Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Social Observing at Coyote Lake

It didn't look good.

Sharks lost, season over, a bad start to the night. The pain delayed my departure until what I felt was too late. Turning off 87 south onto 85 east the sky looked terrible. Clouds, solid, over the eastern sky running unbroken along the entire length of the Diablo Range. What was I doing? Knowing Joe Bob was going, I phoned, he reassured me. Soon I was driving the park road at sunset, glimpses through dark trees of the twilight glimmering off the lake. It was a peaceful and magical start to the night. I arrived, under clear skies. What a relief.

Good group. I set up next to Joe Bob. Peter M and N were there, good to see them both... it may have been a year. Charlie W, Coyote Lou (who I still haven't actually met) and Andy P were there. There was a lot of quiet observing interspersed with normal astrochatter. Charlie saw M5 naked eye, I did too after he mentioned it. There was talk about observing lists... making one of significant personal dates (example, NGC 1953 would be on my list), talk about being overdue for a good comet, or supernova, and how far would we have to be to be safe from one. There was a discussion on the rotation of our galaxy, taking anywhere from 250K years to a more realistic 250M years.... and how, if we could hang around for only half that time we'd have many new galaxies to observe. Let's hope reincarnation exists and makes us amateur astronomers again! There was talk too about how quickly the spring sky dives to the west every year, with daylight increasing in spring, seeming to accelerate the disappearance of dear Virgo, the seemingly unending bastion of dim fuzzies, and how in the southern hemisphere, Virgo would be a fall constellation, when night, instead of day, is increasing. Lots of good talk, some pretty good observing too.

I brought out my 18" Obsession to hunt Herschel objects primarily in Virgo. As noted, the season is flying by. Even though M5 was naked eye, I found Coyote easily brighter than Coe, but hey, any observing site is a good one. I'm glad to have access at Coyote too. It was interesting that around 11 pm it seemed to get darker. I assume the Outlet Mall turns off its parking lot lights at that time. Still, with my 18", I was limiting in mostly the 13's, about a mag lower than an average night at Coe.

I think the highlight for of the night for me was a toss up between two experiences. One was the difficulty of star hopping the barrens of Virgo. But using a computer and planetarium program, The Sky in my case, I enjoyed looking for eyepiece asterisms. There is always a sense of success when a looking for a pattern in the noise and coming across it. Pure fun. The other highlight was a 20 Nagler eyepiece field containing NGCs 5374, 5382, 5386, 5384 and 5387. These were typical of most observations for the night, in that at first they were not there, but with a bit of time, not much, they began to reveal themselves, glimmering into view at first ghostly, averted, and then direct, no doubt vision. Funny how it works. Patience... This would be an excellent field in a good dark sky.

I logged 19 new objects, all galaxies, in Virgo. A good short night. A couple notes, I found NGC 5017 to be misplotted on the planetarium program, and I had fun observing NGC 5174, then clicking on the next object on my list, NGC 5175 several times to see where it was located. The cursor never moved. It kept showing the location for NGC 5174. I tried all sorts of things... going to higher power on-screen to break this "pair" apart, a failure.... closing the window, reopening the program, and trying it again, no dice... it was weird. Then I looked at the dialog box on screen for 5175. Non-existent. Oh well. The lesson... read!

The drive back was uneventful. Home and in bed by 2. On the drive back I couldn't help but think, it really doesn't seem to be a shorter drive than going to Coe. The lot is nicer at Coyote, the company good, but the lack of "el" is a bummer. I'll return though. I want to test out the actual mileage and driving time to both sites. For sure, the road is windier to and from Coe. But, I still think its worth it.

A nice night. Get your scopes out and polish those mirrors boys and girls (not really), observing season is back. See you next week, on the hilltops.

No comments: