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?

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