B72, B47 and B51, M62, and then found we were having such great success with Gottlieb's challenge list (The Snake Nebula was GREAT!), we put the NSOG away and continued to log - IC 1257, Haute-Provence 1, Abell 43, IC 4677, Sh 2-71, NGC 6749, Abell 55, Abell 61, Sh 2-91 Parsamyan 21, UGC 11466 and UGC 12914.

If it hadn't been 3:30 a.m. the the night before driving home, I would have kept on. Both Richard and Jeff were great observing partners. But, that was enough on Sunday night. The trip was successful from logistical, social, and observing perspectives. I had an outstanding time, it was great too to see so many old returning friends, and make so many new friendships.

SSP 2006 should fall in late June, if I recall correctly (no calendar in front of me) it should start on the 26th. Mark your calendars!

Sunday, May 29, 2005

Fiddletown Memorial Day Weekend

I had a great birthday weekend up in Amador County, staying at the historic Volcano Union Inn Bed and Breakfast for three nights, spending time along highway 49, up 88 and in through the Shenendoah Valley wine country. After touring 49 and getting a late dinner, the evening was spent doing naked eye astonomy from the patio of the B&B, discussing astronomy with other patrons. Actually, there were no other patrons of the B&B, but there were locals and tourists enjoying an evening drink and socializing. Saturday was spent in the wine valley - doing several tastings and enjoying the ambiance of beautiful architecture, vineyards, and sunshine - although - it did cloud up late in the afternoon - just before I was going to head to the Fiddletown observing site.

I arrived up the dirt road, clouds overhead, but with hope for clearing - there was a hard edge to the clouds, and clear behind them. When I pulled into the observing site I was surprised to see two vehicles and three people there. It was Charlie Stifflemeyer and friends. We stopped, said hello, looked at the sky, and bailed on back to the B&B for a good dinner and to watch the sky from outside. It cleared just around sunset, but the air went chill and carried the smell of moisture. Sure enough, the tops of cars parked along the main street of Volcano showed signs of dewing. I decided to stick with naked eye observing and enjoy the pleasant company of the proprietors. Nice evening.

Sunday night looked good, just some thin cloud which I expect dissipated, but dinner was late at the Saint George Hotel, and again, there was dew on the roofs of cars when we walked back to the B&B.

My 18" Obsession never made it out of the truck, but it was a fantastic weekend - that part of the state is about as scenic as you can imagine with wildflowers lining the hills, highways and gardens - old storefronts from the 1800's, and lots of people with smiles on their faces - I guess those are the things I got to observe this Memorial Day weekend.

Next weekend, weather permitting - local - up to Coe.

See you there.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Emptying the Cup!

Last night my daughter Mimi, boyfriend Jeff and I joined Peter Natscher for a short night of observing on Coulter Row at Fremont Peak. It has been forever since I've observed from that location. I can report that the site is still quite good, and has seen some nice improvements since my last visit - new restrooms up at the overlook, and good pavement. I brought my 18" f/4.5 Obsession and 10" f/5.7 CPT, Mimi got to use the smaller scope to show her boyfriend some highlight objects. It was a short night for Mimi, as the cold got to her, and she was gone by eleven.

I decided to go to the Peak - my annual trip - and try Coulter as it is protected somewhat from the wind, has a very good southern horizon, and Peter was going. I had not seen him since Shingletown last year. I enjoyed the evening - Peter and I were swapping views - he had several nice galaxy groups during the night.

I was continuing my Herschel 2500 project. Man, what a task. My hat's off to folks like Gottlieb and Czerwinski, who've logged that many objects and (in Steve's case) more. I've been at this off and on for a very long time. Last night I went after objects in Crater, which was among the springtime constellations that are so difficult to get clear skies for. As noted in Peter's report, temps were chilly, dropping into the mid 30's, but other than my fingers, I was not cold.

Here are the objects I observed:

NGC 3081Galaxy type SAB, mag 12.85, SB 13.2, size 2.1'x1.6': I began hunting this target (actually in Hydra) in the late twilight, and found the location difficult. Using Alphard (Alpha Hydrae) and making a right angle with Lambda Hydrae, I ended up using the naked eye pair of stars SAO 177840 and SAO 177866, which are 23' apart, to hop via my 10x70 finder to the correct position. The galaxy was dim, but had a bright non-stellar core surrounded by a dim halo disk. It is located off a nice chain of six stars to its NE. There may be some elongation NNW/SSE.
NGC 3892Galaxy type SO, mag 11.5, SB 13.4, size 3.0'x2.2': I hopped from Alpha Crateris to Delta, and out NE to mag 6.2 SAO 156896, which made the position easy to locate. The galaxy is small, oval with some elongation E/W. It contains a bright core with a dim stellar point.
NGC 3956Galaxy type Sc, mag 12.1, SB 13.3, size 3.4'x1.0'. This one appeared as a dim slash ENE/WNW with even brightness throughout. There were two pair of stars of equal PA to the NNW that helped locate the galaxy. I found this one going form Delta to Gamma Corvi and down to mag 5.2 SAO 157042, and the galaxy was just beyond, barely inside Crater's border.
NGC 3962Galaxy type E2, mag 10.7, SB 12.6, size 2.6'x2.2'. This was one of the tougher locations, without a bright star nearby. I went from Gamma Corvi to mag 5 SAO 156998, then north, and hunted around a bit. There were two bright stars nearby to the S and SW that helped mark the location, but the galaxy itself was quite bright and obvious in the eyepiece. It had a stellar core with a bright inner disk that diffused abruptly out to a dim outer disk.
NGC 3981Galaxy type Sbc, mag 11.3, SB 13.8, size 5.2'x2.3'. Very near the location of NGC 3956, this very long galaxy had an even brightness and was in a WSW/ENE position.
NGC 3456Galaxy type SBc, mag 12.4, SB 12.9, size 1.9'x1.3'. Located at the western extreme of Crater, it is easy to locate star hopping from mag 3.1 Nu Hydrae. It is small, very dim and elongated E/W with a dim star just to its E. There was no detail. But, I do like sequential NGC numbers like this one (my favorite is NGC 6543).
NGC 3571Galaxy type Sa, mag 12.1, SB 13.2, size 3.0'x1.0'. In an easy position in Crater nearly mid-point between Alpha and Gamma. This appeared to be edge-on, had a bright core with a near stellar nucleus, and seemed quite elongated E/W 5x2.
NGC 3715Galaxy type SO, mag 13.9, SB 12.7, size 0.8'x0.5'. At first I thought I was just dyslexic and had transposed numbers with the prior object, but no, this was really the next on my list. It is located very close to NGC 3571, on the same line toward Alpha Crateris. Small, bright and round, with a stellar core.
NGC 3667Galaxy type Sbc, mag 12.7, SB 12.4, size 1.5'x1.0'. Very easy to locate going from Alpha to Delta, then another 1.5 degrees further. This galaxy appears oval and even brightness, elongated E/W. Bumping up the power brought out NGC 3667A, much dimmer, but about the same size as 3667 which is to its W. 3667A forms a right angle with 3667 and a close star. 3667A is elongated NE/SE and is separated by only 1'.
NGC 3955Galaxy type SO, mag 11.9, SB 12.9, size 2.9'x0.9'. I used mag 3 Epsilon Corvi and mag 4 Alpha Corvi (yes, you read those mags correctly) to form an isosceles triangle to locate this target. This was a nice view, very elongated N/S with a pronounced bright large central bulge. A very slight hint of a stellar core - the southern extent of the galaxy seemed to be disrupted, or perhaps it is a barred spiral - there seemed to be hints of arms curving back of the ends of the extensions.
NGC 3957Galaxy type SO, mag 11.8, SB 12.5, size 3.1'x0.7'. Nice! Bright, very elongated about 5X1 N/S, with a dark area in the S extension. In an easy position to locate, Delta to Gamma Corvi, to SAO 157042, and a bit west - three stars to the galaxy's NW help mark the field.
NGC 3732Galaxy type EO, mag 12.5, SB 12.8, size 1.2'x1.2'. Too easy to find, just off mag 4.7 Theta Crateris. It is small, round and has a stellar core in a bright nucleus. A bright star sits close to its W.
NGC 3508Galaxy type Sb, mag 13.2, SB 12.9, size 1.0'x0.9'. Located very close to a pair of naked-eye stars just N of Alpha Crateris. It appears irregular, elongated SSW/NNE, possibly larger on the SSW end. It has a star embedded in the NNE end. I wonder if this galaxy is disrupted?
NGC 3951Galaxy type SBO, mag 13.1, SB 13, size 1.3'x0.8'. Easy hop off of Delta Crateris, however, this proved a difficult object. It was odd that it was *just* visible in my 20 Nagler (100X), but not in the 12 or 7 Naglers. As such, the best description I can attach is, non-descript!
NGC 3661Galaxy type SO, mag 14, SB 14.2, size 1.7'x0.8'. Great location! Go from Alpha to Delta and just beyond - really easy. The galaxy is elongated SSE/NNW with a bright core containing a dim stellar point. I felt there was some mottling. An easy bright chain of three stars sits very close to the galaxy's south.
NGC 3734Galaxy type Sbc, mag 13.7, SB 13.9, size 1.4'x1.0'. I used Iota (24) Crateris as the jumping off point to hop to this target. It was extremely faint and yielded no detail. I could see it only in the 12 Nagler and even then, only by jiggling the telescope, which showed a round ghost coming in and out with averted vision.
NGC 3791Galaxy type SO, mag 13.7, SB 13.8, size 1.3'x1.0'. This was a fun target, and my last for the night. Alpha and Delta to hop to mag 4.7 Theta Crateris, then star hopped to the galaxy from there. The galaxy was small and round, averted vision showed a stellar core. It was easy to pick out a low power. Three other galaxies in a tight knot - NGC 3771, MCG 1-30-17 and MCG 1-30-18 break up nicely at high power (280X), although the two MCGs are very close together. One oddity was that NGC 3791seemed to have a double nucleus at high power.

That was it for the night. I had finished off the objects in Crater, emptied the cup of H2500 objects.

Before finishing, I will say, as I do each year, off of Highway 101 along 156 then up San Juan Canyon Road is one of the most beautiful I know of in spring. It is verdant green, there are wildflowers on the shoulders of the road, and cattle, horses, rabbit and wild turkey around the turns. The view of the coast from Fremont Peak is a treat.

I also found that it was not too bad observing galaxies with a 5+ day old moon. Earlier in the day I wrote Attilla Danko, ex-bay area resident (used to attend our Lassen Star Parties) asking him about an additional feature for the clear sky clocks. I wondered if there could be a way to quantify magnitude loss for various percentages of the moon - for its phase, and for certain degrees off the moon - and perhaps model in transparency as well. This would help tell observers if the targets they are interested in would be visible, or "mooned" out on a particular night. I did not mind having the moon up... I'll do it again. I might even go back to the Peak again before next year!

Saturday, April 9, 2005

Coe beats the odds

I started the day Saturday looking at the Clear Sky Clocks for Coe, Plettstone and other points south in the Sierra Foothills. Turned out that by mid-afternoon, Coe looked the best...

And, it exceeded our expectations. Conditions were cool, but not cold, dewy early on then drying out, calm winds that picked up around midnight, and reasonably steady seeing even for planetery observing. As usual, the drive up East Dunne Road through the green mountaintops and canyons was beautiful.

Three of us met there, all with 18" telescopes, two f/4.5s, the other must be an f/5. We had few visitors, just some day hikers at sunset, and then a group with headlamps on walking into the parking lot while we were observing - they quickly agreed to douse their lights and look through the telescopes. Its always fun to hear someone react to seeing Saturn the first time...

This was my second night at Coe in less than a week. I have been observing object in William Herschel's catalog, and continued in Coma Berenices, which is now quite a familiar constellation for me. While the transparency was better on Tuesday night, I had little trouble locating most targets last night. Here are my notes:

NGC 4919A - this galaxy is very faint, just a glint between NGCs 4919 and 4911. NGC 4911 is obvious, 4919 is more difficult but still direct vision. The only time 4919A was visible was with averted vision.

NGC 4927 sits inside the lip of a nice little Big Dipper asterism, and is "there" but difficult in my 20 Nagler. Bumping up the power with the 12 Nagler makes the galaxy much easier to observe - still - it is indistinct - a stellar core pops out with averted vision.

NGC 4983 - there is a nice "arrow" of four stars - very distinct - that point to this galaxy. Reminds me of the pointer that helps find M104. The galaxy is dim, medium size, but shows no detail. Much more obvious is nearby galaxy UGC 8229, which is elongated N/S.

NGC 4921 at first rated a "maybe"... in fact, I thought for quite a while (spent way to much time on this one) I thought it could be misplotted. It does not show up on The Sky, something I would run into off and on during the night, but the pointer would show the location it should occupy. Others were all around, this is a fun galaxy field. Showing up were NGCs 4022, 4023, 4015, 4016, 3987, 3997 and 4018. After carefully star hopping in the eyepiece (7 Nagler) 4021 finally showed itself, very near by a dim star and further away from the two pointer stars I thought it was equidistant from.

NGC 4074 was a dim but not difficult galaxy, with a dim star very near by to its west. This was another fun galaxy field, yielding NGCs 4070, 4066, 4065, 4061, 4076, 4086, 4090, 4093 and 4095.

NGC 4559 is a galaxy with designations of A, B and C. The galaxy was fun to view, after all the dim stuff, as it was large and bright. It is large, roundish and has three stars embedded in the southern half. There are two bright knots, which I take to be the B and C designations, in the northern section, the brighter one being more central, and the dimmer on on the northern extremity, and very dim. There is also a possible knot to the northeast.

NGC 4979 is an obvious N/S elongated galaxy that forms a right angle with the two brightest stars in the field.

NGC 5004B and C and IC 4210 were puzzling, at least the NGCs were - The Sky does not use letter designations consistently, sometimes it uses them, other times not. The NGCs were easy, there is a nice star pattern to work off of. The IC is very difficult, a dim star just to its E helps mark the location.

NGC 4035 is a possible elongated galaxy. Or perhaps its spiral arms give it an elongated appearance. I could only detect this detail at 280X. Getting there was a big problem... I was sure I was in the right field, all stars except the mag 9 one located dead on the galaxy were there... and I wasn't seeing the galaxy at low power. I finally realized The Sky had the star misplotted, badly, after looking at the thumbnail image. I went to the position, bumped up the power, and there was 4035.

My last object was NGC 4714 - nice, obvious. An easy, bright asterism makes the location simple. In the field also were NGCs 4722, 4723 and 4748.

I knew this would not be a long observing session, with things to do on Sunday. But I finished off Coma Berenices and started tackling the few remaining targets in Corvus. So, it was a good and productive evening.

Almost forgot one of the most interesting observations of the night. It was the first - a thin crescent moon in the murk to the west at twilight. There appeared to be a bright spot sitting right on the edge of the limb just north of the lunar equator. In the telescopes, there was no bight spot... but there was a large crater with a raised internal plain. Cool sight, I wonder if we were seeing that flat crater interior reflecting light brighter than the rest of the crescent. There was also a thought later at night that a supernova could have been picked out - a new one - the observer was using SkyMap and I was using The Sky, neither of our programs showed the bright star very close to this Herschel 400 galaxy...

Great night. Too bad more people weren't there. I was saying that even when it looks iffy, you stand a chance of getting in some observing, and certainly a chance of getting skunked. We got lucky and had a fun night. But, if you don't go, you are guaranteed to get skunked. And that stinks.

So, how were things at the Peak and other sites?

Tuesday, April 5, 2005

Wildflowers from Coe

Springtime has arrived at Henry Coe State Park. Wildflowers are beginning to appear - notably the California Poppy, sprouting up along the roadsides and paths, like clusters of galaxies in the spring sky...

It was an excellent night at Coe. Four observers were present bringing 20", 18", 15" and 10" Dob, and a nice pair of Vixen long focal ratio mounted binoculars. I arrived at 7:30 pm, in time to watch the sun set over the coastal peaks and get my equipment set up. The sky was very clear and the steadiness of Saturn gave us hope for good clean star images, which is how things turned out for most of the evening. The parking lot was dry and without dust, and there was no breeze at all until around midnight, and even then it was only slight. Transparency was excellent. In the 20" I viewed detail in the Ghost Of Jupiter (NGC 3242) that I've never seen before, and M51 that rivals the best views I've ever had. Too bad the next morning was a work day, or I'd just now be getting to sleep instead of writing this report.

The view of the night was the Ghost of Jupiter. M51 was amazing, but I've had views similar to last night's in the 30" at Fremont Peak, and at times at high elevation from Mount Lassen. The Ghost of Jupiter usually appears to me as a very bright large planetary disc with little detail. Just a bright ball. In the 20" at 280X there was tons of detail. A small central dark disc with the central star - a pinpoint - popping in and out. A bright ring around the dark disc, then a grey diffuse oval around the bright ring... and... further out, a large faint envelope of nebulosity. This was without a filter.

My personal observing program was to continue on the Herschel 2500 list. I went observing last night because springtime is the big "hole" in my list - the weather is usually so sucky, all I have left are springtime constellations - Coma Berenices, Virgo, some of Hydra and Corvus. Coma was already up decently in the east at astronomical dark. I also should note that this was my first night out since the trip to Chile. I think I prefer Orion and Leo upside down! ;-) And, while mentioning Chile, there was talk about a return trip next year with a 20" and 18" Dob. Is it unsightly to salivate while dreaming?

Coma Berenices has some very good stars to hop from. My 18" Obsession is equipped with a 10x70 Celestron finder and a Rigel Quickfinder. We were talking about setting circles, but so far I've resisted adding Sky Commander to my setup. The eyepieces I used were all Naglers, the 20, 12 and 7.

I am at the dim end of the list in Coma - I began with NGC 4923 - a magnitude 14.67 round galaxy with a close companion - NGCs 4921, 4919 and 4911 (there are many other galaxies in this rich area). The four galaxies were all very faint in the 20 and 12 Naglers. I compared the surface brightness (SB) of 4923 and 4921 - and the dimmer magnitude 4923 had about the same SB. This galaxy field is easy to find, just west of the naked eye pair of mag 4.5 stars 41 and 43 Comae Berenices, located between Arcturus and Berenices Hair.

NGC 5004A was next, and nearby. The scope only had to be moved slightly, to the west of 43 Comae Berenices. This galaxy is very faint and located very close to a mag 12 star. The galaxy is non-descript, except for an elongation NW to SE. NGC 5004 is in the same field of view (FOV). It is bright, has a noticeable central concentration with a stellar core that is at the edge of visibility. I enjoyed locating these galaxies as there were some nice finder stars to their NE that are at the edge of the FOV about 23 arcminutes away. NGC 5004 is mag 13.89 type SO, 5004A (designated 5004C in NED) is a mag 14.6 type SB.

Just under 2 arcminutes to the NW sits the nice pair of galaxies NGC 5056 and NGC 5057. My target was 5056. These are a pretty view, sitting just outside the short leg of an obvious right triangle of bright stars. Both objects seem extended N/S, and 5056 is significantly larger than 5057, and more extended. 5057 has a bright central region . 5056 is a mag 13.7 type Sc, 5057 is mag 14.04 and SO.

I was surprised that my next target went unnoticed, in the same FOV as 5056 and 5057. NGC 5065 is NE of the other pair, just outside one of the corner stars of the right triangle. Once I knew where to look, it was an obvious galaxy. Combined with the stars of the triangle and other galaxies, I found they created a nice visual arc. 5065 seemed to be oriented E/W and was the largest of the three galaxies in the FOV. It was hard to tell if it was round, as it seemed to have some internal darkening that caused me to guess it might be disrupted or a face-on spiral. There was a very faint star "in" the galaxy embedded its northern section. NGC 5065 is mag 14.20 and type Sd.

While observing, some lost campers drove by, sat with their car lights on at the entry gate, so we hid behind our trucks, waiting for them to make their move. Eventually they drove off, up to the campground. They would return later and get a sky tour in the 15" Dob. Two of the observers commented how little traffic there was at Coe... this was their first time observing from the site. Well, it was a Tuesday night, but yes, it is less trafficked than Fremont Peak (which is what it was being compared to). There were also comments that Coe is as dark as the Peak. Certainly the city lights to the NW are there, but positioning your vehicle properly and looking to the south and east, it can be pretty dark, especially when fog blankets the cities. I did a limiting magnitude count in the Bootes - Coma triangle - at 2 am. - I can safely say it was mag 6.6, and maybe mag 6.9. What was cool was the transparency!

Just a degree south of NGC 5065 is the bright roundish galaxy NGC 5089. In the same FOV is UGC 8377, obvious off a string of stars to its SW. 5089 is a type Sb at mag 14.02, UGC 8377 is a round type E at mag 14.62.

I next moved 14.5 degrees south, using Arcturus and Murphid (mag 2.6 Eta Bootis) to point me to NGC 5180 and NGC 5172. These galaxies are both bright (mags 13.96 SO and 12.63 SAB) and have a mag 7 star nearby. 5180 is kind of trippy, I had to call a couple of other observers over to peek at it... it looked like a dim globular rather than a galaxy, but it turned out there were three very dim stars in front of the galaxy, giving it the appearance of having stars visible in the object. The stars would blink in and out, so we began calling it the Blinking Galaxy. 5172 appeared to be a larger disrupted galaxy or face-on spiral. 5180 was a small amorphous haze amid the dim stats...

One of the happy accidents that occur star hopping, rather than using a goto or DSCs is running into unexpected objects. When hunting for NGC 4529 (this one took for-ever!) I found that 24 Comae Berenices is a beautiful double star - sapphire blue and a creamy ivory gold, nearly equal magnitude. Worth the trip!

I finally did find NGC 4529. Hopping in the Coma Cluster is tricky! There is a dim "V" of running E/W and N/S with its apex to the SE of the galaxy. The galaxy was extremely difficult, I could pick it up only about 20 percent of the time. It was nothing more than a very dim haze with several very faint stars nearby. This galaxy defines the term "lumpy darkness"... It is a small slash at mag 15.0, type Sc.

The next object was just over eight degrees to the NNE, back near where I started at 41 and 43 Comae Berenices. I was after NGC 4789A, aka UGC 8024 - a mag 13.94 type IB galaxy with a very low SB. NGC 4789 was quite easy to pick up to its SE. But the dimmer "A" galaxy was visible only as a large haze about 33 percent of the time, nicely tucked in between four dim stars. I had estimated its size as twice that of 4789 and elongated NE/SW. This one is a toughie!

45 arcminutes to the NE I found NGC 4816 - easy, bright, elongated 3x2 NNE/SSW. Visible in the same FOV was MCG5-31-13. 4816 is a mag 13.8 type SO, the MCG is mag 15.6! type E. Woohoo! A dim one!

By this time it was getting late and cold. I had spent way too much time hunting for 4529, a good lesson to kick such problems to the curb, move on, and try again another night. The breeze was just beginning to kick up and I thought of heading home. But, it was such a good night, I pressed on for a few more targets....

NGC 4840 was easy, and actually in the same FOV as 4816 (but at the very edge of the field). It was very near the brighter galaxy NGC 4839. I also saw NGC 4842A, but not the B component, both located just off 4839. I did pick up MCG5-31-37 in the same FOV. 4816 is a mag 14.7 type SAB, 4839 mag 13 type cD, 4842A mag 14.9 (no type designated) and the MCG mag 14.9 type SB.

A half degree to the NE was a real treat - I was going for NGC 4869 and discovered it is in a rich galaxy cluster. In my FOV I counted seven galaxies easily. I'm sure there would be more, but the breeze had begun to deteriorate the seeing, and stars were starting to look like small round galaxies or planetaries. Using The Sky I can see that with a mag 15 limit, there would be probably 30 galaxies in the 47 arcminute field of my 20 Nagler. This cluster will be on my list again in the future.

I was about to tear down and decided on one more object (this sure sounds kid-in-the-candy-store-ish!) It was a tough one. NGC 4911A was fortunately in the same FOV as the prior galaxy, so it was easy to get to. Seeing it was the hard part. This one is a mag 15.30 type SO and only 0.53 x 0.26 arcseconds (which helps increase its surface brightness). It appeared to be a small spike perpendicular to NGC 4911 to its S. There is a nice image of this small "spike" among many of the galaxies in the rich cluster I mentioned, at:

That was it for the night. It was 2 am when I pulled out of the lot. It was an easy drive home, and I was very satisfied after a great night of observing. I plan to take advantage of other mid-week opportunities during the spring. Wildflower season goes by too quickly.

Monday, March 14, 2005

Objects observed from Chile

Here are some observing notes from the trip (left many out). There are *many* objects I didn't get to, but that's fine, there will be future trips to southern skies... I'll write some other time about *being* in Chile... it was a wonderful experience...

All objects viewed with 10" f/5.7 CPT except as noted.

From La Silla airport in the southern Atacama Desert

47 Tucana12 Nagler. Fills 90% of FOV, very dense and resolved to the core with slight elongation in the outer spray of stars to the E/W. Seems less dense NNE & WSW - several dense arms extending straight out - ENE, N, SSE, E and SW. Extremely long reach W and N.
M4212 Nagler. Object is at about 75 degrees elevation. Very bright, E&F stars very steady. Green hue around Trapezium, ochre hues in "wings". With 7 Nagler dark intrusion behind the Trap shows bright channel near tip - reminds me of the Horsehead Nebula, Stars just outside to the S with dim dark lane running to the E going N/S. M43 nearly attached to M42, contrast difference in dark lane between M42 and M43. All sorts of dark mottling in M43.
Eta Carina20 Nagler with UHC. NE portion of E section is very thick and bright nebulosity, has dark knots with embedded star clusters. Wisps trail off in a large oval to the E with thickest section to the S. Clusters are in the N & S ends of the thick N/S section. Wide dark lane runs along the SW/NE side of the brightest section. Incredible detail. Dimmer yet still bright nebulosity is E of the thick section - separated by the large wide dark lane, arcs around paralleling the N/W-S/E bright section. Dark lanes extend S & E in very large diffuse nebulosity on the E end. More dark lanes - wide ones, extend E of the E end of the nebula - a bright section arcs all the way around. I drew a picture, but it doesn't do it justice.
IC2602Southern Pleaides - overflows the 20 Nagler. About 20 bright stars over 1 degree field with several in nebulosity. 4 bright stars to W run N/S. 4 bright stars E run N/S. This is a beautiful cluster. Mel 101 is close by to the N - nice evenly bright cluster.
NGC3132Eight Burst Planetary - 7 Nagler with 2X Barlow. Very bright central star with dark area surrounding it. Very bright edges, brighter on the E & W edges. W is brighter edge, seems ragged on the outside. This is a great view.
JupiterThe seeing was so steady, we looked at it. The view was rock steady with tons of detail. GRS was jumping out and had great detail itself. There were many bands - I'm not a planetary observer, but to my count I came up with 20 bands alternating dark and light. The bands has tremendous amounts of mottling. All four moons were easy very steady discs.

La Frontera

NGC4833open cluster - bright- looks like a globular. Dense center diffusing out. Near a bright star.
NGC4372open cluster - large, dim, rich, with bright star embedded. Also near a bright star.
NGC5189planetary nebula - large, obvious. W/NW - E/NE bar with strong condensation to the NW. Responds well to OIII.
IC2944open cluster. Large, bright, fairly even mags, in rich Milky Way field. Obvious in 9x50 finder.
NGC1300 and NGC1297larger is large and moderately bright galaxy WNW/ESE. Other is NE, dimmer, smaller, elongated mostly E/W and may be showing some spiral structure.
NGC1316 and NGC1317galaxies - Very bright, nearly stellar core with large flattened halo and diffuse arms edge on extending E/W. Other is close by to E, smaller, round with stellar core.
NGC2207 and NGC2163galaxies - very close together and oriented E/W. W galaxy seems to have stellar core, E galaxy may be larger and disturbed.
NGC1566galaxy - large fairly bright spiral galaxy with 2 obvious arms terminating to N & S. Stellar core with large halo.
NGC1546 and NGC1602galaxies - 1546 was bright and easy, I could not find 1602 in my 10" (hints of it in Ray's 13").
NGC2467Emission nebula - large, bight, round glow with bright star embedded. Ragged on the N side, W of faint nebulosity that extended over large distance to the E.
NGC2997galaxy - large face on spiral, bright with little detail at low power. Slightly brighter core. With 7 Nagler the core is obvious, round, smallish. Arms curve to E & W in backwards "S".
NGC3109Irregular galaxy - very large and diffuse, runs almost E/W. Several stars overlay it with the brightest star just off center to the W.
Jupiterwe had a shadow transit followed by the moon visible on the disk of the planet. GRS was just past meridian.
NGC3100 and NGC3095Both galaxies appear irregular. W galaxy appears to have a dark band, E has a visible core.
NGC3115galaxy - nice elongated edge on spiral with a stellar core, good tight central bulge - long extended thin arms SSW/ENE - similar to NGC4565 but a bit thicker core. May have dust lane on E side. Viewed with 7 Nagler.
ScorpiusNaked eye; Arch is laying over the eastern Andes - hugging the mountaintops. Stinger is curving down eastward and around, pointing N. Thick band of dark nebula crosses into the curve of the tail from the south, spreading out and ending near the stinger. Attaches to great dark swath of dark neb W of the eastern curve of the tail, extending S and curving W, ending by Alpha Cent, before the bright southern Milky Way, before the Coal Sack and Southern Cross. This dark nebula behind Scorpius looks like the Shadow of the Scorpion!
NGC6397globular cluster - Large and bright globular in Ara, may be the equal of M13 for beauty. Mag 5.7. Very tight circular central core with many outliers and stings extending outward.
NGC7269, NGC3271, NGC3267, NGC3268...and more. Galaxies. Amazed that in my 10" Dob I could count up to 15 galaxies all close together in tight clumps. This is a VERY interesting cluster of galaxies, and made me pine for my 18" Dob!
NGC3354, NGC3358, NGC3357galaxies - the center galaxy was the brightest, all evenly spaced apart in a row from E to W. W is the dimmest.
B92dark nebula and open cluster - laying just over the top of the eastern Andes, it is a tremendous sight. Dark lanes are all over the place from this southern view - extending all around the cluster rather than just to one side as I am accustomed to from home. The dark neb seems rather square around the cluster. There are huge black areas of dark neb.
NGC2516open cluster - very large and bright. Naked eye. Many bright stars, coarse, fills most of the FOV, evenly distributed and round.
Shapley 1planetary nebula - large, annular. Brighter in W part of ring, slightly elongated E/W.
NGC2808globular cluster - Nice glob, nicely condensed core, perhaps elongated N/S with more stars to the W than E.
Vela SN remnantFills half the FOV with 20 Nagler and OIII in Ray's 13". Long thins strips run N/S.
NGC2867planetary nebula - small planetary is round, bright, with small dark center. Possible mottling. With 7 Nagler and 2X Barlow - disk seems to change in areas of brightness, seeming to indicate areas of internal structure. Very blue planetary.

Limiting magnitude star count in Corvus (nearly at zenith) - mag 7.7

NGC3114open cluster - beautiful, large rich OC with bright star to E of center and striking arc of stars curving from N to W to S that seemed to define leading edge. Bright star at N tip. A dark "moat" seems to encircle cluster and run inside the edge of the arc of stars.
M83galaxy - in 13". At zenith - best view ever. Bright core with distinct N/S bar. Arms trail off ends of bar - haze fills in between arms and bar. Core is very bright.
NGC3199nebula - locally called the Gabriella Mistral Nebula - or Southern Crescent. With OIII, large half circle - actually full circle, very large. SW portion very bright. Elongated N/S. N part of bright section is ragged. Rest of bright section is faint by comparison. 1 degree E is round blob of neb with dark mottling, about 1/4 size of 3199. To E of that is dim N/S swath of neb to the S of a bright star.

Cool view! Omega Centauri in 20 N with top of Andes silhouetted in same FOV!

NGC3293open cluster - Nice open, medium size with many bright stars, compact - jewel-like. In same FOV with 20 Nag and OIII is a crescent of nebulosity larger than the cluster, W side very bright, perhaps a complete circle. The OIII shows round nebulosity surrounding this cluster. A bright star is on the S edge of the neb (the wide edge), neb dims around the E and S edges, with no neb on the NW edge. Great view!
NGC3324nebula - described in NGC3293 above.
NGC3352open cluster - huge! fills FOV in 20 Nagler. OIII reveals N half of cluster is in faint nebulosity - like M45, so cluster is really E/W 2 to 1 in somewhat of a box shape.
NGC3576nebula - very complex mix of bright and dark nebulosity - large faint swath running WNW/ESE with 2 bright sections that appear similar to Flame Nebula with extensions N/S. E section is smaller extending E/W. Large dark lane on N and S sides, not dark lanes after all (higher mag) - actually another large area of dimmer neb to the N running E/W. With 12 Nagler & DGM filter W section is four individual pieces of nebulosity - S part is smallest but brightest section to the WNW of a bi-lobed section - actually 2 sections of neb at right angles to each other. E section, removed from the complex part is "tadpole" in shape with a dark lane W of an embedded star. Even more complex in Ray's 13".

At this point we had 11 people out looking through the telescopes - the two imagers, property owner and his 21 year old son, and Cecelia (the chef).

NGC3766open cluster - bright, right and fairly large. Many curving chains and streamers. Brightest 3 stars are red and yellow on the W, E and SE side of the cluster.
NGC3915planetary nebula - bright, blue - with 7 Nagler central star is in and out. With 7 Nagler and 2X Barlow it is bright with a large even disk with a dark ring around the edges, elongated E/W. Outside is a very large oval halo elongated E/W and off center with more to the W.
NGC4755open cluster - The Jewel Box - 7 bright stars over a fairly rich medium sized cluster. 3 stars in the center have outstanding color - red, blue and gold.
NGC4945galaxy - huge elongated galaxy reminds me of The Slug. SW/NE with possible disturbed NE end. Dim core with possible mottling along the length and hints of HII regions. Nearby dim planetary with visible star, small dim round halo and dimmer outer halo elongated N/S, not on my charts, may be galaxy?
NGC5128galaxy - Centaurus A. Large, round, bright with bifurcated dark dust lane across entire galaxy running NW/SE. Split in dust lane in more pronounced in SE end.
NGC5139Globular Cluster - Omega Centauri at 75 degrees elevation in 20 Nagler fills over 1/2 FOV. Stars are resolved across the object. Inner 1/2 is a dense ball. It is difficult to believe the size of this cluster. Not as dense looking as others, but truly enormous (and naked eye).
Gum 12SN remnant - huge, wisps are very long and curving, criss-crossing back onto itself. At times there are 2 sections in the same FOV. This object is so large, Ray and I "walk" around it in his 13".
Naked Eyewe put our equipment away and Ray and I sat looking naked eye at the southern sky. The Southern Cross overhead with the Coal Sack seeming to be its shadow, equal in size. The False Cross, Omega Centauri, dark lanes from the bottom of Scorpius south, the barrens of Antlia, Eta Carina region, Alpha and Beta Centauri, the LMC and SMC circumpolar on the southern horizon, Scorpius laying along the peaks of the Andes to our east, Canopus blaring away. The sky is black, there are no light domes, the air is crisp and clear at 6,000 feet. The southern sky is just now beginning to become familiar and friendly. I look forward to seeing it again...

Clear (southern) skies,

ps: thanks to m, who gave me the incentive to make this trip a reality.

Thursday, March 3, 2005

Southern Sky

Sitting in an internet cafe in La Serena, decided to check e-mail and send a short note. Megallanic Clouds are beautiful naked eye. Eta Carina in a 12 inch LX-200 at an new observatory at 5000 feet, the Tarantula stole the show. Globs kick *ss on what we have back in the northern hemisphere. Tomorrow a tour of La Silla, observing tonight with some locals.

Having a great time, wish you were here.

Send money. $$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$

ps - beers are all in liter bottles!

Tuesday, March 1, 2005

Stalking The Bear

Clouds hung dark over the eastern hills south of San Jose as I drove toward Henry Coe State Park, Saturday afternoon, the 1st of March. It sure looked like winter, and all I could do was hope that the weather forecast for mostly clear skies would prove correct. So, I pressed on, enjoying rare light traffic on 101 south through the construction zone. Breezes out of the west greeted me in Morgan Hill, as I turned up East Dunne Road for the final part of the drive.

Climbing the hills and passing Anderson Reservoir, over the bridge and along the shore, begins my favorite part of the drive. Here is where I leave behind the city and am greeted by nature's changing seasons. The hills are now green, and the wildflowers are not far behind. Old gnarled oaks branch contortedly reach toward the sky on the uphill side of the road. Passing Jackson Ranch, the climb begins, with views of the south county valley, San Jose, the Diablo Mountain Range toward Mount Hamilton and south to Pacheco Peak, and the Santa Cruz Mountains to the west. Each turn is a scenic treat, cleansing the mind and spirit.

The view from Coe's overflow parking lot, where local amateur astronomers meet on 3rd quarter and new moon weekends, is the a wonder. The horizons are unparalleled among bay area observing sites... an unobstructed 360 degree panorama, save for the single oak at the south end of the lot. This observing site offers the best combination of area and elevation... 2600 feet high and large enough for perhaps 40 telescope and vehicles. When the fog is in, it is as dark as any site within an hour of the south bay. It offers easy access... no gate combinations needed, no need to leave during the night, or to arrive before dark. A friend joking said last night "we have to get Mark to like Fremont Peak again".... but why? I know others are happy there, but to me it does not compare either in set up area (for a group) or ease of access. Likewise with Dinosaur Point... since gatekeepers have become a necessity, I find it significantly less appealing... even though the drive there is easy, it has great horizons, paved surface and is darker on average than other local spots. Yes... I am sold on Coe.

Sunset came with a clear sky. Golden and red tones over the western hills. The scene was idyllic. By now there were maybe ten of us set up, mostly long time TACos along the eastern edge of the lot. A few newcomers were there too. A nice 7" TMB marked the northern end of the scopes, a 6" AP and Tele Vue Genesis to the south. My 18" f/4.5 Obsession was probably the largest aperture there, but other reflectors included a 10" Starsplitter, C11, M210(?) Takahashi Dall-Kirkham, and assorted other setups that arrived after dark, that I did not see. By the time people stopped trickling in, we had 18 or 20 telescopes set up.

One observer stopped by and showed a few of us his sketches of the Herschell 400-II. What a magnificent job... worthy of publication. A binder thick with visual impressions. I was extremely impressed. This is a hint at what type of projects observers, albeit the more serious of them, are involved. in.

I was continuing a long term project too. I had under 400 targets left on my until recently, stalled program of observing all the 2500+ Herschel objects. What I had left were the spring targets, the ones that suffer most from inclement weather. Tonight, I began low in the northeast as the Big Bear poked its nose up. I had the dimmest forty four Herschels in Ursa Major remaining.

As darkness overtook us, it was time to stalk the bear.

I certainly don't want to describe forty four objects, but the night was successful. I finished the list in Ursa, finding many of the object either visually interesting, or quite challenging.

But before I mention some of the highlight objects, another observer brought over a binoviewer made by Denkmeier (?) and was interested in what it would do in larger aperture. The binoviewer was equipped such that it did not require any modification to my Dob, and only magnified 1.2X. We used it on M42, NGC 2903, M81 and M82, and a few other objects. I thought these were fantastic, being that they worked without any mods to my scope. The views of M42 (with a pair of 19 Panoptics) showed all six stars in the Trapezium very easily. It was a highly detailed and relaxing view. What I did note though was what I already knew about binoviewers - there is a significant reduction in light throughput. The big bright stuff is *great* ... but there is NO way these would be effective for hunting the dimmest bits of fluff - stuff I was after last night in the Bear.

NGC 4511 is an example of the scenery getting there being better than the destination. A long string of bright stars run north to south due east of this dim galaxy. Nice to see... but there is also a wonderful pair of parallel curved star chains extending west from the midpoint of the bright string.... ending with the galaxy cupped, centered, just outside the end pair of stars in the chains. Distinctive star patterns are both visually pleasing and very useful in locating dim targets. NGC 4511 is a mag 14.77 irregular galaxy.

NGC 2820a was one of those targets that just seemed to be exactly where I wasn't looking. I could not believe the difficulty I had locating it! It is really in an easy spot, but sometimes the old hand/eye/brain thing just seems to snooze. But I finally did find it, and with my 7 Nagler at 280X I was able to obtain a very pleasing view of three galaxies in all within 6' of each other. NGC 2820 is a large highly elongated galaxy (4.1'x0.5') at mag 13. Nearby is NGC 2814, west of 2820, at mag 14.3 and elongated N/S 1.2'x0.3'. Although it is not marked as NGC 2820a, I believe IC 2458 is it. This was so fun to see, as it is a little pinch of amazing creation sitting not even 8" off the SW tip of the 2820. NGC 2820a is a mere 0.5'x0.2' in size, shimmering at a ghostly mag 15.5.

The next one I'll mention is NGC 3552, which apears to be part of Abell 1185. This was simply a pleasing view. A chain of six galaxies running predominantly north to south, ranging in magnitude from 13.9 to 15.6, with a pair of close galaxies just 6' to their east (and some dimmer ones around those).

About this time another observer came by and asked to check NGC 2261 on my computer. She was having some difficulty finding it using printed charts. What fun! This is Hubble's Variable Nebula, an object I hadn't looked at in years. I swung my 18" around and soon had what we used to call "Richard's Comet" in the field of view. Darn, if it doesn't look like a stubby comet! This is a target to check out this time of year.

But, back to the Bear.

Doing a Messier survey? Bored with M40? NGC 4362 is in the same widefield view. So are NGCs 4364 and 4358... forming a tight threesome with 4362. NGC 4358 weighs in at mag 16.4... requiring my 7 Nagler to tease out. Bracketing these three diminutive specks of galaxy are two other larger ones, roughly to the east and west - UGC 7534 and NGC 4335. This is a fun group, and easy to find off the "famous" Messier. BTW... there are other galaxies closer to M40, my target last night was NGC 4362.

Another nice but dim group is NGC 4967, 4974 and 4973. These range in magnitude from 15.0 to 15.5. If the night is good enough you can perhaps ten galaxies in this location, all within about a 1/3 degree field of view. I think this area was my favorite of the night.

For sheer star hopping "pretty" stuff, I enjoyed finding NGC 5294. Two bright stars are part of a quasi-chain running east to west, with several double and triple stars curving to the south the west, leading to the little galaxy. NGC 5294 is listed at mag 15.29.

Maybe someone can tell me what NGC 2810B is. I don't know! I sure found NGC 2810 - bright at mag 13.1 and 2810B seems to share its RA and Dec, but there is no sign of anything else there. A mystery.

NGCs 4547 and 4549 are interesting. A question mark asterism of stars is to the west of this pair. To the east of the top of the question mark is a bright star I used to mark the distance out to the galaxies. At 280X both galaxies were visible as shadowy glows, at mag 15.9 and 16.5. MCG 10-18-71 seemed almost bright nearby to their northeast, at mag 16.2.

The last object I'll report on was NGC 3930a, and finished my Herschel list for Ursa Major. NGC 3930 is an interesting object due to its low surface brightness. It is fairly large, especially at 280X. But what is 3930a? I looked for a while and eventually concluded I could see some spiral arms structure, and that there seemed to be a star involved. But then, after more inspection, I felt I was detecting an HII region glowing to the west of the core, in a spiral arm. Could this be the "a" in 3930a?

I felt great. It must have been 3:30 a.m., but I was not tired. In fact, it had been some time since I'd observed like this. No big note taking, locate, look, move on. Kind of a slash and burn style, but it was fun for a change. I did change eyepieces when I felt there was something possibly worth digging the detail out of, but it had been exhilarating. I had stalked the bear, and came away with a great night's experience. I have to do more of this!

Other than one or two other observers puttering around, I was the only other one still awake. The fog had filled the valleys and Coe was dark, and nary a hint of dew. Some light lit the underside of the low clouds blanketing Morgan Hill below us. But Gilroy and San Jose were gone.

One of the observers came by and asked how I was doing. We chatted briefly and I said "look at the clouds in the east"... he looked..... and I said... those over there.... the ones 20,000 light years away.... The summer Milky Way was billowing up.... and the Big Bear was heading down.

It was the perfect finish to the night.

I turned in and slept peacefully. When I woke in the morning the valleys were all under fog.

I drove down the hill and, entering the fog, felt it was somehow taking me from my life as an observer, back to what I do the rest of the time.

I'll be back though. I need to take out the Hunting Dogs, next time.

Wednesday, January 12, 2005


Some, but not a lot of astronomy due to clouds. Observed with a 10" Dob in the yard at the home I was staying at in the hills above Kona. 20 degrees N lat is nice, Southern Cross was up before sunrise, Orion way overhead. Also observed with some members of WACO (a club on the west side of the island) and some locals from Hilo at their public star party at the Fairmont Orchid at Mauna Lani Bay - fun time! Dark enough to see tendrils in the Crab using the 10" and 13 Nagler.

The most fun by far was getting out on the lava trails in the 4WD Jeep... to limited access green and black sand snorkel beaches. Also through rain forest so thick the trails were barely wide enough to drive through, including the top of the vehicle. There are some amazing trails there! Too bad I had to come back, it was in the 80's every day... gorgeous sunsets...

Red-eye flight back arrived here at 8 this morning. I'm beat, but have a good caffeine buzz that'll keep me going until I hit the wall...

Sunday, January 9, 2005

Machholz from Montclair

Had a great weekend all over the bay area... finishing with the treat of clear (although dewy) skies. Strolled around Jack London Square, nice drive through Montclair up scenic Shephard Canyon Road and Skyline, up to Chabot to show my friend where our group gathers to work on telescopes, what a roll-off roof observatory looks like (the one housing the 36" Cass) - then up to her friends beautiful home nearby (a short walk to Chabot from there). What a spectacular view of the bay they have! After dinner, looked outside and the sky was clear. Out came a couple 10x50 binoculars from the trunk of the car. Comet Machholz and the Pleiades together were great. The comet is quite large and bright, its tail trailing to the south. This view was a thrill for the three non-observers I was with. They all recognized the "Seven Sisters", but had never viewed it through binos - and none had seen a comet before.

Finished the night with drinks down in Montclair at Crogans. We'll be going back soon with scope in hand, to show off Saturn.

I hope others got out too, and enjoyed that great view...