Friday, February 24, 2006

It Pays To Go

I wondered what I was doing, four in the afternoon on Friday, packing my truck with astrogear when the skies were total muck. Where did all those clouds come from? But, I reminded myself of days long ago when we'd drive an hour south and set up in pretty poor skies, just hanging out, seeing if conditions improved. Some of the best times.

So it was Friday night. Traffic southbound on 101 at 5 was as expected. I phoned Navarrete, who wanted to go but couldn't, telling him I was doing zero down 101 (it happened several times), and the skies were awful. Gotta take care of your friends. Much of the drive seemed like OJ was behind every wheel... 35 on the freeway. Oh well. Relax, whatcha gonna do. The ride up to Coe made up for it. I guess some of us are fans of mountain roads, other just wanna get there. The thickening clouds above (and in) the valley provided a spectacular sunset over the Coastal Range. There's almost a meditative quality that comes from the familiarity of the drive, knowing the turns, the ups and downs, grabbing views of green mountainsides along the ridges.

Arriving I found Alan Zaza setting up his 12.5" Meade Lightbridge. Cool looking aluminum bearing on it... I'm partial to aluminum. He helped me pull the 18" Obsession out of the truck. Thanks Alan. I set up and found my QuickFinder was of no use. The battery had given up, the cracked casing... well, it had had lots of use. Time for a new one. So, I'd rely only on the 10x70 optical finder, which would be a challenge.

About then Kevin Roberts pulled in, followed soon by Rich Neuschaefer. Kevin was his usual self, quiet, subdued, contemplative. I haven't been out observing with him since I would guess CalStar. Even longer I bet for me and Rich... other than Houge of course, which counts for public service, but not much for (deep sky) observing.

We all looked at the sky. Yuck. Muck. Not just overhead, but the haze below us over San Jose, which was nearly drown out, the crud was so heavy, but the lights in the valleys below and to our south. I had been poking around, rather unenthusiastically, looking at M42, The Eksimo Nebula, The Mexican Jumping Star - Tau CMa and its nice cluster... a discussion ensued, suggesting the Eskimo is more often called The Clown Face for political correctness. Whatever. About then Rich pulled out his new GPS goodie, and saw we were at over 2600 feet. I reminded him the Coyote was, just guessing, about 100 feet below mean sea level (no, the Observing Sites page states its 970 feet)... way down there in the thickening goo. Just for fun, Rich stuck his maglite into the focuser of my 18". Love those light cannons! A coherent beam so bright, I half expected a return signal, answering from one of the stars it swept past. We thought of pointing the cannon down at Coyote, but couldn't see it. Shoot, we couldn't see the Peak either, who's tower lights are there from Coe even on nights of poorer transparency. I can usually tell where Coyote is from the glow of the Outlet Malls.... but not tonight.

Sometime during our chatter and horsing around, Kevin Schuerman and Rob Jaworski showed up. Kevin first...he didn't set up, since my scope was up, KevinR's 10" Orion was up, Rich's 32x80 Kowa's were, as well as Zaza's scope. But Jaworski, pulled out his 8", and that seemed to tip the cloud balance in our favor. Suddenly, over about 10 minutes, the skies opened up overhead down to about 30 degrees. The much still lay over the valleys, but seemed thinner, as lights were showing in Gilroy and San Jo. That was the only time during the night I actually noticed the lights. The rest of the time I was busy yacking with the guys and looking through the scope, to the east primarily.

It was a good night. Worth the effort. It pays to go and take the chance. By 11:30 though I was starting to wear out and the sky was clouding up again. I thought about staying, seeing if it was a band of cloud that would pass, but decided instead to pack it in and drive back while awake. KevinS and I talked about the drive back... without scenery the drive seems like a shortish series of turns, then you're suddenly on E. Dunne Road. Its not bad at all.

As far as the observing goes, without my Quickfinder, and given the conditions early on, I decided the night would be done from charts, no note taking... and yes, finding targets with just a finder is more difficult. Reflex sights are wonderful tools. Here's what I looked at.

M42. Of course.

M78. Nice view, soft glow, two stars embedded.

NGC 1977. Running Man had nice nebulosity.

M97 and M108.

M100 and the supernova.


M65, M66, NGC 3628. Very nice view of the Hamburger.

NGC 4565. Probably the most awesome galaxy, probably. Nice dust lane, longer than you can believe.

Markarian's Chain, counted 14 galaxies.

Gamma Leonis, then up to NGCs 3185, 3190 and 3193, nice straight line of galaxies. NGC 3187 was iffy, suggesting itself with the 7 Nagler.

M105, NGC 3384 and NGC 3389. Wonderful view.

NGCs 3599, 3607 and 3608, Leo's scat.

M47 whcih was nekedeye. Big and coarse, fun to compare to its neighbor,

M46 - what a gorgeous open, and the PN NGC 2438 - I'd forgotten how large (and easy) it is!

M3. The globs are always, always, amazing. Early season globs never disappoint.

M101 - just fun finding it. Not a lot of detail tonight though.

M51. Lots of structure, big swirls. Worth the drive just for this.

NGC 3893 in UMa, nice face on.

NGC 3877, near 3893, a nice edge-on.

I know I looked at more... but between hunting from memory, not taking notes, and trying to recall the journey this morning, that's about all I can and want to...

Glad I got out. The sky was fun, the company was great. A night of social observing.

Thursday, February 9, 2006

Two Eyes ARE Better Than One!

I could quickly become a convert.

I've been a cycloptic observer for a long time now. 8", 10", 14.5", 18" and 20" Dobs. I use them in monocular fashion, no Denkemeir insertion. My friends, several of them, use binoviewers on their APs, and yeah, cool views of the moon, Jup and Sat... but... proper observing etiquette says one should not hog views on other's scopes, so my bino-ing has been in small doses.

Last night I decided to try out a Miyauchi 20x100 binocular, which I am semi-seriously trying to sell. That means, I'm not making much of an effort... I may decide to keep them...

Early in the evening, I looked through the bino at the moon. Should that be capitalized? Okay, Moon. La Luna. A found couple things interesting. My eyes are not what they used to be. I swear my astigmatism is worsening. The bino has nice individually focusing eyepieces... and an excellent interocular adjustment... I tweaked them both, but still, I felt the images never quite merged. I'm going to get an eye exam. :-( Still, the low power view of the moon has a really nice 3D feel to it, the mare nicely shaded and smooth, stark relief in the craters along the limb... very enjoyable. Reminded me of my lowest power telescopic views, using my 10" Dob, except.... look at all that space around the moon! There must be a three degree FOV there... I'll have to read up on the spcecs. The FOV would come into play later in the evening.... Meanwhile, I did notice color fringing the moon, yellow and purple. Noticeable, but not annoying enough to be unpleasant.

I wanted to look at Saturn and Mars, in and near the nice big open clusters. Saturn was too low, Mars was up in the tree. So I went inside, had a glass of wine, and watched "What The Bleep Do We Know" via Netflix. Trippy show, if you haven't watched it. Afterwards, and after the backyard lights went off (on a timer), I went out again. This time to sit in the spa, along with some observing. Nice way to do it...

Looking up at Saturn, it was a puny little ringed world compared to the pump-it-up views I am used to in my scope. But there it was, ringed, clearly, with a large portion of the Beehive Cluster to its east. The Beehive was fun to see this way, there is almost an L shape to its brightest stars, with the bottom leg of the L pointing toward Saturn. Lots of double stars, paired off in a pleasing way. At the end of the bottom leg of the L is a threesome of stars... but Saturn is not in the hive, it floats outside, among the dimmer and more sparse cluster stars. The whole show fit into the Miyauchi FOV.... and it began to dawn on me, but I think subconsciously at first...

I looked up at Mars. Small, red, alone. I thought about it heading toward M45 in a sprint. Think I'll watch it over the next week, as it gets closer and close. I panned toward the cluster and, wow... this is one spectacular group in a 4" piece of glass.

Then it dawned on me, all the binoviewing my buds do, this setup is so portable, and I've got two 4" "refractors" going at once. I never get views like this through any of my Dobs... in terms of FOV. This was just great.

I moved over to M42. Holy Moley! The region is one gorgeous view... the gas and dust cloud easily visible, glowing softly, enveloping the Trapezium. The sword stars were in the FOV as well, along with dozens, of other bright field stars.

Oh, and all this from a bright backyard in downtown San Jose... literally, in downtown. I was astonished.

I panned around Orion's bright belt stars... nice chains of dimmer stars winding in large loops between the three. Very cool view.

I soon realized this binocular can open up an entire new dimension to observing. The expanded FOV and nice light grasp... I remembered Greg Edwards, up at Bumpass Hell parking lot, at the old Lassen Star Parties, using a big Vixen bino. Greg, you were on to something.

So, if I keep them, I think a season of bino observing is in the works. I had fun a few years back looking through Steve Gottlieb's scope up at Lassen, doing some of the dark nebula... which, I am sure, would be wonderful targets for an easy set up like this.

I can't wait for some dark skies...