Saturday, July 29, 2006

Reflections from Coe: Looking In The Mirror Again...

We arrived at Coe to find Peter and Tony in the lot. The sky had high clouds to the west, over the coastal range. It was shirtsleeve temps. Toward and through sunset we had a wonderful display - light rays looking like a large crown above a bank of clouds that hid the sun. This continued through sunset, when reds and golds underlit thinner clouds that spread across the bay - a really outstanding light show - finishing with a short deep red solar pillar standing out clearly. Nature is the greatest artist.

There was enough dew early on to wet the seat on my observing chair, but that's always the first thing to dew up. I heard a comment about a scope being wet, but I never noticed it on mine. I had my 18" f/4.5 Obsession, as did Richard set up next to me. As the sky darkened we began doing bright double stars - as a prelude to a varied observing list I put together. Other observers there were Peter Natscher with his 18" Starmaster, Bob Jardine with a 12.5" Portaball, Alan Zaza and a Meade 12.5" Lightbridge (is that right?), Tony Hurtado - I forget Tony - did you have a bigger Dob back there down the parking lot? - and Chris Kelly (who I'm tempted to nickname Houdini after seeing him compress into the back of a small Audi (?) sports coupe to nap) with a TeleVue NP101.

There were very few visitors. A woman who looked familiar appeared in the distance from the path to the park headquarters and watched late sunset by the entry gate, then disappeared again. As dark fell a couple women were looking through Tony's scope for a while.

First split was of Izar, as the constellations were starting to show. Easy split with the 12 and 7 Nagler. Didn't take notes on it, but it was such a sharp and clean split I thought "what's a challenge?"

Once it got dark some yahoos in two vehicles drove into the lot, lights blazing, until they were shouted at to turn them off - they were out joyriding, not knowing where they were, and politely left. Peter closed the gate after them. We had already begun observing.

I pointed the scope south to Antares. In went the 7 Nagler - at 294X there was a no doubt about it clean split. The companion was in the glare of Antares, but watching carefully easily showed "The Green Pea". Antares color was great - a brilliant yellow-orange.

I could hear others mentioning the outstanding seeing.... and this bode well, as my list had several good doubles.

The list ran from highest to lowest declination, and began with the double Beta Cephei (8 Ceph, mag 3.23 at RA: 21h 28m 39.60s Dec: +70 33'38.5"). This was an easy split at low power (20 Nagler = 103X).

We moved to the middle of the box of Cepheus to Xi (17 Ceph, mag 4.26 at RA: 22h 03m 47.45s Dec: +64 37'40.7"). Similar PA as Beta Ceph - closer - brighter is yellow/white, dimmer gold.

Next was the nice same field pair, NGC 6939 (mag 7.8 at RA: 20h 31m 24s Dec: +60 38") and NGC 6946 (mag 8.9 at RA: 20h 31m 24s Dec: +60 38'). While there was more detail in the bigger scopes, the nicest view may have been in Chris' NP101, where both objects were framed nicely in the wide field. I observed them with the 20 Nagler. 6939 is a a nice large open, many stars with 3 chains hanging off the S to SSW, tight knot of stars to the east of center. 6946 is large, as big as open, has a brightened tight core, arms curling counterclockwise - the arms are to E and W. This galaxy is current the record holder for most supernovae.

It was a short hop to Mu Cephei. Known as Herschel's Garnet Star (mag 4.23 at RA: 21h 43m 30.46s Dec: +58 46'48") - Very deep orange - highlight red star compared to others I'd observe during the night. The description "ruddy" orange applies.

W Cygni is a nice red star at nearly mag 6 (RA: 21h 36m 02.50s Dec: +45 22'28.53"), located very close to mag 5 Rho Cygni. W is coppery or dried blood red.

61 Cygni (mags 5.2 and 6.0, RA: 21h 06m 53.9s Dec: +38 44'57.9") is a famous double with nice cream and gold colors. This double has a large proper motion, which drew attention to it early on, and it became the second star after the sun to have its distance measured (via parallax).

We had periods of clouds coming through. At one point, looking toward Sagittarius and along the Milky Way, a cloud band seemed to merge with it, along its length, and it was difficult to tell the earthly clouds from the band of the galaxy.

M29 was the next target. This is to me the least impressive of the Messier catalog, aside from the double star and asterism. Easy to locate (mag 6.6 at RA: 20h 23m 54s Dec: +38 32') near Gamma Cygni, this open cluster is a pair of chains in slight arcs bowing away from each other running generally E/W. There are many dim components in between - Northern arc (each arc is 3 stars) has two more stars off NW end.

Lamda Cygni (54 Cygni at RA: 20h 47m 24.54s Dec: +36 29'26.58") is a tight double, with a 0.9' separation - a very tight split. Used a 2x barlow and 7mm for 588X, giving a clean split. Bright component mag 4.8 to the north, dimmer mag 6.1 is southern star. This double is very easy to find with the unaided eye. Interesting that The Sky does not show it as a double.

We knew the seeing was good, but going after a galaxy trio off Miles Paul's list would test the transparency. NGC 7273, NGC 7274 and NGC 7276 are in Lacerta just east of 1 Lacertae. NGC 7274 (RA: 22h 24m 11s Dec: +36 07'32") was the brightest at mag 13.3. Three galaxies in a line running n/s, southern two closer together but not much - middle is brightest, two others about equal mag. S one is very close to a dim star. Middle has bright core.

V 460 Cygni is on the red star list. I found it unimpressive, but it has color - lightly tinted - more yellow than red. Its a little tougher to find, but helped that it is one of three naked eye stars in a slight arc ranging from mag 6 to 6.5.

Next we viewed the Veil Nebula and its finder/double star 52 Cygni. The Veil was showing very well - the NGC 6960 western section at 171X using a 12 Nagler and OIII filter was outstanding - the thin section looking like a glowing tube - or like a high power microscopic view of cilia on plankton. 52 Cygni is a close double with wide mag difference. Bright yellow and dim green. Dimmer is to EENE of primary. Nice color contrast. The NGC 6979 section of the Veil was very billowy compared to Witch's Broom side, long, outstanding detail in Waterfall area, which is brighter - down toward other end as it gradually dims.

NGC 6934 is a good globular off the tail of Delphinus (mag 8.9, RA: 20h 34m 12s Dec: +07 24'). Very nice at 294X. 3 density zones with a bright core overlayed by many of the brightest stars in the cluster. Seems elongated NS but also seems to have spikes to E and W.

Mu Cygni (78 Cygni, mag 4.5 and 4.8, RA: 21h 44m 08.59s Dec: +28 44'33.48"). Good clean split at 294X, sitting NW/SE with brighter to SE. Brighter is yellow/white and dimmer gold yellow. Easy location on border with Pegasus.

Back toward the Veil, but in Vulpecula, is open cluster NGC 6940 (mag 6.3 at RA: 20h 34m 36.s Dec: +28 18') is a treat. Large filling the field of both 20 Nagler and pretty much in 35 Panoptic. Many bright members throughout - a greatly overlooked cluster - better than many Messier opens - nice red star in denser southern half. Easy location.

It was now past 2 a.m. and the sky was dark. Fog lay in all the valleys and the light dome over San Jose was muting down. A few observers had left, I think one was sleeping in his truck, and four of us remained at our telescopes. This was probably the best observing of the night, aside from the great steadiness we enjoyed earlier. Now the breeze picked up a bit, making us work harder on tight doubles. But the increased dark was what we needed for some of the dim galaxies we'd go after.... I hadn't observed like this at Coe in about two years, energized, engrossed.

Gamma Delphinus is the nose of the dolphin.... a very easy target. Its a clean split at 103X with yellow white primary E of yellow green slightly dimmer companion. Nice double.

South of Gamma is the galaxy trio NGC 6956, UGC 11620 and UGC 11623. The NGC is the brightest (mag 14 at RA: 20h 44m 0s Dec: +12 31'). In almost an equilateral triangle. Brightest is round with two dimmer ones both elongated NE/SW. Dimmer galaxies stood out with 12 Nagler, difficult in the 20 Nagler.

Moving off the tail of the dolphin, back toward the globular, is the galaxy trio of NGC 6927, NGC 6928 and NGC 6930. This is from the Miles Paul Atlas, which mistakenly has NGC 6929 instead of NGC 6930. The brightest is NGC 6928 (mag 13.5, RA: 20h 32m 51.0s Dec: +09 55'49"). All three are elongated - nice view - 6928 brightest and at E/W cant, 6930 also obvious, 6927 difficult but can be held averted - two dimmer at N/S elongation.

We also viewed six galaxies in one tight field in Aquarius. NGC 6962 is the brightest (mag 12, RA: 20h 47m 18s Dec: +00 19'). I used the 7 Nagler at 293X to bring out the dimmer components. NGC 6963 is the challenge in the group at mag 14.7. Peter had a very nice view of this group.

It was now late, after 3 a.m. We looked at Zeta Aquarii - a tight double star with almost identical colors and magnitude (mags 3.3 and 3.4, RA: 22h 28m 49.9s Dec: -00 01'11.9"). It is the center of the "Mercedes Symbol" in Aquarius. White yellow / green yellow NW/SE nice clean split and beautiful with 7 Nagler.

Our last object of the night was Hickson 88 in Aquarius - NGC 6975, NGC 6976, NGC 6977 and NGC 6978. NGC 6978 is the brightest (mag 13.3 at RA: 20h 52m 36.s Dec: -05 43'). NGC 6975, 76 and 77 In a line. 6978 brightest, 77 slightly larger, 76 further away and dimmest. Did not find nearby NGC 6975.

I got into my truck, onto a tri-fold futon for the night. I've ended many great nights at Coe this way.

In the morning, the fog was still low over the valleys. To the east fog was higher, lapping at the ridges dividing us from the Central Valley. I packed up and headed down the mountain. Nearing the freeway I found myself looking in the rear view mirror, reflecting, back to the night, and smiled.

Mirrors can sure show us a lot!

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