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.

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